Keep Calm & Plan Your Crisis Comms

Like all of us, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks glued to news outlets, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, & other channels to keep myself & my family informed about covid-19. 

And, if I’m honest, I’m feeling pretty much at saturation point from an emotional & intellectual standpoint when it comes to what’s ahead. 

Right know we’re living in a time of heightened uncertainty & unknowns. The impact of this current global pandemic is just beginning to trickle into daily life for individuals, communities, & businesses worldwide. The tidal wave will come. It’s up to us to prepare for how we ride it to shore.

Closer to home here in New Zealand, despite the attempt of many businesses to go ahead in a quasi-BAU state, there’s one thing I am certain of right now: we’re in crisis-mode.

Unfortunately what I’m noticing is that the businesses who need them most don’t seem to have clear, concise, & longterm crisis-plans in place for times like this. 

My hot take is simple. Right now is the time to stop your BAU & take note of culture, context, content, & community when it comes to your business & the communications that you’re putting out into the world. 

For almost two decades I’ve worked with big & small brands alike not only to create clever & innovative campaigns across new & emerging channels – but to write crisis comms & community best practice to ensure brands responding with kindness, impact, & best practice at heart when it comes to communicating through social & digital media in times of crisis.

So here’s a gentle few things big, small, & sole-trader brands alike can do right now to ensure that what you’re putting into the world is kind, not tone-deaf. That how you’re responding to people in need is helpful, not distant.

  1. If your content calendar & media buying is done well in advance, stop all activity now. Look at the every placement. Take note of assets, products, words, & the tonality of content you’re putting into the world. If your comms are intended to be “cheeky” in good times, they’ll sound flippant at best right now.
  2. Check your words. It goes without saying, but the biggest faux pas that a business can make right now is to post or send out a communication that hasn’t been seen by more than one set of eyes. Without any malice meant, in times like these words matter. Messages matter. Thought & empathy matter. Read, re-read, & consider everything you put into the world as a business.
  3. If you’re scheduled to crow about financial performance or any kind of profit, put that on hold through consumer facing channels for the foreseeable future. Sure, share with your board & major stakeholders – but right here, right now, people need emotional reassurance. Profit talk isn’t going to help your brand when all we see are falling markets & trends towards recessions with huge global repercussions.
  4. Make sure you have enough resource available to handle customer conversations & community feedback. If you know it’ll be a stretch to have people monitoring & responding to questions across all channels, then be super overt about where you will be able to respond. Ask people to email you if email works best. If Facebook is where you can handle more customer interaction, ask people to head there specifically. Being super clear about where people can go for help is the kindest thing you can do for your staff as well as for your customers.
  5. If you’re a big business, ensure your customer care teams are looked after. Taking care of the people who take care of customers & employees alike is of the utmost importance. Empower your frontline staff with information & the ability to be humble, kind, & caring at this time. There’s literally nothing worse you can do than have customer care people reading from scripts – unable to veer into emotive territory.
  6. Have a plan around internal processes for signing-off official comms & statements, but make sure that your internal processes don’t hinder (or even sneak into) the conversations your representatives have with customers. Consumers want reassurance, not to know the ins-and-outs of your business. Your stress internally should not be placed onto the shoulders of already worried humans outside of your organisation.
  7. Listen to your gut. If commonsense & expertise are worth anything during more certain & stable times, they’re worth everything during times of crisis. If something feels “off” or a communication sounds distancing more than connective, re-jig, re-write, re-think. Less is more in times of crisis.
  8. If you’ll be laying people off or sending people home, have heart-felt words at the ready & empower your customer service teams to be human, caring, & kind in their responses. Crisis times aren’t times for “perfection.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The brands who most show their humanity through connecting authentically are those that people continue to love.

Hopefully these wee tips are helpful for you right now. 

If you’re in need of a check-up, check-in, or simply need an extra set of eyes over your crisis plans or content during this time please reach out. I’m here & willing to help as best I can. As per usual, slide into my DMs here with any questions you might have.

Together we can put good into the world at scale. Together we can do just about anything. Together we can keep ourselves, our businesses, our employees, & (most importantly) our communities safe right now.

Being respectful with our comms & content is the only way forward during this time.

Kia Kaha.

Cassie 

Mastering the Art of Wholeness One Day at a Time

We’re born whole.
All of us, in our own way.

When we’re little we’re confident in knowing who we are without question or doubt. We simply, are. As we master the art of motor-skills we reach out towards the world with each waking moment. We look under rocks to see what’s hiding there, we wonder how it is that light can dance on water, & we’re pretty darn tootin’ sure that there’s nothing better in the world that spending a day at the beach.

From our first breath we know what we like (hugs!) and what we don’t (being hungry/wet/etc). We also know what makes us giggle & what fills our minds with endless curiosity.

In the beginning all of our milestones are celebrated, too. Our first smile, our first words, our first spaghetti dinner (so beautifully messy), our first steps. As we grow, we’re told we can do anything – and I mean anything – if only we put our minds to it & work hard. More than anything though, we’re safe in knowing that we’re special.

Unique.
Individual.
Quirky.
Beautifully nuanced.
If we’re lucky, we maintain our awe when it comes to celebrating the differences in others. Mostly though, we learn that sameness is safer.

That said, when we’re young we find wonder in others. In their skills and in their successes. We play games, form teams, and work towards a common goal all for the sake of being together and growing together. We move through childhood hungry to learn and ready to take on the world. Oh that big, wide world. It really is our oyster in the beginning, isn’t it? 

Everyone tells us the world is our oyster. Which even now at 38yrs old makes me giggle. I love the idea of the world being something interesting & shiny – but as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy oysters, I’d rather the world was a musical & approach life like that.

But, I digress…

As a 4yr old, I loved playing sports. 

I’ve loved being a part of a team for almost my entire life. There’s something inherently grounding about knowing you’ve got the backs of your best buds on the field of play & that they know you’ve got theirs. Trust is established. Sometimes it’s broken. But mostly playing sports means we’re learning how different skillsets make a group of people stronger than a single individual. Also, beyond learning how to play by an established set of rules, teamwork builds up confidence & resilience in all of us. 

When I was four years old, I started playing softball. Even though I was one of the youngest kids on the team I loved the physical, mental, & emotional aspects of playing a game I loved. In my first year, I excelled. In fact, I took out “The Little Slugger Award.” Not only was I quick rounding the bases on little feet, but I could connect my bat with a pitch more often than not. For full disclosure, my Dad played for the Los Angeles Dodgers back in his Glory Days – as Springsteen calls them – so I could catch a pop-fly & throw a ball before I could even put one foot in front of the other.

If anyone was swinging for the fences it was Little Cass (fun fact:I’m still swinging for proverbial fences daily). Believe you me not only did I play the part, I looked it too. I swaggered like a little slugger & owned my athleticism. I wore high Bobby-socks with stripes, short golden shorts, a purple jersey, & a visor that reigned in my pig-tails (just) while keeping the sun from my eyes. I walked confident in knowing myself. I stepped up to the plate without fear of a slider or curve-ball. More than that, I loved my bruised shins & skinned knees.

Off the diamond, I took pride in out-pacing the boys at foot races. 
Eat.
My.
Dust.
Stinky, beautiful, silly boys.

Ah to be a child of summer in Southern California, eh? 

Through primary, middle, high school I was comfortable in my skin. I was comfortable in my competitive & curious nature. I was passionate about my dreams & was single-minded about doing what was right by my own moral compass. The Little Slugger was growing up. And, she was growing into who she knew she could be. 

While sports were a big part of my maturing into an adult, music was as well. I played clarinet in the marching band & sat as second-chair in our concert band. From 8yrs old I took lessons, practiced a ton, & honed my skills when it came to ye olde liquorice stick. NERD ALERT! Am I right?

When little doubts about the coolness of clarinet playing started to trickle in to my psyche in high school, I swapped the clarinet for the piano. Whilst most of my peers were deep into honky tonk country twang or emo music like Nine Inch Nails, I was into Elton John. He was all glitter, glamour, & amazingness (he still is). So, following in Uncle Elton’s footsteps, I took to playing rock music on a classical instrument. I love it then & I love it now.

Through teenager-hood, I kept my nose clean, studied hard, played music, learned experimental photography, wrote poetry, played sports & got more & more excited about the whole “the world is your oyster” thing we’d all been promised.

Fast forward to university life.

After high-school I had one last hoorah of a summer to share with friends before heading north up the 101 through LA & Ventura & on to my college campus. Upon arriving in a new town full of people I didn’t know, I became more introverted than I’d ever been. My confidence took a hit. But, Santa Barbara is a magical place & I met people & made friends quickly. I also found solace in the comforting nature of playing sports.  

I had dreams, too. BIG dreams. Whilst at UCSB – a school that had tenured professors & Nobel Laureates at our disposal – I wanted to do two things with my life: the first was to play tambourine in Elton John’s band, and failing that – I wanted to travel the world as a photo-journalist.

My poor parents were forking out dinero like no one’s business to educate me & here I wanted to live on the road shaking whatever I could shake (yes, including that which my momma gave me…) in a band of older, foreign men. Oy vey! My parents, being the amazing humans they are, laughed the Elton fantasy off & masterfully steered me towards a more secure future. When I graduated from UCSB after four years with a degree in History & Spanish Language/Literature, I put my tambourine away. Tucked gently away in a box or a dresser drawer somewhere.

Graduation day was a trip! Family from across the USA came to celebrate. Missouri mixed with So-Cal mixed with the UK. It was magical, fast, & the earth seemed to be spinning at a pace that was faster than normal. At one point in the day though it seemed as if the world stopped for a moment & pivoted in place. Actually, the world didn’t pivot – what it did was it threw me for a good ‘ol 360.

Looking back I reckon this 360 happens to almost all of us at a big juncture in our lives when we cross the threshold from child to adult. 

Enter working life. 

Whoa, welcome to the real-world, Little Slugger. Where once the world I was told that the world was my proverbial oyster, I learned that wasn’t true. Lots of grit, very few pearls.

