5 Social Media Mistakes Your Business Should AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!

5 Social Media Mistakes Your Business Should AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!

social media mistakes we do not likeWhether social media is the primary lead generator for your business, or just one aspect of your brand communications it’s crucial you approach it with professionalism and with a strategy. In this article I’m going to outline some of the most common social media mistakes that businesses make, and give you some tips and advice on how you can avoid them and put your best social media foot forward.  

So, let’s kick off! 

1. Inconsistent Branding


Akin to all areas of business communication it is vital to maintain a clear and consistent brand identity on social media. This means setting brand rules and sticking to them. Your Instagram profile or ‘collage’ is a really good example of why brand consistency is so important. Customers don’t always see your social media post one at a time. They’ll click through to view your profile as a whole. Your Instagram posts therefore need to work together as part of an overall brand story.   

Make sure your colour scheme reflects your brand and is harmonious across your posts.  For example, a children’s entertainment company can work with vibrant primary colours like red, blue and yellow, whereas a company that manufactures outdoor clothing may want a more natural earthy palette. Imagine if the outdoor clothing company randomly added a bright yellow image to its Instagram or Facebook account. It would stand out like a sore thumb and confuse the brand altogether.

The same goes for typography.  Pick a font family and stick to it, and be consistent with the size of the font you use when adding text to images. Other things to look out for are the placement and size of your logo if/when you add it to an image. Generally, you’ll also have rules about what you say in your social media posts which will relate back to your overall brand vision.  If you’re business is B2B in the legal profession, for instance, you should be posting about news and subjects relevant to your industry. Don’t muddy the water with random off-topic throw-ins.  

Likewise, never mix business and personal. There’s no room for family pics on LinkedIn – save them for your personal Facebook profile. The important thing to remember is that social media provides an outlet for you to build brand awareness. By being consistent with your messaging you’ll develop a pattern which in turn elicits brand recognition and familiarity with your customers. Ultimately you want a customer to see a stand-alone social media post of yours and for them to say- ‘that looks/sounds like it’s from (Your Business)’. 

2. Under or Over-posting

One of the most common social media mistakes is being inconsistent with how much you post. The problem works both ways. Posting too little shows a lack of investment and interest. Posting too much, on the other hand,  can appear spammy and annoying.

Let’s do the Goldielocks test.

Goldielocks social media bowls, too much, too little, just right

 

Too Much
Who annoys you on social media? Chances are it’s not the brand we’ve just discussed that only pops their head up on social sporadically. It’s the person or business who clogs up your feed with lots and lots of content.  And what do we tend to do with it? Skim, skip, dismiss.

My old teacher Mr O’Connor used to warn us chatterboxes that “empty vessels make the most noise”.  While it’s not necessarily true that chronic over-posters produce poor content, this is unfortunately the lasting impression that post saturation gives. Do you need 10 snapshots from your shop a day? 

Too Little
Long gaps between posts will not do you any favours when it comes to the Facebook algorithm. It punishes infrequency, and once you drop the ball on engagement it can be hard to get back.  Aside from the bots you need to think about your customers. Put the shoe on the other foot. If you’re planning on using a business – let’s say a boutique hotel – and you visit their Facebook page to see what’s been happening there recently, only to find nothing has been posted in the last 5 months. What does that say to you? To me it says the hotel isn’t overly bothered about how it appears to its customers, and it would make me think twice about booking.

Just Right
The best thing to do is to look at your engagement levels as a way to gauge your post frequency. If your engagement is consistently high then the demand for your social media content is there – so go for it. If engagement patterns fluctuate significantly then focus on high quality over high quantity at regular, but not rapid, intervals. For some ballpark guidance on posting it’s ok to post 3-5 times per week to Facebook and Instagram, whereas a Tweet a day is OK. In fact, Twitter is set up for more frequent posting, so if you’ve got more than one thing to say in a day feel free to Tweet away! (There’s a poem in there somewhere….).

3. Not Engaging


The whole point of social media is to engage with your target audience. That means being in conversation with them and not just sending messages their way. One way to engage with your social media followers is by responding to comments promptly. Be prepared to respond to messages outside of your traditional business hours. You should be responding to all comments, good or (it happens!) bad.  Don’t miss an opportunity to demonstrate your quality customer service when facing negative comments or complaints. Respond in a timely and appropriate manner. If you manage to placate the situation you just might be on to PR gold. Lemons, lemonade and all that!  

turn social media lemons into lemonade

The other thing to remember is not to neglect good comments! They’re valuable endorsements for your business and you should show appreciation to those who post them. Thanking them and sharing these posts will likely encourage others to share their happy thoughts about your business too.

Another easy way to engage is by promoting user-generated content. But make sure to credit the source! You should also think about ways to engage with other businesses in your local area. This will allow you to garner the attention of their followers. It also allows for cross-promotion and other mutually beneficial opportunities. It’s not called social media networking for nothing.

4. Being Overly Promotional


If your social media plan is to sell, sell, sell, then you’re setting yourself up to fail, fail, fail! 

Time to put yourself in your customer’s shoes again. Do you buy a magazine purely to browse the ads? No! You’re interested in the editorial content – and the same goes for social media. Your brand should therefore position itself as a publisher of content rather than an overt point of sale. It’s about delighting your customers and interacting with them rather than just advertising to them.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t throw a sale in every now and then, plug some products, introduce new services and so on. The idea is to get the balance right. My recommendation is to go with the 80/20 rule. Make 80% of your content valuable to your audience, be it informative or entertaining or useful – whatever works for your brand. You can then keep 20% for more promotional material and Calls To Action. 

