Posts Tagged marketing

What’s Your Story?

We write a lot about the power of storytelling for business. How your story is the foundation of all of your marketing communications. There are a zillion tools for telling your story. Some are easy to use, others require a lot of skill, time, practice, or money.

One of the more interesting tools is Xtranormal, a web-based service that lets you create animated movies. You type words; cartoon characters speak your dialog. Simple enough. As with many technologies, from chainsaws to video editors, just getting the tool is not the same as learning how to use it well. Good results take time and effort.

Here’s a little movie we made with Xtranormal. It’s our first effort, so we’re naturally just a bit proud of it. We created 80 seconds of content, starting with the words we wanted our stick figure actor to speak. We added some movements and one simple sound effect. And we experimented with a number of camera angles to keep it interesting. Getting everything to synch up was a bit of a challenge. It took a lot more time than expected.

Video is a very powerful tool. It’s easy to produce; not so easy to produce well. Mostly, it takes time. Fortunately, Xtranormal is fun to use. We quickly got caught in the time-suck vortex of trying to make our little movie just a bit better. Those 80 seconds of video took several hours to create. If you are thinking about using this tool for your business consider the value of your time. And compare that to the value you could create by spending those hours doing your real job.

Anyway, here’s the result:

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Social Media Strategy, Bursting Bubbles, and Companies that Suck

Social media is just one of the tools in our toolbox. It is not a strategy. It should not be run in a silo, segregated from the rest of the organization. I have believed that, strongly, since at least a decade before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube came along.

All of these vehicles, venues, and platforms are just tools we can use to tell our story. If our story sucks, if we are not a good company, if our products are lousy, then the last thing we need is tools to help more people learn about us faster.

If we have a strong story, make good stuff, sell it at fair prices, and treat our customers, our prospects, and our competitors with respect, then using social media to tell that story far, wide, and fast can help us succeed.

Social media is not social selling. And it is rapidly moving away from social marketing. It is just a very efficient way to have conversations with people who might buy our products, or not buy them, or influence others who might or might not, or interact with a million other people who might have some effect on whether or not we succeed.

And so it must always be focused on the people outside our organization, as they ultimately determine whether we live or die. When we get a tweet that is essentially a customer service question, it is a fatal error to think, or to say, that the question needs to be directed to our customer service department, which is not on Twitter. Either we have good customer service, or we don’t. How the question comes in the door is irrelevant, unless we don’t really care about our customers. And if that is true, then we are irrelevant, or soon will be.

I see social media following a similar trajectory to the web, although much more quickly, with much sharper climbs and probably a faster descent. It really wasn’t that long ago that just having a website was a novelty. It didn’t need to be any good, or do anything useful. Just having a URL meant you were a sexy company. That lasted about three years. Then people started to demand that the website add value to the customer experience. So good companies began to install online help systems, and answer their email around the clock. The best ones began to see their online help system as a sales tool. Customers could now decide to buy from a company because they could clearly see how much support they would get after the sale. And they could see that before buying. Before even showing up on the company’s radar.

A bunch of groovy new startups arrived on the scene promising to take companies that suck, put them on the web, and magically turn them into great companies. Companies that suck, and some that don’t, bought into the hype, made a few people rich, the web collapsed, and a zillion internet gurus were out of work. This entire scenario played out between 1995 and 2001. The web didn’t go away. But the people who didn’t know how to make use of it did. And the web is a better place today.

Fast forward to today. You have to be a company that doesn’t suck. That’s always been true. Just two years ago, just being on Facebook meant you were a cool company, and you felt all sexy and warm inside. But if your company sucks, now it sucks on Facebook. And Twitter, and YouTube, and the other next best things to come along. And your customers, former customers, and competitors have yet another way to share the story of your sucky company. And leave you in the weeds. Lots of people claim to be social media gurus and sell a lot of snake oil. I think that we’ll see the social media bubble burst in two years or less. Social media won’t go away, but the hype will. The gurus will be unemployed. Meanwhile, the people with good storytelling skills will remain successful.

So, be a company that doesn’t suck. Have a great story. Tell it well, meaning listen more than talk. And use social media tools to help share that story with more people faster.

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Your Own Public/Private Partnerships

The relationship is everything. You can have a fantastic product, offer a tremendous service, with prices that are beyond fair. But ultimately, the strength of your brand will come down to how well you play with others. This is especially true now that anyone, anywhere, can type a few words and have it ricochet around the halls of the interweb for all eternity.

You can create and leverage partnership opportunities that help build your brand and introduce you to people and organizations that would be tough to reach with a cold call. These opportunities are all around, you just have to be creative to find them.

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a friend I had met in a Tread Lightly Master Trainer class. He was organizing a weekend event for his Toyota FJ Cruiser four-wheel drive group and needed help staffing a booth to share the good word about outdoor ethics and responsible off-pavement recreation. A fun gig, a chance to get out into the backcountry, meet some new friends, and maybe drive a trail or two. I volunteered and we started planning.

The Tread Lighlty exhibit anchored by the XP Camper, with the Cobb grill in the forground.

