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Events | The Business Conversation with guest Brent Stickels

Events | The Business Conversation with guest Brent Stickels

First, a special thanks to those who made this event possible: the organizer Garrio Harrison, Brent Stickels, and Don Ball.

I recently had the pleasure of listening to The Business Conversation with Brent Stickles and Don Ball. Brent is a Partner at YYES, a design company based out of Minneapolis. Don is the Chief Social Officer at Fueled Collective, a coworking space and social club in downtown Minneapolis.

“I am very low theory and very instinctual and more human than anything.”

– Brent Stickels

Brent had great advice for business owners and doesn’t subscribe to the belief that his organization can be better at everything than everyone else. I found this refreshing as this mindset helps business owners find balance and focus in their industry. YYES has been successful over the last 20 years because they know their strengths and play into them masterfully. Here are the top 10 lessons I learned from Brent and Don’s conversation.

  1. Trust your gut. If a concept doesn’t hit you in the gut it’s not worth anything.
  2. Develop empathy. The human and user experience are more important than anything for creatives.
  3. Let creative ideas sit. Brent said they have a saying in the studio “Is it still funny in the morning?” If something doesn’t last the day it’s better to move on.
  4. Find your strength. It’s not possible to be great at everything, so you should capitalize on what you’re good at.
  5. Be up front with prospects. Clarity will help both you and the prospect realize if you’re the right fit.
  6. Strategy over decoration. If you’re not designing based on strategy, you’re not swinging at a target — you’re just decorating.
  7. Let the client sell to themselves. When you get the client thinking it’s their idea, that’s the Jedi mind trick. They’ll be much happier with the outcome.
  8. CEOs don’t care about the details. As experts, it’s our job to educate and help them turn their idea into reality.
  9. Good ideas come from all over. Great creatives have a knack for listening and interpreting.  Brent shared how his walk in to work takes him past the Walker Art Center, and through the Minneapolis Scultpure Garden. This exposure helps him start every day full of inspiration.
  10. Be open-minded. Open yourself to be influenced by other industries and ideas. That’s when amazing creative work happens.

The Business Conversation is a fantastic event and I encourage business owner’s from all industries to attend. The ideas and inspiration won’t disappoint.

Sign up for the next conversation on the AIGA website.

How to create an insightful brand voice today that will supercharge your B2B brand The Content Reactor way

How to create an insightful brand voice today that will supercharge your B2B brand The Content Reactor way

“He will join us or die!”

“Do you feel lucky, punk?”

“Congratulations on your one cousin. I have seventy, each one better than the last!”

If I told you that Dwight, Darth Vader, and Clint Eastwood each said one of these quotes would you have trouble matching up the speaker to the quote. I doubt it, and I’m pretty sure that most people could get these right on the first try. Why is that?

In showbiz, it’s important to establish strong characters who are easily identifiable. This makes them more loveable, memorable, and relatable which ultimately increases profits for the networks. Can something from showbiz really help your B2B company?

Yes, it can. Creating a memorable brand is very similar to creating a strong TV character. You want people to easily recognize your brand, remember you even when they’re not in direct contact with one of your ads, and stay loyal because they love your brand. To do this effectively, you can create a brand voice to help your business stay in character.

In this article, we’ll talk about the ROI of creating a brand voice, how you can make one, and how to make sure your team gets the most out of it.

Increase leads by 97% with buyer persona research

Business owner conducting buyer persona research at the table

Messaging built on strong buyer persona research can have a profound effect on your ROI when done consistently and with the right voice. Study after study shows improvements in email marketing, web-traffic conversion rates, marketing-generated revenue, and site visit duration.

  • Skytap saw an increase of 97% in leads from online marketing.
  • NetProspex got a 171% increase in marketing-generated revenue.
  • HubSpot found that having buyer personas can increase a website’s effectiveness and ease of use by 2-5 times.

