Who is the real hero?

November 18, 2020

We started the storytelling 2.0 conversation in a previous post by identifying that marketers have always been storytellers. But we’ve let ourselves slip away from that grand tradition. And given the consumers we deal with today, it’s actually more relevant and useful than ever before.

Today, let’s turn our attention to a critical element in every story – the hero. In most marketing today, whether you are storytelling or not, the company or its product or service is positioned as the hero. There’s a lot of “we” and “I” in the communications instead of putting the spotlight on the buyer.

Let’s talk about what makes a hero. We see this pattern in almost every book and movie we consume because audiences can connect and relate to this arch, which is why it can be a robust framework for us to use in marketing. It capitalizes on human psychology and how we all share a similar makeup.

See if you recognize this formula:

Every hero goes on a journey. The hero always has a problem and needs some assistance from someone beyond himself. Someone wise who has answers that the hero needs. (Think Yoda.) Together they must fight the enemy, and as they battle together, they learn to trust each other and a bond forms between them. As they vanquish the enemy, the hero is changed somehow and is better/wiser.

I am greatly simplifying Joseph Campbell’s (the creator of the Hero’s Journey) work, but you get the idea.

When you look at the hero framework, it’s easy to see where your company’s product or service fits. We are the Yoda of the story. We are the mentor or guide. But in most marketing materials, the brand is incorrectly positioned as the hero. We mistakenly step into the spotlight that is meant for our customers. We want them to recognize themselves in the story as the hero that we can come alongside and help.

Once we understand who the true hero of our marketing is, we can get to know them better, so we can connect at a different level. I have no doubt you can describe your prospects and clients using demographics. But every 54-year-old business owner who lives in a suburb surrounding a city of 400,000 or more people is not the same person.

We don’t need to know their stats; we need to know their mindset. A person’s mindset is made up of their past experiences, their perceptions and perspective, their motivations, struggles, how they define value, and their current struggle.

When you’ve identified those elements, making them the hero of your story gets much easier.

Here’s how you might knit that together to give you a simple sentence defining your core audience/the hero of your story.

We’re the right fit for <demographic description> who want <fill in the blank>, appreciate and value <fill in the blank> and struggle with <fill in the blank>.

Let me give you an example:

We’re the right fit for adults in their 50s and 60s who have a parent who can no longer live on their own and want to feel confident that they’re providing for their parents’ needs. They appreciate and value family, safety for their parents, transparency, and connection with caregivers as well as the freedom to be with their parent as much or as little as they prefer. But they struggle with knowing how to assess their options and the guilt of not either helping their parent stay home or bringing them into their own home.

It’s easy to see how and where your hero is going to struggle and how and where you can be that sage sidekick who helps them on their quest.

Next time we’ll explore what kind of a sidekick you can be to your story’s hero.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


How COVID has changed the channels of engagement

November 17, 2020

Consumers across generations and geographies are flocking to digital self-service channels when engaging with brands, yet many get frustrated when their needs aren’t met. This frustration has led to 73% of consumers questioning why they’re doing business with the brand.

A new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council report, produced in partnership with Precisely, entitled “How Covid Has Changed The Channels Of Engagement,” covers critical channels of exploration and engagement, the rise of digital channels such as interactive and personalized video, the influential role of traditional channels, problems that cause consumer frustration and brand abandonment, and how different generations prefer to engage with brands.

Key findings include:

*   Top five channels of engagement that consumers expect from brands include: email, website, voice call, live person and SMS text
*   65% percent of consumers say digital engagements with brands during the global pandemic is not exceeding expectations
*   87% percent find it frustrating when needing to engage in multiple channels and having to repeat themselves in every new channel
*   21% chose digital-only when asked to identify their ideal communication preferences, up from 10% last year
*   50% cite the ability to escalate to a live person when needed is the most important trait when engaging with a brand, followed by personalized communication based on previous interactions (44%) and the ability to digitally self-serve to get to answers quickly (30%)

The urgency to deliver a seamless digital experience across the key channels of engagement has only increased as the current pandemic continues to push consumers online. The report shows how this has exposed brands’ digital shortcomings.

