Spreading The Word

What Does Success Look Like?...no numbers allowed

Often I get bogged down in the minutia when trying to solve problems. After a while I remember to ask myself this question. And it works every time. It really clears things up. It resets my mind and gets me focused on a clear goal. In terms of marketing and more specifically spreading the word I ask these additional sub-questions...

  • Who (what type of person) am I trying to reach? What inspires them?
  • Why do they want to hear from me?
  • Why would they support me (and my purpose)?
  • How do I earn their trust?
  • How can I connect with them?
This helps me get a real clear picture of who my prospective audience is, where they live, work, play and how they feel. Notice I don't ask how old they are, what zip code they're in, or how much they earn. Take triathlons as an example. If I were developing or promoting a race and limited the characterization of my audience to the old fashioned demographic profile I'd likely miss some prospects. If I focused on older, higher wage earners who lived nearby, I'd miss the younger, newbie crowd who'll take a road trip for just about anything. Albeit a smaller portion of the pie, this unrealized slice of the audience is important…in fact very important…to me and my race. So why leave them out?

Take special note that I didn't define success as a number. Because success isn't a number, it's a relationship. And you don't define or characterize a relationship with numbers…you do it with feelings. Numbers are indeed important. Numbers are required to make something sustainable. But numbers are a yield, based on the success or failure of the relationship. Unfortunately, too often we still confuse the "success" part of the question to mean "how many"...how big is the audience?…which really means how many can we sell? Because if we don't sell X we can't make money. On the heels of this strategy is the mass market promotion in HOPES of getting a small percentage to buy. Unfortunately, you annoy (and alienate) all of the people who don't want to hear from you and you leave out some of your best prospects...who didn't fit into the misguided demographic profile. This is no way to build trust. And certainly no way to build an audience of loyal raving fans. Now, if this isn't what you're after, go for it. Otherwise, spend more more time defining what success looks like, without numbers. 

Create Content

Most organizations, and people for that matter, don't spend nearly enough time working on what really matters...meaningful content. Instead they worry more about selling the idea, spreading the word and getting on Oprah (I realize that's actually not possible anymore).

Companies spend more energy and money on interrupting people than ever before, mainly because of the proliferation of channels. They feel pressured to sell the story, buy the ad, talk to the editor...before someone else does. Ironically, if the same energy, passion and commitment was devoted to creating content, they wouldn't need the push...the pull would happen instead.

In a conversation about how to generate more PR, a chef once told me, do something truly remarkable and you can't hide.

Spreading the word is indeed important...but without remarkable content, you're pushing boulders up a hill. Good luck.

Getting People to Spread the Word

You're chances of getting people to talk about you are much, much higher if you do something that matters. Building an ordinary hotel and selling rooms for a lower price isn't much for people to crow about.

You're on to something when what you've developed illicits...Did You Hear About...? Or, Did you See...? Or, You Just have to try...

Creating something meaningful that compels people to spread the word is your first order of business, whether it's for yourself or for your company. Without remarkable content, the rest of the road is much more challenging.

The Battle for Engagement

I've been in a battle...for a long time. Sometimes the battle is with co-workers, sometimes with bosses, sometimes with myself. Nevertheless it's a battle...to overcome tradition. All my marketing professors, virtually all of my peers and every marketing firm I've ever hired have spent a great deal of time trying to convince me that I'm somehow flawed in my thinking that engaging with people should take precedence over shouting at them.

My argument is based on a simple notion...you have a better chance of practicing art when you're engaged with someone than when it's a one way conversation. Engaged, I have a better shot at making someone feel comfortable, cared for and welcome. Engaged, I have a better chance of building a loyal audience of raving fans. And far less of a chance to annoy them.

Here's the problem...there are serious counter forces at work. Traditional marketing (specifically promotions) is simply easier and safer to do than engagement. There is a huge body of evidence (albeit outdated) and countless pundits that will convince you that banner ads, tv and radio commercials, billboards, email blasts and table tents are the answer to generating more customers and more sales. Generally speaking, this old way of doing things doesn't require much in the way of meaningful content as long a you have a big ad budget. Of course, most of us don't have that...a big marketing budget. Even so, we find our way to tradition somehow, some way. And the paradox continues...in the absence of remarkable content and engagement we're left with the only option...to shout and hope for a favorable response.

For every dollar and minute you spend hanging on to tradition, you rob yourself of the opportunity to engage and build a relationship with a customer, to inspire front line staff to do meaningful work...to do something that matters. I encourage you to begin replacing traditional marketing with engagement activities, perhaps slowly at first. But, later as you gain momentum and the word begins to spread, you'll find yourself measuring referrals, evangelist incentives and rewards instead of click through's and 800 number counts. And, you'll find yourself in a happier place.

Legacy work isn't born from tradition, it's born from hard, meaningful work, done by heretics that often scare others away.

