5 Ways to Avoid Your Content Jumping the Shark

fozI think we can all agree that August exposed the dark side of content overload capitalizing on horrific events, specifically the many news-jacking incidents of the Robin Williams death story to tell a branding lessons, public relations exercises,  or a host of other bad coverage decisions. Content surpassed the tipping point on good taste long before Robin Williams’ death, but it’s a sad reminder that we’d all benefit from sticking to some basic rules.

With no formal “content code of conduct” in this digital wild west, I believe it benefits everyone to create articles and posts that avoid blatant self-interest or all-out sensationalism, otherwise, readers will look away out of boredom, indifference, or outright disgust. Sure, quality varies in any profession—whether it’s graphic design or accounting or anything else—but content has gotten pretty sloppy these days. And with branded content increasingly contributing to the bottom-line for companies and publishers, there’s even more potential for a downward spiral.

As someone once said: “Just because you have a pen, it doesn’t mean you should write.” So, if you’re going to produce content, consider these five ideas to help toggle that fine line.

No Knee-Jerk News-jacking: In the race to produce the first or competing angle on a trending topic, the temptation to get in on the action because everyone else is can be a fool’s game. If you have nothing new to add or merely seems an opportune moment to spout expertise or make a vague connection, you’re probably better off keeping quiet. Sitting on a trending topic before hitting those keystrokes allows time for ideas to marinate, the opportunity to leverage real-time media insight, and ultimately produce more thoughtful content if you choose to do so.

Write for Your Audience, Not SEO: Despite my marketing chops, I’m still a former journalist so I generally leave the keyword ninja moves to the pros. That said, I gladly encourage and promote clicks to my articles, but not at the price of quality. I care that three (alliterated) criteria are met when I write: It should educate, enlighten, or entertain (or the miracle of all three). If an article doesn’t do any of these, it’s back to the drawing board. In the end, as the saying goes, “the best SEO is good content.” Amen to that.

Consider the “So What?” Factor: By now we can all agree thousands of posts abound on blogging best practices, do’s and don’ts of emails, or writing the killer LinkedIn profile—you get the idea. Though they all bring their own unique value to the table, most have been done before. The question to ask is: What differentiates my content from everything else out there? I know personally how many times I get all excited to write about a topic only to find out it’s already been done ad nauseam. But I am happy to say I have many ideas rattling around in my brain that will one day make their singular debut, so I move on.

Be Human: Digital content readers tend to be an intelligent, curious bunch and can usually be found hunting the web for good stuff—they have no patience or time for self-promotion or articles with the substance of popcorn. The smarter, more relatable your articles are, the more they will spark a conversation and as a bonus, your personality will also shine through. I’ve also found it serves no purpose to “play Switzerland” by staying neutral on a topic. Taking a stand is what separates you from the sheep and gets your audience engaged and responsive, whether they agree with you or not.

Stoke the Passion: When you write about a topic that piques your own interest and curiosity, that enthusiasm will come out organically. I create lots of content on marketing and technology, but I never write about something that doesn’t interest me. It might result in less-than-stellar readership sometimes, but I’ve learned something myself (and for the small group of readers interested in controversial billboards of 2013, you’re welcome).

The endless tidal wave of content these days is only going up (and up), so don’t be tempted to jump the shark, no matter how high the SEO results might be.

Five Ways Freelancers Can Work LinkedIn

freelanceIf you’re a consultant and slapping your profile up and connecting with folks is the extent of existing on LinkedIn, it’s time to up your game on the No. 1 B2B networking site. With so much other social media competing for attention, if you have to pick a few to be active on, you’d be hard-pressed not to include LinkedIn. As a free user, you won’t get all the bells and whistles of a premium account, but there are still plenty of ways to help your freelancing career without huge time or effort, but the payoff can be big. I know personally—I’ve been using it for free since 2003 to mine potential clients, expand my network, and help position my business, to name a few perks. As a colleague of mine says: “Your network is your net worth,” and there is a treasure trove on LinkedIn if you use it right.

