Social media and its disruptive potential—or reality, depending on your point of view—was a top subject for marketers, brand strategists, and communicators everywhere. Conferences were organized, tweets were tweeted, and there was a lot of light…but most of the heat was contained in blog posts and the digestions of communications managers.
Despite the nearly ubiquitous and constant exhortations to adapt or perish immediately, most organizations proceeded with uncertainty—and some pretended to not notice the commotion at all. And for good reason: marketers of all stripes, whether at professional service companies or in alumni relations departments, have little to gamble with but a lot to lose.
But the weather is changing. Sometime around the New Year, heat waves of panic and hyperbole began to diminish and cool rationality broke out. I think marketers will be able to act with more confidence this year, integrating social media into their broader brand and communication strategies. Certainly it will be a balancing effort that requires periodic retuning, but that’s a far more reasonable proposition than starting from scratch with unfamiliar tools.
Here’s why I think we can get back to the important work of advancing our causes in 2010:
Social media is not unlike every previous communication innovation. The Web was disorienting when it broke in the ’90s. It’s now assimilated in how we interact. Social media adds some exciting new dimensions, but it should be part of any thoughtful digital media strategy. Moreover, also like the Web and email before, we (humans) adapt it to our needs more than it changes us (though we’re all still saying ‘dot’ and ‘slash’ more that we ought to). PR and marketing writer David Meerman Scott predicted in a recent trend poll, “The term ‘social media’ [will wane] as people realize we’re just talking about communicating.”
Standard practices are taking shape (pro tem). As leading platforms solidify their position (think Facebook and Linked In) and niche services achieve fuller adoption (like social bookmarking conventions), marketers are less likely to be dazzled and distracted by new options. Rather, with sure footing on the techniques that will get 80%+ of our word done, we can experiment with new options. Chris Brogan noted recently how his work habits are taking shape, even in the context of a potentially disruptive platform like Google Wave. Now, he’s a consultant and one-man show, but he uses a simple combination of services to reach many thousands each day. The lesson is twofold: marketers must evolve sustainable habits, while their constituents are probably doing the same. A little homework will reveal where the significant overlaps are.
People are asking about social media ROI—and getting serious answers. Sometimes the answer is that ROI isn’t the right model, but the level-headed among us recognize that to be worthy of our time and our organizations’ treasure our plans have to realize value. Social media prognoticators see the question of ROI waxing. Whether anyone is able to articulate a formula for ROI or not, the notion that social media’s value can’t and shouldn’t be measured is losing credibility.
Social media is taking an increasing share of marketing budget. Does this mean everyone has decided to forget their worries and dive in head first? Not quite. Yes, marketers are feeling more familiar with their options, and so acting more decisively. But it also means the technologies, communities, and practices are maturing enough for their adoption to be a compelling proposition. As more marketers shift their budgets to social media tactics, they will ask their consultants and designers to deliver results. The learning curve will level out, and best practices will emerge.
Where will you be this year? Is social media a flash in the pan, still a fringe medium, or a worthy part of your communication strategy?
Did you change or did social media?
Got your elevator pitch? Good for you. But it means nothing if you never get on the elevator.
These days, you need a Lobby Pitch, too.
The Lobby Pitch isn’t a tagline (though it could be). It’s two simple things:
1. What you are.
2. What you do.
“I’m a __________ that__________.”
“We’re a __________ that __________.”
That’s it. That’s all you get. And If it’s well done, it’ll get you to the elevator.
Here’s a tip: as soon as you say, “Well, it’s complicated,” or, “It’s hard to explain,” you’re lost. If you can’t explain it, I guarantee they won’t try to understand it. And if you can’t explain it, you likely don’t actually know the answers to those questions.
But the lobby pitch is your God Particle, the thing that gives rise to all other things. It’s the “irreducible core,” that thing that, if you strip everything else away, is what’s left of who you are. It’s what would be lost if you weren’t here to do it.
