The State of Trust (in Under Three Minutes)

The 13th annual Edelman Trust Barometer contains some very interesting developments on the state of consumer trust.

Some points that caught my attention included:

Technology is the most trusted industry, while banks and financial institutions are the least trusted.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed trusted business leaders, and only 13 percent trusted government leaders.

Influence and authority has shifted from the few top leaders to the many (with the help of social media).

Messages in the new media age must contain humility, transparency and a willingness to explain mutual benefit.

Great insights…

We Have Seen the Brand, and It is Not Our Enemy

The explosion of social media hasn’t been good for branding. Somewhere along the way, branding seems to have developed a bad name (although still not as bad as public relations).

I saw a comment the other day on a social media platform to the effect that the concept of branding was outdated because “we’re all connected now.” It’s not an isolated comment these days, but rather it represents what many have stated over the past few years in one form or another. The underlying belief behind this is that any attempt by a company to develop and promote its brand is inherently based on lies. That there is some type of spin being created to trick consumers and lure them into believing something false.

This type of thinking shows really a lack of understanding about what branding is all about. That’s why I like this post about the Zappos brand because it tells the story of what a brand really is: an extension of the culture (people) that work there.

Branding is about taking what is true about the company and presenting that to consumers, not making things up. Ideally the true culture and values of the company add up to a distinct value proposition in the minds of consumers.

Because consumers can talk to each other now via social media doesn’t invalidate brand development and communication efforts. Indeed, it only make these efforts more important. Companies sometimes fail, because they’re filled with people that can make mistakes. That doesn’t mean the great lie of branding has been exposed.

Blogging Lessons from Year One

Time really does fly, doesn’t it? It seems hard to believe that it’s been well over a year since I started this blog. It’s been a fun and rewarding experience. If you’re a blogger I’m sure you can relate to my sentiment.

I certainly have learned a lot about blogs and blogging over the course of the last year. The focus of this post is on personal blogging. Business blogging has somewhat different considerations. So, in no particular order, here are some of my key takeaways from blogging year one:

  1. Choosing a good blogging platform is important. I’ve been extremely happy with WordPress. There are other good platforms out there, but that don’t really offer the full functionality and theme options that WordPress brings to the table. This being said, find a blogging platform that works for you so that you can make your posts quickly and effortlessly.
  2. Blogging has to be personal. It should be first and foremost about what you want to share and write about, your area of expertise or passion. This is what keeps motivation high.
  3. Write for yourself, but so that others can learn and benefit. Think about how add value when someone stops by to read your post.
  4. Frequency in posting is somewhat important. This depends on your blog goals, but once a week is a good guideline to follow. The main benefit of weekly posting is that it keeps you disciplined. It also helps to grow the blog’s followers. If your goal is to dramatically increase readership then that would necessitate more frequent posting.
  5. Post length isn’t overly important. What is important is to provide clear and helpful information to the reader, whether it’s in 100 or 1,000 words.
  6. Learning from other bloggers is important. It gives us new perspectives and ideas.
  7. Learning from other bloggers is not important. Sometimes, being too focused on what others are doing compels us to try and be like them. See number 2 above.
  8. Commit to quality content. It’s better to post less frequently than produce poor or unhelpful content. Good content attracts, bad content repels.
  9. Trying new things adds life to your blog. No one wants to see the same old topics and format over and over again. Try something new and see how it goes, such as new topics, interviews, videos, images, guest posts and more. The opportunities are limitless. Keep exploring to keep things interesting for everyone.

Your turn bloggers. What has your experience been? What bit of wisdom would you offer?

Putting Social Back in Social Media

In some quarters, the social part of social media is missing in action. You don’t have to look very far to see examples of social media used mostly for broadcasting, building personal brands and generally for promotional purposes. If one way self-promotion isn’t how we would act with someone in person, why do we feel it’s fine to use social media in this manner?

The longer I’m involved in using social media (which hasn’t been that long compared to some), the more convinced I become that things should be more natural than they seem to be in many instances.

Social is about being open, transparent, helpful and engaging. For many people these traits come easily, for some not so much. That’s not to say one can’t grow in these (like I feel I have) and experience more success and enjoyment using social media. The areas above are definitely examples of where we should be trying to improve.

When it comes to business use of social media, antisocial behavior is even more prevalent. Many businesses have a long way to go to become truly social.

A SideraWorks presentation titled “What Is Social Business?” beautifully defines the six core principles of a social business.

