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5 Keys: Effective Social Media Programs

Most brand communications are viewed as positive interactions; however, a significant error can be embarrassing, at minimum, and generate negative publicity, at maximum. To avoid critical errors, business owners that choose to engage on social media should be vigilant and implement measures that help them to effectively monitor and control their brand image. The following presentation discusses five key requirements for an effective social media program.

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Strategic Disruption

(updated 2020) 

All bets are off and it’s all because of technology. Technology has the uncanny ability to simultaneously lend itself to severely divergent lines of thought. Technology increases efficiency, decreases the ideological shelf-life and, in general, annihilates breathing room. It sounds like a destructive force; but, if you successfully employ its genius, technology promises to be the most constructive tool in your tool belt. It’s our modern fire, giving rise to limitless unforeseen necessities and novelties, alike.

What Was
Recently, I attended a capital markets conference. Here, speakers discussed historical trends and premises that “we all knew to be true,” but more importantly, economist posed a problem set: if GDP has rebounded, why don’t we feel like we’ve rebounded from the great recession? Why don’t the indicators reflect what “we all knew to be true?” The underlying problem is that what “we all knew to be true” was never the pure unfettered truth, it was simply an assumption prevalent in every financial and economic model. We were so busy relying on faulty assumptions and dissecting our models that we never foresaw the arrival of “the new truth” – blindsided.

Technology has the uncanny ability to simultaneously lend itself to severely divergent lines of thought. It’s our modern fire, giving rise to limitless unforeseen necessities and novelties, alike.

via @finandmrkt (https://bit.ly/STR-disrupt)

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What Is
In the past, we simply dug ourselves out of the proverbial depression/recession hole. The philosophy: if we simply employed human capital, (physical and intellectual), we give our best honest effort; and who could ask for anything more? The problem: our best is no longer good enough, we’ve been disrupted. For the very first time in human history, simple human effort is no longer the driver of productivity. Capital/Resources are neither scarce nor limited. We’re effectively living outside of the box, where the problem set is more complex. Technology is the new driver of productivity,
and it’s everywhere.

The current truth is that our old models, assumptions, and expectations don't work for today. There’s no “new truth” playbook, and the schools of thought and infrastructure for employing capital/resources effectively in this new environment are tentative, at best. The time is ripe for exploring different approaches and radical alternatives.

When disrupted, disrupt.

To disrupt, think outside of your box; way outside.

"Not only did we theorize about creativity and innovation we walked away with real and practical tools to use in our organizations."

- The Power of Creativity

What Will Be
Strategic planning usually involves the exploration of trends and developments in one decisive industry. The technological, financial, and operational impacts are considered with this industry specific filter. The challenge is to not only think cross-functional, but to also think cross-industry/cross-channel. What are the possible intersections and points of divergence? What may a small nimble and unencumbered start-up explore that paradoxically an established organization cannot risk exploring? Here’s the blind spot(s) for the incumbent and opportunity for the entrant.

This isn’t new. It should be part of the SWOT analysis that feeds into the strategic plan. What’s new is expanding the analysis beyond consideration of the usual players. Disrupt the strategy as usual and get outside of the box. The HBR article Big Bang Disruption  discusses how producers of portable navigation units failed to foresee the impact of smartphones and free navigation apps. Products from popular producers, like Garmin and TomTom, literally became irrelevant overnight. Become your own best competitor; do the thinking for them and mitigate the potential threat through adoption, adaption, or acquisition.

No, this is not entirely new, and I’m not suggesting that I’ve stumbled upon some magic formula. However, there’s certainly room for us to expand our strategic considerations and to think more dynamically. If we’re not periodically stretching ourselves to peer outside of our box, to assess the current environment, to consider a wide range of possibilities, and to prepare for the worst-case scenario, we risk being yanked outside of the box, against our will, unprepared, and clueless. Your choice.

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Six Basic Rules of Branding

(updated 2021)

A dictionary will tell you that branding is the act of promoting a product or service by associating it with a particular brand, and “a brand” is a characteristic that identifies a particular product. Circular reference aside, it doesn’t really lend itself to translation from a definition on a page to the actual act of branding. Is it enough to simply choose a name, products, and services? Will customers then connect the dots between their need and a name, a product, and a logo? Absolutely not. Business owners must execute branding efforts to help customers connect those dots.

