Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #2 Aliens

It was late. My parents’ television was turned up a little louder than normal and woke me up. I climbed out of bed and snuck up to their room. Whatever they were watching sounded pretty scary. I quietly approached their room and snuck a peak at their television…

There on the screen was probably one of the scariest things a second grader could ever see. It was the most evil creature I had ever seen before and it would haunt my dreams for weeks on end.

It was Ridley Scott’s Alien.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more evil, efficient killing machine around. The alien was literally designed as the perfect hunter. It was fast. It had multiple weapons, a hard exoskeleton, and acid for blood. They were smart and hunted in packs. Basically, if you lived to kill it, it could still kill you with a splash of it blood.

As a teenager, I was fascinated with this creature. I watched all the movies, read Aliens comic books, and collected some awesome action figures. Call it a strange admiration. This creature was fascinating. The backstory was interesting. It was a creature that had been genetically designed as the perfect killer. If I understood the history correctly, another alien race had developed the alien to use as a weapon against other races.

Adaptability Matters

There’s nothing romantic about this evil beast. It was bred to kill. It was incredibly efficient at what it did and it had no conscience. There was no hesitation, no silly speeches, no niceties. But what made the alien the deadliest killer of all was its ability to adapt to almost any environment it was exposed to.

The alien could literally be exposed to heat, water, cold, zero gravity, the cold depths of space and it kept coming after its victims. And if you want to be great at marketing, you have to be every bit as adaptable.

We live in an incredibly fast paced world. Technologies are shifting quickly. Consumers are finding new ways to consume media and are taking control of their lives in ways we had never imagined. They are empowered and are actively seeking ways to remove unnecessary marketing and advertising from their lives. If you want to succeed in this industry or if you have a small business and need to market yourself, you must learn to adapt. In your own way, you have to be every bit as good at marketing as the alien was at killing.

Being Adaptable ≠ Being Evil

While aliens can get away with being purely evil, we in the communications business have to look for better ways to connect with consumers. Though many of our old tools still work (billboards, television advertising, junk mail, spam, etc.), we can still win with consumers if we are willing to listen to them and find innovative ways to communicate with them.

Here’s a great example of what I mean. There are a ton of companies out there that will willingly sell you their email distribution lists. You can then turn around and send your marketing and advertising to their customers. Sounds pretty cool, right?

This approach comes with some serious risks. You fire off your email messages to a whole bunch of people that may or may not want your stuff. They might just ignore you and delete your span. On the other hand, you might make them mad and the resulting word of mouth could lead to distrust among consumers.

Growing your email lists is good thing, but you might want to rethink your approach to this. By far, the best way to go is to grow your lists organically. Be authentic. Sell great stuff. Run amazing promotions. Tell beautiful stories. Make it easy for customers to sign up and opt out of your email list.

When it comes to marketing, pr and communications in general, there are some fantastic ways to communicate with customers. If we are willing to listen, work hard and innovate, we can be every bit as driven and efficient as Ridley Scott’s aliens; however, if we are to thrive and change our reputation, we must learn to play nice.

Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #4 Vampires

In case you haven’t noticed, vampires seem to be all the rage these days. I’ve heard of people sporting “bite me” license plates on their cars and there is a whole assortment of bumper stickers, jewelry, clothing and other merchandise that displays an insanely desire to be one of them.

Undoubtedly, the recent string of Stephanie Meyer books (amazon affiliate link), including the Twilight saga, have ratcheted up attention about these evil fiends.

While stories about vampires have been around for centuries in some form or another, Meyer’s gave us a whole new spin. Instead of being evil, she romanticized these characters as cursed beings who had a choice between being good or evil. Talk about having a good PR agent. Meyers has taken one of the most evil of all monsters and cast the vampire as a teenaged hunk with a slight biting problem who is simply looking for the love of his life.

Think about the genius behind what Meyers has done. She is probably one of the best marketers around. It’s like taking Charles Manson and turning him into a teenage heart throb. Now consider the flip side of her vampire characters. Behind the perfectly chiseled looks there is something else going on all together. When you read about vampires almost anywhere else you learn that they are cursed. They are doomed to walk the Earth for an eternity and must prey on other men for their blood. They are constantly in fear of being hunted down and destroyed. There is simply nothing romantic about it.

Let’s face it, millions of teens worldwide seem to love Meyer’s version of the vampire. I, for one, don’t. They scare the crap out of me. But I do admire Meyer’s skills and there it a valuable lesson for all of us marketers and small business people to learn from – great marketing can sell even the most evil of products (but this doesn’t make it right).

Propagandizers, Evil PR Agents and Crooked Marketers

Let’s face it. Those of us in the marketing, advertising and public relations business often get a bad wrap. But often, it is a well deserved one. We live in a country where our trade has been used for all kinds of bad stuff:

  • Wars
  • Political campaigns
  • Bad agendas
  • Spinning bad companies out of messes
  • Hiding celebrity and political messes
  • Selling teens on warped image of beauty
  • Making America fatter
  • Diet fads
  • Countless bad products
  • Rampant consumerism

It isn’t a stretch to say that our industry has a reputation that is very similar to that of the traditional vampire. We’re evil. Our job is to sell stuff, sell ideas. And the most evil among us use their vampire-like abilities to prey on a public that doesn’t always need what we’re selling.

