5 Decluttering Lessons That Will Help Your Business

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Today, I finished an 8-day process that has changed my life. That was the promise, and it worked. Marie Kondo wrote a book called “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and I followed her method, The Konmari Method, to the letter.

“Tidying Up” is not what this book is about. I’m not sure if the translation from the original Japanese is to blame for this, or it’s my personal definition, but to me, tidying is a fast and easy task that involves dusting, and strategic cramming of things behind closed closet doors.

You haven’t lived until you’ve held every single cleaning product you own in your hand, determining if it brings about feelings of joy.

What Kondo (or Konmari, as she’s called) is advocating is getting rid of every single thing you own that does not “spark joy.”  That’s right, either you get a joy feeling from your iron, or out it goes. You haven’t lived until you’ve held every single cleaning product you own in your hand, determining if it brings about feelings of joy.

I live in a small duplex with no basement or garage, I’m not a terribly messy person, and my husband and I are not into “stuff.” My three-year-old son already has just a fraction of the toys and clothes most kids have, so I expected I wouldn’t have much to get rid of.

I was wrong.

8 days of Konmari-ing resulted in:

  • 3 truckloads of donations to Goodwill
  • 4 city garbage barrels & two city recycling barrels full of discarded items
  • 200 books, about half of my collection, donated
  • 7 garbage bags of clothing items and shoes, donated
  • A full bag of expired medication, hair products, soap products, and makeup, discarded
  • $65 dollars in small change discovered
  • More than THREE HUNDRED joyless, broken pens discarded. (I’m a writer. Occupational hazard?)
  • Four old iPhones recycled
  • 8 pounds of paper, shredded

Before I did this, my husband and I felt cramped and crowded in our 1200-square-foot home. Now there is more than enough room to live.

More importantly, I love every single thing in my home. As Konmari predicts, the psychic energy it takes to navigate around useless items you don’t need, don’t like  and don’t want immediately starts to flow in more important directions when those things are gone.

Her book is a fascinating read, and full of insights that helped not only my clutter, but my consulting business. I believe the principles could apply to any business.

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Make Decisions Better

Being decisive has never been my problem. In fact, I struggle to avoid rushing into a decision too quickly before I’ve considered my options. Sometimes, though, the criteria on which I base my decisions is muddy.

My most natural way is emotional: I don’t think I’ve ever said “no” when a cashier asks me to donate $2 to whatever. I feel so sympathetic to the cause I always say yes. Even when I don’t know anything about the charity. They could be using 15% of my donations to fund the boss’s Twizzlers addiction. I still give money.

When I was a reporter, I only ever had one simplistic goal: get the story right, and get it first. I therefore only had one criterion when faced with a decision: which choice helps me be right and first? Do that.

In most jobs, there are multiple desired outcomes, sometimes even competing outcomes. Like most entrepreneurs, I’m now building new decision-making muscles that reflect my operations goals, my financial goals, my clients’ goals and my personal life goals. I have to get clear on the criteria for each decision, then gather information and act swiftly, or my business suffers. There is no room for dithering.

Konmari insists your “tidying marathon” begin with clothing, then move to books, papers, miscellaneous and finally sentimental items. There is only one criterion for choosing what stays and what goes: does the item bring you joy?

Her rationale for this order of tidying is that making decisions about your clothing is easy. By the time you advance all the way to mementos, which most people have a harder time throwing out, you have honed the skill of good decision making. You also intimately understand her sole criterion of “what sparks joy?”  Similarly, you need to exercise your decision-making muscles early and often as an entrepreneur, so you can be ready for decisive action on large important matters as they arise.

Know the Rules Before you Break Them

Sticking to the book’s order of clothes, books, paper, miscellaneous and then mementos is harder than it seems. Think about it, you likely have clothes and books and especially paper all over your house.

Konmari insists you gather all items of a specific category, from wherever you store them, pile them all up together and go through them one at a time.

This is a lot more work than organizing your bedroom closet, then your kids rooms’, then your front closet, and so forth. Kondo says, however, the end results are more successful when you see all of an item in one place.

