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posted by Will Weatherly Jul 21,2016 @ 12:51PM

Businesses Are Just People Too

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For nearly a year, social media mogul and notorious speaker Gary Vaynerchuk has been honing a message. Infamous in marketing circles for his long history of brash, profane, egotistical-at-first-listen presentations near the cross streets of culture and marketing, Gary’s newest barb is as pointed as always. But now, alongside the release of his new book, he’s jabbing it at individuals not industries.

His point?


Self-awareness.

In his words…

 

“There is something that is rarely talked about in the business world and I want to start building more attention for it.
 
That thing is self-awareness…
 
… Self-awareness allows people to recognize what things they do best so they can then go hard on those aspects of their life. It also helps you accept your weaknesses.What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. I want people to learn to be at peace with themselves, to understand what they can offer, because everyone’s got something. The key, however, is learning how to find it.
 
Self-awareness can help you do that.
 
Self-awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths. The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change. Trust me.”

 

Now, with this idea, Gary openly aims to poke holes in the mythology of entrepreneurism that’s being inflated by the business community, its incubators, accelerators, and startup weekends.

But that’s not what’s interesting to me.

 

What’s interesting are the implications for business.

See, I’ve come to believe businesses are just people too.

Businesses have life in them. When they’re young, they need nourishment and protection to grow. They need relationships with people that love them, who are willing to buy. They need unique parts of themselves to get along with each other, teams to keep things functioning and life flowing. These are all essential to survival.

But what if a business wants to do more than survive?

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What if a business wants to achieve as much as possible? To contribute something incredible to the world, something special, something unique, something only that business has the physical and conscious makeup to create?

 

What might it take to self-actualize such a thing?

Maybe first, it would take esteem.

Maybe first, it would take self-awareness.

The concrete, confident knowlege of what that business does best. To have crystal clarity on its strengths. To embrace its flaws and own its weaknesses. To see vividly into its blind spots. To regularly reflect inward. To understand when, where, and why its elements are not aligned.

If that’s what it took, how might a business get such self-awareness?

Dig around “GaryVee” long enough and you’ll find his best piece of advice for people is to… ask.

So, maybe that's good advice for business too. 

 

Ask who?

Ask the people who love you. 

Ask every part of yourself. 

Ask some strangers.

Triangulate.

 

 

posted by Michael Powelson Jun 13,2016 @ 09:24AM

Boxed in? The stakes of commercial activism in local business

As I type this, the internet radio says they’re burying Muhammad Ali.

For twenty years, some of the fiercest men on earth failed to put Ali on the ground, and now a handful of heartsick ones will put him in it. Time is, indeed, the conqueror.

It’s been decades since time and illness scored their first victory over the former heavyweight. Parkinson’s disease, doing what opponents, critics and even the United States government could not, silenced him in the mid nineties. And this is perhaps the larger shame. After all, so much has been made of the fighter’s verbal brilliance, his unique ability to speak truth to power and an unflinching will when his principles demanded great risk.

Call it another crown in time’s trophy case: the ironic twist that all the things which made Ali a pariah in the mid sixties — the unapologetic autonomy, social activism and conscientious objection — are precisely the reasons he’s now one of the most inspirational sports figures in history.

But it’s not the sporting, or even the cultural context of these triumphs that interests me here. It’s the professional one. You see, in 1966, Muhammad Ali wasn’t just a prizefighter or folk hero. He was also a business. Big business.

 

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Behind the championship belts and mesmerizing interviews, there was an enterprise. It employed people. It supported families. It provided a living that soared beyond the wildest expectations of a black man from the Jim Crow south who barely graduated high school.

And yet Ali proved willing to lose it all for his convictions.

In response to the Justice Department denying his conscientious objector status and sentencing him to five years in prison, Ali said, “I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars…So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

I can not think of a contemporary parallel.

Yes, we live in an age of greater corporate social responsibility. Today, firms all around the world, including my own, believe it’s imperative to do good in addition to doing well. And this is clearly a positive evolution in what it means to be a decent business. But risking everything it is not.

Yes, Target, Starbucks, General Mills and many other national brands have enacted internal policies or consumer facing communications to promote a more charitable, tolerant and just society. Some have even faced resistance from the fringes of their customer bases. Still, I’m doubtful that any such actions were taken before cost/benefit analyses and public opinion polling showed the reward outweighed the risk.

Please don’t mistake this for criticism. I don’t believe good works are any less good when they also happen to be good business. I’m simply curious about the times they’re not. What do smaller organizations in markets like ours do when they feel compelled to right a perceived wrong, but lack the scale to weather a backlash?

Recent history has offered no shortage of cultural flashpoints. Flags. Bathrooms. Background checks and marriage licenses.

What business are these of our businesses? And, regardless of your stance on any of them, where is the actionable tipping point for you? When does something become important enough to risk everything?