#1 Post Status Updates: One of the most important things you can do as a business is show your expertise in an industry or topic. This does two things: keeps your name on your network’s collective mind and provides connections with helpful information (that’s where smart content curation and knowing your audience comes in). The status update should be something timely, interesting, and relevant (and if entertaining all the better). Give your update extra attention with an introduction including a spin on the topic, a teaser, or an interesting factoid from the article (and make sure there is an image). Use the “Public” setting as this will cast the widest net to both your network and their connections, which means more exposure and opportunities.

(Side note/rant: LinkedIn’s new publishing feature is available to some users, ergo my posting here, but there is no GA date. The red notification that appears when someone publishes a post has become irksome to many, including myself, and there are no plans to change this, as far as I know. The notification tends to cause a Pavlovian response and should be reserved for profile views, connection requests, and other items revolving around my presence on LinkedIn, not those that are “pushed” to me. An idea could be that published post notifications appear on the news feed and the person can make a decision to click.)

Tip: Click on this new drill-down on the home page side navigation called “Who’s Viewed Your Updates” that displays stats for your updates; who is viewing them, liking, and sharing them. This is great data to see what is most popular and interesting to your network, ideas  for new updates (and the dud topics not to post for the future).

. updates

#2 Jobs. Jobs. Jobs:  Did someone mention jobs? Isn’t it the life of a freelancer to always be on the look out for your next gig? I’m always surprised to find that consultants don’t use or even know about LinkedIn’s “Job” feature because they thought it was only for full-time positions—au contraire! You can search by industry, keywords, company, freelance, part-time, or a combination of criteria. The bonus is that you will see which 1st degree connections are connected to the company who can potentially make introductions, or 2nd degree ones that you can hit up through 1st degree connections. I’ve done both and this has proven successful in getting work. Recently, LinkedIn   added jobs “you might be interested in” to your news feed as well as providing similar jobs to a job posting on the side navigation, which can also be useful.

Tip: Save frequent search requirements and request email notifications for new results, but know that LinkedIn’s email system is erratic so you won’t always get the emails and will need to check manually. Conversely, the job search function can be clunky, like showing any job with the word “part” in it even if you’ve entered in the search box “part-time”.

#3 Who’s Viewed Your Profile: This is LinkedIn’s most popular feature, and it’s no surprise why. The person checking you out could be a potential new client, a competitor sizing you up, or an industry partner looking for resources (or—boo hiss—an anonymous user, which you can’t see as a free user). Check to see if there are profiles you should be researching or following up with. Though free subscriptions entitle you to look at only the last five viewers, there is still plenty of data to view.

Tip: A new embedded feature provides number of hits and demographics of viewers by industry, location, and other data. This can be helpful for fine-tuning your profile, researching potential clients, and understanding what activities (or lack thereof) may have triggered changes to views. Less useful but good for data junkies is a click to the right with “How you rank for profile views” to learn your rank within all your connections and the increase or decrease of views in the past month. It would be more productive if it compared and ranked consultants with similar titles.

linkedin#4 Join Groups (and Post Content) Joining and contributing to industry groups is a great way to increase your name and expertise recognition. One of the best leads I ever got on LinkedIn was an editor who saw an article I posted in a group and  contacted me to write for his publication. Because posting can be a time suck with multiple groups, consider posting the same discussion on various groups (but be sure it’s targeted and introduced the right way). Don’t be afraid to provide thoughtful, concise comments on select discussions where you have knowledge or opinions, as this can potentially expand your network and get your brand out there too.

Tip: If posting the same content to groups in “bulk”, go through status updates on your home page and delete multiple ones so you don’t look like an overposter. Two is fine, 10 is not. 

#5 Invitation to Connect: Obvious? Yes. Always used wisely? No. You’d be surprised how many times you meet potential clients, business partners or others in various pockets of your life that could be valuable in your network…but do nothing about it. Think beyond the business cards you’ve collected and the people in your life slotted into the “work” category. Don’t downplay friends, vendors, and others that could be useful to your career, and you to theirs. (and don’t forget about people you share groups with-this is a perfectly legit and good approach—your invite will contain info about which groups you are both members of).

