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Organizational storytelling workshop change your story and you'll change the way people listen graphic

Why Your Great Idea Isn’t Getting a Fair Hearing

Organizational Storytelling Workshop Series

Why is it so hard to communicate a great business idea? It can feel intensely frustrating when our ideas seem to fall flat. If it happens often enough, the tendency is to just throw our hands up in the air and blame “corporate culture” or sometimes even blame the listener for being willfully blind to the opportunity.

Most likely though, the problem is not the idea or the listener, or even the company culture, but rather the story you are using to frame your idea. Change your story, and you’ll change the way people listen.

Typically we think about storytelling as a way to frame the company or product story, and it is. But stories can also be enormously powerful tools for ensuring that the best ideas in your company get a fair shake. Here are some of the most common mistakes that come up in our organizational storytelling workshops, and how you can use stories to fix them.

You’re solving the wrong problem

Many ideas fail to compel attention because they are framed as the solution to a problem the listener does not care about. I see this in organizational storytelling workshops all the time. Someone pulls me aside and the conversation goes something like this:

I’m trying to get my boss to buy in to such-and-such idea and I want to use story structure, but I can’t figure out how to do it.

What problem is your idea going to solve?

Well, the problem is that my boss thinks everything is fine, but actually things are totally falling apart. She just doesn’t care that we are making mistakes/being inefficient/missing an opportunity. She is the problem.

Let’s pause right here, because this point is really important. This mindset is extremely unhelpful in storytelling. If you want your idea to get a fair hearing, you must never define the target audience of your idea as the problem. Think about it, would you listen to a story that makes you the villain? So the most effective story framework is one in which the problem being solved matters to the listener. This sounds obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Your story must solve a problem that the listener cares about.

To do this you must have genuine empathy for the position of the person you are trying to persuade. Start by imagining yourself sitting in that person’s exact place, and having all their particular concerns, hopes and fears. This is the entry point.

Let’s continue our typical conversation.

Assume your boss says yes. What problem are you solving then?

Our error rate is way too high, so we have to reprocess everything repeatedly.

See the difference? The problem isn’t the boss, it’s the error rate. NOW we have defined the problem in a way that is far more likely to get a hearing.

You’re not accounting for PITA (Pain.in.the.Ass)

People do not generally like extra work. So very often your idea isn’t getting through because while you are imagining all the possibilities, your listener is imagining all the work. Use your story to explain who is going to take on the extra load and why they might be willing to do it.

While you are imagining all the possibilities, your listener is imagining all the work.

Let’s continue the conversation in my imaginary, but typical, organizational storytelling workshop:

Once your boss says yes to your idea to solve the error rate, what happens next?

We renegotiate our deal with the vendor, completely update workflow, and retrain the team.

Sounds like a lot of work. Does your boss have anything else on her plate right now that would prevent her from doing all that work, even if she wants to?

Hmm…I can definitely handle all the process planning, because I already worked it out. That’s how I got this idea in the first place. And I can offer to train the team because I already know our process backwards and forwards.

You see where I am going with this. When you ask someone to make a change, even a very good one, you must account for how much of a pain it’s going to be to implement.

The victory feels too vague

Another ice pick in the heart of getting your idea a hearing is vague corporate-speak. Use simple language to make the benefit as clear, tangible and specific as possible. Here’s where you can bring in that data everyone loves so much.

For example, claiming you will reduce the error rate and increase productivity isn’t actually very persuasive. It sounds more like hope than proof. You will dramatically improve the likelihood of being believed by making your story specific and concrete.

Which of these two sentences sounds more believable to you?

If we change our process, we will reduce the error rate and increase productivity.

With smaller, more frequent shipments, we catch errors 3 times faster, and improve productivity by 22%.

You see the difference? Used wisely, data can support your story to make it feel more believable.  Just remember that the data should support your story, not overwhelm it.

You’re hogging the glory

In every great story there is a hero and a villain. Too often, we want to frame ourselves as the hero. This is a crucial mistake. The target of your idea is always the hero. Always.The target audience for your idea is always the hero

I know, I know you hate to give credit for your good idea to the person who won’t even listen. Sorry, this post is not about who gets credit. It’s about getting your idea a fair hearing. Do it by making your listener the hero.

In the case of the conversation we’ve been having, the most persuasive story is this one:

The boss is the hero who will test and prove a new method for reducing the error rate while improving production efficiency.

The villain is the error rate and overall inefficiency.

The employee is the assistant who helps the boss achieve this great result.

This story structure works because everyone wants to be the hero of their own story. Use it to give your idea the best possible chance of being accepted.

Conclusion

To help your story rise above the noise in our often over-stretched workplaces, you must make it feel like someone or something is going to change forever. And the person or team who is going to get the most benefit of that change has to be your audience, not you. Once you do that, you’ve given your idea a booster shot of story power no amount of data alone can match.

To learn more about organizational storytelling workshops for your teams, email carol@rumblemarketing.com.