The world it seems, is a ladder. And, to climb it, we must start at the bottom rung & climb only as & when we’re allowed to. Your gender, skin colour, economic standing, & culture all determine how quickly you get to move from rung to rung. The rules? They’re the rules & we’ve got to play by them. Yuck.

At the point in life when we learn that we must play by rules we never had a hand in writing, things get uncomfortable. So to become more comfortable, over time – without even realising it – the rules become us. We become them. We don’t question anymore, we simply do what we think is “right.” In doing so we tend to lose ourselves to labels assigned to us by random job titles, undefined skillsets, & somewhat relevant professional experience. We truly believe that this is the only way to be happy & stable & to pay the bills every month when they come due.
Again, yuck.

In today’s modern media world, world we’re connected to our devices & to each other all of the time. There’s no clocking in & out for the most part. We’re tethered to our emails. The pings, buzzes, whizzes, whimpers of notifications tell us we’re busy & important.

We’re always on.
Everything we post, comment on, like or share becomes a part of what is now deemed our “personal brand.” People we don’t even know form opinions on our skills or bankability by the people we follow on LinkedIn & by people with blue-ticks who re-Tweet us on Twitter.

Older Millennials like myself are of an age where we’re the test-cases for a huge social experiment that we’re not sure is going to turn out super amazing for our physical or mental health. We dove into the world of online & digital without nary a look back – & now that’s a lot of what we seem to be doing. Looking back. Social media & the people who built platforms to hook-us (hello dopamine) have a lot to answer for. But so do we, the willing participants of said experiment. When do we decide that enough is enough? I don’t have an answer just yet for this question, but I’m working towards one.

I remember long car drives as a kid. We’d roll down the windows & sing to whatever tape was in the player. Mostly it was Tom Petty or Wynonna Judd. We didn’t have phones to distract us. We took photos without anywhere to post them other than to our friends through the mail or on our bedroom walls.

It’s different now, eh? Do you find it hard to remember disconnected times?
I sure do! In the world we’re working in & navigating today though, we’re on. Logged-in. Liking, sharing, commenting, hash-tagging. To what end though? What I’ve noticed quite a lot recently is that, even though we’re living in new times, we’re still doing things like our parents did before us. And there parents before them. Ad infinitum… 

We get up each morning, get in our cars, hustle kids to school and head in different directions to spend time with people who aren’t our family or loved ones. If we’re lucky, we don’t get stuck in traffic for an hour before arriving at an office where we send emails, cover our asses, and sit in meetings all day.

Only to wash, rinse, repeat day in and day out… year after year… and for what? Security? The ability to intertwine our job title into the fabric of our own importance? 

The longer we play the games of adulthood, the more we believe in a false-idea of becoming who we should be. 

Right here, right now we’re living in an era where anxiety, depression, & suicide rates are sky-rocketing. In the past two trips around the sun I’ve lost six (SIX!) friends to depression & suicide. That’s six too many. We’re a generation of lost kids – kinda. We’re lost not only to others, but to ourselves & we’re digging our heels in deeper & harder when it comes to how things should be. We’re blinded by a blurry past-tense that the generations before us believe we need to bring into focus while living in a present-tense that is just that…tense.

Work-life Balance is BS.

Enter work-life balance.

Never truly-defined, we chase an idea of work-life balance that is, at its core, an illusion. As we chase this illusion, we move further away from who we are at our core. If you can’t define something at scale then how do you attain it? Dunno. But we’ll try! We’re hard workers.

That 4yr old Little Slugger I used to be? Yeah, she became a whisper of a memory that was merely a ghost. A memory. A thing of the past. For many years I learned to dress as someone else & recited lines verbatim from professional up-skilling books like a good corporate citizen. I replaced the Little Slugger in me with a woman in a business suit who straightened her hair every day, wore expensive heels, & donned make up – all in an attempt to hide herself. To fit in. I tucked away the intense blonde curls that used to naturally grow out from my under my cap. While she was away, I missed my Little Slugger. So much.

A few years ago I worked for a company with a great reputation as a place to be employed. My first day on the job was magical. Great people, great vibes & lots to dig into & help with. Not long into my tenure with the business, a senior member of staff took me into a room & told me that I was not, in any form, to communicate outwardly through social media, digital media, or anything IRL without express consent of the business even if said communications were personal & seemingly unimportant.

My opinions? Yeah nah.
They weren’t mine to share anymore.
Huh? Wha? Bacon powder…?
How’s that supposed to work?

Before working for this particular business I’d built myself up a fairly strong personal brand over the course of a decade or so working with some big brands across sectors. I loved the challenge of new tech & media. I loved learning, growing, & sharing ideas. I spoke passionately at conferences on a range of topics spanning from professional to personal & back again. I also stayed sane by writing blogs for myself & an occasional article or three for publications with big readerships. Oh, I was also friends with a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different walks of life.

All of these things were giant red-flags for the company.
I was told I was a risk to the brand.
I was told to stop or else.

Or else.

Long story short:
Over the course of my tenure working for this company I stopped.
I went with the safe route – mostly.
I succumbed to or else.

I stopped tweeting.
I stopped blogging.
I stopped speaking.
I stopped seeing my friends.
I stopped going to the gym.
I stopped taking photos.
I stopped learning.
I stopped calling my family.
I stopped smiling.
I stopping chasing my creative passions.
I stopped being me.
<insert sad panda emoji>

I STOPPED BEING ME! And, I crashed & burned big time emotionally because of it.

For a long time I was angry with the business who’d given me the cease-&-desist order for the hard times I went through. But over time I realised that I’d played the game, their game. And the game won (as did my eventual therapist & her bank account for all of the sessions I needed to un-do the un-doing of me.) I was at fault for not pushing back. I could’ve chosen or else & probably been better for it. I didn’t though.

Toeing the line meant breaking down. My marriage broke down. My confidence broke down. My mental health broke down. My life became something that was not my own. Leaving the job was the biggest gift ever. It took a while for me to stop being angry with myself for playing the game. Especially when I could see it happening in real-time.
But, I’m better now. Much, much better. And, kinder with myself.

There’s hope for all of us, yet.

In truth, we all play the game. And, in playing it we become a part of the machine. So the machine keeps going…slow, steady & unchanging. All the while, we lose pieces of ourselves. We take up less space. We speak up less, and we forget to lift (or fear lifting) others.

Recently there’s been a revival of purpose-driven brands though. Businesses big & small who champion their people & who truly believe that great brands aren’t built from the ground up, but rather from the inside out. When I think of great brands I think of their people. 
I think of the women of Wildfang.
I think of the people who make Patagonia magical.
I also think about Nike.

Nike? Yep! As a business, it seems as though (from the outside looking in) they empower people from all across their organisation to post, create, & curate information about their time working for the businesses. I feel like I know more about the beating heart of the gigantor that is Nike than I do about some local brands closer to home.

I also think about my friend Miri Rodriguez from Microsoft. Miri is a powerhouse. She’s a storyteller, a momma, a friend, a colleague and one helluva human being. She also happens to work for Microsoft. In knowing Miri, I’ve taken a different view of a brand that once was corporate, buttoned-up, cold, & looming in my eyes. 

People matter. 
People being themselves matters.
Good brands aren’t built from the ground up, they’re built from the inside out. 

Life-life Balance rocks my socks.

I have a hot-take on work-life balance: I don’t believe it’s actually a thing.
In fact, I call bullshit on the entire notion of it. Instead, I believe there’s something more attainable & real, I believe in life-life balance.

So many of us talk about the ever-present struggle to attain work-life balance. WORK- LIFE BALANCE. Ahhhh… if only. 

Let me explain, I don’t start & end when I walk into an office or a meeting. Nope, I bring myself – all of myself – along for the ride. The quirks, the silliness, the passion, the belief in a better world. And when I bring my whole self to work, the ensuing trust engendered means the business gets just as much a halo effect from me as I do from working with them. Chasing the unattainable is what our parents & our grandparents did. It’s not what I’m about to commit to. Not for one more day/hour/minute. 

The reality of the work-life balance fallacy is that we’re living in the most connected time ever known to humanity, yet we’re still expected to disconnect from ourselves when we’re at work. Lucky for me, I’ve found a great business to work with that is filled to the gills with people I admire, respect, & like. I’m allowed to be me. All curls & denim & big ideas.

A little while back a colleague of mine lost her father. Her Dad had been ill for a long time & had weathered some scary storms of getting ill & then getting better again. So, when the end was actually nearing she was understandably upset. We’d seen her ride the rollercoaster of grief – hope, sadness, despair. We’ve all been there, all of us.

Here’s where magic happened: Instead of asking her to wipe her tears & park her grief at the door, our leaders wrapped her up & lovingly supported her through some of her darkest days. Watching a trusting relationship between colleagues unfold in real time & with real tears filled my heart. Our friend brought her whole self to work.

She showed up when she could on her terms.
So we showed up for her.

This is what I mean by life-life balance. 

We all get 24 hours in a day. 
We do not stop being who we are when we cross the threshold to an office block. 
We get one life.
One. 

Living it individually & authentically is the only way any of us will ever be truly happy or connected to ourselves, the people around us, & the environment that sustains us.

Back to good.

How do we then find ourselves if we spend most of our time in places where we learn to be anything other than the confident, curious small humans we were waaaaaaay back in the beginning?

We must empower each other in our weakness & walk confidently in our unknowing. Weaponising the unknown or poo-pooing curiosity is like shutting off a tap when you’re already thirsty. In a world that awards a highly curated, overly-perfect ideal of “self” at work, it’s necessary for us to feel comfortable in our own skin. To do this we must allow for imperfection.

What does empowerment look like for me? Well, it means sitting at the boardroom table in double-denim, docs, & a backwards baseball cap while simultaneously being respected for my experience, ideas, and passion. Because, in reality, getting back to who I was when I started out life – hungry to learn, impassioned by the mundane, and driven to help others is where I want to be more than anywhere else.

It’s also where any brand I work for will get the most value from me. Over the past few years I’ve gotten to know myself again. I’ve learned to trust my intuition & I’ve started having playing just for the sake of having fun!