I like to think I have an answer, but I’d be lying if I told you I was one hundred percent certain.

What I am certain of, however, is the hope that you and I and every other businessperson never have to find out. That we’ve learned to respect one another and work together to find equitable solutions to the differences we face. I hope no one reading this is ever forced to risk everything for the ability to live with themselves afterward.

But I also hope that those who were, and did — “The Greatest” among us you might say — are forever championed.

Time the conqueror be damned.

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This piece first appeared in the June 13th edition of the Columbia Regional Business Review

posted by Julie Turner Jun 08,2016 @ 10:17AM

Why Advertising isn't Dead

I’ve worked in this industry for 28 years. In a business that thrives on what happens five minutes from now, there are times I feel like a relic. Especially when I see alarmist predictions about the demise of this crazy business that I love.

I can remember almost the very moment I fell in love with advertising. As the managing editor for the now-defunct student newspaper at my high school, The Viking Shield, advertising was my responsibility. In addition to writing stories for the paper, I had to ensure the right ads made it into the right issues, create ads that didn’t exist, and then put the paid-for foundation together for the editorial. I could create my own Absolut vodka-style campaigns with a smaller palette of yogurt stores, card shops and pizza restaurants. At 16 years old, I was already all in to my future.

 

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Then

 

I could sit here and let you think it was that easy. That my work on the high school paper led me to where I am today: writing for clients. But it wasn’t simple. Nor was it easy. So much happened in the middle. I started as a designer, became an art director, and even enjoyed stints in the paper industry and as a nonprofit marketing director before finally settling into the life of a word wrangler. Fun fact, I have worked almost everywhere I worked, twice.

What’s been central in these 28 years is not the art directing or writing; it’s the ideating. What I love most is the brainstorming. When I was 16, it was creating a small space ad campaign to honor the sponsor of our journalism lab: Pepsi. Then studying at USC and later working in the business, it meant coming up with varied concepts for campaigns that clients would use in the holy trinity of pre-Internet media: TV, print and direct mail. Idea after idea. Bought and sold. Every now and then one of those ideas would bloom into a huge success. I have to say, it’s been a great way to earn a living.

But the real beauty of what we do is often confined to the brainstorming sessions. Of course the output of brainstorming was reliably good — a kernel of a campaign concept that we could thresh into something bigger. But the fifty or hundred other ideas we dreamed up had bountiful possibility, too. Even better, I’d say because they were a little more out of the media-driven box. For every kernel created, there were also a few great ideas custom-tailored to support it.

Things that weren’t in the budget. Things we weren’t asked to do. Things that were never presented to the client. Little things, big things. Things the client could do, things their customers could wear. Things that had the real potential to make a mark in our media-cluttered world.

 

Yes, the three-headed print campaign king has been toppled and for some time. But the new king isn’t the latest CMS platform or even a keyword. It’s bigger than character counts and Snapchat.

At least for the next five minutes in marketing history, what’s king is the interesting extra ideas that for years were idled on the sidelines. The strategic anthems built to rally empassioned people together. The funny t-shirt that boosts brand recall and spreads the gospel. The targeted event that puts a product in exactly the right place and time for sonic impact. The “wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-we-could”s.

 

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Now
 
I, for one, am happy the other ideas are finally getting their era in the sun. And, even though I am squarely from the Spraymount and press type generation, I believe I have a lot more ideas in me.

Yes, the industry is different, but the work that goes into even the newest fangled digital campaign is decidedly old school. It’s built on an idea. And as long as there are people like me — and hopefully you too — there will always be ideas.

When the ideas are gone, that’s when we’ll really be in trouble.

 

So with my 28 years of experience I’m going to tell everyone to just settle down and relax. Advertising isn’t dead. It will exist as long as there is commerce. And as for us being relics? That’s not true either. If you’re a dreamer or a thinker, there’s business to be had.

posted by Jillian Owens Apr 27,2016 @ 08:30AM

Don't Underestimate Your Audience

My first foray into digital marketing began the day I started a little blog called ReFashionista. My blog features before-and-after images of different oddball/ugly thrift store duds I cut apart and re-stitch into fashionable frocks. It took off, and now I’m at the exact level of internet fame that makes my life weird sometimes.

I consider myself a mediocre sewist. My mad sartorial skills aren’t what make my blog popular. It was my blogging. I created content on a regular basis that was authentic and thoughtful, and each post was written with the assumption that my audience was smarter than me.

An insecurity complex can actually be a great asset for content marketers. I never tried to make my audience think I was more skilled than I was. I’m incredibly prone to self-deprecation. Blogging for your business shouldn’t be any different in that you should never underestimate the intelligence of your audience.

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Hopefully your business has a blog. It definitely should. If well executed, it’ll help you business page’s SEO and establish you as a thought leader in your industry. But this only works if the content you’re putting out there is sincerely making the reader’s life better. And you need to be honest with yourself about that.