There’s a Choice

I will admit it, I read Meyer first book. I had to see what all the fuss was about and though I respect her abilities, I really hated the book. I’ve always preferred the other image of the vampire – an evil creature of the night that was meant to be hunted down and killed. The nice thing is that we in the communications industry have a choice.

Unlike fictional vampires, we are not cursed or doomed. We can make a decision to help good causes. We can use our skills to help raise awareness about great companies that actually care about the communities they do business in. We have the ability to help great products win when they really deserve to. We can take an active role in making this nation into the greatest it has ever been.

Sure, there will always be those annoying people out there that send me spam via every possible route they can. These folks will continue to ruin great things like email, Twitter and facebook. The nice this is that we as consumers can choose to ignore it. That’s the beauty of America. While we have the right to freedom of speech, we have the right to be educated and to ignore or block out the stuff we don’t want in our lives.

UPDATED: Real-Time Marketing and PR – #Vocus and @DMScott Webcast: A Recap

Update: If you are interested in listening to David’s webinar, please follow this link. You must register before you can watch the webinar and it will only be available for a limited time. Thanks to Vocus for allow me to share this. An even bigger thanks to David for his thoughts and leadership on these important issues.

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Last week, I had the honor of listening to one of my personal social media heros, David Meerman Scott, live on a webcast that Vocus produced. It was a great experience and I must say that David lived up to everything I expected him to be.

The focus of the webinar was on real-time marketing and pr. David shared a number of valuable insights about how and why you should be doing real-time marketing and pr for your business. He also shared a number of test cases where companies have succeeded and failed in this effort.

What is real-time marketing and pr? Before I can answer that, you have to look at this from David’s perspective. He has been arguing for years that the Web has empowered consumers and they now have the ability to make or break your business in real-time on blogs, twitter, facebook and all sorts of other online media. He’s absolutely right. Real-time marketing and pr then becomes your tool to turn these situations into opportunities for your business.

There are a ton of ways to do this. First, you must be listening. Have your “social-ears” open and hear what consumers are saying about your business online. Second, talk to them. When you find customers that care enough to talk about you, don’t ignore them. Foster a relationship by telling them what you are up to. Third, engage them. Go beyond the “talking to” stage by developing a deeper dialogue. Ask them for their advice and ideas about your business. Find out what their needs are. Look for things you could be doing better that would turn them into insanely loyal customers. Fourth, do what you can to get them to act. This is a tough one, but it should also be you ultimate goal when it comes to social media.

It was a one of the most helpful and content-rich webinars I have ever participated in. You can find some of the key tweets from the seminar by searching for the #vocus tag on Twitter.

For those of you that are struggling with how to develop a social media policy for your business, David addresses this with a simple rule:

If you use “I” you are fine. If you use “we” that is when your communications team should be involved.

Developing A Social Media Plan

The other day I set up a facebook fan page for a project I have been working on. It is a nice feeling when you step back and realize that you joined the ranks of tens of thousands of other businesses that are also on facebook. Have you ever looked closely at what some of your competitors are up to? If you have, you might have noticed something interesting.

Take a look around facebook, twitter, myspace, etc. and see what your competition is up to. You’ll probably discover some that I did as well – social media is full of businesses who have fallen into the “me too” trap. They are there simply because their competitor is there and because of this most business social efforts are completely lame.

There’s no doubt that most businesses can benefit from social media in some way. But you should think carefully about how it will benefit you and in what ways you are willing to truly engage your customers.

Twitter Saves the World!

Herriman FireCassie and I sat intently staring at the television screen. The FOX reporter was on the scene of a local fire that was racing toward Herriman, Utah.

Inflammatory words spewed out of the report’s mouth –  emergency, disaster, chaos, destruction, devastation were just a few of the many words he hurled at the audience.

Annoyed, I grabbed my phone, started my Twitter app and searched for “herriman fire.” And there it was, the city’s very own emergency twitter feed: @bereadyherriman. From that point on, I started watch their updates and I started feeling better. Instead of inflating the story, they continued to feed out a steady stream of updates filled with facts. It is amazing how that 140-character limit can force you to stick to the bare necessities.

I sat there watching my real time twitter updates and compared them to the news. Guess what? You’d almost think that the reporter was doing the same thing (as I am sure he was), watching twitter and then giving the story a subtle death and disaster spin.

Perhaps I lucked out. I am not really sure why I checked Twitter in the first place. But in the end, I was getting news directly from the source and from others that were there on the scene and were being affected by the situation.

Lessons Learned: The News

  1. Broadcast media has a job to do and sometimes that means adding a bit of drama to a story in order to keep the audience watching.
  2. Even live news broadcasts are not always the best and most current source of information.
  3. We as citizens must be diligent when it comes to the media we consume.