4yr old Cassie, went away for a long time.
I spent almost 20 years pushing the Little Slugger away.
But, lucky for me, she didn’t go too far. 
She’s back & ready to take on the world.
She’s at the plate, smiling & swinging for the fences.
She whispers “Bring on those curve-balls. Bring on those change-ups.”

I don’t have any high socks, short-shorts, or pigtails anymore – well, I do, I just kinda wear them at home when not many people are looking at me – but I am very at home in my skin.
And, I wish the same for you. 

Go on, revisit your passions. I hope, in doing so, that you find your Little Slugger again – that part of yourself that is curious, comfortable, & charging ahead without fear. 

When you re-connect with yourself, confidence & calm are what you’re left with.

Talk about magic! 

My Favourite C-Words

If there’s anything I love in work & life it’s a good deep-dive into C-words. LOL. WTF? Hold the phone…

Yeah, welcome to my mind. Always a bit left-field, but that’s cool. Left-field was always my favourite position on the old baseball diamond anyhow. Seeing that I was born a literal C-word and seeing that C-Word was once an actual nickname that my ex-husband’s ex-girlfriend lovingly called me, it just makes sense to feel close to them.

To me, C-words just feel a bit warm, cuddly, & slightly badass. Think about the beauty of the C.

Clever. Cookie. Craft. Caboose. Capsize. Cheeky. Chuffed. Cervix – a ha! Caught ya sleeping didn’t I? 

As a young girl Cookie Monster taught me that “C is for Cookie, & that’s good enough for me!”And if any song has ever helped me through life it has to be this gorgeous wee love-letter to sweet treats in which flour, sugar, water, & choc-chips are melded into a blob of heavenly nom-noms. That said, I’m not here to talk about Sesame Street, ditties, or naughty words that march along in 4-lettered-giggles. 

Nope, I’m going to dive a bit deeper when it comes to Cs. These Cs are the ones that might make or break a brand, a person, or a profession. Since I’m addicted to the rosy-colored outlook of life, just ahead we’ll be focusing on the things that can make your business stronger, your soul fuller, & your journey through life a wee bit sweeter. Your job? Embrace the essence of optimism inherent in the ideas ahead. 

Buckle up, Team. Here come my fave C-words! 

CREATIVITY

Defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something, creativity is my C-word Bae. It’s easy to fall in love with a concept that melds together originality & functionality.

It’s also fun to live & work in a profession where the art of crafting a strong strategy & marrying it to clever creative iteration is soul-filling. Within the bounds of creativity are abundant opportunities to not only find clever ways to deliver marketing & ad campaigns that are both effective & memorable, but there’s also a spark of magic in moments when all of the pieces of a proverbial puzzle come together. 

Call it what you will, I know instinctively when we’ve had an “A ha!” moment. By rights, as someone who can live in big blue sky while still acting as a tether to the reality of business needs, creativity is what keeps me going. I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently on the future of work, the impact of AI on marketing, & on crucial factors for driving business & individual success in a saturated digital marketing world. Of all key attributes & skills required to drive success, I bet you can guess which is the stand-out winner. Yep, head & shoulders above anything technical, creativity is what we need to start teaching our young ones to embrace if they’re going to be successful as they grow.

I should also be completely clear here as I write this. I’m not talking about teaching our sweet young people to be like the presumptuous, wanky, assholish once-were-super geeks who style themselves as savants & name themselves as “Creatives” with a capital C whilst looking down on anyone who doesn’t have the ability to wear tight leather pants or to sit around all day drawing on walls & calling a scribbled storyboard art. Nope. There’s a fresh hell reserved for the creatives who actually believe that their minds are better than those of others. The truth is that every single one of us can be taught to be more & more creative.

We can wire our brains for strategic thought & we can also wire our brains to think beyond the norm – to love playing in the realm of ridiculous.

To do this is pretty simple, we create a cheat sheet (we marketers love a good cheat sheet, don’t we?) Dialling up creativity in any situation can be done in five simple steps. The first step is to understand the problem you’re attempting to solve & understanding associations between questions, problems, or ideas from other fields. When you can look beyond your product or campaign to another & see connections with the idea you’re attempting to harness, you’re on the right path! From associations, the next move to make is one towards questioning

Early on in my career I often fell victim to building ideas upon wobbly foundations – or, rather common wisdom. It’s the job of a creative mind to question common wisdom, to poke at it, to shake it in the box, to break it a bit. When it comes down to it, newness only happens when we step away from the old ways of thinking & doing. Therefore questioning is critical.

From here, we must take the time to observe the behaviour of customers, competitors, stakeholders, & suppliers. When we watch others we often are able to visually see just how things might be done better, more efficiently, & more effectively. If we skip the observing phase of creativity, we miss out on crucial information in building ideas that meld originality & functionality. 

Networking, like observing, is a process by which to introduce & challenge new ideas with people who see the world differently to you & your team. At this point in the creative process it is key to ensure your networking & working groups are diverse. Diversity isn’t just a catch-phrase for modern times my friends, it’s a necessary ingredient to being successful. There are only so many of the same faces & places we need to re-hash before everything becomes banal & yawn-worthy.

After networking & sharing your concepts wider than the team you work most closely with, you’ve now reach the experimenting phase of your creative journey!This is where you get to pull together all of your strategy, information, iterations & ideas & try them out. 

The best & worst part of the creative process is sharing what you’ve created with others. It’s exhilarating & horrifying sharing something you’ve created with people who might not see your vision through eyes that understand the method to your proverbial madness. But it needs to happen.


Brilliance that isn’t shared is brilliance wasted, yes?

Embrace that fear, my friends. Share your ideas – & as you do, take people on the same journey that you went through in concepting. The sell-in is much easier when people understand how you made it from a David Bowie to a pair of skateboarding sneakers.

I couldn’t write about creativity without including a strong nod towards those moments we all have when we just can’t get into the groove of creating. We’re all different when it comes to how we create, too. Some of the most brilliant creative minds I’ve ever worked with can create on the spot, in a room full of people. They feed off of the energy in a room. I can’t do this. In fact, situations in which I am put on the spot to deliver brilliance scare the shit out of me. I need a more hybrid experience. I need time to myself to work through the first few steps of the creative process, & then need others in the networking & experimenting stages to optimise ideas & executions. 

Knowing that we all thrive in different environments is key to being a successful leader & a successful marketer by rights. When I need time away from the hustle & bustle of the office I walk. I leave the noise & head outdoors. I find there’s no better way to understand & embrace a wandering mind than to wander. While wandering I am able to focus on a singular problem & to hone in on a single source of truth that leads to many ways of approaching a solution. Whatever it is that helps you find your creativity, know your levers & pull them when you need to. We’re all creative & we’re all creatives. All of us. 

So own your creativity. Own your art. Own all of it & be proud of whatever brilliant ridiculousness your mind conjures up. Author Liz Gilbert has summed up creativity & the pursuit of living a creative life in a way that I am in love with, she calls it Big Magic. 

And, I’m all for this kind of magic.

COMMUNITY

Talking of magic, another favourite C word of mine is the glue that holds humanity together. Beautiful, imperfect, necessary, & strong without community we’d all be wandering through the world alone. I remember when of social media & online chat started to seep into daily life. I was in college in Santa Barbara & my roommate, Carrie, downloaded AOL Instant Messenger. The interface was so easy, the ability to connect so quickly was novel, & the feeling of community was immediate. As silly as it may seem now, we actually used to chat to each other online while in the same room! Not long after discovering the ease of community building when adding people into chat streams & conversations, the first murmurings around Facebook started. We already had My Space. Why did we need/want/require something other than My Space?!? LOL. Oh how interesting it is looking back on the days before the big blue logo! 

It was my younger brother who was in school mid-way across the country in Missouri who invited me to become a member of The Facebook. My first reaction to the new platform was reluctance. My second reaction (very soon after the first) was happiness. I could see people I know who were super far away from me & check in on people around the edges of my community, too. IRL & online really started to meld into one here. And, for a while the social part of social media reigned supreme. When it came to community & community building it was all of us together. Before we as a media & advertising profession over-pivoted on shouty advertising in a traditionally community space, we stayed fairly kind to each other too.

But things, as they do, changed. From my perspective, change is good. It’s constant. It’s the only thing promised to any of us. But somewhere along the line over the past decade, with a glut of social media channels finding their way into our brains, we seem to have forgotten the heart of what matters most for people as a whole, & that’s the connective power of community. In the past year I’ve lost a handful of men to depression & anxiety. All of these men were young. They had young families. They were talented. But, with the pressure to keep up online with the likes, comments, shares & witty retorts – they lost a true community. For them, even with all of the connections available online, IRL was a lonely place. My heart breaks for those they left behind. My soul longs to do better by our posterity to ensure community is the centermost aspect of any connective outlet we as humans are a part of. 

So, how do we dial up community in an era where ad units, whiz bang interactive ad placements, & more ads hit us on the daily than ever before in human history? Well, firstly we need to invest in our people. Who are our community managers? How do they see the world? Are they taken good care of on & offline? Once we as marketers & business people learn to treat the online world as a place just as beautifully suited for building positive interactions as offline, we’ll literally be saving lives alongside driving business return. Not a bad combo, right? 

Also, when it comes to community, taking the time to banter & have fun as a brand is of the utmost importance.

The gorgeous reality of a democratization of communication in the form of social or online media is that we’re all able to connect better & more frequently on our own terms. We’re able to see, hear, & invest in truly diverse ways of seeing the world.

Basically, community managers who do an awesome job at their jobs are some of the most woke & empathetic people I have ever met. And, if we can shift the conversation to business performance for a hot second, community is the root of all sales. It always has been & always will be. 

This is why there are creative agencies out there who are still attempting to peddle “viral videos” in response documents. They’re not just going to make you a video. Nope, they’re after virality. Why? Simply because social currency & viral sharing are things you cannot buy. They’re at the upper echelon of the community scale online. They’re Wonka’s golden ticket. The only way to cash in your ticket is to invest in community. There are no more happy accidents & social media shortcuts. Humans are mostly immune to bullshit. So why not turn away from the BS & dive into authentic community building? No matter the channel, platform, or space – if you have an engaged community, they’ll follow wherever you are. And that is magic! 

