Brand Building: It's Not Just for Mad Men Anymore

Back when we would willingly sit through seven-and-a-half minutes of commercials to watch 22-and-a-half minutes of Bosom Buddies, corporations spent literally billions of dollars on advertising to convince us to trust their brands.

Brand-building was strictly the purview of corporate America because it was prohibitively expensive. In order to reach lil ol’ you, advertisers had to blast their messages repeatedly to one of the demographic groups you belonged to. Target demographics, as defined by Madison Avenue, were massive chunks of the US population awkwardly grouped in the tens of millions by a handful of characteristics like gender, age, income, race, and geography.

It took a lot of money to make an impression on such enormous clusters of society. But there was no alternative. You needed clear and compelling communication in order to effectively build your brand. Today the opposite is true. Literally. You need a clear and compelling brand in order to communicate effectively.

A lesson in humanity ... from a robot

Machines have two primary functions: they perform the task they were built for or, failing that, they serve as emotionless objects through which we can vent our pent-up rage and frustration.

Who among us hasn’t wanted to go all Office Space on the company printer? We slam our car doors, punch parking meters, and throw our remotes against the wall. (You guys do that, right?) And we take out our aggression without a hint of remorse because these are victimless drubbings. We’re thrashing machines, not people.

As novelist Richard Price said, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.”

Candor-intuitive: 7 tips to help you become your authentic, imperfect self

If it isn't already abundantly clear, let me spell it out for you: it’s time to loosen the tie, unclench the fake smile and start being real. Here are seven simple things you can do right now to get back the authenticity you spent your entire career trying to hide:

The Hostage Negotiator’s Secret to Social Media Success

Which is more difficult: persuading a hostage-taker to free his hostages and turn himself in, or developing an online reputation as an engaging and influential expert in your given field? Ending the hostage situation, of course. It is exponentially more difficult. But as vastly different as those two situations are, they do have one thing in common: they both follow a three-step path to success. In fact, hostage negotiators can teach you everything you need to know about successful social media engagement.

The Behavioral Influence Three-step Stairway Model

 Behavioral Influence Stairway Model

Behavioral Influence Stairway Model

So how to negotiators build relationships with hostage takers? The process is simple but not easy.

The Behavioral Influence Stairway Model, which is an updated version of the model created by the  FBI’s Crisis  Negotiation Unit,  offers a great guide for establishing relationships online (and offline, too). It illustrates how active listening can help move you through the three stages of  relationship building: empathy, rapport, and influence.

Active listening

Active listening is not just the driver in creating relationships in hostage situations—it’s also crucial for social media success. So what does it entail?

It starts with understanding that you need to learn about the other person. Before you can connect, much less influence, another person, you’ve got to get a sense of who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. You can’t assume that they share, like, or even understand your opinions, beliefs, or worldviews. The reverse is also true.

Active listening includes a number of helpful tools for ascertaining these things, whether it’s from behind a barricade or behind a laptop. They include:

  • Asking open-ended questions. This can be as simple as changing “Are you happy it’s Friday?” to “How has the week treated you?” Open-ended questions, which can’t be answered with yes/no, give the other person a chance to share more information.
  • Paraphrasing. It’s a surprisingly powerful tactic on social media. Regardless of the platform, the ability to restate the gist of another’s argument is a great way to show understanding—for instance, paraphrasing the main thrust of another’s blog post before sharing a link to it.
  • Emotional labeling. Putting a name to another’s emotional state demonstrates understanding and, when done properly, can reduce the intensity of their emotion simply by providing a name for it.

For a more complete list of active listening tools (some of which aren’t appropriate for online communications), check out Eric Barker’s Time piece here.

Empathy

Ironically, the first sign that you are succeeding in your quest to use active listening to build a relationship is the emergence of empathy on your part. That’s right, the first step towards a relationship comes from you. Since you’re the one pursuing a relationship, it’s your job to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Empathy is the foundation for all relationships, especially new ones. Social media imposes some barriers to establishing it, since you don’t always see or hear the other person. When that’s the case, more has to be inferred from bios, past posts, etc., so do your homework.

Because empathy is what drives effective communication, connection, and change.

This is a great time to start offering help or advice for problems that you have learned about from your active listening.

Rapport

Built upon empathy, rapport is a sense of mutual understanding. In this stage, the other person is finally joining you in forming a relationship. Their understanding of your understanding (empathy) is the basis for this common ground.