Lessons Learned: Twitter

I have a new found respect for Twitter. Many pundits have downplayed its usefulness. Other have declared it dead more than once in the last six months. Yet it hangs on and with its newest update is poised to challenge facebook. Here are a few things I learned from this experience:99% of

  1. Twitter’s true power lies in its ability for real-time conversations.
  2. Using Twitter is about more than retweeting articles you find online.
  3. 95% of the messages are spam. If you are willing to dig through it all, there is a wealth of great stuff happening on the platform. Talk to people and find out where the good conversations are going on.

In on way do I want to downplay what happened that night. It was dangerous and many families faced having their entire lives thrown into chaos. But the reality of how the situation was handled was quite different. We had a city leadership that had a plan in place for incidents like this. One very effective tool they used was Twitter (@bereadyherriman). Twitter allowed them to totally bypass traditional media and speak directly to those being effected. This in turn led to a quick response by citizens to leave the area in an organized manner. Using Twitter even freed up the airwaves and allowed prevented interference across critical data lines. It was an impressive effort and Herriman city should be commended, especially our young and capable mayor.

The fire and police departments reacted quickly and worked diligently to ensure that families who were in danger left safely. They still have a strong presence in the area three days later and are making sure there is no chance for the fire to flare up again. Even the National Guard showed up today to help contain the few remaining areas that are still being watched.

Jordan School District officials were another organization that stepped up to the plate and helped out our community from the very beginning. They opened up several schools to evacuees. In addition, they closed all of the surrounding schools for a day to let families make their way back to their homes and take care of one another. They were also concerned with the air quality and wanted to ensure that their students had safe learning environments to return to.

All of these people, from city officials to our emergency responders to our local school officials deserve to be recognized for how they handled the event. They have definitely earned my respect and loyalty.

As for the news, well, I am not sure. After watching the FOX reporter, I think I have had about all I can take. Add me to the growing list of consumers that isn’t sticking with traditional news broadcasts.

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Corporate Speak: Lose It

Using plain language in presentations, ad copy and other business setting is important. Customers want to know they are dealing with companies that are honest. Using corporate speak is associated with dishonesty and avoiding responsibility. Using plain language shows that you are being honest and open.

The entire Apple iPhone 4 debacle was a lot of fun to watch and it was also a valuable lesson in how to handle controversy. Steve Job pulled off a remarkable press conference, first announcing the free iPhone case offer for customers that wanted them and then he pulled off the impossible. Here’s the announcement:

In the course of the press conference, Gates boldly changed the course of the entire debate. The iPhone 4 was not perfect; however, according to Gates, no smartphone is. He want on to explain that they all have similar issues with antenna and reception. The science behind antenna design is far from perfect. Later on, videos of iPhone competitors popped up on YouTube demonstrating similar flaws in other phones.

Apple was not perfect. They made a bunch of mistakes in how they handled this issue. As a result, they took a beating in the press and probably slowed confidence for a short time (they will gain it back though).

Jobs used common language. Here is how Apple resesitated itself. Jobs took the stage and spoke very clearly about the problem and then just as clearly, he shifted the focus away from apple. He won the debate by using simple language and terms that we all understood.

Other companies and PR teams still have not learned this lesson. Now compare Jobs’ response to those of several companies that tried to come up with their own response once the tables had turned on them:

Nokia

“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.

Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.

In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”

RIM

Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.

– Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie

In both cases, it sounds like lawyers wrote the responses. Instead of dealing with the real issue straight up and admitting in a straight forward manner that all smartphones have antenna problems, both companies seem to still want to avoid the real issue.

SBM 101: Engaging Your Team – Ideas from Around the Web

Small Business Marketing 101Throughout the week we have been discussing how your employees can become your most valuable marketing resource. Instead of spending another day sharing my ideas with you, I thought we’d look at some of the best ideas from around the web. Make sure you take a few minutes to check out these posts and give these blogs a visit.

gold fish being led by a single green fishFive Steps to Engaging Your Employees – In this excellent post, George Ambler shares 5 key ingredients to engaging your employees in a meaningful way. His second and fourth ideas really caught my attention.

10 Tips for Engaging Your Employees – I love how diverse many of these ideas are. This post reinforces a few of the points I made earlier this week; however, they do an excellent job touching on some issues that many of these lists miss out on, specifically “match projects, passions and proficiency” and “hiring engage-able employees.”

Engaging Your Employees Essential: A C-suite perspective on what has to happen among company execs in order to improve employee engagement and success.

10 Strategies for Engaging Your Employees: Though I would have probably called this article “10 Tactics for Engaging Your Employees,” Rick provides all of us with a great list of ideas to work from. One of my favorite issues that he touches on is the importance of giving your team opportunities to make autonomous decisions. I couldn’t agree with you more!

9 Ways to Keep Employees Engaged: JoAnna Brandi helps us take an inward look at issues we might have to address with ourselves before we actually engage our teams. First and foremost, she reminds us that everyone can contribute and bring value to a project. We simply have to be open to allowing them in.

Engaging your Employees During Difficult Economic Times: Allison Grace offers a great perspective on what employers can do for their team members that actually matter. Often times we offer our teams things we think are important. Allison’s ideas appear to be more in sync with what the actual employees would want. Nice work Allison.