CHANGE

Ah, ch ch changes. Turn & face the strange indeed. When it comes to the most impactful C word of them all, change has to be it. Change is our only constant. It is both a North Star of hope & a black hole painted in shades of despair. Everything & nothing all at once, change is what every movie, song, story, & creative endeavor is about at the core. And, cliché or not, change is both the cause & effect of everything any of us ever do in life. Which means that getting comfortable with it – or rumbling with it as Brené Brown might say – is the only way to live a truly fulfilled. It’s in the rumbling that we build muscle memory & mass. It’s where we gain grit & strength & maturity. 

If we spend our time at home, at work, & at play afraid of change we’ll spend our time in a constant state of fear. And, bleurgh. Yuck. No one wants to live like that. Embracing newness & seeing opportunity in change takes practice though. It also takes communication. When we talk about comfort & joy a lot of the words that we weave into societal narratives are that of a language of stability & relative sameness. We love the idea of jobs that don’t go away, homes that are forever homes, & families that never veer away from what popular culture tells us families should be. I call bullshit on all of this. 

When you think about growing up, what are the stories you tell yourself & others? Are they banal stories of days that turn into months that turn into years that become a life of doldrums & sameness, or are you a bit more like me & see your defining moments as the ones you could never have seen coming? When I was a kid there’s no way I would have guessed that I’d become a professional storyteller living on the other side of the planet in a country smaller in size & population than my home state. I’d never have guessed that I’d have married young. I definitely never would have imagined that I’d have been a young mother, or by rights, a young(ish) divorcee. 

Going through the pain of a broken marriage meant that all I knew was change. And I had to get comfortable with it on ground that I wouldn’t ever describe as common. Far from home in a country that didn’t raise me, I came of age because of change. I became a better mother because of change. I became my truest self through a complete unravelling. I learned that love wasn’t stagnant, but a rollicking ride. A rodeo ride of sorts. One minute I’d be racing around barrels, then there’d be eight seconds of sheer bull-riding terror. All up though, life’s been one helluva rodeo. That’s all thanks to change. 

There’s something superbly beautiful in embracing the grit that comes along with the pearl of change. When it comes to our work, the most important thing we can do as professionals is to embrace the changing nature of communication platforms & to try our damndest to love little moments of newness that shift & change our goalposts daily. The world of a successful marketer is a world in which change is seen as a curveball that we’re well ready to knock out of the park. 


Embrace change, embrace a fun-filled journey. 

CONSCIOUSNESS 

Wokeness. It’s a thing now – to be woke that is. I’m pretty chuffed about it being so, too. For far too long there seemed to be a gap in our knowing & our actions when it came to how we comported ourselves in an ever-growing & ever-churning consumerist society. We learned young that bigger meant better. We were told that the more you have, the more you’re worth (not monetarily speaking). We were also sold the idea that if we wanted to be happy, we needed to not show any cracks.

The end result? We’re all cracking a bit. With an incoming tide that is now allowing us to ride to a shore of soft, sandy wokeness – we surfers of sustainability & circular economies are changing how we live, how we buy, what we consume, what we create, how we worship, how we parent, & what we consider love.  We’re awakening to our impact on the world beyond our own selves & are starting to understand just how potent each & every human being is. All of this is so very overdue, too.

I can remember being a very young child, maybe six years old, thinking about how much trash our little family of four made every week. We had a big dumpster out of the back of our home & wouldn’t fill it weekly, but I’d say we definitely filled it monthly. I remember watching my Dad tie up the ends of thick plastic bags that were almost as big as me. He was strong with big muscles, kinda like He-Man. Still he lugged the rubbish bags out. They were heavy. 

My mind always wondered: 
How in the hell did we create so much waste? 
Where did it go? 
Did everyone else make just as much rubbish? 
Why weren’t we recycling everything?

My heart & head are heavy thinking through all of this right now & the implications of how much I personally have hurt the earth over the course of my lifetime simply by throwing shit away. I’d like to pull out the “I didn’t know any better!” card, but somewhere even in my little girl mind I knew what we were doing wasn’t right. Trash just didn’t evaporate. On the scale of heathen to woke, I’d say I’m still waking. In work & in life I am much more cognizant of how the things I buy & the things I throw away impact the planet & posterity. When working with large organisations I outright refuse to engage in down-&-dirty retail for products that are made without sustainability, longevity & a circular economy mindset baked into them.

How can we work towards helping our brands & businesses become woke? First we need to be aware of our need to awaken. From there we need a plan. A mindset shift away from money being the be all & end all in defining business success needs to happen. And, when we advertise, we need to do so morally & ethically. Yeah, it might take more time, resource up front, & be challenging in the first instance – but we can literally make the world a better place by thinking consciously when we plan our campaigns & content calendars. Waking up can be confusing, but oh what a world to inhabit once we’re all awake together.

CAKE

Who would I be if I made a list of favourite C words & didn’t even make a nod to the deliciousness that is cake. No matter your sweet, spongy, icing-laden tickle of choice, cake just makes the world go round. In good time & in bad, there’s cake. From standard chocolate to funfetti, life is too short not to enjoy & indulge every once in a while. A good life rule: just eat the damn cake. This C word has nothing to do with marketing or business (unless you run a cake marketing business), but has much to do with balance & blood-sugar which means it’s a-okay with this sweet-toothed tiger. 

In conclusion, when it comes to C-Words, we can have our cake & eat the heck out of it… too. 🎂

The Great Un-Following: Why I Unfollowed Men on LinkedIn for Six Months

Ah, the modern age. The internet has not only connected all of us in a Wild West kinda new frontier style, but it’s also opened up the opportunity for the democratisation of content creation and proliferation. 

Call it what you will, but most of what people push out into the vast & unending universe online is akin to unlimited drivel. It’s chatter without reason. Chewing-gum for the ego & the brain. 

The world is awash with opinions right now. As an unshakeable optimist, I’d like to say there’s more good information being shared than bad or banal – but going by gut instinct (no data was harmed in the writing of this assertion) I imagine good content is at peak needle-in-a-haystack alert right now.

Our online world is oversaturated with opinionated people who shout at decibels that could puncture eardrums. Armchair warriors and keyboard enthusiasts with little real-world experience (if any, at times), tippity-type away on subjects that they may or may not know a single thing about.

With the onslaught of social media & the reigning court of our age being a handful of powerful algorithms, I thought I might try to break – or rather, retrain – an algorithm that I still feel an affinity towards in the hopes of becoming more wokethat I think I am. (NB I don’t think I’m all that woke at all, but that’s for another blog post.)

Over the course of the past six months, I’ve been undertaking a very small (sample size of one, ahem, moi) experiment on LinkedIn. This wee experiment is quite possibly the most intentional & focussed ongoing personal challenge I’ve undertaken on social media ever. Yep, ever. My reasons for sticking to the experiment started quite shallow if I’m honest – I simply was getting bored with the platform but saw enough of a tiny glimmer of amazing content amongst the shouting & chest beating that I thought I might be able to turn that glimmer into quite the shining blaze.

I also have to come clean about something. If we all took a ride in a Wayback Machine to some point in time about 9 years ago you’d have heard a younger me saying things like  “I don’t like LinkedIn at all. It’s just a bunch of people shouting about their CVs or looking for a job. There’s no substance.” But, like the tides of time, my stance on the platform has changed as it has changed.

Recently I have come to really enjoy LinkedIn. In fact, the words “favourite social media channel” and “LinkedIn” may or may not have been used in the same sentence many times together. Okay, not “may have” they have been. Right here & right now LinkedIn is really the only major social channel that seems to offer me any value when it comes to learning new things, understanding the business world in a wider sense, & not having to wade through what secondary connections ate for lunch last Tuesday. I mean, you take a good pic of sushi, friends – but I honestly don’t give a fig about it. 

You see, LinkedIn is smart. The folks behind the channel pivoted when they needed to. They evolved their channel without pummelling the platform. And, they have given us an algorithm that seems pretty fair right now – all things considering. The content I’m being served seems fair, focussed, but also allows for exploration without being ballsy in attempting to be way too contextual. Believe me, there’s a creepy side to contextuality sometimes. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of annoying bananas (this is what we call people who grind our proverbial gears at my house) who are only ever trying to toot their own horns, hack the algorithm (remember when spaces between lines of SHOUTY CAPS TEXT was a thing?), & are self-serving jerks who assume a connection means it’s time to sell, sell, sell. But, for the most part, Linked In is a cool space to while away some time whilst scrolling for clickable headlines.

So it was when I started finding myself a wee bit bored with LinkedIn that I realized why I was getting bored, most of the articles & thoughts being shared were those of men. White men, specifically. Now, don’t stop reading here & brand me a man-hating-so-and-so-feminist, I love the fellas for their minds. However I was really longing for more diverse world views, opinions, & topical discussions. 

Thus, my experiment was borne. From the moment I realized why LinkedIn was losing its lustre for me, I started unfollowing almost all of the dudes I’d been following who I didn’t know IRL. My hypothesis was simple: if I unfollow a truckload of guys that like to pontificate whom I don’t know, then I can retrain LinkedIn’s algorithm to serve me more female, LGBTQ, non-western voices & content. 

Fast-forward six months: I haz findings! 

Before I tell you what I found out, I should probably tell you what I thought would happen when I started unfollowing 99% of the men in my newsfeed. I thought that I’d start seeing more and more original content by women. I thought I’d start understanding women in business more in-depth. And, I thought that I’d see a lot more ideas bubbling to the surface in my industry in which I’d be able to network more widely with women who are making change happen.

But, these things didn’t eventuate. More & more I started to see posts by women in my newsfeed outnumber that of men. However, the content that 90% of the women were sharing was that of men. I was (& am still) floored by how hard it is to unearth original content made for, by, and about professional topics that originates from the minds & souls of women. I started to get pretty frustrated with the lack of content penned & shared by women, before taking a deep breath and remembering that, no matter how smart an algorithm or AI is, we cannot take away the human variables to the equation.

