“Marketing is expensive,” said the well-meaning business and entrepreneur trainer when I approached him with a business idea that would help to expand his reach and potentially bring in a whole new audience. You hear this statement a lot and it’s usually followed by “I’m already using social media” like it’s some kind of magic bullet.
The thing about social media is that a few tweets here, a status update there and pin or two can only take you so far in getting feet through the door. If you’re using it to grow your reputation and business, unless you have a defined objective backed up by a solid strategic engagement strategy in place, you’re talking into the wind.
Over the past five or so years, I have worked on building my personal profile and in the process have followed some – now influential – people as they rose through the ranks to become the meaningful industry voices they are today. I was interested in creating a platform for myself which would enhance and be beneficial to my start-up business.
On my profile-building journey, there have been a number of people have been instrumental in advising me and showing me the ropes. I will, in this two-part series, attempt to share what I learnt and shed some light in how you can build a platform for yourself.
Call a friend
When you get stuck for an answer in ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, you are allowed to call a friend for the answer. Mentorship is very similar. It is about surrounding yourself with people who want to see you succeed and are willing to openly share the knowledge and experiences they have accumulated over the years.
A mentor doesn’t have to be older than you or necessarily wildly successful. Their value lies in sharing what has and has not worked for them and providing a sounding board when you’re unsure of the way forward.
Thought leaders are also useful guides. While you might not always have direct access to them, the insights that they share across their various platforms can help you to have important “Aha” moments or inspire you to follow a particular train of thought.
Early on in my journey one of my friends, who also plays in the creative space, encouraged me to share my thoughts, interpretations and insights across a variety of important industry platforms. This would allow me to raise my profile, as well as gain the opportunity to engage with the industry and to learn from their comments and feedback.
While initially a rather daunting prospect in the beginning, it made sense that if I was going to try and build my business around harnessing the power of influencers, then I should be living by example, showing potential clients what I had achieved rather than just making what might appear to be empty promises.
Writing regular thought leadership pieces for some of South Africa’s leading industry platforms, co-hosting an online TV show called ‘Let’s Talk Possibility’ and hosting Network Radio’s This Week in Startups has given me the opportunity, not only to share what I’ve learned through my research and the projects that I’ve undertaken, but also to learn from those responding to the articles, or appearing on the shows.
Be relevant and interesting
In my search for a magic bullet, soon after starting my business, I approached a media consultant for help on how to grow my business. He told me to take my own medicine and that selling anything, including oneself, means you have to put yourself out there.
The thing about putting yourself out there is that you’d better do a decent job. Don’t share unless you have something that is meaningful, relevant and valuable for your readers or listeners. Always do your homework too, so that you can back your thoughts and opinions up with fact wherever possible.
Be aware that you’re not always going to have a favourable response. In fact there may be times when someone heckles you and insists that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; remember at all times that it is how you conduct yourself in these moments that leaves you looking professional or not.
Have you ever found yourself making the analogy “mechanics drive the worst and most dilapidated cars”? No one wants to be that mechanic, let alone make contact with them. If you’re trying to position yourself as a thought leader, do your homework before you present your case, attend relevant industry conferences, events and workshops.
Take up interesting opportunities that will add to your knowledge in your chosen field and report back on what you learnt. Discuss past projects including what the brief was, what the outcome was and share what worked or what didn’t and muse about what you might do differently (if anything) second time around.
Why should anyone listen to you?
Our mentors are the people that we quite often bare our souls to, all the while trying to show them that we’re constantly growing and improving. My mentor has many of the traits that I want to cultivate in business, including the ability to captivate an audience and sell ideas that clients know are worth the investment.
The first questions he asked me was, “Why should anyone listen to you?” This got me thinking about the contribution I would like to make within my chosen field. In my case, the answer to that question is, “People should listen to me because I am able to generate conversations about their brands and products by introducing them to a network of fresh, relevant, exciting and engaging young South African thought leaders.”
Once you have identified why people should listen to you, creating a plan and then implementing a strategic course of action which will encourage them to listen and to ask the important engagement questions, is easier.
He also shared with me, that people listen to those whom they perceive have ‘made it’ in their respective fields. So en route to blazing a trail, remember to build a network through your contributions, which will assist in building your credibility.
We all have that one connection who calls for help whenever they’re desperate but who is seldom able to return the favour. Don’t be that guy. It is the people who give first that are more likely to make lasting connections and it’s those connections that can help to make you a force to be reckoned with in your field.