For example, if your company is in Fintech, you could share information about financial markets, tips for managing finance, relevant news stories and industry trends. With this balance your customers will appreciate your content and be far more open to your promotions.  

5. Using Poor Visuals

A picture tells a thousand words. This has never been truer than when it comes to social media. In today’s fast paced digital world we’re lucky to have a customer scan our social media posts let alone read them. You have a split second to capture someone’s attention and text alone simply will not cut it.

You ALWAYS need to include a visual element in your social media posts. Furthermore, it needs to be eye-catching and of high-quality. Read more on this here where I discuss 7 DIY tips to enhance your social media images.

Now, we need to talk about video. If a picture tells a thousand words then a video tells a thousand pictures. Motion catches the eye like nothing else. As consumers we are getting more and more used to receiving content this way so your brand needs to keep up. Your videos don’t need to be Hollywood productions. Just make sure they are clear and that they fit with your brand!   

Fail to Prepare – Prepare to Fail


This was another one of Mr. O’Connor’s favourite sayings, and he used it interchangeably with the tongue twister: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”.

 I want to end this post by talking about planning. I haven’t included Failing to Plan as one of my key points, because it’s implicit in all of the social media mistakes I’ve discussed. There’s plenty of occasion for reactive and spur of the moment social media posting. This is, after all, the original premise of Instagram. However, and this is a big however, approaching social media for business as a purely ad-hoc and sporadic exercise will do you no favours.  

Best practice is to design and plan your social media calendar. This should feed off your businesses wider content strategy and the insights you yield from analysing your social media analytics.

There are tons of dates and events that we can be proactive about scheduling posts for rather than reactive. Take St. Patrick’s Day. If leveraging this event fits with your brand identity then why not plan for it in advance. Thinking ahead about your content will give you time to produce something of really high quality, rather than panicking on the day to put something out.

Setting time aside to strategise and populate your social media calendar will save you heaps of time in the long run and will help your business be more consistent and engaging on social media.  

Let’s get social!

Now you know what to do and more importantly what not to do it’s time for your business to get social 🙂

Feel free to follow me on Twitter or on CONKER’S social media – Twitter, Facebook, Linked in – and let me know who you are so I can share the love back.

Sinead Gillett

Creative Director

Why Content Creation Should be A Company Wide Culture – And Not Just The Responsibility of Your Marketing Team

Why Content Creation Should be A Company Wide Culture – And Not Just The Responsibility of Your Marketing Team

Culture of Content in your company

Content creation should be a company culture, not just the responsibility of your marketing team. 

Understanding this will separate your content marketing efforts from the pack. And if you’ve tried blogging or producing other types of content in the past as part of your inbound marketing strategy with little effect then this could be the turning point your company needs.

But – and without sounding like a game show host here – that’s not all folks! Because nurturing a culture of content in organisation has a ripple-effect of benefits that extends way past the impact it will have on your inbound marketing strategy.

In this article I’ll share the key reasons why content creation should be part of your organisation’s culture and not just a sub-section of the marketing department. You may be surprised to learn just how far-reaching the benefits of nurturing a culture of content can be.

Benefits of a Company-Wide Content Culture to your Inbound Marketing Strategy

Before we go any further let’s briefly recap on what content marketing is and where it fits with inbound marketing.

 

Content marketing is about teaching your customers rather than directly selling to them. Demonstrating your company’s expertise,and willingness to share this information, builds trust in your potential customers. This, in turn, makes them far more likely to buy from you.

Content Marketing Magnet

It’s worthwhile thinking about content as a magnet that attracts customers to your website. For the magnet to work your content must have good SEO. But, most of all, it must be of real value to the customer.

Inbound marketing provides the structure, processes and conversion points necessary to turn your audience members into your customers.

I like to think of it like the human body. Content is the heart and lifeblood, whereas Inbound is the skeleton that holds everything together.

So how does getting everyone in your organisation involved in producing content benefit your company’s inbound marketing strategy?

More Content = More Leads

This is a blatantly obvious benefit of getting all your employees involved in creating content for your company. So, I’ll waste few words on this and go with some simple maths before moving on.

More people producing content = more content = more SEO & promotional opportunities = greater traffic to your website = more scope to convert them into customers = more customers

More Employees producing content = more leads

Leverages expert insights and knowledge

The central idea behind content marketing is to answer the questions your customers are searching for and help them to resolve problems relating to your business area.

But who in your organisation is likely to have the most in depth understanding and knowledge of your industry?

Chances are it’s not always going to be the marketing person/department. Therefore, why should they alone be tasked with the responsibility of content creation when the key objective is to share expert knowledge and teach customers?

Front line staff such as customer service representatives and sales agents will be the most in tune with problems and challenges that customers face. Conversely, those working in research and development may be primed to advise on the future of the industry, what customers can expect down the line and how they might prepare for change.

Employees working in the operations side of the business often have the sharpest understanding of the industry. They should therefore be looked on as valuable vessels of information and expertise i.e. the perfect candidates for producing quality content for your brand.

Authenticity

It’s common for companies to outsource content creation in its entirety to industry agnostic content specialists. Certainly I agree with bringing content experts on board to help strategise and structure your content marketing efforts.

