(originally published in Entrepreneur.com)
Jack Trout, an old mentor of mine, used to say that branding is “what other people say about you.” For most companies, though, the message that defines the brand comes from the elevator pitch — a carefully crafted and succinct value proposition. The only problem is that when your company needs to pivot, the ideas your brand was built upon may no longer transmit the right message. So, what can your startup rely upon if not an elevator pitch?
The answer is a carefully chosen core value. In his theory of basic human values, social psychologist Shalom Schwartz identified 10 basic personal values that are recognized across cultures. These values are spread across four dimensions — conservation, self-enhancement, openness to change and self-transcendence — and organized into a circular arrangement like a pie. Each value represents a slice.
Schwartz explains that the closer any two values are, the more similar their motivations. For instance, power and achievement in the self-enhancement dimension are motivated by the desire for social superiority and esteem.
The opposite is also true. Value dimensions on opposite sides of the circle — self-transcendence and self-enhancement, for instance — come from the opposing motivations of devotion to others and social superiority, respectively.
By using this universal model to inform and guide your startup’s central messaging, you can develop a strong brand and appeal to your audience’s most deeply held values, to inspire loyalty.
Make decisions based on value alignment.
If you’re starting a small B2B company, for instance, you’ll need to rely on service and relationships to differentiate your brand. You’ll need to be ready to help a client at any time, even if your agreement only requires service during normal business hours.
That focus on service fits into the self-transcendence dimension — characterized by the values of benevolence and universalism — and it’s a powerful force that will ensure the loyalty of your clientele.
Schwartz’s system can also help you identify and prioritize markets. For example, like most disruptive startups, Airbnb appeals to people who value the dimensions regarding openness to change and self-transcendence.
These are people who either challenge the status quo or think that everyone should have equal access to everything. For that reason, Airbnb thrives in places such as Paris — which has more listings than even New York City — because the French are revolutionaries at heart and are very open to the company’s value proposition.
Determine your audience’s values
As a startup, you’ll want to stick to one value dimension. For example, if you’re working with risk-averse B2B clients, a tagline about challenging the status quo probably won’t resonate. You want to match your messaging to your client base. Here are three tips for getting started:
1. Show your true colors. If you’re an ambitious, wealth-hungry founder, don’t try to play your company off as a philanthropic crusader. Ride-sharing company Uber is under intense scrutiny for ambitious overreach with its contractors and employees. Its attempts to offer up a more gentle, benevolent side are being read as disingenuous. Know yourself and your team: That kind of awareness will keep you from sending mixed messages.
2. Follow through. Actions speak louder than words. Your core value proposition won’t resonate if your company doesn’t back it up with action. Major telecommunications companies espouse benevolent values, but in my opinion, their fight against net neutrality shows they value self-transcendence instead. Had they consulted with Schwartz, they could have saved millions of dollars in lobbyist payments. They were as destined to lose that battle as were the opponents of marriage equality.
3. Embody your core value. Your entire company should align with your core value. If you’re in the self-transcendence dimension, you need to embody inclusiveness and equality — from your administrative assistants to your executives. Hire people and work with vendors who hold similar values. Everything — from your company benefits to your marketing messages — should be consistent with your core value.
When your message is consistent and appeals to your audience’s most deeply held values, you’ll gain devoted customers who pledge allegiance. Priorities change, and your company might need to pivot to survive, but your dedication to a value dimension will always keep your messaging consistent.
(Originally posted in Entrepreneur.com)
Disney knows what its customers love and that’s just what it gives them. The entertainment media giant understands that a well-proportioned content strategy is crucial to effective marketing.
The media company satisfies its audience by posting behind-the-scenes movie footage and crafting engaging blog content that hooks readers. This works because Disney knows how to balance two important kinds of content: traditional and lifestyle content.
A call to action typically asks consumers to visit a store or fill out a contact form. But lifestyle content engages customers with information that adds value without a direct link to buy.
You’d be thrilled to read an email from your best friend, right? Treat customers like friends by developing relationships built on shared values and interests, rather than always asking them to do something for you.
With the right traditional-to-lifestyle content ratio in place, you can expand your company’s reach, increase click-through rates on call-to-action posts and improve your organization’s overall brand’s success.
The Future of Marketing is Here – Custom Content
Did you know that 78 percent of chief marketing officers surveyed a few years back considered custom content the future of marketing? With the lifestyle method of content marketing gaining momentum, you need to incorporate it into your promotion strategy.
For example, Puma has shifted its content focus from functionality of soccer shoes to lifestyle qualities such as self-expression and leisure. Puma lets its audience experience the branded lifestyle.
My company was intrigued by the move toward lifestyle marketing and wanted to identify the proportion of traditional content to lifestyle content. So my organization aggregated a year’s worth of Facebook posts from Adidas and Nike to compare how each used lifestyle content last year.