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Not anymore. In fact, there never was. People have never been dumb. Most just weren't motivated to seek an alternative, especially about things that didn't originate in their own town. You knew if farmer John's milk was good...you could ask a neighbor. It was much harder to know if the Sears catalog was lying to you. The problem wasn't smarts. There just wasn't a reliable way to learn. Enter ubiquitous high-speed bandwidth...today's internet. It changed everything, especially the rules about keeping people in the dark.

Last week a company tried to sell me spark plugs and spark plug wires for more than five hundred dollars. The same products were available outside the shop for under a hundred. The jig wasn't hard to figure out. When I asked them about it, no problem..."just bring in your own parts". A sucker punch. Here's a national, well recognized brand, categorically ignoring all the new rules of customer care and marketing hoping to pull a fast one on people. What do they really hope to gain? Makes you wonder.

Most trickery is more subtle. An ad campaign that promises the best meal while the restaurant is consistently empty. A website that boasts fabulous customer service while overbooking practices drive people mad.

Try covering up your lousy restaurant.
Try hiding the fact that your hotel is dirty.
Try fooling people to pay more for an airline seat.
Try keeping people from talking with each other about your service.

You can't do it.

On the flip side, try hiding the passion and enthusiasm of your best people.
And, try keeping your secret sauce a secret.
Or, try keeping people from spreading your fabulous idea.

You can't do that either.

So, are you going to do average work, spending time to keep people in the dark, hoping to find a few suckers? Or, are you going to get busy doing things you want people to talk about.

Unfortunately, you have to decide.

Push vs. Pull

A friend recently ask my opinion on how he could spread the word about a new service. He was considering emailing people and posting notes on Facebook, among other things. After offering some suggestions for posting content to various online outlets (flickr, website, twitter, vimeo, linkedin, etc.), I thought about push vs. pull. Most people want to go out and tell (or yell) about what they have to offer...understandably, they're excited about sharing something new. And, while you can generate some results pushing your message with email, unsolicited ecards, etc., it's not the most effective way to get the word to spread. The best way is to allow yourself some time and create a bucket load of fabulous content that will garner some attention. Then, leak it out to some close friends, give some of your product away for free and give people access on as many relevant outlets as possible. Once you have a fan base, ask them if they would care for an occasional email update of your goings on. Repeat.

While it's far easier to hit send on an email blast, the harder stuff almost always works better and longer. 

The Power of a Hug

The power of a hug is remarkable. It goes further than a nice smile, pleasant hello and a handshake. It goes further than using someone's name or recognizing a repeat guest...it goes a lot further. It crosses a line. It gets personal...it means you really do care. There's no disguising your feelings once you give someone a hug.

Doubletree can't buy enough ads to convince people they care this much...neither can you. So, spend the ad money on a Louree Jefferson. Better yet, a bunch of them.

P.S. Do you think Louree needs a resume? Most remarkable people don't.


It's a Remarkable Time

Fooling people used to work. Creating something average and telling people it was better than it actually was...worked. The majority of your time, cost and resources were spent on the message, finding enough customers, and the sale. Unless you were building a new plane or telescope, something requiring intense engineering, the big cost of delivery was in the lie.

Now, fibbing is easy and cheap. Websites are better and cost way less, finding and connecting with audiences is a click away and keeping in touch with customers is virtually free. So, what's the hold up?

There's still a hard part. In fact, it's gotten harder. With so many new ideas flooding the market, creating a remarkable experience, a story that's authentic and rises above the clutter, is now much more challenging. Not because it costs more or requires additional skill to create. The hard part is commitment...commitment to getting started and to doing it right. You can't win unless you do both. Get started with something that's significantly flawed or perceived as a gimmick and you fail. Wait until it's perfect and you lose out to someone else. The new skill requirement is knowing when...when to fire, when to release the next version...and when not to.

Develop a reasonably creative idea...one that solves a problem and is worth talking about. Make it better than average...something that has meaning and a soul. Show people you care by improving (or abandoning) it. And, don't waste people's time...sell it to someone who wants it. No embellishment, no bait and switch, no forcing the issue. If it's a remarkable story, it works. The only question is whether there's a big enough audience to support it. That's hard to figure out...called risk.

Fear is probably the only thing holding you back. Better move past that...someone else has.

Agency Problem

Some agencies haven't made the shift. They haven't embraced the idea that broadcast messaging is becoming less effective every day. They continue to develop the same ad campaigns, 1.0 websites and press releases. They buy 3 million dollar ad spots during the super bowl.

Connecting with an audience has always been the goal of promotion strategy. Not so long ago, shouting at people was your best chance of reaching them. Now, it's fast becoming the worst. It's a good thing technology has come to the rescue. It moves the power from the company to the customer and gives the little guy a chance. It allows a business to keep in touch with fans and find new ones without beating them over the head with the same message hundreds or thousands of times. It allows an agency to create a network of raving fans for a fraction of the cost of producing TV or print ads. The work isn't easier...it's just different. In fact, it's harder because it's personal. Sending handwritten thank you's is harder than email. Creating interesting blog posts is challenging...a banner ad campaign isn't. Visiting with each customer while they're in your shop and getting them to follow your blog is tough...buying an ad in the paper or sending direct mail to a chamber list isn't. 