Many people spend their lives building connections and making a meaningful contribution on various platforms. Others spend their time asking to tap into the connections you’ve spent countless hours nurturing without feeling the need to contribute anything of value in return.
Referring one of your connections to another is a difficult decision to make, because at the end of the day, regardless of whether or not you are involved in the interaction that takes place thereafter, your reputation is at stake should one person not live up to the promised expectation.
Would you prefer to be someone that encourages others to want to refer you because they can trust the way you will conduct yourself with others or are you comfortable with the possibility that your calls are being ignored for a good reason?
5 Steps to success
These are some of the first steps I took, and as I learn along the way, nothing is set in stone, the journey and the strategy changes on occasion and different things become more useful.
- Start by growing your network
- Surround yourself with people from whom you can learn and who you can potentially help in return for their insights and guidance
- Begin building your profile, making sure to do your homework.
- Ask yourself the question “why should anyone listen to me” and then create a strategic plan to reach them.
- Lastly, be the person that people like to refer to others rather than drain their patience.
They’re Your Rules, Break Them
Could your brand benefit from the surprise factor? If you can package your information into a ‘mystery’, you’ll hold your audience in the palm of your hand.
The phrase has become iconic, and even those who have never caught an episode are familiar with it: ‘Winter… is coming!’
Many viewers have a love-hate relationship with Game of Thrones. It is impeccably well made, and, as the most expensive television show ever produced per episode, visually stunning.
Yet the level of violence beggars belief. Even if you are not an especially squeamish viewer, the assembly-line massacre of leading characters is perpetually shocking. And therein lies at least part of the reason why the enterprise is so successful.
No, it’s not the gore. It’s the unpredictable nature of each new development. The good guys don’t necessarily win. The bad guys don’t necessarily lose. Upheaval and disruption rock the storyline at every turn, making it one of the least formulaic productions around. You simply don’t know who’s going to prevail and who’s going to perish colourfully, and that keeps fans coming back for more.
So why is it so attractive for a store to defy conventions and, in a sense, ‘betray’ expectations? And can a brand story make use of the same dynamic?
I did not see that coming
In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe the powerful communication technique of ‘breaking people’s guessing machines’.
To make communication genuinely riveting, simply organise the information into a mystery, something in which the recipient can’t tell the outcome in advance. It can be done with something as traditionally dusty as a university lecture. George R.R. Martin certainly did it in a medieval fantasy about warring kingdoms.
It can even be done in a sales pitch. In Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Babble founder Rufus Griscom is described giving a completely counterintuitive presentation as part of a sales pitch. He headlined his slide: ‘Five reasons you shouldn’t buy Babble’.
And there was no trick implied. The presentation covered precisely these ideas, and not in an ironic way. He went into detail about the obstacles the company was facing, and described why these hurdles could be a difficulty to investors.
So why did it work (and work it did!)? The answer is two-fold.
Initially, the novelty factor drew attention. How do you not listen to a presentation like that? Secondly, the executives evaluating the presentation were basically being covertly invited to problem-solve.
‘That’s not so bad!’ they would say, psychologically bypassing the ‘should we or shouldn’t we?’ step and going straight into assumptive ownership. They then began discussing ways of overcoming the obstacles. It became a challenge to their abilities.
In all of these cases, the approach has been to break accepted conventions in order to ‘break the guessing machine’ of the audience. The net result is heightened engagement, sustained curiosity and delight upon the reveal of the ‘answer’. When you depart from the accepted formulas of communication, you create cognitive dissonance. The audience (despite themselves, in the case of Thrones viewers who might not like violence), have to know how this will turn out.
Breaking the rules makes you distinctive
Rules can create set expectations. Formulas and accepted approaches do the same.
When you break and betray the rules, the level of anticipation remains high. In communication, surprise is effective and often attractive.
Does your brand ever surprise? Or is it constantly communicating in ways that are so predictable as to be mildly sedating? In your pitches and presentations, does your copy stand out? Or suffer death-by-predictability? What might you accomplish if you tampered with the rules on purpose, in order to up-end expectations? Do you have what it takes to break the human guessing machine? If you do, you just might achieve true brand distinction.
Beyond mere words
The technique of ‘breaking the human guessing machine’ is not just limited to pitches and presentations. Your entire brand tells a story too, and with each new initiative, each new enterprise that it undertakes, it adds to the total tale in the public consciousness.
