Tag : authenticity

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142: Keep Your Mission Statement to Yourself

I don’t understand the fascination with mission statements—at least not for businesses.

Communicating these goals within your organization can be valuable for training and vision-casting. When teammates are unified on mission, customers notice; and that’s a good thing. The puzzling part of mission stating, though, is why anyone would find value in communicating that to potential customers.

If you’re living up to your mission, you don’t have to tell people. If you’re not consistently hitting those goals, why create expectations in the marketplace that you can’t meet? If, like many firms, you’re filling that part of the business plan outline with mushy cliches that give you a lot of leeway, what are you communicating with those vapid words?

Thankfully, I’m not sure people read mission statements, anyway. When was the last time you did? Probably a long time ago. Even if it was yesterday, that mission statement didn’t have a “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” button beneath it. People don’t pay for mission statements. They buy goods and services.

Without a public mission statement, you are free to have open-ended marketing with which to guide customer perception. Cutting that paragraph from your marketing gives angry tweeters less fodder and disgruntled Facebookers less to quote.

Instead of publishing a goal checklist, you should be telling your brand’s authentic, unique story. By that, I don’t mean your company history as much as your organizational culture, the heart of your brand.

For many entrepreneurs, brand means logos and colors and slogans. A brand is much bigger than those elements, though. Brand is the sum of every marketing choice—even small decisions like voicemail recordings and employee attire, company vehicles and return policies. The consistent, intentional stacking of these small stones atop each other eventually draws the outlines and nuances of your brand’s public perception.

In the social media age, it’s easier than ever to narrowly define your brand, find its audience, and converse with its fans. While it might be more difficult than ever to stand apart from marketplace noise, better tools and distribution options make it easier to target, test, and analyze your message and marketing.

If you communicate your brand story well enough, others start telling it for you—multiplying your audience. Even if they don’t, you’ll be more likely to sell people on your successes and eccentricities than on your intentions and goals. So, spend less time wrestling with your mission statement and more time crafting and communicating your core brand identity. Get that brand story right, and you’l enjoy “mission accomplished.”

Stock image purchased form iStockPhoto.com

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131: An Advertising Lesson from a Vegas Pothead

I recently attended the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy in Las Vegas. During the day, I absorbed compelling content in the updated Auction Technology Specialist course. At night, I ate dinner and explored The Strip with my auction marketing friends.

Having never been to Vegas, my curiosity and the plethora of visual stimuli combined to test my sensory bandwidth. Whether on the sidewalk or the Stratosphere, in a helicopter or the High Roller, tourists are inundated with the effects of a marketing arms race in Sin City. Everything is bright, if not flickering in some mesmerizing pattern. Everything is huge, especially in comparison to your home environs. Shiny describes almost everything you absorb (as does expensive).

That said, one of the most indelible sights of my three-day visit was a cardboard sign, held by a shaggy man seated on a footbridge above Las Vegas Boulevard. In black Sharpie ink it read, “Need money for weed.”

One of the auctioneers walking with me quipped over his shoulder, “Truth in advertising!” We laughed, but there was something refreshing about that sign.

While a surprising majority of Las Vegas advertising cuts to the chase, this brown remnant of a box proved even more succinct. The candor of the beggar’s appeal contrasted the spirit of Vegas that encourages alibis and pseudonyms, costumes and caricatures.

Cardboard panhandler signs aren’t anything unique—except in the land of opulent window shopping, Photoshopped show posters, advertising-wrapped taxi cabs, 10-story-tall building wraps, and LED screens that curve around hotels and scale towers. You’d be hard pressed to find a greater contrast in visual presentation.

That might explain the pothead’s strategy. It wouldn’t take a social scientist to test authenticity as an attractive, effective marketing strategy in a desert town known for its fountains. It’s difficult to outshine the rest of the City of Lights. So, why try?

The sign made me think about auction promotion.

So much of my auction industry loves brash fonts, gaudy designs, and crowded layouts. Readability gets suffocated by unnecessary text, competing elements, and a lack of logical reading progression. Earlier that day, an auctioneer showed me a copy of one of his recent postcards. On one panel alone, there were six—six—starbursts of varying sizes.

I regularly receive advertising copy from clients that reads, “Something for everyone,” “Unlimited development potential,” or “Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” The first two could never be true, and the third requires you to live decades to prove it. It’s all used car salesman hype—no offense to the used car salesmen with whom I play basketball before breakfast three days a week. It’s over selling. It’s over promising. You could make the case it’s deceptive.

I’m not trying to make the case that auctioneers should use repurposed cardboard to promote their auctions and their businesses. It’s just that we would all benefit from more succinct, more candid, and more restrained advertising media.