I strongly believe, however, that brand content should be a natural resource.  Content should come from within – even if it goes through the marketing department or a content agency for a final bit of sprucing at the end.

Mining content from within your organisation will result in higher quality, hyper-relevant and truly valuable content. What’s more, it will be a clearer and more honest representation of your brand.         

Benefits of a Company-Wide Content Culture Beyond Marketing Objectives

 

Enhances Employee Understanding & Industry Knowledge

Writing content is a bit like school (although I wouldn’t necessarily sell it to your employees that way!).  What I mean by this is that the process of producing a piece of content is educational. It enhances one’s own understanding of the subject matter.

Tasking employees to research a particular topic and/or structure a piece of content that clearly explains that topic to your customers will therefore benefit the employee as much as the reader.

Creating content is an excellent way for staff members to see things from your customers’ perspective and to think about your industry as a bigger picture. They’ll keep up to date with industry trends and the impact these have on customer needs.

Better still, employees who produce content learn to communicate more effectively about their area of expertise. This, of course, is advantageous for both in-house and external communications.

Creating Content Makes better trainers of your employees

Following on from the educational advantage we’ve just discussed, creating content makes teachers of your employees as much as it does students. In fact, it’s probably best to lead with the teacher rather than the student angle when pitching content culture to your organisation!

Breaking topics down into clear, digestible content helps employees be better trainers, while simultaneously producing content that can be used for employee training! Two birds, one stone – or three even if you count the fact that the content also contributes to inbound marketing.

Creating Content can lead to innovation

As we’ve already discussed, creating content is all about helping customers to understand your industry, overcome challenges and make decisions. If a particular problem is highlighted that you can’t answer or has no adequate solution then maybe this is an area your company could address and take the lead on?

Drives Employee engagement and loyalty with your brand

Giving your employees an active role as brand storytellers demonstrates that you trust and value their expertise. This respect for your employees will be returned in spades when it comes to employee loyalty and (hopefully) retention.

Employees who act as brand storytellers will feel more invested in your company, listened to and valued.

 

So, What’s Next?

As we’ve seen, embracing content creation as a company-wide culture will have positive reverberations for your company far beyond those measured by your marketing team.

But what if no one in the organisation is a good writer? Or what if people feel they don’t have time to contribute? These are common objections to company-wide content policies.

Wanting to create a culture of content in your organisation and actually creating one are two totally different stories! So, I’m putring together a guide to help nurture a culture of content in your organisation. If you would like a copy pleas sign-up to our newsletter below and you will get the first look publication!

In the meantime please feel free to leave comment, advice or questions to be addressed in the guide in the box below.

Thank you!

Sinead Gillett

Creative Director

How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry in 2018

How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry in 2018

Thought Leader Being a thought leader in your industry is very good for business. And I mean very very good, because who doesn’t want to buy off or work with a known expert?

In 2018 the days of hiding behind your brand are well and truly over. The reality for business owners and professionals is that YOU are your brand. Your reputation has a direct impact on your business. So, keep a low profile and reap no rewards. Or, establish your reputation as a thought leader in your industry and stand by for doors to open!

Of course, becoming a thought leader is far easier said than done! It takes time, effort and determination. It certainly won’t happen overnight and there is no guarantee of success.

That said, there are some colour-by-number actions you can take to help get you on the right path. In this article I’m going to share 10 steps to help you build your reputation as a thought leader in your industry. You’ll learn what it really means to ‘get yourself out there’ and be ready to start building your thought leadership profile today!

Let’s dive straight in!

1. Understand what a Thought Leader is and What Your Thought Leadership slant is!

This may seem like an obvious first point, but it’s important to clarify what a thought leader in business actually is.

A thought leader is someone who drives innovation and new ideas in their given industry. They are experts in their area. They’re highly respected, connected and valued. Being a thought leader is about sharing your ideas and your unique professional opinion of your industry… so what’s yours?

It’s crucial to understand that thought leadership should be relatively narrow in focus. You may very well be a Jack of all trades when it comes to the day to day application of your job, but if you want to be a thought leader you’re better off being the master of one!

If your subject area is too broad then it’s hard to make waves. Think about your specialist subject. What area of your business do you know inside out and what area are you most passionate about? Can you identify any knowledge gaps where your expertise would be welcomed? Use your unique expertise to become an authority in that area rather than a generalist in all.

Now that you know your niche, think about who you would like to be a thought leader for. Is it your fellow industry peers, or is it customers? Who are they and what will they look to you for? Knowing your audience persona will help you to fine tune your message.

2. Own up to your brand!

As I mentioned above, YOU are your brand. You therefore need to treat your personal professional profile with the same care you show to the brand identity of your business or employer. That means consistency in brand rules and messaging.

Don’t be overwhelmed by this! It’s just a matter of getting all your ducks in a row. And make sure that your professional social media channels are singing off the same song sheet. For example, if you are positioning yourself as a thought leader in the area of Robo-journalism on Twitter or on a dedicated blog then this should be reflected on your LinkedIn profile.

All your professional accounts should be up to date and to generally tell the same story about you. Share content in and around your area of expertise, stay on message and pay close attention to detail. And please, please make sure you use a high quality professional profile picture of yourself! It speaks volumes about who you and your brand are. I recently got some expert tips on how to get your business profile photo right from professional profile expert Joseph McGuire. Check out this article if you want to learn more.