The Tread Lightly exhibit, complete with a Cobb grill and anchored by the XP Camper.

My first challenge was dealing with the weather. The event meant two full days staffing a table in the middle of a dirt parking lot. If I didn’t want to end up with heatstroke I would need to find some sort of shade structure. I contacted my friends at XP Camper to find out if they might be interested in donating the use of their demonstration vehicle to be the base camp for my Tread Lightly exhibit. Not only would the camper and its attached awning provide shade, we would have a cool place to come indoors and a refrigerator for cold drinks, right in the booth. And XP Camper would get a chance to show off its new design to a whole new group of potential buyers. One quick conversation and I had an awesome plan to avoid sunstroke.

Next problem was how to stand out and draw foot traffic to the booth. There would be lots of cool stuff to see and a lot of activities over the weekend. If I wanted any of the attendees to come to my exhibit, I was going to have to get creative.

Enter the scent of grilled meat. A most powerful attractant for outdoor-folk.

I planned to set up a small portable grill and cook up some tidbits of something tasty. With luck, the wind would spread the scent around and draw folks in. I’d offer them a bite to eat then deliver my pitch. For some time now, I’ve carried a Cobb portable grill on my trips and used it to cook up some fantastic meals. It’s a great product and would be perfect for this event. And, coincidentally, at this year’s Overland Expo, I happened to meet the folks who import the Cobb grill into the US. So I contacted them to say I’d be showing off their product and ask if they wanted to donate something toward the event’s big Saturday night raffle. That conversation went extremely well and I had managed to not only score a cool prize for my friend’s car club meet, I had also gotten Cobb named as one of the sponsors.

The event was a huge success for all concerned. We spread the Tread Lightly message to a very receptive audience, we showed off a cool new camper design, we gave away a very nice prize, and we all had a great time. Moreover, this was a chance to build on some new relationships and set the stage for future collaborations.

It’s a sort of connect-the-dots kinda thing. And it’s all good.

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Building Brand Enthusiasts

Yesterday, Chrysler demonstrated eight factory customized Jeep and Dodge vehicles at the 44th annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. Five of the trucks are one-off hand-built concept cars that show what might be possible. The other three are modified production vehicles designed to showcase select add-on parts. All of them are very cool and show some unique thinking.

What’s most interesting to me is how these vehicles were introduced. Chrysler had a big event, invited a bunch of media folk, and sent out press releases. Standard procedure. But backcountry vehicle enthusiasts have known about these trucks for some time. More importantly, they’ve also been talking about them. Why? Because Chrysler started the conversation and gave its fans the tools to carry it forward.

Rumors and occasionally images of the vehicles began to surface weeks before the official launch event. A couple of weeks ago, Chrysler released some concept sketches of some of the vehicles. These began to circulate and appear on blogs and in online forums and got folks talking about what might actually show up at Moab. A day later we saw some spy photos of one of the trucks, a Ram Power Wagon concept, out on the public roads in Michigan. The volume of the conversations in the forums went up several notches.

On March 27, several days before the official launch, the JP Magazine blog published pictures of a till-then secret Chrysler concept truck. The photos were taken in a dark parking lot and delivered more of an impression than any real details. But the copy mentioned some technical information that could not have been seen just by looking at the truck. The forums were filled with talk about this secret new truck.

Of course other blogs and media outlets picked up the story and it began to gain a lot of momentum.  For the next couple of days JP Magazine continued to release more dark teaser photos of additional Chrysler concept trucks saying things like, “Yet another Jeep we weren’t supposed to see ’till Wednesday.” The title of that blog post was “Mopar Project Left in Parking Lot.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Choosing a Domain Name

It’s easy to get caught up in choosing the “perfect” domain name. So caught up that one can spend huge amounts of time considering and discarding ideas. And sometimes spend huge amounts of money to acquire a domain name that someone else already owns.

I think that effort would be better spent creating content for the website, rather than agonizing over what it is called.

A domain name is important. But it is more important to have a domain name and use it, than to have the perfect domain name.

I recommend choosing a domain name that also has the most common variations available. You want to avoid confusion when somebody doesn’t exactly remember your URL. And if you are a for-profit business, you want to be a dot com, not a dot org or dot net.

If someone else already owns the dot com version of your perfect domain name, you could register the dot net version and start using it. That would immediately drive up the value of the dot com version and make it more expensive to acquire should you choose to do that later. It could also put you at risk of infringing someone’s intellectual property rights. Best to avoid that and focus instead on creating great content.

So choose some other domain name that is available in dot com and dot net versions. Get the dot org version, too, if you can afford it.

You might also consider registering hyphenated versions if your domain name is more than one word. Generally speaking, you want to avoid hyphenated words as your primary domain name. Hyphens do not lend themselves to elegant verbal communications. You want to be able to tell somebody your domain name in an elevator pitch without needing to spell it. But having the hyphenated version in addition to your primary domain gives you some protection against domain squatters.

So scribble down ten or 20 ideas for your new domain name. Check them to see what is available. Then choose one that you can make the most use of right away. Spend your energy building your brand, rather than trying to get the name perfect.

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