And your empathy then gives insight into how to best communicate your opinions and goals. You have earned the right to be trusted because you’ve shown understanding of the other person’s point of view and hopefully helped that person solve a problem.

Influence

In this context, influence “is the act or power of producing an effect without apparent force or direct authority.” This, for most people, is the goal of social media interaction: to cause behavioral change through the respect and connection that others feel for them.

And it’s tempting, when you reach this stage, to view your job as done. Wrong. If you don’t maintain a constant—though perhaps reduced—flow of empathy and attitude of active listening, you’ll soon find yourself back at the beginning.

If at any point the progression stalls—or if you screw up and start “falling down the stairs”—go back to the previous step.

As you can see from this model, establishing influential relationships takes time and effort. And while you will have it easier than hostage negotiators, it makes sense to focus on a relatively few people at a time when seeking to expand your circle of influence on social media.

Say what? How social media platforms affect what you say ... and how you say it.

 "Save it for the judge, kid."

"Save it for the judge, kid."

You already know that your audience influences what you say and how you say it when you’re telling a story. (That googly-eyed baby talk that entertains your girlfriend will get you tazed if you use it on a cop.)

But did you know that where you tell your story is just as important as whom* you’re telling it to?** Think about how the following venues affect what you say and how you say it:

VENUE: Your favorite noisy pub

APPROACH: Loud, off-color comments that you practically spit in your friend’s ear.

VENUE: Sunday Mass

APPROACH: Fidgety whispering about how bored you are, accompanied by crude illustrations drawn with those bowling-alley pencils on the back of the church bulletin.

VENUE: Elevator

APPROACH: Vapid comments about the weather directed to the top of your shoes.

VENUE: Men’s room

APPROACH: There is no approach. The first rule of “Men’s Room” is you DO NOT talk in the men’s room.

The same is true with social media venues. You wouldn’t post a video of a shark-cat riding a Roomba on LinkedIn would you? Of course not. Different venues require different approaches.

To help you navigate the rocky waters of social-media etiquette, the good folks at My Clever Agency created an infographic to help you “Create The Perfect Pinterest, Google+, Facebook & Twitter posts.”***

Check it out.

*Full disclosure: I don’t often use “whom,” even when I know I should. Just as I don’t say, “It is I,” when asked “who is it?” But my sister-in-law occasionally reads these posts, and she’s a stickler for proper grammar, so I figured I’d go all highfalutin for her this one time.

**But don't come after me for ending a sentence with a preposition.

***Relax. It's a quote. They capitalize, I capitalize.

#OptIn to the remarkable communications lessons from REI’s #OptOutside

I’m sure you’ve seen the REI commercials urging people to #OptOutside on Black Friday. If not, you can view one of them here.

In a digital world full of retailers already pitching (and holding) Black Friday sales, REI’s campaign to unsubscribe from the consumerist madness is remarkable. Compelling. And backed by action. 

It’s a beautiful piece of messaging. The REI commercial utilizes six great communications lessons:


1)    Use a real person in a position of authority: This piece uses REI’s CEO, Jerry Stritzke, as the face and voice of the company. Having a real person in an obvious position of power lends authenticity and reality to the message. Imagine if they had used an actor or a spokesperson instead. Not nearly as powerful.
2)    Have a clear statement of values: REI clearly communicates that “We love the outdoors, we care about our employees, and we put our values before profit.” Simple and powerful.
3)    Harness popular sentiment: People are increasingly offended at the insensitive hours retailers are demanding of their employees on Black Friday (and even Thanksgiving), and this move dramatically positions REI as opposing the “corporate greed” mentality.
4)    Understand your audience: REI appeals to outdoorspeople, who are digitally savvy (and are therefore more likely to order online rather than shop in person, especially on Black Friday) and who pride themselves on individualism and living their values.
5)    Differentiate your brand: Giving up on the revenue from one of the largest shopping days of the year is a powerful indicator of sincerity. As a co-op, it’s in the enviable position of being able to make this bold move while reaping internal and external benefits. 
6)    Have a clear call to action for your community: If you share these values, they urge you to “Join Us!” and use the #OptOutside hashtag. On their website, you can enter your zip code to find outdoor activities to do instead of shopping. And of course, if you’re out hiking … well, you’re not shopping at any of their competitors.

It’s a marvelous example of how a brand can live its values internally and externally, motivating a like-minded community, and (I hope) end up benefiting financially from their ingenuity.

What was your reaction to the commercials?