These examples clearly show the value of using a brand voice for your company. But, a brand voice can help in other ways too. It can help cut down on team confusion when creating sales and marketing materials, and ensure that communication between employees and customers is always building your brand. So, how can you get started?

Infuse your customers, employees, and leadership into your brand voice

To create a compelling brand voice, you need to get input from your customers, your company’s leadership, and your employees. This will help you create a voice that’s appealing to your customers and that your team believes in.

Customer data

You need to find out why your best customers are choosing you over the competition. Customer interviews are a great way to find out. What should you ask in these interviews? Start off by learning basic demographic information. The following points are the essence of what you want to learn in the customer interviews.

  • What were they looking for when they made their choice?
  • How did they look for solutions to their problem (blogs, friends, competitors, etc.)?
  • How did you solve the issues they were facing?
  • Is there something about your brand personality that stood out to them? Are there any specific qualities they were looking for in your company?
  • What do they like most about your offering?

It’s usually better to ask these questions subtly as you tend to get more honest answers than asking them directly. Below is an image you can save showing the types of questions we would ask when performing buyer persona interviews.

Sample questions you can use in a buyer persona interview

Depending on how long you’ve been in business and the size of your customer base, you may have other sources of customer data available to you. For example, you can also leverage analytics data and customer surveys. The more data you have will give you a better pulse on how your customers actually feel.

Get company leadership on the same page

To truly find your company’s voice you need to identify the core of your business. This includes things like company values, mission, roadmap, target market, and your competitors. We know it can be challenging, but you need to get leadership to commit to a day when your team can discuss and decide on all of these elements.

We like to use a method called a brand sprint to get this part done. This is a method developed by Jake Knapp from Google Ventures. Jake describes it this way: “The point of these exercises, it turns out, is to make the abstract idea of ‘our brand’ into something concrete.”

During this meeting, you’ll get all the elements you need from your team to create your brand voice. We like this method because we can get the right people in the room, have time constraints that limit the amount of distraction, and get the buy-in we need to move forward.

Input from employees

Your employees typically interact with customers more than your leadership. While it’s probably not possible to implement all of their feedback, you should still listen. This is especially true of input from your sales and customer service teams who have frequent interaction with customers. Look for trends among the input and weigh them accordingly. When you find recurring themes, it may be a sign that you need to incorporate them into your brand voice.

The four main components of your brand voice

1. Brand story

Woman typing out her brand story

Every great character has a brand story, and your brand should have one too. Now we’re not talking about your company history, but rather a story that clearly shows the purpose of what you do.

The brand story should describe who you are, the problem you solve, why you do it, and how customers benefit in a few concise paragraphs. This main messaging is instrumental in helping you persuade potential customers.

2. Buyer Personas

A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal client. The buyer persona should include demographics, information on how they shop, goals, roadblocks, and other helpful data. Whenever anyone on your team communicates with a customer, writes for your website, or creates sales and marketing materials they can write to your buyer personas.

Doing so will ensure that everything your team creates is always done with the customer in mind.

3. Brand avatar

The brand avatar represents your company. Creating this helps to humanize your company. Since it personifies your company, you’re able to use this resource to imagine how your company communicates, and the qualities that communication should embody.

4. Content Strategy + Guidelines

Finally, we get to the strategy that all this customer research makes possible. Because we have done the work of talking to customers, digging into analytics, and talking to our team, we now have the data we need to make a powerful strategy.

This strategy should include a content calendar that’s based on customer insights and SEO research. Together these help you target the keywords your customers are interested in and are attainable within your current website authority.

Within your content strategy, you should include guidelines for posting on social media. This will ensure that employees use your brand avatar when talking on the company’s social channels. This can have a profound effect on your success when marketing on social. But we’re not the only ones who think so.

