How to send a great brand down the crapper.

How to send a great brand down the crapper.

When you change your business  model, make sure you take your customers with you. Just assuming loyalty and the power of incumbency can be terminal. The evidence to this is long: Kodak, Blockbuster, and more recently, Blackberry, amongst a very long list.

A few customers will hang around, even to the death, but most will walk just as soon as a viable alternative emerges, and in the meantime probably think you have overindulged in happy-juice, and think way less of you for it.

Not many would see this as a good outcome in the challenge to build and leverage a brand.

LinkedIn has been a great success, making its founders billionaires, early investors multi millionaires, and enabling business connection and networking in ways unimaginable just half my working life ago.

The freemium model they used worked well, it gave significant levels of usage for free, which hooked in a huge, professional user base.

You did get a lot for no financial cost, but in exchange, you did give them a lot of information.

Your personal details, work history, interests, location, affiliations and networks, and a lot more, all of which should have been an advertising bonanza, and if I asked for it when interviewing face to face in Australia, I would be breaking the law.

This information is  the quid pro quo for the use of the platform, and unless you are really stupid, you know that it will be used to sell access to that information to anyone with the money, who wants to reach you.

Nobody would seriously argue that this was not the case.

Facebook has made a huge success of advertising to finely defined audiences based on the personal information given in return for access to the platform. That LinkedIn failed to do the same, with the significant added value that could be accessed via the subscription versions, is their marketing failure, not evidence that  there was not an opportunity waiting to be grabbed.

Anyway, at some point, some of the users of the free version needed to go a bit deeper, to be able to search in a more targeted manner, so they happily upgraded to one of the premium packages. While the subscription revenue may have been under what it could have been, LinkedIn seemed never to really set out to market the benefits aggressively to their user base, all they did was offer a months free access to the premium version.

As LinkedIn seeks to generate revenue by annoying its users, Facebook jumps into the markets to date dominated by LinkedIn and offers similar services to its huge user base. Serious competition? Not too the differentiated Linkedin, but perhaps now it is.

I was a constant advocate of LinkedIn, and strongly encouraged and coached all those I worked with started to use it, some migrating to the subscription services. That advocacy is now gone, and I am sure that I am not the only one.

How long before the first cat photo turns up? Perhaps it already has, further blurring the differentiation LinkedIn used to have to Facebook and other social platforms.

I get that Microsoft needed to create a return on their $26 billion investment, but ignoring your market is a pretty stupid way to go about it.

Perhaps the new bloke who has admittedly made some pretty smart moves since he took over from Steve Ballmer, should have rung Jeff Bezos at Amazon who may have reminded him that Amazon keeps an empty chair at every meeting as a constant reminder that they are there to serve customers, not the  other way around. Do that successfully, and you will make money, fail to do it, and the bell will eventually ring.

The upside for the few really effective marketers out there is that a really effective automated toolbox has been removed from the wannebe’s, so creative, differentiated, focused and truly customer-centric  marketers will have more oxygen.

 

Net rule No.1: Own your own space.

Net rule No.1: Own your own space.

Two recent events have put starkly into the spotlight the need to control your own space on the internet. When you use the space of another, you are just one of a huge number of a mass of irrelevant renters, and the landlord is able, indeed likely, to screw you at some point, as you have absolutely no power in the relationship.

First, Hewlett Packard. In September last year a change to the chips in some printers delivered via the net stopped those printers using anything other than the high priced HP ink working. In other words buy our printer, and we will control which ink you use, and we will actively prevent you making the choice for an alternative, and forget to tell you.  This post by Cory Doctorow, one of the most creative thinkers about things digital on the Boing Boing site  gives the details. A disgusting use of the power that H-P has taken by stealth, that would have the founders turning in their graves.

Second, LinkedIn last weekend. LinkedIn has developed as a remarkable tool offering the opportunity to connect widely, in exchange for just your personal details and commercial history, which they used to flog advertising. While we accepted the exchange, most dislike the ads that chase us around, latching onto the cookies sites we visit sneak onto our drives. Then Microsoft paid $US26 Billion for them and we knew, if we thought about it, that it would just get worse. Late last year LinkedIn told us they were going to ‘retire’ a couple of the really useful tools on the free version at the end of February. Disappointing, but not unexpected. The changes came in last weekend, a bit before the anointed date, and to call them wholesale is an understatement.

Having spent a bit of time last week poking around in the bits of LinkedIn left open to those on the free version, the changes have not just been a few tools removed, and a new look, it has been a wholesale gutting of the functionality. Unless you pay the piper, and the piper is being pretty greedy, the functionality we have become used to LinkedIn delivering, which is what made it so successful, has largely gone.