Tip: Always personalize your invitation: where you met, some context for inviting them. Simply clicking “Invitation to connect” is just lazy. It’s easy to type a few words and it makes a big difference to the person viewing it.

These are some of the ways I’ve had LinkedIn work for me. What are your favorite way to use LinkedIn as a freelancer? What’s been successful for you?

The State Of Content With Martin Jones

martin jonesAs we hit the halfway mark on 2014, it’s time to see how brands are living up to the hype and promise of content, clearly the biggest marketing trend of the past few years, with no indications of slowing down. For an expert view, I talked with Martin Jones, Senior Marketing Manager at Cox Communications, and a leading authority on all things content. Martin first caught my attention with a presentation at New Media Expo earlier this year and one of the most Twitter-worthy soundbites of the conference: “Social is how customer hear about you, search is how they find you, and content is how they’ll remember you.”

Let’s start with the content marketing trend for companies. We know thousands of companies are doing it, but who actually gets it right, and why?

I’m happy to say a lot of brands are doing it right. General Electric, Whole Foods, Home Depot, to name a few. They are going beyond Facebook and social across multiple channels. People are turned off by seeing the same content on all platforms. Take Home Depot, for instance: With 160K followers, they are continually updating and making it relevant to their different audiences—by seasons, interests, etc.

We’ve been hearing the term “content shock” lately. With so much content out there, eventually the barriers to entry will increase and only the strongest (best) content will win. Agree or disagree?

One of the arguments against content shock is that whatever you give to your consumers must have purpose. Don’t just throw content up on your site to meet some sort of quota. Unfortunately we still see a lot of decisions made in marketing, PR, IT, and other silos, which can lead to this. There is not always a strong discovery process for content programs or campaigns. Always start with a question about the consumer and ask it. Figure out what problems you can solve for them. Otherwise, people have this natural filtering process and get burnt out on content. What’s important to consumers cannot go by the wayside.

So what can small businesses do to leverage content marketing with teeny budgets and resources?

There are a lot of small business tools out there: Ones like SocialEars let you plug in different terms and see who the influencers are, letting bloggers and marketers quickly see what things are being talked about and what’s the most engaging content right now. It’s critical to know what to talk about by monitoring, rather than falling back on what you know best. It should be about what the consumer is interested in and gearing your content towards that.

I was surprised you mentioned GE: Something I often hear is that B2B brands have difficulty making their content resonate with customers. What do you think the trick is there?

With B2B, it’s about personalizing content in the right voice—your voice. Again it comes down to relevant content. You have to be careful not to alienate your audience if all of a sudden you try to change to the snarky, cheeky Taco Bell-style. It’s not going to work. What’s important is that the content is going to be helpful to the consumer, that it’s personalized, and it answers questions. That’s what your audience cares about most.

What are content marketers still struggling with?

There’s talk of the sales funnel being dead, but it’s really that marketers are creating a lot of content on top of the funnel and then they get to the middle and don’t know what to do with these people. This is where evergreen content really pays off, along with paid media. Your content can still be providing leads to the organization and can move them through the sales process.

What are some of the trends we’ll be seeing as we get closer to 2015?

Deeper content and, again, more consumer-focused. One shift we’re seeing more of is horizontally rather than vertically-focused content on products and services. For example, what are your readers’ passion points? What are they interested in? Talking to companies about growing your business, how to scale, engaging in common interests. Recently I was at a conference where one of the speakers said “Social media is the new golf course”: now that conversation is happening online. Consumers don’t want to talk about products and services, they want to carry on a normal conversation.


Turning a Daily Deal From One Night Stand to Long-term Relationship


Research shows that getting a deal has no financial or social status boundaries—it’s a human thing. We love the thrill of scoring savings, especially for something with higher perceived value or item we crave—cue the dopamine. According to Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever,” consumers should never pay full price for anything anyway. Nowhere is that living proof more so than on daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social, and the myriad of me-toos, now a staple of our online culture. The “half off” lifestyle is here to stay, and we’re ready to pay. But how can vendors get these deal-seekers to come back for more?