3. Blog, blog, blog

Producing quality content is crucial to thought leadership. A blog provides the perfect space for you to self-publish material for your audience.

If you haven’t already started a blog then find a time machine and go back a few years and do it. If that isn’t feasible for you right now then start today instead.

The golden rule of blogging is to consistently give value. Post at least once a week and make sure your content is exceptional. You really need to put in the work at the initial blog stage and it’s crucial you maintain it as you move on to other thought leadership steps.

Think of blogging as a brand investment. The more posts you have the better. Realistically you won’t be taken very seriously until you have a catalogue of at least 30 posts. This content defines who you are as a thought leader so remember to never compromise on quality and don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through.

4. Join in the Conversation on Social

Being active on social media is an absolute must for thought leaders. You don’t have to be on all social media channels, just the ones your audience choose, be it Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest or another. But you do need to have a LinkedIn presence. Even if you don’t see the value in it right now you will in time.

You’ll use social media as a key distribution point for your content. But do not stop there. Social networking is far more than just sharing your content. You need to join in the conversation.

Communicating on social media is not a one-way flow, so engage with your audience and other industry figures and influencers by joining in and contributing to discussions and asking or answering questions.

Share other people’s content if it is relevant to your audience and ties in with your general stance. This shows your followers that you are thinking of them beyond the goal of merely plugging your own stuff. Moreover, it will put you in the good books of other influencers. Chances are, in time, they may share your content to their followers. At the very least it puts you on their radar.

5. Network

Never underestimate the power of face to face networking. For sure, we live in a digital world where social media dominates our lives. But trust me, the relationships that you build in person are far stronger and long-lasting.

That’s not to say that initial contact can’t be made through online social networks. Likewise one outcome of face to face networking will be to connect and cross-promote on social. But face-time gives you a much greater opportunity to impress yourself on people and learn more about what other people do. In-person conversations are deeper and more meaningful than online only interactions. Attend industry events and consider joining a dedicated networking organisation — the more the merrier.

Networking can help you to make sales for your business. But this shouldn’t be front and centre in your mind when you attend industry and networking events. It’s more of a long term strategy to build your connections and grow your community.

You’ll encounter far more people who will never be your customers than you will real sales leads. But don’t just walk away from these non-prospects because the truth is — they could hold even more value for you than a quick deal.

Treat every networking contact as someone who could potentially refer you to one of their contacts. Moreover, think about ways the people you meet could help you to advance your thought leadership profile.

Could they offer you any potential opportunities to guest blog or to speak at an industry event? These of course are the next two steps in your thought leadership journey that I’m going to address. Segway alert!

6. Guest blog

Guest blogging is a great way to reach new audiences and to get good quality back links to your own website, which is great for SEO.

Writing on someone else’s blog is a valuable opportunity to find new audience members for your own. If their audience like your article they’ll click on your web link to see what else you’ve got up your sleeve. Here’s where it’s important to have a decent catalogue of original content behind you so that newbies arriving to your site have plenty to keep them there!

Flipping guest posting on its head, you should also consider hosting guest posts on your own blog. Invite other influencers to write a relevant article for your audience. Like you, they’ll be happy for the opportunity to reach new people. They’ll share links to their article on your site on their own social media pages which will send their followers over to you. All going well a few of them will hang around to become your followers too.

7. Speak at Events

The very second someone stands on stage to give a speech or a presentation we slack them a bit of respect for being an authority on what they’re speaking about. Now, we can take these kudos away pretty quick if their presentation doesn’t hit the mark, but the point is that speaking at an event provides a major opportunity to raise your profile as a thought leader.

It doesn’t matter how small these events are to start with. Just say yes. If it goes well you may be asked back or indeed a member of the audience might peg you for another.

So how do you make it go well? Simple: Know your stuff, put effort into preparing for the event and be engaging. Many people find public speaking difficult at first. But don’t just give up by yielding the excuse “I’m just not a good public speaker”. To be frank, that’s a cop out.

Everyone can improve their public speaking techniques (and courage) if they work on it. There is lots of help out there including brilliant training programmes like Toastmasters, where everyone is in the same boat. If you see real value in developing your profile as a thought leader then fine tuning your presentation skills will be a huge asset to you.

As for getting the gig in the first place, if you’ve scoured the land for opportunities and been turned away from the inn more times than you like to remember then there’s only one thing for it: Host an event of your own.

Again this doesn’t have to be a big affair. Organise a lunchtime talk in your co-working office or an information evening in your local community hall. You could even find a complimentary speaker and host a joint event. Make the theme timely and relevant and pitch the event to guests in terms of what it will do for them (not you!).

8. Produce Premium Content

Premium content is generally long-form and extremely high value. This is content that people may pay for, even if it is just with their contact details.

Premium content could be extensive guides, annual industry reports, white papers, industry surveys, research or webinars. Hosting a regular podcast is a great way to set yourself up as a gatekeeper of industry knowledge. You can invite other influencers on to be interviewed thereby promoting them as thought leaders while simultaneously promoting you and your podcast.

The single best way to assert your profile as an authority in your area is one of the oldest tricks in the book. In fact, it is a book! Writing a book is the perfect way to demonstrate your expertise. There’s a lot of work involved but it will pay off in time. Plus you’ll be a published author which is pretty damn cool!