“With all of the noise on social today, creating a unique brand voice is a crucial aspect of differentiating your brand. Think about how your brand voice on social helps further the connection you want to build with your community. Here at Sprout, we really focus on a social voice that embodies our values. For example, “Care Deeply” is one of our core values, and we demonstrate that by truly listening to each customer who reaches out, welcoming feedback and trying to foster a genuine connection with the people we encounter on social. “Seek Simplicity” is something we practice by responding on social in a way that’s both thoughtful and concise, reducing the number of interactions it takes to solve an issue and making the interactions we have more impactful.

On a practical level, every brand needs to articulate and document what its voice entails. This means developing guidelines and training your team on things like word choice, editing style, do’s and don’ts, and so on. From that foundation, anyone representing your brand on social can feel confident in developing creative content that’s always on-brand and furthering that voice in every social engagement.”

Rachael Samuels
Manager, Social Media – Sprout Social

Once you have the main parts of the brand voice created, you need to use it.

Using the brand voice

Just like any other marketing tool, your brand voice is useless if not implemented correctly. While your brand voice can help many different aspects of your business, there are three areas you should focus on to take advantage of your brand voice.

  • Web and marketing content. This includes your content marketing, web copy, branding, social media, and ads.
  • Client communication. Train your sales and marketing teams on how to use the brand voice in every interaction with your clients. This will ensure that every communication with your clients is consistent and brand building.
  • Client treatment. Your sales and marketing efforts are only as good as your service. If you don’t actively try to delight your customers, you’ll lose them.

These are the areas where it’s most important to use your brand voice. But, how can you help your team make the best use of this new tool? Here are four steps that will help.

1. Have them read it. Before training, they should read the entire brand voice. This will help them get a complete understanding of what the overall voice of your company will sound like.

2. Identify what parts of their job they will need to use the brand voice for. For example, the social media expert will need to refer to the social guidelines frequently, while employees who write for your blog will need to understand your buyer personas and their pain points.

3. Designate an expert on your team they can turn to for support. Someone on your team should be available to help answer questions about the company’s voice. This person should also be in charge of reviewing new material and ensuring it’s in line with the updated voice.

4. Check-in and identify problems with implementation. Your brand voice expert should check-in with the members of your team who contribute significantly to your company’s voice. Find out if they are having difficulties implementing, and what you can do to smooth out the process.

These steps will ensure that your team gets the training it needs and that everyone is on the same page. From there your voice will only get louder and more distinct.

A brand voice gives your communication the superpower of being super relevant.

Business superheroes facing storm.

47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.

–   (Demand Gen Report, 2016)

Practical topics are more likely to be shared and motivate web visitors to return. Creating a brand voice gives you an insiders look into what your customers want to see, and you can focus your content strategy on super relevant information. This will accelerate the results you get from your content marketing efforts and make you feel like you have a marketing superpower.

A brand voice will also help you treat customers like human beings. This isn’t only good for business; it’s the right thing to do. When you engage your audience, you’ll start turning one-time visitors into repeat customers and brand evangelists.

Are you tired of content marketing efforts that fail to build your brand? We can help you create a brand voice and give your brand superpowers. Send me an email, and we can chat over coffee (in-person or virtually).

[Infographic] Improve Your Website SEO with These…

[Infographic] Improve Your Website SEO with These…

To thrive in the ever-expanding online marketplace, we call the Internet; it takes more than just having a website. Bringing in traffic and website visitors requires you to know about effective SEO practices.

So, let’s get down to business!

The SEO Effect

According to marketers, SEO plays a huge role in their marketing strategies. It’s expected that SEO-related spending will reach $80 billion by 2020. Since 72% of marketers rate SEO as an effective method for generating leads and increasing web traffic, it’s definitely worth your time.

SEO has considerable influence on small businesses. Consumers tend to research companies and products online before making a purchase. 72% of people who search online visit local stores within 5 miles making a case for local SEO.

Turn to Google

Google is the leader when it comes to search engine traffic. They brought in 81% of global desktop search traffic, beating Bing, Baidu, and Yahoo. Their user base shows no signs of slowing down either as it’s up to 2.2 billion per month.