7 Organizational Storytelling Trends to Watch in 2017

It’s the time of year when your inbox is filled with round-ups, predictions and, lets face it, a decent amount of flim-flam. In the spirit of the season, we decided to go with organizational storytelling trends, because that’s what our clients care about!

Feel free to download it, share it, and even tell us if you thing we got something wrong. A text copy with links to all sources is included below, because as all our friends know, we are sticklers for evidence.

Go forth and tell great stories in 2017!

~The Rumble Team

7 Organizational Storytelling Trends in 2017 Infographic

Go ahead and CLICK on this image now to make it larger. You know you want to!

FULL TEXT VERSION

7 Trends in Organizational Storytelling to Look for in 2017

Video continues to be more important than ever. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video delivers the equivalent of 24,000 words of story power per second. It’s well past time to devote some budget to this critical media.

Immediacy rules. Facebook live streaming, Snapchat stories and Instagram stories all rely on a willingness to place speed over deliberation. In 2017 no one will be waiting for perfection.

Fake news is a force to be reckoned with. The trolls are smarter than ever but even accidental fake news is a real problem. Telling your own company story first is the best defense against this cancer.

Millenials are changing the dynamics of email. Millennials now make up 30% of the workforce, and they overwhelmingly prefer instant chat to email. While email isn’t disappearing yet, this trend means that email marketers will have to tell better stories than ever to earn their attention.

Your blog content IS your SEO. Whether your content is long or short, video or infographic, Google is reading and rewarding great stories. So if your blog is a graveyard that hasn’t been updated in months, you’re opening the door wide for the competition to outrank you.

Linked In is unbeatable for B2B. No other network can touch Linked In’s quality of data on prospects’ employment history, industry, job titles and areas of interest. If Microsoft makes good on its post-acquisition plans, Linked In will be more important than ever for channel development.

Wearables are finally hitting their stride. These devices are now fully mainstream, and inside their anonymized data lies thousands of amazing stories to be told. Fitness companies, biomedical companies, even food and beverage should be collaborating to mine this data and lead the way.

Storytelling Without Starting From Scratch

Simple Things Storytellers Do

Storytelling with a capital “S” can be a bit intimidating. Every day businesses are urged to use more storytelling, but sometimes it feels like a huge project with pressure to completely re-do everything.

It turns out that pro storytellers apply some of the same core techniques regardless of project size. Whether you are planning a complete brand update, or seeking to improve how you communicate the great brand you’ve already got, here are some fundamental story techniques the pros use every day, and you can too.

Storytelling on your website

Website development is a lot like marriage; it involves a lot of compromise. The marketing team wants emotional resonance; the sales team wants product detail; the UX folks want it streamlined; the data teams want SEO; I.T. is in a huff about security… the list goes on and on. The storyteller’s task is to address these competing, legitimate demands and tell a coherent story too.

One helpful way to handle this challenge is to remember that you don’t have to tell the whole story on every page. Instead, think of it like this: Each page on your website has one high level “job” to do. It may have other jobs as well, but the story of that page should focus on the highest-level purpose.

I’m a huge fan of No Kid Hungry, so let’s look at their site. The home page needs to share the mission, invite donations, promote the current campaign, and include a key partner, among other things. But the STORY is that kids in our communities have empty plates.

No Kid hungry home page

This homepage tells the high level story.

 

This page works because the focus is razor-sharp: hungry kids. You may look at this and think, “That’s so obvious!” but trust me, this kind of clean focus is really hard.

Storytelling with language

Words are powerful. So every word you write has the responsibility to express something important about your brand story. That’s why writing good copy is so hard. Pros don’t just write clear sentences; they make every single word on the page advance the larger story.

Take the product description below as an example. It’s extraordinarily simple.

Kashi Cereal stoytelling on a box

Everyone likes a good morning kiss. (Emphasis on kissed added) Photo credit: Kashi

 

Kashi whole grain corn is kissed with molasses. Notice that word choice, “kissed”? It’s not flavored with molasses. It’s not made with molasses. It’s kissed with molasses.

Can you feel the difference? Think about it. Who kisses you in the morning?  Your mom! Or maybe your partner. Or your kids. The point is that this one word tells you that Kashi is a story of family and love. I feel good already!

Now take a look at the copy on your own website, or social post, or other asset. Can you find just one word that you can update to tell a better story? Most likely, you can.

Storytelling with images

Everyone knows that images can be powerful, but not all images are equally so.

Too many companies make the mistake of using an image that is literal. This is particularly true for technology companies, who frequently include screenshots on the homepage. You don’t have to show exactly what the product does! You do have to show how the product makes you feel. That feeling is your story.

Apple ipod original ad story

This image works because it shows how the product makes you feel. Photo credit: Apple Inc.

 

Apple did this with its iconic iPod ads, and the result was absolute domination of the category.

Particularly when you have very little room for copy, a single image can do a lot to tell your story. The key is to focus on the emotion behind the image rather than the image itself.