Problems include consumers lacking an escalation path to a live person, receiving non-personalized or out-of-context messages, having to repeat themselves in different channels, and being unable to pivot to channels of their choosing.

“For years, brands have touted robust digital transformations, that is, their ability to engage with customers digitally,” notes Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “The pandemic accelerated this by forcing consumers to turn to digital channels, thus putting a brand’s digital transformation to the test. The result was that many brands’ digital channels were lacking in some way.”

The report also found differences among generations in their channel-engagement preferences. Gen Zers, for instance, are more likely to exhaust digital self-service channels before reaching out to a live person. Younger generations were also more willing to share personal data in exchange for better, faster and more personalized service.

“Seamless, personalized and digital self-service experiences across the key channels of engagement are what’s driving the customer experience of tomorrow,” explains Greg Van den Heuvel, EVP and GM at Precisely for EngageOne. “When customers are moving between channels, don’t make them reintroduce themselves each time. The experience has to be frictionless and must take into account the previous engagement they’ve had with your organization. Those that fail to embrace the ‘new normal’ and deliver seamless digital experiences will fall further behind their competition.”


Storytelling 2.0

November 11, 2020

As marketers, we are continually being told that we should tell stories. But what exactly does that mean?

It’s recommended that we use one of the 14 character archetypes (the rebel, the outsider, the warrior, etc.) so the audience can relate to us. Then, we should make the customer the hero. And of course, we should follow one of the seven story frameworks (the quest, the rebirth, etc.) to build our stories, so they feel like a book or movie.

But even if we do all of that, is the audience going to care about a story featuring our product or service? If that were the case, wouldn’t most TV shows be about diapers or SUVs?

Let’s go back to our advertising roots and look at how storytelling and marketing first got blended together. Benton & Bowles was an agency based in New York that was launched in 1929 by William Benton and Chester Bowles. One of their largest clients at the time was Procter and Gamble. In a world we would struggle to understand, their challenge was that they didn’t have a channel that would allow them to reach enough of their target audience – homemakers.

Their solution was brilliant. There was no channel that attracted their core audience, so they created one.

They invented the radio soap opera so they could create sponsorships and ad placements for P&G and their other clients who wanted to target homemakers with their message. By 1936, they were responsible for three of the four most popular radio shows on the air, including “As the World Turns.”

When television arrived, Benton & Bowles replicated their radio success and launched a TV version of their most popular show, “As the World Turns,” in 1956 specifically for their client Procter & Gamble.

P&G sponsored or advertised on that show until it was canceled in 2010. Somewhere along the way, the network bought the show from Benton & Bowles, but they negotiated P&G’s exclusivity as part of the deal.

Red Bull is a modern version of the Benton & Bowles philosophy of creating media channels and telling stories that their audience wants to hear.

They didn’t buy ads or tell stories about their energy drink. They dug in deep and tried to learn all they could about their target audience, 18- to 35-year-old males. They started just hanging around them at college parties, coffee shops, libraries, and bars, paying attention to the conversations, passions, and worries of their audience. They handed out samples and listened.

From there, they started sponsoring events that appealed to that same audience. Concerts and extreme sporting events were high on their list, but even that wasn’t enough. They decided they wanted to own the channel to elevate their ability to tell stories. They created their own magazine, the Red Bulletin, in 2005.

They cover sports, culture, music, nightlife, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle stories. The focus is on people 18-35 who accomplish extraordinary achievements, move beyond the norm, test their limits, and passionately seek adventures while breaking new ground.

If you ever flip through their magazine, you’ll notice there is minimal mention of the product. Their Instagram account has over 13 million followers, and every photo is an extreme sports moment (with a lot of athletes wearing Red Bull logo apparel!).

In your head, I suspect you’re saying, “Yeah, but they’re Red Bull. That wouldn’t work for us because we sell X.” Think this strategy won’t work for B2B? Next time, I’ll show you a remarkable example of just how well it is working.

From there, we’re going to talk about how you can begin to tell your story in a way that attracts your ideal audience, holds their attention, and creates customer loyalty.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


What did the pandemic inspire you to create?