What is that? Do you know?
You don’t get 30 seconds anymore. You get five. Or fewer. And most people have made up their minds about you before you ever open your mouth.
I like Seth Godin’s approach: think of describing your core purpose as you would a superpower. Yes, people can see your superhero outfit (whether that’s your brand’s visual identity or your personal style…or lack thereof), but that only gives them hints. What you say confirms (or doesn’t) what they already think.
To craft an effective Lobby Pitch, you have to be willing to categorize yourself—at least for the purpose of those five seconds. I’m not a big fan of putting people in buckets generally, but in those critical five seconds, people need a frame of reference to figure out whether to listen further, to discern whether what you are is something they need or want to learn more about.
That means your Lobby Pitch has to make sense, no matter the audience or the context. How would you describe yourself or your company to a five-year-old? Or your grandmother?
You want what you say to create a curiosity gap, that gap between “what one knows and what one wants to know.” It’s that gap that makes people ask the questions that’ll get you on the elevator. But that gap has steep edges, and it’s easy to fall in.
Your Lobby Pitch is not the time to invent new words.
New concepts, yes. New words, no.
So use words people understand, but use them in unexpected ways.
If you can’t come up with something truly clever, don’t try. Really. Sometimes people will want to know more simply because they need what you have to offer. If you need a print vendor, who are you going to pay more attention to: someone who introduces themselves as a print vendor, or a “pulp-based collateral production specialist”?
Unique is not necessarily the goal of a Lobby Pitch—matching what you do with what someone needs is. So don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
You are what you are. Saying something that’s not true may get people to listen a bit longer, but most people’s BS meters are pretty sharp. Nonverbal communication is important, even if it’s not always as important as everyone thinks.
So, if everything about you says one thing, and your words say another, the word people will take away from your pitch isn’t one you likely included:
Think about it: you don’t respond to every pitch you hear. You don’t like every person you meet. Why would the rules be different in reverse?
You’re not going to win them all, no matter how great your pitch is, because not everyone needs or wants what you have to offer. Think about it like a casting call. If the person you’re talking to needs to cast Porgy for Porgy and Bess (a part typically played by an African-American bass-baritone), and you’re Julie Andrews, you’re not going to get cast, no matter how beautifully you sing or how wonderfully you can act.
You can’t make them love you. Let it go. Find your part. Find your audience.
If you make a good first impression, if you offer what someone wants, if you can explain that in a way that creates (or takes advantage of) a curiosity gap, then you better be prepared to get on the elevator. Make sure you know:
3. Why you do it.
4. How you do it.
Because that’s what’ll take you to the top.
So what’s your Lobby Pitch?
As a design director I’m exposed to lots of design solutions everyday. Of course, some are more effective than others. Some should hardly be called “solutions” at all. Every once in awhile, however, something is put in front of me that really sends me—to that place where art and graphic design become one—that elusive place where visual communication captures my brain and my heart and even a little piece of my soul.
This happened to me recently at the final critiques for a senior class project on “Designing Dissent: Advocacy Advertising” at the New England Institute of Art.
I was awestruck by the arresting beauty of Glen Charbonneau’s campaign project. Glen manages to give a new face to homelessness in a powerful and provocative way. After my initial overwhelmingly positive reaction to Glen’s work— the luminous grace of his sculptural forms, and their appropriateness to the subject matter—I wondered how on earth he arrived at such a brilliant and spot-on solution. That’s when I learned from Andrea Brenner, Graphic Design Assistant Professor, that Glen had some very specific first hand knowledge. With Andrea’s blessing I wrote to Glen to find out more about these specifics. Here’s what Glen wrote back:
“The idea for this project came from an interesting experience I had living ‘homeless’ for a couple months.
I was living in an abandoned depot (now a travelers squat) for a couple months or so down in Florida with Casey, a good friend of mine in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and a bunch of other squatters.