Every new customer is gold

Don’t judge a consumer by their cover (in this case, an online deal). The person could be dressed down but actually have money to burn, or poor communications skills but is brand loyal to a fault.  The point is, be nice, gracious, and give the same service you would a full paying customer: making assumptions about a consumer based on a short-lived experience can cost you future business. If you don’t treat them well, they’ll feel it, resent it, and won’t be back (unless you offer another deal perhaps).

Don’t put off deal customers

A few years ago, I tried out a new salon at full price (ironically), and  my stylist spent time on the phone arguing with a deal customer who was trying to set up an appointment before her voucher expired. Instead of trying to fit her into the schedule, the stylist would not budge. In the end, it affected my perception of the salon (not to mention I wasn’t crazy about the cut). Or the restaurant I attempted to use my deal at but the (very) fine print on the voucher prohibited me from cashing in except weekends (which was also accompanied by serious attitude I got from the proprietor). Don’t break your bond with a potential customer before you even have it. I’ve also heard vendors complain about customers that come in “just for the deal and never come back.” Yes, they came in for the great price, but what did you do to keep them interested in doing business with you again? Which leads me to my next suggestion…

Offer incentives to visit again

Besides giving great service, offering something of value is always welcome as a goodwill gesture, either during the deal time or for when the consumer returns. Though not every consumer will not be motivated by the promise of future savings, throw in that dessert at your restaurant, offer a loyalty card at your store, or 20% off for a future service—something that says “I want to continue our relationship and I care about getting your business.” Even if the person doesn’t plan to visit again anytime soon, it will leave them with warm fuzzies, perhaps compel them to leave a good Yelp review, or will want to give a personal recommendation to a friend.

Know your motives for the deal (but don’t overshare)

Each business is driven by different reasons to offer a deal: it’s a slow season, or a new business fishing for customers, to name just a few. But contrast how two vendors handled the goal to reach customers at their new locations: An aesthetician who recently moved her business to San Francisco could not schedule me until after regular-paying clients got in. When I got my appointment, she spent the majority of time telling me how popular she was and this was “just to get new business in the neighborhood.” Contrast that with another service professional who humbly and gently described how people couldn’t find her new location because it was a busy street and was difficult to be noticed. She was grateful for every new customer she attracted, and even sent me a thank-you email for visiting. Which business do you think I will go back to in the future?

These are but a few ways vendors can maximize consumers’ daily deal experience so they will want to come back again (and again and again). Automatically pigeonholing deal customers as cheap one-timers without long-term potential shorts everyone in the transaction and is a missed opportunity for future business.

But daily deal vendors aren’t the only ones that need training on  etiquette, customers need their own lessons too. In a future post, consumers get pointers on best practices for cashing in on their half-off vouchers.

What Marketers Need to Know From Ad:Tech San Francisco

Early in my career as an advertising manager at a software company, we used a fax machine to place ad insertion orders. Guess what? Those are still in use at many companies, according to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who delivered the opening keynote last week at ad:techSF. It was just one of many inflection points for an industry that is rolling in dough but still playing catch-up with the pace of the world. And then there was the appearance of P.Diddy/Puff Daddy/whatever he’s calling himself today… (but we’ll save that for the end).