Storytelling offline

Digital assets are great because they are so flexible, but real world environments offer great story opportunities too. One of my favorite story-in-the-real-world examples was developed by a Chicago-area Domino’s franchisee, Ramon DeLeon, way back in 2010.

Ramon wanted to show his customers that he would do anything it took to make them happy. His tool of choice was Twitter. If you had a problem, you could tweet Ramon and get it solved immediately. No middle-man, no phone calls where you risked being put on hold by a busy pizza shop. He owned responsibility for your experience, good or bad.

So Ramon printed his own Twitter handle on every box along with snippets of Twitter conversations with customers. Whenever you needed help Ramon was at the ready, and the proof was right there on the pizza boxes. Customers loved it.

Twitter story on a pizza box with Ramon WOW

You’re Never Alone with @Ramon_Deleon. “The Pizza Guy to Know in Downtown Chicago.”

 

Importantly, Ramon always respected the overall Domino’s brand story. At the time, Domino’s promised your pizza in 30 minutes or less, or your money back. So Ramon’s store-level brand story was right in tune with the overall company commitment to customer satisfaction.

I love this example because it expands our idea of what storytelling is well beyond the standard “viral” video. We have so many opportunities to look for and express individual stories, and do it even when working within the context of a larger brand.

One last thing

Storytelling can be used in ways big and small, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Indeed, the closer you are to it, the tougher it is. But pros start by breaking it down into specific components such as language, images and objectives, and you can too.

Content inspiration

3 Techniques Top Storytellers Use for Inspired Content Creation

Marketers today face a dilemma. On the one hand, there is the intense pressure to ramp up content creation. On the other is the certain knowledge that readers’ inboxes and social feeds are already overflowing, which means the bar for quality is higher than ever before.  How do you come up with great content ideas over and over again?

Contrary to what you may think, content creation is rarely the product of a burst of sudden inspiration. Instead, even the top storytellers rely on specific steps designed to generate great ideas on a regular basis. Here are three steps to consistent content inspiration.

Mine your inbox

Ever heard the quote “Good artists copy, great artists steal”? (It’s by Pablo Picasso.) When you are charged with developing lots of great content ideas, start by looking in your own inbox. If you’re like most people, you probably have 7 (or 11, or 14) tabs open in your browser right now. Why? Because you clicked on something that interested you and you’re hoping to come back and read it later. (Or maybe if you’re really organized you saved it in Pocket.) No matter.

The point is that if a headline worked on you, it can probably work for you. So look at the headlines you clicked on and see if you can use them to inspire your own content planning.

Here’s an example of one that grabbed my attention today, because I have a race coming up:

Content creation inspiration from Map My Run blog

Headlines that work on you can also work for you.

Now let’s repurpose this excellent headline structure to work a variety of target audiences and topics:

Original:

The Beginners Guide to Fueling for a Half-Marathon

Converted:

The Alumnae’s Guide to Navigating the Post-Graduation Job Hunt

The Diabetics Guide to Nutrition After Diagnosis

The Dentists Guide to Marketing Techniques

The trick is to follow the pattern in the headline:

Your target customer + Guide to + Item the target customer wants know

But isn’t that cheating? No, it isn’t, and here’s why: Whenever you are teaching your customers something they actually want to know, you are delivering real value. And that is the whole point, right?

Strategically surf social media

Social media is where your audience bares their soul. So, you can read your target’s mind with startling clarity just by having a deliberate game plan to listen in there. The operative phrase here is, ”deliberate game plan”.

Of course the first place to listen is on your own social channels. But for the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume your own channels aren’t very active yet, which is why you are looking for more content inspiration on the first place.

Ok, we can still look elsewhere. Let’s say you make a product that targets people with peanut allergies. Maybe you make sunflower butter (my favorite nut-free alternative to peanut butter), or allergy-alert bracelets, or even Benadryl. The audience for each of these products is definitely going to be talking about what they want, fear and need to know in places like Facebook, Twitter and beyond.

It took me two minutes to find this page (on the right) on Facebook. It’s called Allergy Moms, and after a quick check of the About page I can see that it’s run by a real mom, and it has over 25,000 “likes”. Perfect.

screenshot-2016-09-22-15-00-06

As soon as you click on the page feed you find questions like:

– How can I help my peanut-allergic son get ready for dating?

– What do I do if my kid’s new school doesn’t offer a 504 plan?

In short, it’s a gold mine of real-world inspiration – and that’s just one Facebook page. Once you have used this trick to identify some key social streams where your audience is already talking, you are well on your way. All you have to do next to create high-value content is two things:

  1. Track the questions that occur most frequently and/or get the most comments and interest.
  2. Create content and tell stories that answer those questions.

If you happen to make a product that targets businesses and not consumers, this listening-in technique still works. You simply need to tune in to more business-friendly channels like Linked In and Twitter, rather than consumer-oriented ones like Facebook or Instagram.  The same “listening for questions and concerns” principles still apply.

In short, there is no better place to uncover your prospects’ literal and figurative “likes” than social channels.

Sit with the sales team. Literally.