This was true for me. For example, I had 30 coats. (!) However, I never felt like I had that many, because they were squirrelled away in closets throughout my house. When piled in front of me, I had to face the fact that I had far more than I needed, wanted or could ever wear, especially now that I don’t stand outside in the cold on television for a living. (That’s how someone amasses 30 coats, by the way.)

I would not have discovered this if I hadn’t followed LCMTU’s advice exactly as Konmari laid it out.

When you aren’t expert-level at something, it makes sense to follow the rules to maximize the expertise of others, even if those rules seem strange or arbitrary.

Be Grateful

For many years I worked as a union employee for one of Canada’s largest companies, with no direct reports and very little personal autonomy. Far less than the average worker. I couldn’t even change my hairstyle without permission.
Although I’m a wildly optimistic, unconventional, slightly contrarian free thinker, I found myself developing the work mindset that tends to pervade this type of organization. I was suspicious and skeptical of new ideas management tried to roll out, and frustrated that my own ideas and those of my colleagues were clearly unwanted.

In order to be successful today in my client-based business, I basically need the opposite of this mindset. Openness is my ally.

I go into all kinds of businesses with all kinds of cultures and usually work directly with the CEO or other top-level executives. These people are always far more experienced in the business world in general than I am, and certainly more experienced at what it is that they do.

This means no matter how strange or unorthodox or even impossible their ideas sound, it’s my job to embrace these ideas and help them achieve their goals. While I often share my knowledge of best practices and I always come armed with ideas, this isn’t necessarily what my clients are looking for. It’s my job to make their plans come to life, not the other way around.

This is the kind of openness you’ll need to follow Marie Kondo’s advice. Throughout the book, Konmari anthropomorphizes inanimate objects. We need to fold our socks a certain way, because they “need a rest.” We should hug and thank our dearest belongings.

Admittedly, this thinking was familiar to me because as a child I thought everything in the world had feelings. I forced myself to wear clothes I hated, so my sweaters wouldn’t be sad. I spent a lifetime training myself out of this way of thinking, because, you know, people tend to think you’re bonkers when you talk to your shoes.

So when I read a book instructs me to consider the feelings of my wallet, it requires some suspension of disbelief.

This is a great mindset for all entrepreneurs. Go along. See how an idea plays out before you judge it to be weird or –the greatest business sin of all– a waste of time.

By thanking my tchotchkes that did not bring me joy, I was able to send them off to a new life in a way I had never been able to do, simply by arguing with myself rationally that I didn’t need them anymore.

Gratitude and Your Business

The fundamental tenet of LCMTU is not downsizing, not organizing, but gratitude.

Konmari predicts that if you sift out all extraneous possessions leaving only what you love, you will be transformed. You will be surrounded only by what sparks joy in your heart, and that will naturally foster grateful living.

Gratitude is my strongest personal value. Every morning when my feet hit the floor, I make a conscious decision to send out a thank you for the day ahead. I end my day by writing five things that I’m grateful for in a small notebook I keep beside my bed.

When it was time to decide the company values for Create That Communications, it was only natural that one be gratitude. In your first year in business, you make a lot of mistakes (or at least I did). Staying focused on being grateful for what is going well has kept me centred and positive in the face of adversity.

Similarly, when I look around my physical space post-tidy, it’s much easier to see how much I have to be grateful for. That mindset-shift alone makes my tidying efforts worthwhile.

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Do Popups Work? Not as well as we think

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Summary: Upwards of 80% of people polled say they don’t like popups. So why are we using them? Even though some data shows they increase email signups, we need to evaluate the long term impact on brand sentiment. Popups are not inbound marketing, they are actually a form of outbound marketing.

True story: I hate popups. Hate them. Yes, popups grow your email list. So I know as a marketer I’m supposed to love them, sell them, and sing their praises, but I can’t. I despise them. I also suspect they aren’t working as well as we think they are working.

I blog a lot about my life as a television reporter and how it has organically led to what I do today as a content marketer.  So, what good reporters do is take anecdotal hunches or tips, and then act on them to find the story. (Here’s an infographic that illustrates how to do this)

I decided to find out if my my doubts about “modal content calls to action,” or those little windows that interrupt what you’re reading asking for an email address, are reflected in the broader public. My answer was overwhelmingly “yes.”

First, there are studies that show people hate popups more than anything else about a website. More than auto-playing sound. More than ads that blink.

