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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Growth: It's Personal

If you are selling yourself -- from a branding perspective (come on now) -- and we all should be, reflective change is an absolute necessity in how we do business today. It doesn't mean you have to constantly be changing, it means you have to constantly be thinking about whether you need to be changing. There's a great book entitled What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith that covers this concept.

Would it surprise you that he suggests even successful people need to be examining whether they have the right tools needed for continued success in their tool kit? Resting on your laurels is never a way to win a race. We're taught that as children with the Tortoise and the Hare so why do we assume that the top level's innovation should be at a product or service level. If you head up an organization you need to think about more than just the strategy involving the business. You need to think about your skill set.

As your climbing the corporate ladder, there are plenty of reminders of the skills you need to acquire or refine. You have managers, supervisors, reviews, job descriptions and many more that are continually pointing out areas for continued growth, but when the company is looking to you for leadership, the stellar leader is looking both outwards and inwards.

I liked what Les McKeown wrote in Inc., on the 3 Silent Killers of Successful Businesses:

"When was the last time you had a massive change of mind about a fundamental way in which you do business? When was the last time a coach or a mentor so challenged you about your management and leadership skills that you lost sleep? When did you last scrap a much-loved process, or system, or meeting, or process because its time had passed? When was the last occasion when someone told you you were flat-out wrong about something important-- and they were right?"

The problem with professional growth and attaining that point on the top of the corporate ladder is that you no longer are continually reminded of growth opportunities from the outside. You have to rely on yourself to uncover and explore them and so many times the pressure of leadership keeps you from doing that. You're busy thinking about the business or the employees, and you miss the teaching opportunities for your own growth.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Getting the Message

It's Friday the 13th so I'm going to try something a little different. I'm going to tell you, I believe in the interconnectedness of humanity, like we're all just pebbles on the same beach or drinking from the same fountain of influence. I know this may sound a little out there, but anyone who's ever been a writer or a reader realizes there are occasions when people create extremely similar stories or articles at nearly the same time. They don't move within the same circles but they have the same, creative idea. Coincidence?

How about learning? There are many life lessons you acquire on your journey to adulthood. Some of us are really good at learning these lessons the first time they present themselves and others need to be hit by the same train over and over for it to really sink in. It's not hard to see the pattern behind these opportunities for growth. Sometimes it takes the form of repeating the same mistakes in relationships with seemingly different people and sometimes it's encountering the same article theme in different locations.

I'm reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. In it she writes about the impostor syndrome. She shows that women tend to feel it's only a matter of time before the walls come down and "people" discover they are frauds; untalented hacks in over their heads. I read it and thought, that's nice. Not me. I wouldn't credit myself as being overly secure but I know what I do well and what I don't. (I can't make jello, no matter how hard I try, and running will never be my thing, but give me something to capture my thoughts and I bleed words until my fingers hurt.)

Since reading this yesterday, I have seen multiple references to impostor syndrome, in the most uncanny places, and I began to wonder if I needed to think more about this message. Am I insecure in my abilities? Certainly not. Right? Well, maybe a little...but everyone is right?   This was how my conversation went with myself last night. I was very convinced (at first) I was not insecure, and then the other side of my mind (the rational, argumentative part of me is always much more astute than my idealistic self), pointed out if you are so secure in your abilities, what is holding you back from attaining this goal of yours? I have a desire to do something I've never attempted before but the possibility of failure makes me ill. I fail terribly. I'm awful at it, so I rarely do anything that would open me up to this sort of disappointment.

And then I realized it. I was insecure. Not in what I currently do, but in what I will do in the future. It's easy for me to blame my responsibilities - I can't do X, because I'm saddled with Y - but it's more the fear of failing that hinders me. I tuck it under the polite guise of responsibility but let's be honest - it's really the fear of failing.

I have a lot of introspection to do over this weekend but at least I finally got the message.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cancel all Future Surveys Unless...

Dilbert featured a cartoon the other day that poked fun at employee surveys. Management was disgruntled by the score it received and seemed dedicated to never receiving a low score again. The punchline shows management instructing their mid-level to do away with employee surveys.

