Strategy starts with being able to tell a good story

In a conversation last week, I made the comment without thinking that:

Strategy is built on marketing and stories; tactics is built on actions and deliverables.

Since then, the thought keeps popping back in my head. I’ve talked a lot about being able to tell stories before as it’s a concept I really believe in. Stories have protagonists and antagonists. They have plots and climaxes. They allow people to use their imagination and see the end result in a way that facts and figures can’t do.

Marketing is just taking the ability to tell a story and using it to get people to do the thing you are pushing for. Good marketers put their ideas into a frame that allows the person across from them to really see themselves in the proposed future state and happier than they are now.

Most strategy is predicated on getting someone in leadership to buy into your picture of the future. If they allow you to do thing 1, 2 and 3 then they get outcome 1, 2 and 3 which are good for them for reasons a, b and c. The formula has been around for millennia. Putting it into action still requires skill and expertise.

The best strategists are often the people that are the worst with numbers. Anyone who relies on numbers to sell their vision is trying to use a crutch to get out of telling a compelling story. Stats should be part of a good story, but most people get turned off by numbers. It’s commonly known that a good statistician can find numbers to support any argument they want to make.

Learn to tell stories. Focus on telling stories. If you can’t sell your strategy without the numbers, you probably don’t have the right solution yet. The numbers should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.


Just because you have a lot of technology does not make you a tech company

I love when companies decide to pretend their marketing claims are real. Recently, I came back across several where companies that were leading a traditional industry decided to say the equivalent of “We’re not a [pick an industry] company, we’re a technology company.” I have to hold back my laughter every time.

Let’s start off by acknowledging that no large company can succeed without investing in technology. That includes the traditional day-to-day, do-your-work technology that every needs but also includes the specialty stuff that you need to keep up with/ahead of your competitors. This is table stakes to being a leading company in any industry. There’s nothing special here.

Just because you put $100m into new or proprietary technology, you do not suddenly become a technology company. You are simply a company doing the smart thing and using technology as a differentiator. Unless 90% of your customer interactions are through your tech, take a deep breath and stop letting your marketing department run wild. 

Being a technology company is about more than just having a lot of money dumped into systems. It’s about living and breathing by those systems. It’s about your entire future being bet on the success of those systems. It’s about being aggressively invested into that technology being the future of your company. Only if you do that can you be a tech company. 

So please stop letting your marketing groups drive you to making silly claims.

Stop rebranding your update efforts as 2.0

When social media hit its stride a decade ago, the Web 2.0 term was coined and flew around like crazy. It was heady days when everyone thought the entire nature of how the internet was changing. The reality was far more mundane, new technologies added features and functionality but not much fundamentally changed. The real story from this was the rise of “2.0” to mean a revolutionary change.

Don’t get me wrong, web 2.0 wasn’t the first instance of 2.0 implying revolution. But largely before that, 2.0 was just an upgrade on 1.0 just like 4.0 was an upgrade on 3.0. It was simply a counter. Now, any company looking to show how much they are changing things up slaps a 2.0 on their processes and rolls out the PR bandwagons.

There are generally two types of products:

  • Products that receive notable updates and upgrades. This could include software applications and technology hardware. It’s easy to define and understand the upgrade cycle around these. Every year, cellphones get better and a new version can get an upgraded counter.
  • Products that receive incremental/ad hoc updates and upgrades. This includes most services, SaaS systems. Anything that a person does manually shouldn’t be branded 2.0. That manual process evolves over time and even big “advances” and “improvements” are just evolutionary. “Peggy” is still doing the job. SaaS systems push out their upgrades as they are available, there’s no next version. It simply is what it is.

Neither of these categories deserves a big branded 2.0. The first will have a 3.0 round in good time. The second should be including changes all the time of varying degrees, there’s no opportunity for a 2.0 dividing line.

Quit with the marketing gimmicks and just get the job done.

The worst thing that Microsoft ever did was introduce Calibri as the default font.

Warning, this particular post may seem nitpicky or unnecessary. However, I strongly believe that presentation matter and Calibri is not a font that puts the best professional foot forward. So with that…..

Fonts matter in what you do. It’s amazing how many documents I come across that are Calibri size 11 font. Every single one I read with an interpretation that it was simply thrown together with no editing and thought. Is it as bad as Comic Sans or Papyrus? No, but it feels like it gets closer every year.

By default, I use Arial size 10. It’s a classic, vanilla standard that works in almost all cases. Why do I care? Because a document’s appearance goes into how that document is perceived by readers. There’s a reason that Amazon took time to develop their own font for the Nook. There’s a reason that Google has an entire site dedicated to web fonts.

The little things matter almost as much as the big things. Taking a few seconds or minutes to think about your font takes almost no real time but can change the overall perception of the work.

Mastering the art of saying nothing in 1,000 words.

Marketing and corporate blogging are the gifts that keep on giving. If you want to see people who are great at sounding really smart but not actually saying anything of value, go check out corporate blogs that talk about Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, or any of your other favorite modern buzzwords. You’ll find that for the most part these blog posts are written because the company feels the need to be seen as a “leading expert” or ensuring they have appropriate mentions for the most popular search terms.

To someone who isn’t an expert in a subject, it’s easy for these buzzwords heavy, filler posts to look and sound great. Having a corporate blog filled with posts on topics that a potential client will come across is certainly a smart business move. But there are two types of these companies: 1) those that simply spout talking points to sound smart and 2) those actually trying to educate you.

I always fall into the education camp. There’s no value in writing that isn’t intended to inform. The best marketing in the world is where the company tries to educate first. Any company that seeks informed customers is usually one that has put the same level of intelligence into its solutions and products.

Which type of company would you prefer to purchase from?

Marketing is hard – but that is no reason to make it complicated.

It’s really, really hard to tell the story of your value.  It’s even harder to convince a stranger to you and your company to stop and listen to your message.  If you waste the time on words you will fail almost every time.  Words are too specific and too easily rejected as not being the right words.

Marketing is the art of convincing others to listen to your message and relate their situation to you in a way that convinces them to use you for a service or to buy your product.  If they can’t relate to your message they can’t be convinced.  Complicated is not something most people want to buy.  People buy to simplify their lives.  They buy to get something that they can’t do themselves but know needs to get done.  They buy to save themselves money.  These are simple ideas.

Fitting complicated concepts into the box needed for simple ideas to take hold is really, really hard.  But it can’t be done with lots of words.

How to win by getting people’s attention.

People have short attention spans.  Their attention span is even shorter when they see something they weren’t looking for (I’m looking at you 100% of in-browser advertising).  Winning attention is all about gaining recognition.  Your goal should be for people to organically realize you exist and what you do (whether you are an employee, sales person or corporate marketer).

Many times we try for the big win – a one-day training course, 15 five minute videos going into detail, a PPT training guide with 500 words per page.  None of these capture the imagination or catch attention.  They are too much, too big.  You have to earn their attention first, give them a reason to pay attention.  Hit them with 100 valuable tweets over a year – maybe they pay attention to 2 or 3 and remember you.  Give them a 5 year archive of blog posts – maybe they go through and read 20 in a day because something catches their eye.  Put your logo out there as sponsor of different events so that they see your interests are the same as theirs.

The little things matter more than the big things.  Anyone can write a one-time 5 page white paper on a bored Saturday.  Not everyone cares enough to show their daily interest on Twitter.  Not every company invests in promoting their ideas.  Not every employee puts themselves out there with new ideas.

Big events and productions come in after you have their attention.  But attention is hard to win and even harder to keep.  Are you willing to put in the work it takes?