This will leave many with the choice of pay up or don’t bother any more.

It also highlights again the absolute necessity of building your on line presence on a platform you own.

Like many, I have made coaching my clients on the functionality of LinkedIn a part of my offering. In my case it is a small but important part of the value I have delivered to my SME clients. Many others by contrast have built a business  around flogging strategically superficial advice about how to leverage LinkedIn to generate leads and sales. I guess the side benefit is that those superficial methods are now into the  digital waste-bin, and we will need to get back to the nitty gritty of developing strategies and tactics that rely on our own capabilities and domain knowledge to work, rather than renting influence from digital landlords.

 

 

How to make your website really work for you

How to make your website really work for you

A friend of mine recently drafted a website for a product he is launching, and asked me to have a look before publishing it. Not a great thing to be doing, as by the time I had finished commenting, he had tuned out. There was just too much bad news.

There are millions of websites out there, so the question  now is not just how to get your website seen by those to whom it is targeted, but how do you then get them to take some sort of action, without which, it all has little point.

A few simple rules

Clarity of purpose. Ensure it is crystal clear what you do, in essence why the site exists. The simpler the better, remove all the detail, all the jargon and fancy words, opting instead for simple statements and graphics that illustrate why you are there.

What problem do you solve. Customers buy solutions to problems, not products. The purchase of everything from the groceries to expensive luxuries are in some way connected to a problem, real or perceived that the customer has. Tell them which one you are solving, how, and why they should buy from you.

They are not interested in you. Almost every site has an ‘About us’ page. It is useful to give some background, demonstration of expertise, and how you care deeply about the ‘bilbies’, but less is more. People are interested in you only to the extent that it confirms their decision to purchase from you. The fact that your grandfather who founded the business was apprentice of the year in 1935 is supremely irrelevant, as are the awards you may have won in 2000.

Demonstrate that your solution works. This can take many forms from testimonials to statistics and demonstrations, but is an important component of building trust and credibility.

Have a designer design. The look of a site says a lot about you, and it is a designers job to interpret the important things visually. The choice of images, layout, use of white space, location of icons of various types are all done better by a pro. It does not have to cost a lot, and most of those who design websites who may be good technically are not necessarily good at visual and creative design. The bit of extra investment is almost always well worth it.

Tell them what to do now. Ask for the action you want a visitor to your site to take. Download something, watch a video, follow a link, whatever it may be, make it clear, easy to do, and ask.

My friend was sorry he asked, but a week or so later, showed me a way better version that will now be published as a part of his product launch in a few months.

9 strategies for social media marketing success

9 strategies for social media marketing success

Social media is the ‘shiny new thing’ of marketing. Everyone seems to want one, whatever it is, and everyone has a view.

There is plenty of advice around on how to do it, I just put the term ‘How to manage social media’ into Google and got 54.5 million responses in a millisecond.

At the risk of adding to the dog-pile, after a conversation a couple of weeks ago with a so called expert who clearly had only picking pockets on her mind, I thought I would add to the list, and try and keep it sufficiently simple to be of use.

Be original.

Pretty hard when there is so much already out there, but so much of it is the same, just in a different dress. Being able to throw a light into a dark corner is always useful. I am reminded of my kids soccer games when they were little. 10 kids all around the ball, kicking it at the same time, with 95% of the field empty. Commentary on Social media is similar, everyone follows the ball, is in the one place, but there is so much space elsewhere, that seeing it for what it is, opportunity rather than barren space is useful.

Be focused.

 Knowing who you are writing for, and speaking to them about things they are worrying about, see as threats or opportunities, and speaking in their language, in the first person, in an individual way, makes a huge difference to the results you will get.

Writing quality.

Pretty obvious, nobody will willingly read crap, so follow the rules of grammar, be interesting, entertaining, remove bullshit and weasel words, and deliver ideas worth sharing. This applies irrespective of the medium. A written blog post, video, email, twitter post, whatever it is, make it quality to suit the medium.

Eye-catching layouts.

 We are visual animals, blocks of text are not attractive, and not how we scan material. Have a good header photo or illustration, a headline that demands more attention, paragraph headers, and plenty of white space. As a test, go into your local newsagent and look at the magazines on display. These guys are the experts at this stuff, those that have survived are very good at grabbing and keeping your attention, and leading you to a purchase.

Linking.

As you build a library of content, it makes sense to link it in relevant places to post you have written in the past, and other places you may have posted. It is also vital to build credibility by linking to good content others post, and in time some of them may link back to posts you write, which gives your google rankings a real goosing. When a so called ‘influencer’ links to something you have posted, some of their google cred rubs off on you, and that is gold.