Agencies can be wonderful. They open doors you can't. They know people you don't. And, some of them keenly understand the new marketing order. Be careful, some don't...choose wisely.

This post inspired by...Good News and Bad News on Marketing Budgets

Story Processing

There's something about process and behind the scenes that gets people really interested...makes them feel like they're part of the story. Or, at least closer to it. The Food Network capitalized on the idea. So, did Apple. Biltmore Estate has some. As does Viking Cooking School

Letting people in on a secret is very powerful...might just make the story worth repeating.


Resumes and CV's tell you the what. But, how do you answer the more important "why"? We can read your "objective". But, why are you passionate? We can read what you did last year and the year before. But, why did you leave your last job? We can read that you like to cycle and hike. But, why are you driven toward those interests?

Of course, interviews answer the why. But, why wait for something that may never occur? Why not answer the why questions right up front? Why not save everyone some time and money...and perhaps land you the coveted interview. Prior to the current day access to bandwidth, the risk of telling your why story at the beginning was far too great. Cover letters longer than a few sentences are rarely read. Resumes are judged heavily on brevity and straightforwardness. And, phone calls are intercepted by admins and voice mail and are rarely returned. In other words, telling your story in any format other than in person isn't really possible with the traditional resume approach. Not so any more. With the broadband access we now enjoy, content distribution and consumption is easy. The challenge is to wrap it up in a nice package...tailor made for the intended audience. Des Walsh recently pointed me to a new beta project, VisualCV. I think it's a start...gives you the chance to add video, references, etc. However, I didn't see a blog or photo journal option. Or, how do you capture Twitter, Facebook or Friendfeed posts? What about Google shared items or Swurl? Your platform needs to be comprehensive and it needs to allow for format flexibility to demonstrate creativity and passion for certain things...a personal website which looks like it's professionally designed. Wordpress works great...but, takes some know how and work to make it fit.

And, let's not forget about content. If you don't have a blog, start one. If you don't take pictures, buy a camera. If you don't sing, try. If you haven't done anything remarkable or interesting, how do you expect to get noticed?

If you Google your name and aren't on the first page of results, you're behind.

Conversation Value

Email is a reasonable snapshot of how most of us communicate...who we connect with, how often, how much time we spend internal vs. external, etc. Look over your last 50-100 work related email conversations. How many were with customers, prospective customers or front line employees? 1%? 10%? If you work outside of sales, I bet it's pretty low (I must admit, mine is in the single digits). Beyond the front linesMost of our conversations are internal, with colleagues, bosses, vendors or sales people. Or, if you're at the line level, you might not even have access to email. If customers and line staff are inarguably the most important people to the company, why aren't we spending more time (at least half) communicating directly with them? Email, blogs, twitter, etc., are fantastic inventions for relationship building. So, why not use them more effectively with the people that matter most?

1. You (your company) haven't made building a loyal raving fan base your #1 priority.
2. You haven't given people numerous and easy ways to connect with you.
3. It's easier not to
4. We have sales people to do that
5. People don't like receiving e-mail and don't read blogs

Before you can tackle the big hairy obstacles at the top, everyone in your organization needs to come to some realizations about the sub roadblocks:

It's easier today to stand on the sidelines and watch. It will be harder next week, month or year to deal with lay-offs, job elimination, low morale, etc., when you don't have enough business.
It's everyone's job to make connections with strangers and turn them into friends. Everyone should be trained on the basics of professional, courteous and permission based communication. Everyone should have business cards. Everyone should hand them out liberally and ask people (guests as well as employees if you're a supervisor) if they can keep in touch and to call or write if they need anything.
People like hearing from people that they trust and for those that they believe care about them and put their interests ahead of the organization's.
Unless you are way out of touch, you know more and more people are turning to the internet for research, communication, and socializing. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Blackberry, iPhone and a host of online email solutions are the proof in the pudding.

Now, give everyone a reason to make the relationship side of their job a top priority. Give them training, tools and incentives. Develop measurable goals, whether it's email analysis or lead referrals or whatever.

Bad Signs...Why Bother?

How are we going to get people to come in to our new restaurant? Hey, let's put a really cool sign out front like our competitors do.

If you're going to shout your message at someone with a sign, be sure it represents the experience exactly. There are no short cuts with first impressions. You don't take these sorts of chances with people who answer the phone or on your website. So, why do it with a sign? A great sign tells a story...one harmonious with the remarkable acts which are going on inside. A great sign makes you feel like taking the next step. A sign done on the cheap, with lousy photography, confusing messages and bad content makes you look...well, cheap, lousy, bad...average at best. Why bother?