This one is especially good when your job is content creation for a B2B product or service. The sales teams talk to prospects all day long. And those conversations are a perfect window into what your customers want to know. So if you can, move your desk or chair right next to the area of the office where the sales folks sit. You will be positively astonished at all the great material you overhear for content purposes.

If you can’t physically sit with the sales team all the time, at the very least sit with them at lunch. Not a big lunch-eating crowd? Keep a bowl of candy  on your desk so they’ll stop by regularly at 3pm for a pick-me-up. The key is to deliberately plan regular opportunities to talk with the sales folks about what is going on in their world. It’s a very short walk indeed from customer questions to content inspiration.

I know what you’re thinking: What about search engine optimization (SEO)? She didn’t talk about Google!

Relax.

First, the good news is that Google is getting better and better at uncovering content that is genuinely relevant to what people are searching for. So merely by creating useful content on topics your audience actually cares about, you have a big head start on SEO.

Second, once you have your content ideas worked out, you can always tweak the titles and the focus to specific phrases or keywords that you are hoping to capture. (I’ll cover this in detail in another post.)

So there you have it: three sure-fire ways to get the content creation juices flowing.  And none of them requires making anything up from scratch. Instead, they come from having a regular action plan designed to cultivate inspiration. By following this tried-and-true game plan you and your team will soon be coming up with winning content ideas over and over again.

Why Jeep’s Super Bowl Ad Made You Wanna Cry

Lots of people are talking about the Super Bowl ads this week. But I don’t want to just talk about what I liked, I want to show you what you can steal. Here goes.

First, it’s no secret that storytelling is one of the most powerful marketing tricks in the book. The very best ads are the ones that allow us to be the hero in the story, because we all want to feel like we matter. So when you make your customer into the hero of your story, you tap a fundamental human desire, the desire for meaning. Powerful stuff.

Since Jeep used this heroic principle more explicitly than any other brand ad during the game, it’s a good place to learn how this technique works. In case you missed it, here is the clip:

Why does this ad make you feel so good?

It actively engages your emotional memory bank

The video doesn’t just show a rapidly moving series of faces. It deliberately taps a rich archive of heroic characters already stored in our memory and then associates them with the Jeep brand. Some of the faces and ideas are specific (Jurassic Park, Marilyn Monroe, Aretha Franklin) and others are beloved archetypes (soldiers, dogs, children). As each image flashes by, we instinctively begin to guess who or what the image is. It’s a mental memory game and we want to play it. (Oh yeah, I know that movie! I recognize that singer!) With each moment of recognition, we both “win” the game and are drawn deeper into the story.

It makes the brand personal

The voiceover commences in the first person “I” so that Jeep isn’t merely a brand, but a character telling you its own story. When the narrator says “I’ve seen things no man can bear… from the beaches of Normandy… to the far reaches of the earth” he is demonstrating Jeep’s awareness of its place in our collective history. By the time we hear “In my life, I’ve lived millions of lives” the brand has been transformed in our imaginations into a real character with feelings, and we believe it.

It makes the customer the hero

So when Jeep (the character) concludes the ad by saying, “We don’t make Jeep. You do.” it is the utterly logical conclusion of the story they have built. Even if you’ve never been in a Jeep before, in just 60 seconds you have been persuaded that Jeep has actually been part of your life all along, proven through your very recognition of all the heroic moments in the reel. You can be a hero in this story. All you have to do is buy a Jeep.

That’s great storytelling.

You can use these exact same techniques to tell stories about your own company’s products and services. Engaging the customer. Personalizing the brand. Making the customer the hero. These aren’t accidents, they are deliberate marketing and storytelling choices.

Hang on, I know what you’re thinking.

We make accounting software! It’s too boring to be engaging, or have a hero.

Not so. Let me demonstrate. Perhaps one of the customers using your boring software is the Humane Society. That means all the time and money your software is saving them can now be spent on saving puppies. Let me emphasize this point just to be clear: Your accounting software is not just software. It’s a tool your (heroic) customer uses to save puppies. Everyone loves puppies.

Now that you have puppies on your side, can you think of a way to make your software personal? Of course you can. What has your software “seen” inside the books of all its customers? What stories can that software tell about all the amazing things those businesses are doing? You get the idea.

The point is this: No matter what your product or service is, there are great stories to be told. Stories that make us cry, even when we logically know it’s just an ad. And now you know exactly how to start finding them.

 

 

3 Signs Your Re-Brand is Going to Be a Complete Waste of Money

Marketing execs are in a fix.

On the one hand, there is stark evidence that a powerful brand has enormous influence over purchasing behavior and customer satisfaction.

On the other, rebrands are almost always a total waste of money, not to mention highly embarrassing and public when they fail. (You can predict the likely degree of misfire by counting how many people with weird titles the agency flies in for the pitch meeting.)

What to do?

Here are three object lessons in rebrands gone wrong to help you decide if your planned brand update will power your company’s launch into future, or devolve into an expensive exercise in futility.

