CIO Irene Gomez speaks with Sean Worrall, Managing Director of content.sg
Consumers today are shutting off the traditional world of marketing. They rely on their DVR to skip television advertising, often ignore magazine advertising, and now have become so adept at online “surfing” that they can take in online information without a care for banners or buttons (making them irrelevant).
Smart marketers understand that traditional marketing is becoming less and less effective by the minute, and that there has to be a better way.
Enter Content Marketing!
Q: How would you define content marketing?
I don’t want to define it because I don’t see it as something new or special. Marketing is a business discipline that includes communication, but it’s also a strategic and financial role. What interests me is the evolution of communication media, and changing consumption habits. And what we currently find at the intersection of those two lines are opportunities to lower costs and raise revenue. The opportunities are new, but the principals of communication are not. Brands have been doing content marketing for a long time.
In 1891 Dr. August Oetker, a German pharmacist, developed a baking powder which he branded as Backin. Baking powder had been around for nearly 50 years before that point, but Oetker’s formula had a USP – a long shelf life that made it a more cost effective purchase than other baking powders. Naturally, he patented his formula to get a defensible competitive advantage. But he wasn’t content to simply offer a superior product. He thought long and hard about how he could get housewives to use more of his product. His solution was to pakage it in individual sachets – one sachet activated 500g of flour – and he printed recipe ideas on each one. Sales skyrocketed and he made a fortune (and, incidentally the Oetker-Gruppe is still around today with annual revenues of 11 billion euros).
I love this story because it very neatly encapsulates what I consider to be great content: it is helpful, actionable, strategic, and profit focused. Certainly he built brand loyalty and boosted sales, but he didn’t ostensibly achieve it by shouting about himself and his clever formula. He helped his target audience to fix a personal pain point – “What on earth will I cook for dinner tonight?”
Q: How is content marketing different from other forms of marketing?
It’s not different. A good salesman will share a lot of information about himself, his company, and his product. His aim is to make sure that you feel totally at ease with your decision to buy, and that you will come back and buy from him again. Changes in technology, media, and consumption now make it possible to have that kind of dialogue with all your customers, regardless of the business sector you operate in.
Q: Why is it important to businesses, big or small?
It’s a productivity thing. It offers the potential to reduce the cost of sales line in the P&L. Every business leader wants to raise marginal revenue and reduce marginal costs. Effective content marketing differentiates you from your competitors at the discovery phase, and drives your prospects more quickly down the purchase pathway. It’s a cost effective way to sell with confidence, and respect for your audience.
Q: What do you think is the biggest content marketing mistake?
Have you ever read or viewed branded content that makes you go: “So what?”
That’s the biggest mistake that some players are making today. Content should be relevant, sincere, and useful. I have no problem with content that is fun or quirky, but it has to be anchored to the goals of customer acquisition and retention. If your aim is to build brand affinity, then help me to understand what is distinctive and helpful about your brand. Pictures of cute kids and cats interacting with your logo don’t say anything useful. I’m exaggerating for effect there, but the key message is: don’t conflate the idea of content marketing with social media – one is a discipline, the other is a channel.
I think some B2B marketers are managing content very well, and they are getting better all the time. I feel that this is because they have a better foundation to build on. They already understand the complex jigsaw puzzle of information flow that’s needed to win a major client for (say) a multi-million dollar enterprise technology investment. B2C players can learn a lot from B2B.
Q: Creating and maintaining a successful content marketing strategy is hard work. Can you share some tips on creating an effective strategy?
I’m glad you acknowledged that it is hard work. My top tip would be to recognise that, and not to be tempted to simply throw money at the problem. It needs a collaborative commitment of time.
Next, draw a visual map of your customer’s journey and try to capture his state of mind at each step along the way. I find it helpful to do this as a role-play exercise because, if you verbalise the questions and answers, your content will be more specific and helpful. By comparison if you simply write down a generic topic like “trust”, you won’t get very far. If you’re an investment manager, I want to know how you think, and you’ll be around for the long term. If you’re selling curry puffs, I don’t care much about that – I want to know that your kitchen is clean and you use good ingredients!
Finally, encourage open collaboration from all around the organisation, and create a mechanism for people to submit suggestions. With my own clients, I’m evangelical about this. What I love most is when I get an email from a staff member I haven’t met before (e.g. from the customer call centre) and they say something like: “This could be stupid, but I’ve had an idea. I don’t know if you can use it, but…”, and they typically go on to describe a very interesting insight or experience. It is never stupid or a waste of time because that process often leads to great pieces of content.