The Advertising Industry is Stronger Than Ever (But Still Inefficient) 

To begin with, the number of exhibitors at ad:techSF nearly doubled this year from 2013, a clear sign of growth in the digital ad space (worrisome though on how many companies had the words “spy” or “facial recognition” staring back at me from booth graphics).

eMarketer kicked off the event with some industry stats: Advertising is anticipated to be a $50B business in 2014—that’s a whole lotta media buys. And another huge growth spurt for the current media darling: native advertising: 73% of all publications have adopted some sort branded/sponsored content program. This popular method of advertising has ignited the flailing publishing industry with a model that looks here to stay (learn more about sponsored content here). Despite all the good news, manual inefficiencies still plague the industry (like the aforementioned faxed insertion orders), flying in the face of the digital world’s frenetic pace. Which leads to my next takeaway…

Advertising Needs Better Automation With the ‘Human Touch’

Convergence. Omni channel. Multi platforms. Cross screen. Second screen. Call it what you will, but they all mean basically the same thing—the all-on digital consumer viewing ads on multiple devices. Your potential customers might see an ad on TV and switch to a tablet, meanwhile someone else is viewing it on their phone. The problem is that media buys are transacted in silos so there are not accurate measures of ad performance. And purchasing inventory in separate buckets doesn’t allow for immediate insights into consumer buying  patterns either. Yes, there is real-time bidding but that doesn’t resolve the complex cycle to target, purchase, and analyze an ad campaign’s results in concert, and quickly. This has become a huge thorn in the ad industry’s side at a time of huge growth.

One solution is the potential of “one-stop shopping” for all of these cross-platform buys, but that too has a hitch: Armstrong argues that while there needs to be “programmatic advertising“, the best media buying decisions can only occur with “mechanization”—the human+machine working together. That means computing automation can go so far, but doesn’t have the human brainpower to soak in rich data and make smart decisions on the fly to test or purchase across platforms quickly, or even switch the ad plan altogether. No surprise: AOL will be launching a one-stop solution later this year, and I’m sure other media conglomerates and start ups alike will introduce new methods to attempt to conquer this issue. Either way, the ad industry is clearly thinking about the future and taking steps to resolve the issues.

The Sales Funnel is Disrupted by Digital and Mobile

With the all-on consumer, the traditional sales funnel has become more chaotic and unpredictable for brands and media buyers to navigate. Gone are the straightforward days of TV, print, and radio buys. Cross-platform viewing and buying continues to create disarray to the familiar consumer purchasing process. The Zero Moment of Truth when a person decides to pull the (sales) trigger can no longer be pinpointed in the classic linear path of awareness-interest-intention-purchase. To witness: People spend more time on their computing devices than watching traditional TV in their living rooms (right now the difference is about 2 minutes; in 2018, digital consumption is expected to surpass TV altogether). Add to that, mobile is poised to overtake desktop computers and exceed its usage by 2016. This also underscores the need to have an advertising “central command” to respond to buyers’ behavior quickly.

The Rise of Real-Time Marketing (and it’s Free)

Real-time bidding isn’t the only buzzword these days. Real-time social selling is all the rage too. One of ad:techSF’s smartest and most engaging keynoters was Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, who shared “secrets” of his company’s success in social marketing (though it appeared he was gently coerced into changing the title of his presentation for effect). Holmes gave examples of how brands can get in on the story of the moment (for no investment) by taking a nimble approach to their content marketing, as when Hootsuite released its version of the Harlem Shake immediately after the original went viral. It included both office staff and the adorable Hootsuite owl mascot (“Be the show, not the commercial”). Holmes also pointed out how companies can amplify and piggy back on an existing campaign, like the JCPenny #tweetingwithmittens, which won the Superbowl ad race with its social media stunt and enabled other brands to get in on the action (ironic given JCPenney’s poor performance off the social media stage, but that’s another story). Holmes also called for company marketing departments to build up their “newsrooms” (yes, folks, this is part of the “branded journalism” movement, it’s a real thing). And if you’re going to tell that story, do it, in Holmes’ words, with “heart.”

The Final Lesson: P.Diddy’s “Keynote” and What Not To Do

This one is easy (unfortunately): 1-Don’t show up 30 minutes late. It’s rude and disrespectful to your audience. 2-It’s best to know what conference you’re attending and why you’re there (side note: might not to tell the audience that you’re unaware of both). 3-Even if you’re asked lame questions by the interviewer, try to respond with answers that might make sense to the audience instead of vague, unrelated statements. 4-Product placement is OK but drinking and mentioning your alcohol-infused “product” the entire time? Not OK. 5-Swearing every other word (even for me, who appreciates some good sailor talk) does not add to your credibility, likability, or intelligence quotient. If you want to get the full effect of the uncomfortable and perplexed vibe in the room, check out the live tweets. 