9. Give your time for free

A sure sign that your thought leadership status is on the up is the holy grail potential that you’ll be paid to take part in events. Happy flippin’ days! But don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not a Rockstar!

Just because your (thought leadership) star is rising it does not mean that your price follows accordingly. You’ll still be asked to speak for free, most likely more than ever. It’s a good idea not to turn all of these opportunities down, because they are, after all, sill opportunities to build your profile.

Leaving aside the purely humanitarian objectives for helping out a charity, giving your time for free to help out a good cause does no harm at all for your public profile. Speaking at universities gives you credibility, speaking to students at lower levels shows you care. And being asked to judge, consult or to mentor is flattering and again solidifies your status as an authority. Curate these opportunities wisely.

10. Finally, be BOLD and Pitch

I’m going to end this article by reaffirming what I said in step 1 — understand your role as a thought leader. Remember that you are a driver of innovation and new ideas. You don’t have to hammer the same points home until you die. It’s ok to grow, adjust viewpoints and take on new passions. But take your audience on this journey with you by sharing these new ideas and provoking discussion and debate.

Don’t be a sheep, be a shepherd. Be bold and above all else, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Just say it as you see it. And since you are well able to ‘get yourself out there’ it’s time to be bolder than ever — and that means PITCH!

Quit waiting around for opportunities and start creating them. Say you want to get on TV, or maybe by now you’ve set your sights on a newspaper column, then take the bull by the horns and pitch to the right people. The very worst thing that can happen is that you get turned down. Even if this happens, at least now they know who you are.

Get yourself out there

Now that you’ve got a very rough blueprint to work off it’s time to start getting yourself out there. After reading this article you’ll know yourself what step you’re at. Now it’s time to take another!

If you have any questions on this subject or would like to share some advice of your own please feel free to leave a comment below.

 

*This article was first published by Sinead Gillett on the Iconic Offices Blog.

Once Upon a Time in Business: 5 Essential Business Storytelling Techniques

Once Upon a Time in Business: 5 Essential Business Storytelling Techniques

Businessman giving a presentation looking very uncomfortable

Once upon a time in an office near you a young businessman came to deliver a message. He had a wonderful idea to share. Alas, so dense with facts and statistical information was his presentation that he sent his audience into a deep sleep that would last for 100 years. The only way he could break this spell was to tell a good story.

“If only there was an article with storytelling tips for business presentations that could help me” the young man cried in despair. With that, a great flash of light struck his laptop screen and there before his eyes appeared this article.

“Mercy” he rejoiced as he feasted his eyes on the title ‘5 Storytelling Tips for Business’. “If I read this I could break the spell and fulfil the quest to deliver my message”.  And so he set his eyes upon the text and began.

a fairygodmother of storytelling points her wand at the businessman's laptoo

Why is storytelling so important in business?

There’s nothing better than a good old story. Indeed, no country appreciates this more than Ireland, where we have an historical talent for spinning yarns. Just take a seat in a Dublin pub and listen.

But what happens when we go into the board room or stand up to deliver a team presentation, a product pitch or a key note speech? For many people the instinct is to park their stories at the door. They hedge their bets instead by rattling off data and telling their audience what they need to know.

Here’s the thing: Facts alone are boring.

Storytelling is crucial in business because business is about people and people need stories. Academics have found that our brains are hardwired to process and store information in the form of stories. So, when we hear a story trigger such as “A long time ago in a far away land there was such and such a character with such and such a problem…..” our minds immediately attach to this imaginary scene and prepare to absorb and organise information as story.

Stories are, in fact, irresistible to the human mind! According to professional speaker Akash Karia this is because they stimulate our imaginations, giving us no choice but to follow the mental visualisations that spring to life in our heads. As a result, stories offer a powerful way for us to learn and communicate.

You can tell a child not to make a habit of lying because then no one will ever believe them when they’re telling the truth.  Alternatively, you can frighten the bejesus out of them with the tale of Peter and the Wolf. Which do you thick is a more effective lesson?

A well told story will stick in our memories far longer than any fact or figures or lessons. But we do need this type of information in business, so we need creative and effective ways of transmitting this information. That’s where stories come in. Think of a story as the secret sauce that brings ingredient information together into an easy to digest sandwich!

Storytelling, Marketing & Brand  

Stories are all about showing, not telling.

This communication strategy has not been lost on marketeers who have long strived to leverage the power of story telling to build brands. Look at Airbnb or Nike or Lego for excellent examples of brand storytelling by large corporations.

There are many different types of stories and ways to tell them in business – from product inventions and innovations to entrepreneurial feats, stories about customers, workers, ambassadors, cultural trends and movements. All of these stories can combine to form the overall story of your brand.

The kind of stories you want to share will depend on your personal and business brand and the messages you want to convey. However, there are some common elements and techniques that we can all use when constructing our messages to help leverage the power of storytelling in business to best effect.

The key focus in this article is on verbal storytelling – using stories in front of a business audience as part of a presentation or speech. I’m going to share 5 Storytelling Tips for Business that will make you and your brand more interesting, memorable and engaging. And hopefully there’s enough here to help the novice businessman reverse the spell of the 100 year slumber he cast upon his audience.

1. Plan your take-away message from the outset 

There’s no point telling a story for story’s sake – that’s just waffling. Stories are used in business presentations as vehicles for information and messages, so it is necessary to understand what point you want to make in advance of crafting a story.