Q: How do you see content marketing changing over the next 5 years?
Change is constant but I don’t think the next 5 years will be quite as disruptive as the previous 10 years. That’s not to say that there won’t be winners and losers – there will be. There are still agencies and clients who haven’t fully gotten to grips with digital media, and traditional media owners who haven’t figured out their response. But it’s not the same existential crisis as before.
There’s now a whole generation of tech-savvy marketers moving into senior positions, and many of the old old-timers have shifted up the learning curve too. There’s a foundation of knowledge and experience now, and that makes life-long learning and adaptation easier.
On the client side I think we’ll see some reconfiguring of marketing departments. We’ll obviously see a bigger role for writers, and there will be more in-house writers than we’ve seen before. But I tend to think they will come from the journalistic tradition, rather than the creative agency copywriting one: business-literate researchers, who know how to tell a story. PR and strategic comms people already have those skills, so I think they will take more of a leadership role. And we’ll see more B2B marketers crossing over into B2C (but I feel that will be a one-way street).
Overall, I think we’ll start to see brands communicating with more substance, and less fluff: a more sincere dialogue with customers that will redefine our notions of ‘image’.
Sean Worrall is a corporate storyteller and the founder of content.sg, a marketing services firm with a focus on customer purchase and retention pathways. A former business consultant and trainer, Sean was the MD of an international advertising agency before establishing his own practice. He is a naturalised Singapore citizen and has an MBA from Warwick Business School.
Why do people who consider themselves good communicators often fail to actually hear each other? Often it’s due to a mismatch of styles: To someone who prefers to vent, someone who prefers to explain seems patronizing; explainers experience venters as volatile.
This is why so many of us see our conversational counterparts as lecturing, belaboring, talking down to us, or even shaming us (if we are venters and they are explainers) or as invasive, out of control, and overly emotional (if we’re an explainer and they’re a venter).
Facing this kind of mismatch, what do you think the chances are for either person actually listening with an open mind?
My answer is… very low.
It is tempting to say, “zero,” but since it’s not possible (or even desirable) to work only with people who match your communication style, you need to develop the skill to try to listen around their communication style.
Listening around that style, however, can be incredibly effortful. When someone is either venting/screaming or explaining/belaboring it triggers a part of your middle emotional brain called the amygdala, which desperately wants to hijack your attentive listening and instead react reflexively with whatever your hardwired reactions are. And resisting that amygdala hijack is exhausting.
What do to with a venter/screamer
If your conversational counterpart is a venter/screamer, your hardwired survival coping skill might be to tell them to calm down (which will only make them more upset), to shut down and get silent (which will only make them yell longer, because they’ll think you’re not listening), or to try to point out how irrational venting is (which, as noted above, they will perceive as patronizing and belaboring).
Instead, say to yourself, “Okay, here comes another temper tantrum. Just let them blow. Try not to take it between the eyes and imagine you’re looking into the calm eye of a hurricane and the storm is going over your shoulder.”
To do this, focus on their left eye. The left eye is connected to the right brain — the emotional brain. Let them finish. Then say, “I can see you’re really frustrated. To make sure I don’t add to that, and to make sure I don’t miss something, what was the most important thing I need to do in the long term, what’s the critical thing I need to do in the short term, and what do I need to get done ASAP?” Reframing the conversation this way, after they’ve finished venting, will make sure that your “explainer” self knows what to do – instead of ignoring the venting as another random outburst from “Conan the Barbarian” or “the Wicked Witch of the West.” Chances are – they do have something important they’re trying to tell you – even though they’re not communicating it very well.
After they respond, say to them, “What you just said is way too important for me to have misunderstood a word, so I’m going to say it back to you to make sure I am on the same page with you. Here’s what I heard.” Then repeat exactly, word for word, what they said to you. After you finish, say to them, “Did I get that right and if not, what did I miss?” Forcing them to listen to what you said they said, “because it was important,” will slow them down, will help you stay centered and in control, and will earn you their and your own respect.