Society has told us for a long time that our thoughts aren’t welcome at the proverbial table. We hold our tongues when all we want to do is speak. We look to each other for confidence and sisterhood, but we have very few female role models in the public domain of whom we can learn from & share their stories. To say I was & am still disheartened by a lack of content by women would be an understatement. But, I’m heartened to know that more & more we are putting our voices into the public realm. We’re facing the potential for bruised male egos & the anger that comes alongside the bruising. 

I’d like to use this small experiment to ask all of us to do a few things when it comes to being super cognisant of what we’re sharing online – especially in public forums like LinkedIn. 

When & where you can, ladies, please write more, record more, podcast more, pontificate more, share your unique points of view & your wisdom with the world. Men & women alike deserve to learn from your experience. Women especially are longing for your voice.

Men, whenever you can, LIFT WOMEN. We need you. We really do. Give us space at the table & just as much space online. Also, when it comes to algorithms & re-training an AI system to share content more evenly across diverse people & opinions, why not share twice as many posts from women as men? We’re not even in the running of the race yet, let alone about to lap you or even tie for back of the pack. The more you share our ideas, the better society & LinkedIn can & will be. 

All in all, six months has taught me an important lesson:
We need to fix society before we start can hacking algorithms.

Keen to follow me on LinkedIn, click here.

Forget Hacking Algorithms! Do This ONE Thing & Your Content Will Stand-Out Every Time You Post

I’m Old(ish). Lately I can’t seem to muster the oomph I need to get to the gym 3 x weekly like I used to. Long runs have turned into ambling walks where I look at flowers & other assorted flora. And, though it’s difficult to admit, the pre-internet-era was a time that existed in my lifetime.

Seriously, Team. I’m old enough to remember what it was like to live without phones in our pockets & screens in front of our faces 24/7/365.

Some argue that pre-technological revolution times were simpler. Less complex. Some would even say that we had longer attention spans (that’s right, goldfish, we used to be able to look at something for more than 3 seconds before growing abjectly bored by it).

I’ve also heard it said many times that, before tech became interwoven into our every waking (& some sleeping) moments, that we made more meaningful connections with others than we do today.

In our tech-drenched modern world, the beep-beep-boop of algorithms rule our world. Seriously, they RULE it. Whether you’re hyper-aware of it or not, computer learning & AI-driven platforms are behind almost everything we see, do, eat, buy, & decide.

Everything? Every. Damn. Thing.

And, while I love a nice spicy hit of hyperbole just as much as the next person to help start off an article for me, the truth of the matter is this: The machines aren’t taking over – they already have.

I’d wager big bucks (if I had them) that you’re reading this right now on some sort of device that’s connected to the internet. Desktop, tablet, mobile phone, old-school projector on a wall… whatever your poison. You’re online, aren’t you? If you’re not, let us all take a minute & send a big shout out your way for being hardcore enough to have printed this out on actual paper. Whoa, throwback city.

Beyond the fact that I’m typing this on a laptop & you’re reading it online, I’d also put more cash that I don’t have on the fact that us sharing this moment right now is due to an algorithmic equation. Somewhere along the line a mixture of our browsing history, engagement metrics, keywords, & shared sass levels, a mathematical equation brought us together.

With a plethora of predilections when it comes to the kind of content we consume, the algorithm goddesses that rule our digital universe have matched us up today. Nawww… my heart’s a bit warm & gooey thinking about it.

I’d like you to think about your day – how it begins, what you do in your waking hours, & how it ends.

I bet you the morning looks something like this:

  • Wake up & groggily grab your phone
  • Squint to check the time (Gah! Time to start getting moving already?!)
  • Check a newsfeed on autopilot (probably Facebook)
  • Check another newsfeed – less autopilot (though denial grows at wanting to get out of bed)
  • Browse your Insta (#YassssssFeedTheFeed)
  • Click through to watch something inane on YouTube
  • Check emails – click through the interesting ones, bin the boring ones without clicking

Sound familiar?

I can’t pinpoint when my waking moments (those unencumbered, quiet times when we all move from dream-land to waking reality) became heavily laden with the white noise of over-information & buzzy technology.

All I know is that this is my new reality. A new reality for most of us. A shared experience determined by machines with built-in biases. Biases that aren’t our own, but that have become so by default.

The freaky part? We can’t escape them. They hunt us down. Those AI, key-word, audience vertical, & segment driven content proliferators. Those tricky little red notifications that pop up on my phone, Mac, & watch send our dopamine receptors into outer-space.

Sweetly named cookies consume us instead of the other way around. Sugary-sweet promises of relevance are promised in their name alone. Tracking pixels know us better than we know ourselves. And, the algorithmic super-sleuths of search find us.

They all work in unison with one goal in mind…

They want us to consume more.
Click more.
Read more.
Watch more.
Share more.
Create more.
Buy more!

Which, if you’re in the business of reaching people, puts us digital/social/new-age marketers in a funny spot.

We spend so much time & effort trying to gather data (the kind of data that means something) so that we can then creatively extract true insight. And we go to lengths hiring on ‘experts’ who charge exorbitant rates to expensively dig their way to the bottom of the ever elusive consumer purchase funnel.

There has to be a better way? A more cost-effective way of achieving both reach & relevance. Because, as it stands, we’re drowning in a sea of over-information – without a lifejacket to keep us afloat. And as much as “purists” out there don’t like to admit it… we need to invest in reach to then have deep engagement metrics eventuate off of the back of exposure.

Which leaves us with quite the conundrum.

In an ever-changing & very very busy marketplace how do we find a North Star by which to find our way home?

Easy (kinda): we face the truth.

The truth:
We’re all being punked by algorithms on the daily.

What do I mean when I say we’re getting punked by algorithms? Simply put, I believe we’re being distracted. By the new & the shiny. And, by jargon. We’re all so busy talking around solutions & looking for ‘innovation’ that we forget the basics.

I truly believe the basics are the basics for a reason. To change hearts & minds you need to be seen & heard. To grow, you must know how to scale.

But before worrying about any of this, there’s something every single marketer or advertising bod worth their weight in salt (or organic tea leaves) needs to remember.

After 15 years working as a leader in digital & social media marketing I can say, hand-on-heart, that you only need to do this one thing to create impactful, successful & memorable campaigns:

Tell a good story well.

If you do this, the algorithms will sort themselves out. Promise.

It’s that simple & that complicated.

The hard part is the empty page staring back at you when you start.

You can’t just magic up a good story. You need data, then you need to find a true golden-nugget of insight to build a story upon. There’s no shortcut to creating amazing work, either. Creating a GREAT story, takes time, skill, & a truly human connection.

Remember, always remember, that humans are at the other end of your communications. Not clicks. Not CPM. Not any other digital metric – human eyes, human hearts, human minds.

I promise you, if you invest in the people you’re looking to influence, & spend the required time & effort on your story & your brand, you’ll be so far ahead of the competition that you’ll never have to worry about algorithm changes or channel shifts again.

Channels come & go – they always have & always will.

The basics are the basics for a reason. Humans have been telling stories since time immortal. Learn how to weave a quilt of mixed experiences, prerogatives, & emotions into a your narrative.

Thread your needle carefully, thoughtfully.
Welcome people into the fold.
Have a reason for being – & always aim to add more value than you’ll ever ask in return.

If you do that & if you include your audience in your narrative then your story becomes their story.

And, when your story is built upon shared ownership, others will share it for you freely. There’s literally no app, website, or social channel that could track, re-target, or plan for that.

Keen to beat the AI newsfeed?

Dig deep.
Be real.
And have fun doing it.

And, if you’re keen to learn how to build your brand & campaign stories to ensure impact & success, drop me a line. I’m happy to help you do this.

Click here for more information on storytelling for business, & to get in touch!

The Case For Writing (And Investing In) Your Brand Story

What’s your story?

No, really. What is it?

Humour me for a minute – let’s try an exercise together.

I want you to think about how you might answer the above question. Try to formulate a storyboard in your mind about your story. While thinking through it, allow your mind to wander. Allow your biases, for just this exercise, to fall by the wayside for a brief moment in time.

This is your story. You get to write it.

First things first. Where would you start? Would it be at the beginning (birth), or would you choose a different beginning that’s not your literal ‘start?’ If you default to a starting point where work becomes a focus – you wouldn’t be the first. We so often live our lives in the context of meeting each other and asking ‘What do you do?’ Swapping corporate titles like social currency. Park the titles & the jobs. This is about your STORY. Start at your beginning…but make it about you. Not society.

From there, head into the gritty, gusty, beautiful middle of your narrative. How do you, in your own mind, segue from the beginning to the middle of your narrative? Was there a big shift in geography, in relationships, in maturity?

Think through the moments that you see as definitive to you & your journey.

You know the moments already. They’re at the front of your mind often. They are those moments that you look back on often, laugh about with people who knew you when, & even the ones that might cause your eyes to leak just a little bit – emotion still just beyond the surface.

Those are your personal narrrative building blocks. They offer depth, authenticity, growth, & change to occur. They are little pieces of stardust.

From your defining stories, it’s time to lead into a wrap-up of sorts. Your story, as yet unfinished, still needs to end somewhere. As humans, our minds need a finite lesson, or stopping point. But, your story continues.

Do you it end now, in front of your computer screen wit a pithy qupte? Or, do you pick a recent moment that allows you an open end?A hope, a dream, a goal.

However you chose to close your story – you’ve just created yourself another starting point. And therein lies the power of storytelling.

The power of storytelling in life & in business is the power of new beginnings.

For me, for you, for all of us – starting over & over again allows us so much beautiful space to fill empty pages of time to come. By going through the above exercise, you as an individual have a story now. A unique voice. A singular journey.

It can be shared, re-told by others, & written into cultural folklore even!