The gravity of your message will of course depend on the circumstances of your presentation. If it’s a keynote speech at a large industry conference then you may need to convey the defining vision and ethos of your company, for example ‘celebrating individuality; or a ‘commitment to transparent factory processes in support of workers rights’.  Perhaps you are speaking at a recruitment fair and you want to send a message that your company is a fun place to work or actively engaged in addressing gender imbalances in your particular industry. Taking it in-house you may simply be pitching a new process to your co-workers that you feel would increase productivity.

There are suitable stories for every occasion and for every audience from employees to investors, partners and customers. However, you must be sure of the take-away message you wish to achieve. Start with this and then plan your story delivery around it. This will help you to laser focus your story and cut away what’s not required.

2. Understand the 4 Cs of Storytelling for Business

There’s lots of mention of the C’s in storytelling theory. The exact number of C’s there are – or should be – differs from critic to critic and from genre to genre be it children’s storybooks or science fiction or literature.

When it comes to business storytelling my opinion is that there are 4 key components that every story should have – Character, Conflict, Context, Conclusion.

For a sprinkling of flavour on top of these we could also throw on Contrast, Curiosity, Climax and Conversation.

But for now it’s enough to highlight the key elements. Let’s take a look.

Characters

There are no stories without characters. Make sure people are at the very centre of your story. Everything else, such as data, money, environmental or infrastructural elements, are part of the character’s world and not the other way round.

Conflict

If there is no conflict in a story then it’s not a story worth telling. Can you think of a film, for example,  with this plot: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl live happily ever after? No, and rightly so because it would make for tremendously dull viewing.

A business version of this would be something like. “I studied business in college. When I finished I set up a business and ran it successfully until I retired”. Now, this might sound like music to the ears of a parent perhaps, but who’d want to go to a motivational seminar with that kind of content?

The truth is that we like to hear about challenges and how they were overcome, not about perfect heroes. It’s the reason why the world’s best known business leaders spend more time talking about their failures than their successes. It’s far more interesting.

Context

Stories don’t just happen in a vacuum. They belong to a particular place and time. Context therefore helps to ground a story. Social, economic, cultural, political, geographical, linguistic, environmental and historical contexts can each bring new meaning and relevance to a story, and it’s here where our stories begin to gain their depth.

Refer to the contextual elements that shape the story you’re telling. But be careful. You only need to outline contexts that are directly relevant to the story.

Conclusion 

What happens at the end? How did it work out for the main character? Were they successful or unsuccessful?

Regardless of whether it is ‘happy ever after’ or otherwise, every story needs an ending. In other words, we must resolve the conflict we established at the heart of the story.

Often enough it is the conclusion of the story where our main point will be made. It’s the punchline, the moral, the message, the take-away.

3. Think about story structure

Now that you’ve decided your take-away message and the story you’re going to tell it’s time to think about how you’re going to tell it. That means it’s time to think about structure.

If you want to deliver a memorable story to your business audience you must consider how to shape your storytelling.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. And likewise, there are lots of different ways to tell a story. The classic narrative we’re all familiar with from essay writing 101 in school is ‘Beginning, Middle, End’ – and certainly chronological stories have their place.

However, if you’re going to use stories as a communication tool with any degree of frequency then you should  have a few more story structures up your sleeve.

Fortunately we don’t have to come up with these all on our own. There are lots of made to measure story structures out there that we can test out and play around with.

Here are three of the simplest business storytelling formulas to get you started.

Opening and Closing the Curiosity Gap

Opening with a question provokes interest in the audience because it stimulates curiosity.

“How did a small family owned bakery in rural France become the world’s largest distributor of bread?”

This is called an ‘inciting incident’. Tapping into curiosity will have the audience hanging on your every word for the rest of your story because curiosity must be satisfied!

S.H.A.R.ES. 

This stands for: Setting, Hindrance, Action, Results, Evaluation, and Suggested Actions. It’s self-explanatory and very easy to implement

Follow the Why

Following the why is a great way of leading an audience through different layers of a story and to the final resolution Call to Action.

Start with a problem and follow it with the question why? Then follow the answer with why, and the next answer with why? Eventually you will get to the answer to the problem – what are we going to do about it/how can we fix it!

4. Play on Emotions

A sure fire way to engage your audience is to emphasise the emotional swings in a story.

After you’ve chosen a story structure and reorganised your content to fit the formula try to find ways to bring opposing emotions into play.

For example, if a story follows the SHARES structure, could you emphasise differing emotions in the Hindrance and the Action sections, or maybe in the Hindrance and the Result pieces? Contrasting emotions highlight the twists and turns of your story in the most evocative and memorable way.

One way to evoke emotion is to coax your audience to empathise with your character. Ask, for example “can you imagine how he must have felt?”.

Another method is to employ vivid language such as metaphors and idioms that have emotional associations. Here’s some examples:

  • Over the Moon
  • On cloud nine
  • As happy as Larry
  • hopping mad
  • Seeing red
  • Like a bull
  • Heartbroken
  • Down in the dumps

5. Evoke VAK – Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic Modalities

Stimulating the senses sucks your audience into a story faster than almost anything else. Flavour your story by describing what you or a character could see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

This technique is often used by psychologists and therapists. When the mind begins to imagine and think through emotional and sensory experiences, parts of the brain light up as if they’re actually happening.