Cross posting.

This is as essential as linking, as it enables a wider audience to have the chance of finding your content. Much of this can now be automated, but it also pays to personalise and tailor the content to the platform to which you are cross posting to better suit the way that platform interacts with its users. In my case, there are hundreds of people who have subscribed to my blog posts, not a lot by some standards, but plenty by mine as they are a pretty selective bunch, and there are hundreds more who see the posts via LinkedIn, and there are very few multiples, those who are both blog subscribers and subscribers to the LinkedIn posts.

Be observant.

I can only go by my experience here. When I started, 1500 posts ago, I wondered where the next one would come from, but they just started to flow as I looked at the world through a different lens. I also found it necessary to keep a log of ideas, post drafts, links, and all the other supporting stuff, which I do in a huge file on One Note, an essential tool to record being observant.

Be patient.

There are millions of blog posts published every day, 60 hours of video uploaded onto YouTube every minute, just being seen is a major achievement. Believing it can happen overnight as promised by many with a product to sell is delusional, it takes time, effort, and persistence, on top of those elements above.

Never steal.

There is so much stuff out there, who would ever know?? Everyone. It is obvious pretty quickly when you just plagiarise, and there are multiple software solutions that crawl the web looking for copied material, so you will be found out, However, more importantly, being original, genuine, authentic, whatever you choose to call it, is essential to success. The exception is attribution, but that is not stealing, just the opposite, it is acknowledging the expertise of others, and you may find tnhat they in turn will acknowledge yours. More google gold.

Tell me what works for you.

 

 

The A – Z of personal branding

The A – Z of personal branding

In 1997, Tom Peters wrote an article for Fast Company,  titled ‘The brand called You’ which was probably the first articulation of this idea. In it he wrote  ‘It’s time for me — and you — to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that’s true for anyone who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work’

Most people think about personal branding as a result of necessity. Suddenly they find themselves between jobs or careers, and recognise for the first time the need for branding, of the personal type. Usually that is the second best time to start thinking about it, the best time was years ago.

The nature of work is also changing, lifetime employment is a thing of the past. No longer are there any ‘safe’ jobs, economically and socially we have recognised that we need to look after ourselves, and the digital revolution has provided the tools to do so. The book End of Jobs is a compelling read, and persuasively makes the point after having looked at all the research. In these circumstances, you have become a commodity with something for sale: your time, expertise, experience and connections. In order to get the best price for that commodity, the lessons learnt over 100 years of product branding can be applied to personal branding.

The standard 4 step brand planning process that works for soap, also works for you.

First: What is the current ‘brand’ position? What do you do well, what do you do poorly, how do others see you, and what do they say when you are out of the room. You may need to ask a few friends and acquaintances for the honest truth, and be prepared for some surprises.

Second: What you would like it to be?  You really need to think hard about how you want others to see you, leaving it to chance is not usually a good idea.

Third: How do you set about bridging the gap. Once you know the objective, you have a chance to plan and execute activities that contribute to the achievement of that objective.

Fourth: Implementation. This is the hard part, being proactive, consistently, over time, while reviewing and revising as necessary.

There are some pretty simple steps that can and should be taken by every professional to effectively implement a personal branding routine. None of it is particularly challenging, but does take a little bit of time.

  • Register your name or digital handle as a domain if possible, but you need an ABN in Australia to register a .com.au domain. Without an ABN, make sure you claim the ‘domain’ on the social platforms, particularly LinkedIn. Each platform does it a bit differently, but it is worth the small effort to figure it out. In my case, I have allenroberts.com.au and StrategyAudit.com.au as my domains, and Strategyaudit is the handle I use throughout the digital channels to give me leverage.
  • Apply disciplines to yourself. Having determined the sort of brand you want, ensure that everything you do on line adds a little to the project. No cat photos on Linkedin please, and have a separate Facebook page for your brand if you feel compelled to post those photos of yourself being compromised in some way. Best not to be in that situation at all now that everything is potentially public, no matter how hard you try to be private.
  • Build a library of content that reflects what you are good at, and what you like to do, the sort of things you would like people to think of as ‘yours’. This does not necessarily have to be extensive, but it has to be curated and representative of your personal brand. Spreading the content across platforms gives you leverage, and an opportunity to repurpose the things that work well for you. In my case, the primary vehicle is the bank of 1400 plus blog posts on the StrategyAudit website, as well as an active presence on Linkedin, Facebook (as StrategyAudit) Twitter, and other digital platforms.
  • Every digital platform is different, serving a different purpose for its users. It is reasonable therefore to vary the branding approach. Different narrative, photos and content are the start.
  • Recognise that ‘browsers’ of platforms see ‘headlines’ just like the old days of newspapers. They may move beyond the headline, dig a bit deeper, if their interest is piqued. In most cases, your photograph is a significant part of your headline, so having them taken professionally makes good business sense. Many skip this simple step, as it is so easy to take your own and just upload. However, it is nowhere near as good as having a session with a professional. It will also give you options of using different photos on different channels, reflecting the character of the channel and yourself.