The problem I see with the prolific nature of the blogosphere is that sometimes we fall into the trap of pushing out whatever content we can, even when we know it’s lousy. We assume our audience will flock to our content simply because we’re putting it out there. We believe our audience isn’t as clever as us and can’t tell the difference between content that’s authentic vs. canned or original vs. repurposed.

Guess what? If you can tell the difference, so can they.

How many redundant, boring, over-simplified and borderline plagiarized blog posts have you read the first two sentences of, only to immediately bounce off the page to find an article that actually helped you in some way?

That’s the rub. How do you straddle the line between prolific and brilliant? Between frequent and worthwhile? When planning your blog calendar, make sure you’re giving yourself reasonably frequent deadlines. How many high quality blog posts can you or your team author per month? If the answer to this is four per month, don’t try for ten.

Always be looking for trends in the type of content your readers are engaging with, as well as the content they’re bouncing away from. This analysis will help you discover what they find valuable and can will guide your overall digital marketing strategy.

If you find your content useless, so will your audience. After all, they’re pretty smart.

posted by Cathy Monetti Apr 13,2016 @ 04:08PM

The First Principle of Branding


IN 1974, THE PHYSICIST Richard Feynman gave a commencement address to graduating scientists at Caltech during which he said: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.

The speech, titled The Cargo Cult Science, is now a rather famous one in which the Nobel Prize winner makes the case for integrity over righteousness and sensationalism. As Maria Popova points out on her wonderful Brain Pickings blog, the message is “all the timlier today as the fear of being wrong has swelled into an epidemic and media sensationalism continues to peddle pseudoscience to laymen ill-equipped or unwilling to apply the necessary critical thinking.”

Pseudoscience, certainly, but I would suggest it is equally timely when applied to business or mass communications or brand building. Feynman went on to say, After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

Whoa, as my daughter would say.

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THERE IS SUCH POIGNANCE to the language Feynman chose to use. I love his calling out of our head talk--the internal dialog that takes place between our true selves and that voice in our head that endlessly chatters, the one with which we debate and eliminate and calculate and conclude. This thought process is meant to lead to resolution, much in the way scientific experimentation is meant to lead to conclusion. But we should always be suspect: the voice in our head nearly always offering a limited view, an ulterior motive, a foregone conclusion with which it intends to shape outcome without our true selves ever noticing. And so it is that we come to create our own stories, our own version of the truth, based on our own limited, and admittedly biased, worldview.

You must not fool yourself, he warned students who would have the benefit of science to prove their conclusions. Let’s just imagine how easy it is to fall prey when you are talking about the nebulous business of branding.

 

WE ARE SO QUICK to move to communications without doing the hard work of “proving” what the thing is all about in the first place. This requires dissection, challenge, and alignment on questions that are not always easy to answer. It also requires brutal honesty, a “true self” assessment that is neither overinflated nor overindulged thanks to our own head story or the one perpetuated in the halls and social media feeds of our businesses.

These questions are a good place to start. (And keep in mind they must be answered time and time again over the life of a company.)

 

What is the problem we want our business to solve?

Who has this problem? Who cares about it?

How can we make a difference?

Is someone else already doing this?

Can we/are we doing it differently?

How do we prove it?

Do our employees/associates know this? Are they passionate about it?

 

This is not the kind of exercise a CEO or marketing director can typically sit down and knock out. Instead it takes the varied perspective and insights of people throughout an organization who come together for conversation and discovery, sometimes with a trained facilitator who can probe dark corners and encourage open discussion. Very often primary and/or secondary research is helpful, providing a more scientific, well-rounded and fact-based dimension to the process. This might include market evaluations, competitive analyses, and interviews with current and former customers, as well as conversations with prospects you haven’t successfully converted.

It’s hard work, needless to say, but healthy labor that leads to clear purpose and ultimately an honest, trustworthy brand.

 

AFTER YOU’VE NOT FOOLED YOURSELF, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. Perhaps this is the more powerful point, or at least the more comforting one. Because once you’ve done the hard work of building an honest brand your communications strategy will come more easily. Remember to develop and share content that reflects and demonstrates your brand’s values--particularly in digital mediums, where the ability to go direct results in a more personal interaction.

 

SEVERAL YEARS AGO we were working with a client whose large, established business was going through significant change. New competitors were eating into the established customer base, product lines were shifting to meet changing market demand, and leadership of the company was moving from one generation to the next. We sat through a couple of meetings during which the founder couldn’t seem to offer anything more than a list of random marketing tactics he’d like us to get right on.

We advised that given the significant change taking place, a reshape of the brand was in order. Item One would be the formation of a brand team to do the heavy lifting in answering questions simliar to those above.

“Why would I ever do that?” came the leader’s response. “I mean, what would I do if I didn’t like their answers?”

Yes, we could only say. Yes, exactly.

 

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