Then, I conducted a little non-scientific survey asking people within my own network how they responded to popups and here’s what I learned:

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People are Tuning Out

So it appears my hypothesis is correct, I’m not the only web user in the world who finds these things annoying, and looks for the little “X” immediately without reading the content.

It should be of grave concern to businesses that your marketing attempt may be a success with some, but completely severs your relationship with others. With customers who sought you out.

That’s like if they visited you in your bricks and mortar store and you pied them in the face. Some would find it funny, but plenty don’t come back.

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Let’s start, though, with the people who don’t find modal popups offensive. They aren’t going to be positive or neutral toward them forever. Something else we learned in news is the fine balance between predictability and surprise.

Viewers want the weather to be delivered at the same time each day, and heaven help you if you change that. However, they also get good at tuning things out over time, so it’s important to continue to create new, surprising ways of sharing information. This is how we got holograms on CNN that time.

Same rules apply to a website. If you have no navigation bar, either along the top or along the side, people get confused. The utility of your website goes down overall. People want the expected controls to be where they have always been.

However, the popups that once elicited a response will eventually become a big ole yawn. Here is David from Red Star on this issue:

“Many people train themselves to ignore the parts of a website that don’t directly tie to what they’re doing, rending the CTA as a sort of white noise.”

On the other hand, David also says modal popup CTAs force the user to interact, because website visitors can’t ignore the popup. They have to click the “X,” or sign up, or otherwise respond.

I disagree. Many people I surveyed said they DO ignore everything except that little “X” and the popup just annoys them.

This means best case scenario, you have a limited time to milk the utility out of modal popup calls to action before people don’t even see them anymore. Meanwhile, you are alienating all other people who hate the popups. That may be why we don’t see holograms routinely employed on the news.

Popups Are Outbound Marketing

Why are we grasping desperately to everyone’s least favourite part of outbound marketing? The “interrupting the experience” part?

Mark Harbert, a smart internet marketer from MyLeadSystemPro acknowledges the pop ups bother him, but advises us use them anyway:

“I know they are annoying, but man do they work so good. [sic] Set up a pop up and make sure your offer is compelling enough to get people to opt in.”

But wait. If you have a compelling offer, you shouldn’t need to interrupt your user experience to flog it. You’re saying “my content is king” and then literally constructing barriers between that content and the users. Visitors seeking your content cannot SEE your content. This is better known as outbound marketing.

We think of outbound marketing was the old fashioned “look over here” method of selling stuff, like TV commercials, flyers in your mailbox, and billboards on the side of the road. They obviously worked to some extent, because they’re still in use today.

They aren’t popular with the audience, though. The audience typically dislikes outbound methods because they interrupt their experience. Billboards junk up the skyline. Flyers clog their mailbox. TV commercials interrupt this week’s episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter Arrests The Real Housewives of Reno 911. People hate that.

We especially hate interruptions that make us feel bad, and modal popup calls to action are particular culprits of that.

Here’s one from Nutrisystem that David Hoos posted on his helpful blog post:

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Hoos also links to the survey I mentioned above, where of 18,808 web users, more than 50% reported that a pop-up ad substantially diminished their opinion of the advertiser, and nearly 40% reported that it affected their opinion of the website in a very negative way.

Isn’t that what marketers are trying to avoid?  Apparently not. Hoos directs readers to this hilarious Tumblr collection of guilt/shame/regret-inducing modal popup CTAs.

So what happens as a result of all this? Easy. We seek, invent and then enthusiastically embrace technology to avoid interruptions whenever possible. We can now fast-forward through commercials on television. There is legislation limiting junk mail. I’m sure if there is an Augmented Reality way to avoid seeing bus bench ads, it’ll appear in the future.

So how ironic then, that a popular method of gathering an audience for your quality inbound marketing materials –your terrific content, your tailored experiences, your targeted offers– is the most egregious sin of outbound: interrupting people’s user experience.

Ergo, this method won’t work forever. Because someone is going to invent a technology that allows visitors to avoid it.

We don’t know enough

More and more businesses have smartly adopted terminology and methods from the medical community to determine outcomes.

One example is measuring both proximal outcomes, the short term consequences of an action and distal outcomes, the long-term consequences of an action.