Taking It Personally

Vulnerability seems counterintuitive in the era of social media and Photoshop, special effects and liposuction. Authenticity has always been attractive but not instinctive. Candor, while not always easy—especially with tact—comes with a lot less maintenance than exaggeration. The confidence and contentment it takes to let the Joneses win can feel as unobtainable as a clear picture of the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s difficult to put the phone down and with it the camera, filters, and “Post” button. It’s so hard to say, “I don’t know,” ”I’m content,” and “I don’t have time in my schedule for that.”

The Bible addresses this from several angels across multiple passages, but the verse I’ve been mulling lately to guide me in the pursuit of a simplified existence is I Thessalonians 4:11. The first century writer, Paul of Tarsus, wrote, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.”

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

Why You and I Don’t Trust Advertising

Old TV CommercialI heard a Haggar pants commercial on ESPN Radio multiple times in a short period of time. Near the end of the 30-second spot, the sultry-voiced female character tells the slovenly male character that if he buys a pair of Haggar pants, he would have a better chance of having sex with her.

Advertisers sell with sex every day, and they have been doing that since before you and I were born. What grabbed me, though, was that this was more than a hint or an implied association. Haggar’s lawyers probably kept the temptress from promising sexual favors for upgrading to their khakis, but the incentive carrot sounded pretty direct.

Sex SellsNew pants don’t guarantee sex. If they did, Haggar would have a larger cash reserve than does Google or Apple. In the vast majority of American romantic relationships, the chance that new khakis could raise your number of a sexual encounters is probably negligible.

Haggar isn’t the only advertiser to oversell the benefits of their product.  Culture at large fully expects hyperbole from advertising. On Super Bowl Sunday, we even celebrate the far-fetched scenarios by which everyday items are portrayed.

Deep down, though, we all distrust advertising to varying degrees.  We wonder what the ad isn’t telling us, what it’s exaggerating, and why so much fine print is often needed. The advertising profession is seen as convincing people they (1) need something they don’t or (2) want more than they need.  At my religious college, one of my professors even told me that the school of communications discouraged people of faith to work in ad agencies (a perspective with which I disagree).

Sadly, the auction industry oversells and over promises a lot just like everyone else.  Regularly, I’m asked to advertise “Unlimited development potential” in areas with zoning laws and building codes. I get asked to draw attention to “Something for everyone,” when there’s nothing in the auction that they or I would buy. “Great investment property!” often means “Somebody could do something with this, if they were willing to hold onto it for a while and dump a bunch of money in it.” Urgency is pushed with phrases like, “Once in a lifetime opportunity”—which might take decades to prove.  I’ve been asked not to disclose information about square footage or the quantity of bathrooms—to give the sales person a chance by phone or at an open house to schmooze the sales pitch away from the facts.

If the auction industry wants to be taken as seriously as other marketing industries, we need to set the standard for authentic advertising.  Advertisers who authentically represent their product and brand tend to earn our trust.  Why wouldn’t that be the same for our auction audiences?

Don’t take it from me. Ask the guy who bought a pair of khakis and still hasn’t gotten even a date from his Haggar gal.

The Western church culture oversells Christianity. I’m not just talking about prosperity gospel and the popularity of Osteen positivity.

Surrendering your life to Jesus is expensive.  Candidly, living for eternity instead of the moment often makes the present more uncomfortable—sometimes even painful.  Jesus isn’t some magic elixir that cures your problems, helps you accomplish your New Year’s resolutions, and makes everyone love you.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Jesus himself lived a life where people took from him more than they gave to him, where they questioned everything he did—where he knew excruciating relational and physical pain would swallow the hours before his death and where he would have holes in his hands even in his resurrected body.

That’s why he could authentically tell us, “Take up your cross and follow me.

[footer] Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com. Screen capture from Haggar TV commercial found here.[/footer]

87: Measuring Your Social Media Influence

Peer Index Graphs

When we were in high school, popularity was dependent on multiple factors: who your friends were, what your interests were, how many people knew your name (not to mention if you had money, played sports, drove a cool car, or were part of a band).

In some ways, social media environments like Facebook and Twitter have become the new places to determine social standing.  Through online social sharing, we are communicating many of the same markers used in our student years.

When you’re building your brand through social media, it’s good to visualize your standing and your progress.  Multiple companies are working to turn various, measurable data points into some form of comparable social score—some sort of official rank.  Rather than popularity, these scoring systems aim to determine how influential you are—how people interact with your online content.