Using these cues by describing the smell when you walked inside a factory for the first time, or the adrenaline racing through your body when you first realised you had hit on an innovative idea, or the harrowing sounds of distressed dolphins you witnessed on an expedition, will immerse a person from passively listening to your story, to feeling like an active participant.

If you can stimulate this active state from your audience then you’re rocking it as a storyteller! Beware, however, of smothering your audience with too much detail as this will reverse the effect you want to achieve. 1-3 sensory details at a time is enough to arouse your audience, any more is overkill.

Happily Ever After for your business storytelling?

The tips we’ve examined here will help you to craft better stories for business presentations. The thing to remember is that we can all harness the power of storytelling. It’s about craft,not talent.

Storytelling is something that we can learn, practice and improve and not a God-given talent as some people like to think! If you don’t have that natural flair for storytelling then you can literally piece your stories together using structural formulas and component checklists such as those we’ve touched on in this article. It’s like colouring by numbers and before you know it the stories will get easier and easier to develop and deliver.

 

happy businessman riding away from the office with cheers and applauseSo, what of our young businessman?

His eyes raced like fish as he read the article and when he finished he jumped up and once again faced the slumbering audience.

He told them a simple story. They woke up and listened. At the end they understood his idea and what’s more – they loved it.  Message delivered, the businessman rode away on his bike to tremendous applause.

As you can probably tell I love a good story. If you have any experiences or tips around the topic of storytelling for business that you would like to share then please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment below.

The End 🙂

Sinead Gillett

Creative Director

What’s the Buzz with Inbound Marketing?  The 5 Big Differences Between Traditional and Inbound Marketing Models

What’s the Buzz with Inbound Marketing? The 5 Big Differences Between Traditional and Inbound Marketing Models

Inbound marketing is one of the biggest buzzwords in the marketing world at present. But just because we’ve heard the term before doesn’t mean we’ve taken it on board and know how to apply it to our businesses!  Sometimes the more noise there is the less we hear.

bees buzzing

From speaking with my clients I think the term Inbound Marketing is still drawing blanks for some business owners. In fact you could say their definition of Inbound marketing is more fuzzy than buzzy!  There’s a general understanding that ‘Inbound’ offers an alternative to traditional ‘Outbound’ marketing strategies and a vague sense that it’s something to do with the internet. But for many people that’s as far as it goes.

If this sounds like you then you’ve come to the right (non judgemental) place!  In this article I’m going back to basics to explain exactly what the difference is between Inbound Marketing and the Traditional ‘Outbound’ Marketing methodology.

Take a few minutes to read this article and you’ll be able to break through the fuzz and join in the buzz!

What is Traditional ‘Outbound’ Marketing?

Traditional outbound marketing is rooted in the sales advertising model. It’s all about sending messages to your customers by putting your brand right in front of them.

Think of the countless TV or magazine ads that promote an aspirational lifestyle by association with their product or service. Think about the old school sales pitch of a used car salesman on a radio ad. Think about the leaflet for your local Chinese take-away waiting for you on your doormat when you arrive home hungry and tired from work!

In 2017 we’re being bombarded with an average of 2,000 outbound sales messages per day!  From a business perspective this makes it harder and harder to compete. The sheer volume of communications out there means that people are less susceptible to advertising. They are even taking practical measures to block them from their path. For example, ‘No Junk Mail’ signs,  spam filters, Caller ID, Ad Blockers, Netflix to watch movies and shows uninterrupted by advertising.

Of course this doesn’t mean that people have stopped shopping and making brand affiliations!  There’s just a new trend in consumer patterns which harnesses the internet to shift the buyer journey into an inbound marketing model.

What is Inbound Marketing? 

The internet has created a search culture. Where previously we waited for goods and services to find us, we now take an active role in finding them.  We have specific questions we want answered and are willing to trawl through heaps of information before we make a buying decision.

Many businesses have come to recognise this trend and are optimising their online presence to attract rather than pursue customers.

Inbound marketing is the strategy of getting your business found.  It’s about attracting users to your website by providing relevant content that they find valuable and then converting them into leads and ultimately into customers.

‘Content marketing’ which is a buzzword in itself is a subcategory of Inbound marketing.  It teaches and helps customers to solve problems as a means of building a trustworthy brand reputation and prestige.  You will all be familiar with ‘How to…’ articles or ‘the Top 5…’ etc..  You might be thinking this very article fits the category of content marketing, and indeed you would be right.

Let’s look at some of the key differences between Inbound marketing and traditional marketing. Oh fancy that – there are 5!

The 5 Big Differences Between Traditional and Inbound Marketing
#1: If Outbound is Push, Inbound is Pull

Traditional marketing in the form of advertising is directly promotional. It’s telling customers why to buy your product or service.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, takes a softer approach. It’s about ‘selling less’. The idea is to build a reputation as a trustworthy brand in order to persuade customers to choose your product or service.

An effective Inbound Marketing technique would therefore be to provide content that helps consumers make the right purchasing decision for them without overtly promoting your own offering. Giving away useful and objective insights about your industry draws customers to your website and gains you a reputation as a credible brand and thought leader.

In this way it is useful to think of Inbound Marketing as a magnetic force and Outbound Marketing as a spray.

#2 :  Traditional Marketing is Brand-Focused, Inbound Marketing is Customer-Focused

In traditional marketing, advertising companies attempt to grab some mind space and sell regardless of whether the customer is ready to buy or not. The more often a brand is put in front of audiences the better. But just because we want a certain product doesn’t necessarily mean we can have it. We’ve all known that disappointment!

