Stop Trying to Close and Do This Instead

If the first sentence of this article saw me immediately trying to sell my app/product/service, the vast majority of readers would close this page, and rightfully leave with a bad taste in their mouths. Yet every day, entrepreneurs around the world try to sell, pitch and promote their business right out the gate, all in the name of “hustle.” – They want to be the person that hustles 24/7. But, does anyone really like ‘that guy’? Would you introduce him to your friend? In general, no. Which begs the question – why do so many entrepreneurs behave this way in business?

Before exploring this in more detail, take two minutes to watch this video by legendary business person Gary Vaynerchuck — this is what it looks like in real life. If you can identify this action in your behavior towards customers, prospects, journalists or investors, take a step back and ask yourself why this is your tactic for success. Those who believe they don’t behave this way and yet still have an auto-DM set up on Twitter should consider that though the tools are different, behaving differently online from offline still leads companies and individuals to act like the guy in the video. Don’t be “that guy.”

Israel’s top tech and marketing guru Hillel Fuld puts this beautifully in his blog:

“1. Would I respond to this message if I was on the receiving end?

2. Would I behave this way offline?

If the answer to either one of those questions is ‘No’, then do what you gotta do to make the answer yes.”

Good sales and marketing practice comes from one single underlying root — deploying empathy wherever possible. Though this emotion is very difficult to quantify with data points, it is fundamental for people working in sales and marketing to understand and internalize before every interaction. To start off by thinking, “How can I add value to this person?” rather than “How can I sell to this person?” is a shift in mindset, but one that will always pay off. This value may not (and probably isn’t) an instant sale of your product, and may even be the recommendation of a competitor — but the individual will remember the value for decades to come, long after the product or service is rendered obsolete. It is this shift in thinking to macro-marketing and away from target-driven objective marketing that has created some of the biggest companies in the world today.

Before starting to work at an Apple Store, employees are trained to make sure that they only sell to a customer that will get what they want from the product. If you were to go in and ask for a phone that absolutely must be red, they won’t try to sell you a rose gold iPhone 7, because that isn’t what you want. The thought process is as relevant to small businesses as it is for billion-dollar companies. Offer what the customer in front of you wants — regardless of demographic slicing, platform or situation — and the long-term benefit will pay out in spades.

This adjustment in mindset may be extreme for some, but when we consider the awesome power consumers now have via the reach of social media, and the swing of attention away from conventional advertising and towards influencers and peer let decision making, the customer is satisfaction sacrosanct before, during and after every interaction. Play the long game, be patient and succeed.

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This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on 10th March 2017.

Getting Punched in the Mouth

In the world of martial arts, you have no option but to relax — if you are tense, analytical and over thinking, you get punched in the mouth. It is just that simple. When you relax, you allow your training to take over, you roll with the punches, and occasionally — you get punched in the mouth. The main difference between the two scenarios is that in the first, you get knocked on your back and examine what put you there. The second, you get up and keep at it and return to a place of calm.

Having trained in different martial arts from 4 years old, I’ve learned a huge amount about life — primarily that a bloody lip is nothing more than a small inconvenience and something that will heal faster than you’d think. It’s an activity that evolves into a passion with deep roots that last for far longer than any bruises ever could.

The Missed Opportunity in Content Marketing

In 1996, Bill Gates famously said ‘Content is King’. In 1996; Google first launched, 16mb of RAM was impressive, Palm Pilots were the hottest new ‘thing’, the internet was still dial-up and still wasn’t global. Creating content in 1996 was exciting because it was not yet widespread – it was not available to the masses and the consumer-at-large wasn’t being bombarded by corporate messaging around the clock. Whereas once, creating and disseminating content took great skill, tools such as social media, automation and the advent of click-bait has opened the floodgates to bad content. This pollution has corrupted Gates’ once brilliant soundbite – unfortunately, Content is no longer King.

To take this to the extreme and say that ‘Content is Dead’ would be inappropriate, but it is true to say that the landscape has become far more nuanced. The champion is no longer the content itself, rather creating the connection that good content can build is what should be striven for. This connection must be a two-way street between the company and the customers – a channel for conversation and comment, outreach and deep listening – for it to be successful. To do this, the foundations must be in place for inbound traffic and feedback; rather than scatter-gunning content at a wall and seeing what sticks, effort needs to be made to pay attention to public comment, fine tune future content based on learnings gleaned, and repeat. Simply put, I believe that classic content creation must evolve to be responsive and become a conversation as opposed to a one-way street of broadcast advertising.