Almost all of these scoring systems are still in beta stage, as they tinker with algorithms toward more accurate insights.  Because of this, don’t be shocked if your score fluctuates without a drastic change in your social media interaction.  Almost all of these scoring systems are Twitter-centric, because Twitter is more about broadcasting and getting your message to a broad audience—as opposed to Facebook and others, which are meant for sharing among friends and family.  Almost all of these scoring systems focus only on the last 30 to 120 days and appropriately so, as relevance is measured in the now.

Below you’ll find a non-exhaustive list of  some of the social media measurement tools I’ve consulted to see how my online brand is faring.

Klout Dashboard
If I could pick only one social measurement tool, Klout would have the tool box to itself.  Their site is fast—much faster than some of these other analytics sites.  Their service is free; and they currently allow you to connect up to ten different social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, FourSquare, Tumblr, Blogger, Last.fm, and Flickr.  (According to their website, Klout is also working to connect your Facebook Pages, YouTube, and Google+ streams.)  Klout shows you comparable social media users, including those you influence and those that influence you.  Klout not only shows your current ranking but also your trajectory.  It also offers web browser plugins that automatically show you other Tweeters’ scores next to their tweets.

Browser PluginsTwitalyzerPeer Index
Peer Index includes some of Klout’s capabilities but also maps the topics of your tweets on a graph of eight categories.  (It’s interesting to watch my topic map change over time into different shapes.)  The thinking behind this is that, typically—just as with blogging—the more topically-concentrated your posts are, the more likely you are to gain an interactive following.  Currently, Peer Index measures your influence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, and your RSS-enabled blog.  Also like Klout, Peer Index offers web browser plugins that automatically show you other Tweeters’ scores next to their twitter handles—at Twitter.com (even if only mentioned in a tweet) or on any site where their Twitter handle is listed.
As the name implies, Twitalyzer measures only your Twitter activity.  Twitalyzer has maybe the largest selection of raw numbers amongst the Twitter analysis sites, but that’s in part to reporting both Klout and Peer Index scoring data with their other metrics.  You won’t find any fancy graphs here, but I really like that their scores are annotated to tell you your percentile for each number in the matrix.

Tweet Level AdviceTweetLevel
Also a Twitter-only measuring tool, TweetLevel has weak graphing and very little in terms of comparison with others on Twitter.  One thing I like about this site, though, is that it gives insightful recommendations for improving the various contributing factors to your score.

The main thrust of this Twitter measurement tool is currently to show you the best times to tweet content, based on mapping of your past tweets and the number of impressions they received.  At time of writing, uptime and score processing speed have been tremendously flaky, as the Crowdbooster team is adding to the site’s capabilities.
If you’re a fan of graphs, you’ll like TwentyFeet.  Outside of Klout, this site tracks probably the second-most amount of social streams.  I’ve had a couple issues with its beta version in load times and in unintended, automatic tweeting of scores.  With ongoing maintenance, this site might move into the top tier of measurement systems.

This site leaves a lot to be desired.  It doesn’t explain scores or offer the robust reporting of other sites.  Unlike other sites, which measure in ratings from 1-100, MyWebCareer shows your score in similar fashion to a credit report.  MyWebCareer claims to rank your search engine results, too, though it doesn’t seem to lift the veil to see how it compiles such.
My Career Score
Facebook Analytics
Facebook’s “Insights” tool is what it claims to be: insightful.  Where this analytic tool excels in in measuring your audience demographically—something the aggregate sits don’t (and probably can’t) do.  The graphing is interactive, allowing adjustable timelines.  The only sizable drawbacks are (1) it’s available only for pages, not for profiles; (2) you can’t compare your scores to those of others; and (3) you can’t include your scores from other social media for a more holistic view of your online presence.

This list will probably look very different a year from now.  Several other entities, including Nielsen—yes, the folks who measure television audience—are working their way into the social measurement game with new measurement units and matrixes.  As with search engines and other website categories, natural selection will eventually create an oligarchy of reliable, standard players that prove to own both the most intuitive algorithms and the best user interfaces.  In the mean time, the measurement choices we have are entertaining at least and informative at best.

Social media analytics won’t tell you where to advertise your auctions.  They won’t tell you how many people are absorbing your message—only those who interact with it.  These sites don’t supplant the most important question to analyze your media outlays: “How did my bidders hear about my auction?”  But they can give you a more informed perspective of how you’re doing at building an interactive brand on the Internet.

While many joke about the large amount of time I’m perceived to spend on social media, few know that I too often approach social media as a a competition.  It’s not a zero-sum game, but I work hard to make sure my brands—personal and professional—perform online at a high level, preferably at a level above those I teach & consult and against whom I or my clients compete in business.  (I check my Klout score daily, and that probably isn’t healthy.)