I recently had a session with Sam Affridi from Hero Shot Photography, a photographer I met through a business network. He suggested I rethink my headshot and the message it’s giving to my different audiences. As a result of the conversation, he took a series of photos for me, all designed to better reflect the differing messages I try and send on different platforms. He did a great job, and I now have a ‘bank’ of different shots that can be used as an additional communication tool in my headlines in various  digital spaces. This replaces the one photo I had, that at the time I felt was pretty good but had over time proved to be sub optimal. It was enlightening to see how much thought went into the session and how my ‘brand’, what I want my clients and potential clients to feel about me, was a deliberate element of each headshot. As Sam puts it “creating a flattering portrait is the easy part. Creating one that’s specifically engineered to appeal to your ideal customer is worth spending time on” If you’re looking for an update, I’d give him a call and please do mention my name.

 

hero_shot_sydney_strategy_audit-9 hero_shot_sydney_strategy_audit-10 hero_shot_sydney_strategy_audit-8 hero_shot_sydney_strategy_audit-4

 

 

 

 

While it seems a bit narcissistic to have 4 of the many good photos posted, these all say something different about me, or at least I think so.

What do you think?

Commercial environments evolve, sometimes very fast, and staying still is death, which is why the successful brands are allowed to evolve in response to the job they are being asked to do. Similarly with personal brands, we have the opportunity to evolve what we do and say in line with the progress of our lives, but it should be a managed process, not one left to adhoc activity and chance. Developing your personal brand can be time consuming, and is necessarily an incremental activity, but putting aside 30 minutes a week as your investment in yourself seems pretty sensible.

 

Should I use Facebook as an advertising medium?

Should I use Facebook as an advertising medium?

Once again yesterday I found myself in a conversation both extolling and deriding the utility of Facebook as a small business marketing tool.

Seems to happen a lot that small businesses hear (urban myth?) of someone making a fortune just using Facebook and think ‘Why not me”

Fair question, with a bunch of ‘maybe’s’ as answers. What should be remembered is that Facebook is one of a large number of social platforms, all are different, but all are vying for your attention and the money that flows from that attention, so choose wisely

Facebook benefits.

  • Facebook (as are all social platforms)  is a wholesaler of eyeballs, they leverage your use of the platform to attract other eyeballs to which they can sell access. The sheer numbers using the platform, and the targeting ability generated makes Facebook a potent marketing tool, when used well.
  • Facebook is terrific at connecting people, one on one. It has become sometimes easier to connect on Facebook than by email or phone, although there is a strong demographic factor in this. Want to connect with me, Facebook is not the place, but you will find my kids there.
  • The small focussed groups, connecting one to a few where there is a strong common interest is also a potentially powerful marketing tool for small business, depending on their markets. However, it takes an investment of time, effort, and often money, to leverage it.
  • As a tool in the list building box, Facebook has a place, particularly as you seek to identify specific behaviours and interests. This targeting potential of Facebook is from a marketing perspective, its most potent tool

 

Facebook costs.

  • Access to your friends and followers is limited by the algorithms Facebook uses. The organic reach is now around 6%, if you want more, you pay. They may be your posts, friends and followers, but you are in Facebooks house, and they make the rules to suit them, not you.
  • Facebook has an addictive quality about it, and can become a ferocious consumer of your time, the only non renewable resource you have, so use it wisely.
  • Conversion to a sale on Facebook is a challenging prospect, often overlooked. You can spend heaps and get no sales, no financial return. You might have lots of friends, shares, followers, group members, and all the rest, but few sales. Largely this is because Facebook is at the ‘social’ end of the social media spectrum. People are on Facebook not to buy and sell, but to be ‘social’ There are however, exceptions. There is a buy/sell group in Armidale NSW with thousands of members, and it constitutes a social marketplace, but the transactions often occur offline.

 

Take-out.

Facebook is great, in some circumstances, use it when those circumstances favour you, and ‘managing‘ your involvement can deliver rewards. However, if you are not focussed on what you want, Facebook will take you to the cleaners. The only right answer to the question ‘Should I use Facebook” is the same as that question directed to any other cost in your business: do it If, and only if, it makes commercial sense to you.