I contend that brands in South Africa tend to under-utilise the possibilities available to them. In an understandable quest to be taken seriously, they speak the language of ‘dependable business,’ rather than ‘exciting venture.’
A ‘dependable business’ has the narrative of stasis. There is no movement. An ‘exciting venture’ by contrast, speaks in vivid movement and attractive energy. It has purpose, mission and meaning.
The key to actualising this idea is theatre. And to understand the power of theatre in a brand’s narrative, let’s go straight to what must be the greatest example of brand theatre the business landscape has ever seen.
‘Here, hold my space shuttle’
Imagine you owned two organisations. One created space shuttles. The other made electric sports cars. What if you launched one of your cars out of earth’s atmosphere, using your own rockets? What if you then set the car into an orbit around the planet, with a little spaceman mannequin hanging out the side, playing a David Bowie hit as he cruised through eternity? Do you think such a theatrical initiative might just make it into every newspaper on the planet?
In doing just this, Elon Musk led the way. He demonstrated just how far we can depart from stuffy brand narrative to tell an exciting story, a surprising story. … And what will he do next?!
The very fact that we even ask such a question is proof of the concept.
It’s not about big budgets
Naturally, not every business has the budget to tinker with near-earth orbit. But theatre doesn’t have to be expensive. Have you ever dropped by a luxury car dealership, to have your cappuccino served to you with the brand’s logo drawn into the froth? That cost nothing but a little imagination.
Have you seen the number of YouTube views BMW achieved with their ‘drift-mob’ video in Cape Town? It runs into the millions, and growing.
Achieving surprise and telling a distinctive brand story need not be exorbitantly expensive. Kulula sets themselves apart with their inflight announcement. My all-time favourite is still: ‘In the event of an emergency, please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your child. If you have more than one child, please pick your favourite now.’
This month, what if you challenged yourself to think about the key word ‘surprise’? What could your brand do that is unexpected and delightful, that will have people turning to one another and saying, ‘That was awesome!’, while still remaining true to your mission and vision? In fact, what if you started by looking over your mission statement, and then asked, ‘How could this be done in a way that is publicly surprising?’
Theatre can set you apart. It can make you what US speaker Joe Callaway calls, ‘A Category of One.’ And it only requires that you use a little imagination, then have the courage to be different on purpose. Your goal is simple, emotional impact. Wow factor. Nothing more intellectual than that.
New toys for rule-breakers
There are many other opportunities for rule-breakers to create strategic disruption. You might ask why things have always been done in a certain way. You might carry out an exercise in which you ask what ideal end-usage looks like for your client, then challenge your team to try to achieve that goal, using the phrase, ‘Couldn’t we just …?’ You might even ask insightful questions about what you actually sell, and not what product you believe you’re selling. All of these are useful exercises for the courageous maverick, and all can lead to different forms of productive rule-breaking.
For this month, though, pose yourself this single challenge only: What could we do in our brand narrative that might have a Game of Thrones-level impact?
In our household, that looks like this:
- Douglas: ‘I can’t believe we keep watching this show!’
- Wife: ‘Me neither!’
- Douglas: ‘That was so shocking!’
- Wife: ‘Unbelievable.’
- Douglas: ‘Want to watch the next one?’
- Wife: ‘Absolutely!’
… And that’s what you’re after.
3 Things Taylor Swift Can Teach Entrepreneurs About Reputation Management
Taylor Swift makes certain not one of her fans feels like a number, which is part of why she has more fans than she could possibly count.
How do you get customers to notice the release of a new product? If you’re Taylor Swift, you delete your social media history and then drop a video of yourself in a $10 million diamond bath. Although it’s a bit unorthodox, her approach worked.
The “Look What You Made Me Do” video racked up more than 43 million views in 24 hours, according to Variety – crushing the record for views of a debut video. By the time it became available through streaming services, Swift’s Reputation album had already spent three weeks in the Billboard 200’s No. 1 spot.
What made Swift’s album release so massive? She knows her fan base well enough to create exactly the type of hype her millions of followers respond to best. Brands can follow suit by looking for opportunities to get the attention of their own fans.
Swift’s fans follow her religiously on Instagram, but if, say, General Electric deleted its Instagram posts, few people would notice and even fewer would care. Entrepreneurs should first find out where their customers are and what they care about in order to figure out the best way to get them to take notice.