That’s 29% of the world’s population and a whole lot of opportunity. With that many people, competition is expected. So, how can your business stand out with so much competition?

Consider signing up for Google Analytics. Around 30 million active websites use this tool to optimize site traffic. National Geographic’s increase in engagement and CTR is an excellent example of how Google Analytics helped them achieve significant growth.

Don’t lose track of any Google Algorithm updates. A small change to the algorithm can change a lot. Case in point, voice searches increased to 10% of all searches after Google’s latest Algorithm update. The latest Panda update which focused on low-quality content sites affected 12% of search results.

Maximize Your Website’s SEO

Make mobile optimization a top priority. Smartphones are becoming a part of life, with half of the world’s smartphone users spending at least 5 hours a day interacting with them. 94% of mobile/tablet search traffic comes from Google. By searching on their phones, consumers discover new companies and products.

When users come across sites that aren’t properly optimized, about ⅔ leave immediately. So it’s essential that your website is mobile friendly and easy to access.

Google considers page speed extremely important, and in 2010 they announced it as a ranking factor for SERP. Reduce your website’s bounce rate by keeping your website’s load time to a minimum.

A 1-second delay could potentially cost you as much as 7% loss in conversion. For massive online businesses such as Amazon, it translates into a $1.6 billion loss.

Content is key to improving your website’s SEO, and it’s also the most difficult SEO tactic according to 48% of marketers. Long-form content can help improve your rankings. But, beware of keyword stuffing. Google’s algorithms are smarter than ever and will not promote low-quality content. Always remember to write with the reader in mind.

Finally, pay close attention to link building. 99.2% of all websites found in top search results have at least one external link to their site. More external links from unique websites will result in higher rankings.

55 Must-Know SEO Tricks for Small-Business Websites
Courtesy of: Milkwhale

Andre Oentoro, the author of this article, is one of the co-founders of Milkwhale, an internationally acknowledged infographic production agency. He helps businesses increase visibility on the internet with visual data and well-placed outreach campaigns. Read more on his latest guide to Viral Infographics and learn how to get the most value out of your website’s traffic.

Why Quality Content Beats Paid Ads

Why Quality Content Beats Paid Ads

In 2016 paid search ad spending reached $72.5 billion, and that number only continues to grow. This means there’s more competition for valuable keywords making it more expensive to run promotions and rank high on search engines. So if paid ads are your main marketing strategy be ready to drop some serious cash. But, what’s the alternative?

The alternative is creating high-quality content for your brand and promoting it strategically. Quality content is a marketing tool that can be used time and time again for your brand. Once created it doesn’t cost you anything to keep using and adapting it to other mediums is relatively low-cost. This makes it a smart strategy when thinking about your company’s future.

In this article, we’ll look at 3 reasons why you should be creating high-quality content. But, before we finish, we’ll talk about the usefulness of paid ads and why we shouldn’t throw them out altogether.

1. Quality content builds relationships

While paid ads are great for increasing your reach quickly it’s kind of like paying people to be your friend. Once the money runs out they will only stay if there’s a compelling reason. The same goes for paid ads and your business. If you don’t present your ideas in a compelling way people won’t come back to your site, and that initial relationship will just be a sham.

On the other hand, when you attract visitors through strong, quality content, they have a strong reason to continue their relationship with your brand. Instead of basing your content marketing strategy on one night stands, give your readers useful information that keeps them coming back for more.

2. Quality content builds your website’s reputation

I like to think of your website’s organic ranking as its reputation. When your marketing budget is completely allocated to paid ads it doesn’t do a good job of building your website’s reputation. Sure, you’re on top as long as you’re paying for ads. But when the money runs out, reality sets in and you’re back where you started.

You could allocate more money for ads to temporarily get back on top, but how long will that last? And is getting to the top of search engines and building your website’s reputation even that important? Consider this: 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search.