But back to the good news: the state of the advertising industry has never been stronger, despite the challenges of yesterday’s inefficiencies and today’s complex media buys. The rise of the digital, always-connected consumer leaves a wide open space for brands and media buyers to take advantage of new opportunities to reach and engage them where they are, all the time, and in creative ways. It also means the methods ad purchases are constructed, measured, and responded to will require more sophisticated, converging levels of automation—but also knowing where those human lines should intersect. How that happens, we might not know until next year’s ad:techSF, but undoubtedly a bevy of ad revenue will provide breadcrumbs along the path.

Image: Hotel Marketing Strategies

Companies Marketing Technologies to Public Schools: But Who is the Real Customer?

This week I’ve turned the writing reins over to my father, Larry Cuban. He and I sometimes banter about the similarities in marketing to companies/consumers and schools. This week he offers his opinions about B2S—Business to Schools (yes I made up that acronym, let’s see if it sticks).

The way companies are marketing new technologies to schools just ain’t working. There are three problems companies have in promoting and selling new devices and software to K-12 schools (over $18 billion spent in 2013 alone):

1. They are marketing to the wrong people (know your target audience)

2. Lack of knowledge on how teachers and students actually use the “product”

3. Overhyping what new devices and software can do with students

New approaches are needed, but we’ll get to that later.

Marketing to the wrong people

Apple, Dell, and software firms have a hard time figuring out who their customers are: They want to have students and teachers use their products, but few sales reps ever talk or listen to teachers. Instead, most companies market their products to school district IT professionals, district office administrators, and superintendents. Why? Because school officers are the ones who recommend to boards of education what to buy and how to deploy devices and software. From start-ups to established companies, sales reps rarely involve teachers or students in their pitches to district officers or school boards. So the paradox is that the real customers (teachers and students) have little to do with purchasing decisions. Reason? Money decisions rest with district officials.

But what about parents? They “buy” products also. They are customers too in every sense of the word. Most parents are concerned that their infants and toddlers will learn to read early before they even set foot into kindergarten, much less first grade, the traditional gateway to reading for nearly a century. Ads claim that their software will give their children an “edge” in learning over other kids. So marketers have to also target children because, as one advertising exec said: “We’re relying on the kid to pester the mom to buy the product rather than going straight to the mom.”

How do teachers and students actually use the “product”?

Surprisingly, this question is seldom asked by market researchers in high-tech companies selling to schools. Instead, they depend upon the usual array of soft, quick, and dirty findings reaped from focus groups and teacher, student, and administrator surveys. Cheap, easy, and fast, yes, but provide any real meaningful data? Not so much. The real customers are not seen nor heard: no direct observation of students working with tablets and software.

Without knowing how students actually use the equipment, it is all guesswork piled atop the unreliable results from surveys and focus groups. Of course, to pursue better answers, it is quite expensive and intensive labor for marketers. Academic researchers, however, do such investigations, (see here), even ones that work for for-profit firms who ask the right questions (see here). Seldom do market researchers dip into academic studies.

Why do marketers hype what new devices and software can do with students?

Look at ads for software for schools and you will see words that promise student engagement and improved academic achievement (see, for example: Dell Computers: 2011-western-heights high school). Like hot dogs and mustard, or Harry and Sally, hype and over-promising about technology and new mobile devices engaging students, raising test scores of minority students, and closing the achievement gap are joined like Siamese twins. “Schools powered by (insert your favorite software company name here) report impressive gains in first year.” Yet most of the evidence supporting such claims is missing in action.

Sure, there is the “novelty effect” where teachers and students in the first six months praise galore how iPads or Chromebooks have riveted students’ attention. But the shine wears off and the hard work of teaching lessons every day, with and without new gadgets, kick in. The evidence of software and devices lifting academic achievement is simply not there.