To ensure continual growth in business – whether as marketers, brand strategists, social media OGs, or CEO’s – you need to understand your brand’s story in-depth. Because when a brand stands for something authentic, human, & unique it’ll always rise faster than those businesses without stories.

Stories are currency, you can bank them & trade them.

I’m going to go WAY out on a ledge right now & say that stories are the most valuable asset to a company after people. People first, always. But, as a close second, stories are the secret sauce that spices up a brand’s offerings & products. As such, they should be just as heavily invested in.

The more people understand why they’re buying what they’re buying – the more likely they are to remain loyal to a brand. Why? Because magic happens when our personal narratives & brand narratives become intertwined. It’s very, very hard to untangle stories once they’ve been melded together. Thus, you create camps of people who then tell your story for you.

Me? I’m an Apple girl. A lifelong Nike gym junkie. Someone who buys Coke over Pepsi. Someday I’ll own a Ford truck. When I shop, I take time to notice my biases. I physically stop myself from defaulting to my favourites… and often wonder what it is in the back of my mind that causes me to reach for one brand over another.

In every instance, I can follow my choices back to stories.

Unpacking memories, it’s the happy tickles at the back of my lizard brain that cause me to truly become invested in a brand. That part of my brain simply acts & reacts based on past experience. I can remember Nike ads from the early 80’s (I was a toddler!), & still am able to sing almost every jingle for breakfast cereals written in the USA from 1985-1999. I remember the Say ‘No’ To Drugs campaign with frying pans & smashed eggs as clear as day…

Stories. All of these marketing campaigns, in all of their channels and iterations, are based on stories. On human truths. On simple, succinct messages.

The moral of this blog’s story? Invest in your story. Invest the time, the emotion, & the cash.

Write it, live it, share it.

We can’t believe in things we don’t understand or know. Once you’ve invested in your story, your customers will invest in your story… and then tell it for you. Whether at the dinner table, whether by wearing your logo on their feet/shirt/jeans, whether through social media channels… advocates will share stories for you. This is how brands grow.

Fill that funnel, team! Tell stories. As for me, I’m a lucky one. Happily a dreamer, an author, & a believer in good when it comes to telling stories. In the world where I spend a lot of time, the world of brand marketing, I’ve been absolutely blessed to meet some amazing people. Yarn-spinners so prolific that they have me eating from their palms & yearning to be as magical as they are with words, pauses, imagery & beyond.

Crafting stories for brands is my favourite form of beautiful, creative geekery

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with such a wizard of woven narrative, the amazing Park Howell. Radiating kindness, creativity, purpose, & vision – Park & I hit it off from the word go. We talked about storytelling journeys, heroes that helped shape our own passions for becoming storytellers ourselves…and prolific lyrics from the Brown Dirt Cowboy himself, Bernie Taupin.

If you’re keen to learn more about how to find your own narrative, & if you’re up for a rollicking ride on the rollercoaster of passionate storytelling for brands to really super-charge growth & return, click here. I’m positive you’ll enjoy this podcast that Park & I did together.

The #KindnessRevolution starts here, with all of us.

 

VidCon Australia: Defining Influence & Working With Influencers

When I flew to Anaheim last June, I wasn’t simply escaping a cold, wet, dreary start to winter in Auckland. I was on the hunt for sun, surf, summertime…and, something else entirely. Exactly what that ‘something’ was, I hadn’t a clue – but I knew I’d know it when I saw it.

I knew a few things. I knew that the something I was searching for wasn’t as tangible as a cold cocktail in my hand whilst sitting on Santa Monica Beach. Though, when I look back now, there are definite transcendental qualities inherent in beachside cocktails. But I digress…

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When I got to California, I wanted something awe-inspiring. Something surprising. Something enlightening, even.

Is that too much to ask? You see, I’ve been living in New Zealand now for nigh on 15 years, and while I absolutely love my chosen homeland, I sure do miss the diversity & sheer size of home. California stands fairly sturdily on a foundation of desert-heartiness & beachside industriousness. It drips in cool-factor, geekiness, and social awareness. It’s a home to most, a religion to many, and a dreamy fantasy to a chosen few who go through life with rose coloured glasses always on. California, to me, is interwoven into the fabric of my soul. My body and aura react to my home state – a native child grown near the sea.

It was California’s all-encompassing bigness that taught me from early on that I could dream and do anything – as big or as small as I wanted to. But I would have to work hard for what I desired. I’d have to learn to take the hard-knocks with the soft, salty smooches.

Growing up in San Diego was an absolute trip, though. We played lots of sports, studied a lot & spent every stolen moment we could at the beach. But, beyond the sunshine, butterflies, beaches & tanned bodies of adolescence, there was always something in me that yearned for more. Never happy with the somethings in front of me. As to the above – I needed something. More.

Though, I should be clear here from the outset: I didn’t ever need more stuff.

Stuff has never appealed to me – and I don’t think it ever will. I didn’t need more money. I didn’t need more praise. What I needed was more of life. I needed more small moments of joy. I needed more opinions that didn’t quite jive with mine. I needed to discover more. See more. Learn more. Experience more. Be more. And so it was that through this quest for moreness, I developed a very strong sense of curiosity. And, because of this sense of exploration, I’ve been able to consistently see the world through different lenses & experiences.

In fact, it was the curiosity for discovering more that led me to New Zealand in the first place.

And now all these years later, that same curiosity is what keeps leading me back home.

img_5979-1Over the past decade, I’ve been very lucky to attend some amazing world conferences & gatherings that’ve changed who I am. Even in small increments, I’ve begun a huge pivot toward a more fulfilled life. A life of value derived from helping others and telling stories. I’ve also rubbed shoulders with some of the most amazing storytelling minds on the planet, & in doing so gleaned as much knowledge as I possibly could over the course of a workshop, an hour-long session, or a cocktail (the cocktail lessons tend to be the best for gleaning!).

So it was one of the greatest pleasures of my professional and personal life, to have been able to experience VidCon in Anaheim this year from an industry/professional standpoint. If you don’t know what VidCon is, simply put, it’s one of the biggest most inclusive events on the planet. It is a celebration of differences, technology & ideas. It’s also the place to be to watch a beautiful coming-together of different communities and fandoms. For a professional storytelling-social media-strategist-OG, VidCon brought together creative tips & tricks, channel executions, marketing strategies, trends, algorithms, and talk around the morality of modern media.

Geez Louise, I ran around like a nerdy kid in an awkward adult candy store for the entirety of the event! Three jam packed, fun filled, and awe inspiring days turned me into a major VidCon fangirl in California. I met so many amazing people, learned a lot about the media industry vertical that I work in, and found that thing I was looking for all along: my spark.

At a huge convention center filled with 36,000 people, I remembered exactly who I was and what made me tick.

Storytelling. People. Inclusion. And, passion for what we do professionally and personally. Talk about finding ‘something’ in exactly the place you weren’t looking! Magic!

I should also mention that, whilst at VidCon, I realised how much of an important part geography plays in the kind of content we consume. We really do tend towards common, comfortable stories that reflect our cultures, countries, and social groups. Many of the featured creators, while HUGE in the USA, were & still are fairly unheard of here in New Zealand. So, yay for VidCon, I found some new fave creators.

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Fast forward four months from VidCon in Anaheim, and here comes another opportunity to find something else.

VidCon Australia, the inaugural event, was happening…and there was no way I was going to miss it! In fact, after getting to know some of the people from for the industry track, I was beyond stoked not only attend the event in Australia, but to be asked to speak on adapting global storytelling trends to local markets. Talk about excitement!

Taking place in my favorite Australian city, my fiancé and I flew from Auckland to Melbourne on a Thursday night – and we stayed through Monday afternoon.

I was literally so excited that the mood of our trip was nothing short of celebratory.

We splashed out & stayed at a fairly swanky hotel (which always helps set the scene for a good time) and woke up early Friday morning to explore the city a bit.

We wandered down Degraves Lane for our ceremonial avocado on toast breakfast – washed down with the most amazing coffee on the planet. After breakfast we headed to AC/DC Lane and took in all of the beautiful colors and portraits on the graffiti-laden walls there. From there, we spent some time in the National Gallery of Victoria looking through amazing exhibits and getting all cultured – n stuff. All of this before lunch!

At about noon we headed to the Melbourne convention center to check in to VidCon. I was an absolute ball of excitement and nervous energy. Luckily my friend Jim (who I met in LA) was heading up the industry track in Australia, so I knew there would be at least one familiar face in Aus for this conference.

Check in was super easy, and the staff and volunteers were gorgeously friendly. Even before the actual convention started (it took place over the weekend) everybody seemed amped for fun times ahead. And, let me tell you, fun times were had!

Saturday was wickedly fabulous. Like LA, but smaller in scale, VidCon Australia packed a fun-factor punch.

I, of course, was early. If there’s anything I’ve ever been in my life – it’s early. For work, for school, for parties, for planes. Early is my bag, baby! The great thing about being the first person to places is that you see things magically come to life. Empty spaces are transformed into thriving events & memorable moments in time. And I love to watch magic unfold.

Most of the day Saturday, I spent up on the Industry Track floor learning all that I could from the speakers, and networking with friends both new and old from across the world.  Every now and again I’d hop down to the Creator Track or the Community Track events to take in some of the pure rocket-fuel energy of fandom that comes dripping from VidCon. The day flew by, literally. And we closed with drinks and networking with others from the Industry Track – all of us well excited and exhausted in equal, beautiful parts.

Sunday was a big day. Day Two always is!

I really enjoyed digging into all of the tracks on Sunday – running around the convention centre like an over-hyped dici-geek on a cotton candy and pure coca-cola drip. My talk was at the end of the day, and, to be honest – I wasn’t sure anyone (save for my fiancee & New Zealand crew) would turn up. Sunday evening is usually when I’m in my Smurfette Onesie watching Harry Potter with my family. Anyone who came to hear me waffle on would be a wee legend in my book.