November 4, 2020

When the pandemic hit, we had two choices.  Crumble or reinvent.  When customers needed something different, we either collaborated and created or they went somewhere else.

Several of my agency colleagues have done an incredible job of finding new ways to help their clients manage the pandemic and actually take advantage of the opportunities it presented. Their  ingenuity is infectious and inspirational. I’m betting you will agree.

They embraced the idea of building genuine thought leadership that would help their clients and prospects and in doing so — they attracted new clients and grew their agency as well.

Check out their smarts!

Moxxy invested in research that served their niche — the produce industry.  The research helped their prospects and clients understand the shifting trends of consumers in a post covid world.

LoSasso shared their smarts on B2B usage of connected TV, helping their audience understand why connected TV is the most important innovation for B2B media in 2o years.

Axia PR launched a new podcast to help their PR clients  understand today’s PR and the power of doing it well.

Willow Marketing launched a research project aimed at helping their association clients and prospects understand the different types of members and how their view their association membership.

Hollywood Branded conceived of and created a remarkable virtual event called the Marketers Content Playbook with over 100 speakers to help marketers learn how learn how to leverage their content marketing opportunities.

How might you do the same thing? How could you serve your customers and potential customers and genuinely help them get back on their feet and kick the challenges of 2020 to the curb?


Your words and actions need to match

November 4, 2020

As marketers, we’ve always known that a brand’s internal actions should align with its external messaging. Companies find themselves in hot water when they make promises they have no intention or history of keeping.

When a brand is exposed for saying one thing and doing another, it rarely ends well, and that was true before social media and when the world was normal.

But today, in the middle of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, and as we await the results of a very contentious election, it seems even riskier to make public statements that you and your employees can’t live up to every day.

There’s significant social pressure for business owners and leaders to speak out on issues and take a stand. We’ve certainly seen that over the past few months, and that pressure has only increased as we approached the election and everything heated up even more.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen companies called out by their employees for their lack of racial equity in hiring, promotions, and pay despite their public declarations that Black lives matter. People are not particularly tolerant or accepting of a superficial response to a serious social issue. Posting a black square or a generic pledge of outrage against racism is not enough, and in the current environment, it’s just asking for scrutiny and criticism.

The same is true for the pandemic. Taking a strong stand advocating for social distancing and masking on your social channels or requiring your customers to comply with stringent rules requires that your employees also honor these new rules.

A few months back, I flew for the first time since March. I was ready – I had several masks, some disinfecting wipes, and plenty of hand sanitizer. The airline’s ground crew and gate agents were all properly masked and keeping an appropriate distance. But when I boarded the plane, I noticed that one of the flight attendants was wearing his mask over his mouth but not his nose. He wasn’t working anywhere near my seat, but I kept watching to see if one of the other flight attendants would say something. No one did.

A few days later, I was flying home and happened to be seated near a pilot in full uniform who was deadheading to work. As we got ready to take off, he had his mask on.

Once we were in the air, the mask went away. Two hours later, one of the flight attendants asked him (finally) to put his mask on, which he did for about five minutes before taking it back off.

If I noticed these two employees and their disregard for their employer’s requirements, I’m sure other passengers did as well. In the short run, this opens the door for customers to ignore the rules, which leads to the other customers being uncomfortable and opting not to come back.

In the long run, it puts the business’s viability at risk. Imagine what would have happened if one of the passengers snapped a photo of one of these employees actively ignoring their company’s policy. It would have spread like wildfire on social media and been a PR nightmare.

If there was ever a time when consumers and employees expect our words and our actions to align, it’s now. Gone are the days when lip service or a superficial effort is considered acceptable.

So before you take a stand publicly on any hotbed social issue, you’d better be ready to examine your company’s policies and practices. You’ll want to make sure you don’t promise something you can’t honor. The consequences of that choice may be more than you can afford.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


How do we address black lives matter?

October 28, 2020

I admit that I have some trepidation tackling the inequality issue that is part of our country and the world’s focus right now.