Where it becomes even more treacherous is when likes, comments, and retweets affect my choices of what to post.  The temptation is to post only the Ryan that my six years in social media have shown me is the most popular.  True, some of that is good sense—appropriateness, professionalism, etc.  But there’s a line between appealing to an audience and portraying an authentic personae.

That’s a challenge for all of us to varying degrees, both online and offline.  That’s why one of the scariest prayers for American Christians came from Israel’s King David: “Search me, and know my heart.  See if there be any wicked way in me.”

68: Is The Business Card Obsolete?

I walked out to my car one afternoon and found several business cards on my fronts seats. They had been dropped through my MINI‘s open sun roof by a buddy of mine. Now, I already had Aaron’s contact information in my phone [and my Nano] and on my Facebook friends list—even in an Excel® spreadsheet that gets passed around our church‘s parking team group emails. He and I have hiked and prayed together, even shared a (spacious) tent during a lightning storm on a two-day canoe trip.

But his cards have been sitting on my desk for weeks—despite the fact that I will probably never need the services of a civil engineer, even one from a well-branded firm.

Wiley Wilson Sample

In contrast, I took three $25 restaurant gift cards to the 2010 National Auctioneers Association‘s annual conference & show to use in drawings during my two seminars. They worked in that I returned to my office with over 80 different business cards from auction marketers—biplane productions‘ target market. After keying the data from the cards into my email contact database, I stacked them in my stationery cabinet then later threw the vast majority of them in the trash.


Well, I didn’t need them; and nothing made me want them.

I’m not alone. In a culture where our mobile devices carry all of our contacts plus the Internet in our pocket, just about all of the people we need to reach are no further than our pocket or purse. How many times have you asked someone, “Hey, what’s your number? I’ll put you in my phone”? The vast majority of business cards just add to the clutter in our wallets, desks, and cars; and they’re far less portable than the address icon on our iPhones, Droids, Blackberries, etc.

Old School

Our increasingly-electronic world, though, doesn’t make business cards obsolete. They still transfer contact information and marketing messages to their recipients. Business cards can be an indelible medium for introducing and reinforcing your brand to prospects and peers—even if trashed after being loaded into an electronic address book. They can influence that all-important first impression.

So, what makes a good business card?

Not all information is created equal. As a rule (that has some creative exceptions), your information should read from top toward bottom and left toward right—in the order of importance. What’s important will be different for different people; so, contemplate what your prospects should see first. Also, the use of color and bolding should be leveraged in a way that lets a reader immediately see the most important information first. If nothing is emphasized, you’re making the recipient work for what they need. If everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Order demonstrates organizational prowess; margin illustrates self-control; and white space communicates luxury. Rambling lines and text abutted near the edge of a business card connote, “No, wait. I . . . I want to tell you one more thing.” Big shots don’t have to prove they’re big shots; they’ve found that less actually is more. So, transcribe only the absolute necessary, and leave the rest for your Web site, LinkedIn profile, and company Facebook page.

We can all tell when you ordered your cards from an online printer or your local Staples® copy center—or worse yet, when you printed them at home. We know when your “logo” came from a clip art disc or stationery catalog. Conversely, we can tell when you work for a Fortune 500 company. The margins and paper (or other medium) choice, print and trim quality, effects and font choices all tell people how professional your brand is. People hire experts. Do your business cards give the impression that you’re an expert?

You may not need to be as outside the box as some of these business cards, but non-standard concepts will make your brand memorable. Ubiquity will only get your information into a “contacts” app. That said, avoid creativity for creativity’s sake; illustrate an obvious purpose for coloring outside the lines.

I’ve heard from multiple agents of larger firms, who are trying to find a way out from the umbrella company’s shadow. That can be tough. But if your parent entity has a template for all employees, stick to that; or lobby them for a systemic change. You benefit from the branding work in which they’ve invested over the years. For the entrepreneur, make sure that your business cards connect by more than logo with your other media. Fonts, colors, proportions, and feel should strictly match across all your collateral.

The business card as a medium isn’t dead, but yours has to come alive to survive the digital age. If you overlook the value of your business card, so will your prospects.

Business cards aren’t the only tangible, human interaction being replaced by electronic media. This summer I read a great book, “The Church of Facebook.” It discusses the way our definition of community is changing with the influence of online social environments, and it gives multiple tips for adapting to and confronting the tendency toward more instant but more superficial connections with our digitized relationships.

That’s a challenge for friendships, churches, and movements, because humans were designed and built for intimacy. Spiritually, relationally, physically—we are most whole and empowered when we are vulnerable to and then authentically encouraged by others. (Personally, I think those three realms are connected to each other.)