The trip came about when I ran into Casey back home. He told me that he had been train hopping on and off for a couple of years, and asked if I wanted to head down south with him for a couple months. Honestly, I just kind of went. I had just finished high school and college wasn’t a top priority yet.
The train rides were never really all that bad, (sneaking on a freight train is much easier than you could imagine) just loud and long. Sleeping was never really an option because someone had to look out for people checking the train and stops that the train would make. A good hiding spot is all you really needed, but it was better to be safe and stay awake than be kicked out on the side of the tracks not knowing where you are.
I ran into a lot of interesting people on that trip, but the fact that so many of these people and kids were homeless was pretty overwhelming. Most of the guys my age were just homeless cause they couldn’t get a job and, compared to other options, this was some decent community living. A few of the older guys were really mentally unstable and would scream and break things into the early hours of the morning. But the biggest problem everyone was facing was drug abuse. What most people don’t realize is that the drug abuse isn’t what made them homeless, its what they turned to on the streets because there was nothing else left for them—then they became addicted.
That fact alone is what inspired me to show other ways people become homeless.”
— Glen Charbonneau
Thanks Glen for inspiring me to see in yet another whole new way.
And thanks Andrea for inviting me into your classroom. It never fails. Each time I walk through your door with the aspiration to inspire somebody in this frenetic field of graphic design, it is I who is inspired.
People are talking, and they’re talking about you—to their friends, networks…and people they don’t even know.
Since your brand is a collection of all their impressions of you, what they’re saying is your brand. That makes how you represent yourself in both word and deed more important than ever, because it can make those conversations work in your favor.
Looking for a refresher course? Here are the seven basic steps for building a brand.
All brand building starts with knowing where in the external landscape you’re currently positioned, where your leadership wants to move your organization, and with what internal resources you have to work with. Research is the best (only!) way to get that knowledge.
Different types of research accomplish different goals: quantitative measures current conditions, actions, and behaviors; qualitative helps determine motivations. Understanding how both combine, internally and externally, gives you solid ground on which to build your brand.
Your brand only exists in the minds of your customers and prospects, not in your conference room. That means you can’t define your brand until you define your constituents, what they value, and understand how that overlaps with what your organization is and does.
Your constituents are the ones that actually build your brand and make it real.
With your “builders” known, you can begin to lay your brand foundation—the definition of your current and hoped-for states—via your mission, vision, brand attributes, and desired market position and personality. There will be gaps, but the purpose of your branding efforts is to close those gaps. Defining the starting and ending points is an integral part of that process.
With all the noise out there, your message has to cut through. It’s not about an elevator speech anymore—you’re lucky if you make it that far. You need to be able to articulate, in words anyone can understand, who and what you are, why that’s important, and how you do it. Your message needs to survive the game of “Telephone 2.0.”
In a world of 140 characters, a picture is still worth a thousand words. Your visual identity combines things you can “own” (your logo, tagline, etc.) with those you can’t but can come to own through consistent use: fonts, color, imagery, and design. It ensures you’re recognizable and get credit for all you are and do, no matter how or where people interact with you.
These days, there are communications you control (your brochures, websites, tweets, etc. ) and those you can influence (those conversations others are having…). Crafting an architecture that outlines how all of those communications will combine, to whom, and how, helps you spend money wisely, connect to those whose interest in important, and deliver content in ways it will be received and shared.
No matter how smart you and your team are, you need the enthusiastic engagement of others within your organization—and of constituents and commentators who care about you. The goal of any brand-building effort should be to create something that resonates not only with the marketplace, but also with how your customers and prospects see themselves, to find that intersection between your brand and theirs.
So make it easy for them: make sure these groups understand your strategy and have the tools and messages to be good ambassadors.
Most importantly, brand-building is a process, one in which each step is designed to give you the firm footing on which the next piece can be added, and one which ultimately gets repeated continuously to adapt to ever-changing reality. It needs to accurately reflect—and evolve with—both what is and what is possible. It needs to provide something on which you can build, and grow, and change.