But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? If we don’t get over our discomfort, or in my case, my feeling that this isn’t my time to talk, then we can’t advance solutions all that far.

I will ask for your grace as I muddle my way through this. Like you, I am appalled by George Floyd’s death and am hopeful that the movement it has inspired will help us actually deal with the inequality that permeates our country.

I’ll never know what it’s like to experience discrimination as a consistent part of my reality, so I can’t speak to that. But I do know how we, as organizations, approach and talk about important and sensitive social issues can either serve our community and our companies well or put us quickly into crisis mode.

That’s the very specific lens through which I believe I am qualified to offer some guidance.

So, how should our businesses be responding?

If your company has already made or is planning to make a public declaration in an ad, shared a meme or made a statement on social media, or sent an email to your team or clients, then I believe you must commit to doing more than that.

We’re already seeing organizations being accused, often by their own employees, of hypocrisy and posturing, rather than genuinely being committed to being part of the solution. From a communications standpoint, how do we make it clear that this isn’t just for show?

This problem wasn’t created in a day, and we aren’t going to eradicate it in a day. It’s going to take many daily decisions, policy and program changes, law changes, etc. And we need to live those choices and actions out loud.

As we move past our initial expressions of outrage and actually start taking action to affect change, we need to expose our efforts and our progress to our employees, customers, and community.

One idea that I think has merit is creating a report card for your organization. On the report card, list all of the areas where inequality exists in your company. For example, if your employee population lacks diversity, depending on how severe the problem is, you might give yourself a D.

For each area on the report card, work with your employees to create an improvement plan, and then publicly review your grade quarterly. Be transparent about your plans, progress, and challenges. You might even consider posting your report card on your website.

Depending on the specifics, you could invite others to participate in the quarterly scoring. For example, your employees could weigh in on your diversity training efforts or your corporate giving practices. You can ask your customers to give you feedback on how safe and respected they feel when they’re in your place of business or interacting with your employees.

What I like about this idea is that it represents the reality that we’re going to be addressing this issue for a while, and it’s going to require incremental growth and change. It also makes it clear that your company and its leaders are not just giving lip service to this social concern.

This level of transparency will build trust and confidence in your efforts and encourage your employees, clients, and our community to support and ideally, join you in your efforts.

If the report card idea isn’t for you, then take its basic tenants and create your own accountability tool. But that’s what it’s going to take – us holding ourselves and each other accountable as we tackle the systematic and institutional racism that exists in every facet of our society today.


In these unprecedented, challenging times of togetherness

October 21, 2020

We have reached the saturation point for trite phrases that signal to your audience that you are trying to acknowledge the fact that pandemics are not the norm. These words and phrases have been overexposed to the level that they are now like chalk on a blackboard – creating a screeching noise in our mental ear so distracting that we actually lose the point of the message.

I am pretty sure there is not a human being on the planet that does not know we’re living through an unprecedented and challenging time. Which means you can skip the setup and get right to the message.

Here’s what people want to know from you now:

Are you open? If so, have your hours changed? Do you require masks or some other change in how they’re used to interacting with you? If you’re a retail establishment, are you controlling the number of people in your store at the same time? Do I get a number or do I check in somewhere? How/where do I wait?

If you’re a B2B organization, are you back in the office? Are you conducting face-to-face meetings again? Have any of the rules of engagement changed?

Are you doing business differently? Are you shipping your products in a new way? Is there a change in your payment policies? Are you keeping some of the delivery models you developed during the lockdown? Are you delivering some things virtually that you used to do in person?

Are you having issues with your products or services? Will there be delivery delays or are there certain products or services you can’t offer right now? Is there a longer than usual window for deliveries? Are you anticipating any problems with your supply chain that may impact me?

How are you staying safe and keeping me safe? Have you increased your standards or the frequency of your cleaning schedule? Are you wiping down surfaces between customers? Is your warehouse doing anything different so my items are packaged in a noncontaminated way? How are you helping other customers keep their distance and protect us from each other?

How can you help me right now? Beyond your products and services, are there any special deals or arrangements you’re offering because of the current circumstances? Different delivery models? Relaxed payment schedules? Added incentives or bonuses for buying now?