Definitions of branding do not belie the fact that branding is truly an action word. So, here are six rules that will help you overcome the shortcomings of lackluster dictionary explanations:

A Better Explanation
Branding can be thought of as the introduction to your organization as well as a reminder of the sales and marketing objectives. It conveys what the organization is about, and with each interaction it becomes the internalized billboard for what stakeholders can expect from you.

Branding includes the simplest business facets, such as a purpose statement, to more complex experiences, such as an experience at a sales center. A sales experience is typically referred to as a different area of marketing, such as customer service; however, we should be cognizant that these are “particular characteristics that will serve to identify a particular product” and thus they are also acts of branding. Branding is an action word, threaded throughout the strategic marketing process.

The Message
At minimum, branding will provide the consumer with answers to two questions:
  • Who are you; and
  • What can you do for me
Answers to these questions are essentially your mission statement – the reason why you exist. The next critical part of your message is the branding refinement:
  • Why you (the consumer) should care
Which can be further refined to two questions:
  • Why I can do it better than my competitors
  • Why I am the best choice for you
These questions are closely related; but, they are succinctly different. The first addresses your competitive advantage in comparison to other organizations. Perhaps you have economies of scope or scale that enable you to offer a better quality or lower cost product than your competitor. The second question connects your competitive advantage directly to your consumer’s need – what does industry and market data tell you about preferences and current expectations, and how are you meeting these preferences? Your message conveys why your product is the best option available.

”What may initially feel like a “fail” could indeed be the beginning of the next big win.”

- Five Branding Mistakes to Avoid

The Connection
Now that you've been introduced, what keeps you at the forefront, with your customers? Yes, your product may be available on a shelf at local grocery stores waiting to be discovered, and perhaps customers report positive initial experiences; but, what will encourage a repeat performance? We are constantly bombarded with the claims of competing products and services, and we are easily influenced by the opinions of friends, family, and acquaintances. There’s not much that can be done to prohibit exposure to competitive influence; but, you can assert influence of your own.

If you make a connection to the consumer, as opposed to passively sitting on a store shelf, you’re more-likely to keep an engaged, and less easily led away customer. People listen to their friends, family and acquaintances because they care for the individual’s well-being. Distant corporate entities do not convey the same intimacy. But, there are big brands that connect with their consumers very successfully. How are you going to accomplish this and become the brand your customer recommends to their networks – annihilating the competition, instead of the other way around?

Can you show your customers that you’ve considered their changing needs? How is your product or service serving their needs better, or differently than your competitor? What’s your commitment to social values? Are you environmentally conscious in material sourcing? What’s your slant? What’s important to your customers, and how are you striving to meet their needs, desires, and values? Evidence of consideration provides consumers a basis for buy-in, because they can see themselves reflected in your brand. It also provides talking points for them to gain buy-in with their friends and family. Essentially becoming brand ambassadors.

Customization, real or perceived, helps to bridge the gap between the corporate entity and the consumer. A company cannot connect with consumers on the same level as a best friend; but, you can definitely “reach out to the consumer,” establish a connection, and influence them to provide positive word-of-mouth to their networks.

The Visual Cue
The logo, color schemes, packaging, and slogans are what we most often see and associate with branding efforts. They serve to maintain the connection that you've worked hard to establish.

It could be weeks, months, or even years before the next buy-decision is made by the customer. So the visual cues help to remind the consumer about their experience during their last encounter with your brand:
  • Does the strong font and bold colors of the branding make consumers feel confident in your capabilities;
  • Does the curly font and softer colors of the branding make consumers feel you’re sensitive to their needs;
  • Do the crisp lines and simplicity of the branding remind consumers of the elegance of the service environment;
  • Does the color green or brown elicit sentiments of sustainability;
  • Does the color black or purple convey elegance and luxury; etc.
Colors, fonts, and slogans are not meant to be a purely subliminal exercise. Visual cues are meant to be an overt trigger to a memory - a reminder of your product or service.