Conventional content can lead to wonderful things. In August, this piece went viral on LinkedIn and while generating over 210,000 views, it seemed to resonate with people and led to over 570 comments – discussions on the subject matter with fellow entrepreneurs and industry experts alike. It also led me to meet remarkable people, leaders in their field and even led to wonderful work opportunities with some amazing companies. Conventional content can drive attention, while good conversation can drive results.

I’ve found that for startups, or personal branding, regularly creating new content surrounding your product, service, or industry is both time-consuming and problematic as it requires constantly having new things to say to your audience. This is a primary reason that many content creators have started to repeatedly regurgitate old content to fill the quota, and remain at the top of their audiences’ social media feeds. There is however, another way.

Startups are missing a key opportunity to share their most valuable content – many will read the next paragraph and feel uncomfortable, or even vulnerable at the suggestion, but I believe that implementing this strategy will result in a real and intimate connection with your audience, and lead to great results.

Document and disseminate the process of creation. Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg had kept a blog each week as he built Facebook, or we had a video record of every lecture Dale Carnegie gave starting from his famous debut in 1912 where he encouraged students to speak about something that ‘made them angry’. A glimpse into the process of building an idea, company, and brand can be as valuable (if not more so) as seeing the shiny finished product to an audience. The decision-making process sheds light on the very core behaviors – it is rough, intimate, and personal, but I believe it is invaluable to those interested in your field.

This concept is not my own – I came across this idea from legendary marketeer Gary Vaynerchuk a couple of months ago, and it resonated with me but took until now to process what it means. I wish I’d had the foresight to document my last year – it’s been a wild ride. I left working at Israel’s top PR agency Headline Media to start freelance marketing, started and closed my own startup in the journalism space, went back to freelancing and am now starting to build another company (watch this space). The people I’ve met have blown my mind and taught me things that with hindsight, I’d have loved to share with fellow marketeers and entrepreneurs.

4 Critical Tips to Targeting Millennials (Hint: You’re Already Doing It Wrong)

It is no secret that the ‘Millennial’ market is one of the most coveted demographics in the market today.  They are arguably the largest consumer force, with some of the highest combined spending potential and have the widest span of influence compared to any others.  Why then are many companies finding it so difficult to appeal to this critical group?

Firstly, if you didn’t cringe throughout that first paragraph, you’ve already started down the wrong path.  When targeting any group, the golden rule is to speak in their language.  How many people born from the 1980s to the early 2000s (using the widest understanding of the term), describe themselves as a ‘millennial’? I’d be hard pushed to find one.  If you are using this terminology anywhere in your organisation, stop – immediately.  A shift in mindset is critical, the easiest way to build good channels of communication is to start acting and thinking as your target audience does.  This diverse group can be split into hundreds of subsets, find the one which best reflects your group and change your terminology accordingly.

Converse, Don’t Preach

It is important to remember that this diverse group have a few common values; a general resentment of being dictated to, paired with an attraction to mutual conversation is paramount.  As such, conversations must be two-way, this generation lives and breathes social media, and most brands understand the importance of having a presence in the space, but the importance of the conversation is often lost.  When you open a channel of conversation (like Twitter), thinking of it as a method of delivering content is a dangerous pitfall.  If you are fortunate enough to have consumers engage by sending messages or commenting, a lack of response equates to ignoring customers when they are talking directly to you.  It would be unheard of to do that to a 40-year-old standing in a company’s store or office, even if they are complaining, yet so many organisations end up do it to 20-year-old sending a Tweet.  It means the same to them and can be the difference between a lifelong customer and one that badmouths a brand at every opportunity.  Gary Vaynerchuk puts this balance between conversation and conversion beautifully in his book ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’, in my mind, one of the best books regarding communications, especially over social media.

Be Honest, Always

Yes, always.  More than functionality, reliability or even price, honesty is prized as the most important factor in brand loyalty.  All actions of a company must be honest, genuine and authentic – if a company lies, this tech-savvy group will eviscerate a corporation.  They communicate faster than any generation in history and know the ins and outs of social media better than any organisation can ever hope to.  If there are skeletons in an organisation’s closet, they will find and expose them – the best strategy, if a company is found out to have done something wrong is to apologise quickly, genuinely and move on.  Denying things, ignoring allegations and trying to brush anything under the carpet will only end up exacerbating the situation.