What to do with an explainer/belaborer
If your conversational counterpart is an explainer, your hardwired survival coping skill might be to say to yourself, “Here they go again, make sure you smile politely even if you want to pull your hair out. Try not to let your impatience and annoyance show.” The problem with this is that even though they may be oblivious to others as they go on and on, at some level they may be aware of your underlying impatience and… that might actually make them talk longer. Yikes.
Realize that the reason they explain and belabor things is probably because their experience is that people don’t pay attention to what they say. They don’t realize that while that may be true of some truly distracted people, for others, the reason they don’t pay attention is that the speaker is belaboring something that the listener already heard — and doesn’t want to hear over and over again. Another possibility is that these explainers may not be feeling listened to somewhere else in their life (by their spouse, kids, parents, or boss) and is now relieved to have you as a captive audience.
When the explainer goes into his explanation/lecture/filibuster, say to yourself, “Okay, this is going to take a while.” Put a mental bookmark in whatever you were working on. Then look them in their left eye with a look that says, “Okay, take your time, I’m fully listening.” Instead of feeling frustrated and reacting by become impatient and fidgety, remind yourself, “They need to do this. I can be patient.”
Then when they finish then apply a similar response to the venter/screamer with the following minor edit:
“I can see that you really had a lot that you had to say. To make sure I don’t miss something, what was the most important thing I need to do in the long term, what’s the critical thing I need to do in the short term, and what do I need to get done ASAP?” ”
After they respond to that, say to them, “What you just said is way too important for me to have misunderstood a word, so I’m going to say it back to you to make sure I am on the same page with you. Here’s what I heard.” Then repeat exactly, word for word, what they said to you. After you finish, say to them, “Did I get that right, and if not, what did I miss?”
Your amygdala is probably saying to you and to me, “I don’t want to do either of those things. These people are obnoxious and unreasonable. Why should I kowtow to them?”
Here are several reasons:
- They aren’t likely to change. These are deeply ingrained personality traits.
- Being more open and inviting them to talk rather than closed and resistant will lessen their need to act this way. Listening patiently hath charm to soothe the savage (or boring) beast.
- You will feel more self-respect and self-esteem. The above approaches will enable you to remain cool, calm, collected, centered and communicative in situation that formerly frustrated you and made you react poorly.
Posted by Mark Goulston for Harvard Business Review.
Creativity and innovation are hot topics these days, and they are being studied more frequently and intensely. Great observations have come of the attention, as Will Burns writes for Forbes: A coffee-shop study from the University of Illinois concluded that moderate levels of noise, as opposed to high or low levels, foster greater creativity. A study from the University of Stuttgart found that low levels of lighting enhance creativity. And then there’s my favorite, another study from the University of Illinois, that concluded that alcohol intoxication improves creative problem solving.
The attention is good, but too often creativity is studied and written about without examining the context. Why would we want to be more creative? Why bother fostering the conditions for creativity? Why dim the lights, adjust the volume, and get drunk? What’s the purpose of it all?
The unspoken assumption is that our goal is to gain competitive advantage, to crush the competition, to win. But I believe that the best creativity comes from a much deeper place than the desire to win. It comes from a desire to contribute to the lives of others, either by introducing something new that improves the quality of their lives or by showing people that something thought to be impossible is in fact possible. When you change people’s perceptions about what can be accomplished or achieved, you contribute to their humanity in the richest possible way. You give them hope for the future — a sense that life is not the demoralizing, unchanging drudgery day after day that the world so often teaches us that it is. When you change the way people think about possibility, it is an existential experience. It makes them feel understood. More than that, it makes them feel loved.
When JetBlue said it was going to bring humanity to its business, it reunited two worlds that had been estranged for decades. When it put those TV sets in the backs of the seats, upholstered the chairs in leather, and gave everyone a little more room, people felt loved. “You know what it’s like to be crammed in one of those tiny seats for five hours going out of your mind with nothing to do! You’re one of us! You understand me!”
This, in a world in which people so often feel not just that they’re misunderstood but that no one is even bothering to understand them. Have you ever been on hold with customer service and heard a recording that says, “This call may be monitored for quality assurance”? Have you ever once seen evidence of customer quality improving as a result of all of that monitoring?
Increasingly, creativity — and the study of it — is divorced from the real needs of real people. Adding ever more gimmicks to a smartphone in the interest of increasing market share, rather than giving people something revolutionary that will make their lives better, reeks of something other than love and has no power to stir peoples’ enthusiasm.