You’re trying to fix a business problem with a new logo

Radio Shack The Shack logoRemember when Radio Shack sold CB radios in the 1970s? That’s okay, neither do I. But they made a mint doing it, and after CBs faded out of popular use they successfully navigated many business changes peaking through the 1980s and early 1990s with over 7,000 stores in the US alone.

The SHack logo replacement AdUnfortunately, by the mid-2000s the once-dominant company’s many strategic missteps had left it struggling to figure out its identity.(Did they sell radios? computers? technical expertise?) But the one thing Radio Shack still had well past its prime was insanely good name recognition.  So how did they handle it? They took the one thing everyone did remember fondly about the company – its name and logo – and torpedoed it.

That’s not to say that logos shouldn’t be refreshed or updated. But your logo is never your brand. It is simply the visual expression of it. So if your management team is unclear on the company’s strategic business direction, put the checkbook away and tell the agency you’ll call them when you’ve got it figured out.

Your new name is emotionally identical to the old one

Sleep Country Brand LogoLast year Sleep Country rebranded as Sleep Train. This one makes me extra sad, because I have always loved Sleep Country thanks to their incredible support for foster kids. Here’s a company that built its business on price, selection and service. They absolutely own that position in the market. So what’s the difference between a Sleep Country and a Sleep Train? I have no idea. And neither do you. You know why? Because there isn’t any. Emotionally, these two names are identical.

Sleep Train new brand logoSo while you may not like Sleep Train any less than Sleep Country, you probably don’t like it any more, either. Meanwhile, the company is now spending millions of dollars trying to erase that well-established name from your mind and replace it with the new one.

I can see why the company felt that their old tagline ‘Why buy a mattress anywhere else?” was ready for an update. And the new one “Superior Service. Best Selection. Lowest Price. Guaranteed.” is really good.  It tells you exactly why you wouldn’t buy a mattress anywhere else. Kudos. But changing the name conferred no benefits, while costing valuable brand equity.

Sleep Train still has plenty of opportunity though, and I really hope their next campaign will grab it by telling powerful, emotional stories about the many foster children who have benefited from their commitment to such an important cause.

You’re pointlessly making things complicated

Pediatric Associates old brand logoFor decades parents in and around the greater Seattle area have been flocking to the superb medical practice, Pediatric Associates. Great doctors, short wait times, efficient operations, and a main office that’s open even on Saturdays and Sundays. In short – everything a busy parent wants.

So what did they do? They rebranded as Allegro Pediatrics. I know. I had to look it up too.

So, it turns out that Allegro means “cheerful” or “lively” in Italian. Which is nice if you speak Italian, but I suspect most of their customers don’t. Meanwhile in English, Allegro sounds vaguely like an allergy, or a medication for an allergy. It’s also a musical term from those 5th grade violin lessons you took that you’ve now completely forgotten, because you have a new baby and your brain is fried from lack of sleep, and all you really want is a pediatrician with a name you can actually remember.

This is a classic example of “if it ‘aint broke… don’t fix it.” Pediatric Associates already had a perfectly useful name with loads of brand equity in the community. Why couldn’t they keep that same name and use it in the aesthetic of this fun new logo? I’m pretty sure the designer could have figured it out.

Allegro Pediatrics' brand logoThat logo and website refresh was certainly overdue, but a name change was not. The lesson? No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That new name (and the pretty penny they surely paid to get it) isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever in their revenue or retention rates.

This is not to deny the power of brand. In fact, I work with companies to improve their brand storytelling all the time. But this is done by uncovering an existing brand story, not by papering some totally made up story over it.

Brands are indeed powerful. The trick is to discover what’s already great about your company and then tell that story over and over again. Marketing dollars should be used to express your brand, not fake one.

This is just as true for a supposedly boring B2B product as it is for consumer brands. Whether you are a brilliant, scrappy upstart, or the oldest, most reliable service provider in your sector, your brand will work hardest for you when you focus on expressing that personality authentically, in every touch point you have with your customers.

If it turns out that your name or logo are totally out of sync with who you fundamentally are then go right ahead and do that rebrand. But if not, maybe it’s your story – and not your name – that needs the reboot.

Whole Foods: How They Can Rewrite Their Story and Win the PR War

Whole Foods Market in brand crisis

Whole Foods brand can win by owning a premium position

People are fascinated by car wrecks. The more awful, the more we feel compelled to look. The same is true in marketing. Somehow, everyone loves to cringe and comment when a company has some kind of public meltdown. And like with most car wrecks, the average observer will get a lot of the facts just plain wrong.

Which brings me to the just plain wrong that was delivered in this misinformed post in CNBC.com of all places about Whole Foods’ recent tough week. The author (a journalist-turned-PR-consultant) rehashes the news we’ve already heard elsewhere – Whole Foods’ stock is down, they can’t shake the whole paycheck moniker, blah, blah, – and then opines on what he thinks Whole Foods ought to do, namely:

If Whole Foods wants to win back trust, it needs to engage in a pro-active “pricing campaign” that educates consumers on why and how they are lowering prices, while remaining true to their high quality products that made Whole Foods the pioneer in organic food.