Luckily, people showed up! And, kept showing up during my 45 minutes of fun & sharing. On a personal level, I was able to really enjoy the moment & take it in. I laughed with the crowd in the room (who knew Betty White dabbing could be such a crowd-pleaser?), answered some great questions & have been in touch with most of the folks who were present in one way or another since. That’s the beauty of attending things like Vidcon Australia, you meet all kinds of people who will be in your life in some way or another from that point on. Some you’ll throw ideas around with, some you’ll help out with a challenge (or they’ll help you), and some you simply meet for a coffee and to spin yarns with.

Talk about a gift, right? Memories, people, & stories to keep for a lifetime. Yep, sign me up for more.

img_0539After VidCon finished up (soon after my session on Sunday afternoon), we celebrated in style by hitting up an amazing restaurant in the central city, Cookie. My fiancee, my buddy Jim & I sat chatting, re-hashing the three days just gone by, and drinking amazing red wine & cocktails. We lol’d, we pontificated, and we ended the night at a rooftop bar nearby with yummy Australia red wine.

Beautiful times with beautiful souls – that’s what I’ll take away from VidCon Australia. After Cookie & our rooftop tipple, we bid adieu to Jim with warnings of Drop Bears nearer to the coast (he was headed off adventuring, while we Kiwis had to head back to NZ for work on Monday.)

All in all, the first VidCon Australia was an experience of a lifetime – not just for me, but for a lot of people.

I think it was quite a gift to see the conference in its first year, the heaving throngs of fans and creators that are in Anaheim will be on the horizon. But for 2017, I can honestly say that I loved it all. The people, the vibes, the fandoms, the city and learning. It all added up to an amazing event that I can’t wait to return to in 2018.

The best part? Just as I had found in Anaheim in June, I found so many somethings I never expected in Melbourne.

And, if you need more convincing, here are my TOP FIVE REASONS to head to VIDCON MELBOURNE in 2018:

  • Location, Location, Location

    Melbourne is an amazing city. For art, culture, food, wine, sports, music… you name it. I’ve been to Melbs so many times for both work and play, and still cannot wait to get back. The Convention Centre in Melbourne is perfectly placed for an event like VidCon – it’s in walking distance to the central city, scarily near to an amazing shopping complex, and literally steps from great restaurants that sit right on the water (perfect for sunset-gazing.)

  • Access

    The access you get to amazing global speakers and content that’s world-class is second to none from an Industry perspective especially. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the Creator & Community floors in Melbourne, but I’m sure those tracks were superb as well. The secret sauce to VidCon Melbourne is literally access. Whether it was the ABC, Instagram, or Influencer agency leads – access to information was off the charts. And, right now, the conference is in growth mode, which means that this is the time to get in and listen/talk/network/geek out with world thought leaders on a more personal level.

  • Networking

    The networking is strong with this one. No, really. It is. Some of the most magical moments of the conference for me were the quiet times in between sessions when speakers or attendees would simply sit together and pontificate on subjects in depth. Getting to know people from countries, backgrounds, and industries is very important when it comes to being able to compare notes and bounce ideas off of when you’re in smaller places like I am here in New Zealand. I also love just walking the exhibition hall floor, too, to see who else is down there curiously looking into the experiential aspect of VidCon.

  • Fandoms

    Fandoms are the backbone of VidCon. I’ve never seen so many diverse, engaged, and passionate people when it comes to influencers/creators/YouTubers and their communities. I find it absolutely fascinating to just sit and watch how the young people who attend VidCon act and interact with each other – and, on the other side of the coin, interact with their online heroes IRL. There’s literally no better place to get right to the heart of how Gen Z and younger generations are creating content – and consuming it. The fandoms are powerful. They’re fascinating. And, they give me so much insight and hope for the future of storytelling. The kids, team. The kids just want a great story.

  • Inspiration

    Inspiration. It’s something I know I’m always chasing. I’ll keep this point very short-and-sweet: just go. If you can, go. Grab an Industry pass. Go to sessions across each of the three tracks. Do the meet-and-greet hall and feel the buzz of meeting a creator (and being surrounded by their fans!) Magic is all around, as is inspiration.

For photos, vids & stories of my travels to VidCon & beyond, follow me here: www.instagram.com/cassieroma

Social Media Q & A: Influencers, Channels, & Trends

Ah, social media.

My BFF, my Bae, my profession. For the past 11 years, I’ve felt like a bit of a trailblazer. A pioneer of such. But, not one of those old-school pioneers making their way across the plains and the Rockies in covered wagons… more Jean-Luc Picard in a space ship traversing far off solar systems.

Looking back to the very first time social media became a part of ‘what I do’ I clearly remember thinking that, should I go down the route of learning to master the channels (spoiler: no one can master ALL THE CHANNELS), that a) I would be in a super minority in a world of traditional advertising and PR & b) each day would mean I’d have to be more & more clever with how I showed brands the long-term benefit of storytelling & connection in new channels.

Also of note, Cass: if you take on this job for the long-haul, you’ll always be a bringer of change (which makes people feel uncomfortable at best, threatened usually), & you won’t make any big bucks for a wee while. Okay? OKAY!

Fast forward to today, and the below is Q&A I took part in recently. In it, you’ll see straight off the bat that I am still so, so, so excited by, & passionate about, the power of social media. After years of diving into the guts of how digital platforms, websites, traditional media, and emerging trends fit in the great puzzle of marketing & storytelling – I still get out of bed read to learn, ready to share, & ready to see who will make an impact (& how).

Below I talk not simply channels, but more broadly around building your personal brand, emerging trends, and the importance of imbuing humanity into everything a a company does. I loved putting aside some time to think about the state of social media as it is in this moment, after having been a part of the ‘movement’ over the past decade.

Both professionally & personally, I love (YES! LOVE!) social & digital media. I love how the world has become so much more connected. And, how creativity, kindness, & empathy has come to bind us together most of the time. I could probably write a novel worth of answers for each question below (perhaps I will someday) – but for now I’ve tried to keep everything a bit more succinct.

Enjoy!

And, ask questions if you’ve got any. I love a curly question or three.

Thanks,
Cass


You’ve got a large reach and unique personal brand, for candidates looking to create their own personal brand – what would you say is the best way of going about this? And what benefit does this bring?

This is a big question to answer in a few lines. In short, creating your personal brand online & being unique is easy: there’s only one of you!

Depending on your personal & professional goals in a very saturated digital and social media ecosystem – you need to define fairly early how you’ll present yourself, who you’ll be talking to, and what you want an audience to take away/do when interacting with you online. B2B, B2C, and beyond are all inherently similar in that you’re a human talking to, and hoping to influence, other humans.

As a writer & photographer (by both trade & passion) – the hunger to learn & create is inbuilt in my DNA. I’m not afraid to be vulnerable when I need to be. Curiosity & passion drive me forward daily. The innate desire continually learn & adapt is the secret sauce of success in any field.

Also, my rule of thumb for the past decade of fumbling my way through social media (and then becoming an expert) is to be careful in what you post. Be yourself, by all means, have your own voice & brand – but act as if your parents or CEO will see every tweet, every post you send out. Being able to check yourself strategically will ensure that your personal brand goes from strong to stronger over time & grows alongside you.

I recently came across your blog and saw a running theme by the way you talk about social media – “ I kept talking passionately about community and the returns in the long run.” How does this mindset influence your content creation?

Every single post I’ve ever written, created, or curated on behalf of a brand has been with the end recipient in mind. We sell to people, not to clicks or lists of email addresses. To create great stories that engage & hold an audience is magic.

And, it’s not overly complex magic, either. Knowing your audience is easier than ever in our world of insights, but we sometimes overlook creativity and lean on machine learning.

I’m all for clever ads, creative social executions, and for actual heart at the center of community conversations. And, we have to remember that brand is all about the long run. It’s wooing customers & becoming a part of their lives – not the other way around.

I quite often say to my team at work “take off your marketing hat & put on your normal person hat” – ask yourself these questions:

  • Would this resonate with YOU if you were the target audience?
  • Does your content tell a story?
  • Is there an emotive or psychological trigger to get someone to act or react to your content?
  • And, most importantly, what benefit is this bringing to the person consuming your content?

What are your thoughts on the emerging trend of social media influencers?

This is another subject I could literally write a novel on. First and foremost, I don’t think influencers are emerging, or a trend. Think of Nike & Michael Jordan. In my mind’s eye I see Mike & his logo. I remember his college colours (white & baby blue), & I see his smiling face.

Everyone wanted to be like Mike when I was a kid – and we all wanted to wear his shoes just so a bit of the cool-factor from Michael could rub off on us through our feet. That’s the pull of influence.

It’s social currency, it’s tapping into emotions, & it’s corralling popularity in a way that isn’t selling out. In fact, brands have utilised the power of influencers since time immortal. All that has changed are the platforms. With social media now so saturated with UGC & content from anyone who has a smart phone, more and more people are calling themselves influencers – when they’re not.

The idea of macro influencers & using celebrities as a sweet-fix to drive quick engagement with brands isn’t an idea I buy into. I firmly believe in the power of longevity and a genuine relationship between influencer & brand over time to ensure a truly symbiotic relationship between brand and influencer – not to mention the consumer who needs to believe the message and the people telling stories on behalf of a brand.

When we talk about micro influencers, things start to get really exciting. I do not believe for one second that, just because you may be on the tele or radio or have a YouTube channel, that you’re a good influencer.

In fact, micro influencers are the people who really do the hard work when it comes to selling. They’re the WOM (word of mouth) power-horses of the digital age, and there’s huge opportunity for brands to work well with micro influencers globally & regionally to create magic.

With a wealth of social media experience under your belt, what has been the most pivotal lesson you have learnt?

Keep humans, human emotions, and authenticity at the forefront of everything you do. The beauty of social media is that brands not only get to hear from their customers, they also get to interact with them on a human level – tearing down boundaries of the past that existed in expensive, traditional media.

If you work empathy, fun, education, and information into your social media strategy you’ll be far, far ahead of the curve. Also, from a personal brand perspective, remember to interact in the way you want to be interacted with.

If someone sends you a message, asks a question, or wants to reach out – be there & make the time to replying. The art of social media is the art of socialising. The same rules apply for conversations IRL as conversations online.