So the question we have to ask ourselves in business is this: Why create? Are we doing it for the gratuitous sake of creativity itself, without any larger purpose? Are we doing it because Harvard Business Review writes about it all the time? Are we doing it out of fear? To make more money? To get on the cover of Wired? Or are we doing it out of a desire to improve people’s lives and transform their sense of what possibilities life itself has to offer?
I write a lot about philanthropy. Philanthropy means, literally, love of humanity. You don’t have to give a million dollars to charity to be a philanthropist. You simply have to actively demonstrate your love of humanity. Your empathy. If the purpose of our creativity is philanthropy — if it is love for our fellow man, an appreciation that people struggle in their lives, and a desire to somehow lessen that struggle and increase their joy, with a little more leg room or with an iPad — it will change the world. And that is the greatest competitive advantage of all.
Post courtesy of Dan Pallotta for Harvard Business Review
Vocal training can help you succeed in getting more publicity but don’t forget the role body language plays in your delivery. Body language is the oldest and most trusted language in the world. Research indicates that it accounts for 55% of what we communicate, while the voice accounts for 38% and the words for only 7%.
Before you even open your mouth, people are already making assumptions about you based on your non-verbal cues. Are you to be taken seriously or dismissed? Are you warm and friendly or stiff and distant? Do you walk with assurance and confidence when you enter a room, or do you slip in, hoping no one will take notice?
Whether intentional movements and expressions or natural reactions and projections, we are constantly communicating with our bodies and physical movements. These behaviours are picked up by the person we are interacting with and likewise.
Being able to monitor your own body language and read the body language of others, not only offers you great advantages as a communicator but more importantly, it helps you get your message across effectively.
Some tips to prevent you from tripping!
Eye to eye contact
When we speak, we maintain eye contact just 40-60 percent of the time. That’s because we’re busy trying to access information from our brains. Often times, depending on the type of information we’re trying to retrieve, we look up to the left, up to the right, or down. But in the context of a media interview or speech, that lack of eye contact can signal nervousness or evasiveness. You can help maintain better eye contact if you pause briefly before answering a question, which will allow you to access the information you need before you begin speaking.
The right posture
Getting your posture right will automatically make you feel more confident. And when you feel good, other people pick up on that. If you’re feeling a bit down, take a look at how you’re standing or sitting. Chances are you’ll be slouched over with your shoulders drooping down and inward. This collapses the chest and inhibits good breathing, which in turn can help make you feel nervous or uncomfortable.
Straight or tilted
When you want to feel confident and self-assured keep your head level both horizontally and vertically. You can also use this straight head position when you want to be authoritative and want what you’re saying to be taken seriously. Conversely, when you want to be friendly and in the listening, receptive mode, tilt your head just a little to one side or the other. You can shift the tilt from left to right at different points in the conversation.
Natural, clear gestures
As PR specialists, whenever we encourage spokespersons to incorporate gestures into their deliveries, we consistently find that their words get better. The physical act of gesturing helps to form clearer thoughts and speak in tighter sentences with more declarative language. So the next time you give a speech or interview, gesture as naturally as you typically would in everyday life. Your words will come to you more easily, and the words you use will be stronger and you will feel a lot more confident.
Armed and aware
Crossing your arms across your chest can be viewed as defensive, expressing opposition or being insecure. If sitting at a table, folding your hands in your lap or having them under the table can be viewed as untrustworthy; wringing your hands can be seen as a sign of nervousness; and when presenting an idea or talking be wary about being too wild in your gestures. When delivering a speech, if you see your audience exhibiting defensive body language, change tactics, and don’t try to persuade them to your point-of-view until their body language opens up.
Watch those feet
Your feet subconsciously tell you where you want to go. If you find yourself in the middle of a conversation you wish you could exit, just look at your feet. You may be surprised to find that they’re not both pointing directly at the person with whom you’re speaking. The same is true for the other person. If you’re not sure whether the person you’re speaking with is truly interested in your conversation, just look at his feet.
Flash that smile
We subconsciously imitate the things we see. When I look at someone and smile, they tend to smile. When I look at someone and nod, they tend to nod. Some neuroscientists say that type of mirroring behavior is due to “mirror neurons.” That’s important information, because audiences that are smiling and nodding are more receptive to your ideas. So smile and nod at appropriate moments, and you’ll be that much closer to accomplishing your goals.