New ways of marketing?

These three problems marketers face in promoting technology to public schools get at the heart of selling high-tech innovations to public schools.

In deciding who is the real customer, the truth of the matter is that district officials—not the true consumers of teachers, parents, or students—are targeted customers—and this is a fundamental problem.

As for market research, please, no more Internet surveys and “carefully selected” and “hand picked” focus groups. The reliability and validity of such instruments is incredibly low and not to be trusted. Paying randomly-selected students, parents, and teachers make far more sense in using focus groups. Also, it is more sensible to harvest academic studies done by teachers and researchers about what actually occurs in classrooms.

Finally, no more over-the-top claims for products that promise outcomes for teachers and students that do not have a prayer of ever happening. Like youth creams marketed to middle-aged women, it’s the same story for claims about new technologies in classrooms. Dialing back bloated promotion, reducing the hype, and injecting a small dose of humility would be unusual and, in my judgment, of low probability of ever happening but it worth hoping for, nonetheless.

The New Age of Non-Marketing

non marketing

“Marketing should be an effortless act of informing, conversing, and engaging with your customers, not selling to them.”

Do you agree with this statement? Judging by the presentations at New Media Expo (NMX) earlier this month, the answer should be a collective “yes”. Here’s why non-marketing is the new black, and the time to adopt is now.

Real. Human. Interaction.: The rise of consumer democracy born on social media is now being raised on all the tent poles of marketing. When companies want to connect with their audiences, they should do so at a human level, as individuals, and refrain from marketing speak. As Bryan Kramer has said: “It’s Human to Human, not B2B or B2C.” Along with that, technology should take second priority to the audience you seek. Brands are no longer compelled to be on every social networking platform, or sport 500 sharing icons on their site, as examples. As Dino Dogan said, “The smaller the community, the greater the influence and intimacy.”

Theory to Practice: The human element is the most important factor that connects us; creating those authentic interactions will ultimately propel customers to move towards your company. 

Branding is About “Being Yourself”: Don’t confuse this with putting zero effort into crafting your image—far from it, as Luvvie Ajaya said, “Build a strong voice, be consistent, and be authentic.”  She also reminded us that ultimately, your brand is how your customers define you .Or as Martin Jones said, “If you’re not telling your brand’s story someone else probably is.” If you’re unsure what differentiates your business, Chris Ducker advises, “Find your originality. When you build the business of you, nobody can copy it.”

Theory to Practice: Whether small or large, discover what the special sauce is that makes your company different and run with it, full stop; ultimately your right customers will come to you.

Thou Shalt Not Promote in Content: This is a difficult pill to swallow for most companies. Keynoter Scott Stratten, known for his UnMarketing mantra, pointed out that by listening and engaging with your customers (and—God forbid—mentioning the competition when apropos), you build trust and position yourself as the logical choice when customers need you. Delivering news and insights that are educational, interesting, and even entertaining will build a loyal audience. Tamsen Webster asked thought-provoking, rhetorical questions like: “Does my content make the customer better? Would I share this content myself if I didn’t work here?” And of course, most importantly, “Will it compete with cats?” Jones summed up the importance of content as: “Social is how customer hear about you, search is how they find you, and content is how they qualify you.”

Theory to Practice: All content for your audience should be solely focused on those consuming it, not promoting your business. When you are helping your customers, you will be seen as the go-to, trusted partner.

The Wrap: While all this is well and great to think about for our own businesses, none of us should ever get too comfortable with any “formula” for success.  It’s become more urgent than ever in this fast-evolving digital world, as Keynoter Lynette Young reminded us. She likened our businesses to an iceberg visual,  “…to keep moving, growing, and learning. The iceberg is weakest at the waterline.”

Theory to Practice: I would call this the Three Rs: Reinventing, Risk, and Reach. When you juggle all three, even if you drop one,  pick it up, keep going, and don’t ever stop the show.