While that may cause several of us to giggle at the dictatorship of management, if you run a member-based organization and/or online community, are asking your members' opinions/preferences and not listening to their answers, you are essentially doing the same thing.

Why is non-response such a bad thing? What if you can't do what they want? Asking someone's opinion is empowering. It makes them feel valued and a part of what you're doing. Not listening to it, is like giving a tacit Office Space-style, "Uh, yeah. I don't think so." Does that mean you have to do everything a member suggests? Of course not. But be prepared to answer why you're not able to accommodate them (or do so at this time). Use it as a diving-in point for a discussion on the future.

There are so many amazing tools out there both paid and free and ways to use social media as a testing and opinion platform. To their credit, many groups have started doing this. But the ask isn't enough. You must follow through, especially if you notice that what your members are asking for is something you're not currently doing. If you don't plan on following through and changing you offerings, practices, etc., don't ask and cancel all future member surveys.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Drip Campaigns Ruined Me

Most marketers know we are not the target consumer. If you've ever been in a marketing department and someone says, "Well, I..." you know you're dealing with a newbie, they still see their experiences and preferences as relatable to the average consumer's world. Yes, we have our own personal preferences but we can't let those get in the way of good marketing.

For instance, I hate pop-ups on sites. If I'm reading a blog post, enjoying the content and then a light box pops up with all of the surprise of a great white shark (and none of the catchy music) it annoys the bejeezles out of me. I will "x" out of it without even reading. That's my personal bias and action - I never click on it. However, I cannot argue their effectiveness rate in conversions. Adding them to my company site is not about my preferences or what I would like or do. It's about what's good for business and that's lead acquisition.

But just as my own preferences must not override what works for my company's audience (public service announcement: I reference the effectiveness on an individual audience because if your audience is comprised of marketers you can use yourself as a guinea pig. The only way to test what works with your audience or not is by testing and testing often.), my experience in marketing has jaded me as a consumer. When I'm hit with an email offer, on a product or service I'm interested in, I will click on the link but stop short of buying. I do this because many drip campaigns are scored from an interest level on whether a link was clicked. Marketers view this as the same as having a fish on the line (momentarily). This excites and confuses the average marketer (I know. I am one.). Most of the time, they rebait their hook and recast. Many sweeten the offer in this stage. After all, you were interested. You clicked.  But that's my dirty secret on getting a nicer offer.

But the bigger application here is not that I am a consumer of questionable practices, but that there are aspects of our profession that keep us from understanding the real consumer or member's needs. If you're applying your own personal preferences to your audience and marketing you're not thinking of them. Separating yourself from your audience is the first step to understanding (and hearing) what they've been trying to tell you.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Maslow and the Creative Employee

As managers we benefit when we surround ourselves with brilliant, creative people. That's not to say that management isn't creative, but frequently those who rise to management level do so because they are good at implementation and strategy. If you're looking to be more creative, or foster creativity within your group, there are plenty of brilliant blogs out there to help (like this one, this one or this one.)

Prior to following any of their advice (with the exception of implementing chocolate chip cookies at 3 pm every day. Feel free to implement that one - okay, that was my advice), review your
organizational structure. One cannot be creative underwater. If we take a cue from Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you'll recognize that creativity is at the very top of the pyramid, far above the need for water and breathing. One can only reach maximum creativity when one's basic needs are met.

Take a look at your team. Are they so busy putting out fires or keeping their head above water that breathing is difficult? Tapping into your team's creative side means allowing them the time to think; the time to brainstorm; the time to absorb and process things they're reading and talks they're watching. If the energy around the office is one of constant do, do, do there is no time to imagine.

Creativity's best friend is thought. If you want more creative employees, you must first ensure that they have time for it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Personal Case Studies and Millennials: are we there yet?

As a marketer, I spend a decent amount of my time securing, writing and distributing case studies. I try to think of new ways to be heard above the noise; to make the case studies not just beneficial to my company but to the people who are in the decision-making/purchasing process as well. I'll be honest, I don't love case studies. I love the benefit of them being done well but the formulaic approach to writing them -- challenge, solution, plan -- does not lend itself to the fluid creativity I prefer. Recently, I've been thinking about ways to blow them up; to spin them on their access so they aren't even recognizable. While I was working on these ideas I started thinking about how the best case studies show how a great product or service helped someone achieve their goals or solve a problem. Case studies do for a company what references are supposed to do for the job seeker.