The point here is that even if n ad appeals to audiences they may not buy the product for the simple fact that they can’t afford it or just don’t need it. For example, If you’ve recently bought a fridge then you don’t need another and so on…

 

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on people who are actively seeking the products and services that you sell? In other words, connecting  with someone when they’re looking for a fridge rather than after they’ve bought one?

Inbound marketing is set up to cater for the buyer’s journey and is focused on the customer’s needs. The potential buyer only comes looking for information when they are ready to begin thinking about a purchase. Inbound marketeers can be clever about the content they supply by making sure to answer questions that cater to the various different stages a buyer will go through from initial product awareness to decision making.

Hubspot, who are largely responsible for coining the term “Inbound Marketing” and popularising the Inbound methodology distinguish 3 key stages of the buyer’s journey:

1. Awareness Stage: The buyer realises they have a problem.

2. Consideration Stage: The buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it.

3. Decision Stage: The buyer chooses a solution.

#3:. Traditional Marketing is Interruptive, Inbound Marketing is Supportive 

After a long day working in the office a young professional kicks back in her Dublin City Centre apartment to watch her favourite TV show.  Let’s say it’s House of Cards and OK let’s say it’s me! 🙂 The ad break interrupts her viewing with an ad promoting a new lawnmower that cuts mowing time in half. What’s wrong with this?

Well, firstly, it’s interruptive and catching me at a time when I’m not set up to make an active buying decision. Secondly, and most importantly, I have zero interest in lawnmowers because I don’t have a garden!

‘Spray & Pray’ advertising techniques need a lot of investment in order to reach enough potential customers. Granted, media purchasing can be targeted to certain audiences. Nevertheless you’ll still hit on a whole lot of people who simply don’t want or even need your product.

The Inbound marketing alternative here would be for the lawnmower company to host an online blog with helpful information about all things lawn mowing.  This will attract targeted customers with this specific interest and those searching to resolve lawn mowing problems.

Ta Da!  The target customer buzzes into the sales funnel all on their own accord. The lawnmower brand rather than pestering their customers with sales messages can shift its position to helping and educating their customers.

#4: Traditional Marketing has a One-way Flow of Communication, Inbound Marketing is a Conversation 

One of the most important aspects of the online marketing channel is the opportunity it provides to interact with potential customers. Crucially, rather than sending out a sales message and hoping it went down well, Online marketing allows businesses to open a conversation with their customers.  This serves both parties better.  Businesses can learn more about what their customers want. Conversely, customers have their say and therefore feel empowered.

A recent Forbes survey reports that 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks they’re more likely to become a loyal customer. Of the same group of people, only 1% said they would trust what a brand tells them in a commercial advertisement alone. Clearly people want to interact with a company and not just be sold a product or service.

#:. Quick Wins Versus Long-term Strategy

Traditional marketing tends to be campaign based and there is no denying the fact the results will be quicker. Inbound marketing is a long-term process that will take time to build momentum.  If you’re going to focus on giving customers valuable information through content marketing strategies then you need to think along the lines of slow and steady wins the race!

I like to think of it like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  You can read more about this concept in my article”why Content Marketing is a Tortoise in Disguise”.

Content Marketing Tprtpose versus the Pay Per Click Advertising Hare

Is Traditional Marketing over?

Definitely not!  Inbound marketing is a whole new way of doing business that works really well for certain businesses.  Traditional marketing still has a massive impact for others. However, what’s important is to know which model works best for your business or how to combine aspects of each model together to best effect.

Some products and services are all about impulsive consumer behaviours or self-imposed rule-breaking.  I’ll give you a personal example. I would probably never try and solve the problem of identifying the most sugar-packed double iced lemon curd donut in Dublin. On the contrary, I’d be more likely to search for something like ‘ways to beat sugar cravings’. Yet I might still fall prey to a poster in a donut shop window as I idle pass and decide to throw all caution to the sugar storm wind and buy/scoff a donut.

Equally, there are many brands whereby brand awareness and association are part of the sell. These brands need plenty of touchstones to stay top of the mind and so will combine traditional campaign style marketing with other digital strategies.

My advice for business owners then is to know your audience and what they want and need. Inbound marketing is the right fit for lots of businesses and it can make a major impact if done correctly.

I hope you’ve found this article useful and are coming out of it a lot less fuzzy about Inbound marketing than when you came in. If you have any questions or comments on this or related topics please feel free to leave a reply below.

Don’t forget to sign up to our Newsletter before you buzz off!

Sinead Gillett

Creative Director @ CONKER

5 Essential Steps in the Content Marketing Process

5 Essential Steps in the Content Marketing Process

The secret about content marketing is well and truly out! Companies big and small are turning to content as a means of attracting and nurturing customer relationships. But while content marketing brings many benefits it also takes time and energy to get right. So if I have one bit of advice for you starting out it is to make sure you understand and implement a content marketing process.

Having a clear content marketing process will help you to streamline your activities and optimise the resources you put into your content. In this slideshare you will learn what the 5 key stages of the content marketing process are and gain tips and advice on each step.

 

 

I hope you enjoyed learning about the content marketing process and that it will help your business to reach content marketing success.  Feel free to leave a reply or ask a question in the comment box below and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get more guides and insights.