It’s the framework for your future.
The new ad campaign for Taco Bell has garnered quite a bit of attention. Mostly because the oxymoronic idea of “DRIVE-THRU” and “DIET” in the same tag line boggles the mind.
It may occur to the health-conscious few of us that parking the car and walking in may actually burn a few calories. Better yet, why not walk or jog over to your friendly neighborhood TB.
Okay, all that aside. What’s up with using a backward numeral “3” as a cap “E”? I drive, walk or jog by and I lose it, and not just my appetite. I feel compelled to run over and scratch out those misguided “3s” and draw in good old-fashioned cap “E”s. Talk about burning calories.
This post was originally published December 3, 2009.
The Great Depression, like our (not so) Great Recession, had psychological components which, while certainly a result of bank failures, bread lines, unemployment, and negative growth, also had a trajectory of their own. People were down, if not always out. The exuberance of the ’20s, much like our recent periods of exuberance, had shown that one could no longer count on, or trust, business as usual. Up, surprisingly, was not the only direction possible.
But some American designers––architects, graphic designers, film and theatrical designers, and practitioners of just-emerging industrial design––found opportunities in the destruction of the Depression: opportunities to craft household goods, transportation, and buildings that were more American than European; opportunities to express technological advances; opportunities to motivate customers by instilling hopefulness.
Whether consciously understood or not at the time, designers found themselves at a pivot point: traditional ways of doing business, of making technology available, of communicating, no longer worked well. The nation didn’t need another car, clock, bakery, train, or advertisement; it needed a different car, clock, bakery…ones that would change how people felt about themselves and their future. If government policies couldn’t lead the nation out of the Depression, industry would.
Believing in functionalism and turning away from ornamentation of the past, designers evolved a new style based on the aerodynamics of a teardrop, the fluidity of a curve, and the speed of a line. But beyond style, the design of the Depression promised a better world: clean, efficient, fast––and happier and more prosperous. Who wouldn’t want to have a bit of this vision in their home in the form of a streamlined vacuum cleaner, a refrigerator without a clanking motor on top, a car that looked like it was moving even when parked?
Newsreel iconography not withstanding, not everyone in the Depression was destitute, but the pall of the times kept people’s wallets closed. The energy and optimism of new design helped change that.
A few graphic designers and their clients began to look beyond the promotion of a specific product or transaction to advance an organization’s brand (although they didn’t used that particular lingo). Advertisements from Container Corporation of America challenged long-standing conventions: much as industrial designers and architects were working to streamline and simplify forms and develop a new approach to ornament, copy in these new ads was reduced to a phrase or two––and powerful design (often connecting symbols together to advance a concept and tell a visual story) took center stage, promoting the product at the brand level. The positioning the company gained from these design statements lasted decades.
Others were also beginning to integrate communications across media. Henry Dreyfuss, originally a theatrical designer, understood the need to reinforce a complete experience. His efforts and those of Egbert Jacobson at Container Corporation of America drove the movement towards unified corporate identities that would flourish in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
So now what?
We, too, could be at a pivot point. While it takes the benefit of hindsight to confirm, it does seem clear that many of our models and ideas are proving unequal to the tasks of understanding, interpreting, and reshaping our world to advance positive change.
We, like the designers of the Depression, are confronted with changes and opportunities––at individual, community, and global scales. Climate change, different sources and applications of energy, the social and health issues of aging Boomers, the proliferation of mobile computing….these are some of the opportunities for designers to analyze and synthesize, deconstruct and construct. As is the tidal wave of “more”––more products, promises, market segments, communication channels, choices, opinions, noise––and less trust in information received through traditional channels.
That it’s hard to take advantage of our potential pivot point doesn’t change the need or the opportunity to design products, brand / communication programs, and experiences that resonate with people on both rational and emotional levels, that reinforce people’s sense of their own personal brand, that help people to envision a future in which they’d like to be an enthusiastic participant.