Remember, body language can portray up to half of what you are communicating. This is a high amount, so it is important to make sure you use your body to show what you are trying to get across. Your body can be used as a tool. So use it wisely and make it work in your favour.
Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, Corporate Media
As humans, we are generally pretty good at creating communication tools. The reality is that we are actually not great communicators. There are two main reasons for this: not sufficiently exercising the will or ability to understand things from the perspective of the person we’re talking to; and making assumptions – assuming we are being understood, or that we understand the other person.
Communication is key in any relationship. But in the workplace, miscommunication can be deadly to a professional relationship — and more so, to an organization overall. Some of these common communication mistakes can lead to bigger issues if not addressed. All it takes is a few techniques and a little practice. Here are some common communication pitfalls and tips on how to navigate around them in the workplace.
Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s
Being poorly prepared is a recipe for a career disaster as much as it is for anything in life. Good communication can only be achieved when the material is worthy of communication in the first place. Poorly prepared materials only frustrate and allow greater opportunity for miscommunication. Crafting presentations, reports, arguments or even meetings effectively is the only way to avoid this trap. There are many online tools that offer assistance in crafting the impactful and efficient, for example the Rhetorical Triangle and Monroe’s Motivating Sequence.
Check and check again
Despite being well prepared, mistakes can happen to the best of us. Most definitely, prevention is better than cure. About one-third of all miscommunication that occurs in a corporate setting can be attributed to typos, spelling errors and improper presentation; all of which can be easily avoided with a simple scan through. Such mistakes often give the impression of being sloppy and careless. It is often difficult for the person completing the task to completely track all his mistakes. Having a friend or colleague proof read your work can help to spot and correct common mistakes and errors.
Take nothing for granted
Considered one of the most common reasons for miscommunication, assuming the audience has understood a message backs 43% of miscommunication at work. It is necessary to follow-up and take the time to ensure that people have understood your message, Simple things like following-up with an email or phone call or a short question and answer session after a meeting goes a long way in avoiding a stressful and frustrating situation.
Short and sweet
Keep messages succinct and coherent weakens the power and impacts the points made. Seventy percent of emails that are more than 250 words long are misinterpreted and that is a startling number! Similarly, meetings that go on for more than half an hour lose 63% of the audience’s attention.
These tips focus on the ‘hard’ skills such as content and delivery. Yet a significant component of any type of communication involves ‘soft’ skills which contrary to popular belief, can be learnt too. These ‘soft’ skills are extremely important in today’s globalized corporate setting.
Don’t shy away
As the world increasingly gets more connected, we seem to have, ironically, lost the ability to have difficult conversations face to face. Sixty-seven percent of respondents in a recent survey said they would prefer to face a sticky conversation via text or email versus in person, and over video or voice call. At some point, you will need to give negative feedback. It is tempting to try to avoid these conversations, but this can cause further problems – in particular, you may let small problems grow into big ones. Role-play is a great way to familiarize yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Again, preparation is key, alongside sensitivity and maturity.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
Today’s workplace is a melting pot of ethnicities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, and viewpoints. These differences create a rich and meaningful tapestry of experiences and opinions while being extremely difficult to balance. It can be tempting to stereotype new colleagues or clients, or to make assumptions about them based on little information you have. This is especially true if you have not had much time to get to know them well. Assumptions inhibit open communication, because you don’t consider the other person’s own unique background, personality, and experience. Over time, this can jeopardize your relationship with them.
Humor me right
Many individuals deal with awkward situations by peppering them with humor. Humor done right is brilliant; humor done wrong leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. Of executives surveyed, 72% said racially biased comments are a major blunder for men and 70% said the same for women. These remarks easily offend or insult, reflect poor judgment and reveal low emotional intelligence, according to the researchers. This second worst communication mistake is similar to the first. Telling inappropriate jokes makes people uncomfortable, revealing an inability to gauge the environment. On the flip side, 61% of executives believe that being able to sense the mood of others and effectively adjust your language, tone and content is one of the top skills required to advance.
These are not unknown skills and nor are they particularly difficult. Yet, they are often neglected in the hustle and bustle of corporate life. Good communication requires a very attainable combination of ‘hard’ skills and ‘soft’ skills; it is as important to be effective and impactful as it is to be sensitive and appropriate. All this combination requires, is a conscious effort to be aware of what the situation calls for.
Posted by Tara Kishin, PR Executive, Corporate Media