Uhm, no. This is like telling BMW they better figure out a way to slash prices so they can compete with Toyota, because they both offer leather seats, GPS and sunroofs as an option.

Whole Foods is a premium brand that is NEVER going to win on price. NEVER. People don’t shop at Whole Foods because it has the cheapest food, they shop there because it has the best food. Period.

Best selection. Best quality. Best service. You want cheap? Go to the market next door. You want the best? Come to Whole Foods.

This marketing fundamental is called positioning.

When writing copy for company stories, positioning is job #1. You have to figure out what the company offers that makes it special to the customer and then highlight that above all else. And you don’t do it by trying to paper over a new brand onto an existing one. You do it by uncovering what makes people love the brand, and articulating that message in a powerfully emotional way.

In their classic book on the topic, Positioning, The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout use the example of Volkswagen to demonstrate this principle. In a world populated by big, gas-guzzling cars, Volkswagen could never compete by pretending they could hold as much cargo as the competition. They had to own who they were and make it a virtue. Here’s how they did it:

People come to Whole Foods because they want a special experience, not because they want something cheap. Whether it’s a fine locally produced goat cheese infused with essence of lavender, or a fat bunch of parsley that smells like the earth it was pulled from just yesterday, Whole Foods is where you go when you want more than just calories, you want emotional connection. To the food. To the farmers. To the planet Earth we all share.

If I were working with Whole Foods, I’d go all in on that story. REI has its brilliant #OptOutside campaign and Whole Foods can do the same. Put a stake in the ground and say, “Nope, we’re not the cheapest, but that’s because we care. You want cheap? Go to the supermarkets that don’t care. You want to be part of a movement? Come here.

Whole Foods doesn’t have to make this position up. They already OWN it. And you only have to step into one of their stores to see the level of commitment they have to this premium position.

There are plenty of examples of great brands that cost more and are thriving: Patagonia. Apple. Nike. These brands are winning by telling great stories that justify their premium position, and Whole Foods can and should win this way too. With their 365 stores in the pipeline, Whole Foods already has the low-cost option covered. Their flagship brand deserves better than a price war, and a powerful storytelling campaign that explains why they are worth more is the sure way to avoid one.

Photo credit: Whole Foods Market

The Periscope App Deserves Every Content Marketer’s Attention. Here’s Why.

Periscope iOS App is One to Watch.

Stop the presses! Periscope iOS App is one to watch.

There’s a new iOS app in town, but unlike so many flash-in-the-pan social media darlings this one deserves your attention. It’s called Periscope (@periscopeco) and in just 6 weeks since launching, it is already rocketing to the top of the social media world. Here’s why it matters to you.

Periscope is a live-streaming application (how it works), which sounds kind of dry as new technologies often do. So why are Periscope weeks like dog years for everyone else, gathering outsize attention in an internet universe drowning in me-too apps?

The answer lies at the heart of story-driven marketing. Periscope’s live streaming is compelling in ways that other apps are not, because it offers two of the most precious – and difficult to create – elements of great storytelling: authenticity and drama.

AUTHENTICITY RULES

Consumers value authenticity and drama now more than ever, because our social channels are awash in emotionless, manufactured content. When audiences consume this kind of prepared corporate information, they are hyper-aware of the possibility of manipulation. Even the good stuff, content we like, often feels just a little too much like marketing.

In contrast, live-streaming offers the kind of unfiltered immediacy and intimacy that cannot be faked. You get what you get. It’s real and it’s live. It’s even better than reality TV for raw honesty, because there is no script, no manipulative director, and no editing after the fact.

The downside of this is that some of the videos will inevitably be really boring. But the upside is transparency. And in a world caked in corporate insincerity, consumers crave truthfulness – even if it is a little unvarnished at times.

PUT PERISCOPE TO WORK FOR YOU

Where should you start? Any content that lends itself to an interactive conversation is probably something to consider developing on Periscope. The best part is that this technique is freely available and will work equally well for companies both big and small. A couple of examples that jump to mind would be:

Q&A. Like the one held by Runners World just today with their Chief Running Officer, Bart Yasso, Q&A sessions are extremely effective at building loyalty and relationships. Imagine how helpful it would be if companies like Home Depot or Lowe’s answered DIY questions live, in the store, and just walked around showing what to buy and how to do things for certain projects.

Crowd-sourcing or focus groups. Now imagine how this might work for a food company like Seattle’s brand new (and drool-worthy) Rodeo Donut. Or maybe the folks at the beauty brand, Julep. Both need to develop new products regularly. Imagine how helpful it would be to get instant feedback and advice from customers on new flavors, colors or skus. It’s a trifecta of excellence: develop rapport with your audience, build a larger base, AND get invaluable customer insight.