The “modern” designs and designers of the Depression helped shape much of what we experience today, but this legacy is not enough for the times we’re in. What will be the next New Deal in design? The new 21st Century Limited? In fifty years will we be able to look back and see that the disruptions of our time were, in fact, departure points for a new voice, a new vocabulary? Will we be able to design hope into our lives?
Popular social media evangelist David Meerman Scott recently posted audio from a panel discussion, a clip in which we rants (his words) about executives who ask about social media ROI. Measuring social media’s ROI is like measuring the ROI of wearing pants to the office, he suggests.
Regardless of one’s enthusiasm about social media in communication programs, I suspect all but the most ardent True Believers have at least a little wonder in their mind about tangible (or better, bankable) benefits. True Believers, by definition, regard such results as either an article of Faith, or Heresy. Senior executives want to see hard results. Since the truth is rarely found in the extremes, what are we to do?
First, forget about any generalized argument about ROI. Abstractions about all cases (except this one, ha!) are not useful. Consider your specific case and condition. Consider your measurements (or proxies) of success, a notch or two up from the bottom line—tickets sold, memberships subscribed, students enrolled, contracts signed, and so on. What are the specific paths to each win? What were the steps in your prospects’ process to bring you together, from awareness to engagement to action? Any effort of an organization to get prospects into that pipeline and bring them along should be justified—why else would you spend the time and money? Each of us in communications, in one way or another, should be contributing to conversions of prospects to buyers.
Forests have been felled to print books on Marketing ROI, and guess what? It’s still more an art than a science. Social media is the newest tool in the marketer’s kit to engage and be engaged with their markets, and as such it’s a new dimension in the classic marketing/sales struggle. It’s hard to measure value, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be measured at all and one shouldn’t try. Why would you not want to know what’s working or failing? Social media efforts’ value may not be measured with objective, quantitative certainty to the satisfaction of all CFOs, but to engage in any activity without a purpose and intent to refine, without a whiff of accountability, is plainly wasteful.
This post was originally published November 24, 2009.
Um…Ever feel like you’re surrounded by irrational exuberance for social media?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as exuberant as the next girl (I mean, have you met me?), but irrational I’m not. While social media has been plenty long on irrational exuberance, it’s been maddeningly short onrational evidence.
We’ve got plenty of social media true believers, but not yet a lot of truths.
But how can you know? How can you separate truth from belief? How can you just…take a breath and look at the situation, rationally, and figure out how best to use social media in your organization—if at all?
This isn’t rocket science, is it?
No, it’s not. But we can borrow from rocket science (in the form of the Scientific Method) to decide how best to use and implement social media in our organizations. We can apply a rational—even scientific—approach to figuring out what all this (previously) irrational exuberance is all about.
The Scientific Method for Social Media™
Scientists answer questions by applying the Scientific Method, a series of steps designed to produce rational evidence that reveals whether a proposed answer to a particular question—a hypothesis—is, in fact, true. They define questions to answer (goals), observe and investigate current states (research, to provide baselines for measurement), hypothesize about the effect of certain actions on current states (set strategies for using specific tactics to achieve desired results), experiment (plan and execute), and analyze their results (measurement! hooray!) to determine whether or not their efforts worked.
Sounds kind of like good business practice, doesn’t it? I think we need to get us some of that.
So grab your lab book, and let’s get started.
STEP 0: Define the question
Defining the question (i.e., your goal) provides a framework on which to build everything else you do. That’s why it’s “Step Zero”: you have to start there.
The question can be broad (“How can we best use social media in our business?”) or granular (“Is podcasting an effective way for us to generate prospects?), but it likely already exists in your head (“What is all of this stuff about, anyway?”).
If you don’t know what question you’re trying to answer, please stop here and hang out for a while until you figure out what it is. I’ll wait.