What’s the customer experience ‘end game’?
Customers want to feel like they matter, but all too often, they end up feeling like little more than a number. This feeling isn’t unjustified. What’s the first thing the typical business does when it gets a new customer? It assigns that new customer an account number.
Swift differs from a typical business by looking at her customers as unique individuals, even though her millions of fans far exceed the number of customers of a typical business. Swift broadcasts general information to all her followers, of course, but she also goes out of her way on an almost daily basis to engage at an individual level with at least some of her fans.
In a world where the bar for the customer experience is so low that even the most skilled limbo dancer couldn’t slide beneath it, the way businesses interact with customers is more important than ever. Businesses often use size to justify their lack of a positive customer experience.
While a start-up can offer customers a personalised interaction at the beginning, many businesses find it difficult to keep individualised attention and care a priority as they start to add more customers and hire more employees. There are ways to keep the focus on customers’ experiences, though, and Swift’s success in doing this at scale offers three great lessons:
1. Stay true to the “customer comes first” philosophy
Never forget that a company’s success grows directly from the relationship with its “fans.” Swift is under no false illusions. The second her fans decide to stop listening to her music, her career is over. This is why she goes out of her way to cultivate her relationship with her fans on a daily basis.
Her Tumblr page is a prime example of how she takes fan engagement seriously, and she uses the platform to interact with fans on a regular basis by following their pages, commenting on conversations and even sending flowers to fans who need a pick-me-up.
The same must be true of every employee in a company. If the people who come into contact with customers don’t understand and share the enthusiasm for creating a remarkable customer experience, the “customer comes first” philosophy isn’t being put into practice on the front lines.
Never forget that customers are a brand’s fans, and they keep companies in business. Every employee plays a role in making customers feel special and appreciated.
2. Forget the old way of doing things
For her most recent concert tour, Swift announced a change in how ticket purchasing will work. Rather than follow the traditional “first come, first served” model – which invites bots to snatch up tickets before actual people can purchase them – Swift’s fans will be allowed to compete for a ranking through Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan programme.
In this model, if a fan exhibits increased engagement by signing up for Swift’s newsletter and sharing about her on social media, the fan is able to purchase better tickets to the concert.
Like Swift, constantly be on the lookout for fun and engaging ways to let customers know that their business is valuable. This will take creativity and may require extra effort, but the response from customers will be worth it.
3. Reward raving fans
Many entrepreneurs worry that if they can’t create a remarkable experience for every customer, it would be unfair to do so for any customer. This means that no customer ends up having a remarkable experience.
Related: How Not to Commit Reputation Suicide
Swift refuses to get tied up in such limited thinking. In 2014, she undertook a project to study the social media accounts of a few of her “superfans,” learning what they liked, who they were friends with, where they worked and other personal details.
Swift then went shopping for Christmas (or “Swiftmas,” as it came to be called) gifts for those fans. These exceptional personalised gifts, sent to only a few dozen fans, were seen by the rest of her fan base as an incredible act of kindness. That made them love her even more, even though they weren’t direct beneficiaries of this special treatment.
Showering your best customers with extra love isn’t unfair to the rest. Set the bar for customer experience high across the board, but do something extra special for your most loyal fans. They deserve it, after all, and there’s no better way to convince a customer “fan” base that they really are more than just a number.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
(Infographic)Top 10 Reasons To Rebrand Your Business
In order to grow, sometimes you’ve got to go back to the drawing board.
Businesses often need to rebrand, and it can be a result of many reasons, including international growth, new management, a bad reputation or an outdated image. Whatever the reason, it’s important to create a stellar brand that people will remember.
Because of internationalisation, Raider changed its name to Twix. If you plan to grow internationally, it’s incredibly important to choose a brand name that’s adaptable and appealing to cultures worldwide.
Walmart, known for its low prices, is also a prime example of a major company that wanted to reposition itself in the market. However, instead of changing its name, the company simply changed its slogan from “Always low prices” to “Save money, live better.”
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he changed Apple’s rainbow logo to a sleek metallic one. Keeping up with trends, changing times and his vision for Apple’s future, Jobs’s rebrand worked well and aligned with the company’s brand of offering minimalistic, contemporary products.
If you’re planning to rebrand your business, it’s important to think about what will help your company grow. To learn more, check out Custom Logo Shop’s infographic below for the top 10 reasons to rebrand your business:
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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