If you’re not ranking for important keywords then you’re losing out on tons of potential leads, aka potential customers. When you build your reputation through a well-planned content strategy that targets relevant and obtainable keywords, you’ll experience SEO gains that can translate into serious ROIs for your company.

3. Quality content saves you money and sets you up for the long game

Quality content saves you money and sets you up for the long game

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social platforms are businesses. So what’s most important to them? Making money. Since their primary source of income is ad spend from companies like yours and mine they want to make sure to maximize those profits.

By using quality content to rank organically you can make better use of your resources. For example, let’s say you run a golf club e-commerce store, but you release a guide with 10 steps for improving your swing. Now you have a resource that you can promote through paid ads, social promotion, and any other means.

This gives your marketing efforts a strong direction and helps site visitors easily perceive the value of using your business as a resource. But, how does this translate into customers?

Using the previous example of the golf club shop, think about a golfer who’s not currently in the market for clubs. Since they’re not ready to buy they’re not a customer yet, but they download your guide because it’s useful for them.

Since you took the time to make this guide very useful they refer to it often. Soon they decide they want a new wedge to fill a gap in their game. Guess who’s name comes to mind? The one on the guide they’ve found so useful over the past few months. They then turn into a real customer, not to mention a promoter since they’ve probably also shared this guide with their friends.

As you can see, quality content gives your marketing strong direction and future proofs your brand. But, does this mean you should throw away the idea of using paid ads?

Paid ads have their place

Now that we’ve talked about the value of a strong content marketing strategy, it’s time to recognize that paid ads do have their place. Used correctly they can have a strong impact on the effectiveness of your content.

Here are 3 ways you can leverage paid ads alongside your content strategy:

  1. Use paid ads to accelerate your reach. Since building organic traffic through quality content takes time, paid ads can be a good way to generate initial traffic.
  2. Paid ads can help you build a social audience. Building a social audience is a great way to increase your social reach when you publish something new.
  3. Use them if you have mad skills. If you’re really good at paid ads and have a very low cost per engagement it’s probably a good idea to keep leveraging that skill for your business.

Paid ads can get expensive quickly, so if the third point doesn’t describe you it’s important to be cautious and controlled with your ad spend. If you do decide to use paid ads remember they are only as good as the content within them. If you promote an ad with an unappealing message, you might as well try to sell octopus ice cream. (Don’t do it unless you’re in Japan.)

I’m sold, but what now?

If you’re ready to start producing content like a rockstar, then you should follow these three steps to make sure your message engages your audience.

  1. Define your company’s brand voice. To do this effectively you should talk to your customers, look at common questions, and identify your company’s core values.
  2. Create a content strategy. A strong content strategy includes identifying valuable keywords for your company, creating a content calendar around them, and specifying the employees responsible for carrying out the different tasks.
  3. Review. No strategy is perfect when first created. It’s important to review what’s working and what’s not to continually improve this strategy to get the best ROI for your work.

Do you want to start creating content that engages your audience and inspires loyal customers? At The Content Reactor, that’s our specialty. Set up a free consultation with us and we can help you identify your marketing needs and come up with a plan for success.

Interview With a Corporate Communications Expert: Michael Robison

Interview With a Corporate Communications Expert: Michael Robison

Recently we chatted with Michael Robison CEO of The D5 Group. Michael has over 20 years of business experience, many of which he spent working on entrepreneurial ventures. In the interview, we learn valuable insights on how to help your leadership work together better by communicating effectively, and the power a unified company voice can have on your success.

Michael tells us about his background

My background like everyone in the entrepreneur world is pretty diverse. In the last 18-20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve many different industries in the non-profit and mainstream world. And in that timeframe The D5 Group, my current company, would be business number 6 for me. Some of those have been successes and some failures like any of us who take the risk to do it.

As far as my role in these businesses. I’ve been a communicator and a speaker most of my life. But thinking about my career, I’ve worked in sales and corporate strategy. These roles have required me to be a communicator, salesperson, strategic consultant, and a strategic thinker for my companies.