How are you? They genuinely want to know how you and your business have fared through the last few months. Are you okay? Were customers nice to you during all of this? Did you have to let go of some of your team or close a location?

Your marketing messages should be focused on what your customers and prospects actually want to know. That’s not a C19 recommendation – that’s just marketing 101. But given that everyone’s on edge and any little thing could deter them from buying at this moment – it’s even more important to be sensitive to what they really need.

But even more than that — if there was ever a time to humanize your marketing, it is now. Everyone’s emotions are raw. Everyone has suffered loss over the last few months. And everyone is gingerly stepping out, afraid of what might be waiting around the next corner.

You have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate your compassion, understanding, and commitment to your audience by stepping away from the trite phrases and communicating as authentically and empathetically as you can.

Invite them back, help them remove as much of the worry and anxiety about doing business with you that you can, and encourage them to share input and feedback.

Demonstrate that you actually are in this with them, as opposed to just using the hashtag.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


How to market when no one is listening

October 14, 2020

We are in unprecedented times. As our country and state continue to deal with whatever the coronavirus throws at us, it’s a little tough to be thinking about your next marketing tactic.

I want to remind you that this isn’t actually the first time most of us have seen a season like this. 9/11 and the Great Recession were very similar. Events outside of our control had an incredible impact on the economy, our businesses, families, and personal finances. This particular threat feels even more imposing because we’re also facing a health concern.

The country will survive this. The question is – how will businesses fare? There’s no doubt that companies have been harmed. Our goal is for you to mitigate as much of the risk as possible and prepare your organization for the calm that always comes after the storm.

That’s the good news – no storm rages on forever. There’s always a calm that comes after the storm has run out of steam. We’ll get to that point too, just like we did after 9/11 and the recession. But first, we have to do all we can to survive the storm.

How do you market when no one is listening, and even if they are, they’re probably not in a position to buy? It’s time to move to a long-term strategy. What you do now isn’t about immediate sales. It’s about making a sale in six months or a year.

This is not the time to capitalize on the situation. We’ve already seen opportunists re-tooling their marketing to seize the opportunity. When people are in panic mode, they don’t react well to feeling taken advantage of by someone they thought they could trust.

No sale or coupon is going to get people to care about what you have to sell right now unless it’s a necessity as they wait out this storm.

It’s time to shift entirely into “be of service” mode. It’s time to focus your attention, time, and efforts into helping your customers, prospects, and employees through this season.

How can you help? That’s the question to keep asking yourself. What can you do that will genuinely be of service to your most important audiences?

Let me give you an example.

Shine Distillery & Grill, a small distillery in Portland, OR found a unique way to help. The first batch of alcohol in their distilling process isn’t drinkable. They’ve been throwing it away after using a little bit of it as a cleaning agent to keep their facilities shiny and disinfected.

At the onset of the pandemic, as they watched people scrambling to find hand sanitizer, it occurred to them that they might be able to help others during the coronavirus. They reached out to local authorities to find out what they would have to do to use their waste alcohol as a sanitizer. Turns out as long as they’re not making medical claims – they can bottle it and give it away. It’s an 80% alcohol solution that is well above the CDC’s 60% recommendation.

Maybe you can’t replicate that. But perhaps you can create some financial relief through a payment program for your customers and then build a communication strategy around that. Perhaps you can hold educational webinars that help your prospects, and customers save money or serve their customers better in this odd moment in time. What if you gave your smaller customers access to some of the perks that your more prominent clients enjoy?

That’s being of service without remuneration. For now. I believe that kind of generosity is our marketing mandate right now.

Be of service.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Who are your people?

October 7, 2020

We have been talking about some of the core elements of creating a marketing plan. My goal is to get you thinking and planning for 2021 and beyond. Previously, we focused on making sure your prospects can pick you out of the crowd. The next step in putting together your marketing plan is deciding who you’d like to serve along the way.

If you’ve been in business for more than a week, you know there are clients we can delight and clients who suck the life out of your company. The better you know yourself, the better you will be at identifying and chasing after those sweet spot clients that you love to work for, your team is excited to bust a hump to please, and in return, the client appreciates all of your efforts.