When I find myself getting shallow in my platonic friendships, I often find myself struggling more with anger and apathy. When Crystal and I aren’t connecting physically, stress and insecurity bubble larger within my chest. When my frequency and quality of interactions with God drop, I notice my gratitude and stewardship wane.

We all have “dummy lights” on the dash that are trying to tell us to fill up on true community in our Twitterific world. Do you know what yours are? What do you do when they flash?

[footer]Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.
Business card used by permission of Wiley Wilson.[/footer]

53: Postcards from the Competitive Edge

Mail Trucks2009 brought an influx of postcard orders to biplane productions, accounting for 50.5% of the 273 auction direct mail pieces that crossed my desk.

As a designer, I like big canvases to illustrate the messages my clients ask me to convey. With that approach, it would be easy to demote postcards to the lower castes of the direct mail population. To do that, I’d have to discount the two 2009 NAA awards for postcard design that biplane‘s clients won—especially the one that won a full-color brochure category. I’d have to dismiss some of the advantages postcards have over brochures and letters.

There are multiple reasons postcards trump their folded and/or enveloped mail peers.

For one thing, they don’t require opening, tab-slitting, or any effort from the recipient (other than reading) to communicate your message. Their rigidity helps them maintain their image and shape during the automated mail process. They take less time and resources to produce, shortening turn time on production. Large postcards dimensionally loom beyond the physical dimensions of envelopes—helping your images and message stand apart from the bills and other perfunctory mail in the mailbox.

They can be more easily gang-printed—the process where a printer prints multiple jobs from different clients on the same press sheet—which can cut production costs and allow more efficient and economical upgrades like UV or aqueous coating. Postcards are also the easiest direct mail format for variable data printing.

The cost savings that postcards usually provide allows you to spend more in other media or to mail more than one postcard during an auction marketing campaign. This two-stage mailing system can allow you to change or customize your sales pitch or to simply reinforce the first one.

Maybe more importantly, postcards all but force marketers to focus on the big picture—the core message you’re trying to communicate. If you’ve got a web site acting as an information safety net, why try to exhaust all information on your direct mail piece? Why overpower your pictures and crowd your message, when you have a clearinghouse of information online? If someone isn’t interested in the major points of your property, they’re not going to become a buyer with the minor points or directions to the property. If they aren’t interested enough to go to your web site for more details, they aren’t motivated enough to arrange financing, inspect the property, and bid at your auction—live or online.

So, why not just sell them on the sizzle, and get out of there? Postcards help you do that.

For premier properties, a postcard can’t adequately capture the full essence of a property—even on the 6″ x 11″ or 8.5″ x 11″ postcards for which I’m getting more and more orders. For multi-tract real estate, farm machinery, construction equipment, and other collections, sometimes the breadth of the offering is the message; and that can’t be sufficiently expressed on a postcard. But for your run-of-the-mill properties and estates, a postcard might prove the most effective marketing arrow in your quiver.

Everything’s on the outside on a postcard—your sale item(s), your message, your brand. If you only get a few seconds to convey all of that, why not use a postcard as your first impression?

One of the biggest changes in my spiritual journey over the past five years or so has been the level of authenticity encouraged by the circles of my spiritual environments. No longer do I feel pressure to maintain a buttoned-up exterior, to play the part of a mature Christian who’s got it all together—a checklist with as many check marks as the next person’s sheet. In fact, one of my weekly small group discussions starts with a disclaimer, “Leave your religious crap in the parking lot.” (The apostle Paul called it dung, too, folks.)

Monday night, I got asked, “On a scale of one to ten, where have you been this week with God?” If the momentum of the answer is trending downward, the followup questions usually sound like, “What are you wrestling with?” or “What would it take to shift the momentum toward ten?” or “What would be the first step you could make back toward fellowship?”

My spiritual health isn’t tied to what I wear to church, the letters on the spine of my Bible, the instruments on the platform, the length of my hair or my wife’s skirt. It’s not a pocket full of passed litmus tests–laurels on which to rest. It’s a marriage, and I need to address the baggage that stacked in the way of communication and intimacy with Jesus. God told New Testament believers to confess our sins one to another—and to him. It’s painful but cathartically freeing to unload the weight of our imperfection.

The church stands less inclined to judge each other, when the inside makes it to the outside. We see that every heart, as God says, is desperately wicked beyond self-repair. Empathy ignites with authenticity—and with it support and encouragement, too. We grow more dependent upon and impressed by God’s mercy and grace the more we realize we are insufficient and broken. And God gets more and deeper praise when things are sweet.

[footer]Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

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