What are you working on right now?

The fun thing is that now I’m working on how I can help more people. As a communications strategist I get to help corporate teams, startups, and even sometimes solopreneurs really understand the value of communication within their team.

Just the other day I had the opportunity to work with a pretty incredible group here in New York. They’ve been pretty successful working together over the last 5 years. What I was able to do is help their team understand the why and the how of communication with one another which helped to strengthen the unity of their team. Also, we figured out their personal core values and matched them up with where they want to take the company.

When we align our personal values and our operational values it’s pretty amazing how efficient we can become and how much more we can accomplish. With The D5 Group, our focus is not so much on creating healthy companies but on creating healthy leaders. Because healthy leaders can lead healthy companies.

Why do companies need a strong brand voice?

I grew up in a big family, and I have a big family. When you’re in a crowded, busy world the idea of having a voice is super important. The question is: how do you utilize that voice? In a family sometimes you just get louder or out of sorts. That’s sometimes what happens to companies, they just get louder or crazier. That’s because they haven’t found their voice yet, and they don’t have direction. They’re just making noise hoping someone will pay attention.

When one of my kids says in a gentle and calm voice “hey dad”, I listen. In a corporate environment when a company can find their voice and learn how to use it, people listen. You don’t find your voice as a company until you establish a common language as a team.

How can a company’s brand voice contribute to a company’s brand and identity?

When you find your voice, and your common language it’s easier for your team members to feel like they are part of something real. When you can get your entire team to speak the same language and they’re all speaking at the same time, the world pays attention. The consistency and quality of that message makes such a difference.

I use my kids as an example. Four years ago I brought my youngest daughter home through adoption from Haiti. But, she didn’t speak English. So when she got home it was hard for her to communicate her needs and wants. And vice versa, it was hard for us to communicate with her. Helping her learn the language brought her into the entire family.

Another example is about one of my sons who was learning to walk and talk. Right around that time the Subway jingle “Eat Fresh” came out. He saw a Subway sign and said mom “Eat Fresh.” Now, he hadn’t learned to read yet, but the consistency and simplicity with which he heard that jingle helped him remember it. That was about his capacity at the time, being able to remember those two words “Eat Fresh.” But, it goes to show the power of a consistent voice.

What opportunities to contribute to their brand identity are most companies missing?

I honestly think it comes down communication. I’m not talking about your strategy for writing the company manual or some culture map. Sometimes I think we waste a lot of time building culture maps and we’re missing the opportunity to sit around the table and talk more. What ends up happening is that nobody understands each other and they miss out on the relationship portion of leadership. And there’s no strong leadership without relationships.

A lot of times in corporate we forget about that. We just think that we have a system, and we just need to stay in that system. Don’t get me wrong improving communication is hard work. But, if you’re not communicating internally you’re not communicating externally.

I think we get hung up on thinking that what I’m saying needs to be so good that people have to pay attention. When we should be asking is if what I’m saying is authentic. Because the reality is that if what I’m saying is authentic people will listen.

For example, being in New York I’ve passed 15 different pizza joints in the last few minutes. They’re all in business because they have something that makes them authentic. So you don’t need to be doing something completely different, you just need to be aware that you’ve said something truly authentic.

Lightning Round

Favorite book: Holding on Loosely by Pablo Giacocelli
Software you can’t live without: Ntuitive.social
Hardware you can’t live without: My iPhone
Song/band that pumps you up: Africa by Toto
Go-to order from [Stout Burgers]: The Morning After Burger

The Wrap-up

That was an amazing conversation with Michael. If you’d like to reach out to Michael check out his company The D5 Group or connect with him on LinkedIn. It was a blast getting to know and learn from him.

If you enjoyed this article, let us know your thoughts below. Also, if you’d like to read more interviews like this one from The Content Reactor show us your support by sharing this with your network.