What do you think are the key social media trends that will prevail or emerge in 2018?

Live video. It’ll be powerful, powerful, powerful… more so than it is now. Why? Because large platforms like Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter are already all on board & already evolving the tech to involve more people in more places more often.

We’re a bit behind in the NZ Market in utilising live video for brands (and that’s okay!) – but I have a very firm belief that we’ll catch up very soon. It’ll be the brands that start doing live well, now, that seize on this opportunity that grow connections more quickly than those who don’t try.

Getting the basics right & not being afraid to just jump in and get some learning under our belts will be the way forward. Some hints? Try out Instagram live. Watch how influencers & other world brands are utilising the platform. Hop onto Youtube and watch Hannah Hart livestream to her community. She’s a wizard, as are the members of her community.

You’ll learn something new each time. And learning + evolving = winning.
Promise. 🙂

 

For the original link to this story, check out the Razzbri site here.

Social Media Is Dead, Long Live Social Media

A few evenings ago, I had the immense pleasure of sharing a room with about 70 local digital and social media minds to talk about the ever fascinating topic of Social Media ROI. I’ll be honest and tell you this: I stopped going to most social media gatherings centered around this topic a long time ago because I feel like I’ve been there, done that.

We’ve hashed, re-hashed, and re-re-hashed the subject a million times as an industry to seemingly no avail. Trying to find a ‘golden measure’ of social media success is oftentimes akin to hitting your head against a brick wall. The brick wall doesn’t budge. But your head does. And, all you’re left with is an achy melon and the knowledge that bashing yourself against an inanimate object for over a decade isn’t good for anyone involved. Especially you.

That said, I went along the other night for a few reasons. Firstly, I knew the person putting on the talk. She’s a cool cat, and amazing at what she does – if anyone could draw interested, interesting, and engaged people to the venue to really get down to nuts and bolts and talk, she could. And, she did!

The night itself was great. The venue was funky, and open plan – mostly brick, too (yikes! protect your heads!) The speakers for the evening were engaging before, during, and after the proceedings. Dialogue fascinating. And the crowd asked important, evolved questions. Yee haw! Though we all took angles in talking through social media ROI, a common thread was woven across the tapestry of topics. And, when boiled down, the most important takeaway for me from everyone in the room was this: humans matter most.

In marketing.
In storytelling.
In channel planning.
In brand and social media ROI.
Yep, humans.
They’re the best.

Seems pretty commonsensical, right? That people matter more than platforms. More than analytical tools. More than data and insights. More than anything. But your brain would boggle and your head spin at the amount of times I’ve been called into a meeting and been told to “prove the worth” of Facebook as a line-item on a community or direct marketing campaign pitch. You’d fall out of your chair in shock (or maybe not) at how often I still get asked about whether audience should go before channel. Here’s something I can tell you without a single doubt in my mind: ROI is driven through the human condition. All of it.

AUDIENCE. FIRST. ALWAYS.

Let’s taking a quick walk down memory lane, shall we? I remember the first time I was hauled into a senior manager’s office to sit next to the CEO and CFO and talk social ROI. The exec knew that that new ” social communication channels” were lining up to be the new next-best-thing, but weren’t sure how these emerging channels would slot into the existing marketing mix. Fair enough to ask the hard questions as bean counters. But, at 25yrs old I wasn’t quite as well versed in the language of cash-flow and P&L ledgers as I am now to be able to have eloquently answered the questions put to me as I could now. In fact, my attempts at speaking ‘marketing talk’ to digital people, and vice versa, were fumbling at best. I failed a lot at convincing people of the value of social media, but also kept at it. I kept talking passionately about community and the returns in the long run. From that, I got more and more wins on the board. It was all simple psychology and basic marketing fundamentals – just on new platforms. Right? If only the IPA study about brand building in the long term had been out a decade ago!

The funny thing is this: social media has always just made sense to me. At all junctures. It’s never been strange, other-worldly, or foreign. Maybe because I’m inherently a creative and love learning new ways to share images, or stories, or video. Social has been another avenue (or, more recently, major freeway) on which businesses and individuals were able to tell powerful stories in a more relevant way than perhaps traditional advertising could. In my life, social media has become a passion, a profession, and almost an obsession. From the beginning, social media ROI has always been in relationships – it still is. Before the tracking tools. Before the analytical powerhouse back-ends. Before the ad platforms. Before custom and lookalike audiences. Before all of that, and to this day, I firmly believe that social media ROI is in all of us. It’s in emotion, familiarity, and trust.

So when I say social media is dead, we all know it’s not. It’ll never die. But, it will evolve and change quicker than Beiber’s hairstyle. Social is powerful. It unites us. It divides us. And it earns us the right to speak about things other than just our products. Social media allows brands banter, heart, and voice. Each touch-point, each piece of content, each story is a chance for you and your brand to differentiate and ingratiate yourself to consumers. Put people first, and your ROI will be ever-growing.

Long live social media.
Long live all media.

Breaking Bad Buzzwords (A Marketer’s Guide to Less BS)

Have you ever had an out-of-body experience in a work meeting? One of those did-I-just-zone-out-or-are-these-people-speaking-Martian moments where you hear people as clear as a bell, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t figure out what in the world they’re on about?

You hear words, pauses, and see nods of approval from others. But sentences are far from sonorous. They’re not easily digestible. You chew and chew on blurted acronyms. And, although you try your best to take everything in and make it stay – the words just slip through the cracks like sand through a sieve.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Buzzwords. Words that aren’t words. Acronyms. Jargon-y sentences. Marketing dogma. Monday-to-Friday speak that focuses in on laddering up to strategic objectives while still maintaining the essence of a brand through targeted audience demographics.

Ugh.

If stopping eyeballs from rolling (my own & those of others in the room) was a superpower, I’d use mine for good. Promise. My goal? To save the world from meeting after meeting of Buzzword Overkill. I’d swoop in and demand clarity. And detail. And real-human-speak.

I’m not sure if I’d don cape and spandex bodysuit, but that’s not the important thing to ponder on right now (or maybe it is?) Spandex is pretty darn comfy.

Honestly though, all sarcasm and irony aside, in my eyes the use (or often over-use) of professional slang can at once be overwhelming and off-putting. When buzzwords and acronyms are thrown around willy-nilly like confetti, I zone out. My internal monologue takes over, and my mind wanders off to greener, more concise pastures.

Looking back a few years, my career was focused mainly in the arenas of social media and digital marketing.  During this time the word ‘viral’ was my Kryptonite. It was – and often still is – overused. The best thing about an evolving digital and social marketing landscape? More and more marketers and agency partners understand that marketing, storytelling, and channel mix all play together nicely if done well. In fact, I haven’t been asked to make a viral video in at least six months now. It’s like seeing a light at the end of a common-sense tunnel!

But, beyond asking for viral videos and shareable Facebook posts – there’s a new Buzzword heading  for (or already at) Overkill Level 10. And, weirdly/fittingly/hilariously enough… it’s in my actual job title.

That said, before I move onto said word/phrase let me just say this – I love what I do. Love. I wake up each day able to practice my passions – and get paid to do so. That’s a big win. Storytelling in all of its shapes, sizes, forms, and nerdy amplification/distribution subsets really keeps my engine revving.

So, let’s hop to it. I’m sure you’ve guessed the word.

Content.

Yep. Content. 

The word ‘content’ gets bandied about these days in so many shapes, forms, manners, and reckless iterations that I sometimes find my head spinning. Literally.

When talking about campaigns and strategy, lots of folks typically define ‘content’ as a singular item, story type, artistic execution, or any mismatched mixture of the above. Video? Yep, that’s content. Images? Uh huh, that too. Social media posts? You betcha. Infographics? Yessiree. Long-form articles? BIG YES! But  what about those folks who, oftentimes in the same meeting – and sometimes in the same breath – mean something completely different to any of the above? They’re human curveballs sent to strike me out swinging – or at least have me knock a foul-ball into catchable territory.

Because of inconsistencies in how each person in a room defines content, I’ve implemented a rule in meetings where the word ‘content’ is actually banned. Why? Because content itself is a catch-all phrase. It can be the most broad definition of branded communication, or drilled down into a singular touch-point. But, most people don’t take the time do define what they mean when they’re talking content. Which is why it can be a confusing and confounded principle to grasp for a lot of people. It’s also why there are so many divergent views on strategy and campaign roll-out when talking ‘content.’

By banning the word itself, or getting people to substitute it with something silly like ‘pineapple,’ I find meetings are more, erm, fruitful.

Really though. Think about how many times a day a typical marketer, agency suit, or creative hears, writes, or reads the word ‘content.’ Then imagine the word pineapple being bandied about haphazardly instead.

The absurdity, and the absolute frustration in using a nonsensical word when you want to use another kind of makes you stop, think, and be really concise and detailed when talking about strategies and ideas. Which, I reckon, is a good thing when money (or the potential for it) is on the line, right?

We need to be super-iterative when we talk about content. When we talk about context. When we talk about placement. And channel. And insights… and, most importantly, when we’re storytelling on behalf of a brand.

When approaching content marketing (AKA storytelling), the first thing I need to begin a journey into the depths of creativity is data. And from the data, insights. And then information about the product/service/offering we’ll be creating ideas from. Then, we crack into iteration. Into channel. Into creative execution. It’s so much easier to talk about a video series, or an infographic based story, or a long-form textual article, or a quiz than it is to talk about, ugh, ‘content.’

So don’t just take it from me. Take it from all of the eye-rolling-content-saturated-modern-marketeers and do us all a favor. The next time you’re tempted to use the word ‘content’ in a meeting, be super specific. Even in your own mind, think ‘pineapple.’ Sometimes simplifying ideas down to their most basic function is difficult – but embracing the hard stuff means better clarity. And, bigger wins.

Also, it means I’ll still be awake at the table, listening to you – taking it all in, actively engaged and impassioned. And, nodding in delight at your, ahem, pineapple creating acumen. Thank you in advance for your clarity.

Now, who’s up for a tropical cocktail? I seem to have a hankering for one now…