The findings? Nike used more lifestyle content than Adidas. Sixty percent of Nike’s posts featured lifestyle content and its traditional call-to-action posts received an average of 993 shares a post. In contrast, only 32 percent of Adidas’ posts featured lifestyle content, with its traditional posts receiving an average of 122 shares each.
If you want lifestyle marketing to work for your company, know how your company’s brand aligns with consumers’ values and become an extension of those values. You’ll use fewer calls to action, but the ones you post will connect more effectively with your customers.
Three Tips to Connect With Your Customers:
1. Conduct a professional or DIY branding session.
Figure out the following: What makes your brand special? Answering that question will help you build a content strategy that your customers can relate to.
Conduct a branding session to identify the unique appeal that sets your company apart. Your budget will determine whether you commission a branding project from an agency or dig into the data with your own team.
2. Target customers with a few limited, personality-based topics.
When dating, you work hard to find out and cater to your partner’s likes. Do the same for your customers.
Create a branding persona that captures every detail about your target audience, including a wide range of their interests, such as music preferences and hobbies. Use this data to build a style guide and content strategy that encourages engagement and makes customers fall in love with your company.
3. Channel the campaign through an influential network.
Your company’s brand doesn’t have to be fronted by a celebrity to make a big impact. Networking is a powerful factor in lifestyle branding, so put your energy into building a network of influencers. Just like a circle of friends who share information with one another, these influencers will talk about your brand and share your content within the context of an authentic lifestyle.
According to advertising legend Keith Reinhard, one of the big obstacles to effective marketing is “the obsession with quick results.” If you’re not careful, your focus on numbers will overshadow effective lifestyle marketing. Instead, understand your audience and use that knowledge to strike the perfect balance.
(originally published in Entrepreneur)
“Sorry. I won’t even consider that brand.”
As I finally figured out what the robin’s egg blue tinge on my fingers came from, I recalled my buying journey earlier that day.
And it was an ambitious journey. Buying jeans isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s especially difficult when you’re shopping for cool-guy jeans with a dad-jeans body.
The brands and style choices are staggering. There’s selvage, raw, distressed, boot-cut, straight leg and skinny varieties. The brands have interesting, americana names like The Flat Head, Sugar Cane Co., and Imogene and Willie. But after a 20-minute Internet search I was bombarded with retargeting ads asking me to buy their jeans before I even knew what my choices were. I immediately discounted those brands in my brain then realized how gargantuan my mission was. I needed some kind of shortcut.
I got it. Soon I was teetering under 210 pounds of slippery, oddly metallic-smelling denim in a trendy men’s store in Austin’s South Congress district. To the astonishment of the sales person, I said I wouldn’t even try on one of their fashion brands – I’ve seen it too many times at discounters – it’s dead to me. Anyway, after a couple hours of hopping, cussing, and crashing into fitting rooms made for skinny-jeans people, I found that perfect pair.
As an entrepreneur with an emerging brand, trying to get your name and content trusted can seem like an art form. In your gut you know it’s not just money – after all, the “Will It Blend – iPhone 6 Plus” video has amassed almost 3 million views. But it’s not voodoo – it just takes knowledge, discipline, and a lot of hard work.
Here are some crucial elements (and that shortcut) that can make placing your company’s product in the hands of consumers a lot easier:
1. Distribute with discipline.
“Content is king, but distribution is queen; and she wears the pants.” There are a lot of ways to poison your brand. But incorrect or inconsistent distribution is near the top of the most wanted list. It’s why I wouldn’t even try on one of the brands during my jeans journey.
Joshua Bingaman, founder of HELM Boots, is fiercely disciplined in his company’s branding strategy. He researched all the possible personas of consumers who buy fashionable boots and came up with the one that’s most aligned with his brand’s values.
He determined that his buyers would trust his artisanal boots only if they were excluded from sales sites.
“We’ve worked hard to develop HELM Boots into a brand that is recognized in Esquire or GQ instead of sale sites like Gilt or Fab.” – Joshua Bingaman, founder of Helm Boots
This is Joshua telling the queen which pants to wear.
Look – you work hard on conceiving and creating your brand’s image, products, and marketing content. You’re rightfully proud of them. But your distribution must fit your buyer perfectly or your jeans may be the only ones left on the rack.
How about that shortcut I took to find my perfect pair of jeans?
2. Determine who influences your buyer persona.
Word-of-mouth is an old and established marketing channel. Nielsen Research found that 84% of consumers trust buying advice from friends. So HELM puts its global tribe of brand advocates to work to spread its message; these people know their reputation will be elevated each time they recommend HELM. And it was a similar web of advocates that proved critical to my buying journey.
After I gave up searching for the perfect jeans, I tossed out a Facebook post to my friends.
I received some good advice from a fashionable Dane whose opinions I trust. He gave me the name of the men’s shop on South Congress and a few brands to try.