The bad clients aren’t bad; they’re just a bad fit for you. Your goal is to recognize what makes someone a good or bad fit early in the sales process so you can either double down to earn their business or stop chasing them.

Ideally, you’re going to stop chasing or even talking to the prospects that don’t meet your profile of the ideal client. We all do better work for clients who are a better fit. The good news is – you’ve experienced that more than once in your organization’s history. We’re going to use that experience to replicate those great clients.

If I said to you – if you could clone any three customers and work for those clones as well – which customers would you choose? Who are your people? After you identify those customers, look for common traits that make them the right fit for you.

If you are a B2B company, think about tangible factors like the size of their organization, the industry, your point of contact’s years of experience, their decision-making process (individual or by committee), if they have internal resources or if they’re going to be relying on you to provide 100% of the support, and other factors that matter to your work.

On the B2C side, think about tangible elements like the customer’s role in their family, all the demographics like age, gender, and income. Where do they live? What kind of dwelling? Is there a similarity in the type of work they do or the hours they work? For each of you, this will be a little different based on what you sell.

In either case, don’t forget about the intangibles like communication and work style, how they react to issues or problems, and if they’ll be a good referral source. Are they comfortable with technology? Are they animal lovers? No factor is too obscure as you look for common threads. Think of yourself as a reporter and you are about to write a biographical piece on your best customers.

While these lists of traits are useful, they become invaluable when you use them to create customer personas. A customer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on real data about your existing customers. You can gather that data through observation, as I’ve been outlining. You can also add market research data to the mix if your budget allows for it. Put all this information to work and you’ll be able to be very clear on who your best prospects are, based on the clients you and your team love to serve.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Busines Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


How do I pick you out of the crowd?

September 30, 2020

A few summers ago, my daughter and I spent some time in South Africa on a safari. When we first got there, all of the zebras pretty much looked the same, other than their relative size. But as we looked more closely (and our guides patiently pointed it out), we began to recognize that every zebra’s stripes are unique, like fingerprints.

I commented that it would have been a lot easier to pick out a specific zebra if they each had a single stripe of a unique color. They would have been easy to identify, even from a distance.

To your consumers, when they look at you and your competitors in the early stages of their buying process, you’re like that zebra herd, with all of the animals looking pretty much the same. One of the most crucial elements of your marketing plan is being very specific about how you are different from everyone else. We need to paint one of your stripes a unique color.

Today, we are going to focus on how to make sure your prospects can pick you out of the crowd.

This is not a stay on the surface activity. If all of your competitors can claim the same point of difference (i.e., it’s our people, we partner with our clients, we truly care, etc.), then it actually is not a point of difference.

To identify what genuinely makes you unique, you have to drill deeper than those surface statements that, in fairness, are true about most good businesses including our competitors. You have to ask some tougher questions if you want to get to a truth that only you can own. If all of your competitors can say “we do that too” then it is not unique enough.

The way to get started is to ask yourself these questions:

Is there something unique about our business model and how we deliver our product/services? (Do you embed an employee into your client’s office or do you get compensated based on their sales success?)

Do we have knowledge or expertise that most people do not have? (Are your employees all nurses, so they have incredible medical knowledge or have all of your travel agents been to Africa?)

Do you take a common element in your industry and do it to an extreme? (Do you give away free soda and sunscreen at your theme park or do you donate a pair of socks to the homeless for every pair of socks you sell?)

Is your business taking a delivery element and re-inventing it? (Are your bank branches open until 8 pm or does your team stay onsite for a day to make sure everyone is trained on your equipment?)

Is your product or service genuinely different than what your competitors’ sell? (Is your seed a new hybrid that you just created or are you using artificial intelligence in a way that no one has imagined before?)

Don’t let features and benefits fool you. They are rarely what makes your business, product, or service unique.

This is not an easy exercise, which is why most companies can’t articulate what really makes them different. If you are willing to go to the effort to uncover your distinct position or create one if there isn’t one in place – your marketing is about to get much simpler.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.