Why couldn't you apply the idea of case studies to personal branding or the job hunt? Why can't HR departments or managers ask employees to write case studies about their own performance? So often self-reviews are done at the last minute with little thought to rating. I've seen first year employees straight out of school rank themselves a 10 out of 10. That implies there's no room for growth and I don't care how fantastical an employee you are, there's always room for growth. What if, in addition to examples of their hard work they also had to show in more than one-sentence detail just how they solved a problem? This type of proof takes a lot more work and thought behind it. Plus it helps to reframe the way they think about their jobs. The type of critical thinking required for a case study creates and encourages a problem-solver mentality and awareness.

Do I think businesses will turn to personal case studies in the near future as part of the review process? Probably not, but the idea of selling oneself through personal branding is already here and entrepreneurism is important to millennials.  Encouraging them to sell themselves through poignant example will help them achieve their goals sooner, something that benefits both you and your younger employees.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why I had to Ignore My Creative Writing Teacher's Advice: recap of session day 2 at #CMWorld

My high school creative writing teacher told me emotional events (good or bad) fueled amazing stories but never try and capture them when you're in the midst of the emotion or immediately afterwards. The emotion becomes convoluted, the details smeared and the writing awful. Give it some time to sink in. Digest it. Then commence recapturing your experiences. However well-intentioned this advice may be, it was given before social media. It is with that, that I respectfully cast Mr. Bernard's advice to the side.

Content Marketing World was a fabulous event and though it may not shape my personally, professionally it sparked more good ideas than I can begin to capture. Here's my recap of the trio of sessions from today that made me wish these folks needed scribes because I would gladly follow them around on a regular basis just to glean some brilliance and inspiration. (Disclaimer: all of the speakers were amazing at #CMWorld but these three inspired me and equipped me with tools and information that directly apply to my inbound marketing role. There's that key take-away from CMW - provide useful content!)

As I tweeted earlier, sometimes you attend a session for the content, sometimes for the speaker - which was the case with Nate Riggs. Although I considered myself a Twitter maven of sorts, his helpful advice and list of tools made his presentation one of the most practical that I attended. If you're not already checking these out give them a look over -- SocialBro, Simply Measured, hashtracking.com, clicktotweet, Social Flow, and Social Triggers. If you're looking for someone who gives out a lot of great information with a sense of humor, check him out on Twitter @nateriggs.

10 Email Secrets that Will Help Drive Your Content Strategy presented by Jeff Rohrs was a standing crowd only. So much for email being dead! Jeff likened email to an iceberg. You only see part of it. Social media shares are public, emails are not. But his colorful descriptions (granted not as colorful as Mitch Joel's "sex with data" from the day before), didn't end there. He reminded us that email powers every social media site. Email is social media's secret weapon. How does LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. provide you with announcements, reminders, weekly status -- via email. Ah-hah!

Finally...."a Rose by any other name..." would be Robert (wonder how many times he's heard that joke? My maiden name is Green, I get it.). If he didn't intrigue me during the pre-session joking (and he did -- who doesn't like to poke fun of marketers and our reputation of not doing anything??), Robert Rose definitely had me at Ali. He began his presentation on Getting the Choir to Sing: Selling & Developing the Process for Content Marketing INSIDE the Organization with the inspirational story of Muhammad Ali's comeback against George Foreman. The way that Ali reinvented himself repeatedly was fascinating and inspirational and the way Robert told it -- his cadence and tone -- I was hooked. He repeatedly told the audience that what he had to say was not new but there was something about his style a mix of story and art that lit a fire in me where I wanted to fly back to my office and start implementing his ideas right away. He told us how to get support from the higher-ups, those most involved, and the savvy person who had a way of killing or promoting everything in the office. (Hadn't considered that one.)

Content Marketing World was such an amazing experience, my words can't do it justice. To capture that kind of excitement, inspiration, energy amidst a group who "gets it" is impossible. Maybe Mr. Bernard was right.

Here's looking forward to 370ish days from now -- Content Marketing World 2013!