Cultivate your brand advocates, those people who have bought your product and look for opportunities to recommend it. It’s hard, but rewarding work. Your other influencer channel, bloggers, can have a bigger impact that pays off enormously. Of course, I could talk to you for hours about it.
Number one on the most wanted list of most toxic brand poisons is next.
3. Mind where your consumers are in their buying journey.
Mastering timing is critical for ensuring that you’re providing the right content for a particular phase of a buyer’s journey.
Roughly speaking, buyers go through three phases: awareness (do they know your brand exists?), consideration (how does your brand compare to competitors?), and conversion from prospect to customer (Are they ready for a call to action?).
In my cool-guy jeans experience, I went through the journey in a matter of hours. I wasn’t buying a car or a house or looking to move data centers. Usually consumers need time to make up their minds before a company or its influencers bombard them with “buy now” messaging. Retargeted ads are the most ham-fisted example of a premature call to action. If this happens too soon, it’s bad fugu – poisonous to the brand.
Today, getting your product in front of the right buyers isn’t about broadcasting your message to anyone who will listen. It’s about identifying your ideal buyers, finding the influencers who resonate most with them and serving up the appropriate content at the right time, in the right place.
That way, in the chaos of the holiday-shopping season, your customers hopefully won’t be distracted by an overabundance of choices. If they hear about your company’s brand from someone they trust, making a choice will be as easy and comfortable as donning a good pair of jeans.
“Why don’t they just give some money to ALS and skip the stupid Facebook video?”
If you’ve thought something like this, you’re not alone. In fact, millions of people probably share your opinion. And all of these people have some specific values in common. You’re not a bad person; it’s just that the craze around the Ice Bucket Challenge pushed your “scorn button”. Why?
Bringing this thought to work, does your brand marketing push your consumers’ buttons?
So far, the Ice Bucket Challenge has provided a whopping $41 million in donations.Intellectually, you know this couldn’t have happened without the awareness of the Ice Bucket. Let’s talk about the buttons the creators of the Challenge dialed in and specifically, the emotions elicited by values we all share. Then, how you may be able do the same with your marketing content.
We All Have Them
Without going into deep detail about values in this piece (plug: which we’re adding to our platform in September), research shows that every culture shares the same core values:
Most researchers agree that the Schwartz Circumplex Model of Values is a good adaptation of earlier values research. Importantly, this is a “circumplex”, which infers that there’s a relationship between the values, even if they’re conflicting, and that our values may move along the circumplex throughout our lives.
For example, Self-Enhancement comes at the expense of Self-Transcendence. If you’re very open to change, or a non-conformist like Richard Branson, you’re less likely to be that more deliberate person steeped in tradition.
How You Can Leverage Values and Emotions
Adapting Schwartz so that we can apply these great data to our marketing efforts, Arizona State University researched how emotions and values are linked in consumer purchases. From their research, we can illustrate ASU’s work:
Now think back to the Ice Bucket Challenge. What value-buttons are they pushing? What value-buttons do you push with your content marketing or branding?
Shame on You!
Universalism (your “Public Self”), among all cultures, is said to be the dominant value. It makes sense; if we want to survive, we need to look out for everyone and the planet – not just our clan or tribe, which would be “benevolence”. In the Walking Dead, Hershel is the Universalist while Rick is the benevolent leader, suspicious of outsiders and fiercely protective of his group (if this changes in the last season, don’t tell me).
Universalists are sincerely sympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America or Syrian refugees. They may give money to the homeless and observe water or ozone restrictions. This public self value comes at the expense of both the private self and self-indulgence. It’s “Self-Transcendence” in Schwartz’s circumplex, “Public Self” in the second adaptation.
Most interestingly, the leading emotion evoked by public self values like Universalism and Benevolence? Shame.
How to Spin the Shame Card
Shame alone doesn’t work, at least not as well. Before there was the Ice Bucket Challenge, there was Movember, which donates money for men’s health. The social proof provided by Movember and the Ice Bucket Challenge does a fine job of spreading the shame. Do you share those horribly sad images of starving children? Of course not. Jonah Berger writes about the research conducted about “why we share” in his book, Contagious.
Those sad images just aren’t fun, which is what we’re wanting more and more. Self-Indulgence, or Hedonism, is the second value in the Challenge that makes it, and Movember contagious. If the ALS Association’s entire campaign were posting videos of people with ALS sadly asking for pledges, it would still evoke shame. But the donations only started rolling in when the giving got fun – self indulgent: enjoyable, surprising.
For the topic of an upcoming article, I’ll use some research to show that, as consumers, we’re moving along the circumplex to Self-Indulgence as a buying culture.
Where does that leave you, my scornful friend?