Add value

Many brands try to approach a new market segment as it will open up new streams of revenue for the company, ensure continued profitability and help with the bottom line.  These may be good reasons for the company itself, but is a lousy reason for the customers they are targeting.  To properly approach this market, it is core to understand and explain the value you are adding to your customer’s lives.  This extends beyond the product or service itself, and into every piece of content you distribute through social media or other channels.  Consistently adding value requires a huge amount of self-awareness – it is critical to know why you are targeting your audience, and why you do everything you do.  ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek should be essential reading for all companies attempting to influence their audience, and is especially relevant to younger audiences.

Be Consistent

Marketing can no longer be siloed to deliberate outward-facing content but needs to be ingrained within every iota of company contact.  Everything from corporate social responsibility to the interview process will have an effect on the way in which a company is perceived by its audience.  This age demographic will apply to more jobs than any generation in history, prioritising applications to their favourite brands and companies.  Their experiences from applications, interview, rejections and working conditions will affect how they perceive the organisation.  The internet age has guaranteed that nothing remains private for long, from political donations or affiliations to bad management practices or internal scandals.  Any inconsistency between how a company acts in private and its public persona will be uncovered, and the fallout can lead to ruin.

There are a whole host of other books that cover a nuanced approach to marketing to this generation, I wholely recommend Marketing to Millennials by Jeff Fromm, but by; conversing with your market, remaining honest, constantly adding value and remaining consistent internally and externally, you will have avoided four fatal yet basic pitfalls in opening this difficult to approach, but critical market.  Oh, and stop calling us millennials, you sound silly.

The Key Factor Missing from Your Marketing Strategy

Brands are increasingly putting their marketing efforts under a microscope – scrutinizing them for predictable ROI and concrete business result.  This focus and detail oriented approach is something to be praised, it ensures high quality campaigns and instills an onus of accountability within the marketing department or agency.  It does however, leave the door open for one major factor to be missed when new campaigns are created.

The underlying factor in good marketing is empathy.  The dividing factor between good and great campaigns is the ability for a marketer to put themselves in the shoes of their audience and think ‘What would interest me?’, ‘How could this provide value to my life?’ and ‘Why is this relevant to me?’.  It is relevant across the board, from automotive to financial, healthcare to SaaS, advertising to PR and beyond.  Tony Zambito puts this beautifully ‘We cannot communicate well if we do not know who our customers and buyers are, what things are important to them, and why what they hope to accomplish is important to them.’  Unfortunately, this factor seems to be an element being given less and less credence in an increasingly data-driven world.

Not to downplay the importance of data, but I am often reminded of the quote by Andrew Lang ‘He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than for illumination.’  It is crucial that data informs rather than justifies decisions.

Empathy is an aspect that, in its very nature, is unquantifiable.  It has no data points, and has no unit of measurement – it just is.  To be empathetic, a brand must use human innate judgement based off research, experience, and a deep understanding of the target market.  It requires a level of trust that comes from a recognition that marketing itself is not a set of skills, but a philosophy – one which stems from an understanding of people, rather than tools.  This tends to be easier for small companies and startups than larger more developed businesses – this is because as a company grows, their departments become increasingly specialized and siloed, with more partners and a heavier reliance on pure data to prove their effectiveness.  This specialization can be very useful for productivity, but run the risk of creating an ‘Us and Them’ mentality, which can create isolation and rifts.

If you are reading this and realize that this is something missing from your external marketing, understanding why it is missing in the first place can reveal a huge amount about the current Modus Operandi of an organization.  A great example is Zappos.com – a company that built its entire business model on the idea of empathizing with its customers.  Their answer to buyer hesitancy was to offer a no questions asked returns policy that directly addressed the needs of their customers – every piece of marketing underlines this, and every action is anchored to the need for understanding how customers react.

Empathy should filter throughout all departments and all communications, from TV adverts to internal communications, website copy to journalist interactions, down to the hiring process and office layout.  Empathy should be a standard factor used in all aspects of company growth and marketing, but unfortunately, until it is measurable, many companies will continue to downplay and ignore this hugely valuable parameter.

For those not currently doing so, choosing to actively champion empathy as a core element to the construction of marketing campaigns may seem like a gamble at first – not relying solely on data, or behaving like a company in the classical sense.  Kevin McKeon from the agency Olson puts it beautifully – Think like people, not marketers.