The Online Component
The internet and social media is here to stay. We have our email, social networks, written content, video content, and multi-media explosion. We cross-connect social with our work purposes on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and beyond. We’re defining parameters for measurement, we're bench-marking, we're correcting, and we're improving our online marketing efforts. This is a space that’s changing the manner in which we interact with one another, changing our perception, and changing our expectations.

This online component makes it’s easier to engage with customers; and businesses take their branding efforts to this space because it is the new expectation. Unless you are doing commercials, traditional marketing efforts are infrequent, static, and fairly devoid of personality, e.g. the occasional postcard. Online communications are more frequent and more fluid. They tend to reveal more of the brand’s personality, especially on social networks. Online, or digital, communications are an amazing opportunity to connect with current and new customers.

The Modus Operandi
Ultimately, we want consumers to think of our product or service as the best solution to their problem. Verbal and visual cues assist in establishing a brand, building consumer recognition, creating consumer expectation, and encouraging customer loyalty. The effort is ongoing, serving as a constant reminder of your brand and your desire to serve the changing needs of your target market.

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Three Fundamentals of Good Stewardship

(updated 2021)

The mission statement is the very first proclamation of any organization. It serves as the central purpose for the organization’s existence, and it is the initial attraction point for employees and customers, alike.  But as years pass, the mission ages, it fades in memory, and mission delivery strays from the initial intent.  In addition, the organization begins to face new challenges, as the consumer's needs, wants, and desires evolve. Whether the mission ages into a fine wine or a stale ale depends on the care and attention of the leadership, because an organization can only be as good as the stewardship it receives:

Memories are short, so it's always a good idea to create “refresh moments” for both internal and external stakeholders. These are moments when we reconnect the dots, in new and creative manners. It’s a mission update that maintains the integrity of the initial underlying meaning.  It's also an opportunity to incorporate new ideas, technologies, and approaches to add elements of flexibility and adaptability to keep stakeholders invested.

Whether the mission ages into a fine wine or a stale ale depends on the care and attention of the leadership, because an organization can only be as good as the stewardship it receives.
via @finandmrkt (http://bit.ly/StewardShip)

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Everyone changes over time, so when the product or service changes with them they are more likely to feel that what you offer is still relevant. Look at Coke and Pepsi, for example. Every now and then they introduce a new product or marketing campaign. They’re new, innovative, interesting, weird, etc. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Nonetheless, the product or campaign is bound to grab your attention and beg for new consideration. Despite all of these changes, the mission always remains the same, “To create value and make a difference; to be the best consumer products company,” they’ve lost nothing by branching out and adapting. These campaigns are important to all stakeholders. An internal meeting will certainly look different from the 30 second commercial; but, it’s important to reconnect with all stakeholders in new and fresh manners.

Feedback is the lifeblood of greatness. Formal or informal, solicited or unsolicited, known or anonymous, it can provide valuable insight into the organization’s perceived and real performance. Soliciting feedback also helps stakeholders feel connected and part of the process. Again, it works for both internal and external stakeholders. Incorporating feedback into future operations lets stakeholders know that their voice is heard and that their vote, suggestion, idea, and concern matters. 

Reluctance to receive and incorporate feedback will likely foster a negative perception. There’s always room for improvement. An Olympian does not achieve prime performance without coaching, so how can an organization improve without feedback? Keeping an open-mind and fostering the feedback loop increases the chances of receiving helpful insight from stakeholders.

In business, we tend to speak in terms of short and long. But, the rest of the world does not necessarily understand or operate according to these terms. So, as we make our short-term and long-term goals, don’t forget to relay the “mid-term” direction that ties one to the other - translate our terms into something meaningful to the whole.    

”In order to achieve and sustain a balance of complicated and often conflicting concepts, decision makers must actively cultivate critical thought as a mode of being. Ultimately, it is mutual openness - a collaboration of perspectives – that yields sound decisions.”

- The Key to Sound Decision Making

This translation may take the form of regular communications, a conference, a promotion, etc. Whatever the mode, the goal is to translate the mission for our stakeholders so that they can relay it properly to current and potential customers. It’s neither short-term nor long-term, it is perpetual.

The more we enable our stakeholders to take ownership of the mission, the more they become advocates for us, and the more we are likely to meet our goals and age into something valuable, endeared, and loved, like a fine wine.

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