You’re Not a Monster
I’m sure you’re a fine human being if you don’t accept the challenge or think it’s stupid. I thought it was stupid. Take a look at the original Schwartz circumplex again. You need to have dominance in two values, Self-Transcendence and Hedonism/Self-Indulgence.
Opposite Self-Transcendence on the circumplex is Self-Enhancement. If you’re driven by power and ambition, climbing the corporate ladder regardless of who gets in the way, these values must come at the expense of the Self-Transcendence.
But remember, you need both. If you’re not into power and money and more benevolent than Rick, do you scorn selfies? Do you resist upgrading on your flight to LA because you don’t really need the extra legroom? When you go on vacation, are you more likely to have all your reservations lined up ahead of time instead of the “anything goes” approach?
If you’re contemptuous of the Challenge, we can infer that you have dominance in Self-Enhancement and/or you’re put off by Self-Indulgence.
Your Brand Has Values, Too
Stephen Colbert still laughs at the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people. Whether you agree or disagree, you can look at the values your branding and advertising possess how they align with the people who buy your products or services. If you’re consistently in alignment, you can start to leverage them and push some emotional buttons with data to back you up.
In this short article, I’ve really just hit the high points. If you’d like to know more about values-based marketing, drop me a message or sign up for the Mattr blog.
(Click Here to Donate to the ALS)
(Originally posted in Tech Cocktail)
Marketing blunders happen all the time. Do you remember when Pontiac gave away nearly 300 sleek, testosterone-fueled G6 sports cars on that talk show in 2004 — or do you remember the time Oprah gave everyone in her audience a new car? Pontiac might not have gained the attention it wanted from that stunt, but Oprah certainly did.
Ellen DeGeneres’s selfie from the Oscars is already 2014’s biggest tweet. It was taken on a Samsung Galaxy S5 and staged by Samsung to correlate with its #TheNextBigThing Twitter campaign. It marks the first record-breaking brand-sponsored tweet.
This tweet is already being touted by the agency of record as a victory. What’s the problem, then? For Samsung, this was a big missed opportunity since the tweet was missing its hashtag, #TheNextBigThing.
What should have been a great branding opportunity for both brands only benefitted Ellen. However, the event did spotlight Twitter (still in its first year as a public company) as a viable marketing option.
So, what lessons can you learn from this gaffe for your next Twitter campaign?
1. A sponsored tweet can go viral.
The top retweets on Twitter prior to Ellen’s selfie were Barack Obama’s 2012 win, the deaths of Cory Monteith and Paul Walker, and anything Justin Bieber had tweeted. You might not have the follower counts that Bieber or Barack do, so your best bet is to stick to current events. Oreo hit it big with its “Dunk in the Dark” tweet during the Super Bowl blackout; you, too, can capitalize appropriately on the unexpected.
Keep an eye out for major events, and find ways to spontaneously attach your brand to the hype. Samsung was smart to partner with Ellen. She’s the top interest among @SamsungMobileUS’s engaged audience, but Samsung didn’t fully capitalize on this appeal.
2. Coordination is key.
One mistake Samsung made was that only the people in attendance during the actual tweet were able to see that it was taken on a Samsung phone. In fact, Ellen was seen using an iPhone backstage. Had the phone been programmed to autofill “#Oscars #TheNextBigThing,” everything would have run smoothly while maintaining the spontaneity of the moment. This is Hashtag 101. Those 16 characters meant the difference between everyone loving Ellen’s selfie at the Oscars and everyone loving Ellen’s selfie at the Oscars that was taken on a Samsung Galaxy.
Make sure everyone on your team understands the goal. Practice, test failures, and communicate with each other. Don’t make the mistake Ellen’s team made. Create that hopeful evergreen hashtag on the celebrity’s autocomplete so the next opportunity isn’t lost. We called this “Marine-proof” in the Marine Corps: Make it so simple to operate that you’ll be able to do it when the “fog of war” hits.
3. A call to action is essential.
If Ellen had directly tweeted “Buy a Samsung,” it probably wouldn’t have gone as viral as it did, but had Ellen added “#TheNextBigThing” to her tweet, that would have given Samsung a clickable call to action, and it likely would have trended right next to #Oscars and #Oscars2014. Upon clicking it, people would have seen Samsung’s call to action below, without Ellen losing any credibility.
Regardless of how you structure your Twitter campaign, ensure that there’s a solid call to action. You never know which tweet will resonate with your audience, so each should include some way to funnel people back to you for a potential purchase or conversion. Seize the opportunity to connect with your audience directly when possible.
Twitter is quickly growing as the opportunity for viral marketing campaigns. It’s difficult to directly track conversions, but there’s no denying that certain tweets are read and spread by a large portion of the population. This puts Twitter at the forefront for agencies and brands, and you can win with a sponsored tweet from an endorsement deal. Just make sure you take full advantage of every opportunity by celebrity-proofing your campaign.
The next record-breaking tweet could work for you.