Here’s why: with no goal, you have no direction, and that’s deadly…in both business and social media. (Don’t know what the difference is between goals, strategies and tactics? Sue Spaight does.)
STEP 1: Observe
While you may hear this called “listening,” it’s really old-fashioned research. Before we undertake any action in business, we need to understand the environment to which our question, our goal, applies. Call it a SWOT analysis, call it an audit. Call it whatever you want. The purpose is to understand the landscape.
The same is true in social media. You need to listen to if and what your current and potential customers and competitors are saying, and (please don’t give short shrift to this:) watch where and how they interact with various social media tools. Both require ongoing monitoring.
So yes, grow bigger ears. But grow bigger eyes, too.
Step 2: Investigate
Once we understand the landscape, we need to investigate the parameters we have to work with. For social media, that means clearly defining and documenting the scope you’re working with; whichaudience(s) you’re addressing; what content, tools, and resources you have available; whatoutcomes you want; and—most importantly, what metrics we’ll use to measure our success.
This is also known as the Big Fat Reality Check. If any of the above doesn’t make sense in context with one another (you have a vast scope but no resources, lofty outcomes but no metrics, etc.), it’s time to readjust. Here are some questions to think about:
Step 3: Hypothesize
A hypothesis proposes an answer to a question. In this case, your hypothesis is the specific social media strategy you’re testing and the measurable results you expect it produce.
Thankfully, after the work of observation and investigation, this one’s easy.
For [SCOPE], the [CONTENT] from [SOURCES] used across [TOOLS] will produce [MEASURED] [OUTCOMES] with [AUDIENCES].
You need all the detail, of course (that’s what all that research and investigation is for), but it’s handy to have a one-sentence answer to give all the people who’ll ask, “What the hell are you doing?”
And you may occasionally need to remind yourself.
Step 4: Experiment
This step has two phases: design and execution. In design, you’re outlining the steps you intend to take, when, and how—and at what point you’ll declare the experiment over so you’ll know when to stop and assess your results.
Wait a minute! That sounds like a…a plan! (Yep, it is.)
So go do it. (That’s execution.) Implement the steps you’ve outlined and document what happened, as in any proper experiment. If you didn’t end up taking a planned step, why not? If you took a step sooner or later than intended, when did the step actually happen? Why then? What else happened that could affect your results (a media outlet referenced an article on your blog, for instance)?
This is all about logging actions, impressions, and results. So check regularly on your measurement data points and document those, too. Remember: you’re gathering (rational) evidence.
Step 5: Analyze
Now look at all that evidence and figure out if your hypothesis—your proposed answer to your Step Zero question, your strategy—was the right one to achieve your goal or not.
In other words, how did you do?
Look at your results together with the steps you took and those “other things that happened.” In other words, tie your monitoring to your measurement. What steps moved the needle? Which ones didn’t? Which results are inconclusive?
This is important: monitoring does not equal measurement. I’d say that again, but Olivier Blanchard says it better.
Step 6: Retest
Ultimately the results either confirm your hypothesis or they don’t. If you’ve confirmed your hypothesis (your strategy worked), congratulations!
Now go define a new goal.
If your strategy didn’t work (either because the results weren’t there or you can’t clearly connect the results to your efforts), look to your analysis to find where you need to explore further, or define parameters better. Then, revise your strategy, plan and implement new tactics, and analyze again.
You’re trying to figure out what actually works, and that might take some time.
Becoming a social media scientist
All scientific inquiry starts with questions: why? how? what? Since your head is likely already filled with questions about social media and what it means for your business, you’re already well on your way to becoming a social media scientist…and you already know how to do the rest of it.
Define your goal. Research. Set strategies. Plan. Execute. Measure.
So what’s changed? Not much. Just some of the tools, and in some cases, the names we give them. The basic rules of communication—and of solid business strategy—are the same.
New tools, old rules.
And it’s not rocket science.
My thanks go to Jeremy Meyers, who helped me redefine my hypothesis.
Categories: Digital Media