They are:

  • Agility
  • Openness
  • Empowerment
  • Smart connectivity
  • Active intelligence
  • Adaptability

For businesses that haven’t started to embody these principles, now would be the time to start. Our digital society likely won’t become less social in the years ahead. The good news is that becoming a social business is achievable, and it offers great benefits. Check out the presentation for more information on those.

Whether it’s personal or business, we could use more social in social media. I’ll be working on it. Will you?

Let me know what you think.


Opportunity Knocks: Differentiate Through Customer Experience

There’s an opportunity being squandered by many brands today. It’s the opportunity to differentiate through a unique and exceptional customer experience. It’s not that many brands aren’t attempting to do this. Many are, or at least that’s what they’re saying. But the question becomes: Is the commitment to customer experience as high a priority as it should be?

Businesses-to-consumer brands, for the most part, are more adept at customer experience models than are business-to-business brands. Most products and services on the market in most categories are very similar. Sure, some have distinct features and benefits, but if the customer experience is problematic, any differences are quickly negated.

Brands that develop an outstanding customer experience and communicate that over time carve out a distinct market advantage. Being faster, more reliable, dependable, approachable, helpful, accommodating and offering the highest quality builds customer equity and generates positive word-of-mouth marketing.

The keys are developing the customer experience continually, being fully committed to it, communicating it and enabling customers to do the same. It’s a great opportunity, for B2B and B2C brands alike.

Here’s a good piece on customer experience, focused on B2B with specific cases, from MediaPost for further reading on the subject.

Influencing the Shifting Landscape of Buyer Behavior

When you purchase a product or service, has your process changed over the last five years? Or say even in the last year? Especially in the case of new products or large purchases, most people would say their decision-making process has changed significantly. McKinsey & Co. has developed a great model to help illustrate how consumers currently make purchase decisions, titled the “Consumer Decision Journey.”

Here are the steps in the Consumer Decision Journey:

  • Consideration: The consumer is aware of a list of products or brands from which he or she can make the purchase.
  • Evaluation: The consumer investigates the options in terms of pros and cons in pricing, channels and any of a number of features and benefits that are desired.
  • Buy: The decision is made and the purchase is completed.
  • Experience: The consumer experiences the product or service and is very satisfied or very dissatisfied or any point in between.
  • Advocate: If the consumer is very satisfied or satisfied, it’s likely he or she will advocate for the product or service.
  • Bond: The consumer becomes a brand loyalist. When a purchase must be made again, he or she will bypass the consideration and evaluation stage and go directly to purchase from the brand of choice.

These steps nicely capture the way many purchases are made today. What’s more, much of the evaluation stage takes on place online on company websites, social media, communities and other digital platforms.

Given the current digital environment, advocacy is also taken to an entirely new level of importance. Consumers now have the ability to communicate their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with many people very quickly.

The problem is, if recent studies are accurate, brands are not proportionately increasing spending in the digital environment, where the vitally important evaluation and advocacy steps often take place. Instead, spending continues to be heavily focused on the more traditional “push” methods of marketing. This suggests too much emphasis is being placed on the consideration step, with the hope that the buyer will move directly to a purchase.

Times are changing and will continue to change. Greater emphasis must be placed on influencing the evaluation and advocacy steps in the buying process. Long gone are the days when consumers were forced to accept push marketing messages at face value. The consumer is now empowered to make informed decisions. Brands must adapt to this changing buying behavior or risk getting left behind.

Let me know what you think.

The Starting Point of Great Writing

There is a lot (understatement) of information available on how to become a great writer. Much of it is helpful, to an extent.  But consider this, clearly the most important aspect of becoming a great writer is by actually sitting down and writing.

If you want to improve as a writer, you won’t do that by simply reading more about writing. You must write daily. Write at scheduled times. Write with deadlines. Write with goals. But the key in all of it is to write, and to continue to do so.

The repetition will help develop and solidify your writing skills. Thoughtful practice will bring about improvement. But that practice must be consistent and frequent.

Part of the reason that many people don’t start or don’t write enough is the fear that comes from wanting perfection. But great writing is as much a process as it is about ability. The skills can be developed with practice. The process and results can be improved over time.

Definitely watch and learn from others, but get started. Don’t try to be perfect. Try to consistently deliver value and improve. You’ll be surprised at the great writing that’s waiting to come out.

What do you think?