Show what you know: My buddy (and triathlon teammate) runs a seriously terrific Seattle-area store called the Balanced Athlete that offers running gear, shoes and clinics. A live stream of even a small part of one of his clinics would be a marvelous way to raise awareness, answer questions right on the spot, and demonstrate why any runner would be better off getting fit for new sneakers there than at some faceless chain at the mall.

DON’T WAIT

These are just a few ideas, but once you start thinking about it, there are endless ways you can use the transparency and immediacy of Periscope to advance your business goals. The point is to start using Periscope RIGHT NOW, while the field is still wide open for new players and before it gets much more difficult to make an impact. And of course, don’t forget to save all that great content and upload it to YouTube, so you can re-feature it to your audience again later.

Broadcast on Periscope

Get started now

Got any comments on using Periscope? I’d love to hear them.

SEO for content marketing

SEO for Content Marketers: 7 Ways to Make Your Content Stand Out

SEO for Content MarketersPicture this: Day in and day out you shed blood, sweat and tears over your content. You rack your brain for timely, relevant topics. You research diligently to ensure you deliver genuine value and not just fluff. You cry over every comma, and re-Google The Oatmeal to make sure you’re using your semicolons properly.

And what do the gods of Google do? They laugh. They deliver measly traffic so low it’s not even worth A/B testing your headlines. What’s a lonely content marketing director to do?

Recently Jay Baer published this excellent post explaining that in a world awash in content, SEO is more relevant than ever. True enough.

So if SEO is still essential to content marketers, how do you do it? Isn’t SEO just a moving target? Actually no. Last week, I sat down with Seattle-based SEO expert, Mark McLaren, and he filled me in on what the pros are telling their clients these days. The following is based on our conversation.

  1. Content is your best SEO weapon

As Mark explains it, “There are two parts to SEO, the content part and the technical part.” That’s because Google has gotten so much better at search.

The Panda update and the Penguin update were specifically designed to weed out the garbage and they both do a really good job. These days, you need great content. 5 years ago, that didn’t use to be the case. Google has just gotten so much better at finding people that are trying to game the SEO system. 

So if your content is good, you’re already way ahead of the hacks churning out junk, because Google is sniffing out those puppies like a K9 working for the FBI.

  1. SEO is not a mystery

Every two years MOZ (formerly SEO MOZ) surveys leading search marketers and publishes their opinions on the top eighty or so factors they believe Google values most. Is this the gospel direct from Google? No, but it’s pretty damn close. Most SEO experts agree that by consistently following the top priorities on this list – at least those that are within your control, and not all are – your content will increase in rank and traffic over time.

But eighty is a lot, right? A LOT. Don’t panic. Luckily, Mark has summarized the most important ones:

  1. In-Links are the key to pagerank

As Mark explains it,

“Far and away the most important thing for your pagerank is the number and quality of links pointing to your website. And your pagerank is the biggest factor in whether your post shows up on page 1 in Google search results.

There are different ways those links can be related. But the bottom line is the site with the most high quality links pointing to it wins. And high quality is key. In the old days people could get away with a lot of nonsense in terms of getting in-links but the Penguin update put an end to that.”

How do you get more links? The most obvious and natural way is by creating good content. Think of sites like The Oatmeal. Or even Buzzfeed. I know, Buzzfeed can be annoying but people love their content. It’s funny, it’s quick and it’s topical. Or even WebMD. It’s dry, but people read it because it quickly gives them the information they want. Period.

So start with great content, but be strategic too. Write about someone or some company well-known in your industry and they are highly likely to link back to you. And if you have genuinely good content it never hurts to ask.

  1. When it comes to links, choose quality over quantity

Not all in-links are created equal. Google has gotten smart, so just a few in-links from highly ranked sites will help you more than thousands of links from obscure sites. This is a good thing, because it means you can focus your efforts on getting just a few quality links.

One of the easiest ways to do this Mark explains, is to focus on getting links from sites that end in .edu, .org or .gov. That’s because Google (mostly correctly) assumes that since non-profits and government sites have no economic incentive to push a particular product or service their links are less subject to manipulation.

You can take advantage of this by brainstorming ways to get those links. Are there any government or non-profit agencies that would be interested in your content? Make them your target. Ask if you can write a guest blog post, or send them links to your content and ask them to share it. Even one or two of these will go a long way to advancing your own site’s rank, thus raising the rank of ALL your content.

The bottom line: spend your precious time and money getting a few really powerful links rather than hundreds of weak ones.

  1. Out-links can help, and they’re easy

Okay, so maybe it’s going to take a while to build up some quality in-links, but you can add some excellent quality out-links right now. As Mark explains, “Write posts that include a link out to an authoritative site in the first paragraph. From Google’s standpoint they aren’t going to penalize you for out-links, and it definitely increases your post’s credibility.”

  1. Structure matters

Okay, here we get a little technical, but bear with me, because this stuff really matters. There are a lot of aspects to structure, but on this point Mark is emphatic, “The Title Tag is #1. It’s more important than anything else on a webpage. If you don’t get the title tag right, don’t bother.”

