Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Where's the Research?

Tips for do-it-yourselfers.

One thing I miss about working in a big agency is having access to a research department. Nothing helps you craft a powerful brand story better than real, honest-to-goodness customer insights. Of course, the budgets that solopreneurs and small branding firms usually have to work with are rarely ample enough to fund customized research. And while it’s always good to get out in the field yourself every now and then, barriers like access and time make this kind of mother-in-law research difficult to do well.

That’s why I found Will Blunt’s two-part article, Nine Ways to Sharpen Your Online Customer Research to be so interesting. It offers you a number of tips and tools for understanding your customer, many of which are free. Though his primary focus is online behavior, the insights you pick up will be useful regardless of the branding or communications effort you’re working on.

For instance, if you’re interested in understanding some of the challenges your customers are facing, check out some online question-and-answer forums such as Quora, Yahoo Answers, Fluther, and Spring.me.

Do you think that keyword research is just about website optimization? Well, as Blunt points out, it also gives you "valuable insights into the language your customers are using—and therefore your customers themselves." He also recommends using Quick Sprout to analyze the keywords your competitors are using. It’s a great way to see what customer pain points they’ve uncovered and are targeting.

Blunt also provides useful advice for using the BuzzSumo search function, as well as Twitter Advanced Search, LinkedIn Groups, and Google + Communities.  He even offers some suggestions for paid market research.

All in all, a valuable read for anyone who’s ever wished they could just pick up the phone and call their research department.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How Magic Beans Can Become a Brand

In the English folktale, Jack and the Beanstalk, young Jack trades his mother’s milk cow for a handful of “magic” beans. When he tells his mother what he’s done, she angrily throws the beans on the ground and sends Jack to bed without his supper.  Next morning they awake to find a gigantic beanstalk reaching to the sky. This will become Jack’s pathway to finding riches, success, and living happily ever after.

Magic beans are like that. They can perform a similar magic for your business, if you know where to find them. In the original folktale, the magic beans come from an old man who meets Jack and the cow on their way to market. In the business world, you find can them in stories told by your employees, co-workers, and clients.

Getting to know your customer’s pain points can be a source of magic beans. So can understanding the ways that your organization has dealt with failure, success, and those all-important, should-we-go here-or-there forks in the road.  

So make it a habit to listen. Probe. Listen some more.  And when you find those magic beans, don’t throw them on the ground the way Jack’s mother did. Cultivate them. Nurture them. Plant them deep in your organization. Turn your magic beans into narratives that capture who you are and become the foundation of your company’s brand. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning to Story

I'm a big believer in the power of stories to engage, inform, and inspire. I use stories in my work as a branding and marketing specialist. Lawyers use stories to help jurors understand the guilt or innocence of their clients. Teachers tell stories to help children learn. Social workers and therapists use stories to help their clients heal. We all use stories to connect with family, friends, co-workers, or strangers we hope to know better. Humans brains are programmed to love to tell and listen to stories.

Today, story and narrative are increasingly regarded as valuable tools in a variety of business and organizational settings. Knowing how to tell a story can help you make a good impression, whether you’re selling an idea, making a presentation, or promoting yourself.  So the challenge is not how does one become a storyteller -- if you've ever told a joke or responded to the question, "What did you do today?", you already are one -- no, the challenge is, how do you become a better storyteller. 
When people ask me that question, I tell them go find some storytellers, and listen. I was lucky. I had a grandfather who loved to tell his very own made-up "papa bear" bedtime stories. As a result, I heard lots of stories as a child. Today, many communities have local storytelling groups. You can see if there are any in your area by looking on the National Storytelling Network website or the website of L.A.N.E.S., the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling. A great way to get a big dose of storytelling, though, is to look for festivals or conferences, like L.A.N.E.S. Sharing the Fire which will be held next week (March 28 -30) at the UMass Hotel and Conference Center in Amherst, MA.  

Here’s a small preview of the weekend’s attractions.

Friday night’s story slam, Scarred for Life (8:30 to 10:00) will be extremely entertaining as storytellers compete to tell the best 5-minute personal story on theme of “scarred for life” (emotionally or physically). If you want to tell, put your name in the hat; otherwise, just sit back, listen, and enjoy. After that, from 10:15 to 11:15, there’ll be a more informal slam with stories on any topic. While college students get first priority, anyone is welcome to tell a five-minute story.

Saturday morning, from 8:45 to 10:15, those interested in understanding the many ways that people are using storytelling in today’s world can hear keynote panelists Onawumi Jean Moss, Kiran Singh Sirah, and Loren Niemi discuss the uses of new storytelling forms and of old forms in new ways, often on the edges of our society.

Whether you’re making a presentation to clients, co-workers, or to a community group, it can help to know how to get a laugh. Lynn Cullen’s workshop, A Guy Walks into a Bar: Making People Laugh (Saturday 10:30 to Noon) will show you how to use the fundamentals of comedy to get your point across.

Stories are an extremely effective way to bring about organizational change, build marketing strategies, improve communication skills, and build leadership potential in educational, corporate, nonprofits, start ups, advocacy organizations. In Putting Story Skills to Work for Organizations (3:15 to 4:45) you hear about techniques for eliciting, sharing and telling stories to help organizations achieve their goals.

At Saturday night’s Olio (8:15 to 9:45), you’ll be entertained by some of New England’s finest storytellers, including Diane Edgecomb, Katie Green, Doug Lipman, and  Elisa Pearmain, and Bill Ratner. Afterward, there’ll be another swap from 10:00 to 11:00.

Sunday morning, (10:15 to 11:45) Don White will show how to use comedic techniques such as timing and body language to take command of a room and grab an audience’s attention.  Then after lunch, (1:30 to 3:00) Don will give music and storytelling concert, where you can watch him put those techniques to work.

So give it a try. Enjoy the slam on Friday. Or spend a few hours at workshops on Saturday. Or have a different kind of Saturday night out, listening to stories. Or do it all. I promise, you'll love it -- and you'll learn a lot that will inspire your own storytelling abilities.