So what is the title tag? Basically, it’s the text Google reads first to decide what your content is about. It’s also the text that shows in blue in search results pages to tell searchers what your content is about too. Here’s what it looks like for another post I wrote:

Title Tag in Google Search

If you use a blog publishing platform like WordPress, ask your web developer to add an SEO plug-in that allows you to edit the title tag to make it as SEO and click-friendly as possible. As long as it accurately reflects the content of your post, you should absolutely take advantage of this by using the keywords most likely to drive traffic.

  1. Common language is powerful

There’s a whole science related to keywords and what people will search for, but the basic rule is this: Write in the language most commonly used by your target audience. Not in your own jargony-jargon. Not in the language you think sounds the most “professional” and corporate. Not in the words you just made up last week to describe your niche product. Just the common everyday language of your customers. Because guess what? That’s what they are Googling.

An easy way to check if the terms you are using have SEO value is Google Suggest. Here’s how: Pick a term you want your page or post to rank well for and start typing it into Google. Google immediately starts filling in some suggested terms for you. If YOUR term doesn’t show up, it’s not frequently searched. Rewrite your content to use one of the terms that does show up instead. Don’t want to? Sorry Charlie! Google doesn’t care, and neither do your searching customers. So change it.

Mark shared this excellent example: “Take “facebook marketing”. You can see in Suggest that “facebook marketing tips” appears before “facebook marketing ideas”. The suggestions don’t appear alphabetically; they appear in order of search volume, so we know that “…tips” is searched more often than “…ideas”. Nine times out of ten, it’s best to use the one that’s searched more often, especially in a title tag or heading. Note that something like “facebook marketing thoughts” doesn’t show up. So you can rule that one out.”

How to use Google Suggest

So there you have it. Seven powerful things you can do right now to make your outstanding content stand out. Go forth and conquer.

*photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Find Your…New Tagline?

 By Catherine Captain

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It seems everyone these days wants us to find something. Corona wants us to find our beach. Nike wants us to find our greatness. Macy’s wants us to find our magic. Expedia wants us to find our story. And now Kohl’s wants us to find our yes (huh?). So what’s behind all this searching and seeking? Why are brands from such varied sectors compelling their audiences to get out there – or look within – and find, find, find? In the case of these brand nudges towards exploration, it all starts with story.

You see, the brands that transcend the cacophony these days are doing so by connecting with their consumers on an emotional level and the communication device that awakens hearts is story. The familiar pattern of a story instantly locks into ancient, well-worn story grooves in our brains. [The neuroscience is well documented and quite fascinating. Check out this Fast Company article summarizing a research study showing that when subjects love brands more than people (!!!), story was playing cupid.]

As humans, when we spot heroes and villains out in the world, our brains whir and our hearts leap. We’ve heard this one before, but we always want to see how it ends. There will be obstacles and mentors along the way. That hero will leave their ho-hum world for a greater, life-altering experience. Clever brands tell us these tales and in the process they win us over, sometimes completely.

Which brings me back to Corona, Nike, Macy’s, Expedia and Kohl’s. Why the “find your…” zeitgeist? Are we really so utterly lost these days? Are each one of us flailing aimlessly, leading a purposeless life without our beach, our greatness, our magic, our story and our yes? Actually, these brands are tapping the oldest plot around, the hero’s journey. (All hail the master, Joseph Campbell, who documented the monomyth from ancient mythology to modern day stories.) The journey is beautifully and succinctly explained in this great TED Ed video.

In this cycle, the hero is called to adventure and eventually crosses the threshold to a special world that will change them forever. In brand journeys, YOU, the consumer, are the hero. (Hint, marketers: the consumer – not your product – is almost ALWAYS the hero, natch.)

The villain is your horribly mundane life. Imagine: No beach! No greatness! No magic! No story! No yes (wait, what?)! And who is the mentor in these tales? Ahhh…the brands. These brands descend from on high to show you the way into the light, right to the special world. “Find your…” is our call to adventure, my friends! It’s an invitation to start our journey, the beginning of our story, our “once upon a time…”

Just one little problem: I have exploration overload. Find fatigue. Discovery discontent. How can so many brands within just a few years be sounding the exact same clarion call? Don’t tagline copywriters at ad agencies triple-check for this stuff? Or maybe even watch TV themselves?? This is, at best, copycat communication and, at worst, lazy marketing. Don’t get me wrong, these brand stories can be enormously powerful. This Nike ad is one of my favorites of all time. I weep openly in this Expedia spotCorona claimed beaches, forgodssake! And I’m shouting the dramatic benefits of storytelling from the marketing mountaintops. But hey all you “find your…” marketers, we cry “uncle”!! Find your new tagline. Please!

UPDATE: And there’s more! Find your Fit from Fitbit and Find Your Park (National Park Foundation), Find New Roads (Chevrolet). Stop the madness!

Catherine Captain is a partner at Rumble Marketing and adjunct professor teaching “Story-Based Marketing: Using the Power of Story to Achieve Business Success” at the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership Master’s program. 

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