Modal popup calls to action aren’t that old. We are adopting them with great fervour based on proximal outcomes only: the immediate effect of plenty of people inputting their email when faced with a popup window.

So while the proximal data is great, it’s worth pointing out that we don’t know why. Maybe people input an email just to get rid of the window. Do visitors stay on the email list for which they’ve signed up or do they unsubscribe? Do they simply use “that email address?” You know, the one most of us have for sign-ups, but never check?

So popups may get people to join your list, but remember, the list isn’t the metric. The conversions are the metric. Today’s marketer who says the ROI on popups is the number of people on your email distribution list, is yesterday’s marketer who said the ROI on a communications plan is the number of media hits your brand got. NO. You don’t get paid in email addresses or TV appearances. You get paid in customer conversions, and customer conversions depend on positive brand sentiment.

Which is why proximal data on email signups isn’t telling us anything even close to the whole story. Marketers have never released ANY distal data on pop up list building. In other words, the long-term effects of using pop ups on your company’s brand impression:

  • How loyal do consumers feel toward email lists they’ve signed up to through a pop up?
  • How do they feel about companies who target them this way?
  • How does that emotion translate into sales?
  • What qualities do they associate with companies who use pop ups
  • Is that is the brand association you want?

Let’s use the example of bargain furniture stores. In Canada, The Brick is one example. Many of these stores adopted the high-pressure commission hard-sale model, which includes shouty TV ads and the like.

Yes those hard sell ads “worked,” in that they got people to the Brick. Proximally. But distally, the impression people have of the Brick is that it’s the cheap place to go for furniture. It’s not the place for investment pieces.

Recently, as consumer spend on home furnishings continues to grow and grow, the Brick launched a range of design-focused furnishings targeted at a more upscale audience. Their marketing has changed to try to capture this audience.

Getting people to equate the store with quality and design has been challenging, because of the distal effects of years of hard sell marketing.

We just don’t know the distal effects of popups. But based on my small survey, we should be worried they’re not good.

Some hypotheses about what people may be internalizing about your brand when they’re assaulted by windows full of what they aren’t looking for:

  • You value prop isn’t good enough to snag their attention on its own merits
  • You care more about pushing your message than responding to their needs
  • You’re the online equivalent of the pushy salesperson

How do you want to be marketed to?

I mean, hey. It’s up to you. I understand that a pop up window will garner you more email addresses than no pop up window. And that in the words of one expert, email marketing is, “totally worth dating, engaging, marrying and having babies with.”

There are choices, though. For example, here’s a great list of many kinds of CTAs from Rachel Sprung on Hubspot. You’ll notice when you visit Hubspot, you aren’t assaulted with a popup. They do occasionally use something called a slide-in CTA, which is more subtle, but you can read their blog without having your view obscured by something you didn’t ask for.

Maybe ask yourself if YOU like your online experience interrupted by pop ups. For me, I don’t subject my clients to practices I find distasteful, even if those practices could potentially make me money. That alone is a good enough reason for me to avoid pop ups.

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Embracing change: 1 year out of TV

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Yes, standing on a box to be seem taller. Hair’s mostly fake too. Magic of television.

For a long time, I thought I would be a reporter until I died, a microphone in one hand and a cane in the other. There were a lot of reasons the job wasn’t inspiring me or making me happy anymore, but a main point I take away from the experience is that I stayed in it for quite a long time after I knew it wasn’t right for me anymore.

I had accomplished most of what I set out to do in television, I wasn’t finding the fulfillment I once did in the work, and I had other things I was itching to accomplish in life, yet I stayed.

This past week, my sister commented that there is something in the current cultural zeitgeist that is very “Death of a Salesman.”

Now, I hadn’t dusted off my Arthur Miller recently, so I wasn’t sure what she was getting at. I’ll assume maybe I’m not alone in this, and share her explanation. She was basically saying that people talk about wanting “The American Dream,” (or its Canadian equivalent) but it’s often an unsatisfying facade that doesn’t exist, created by marketers, Hollywood, and politicians.

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In Death of a Salesman, the protagonist is an unsuccessful salesman named Willy Lohman who (spoiler alert) kills himself literally, after killing himself metaphorically for years trying to make it in sales. All the while he knew that a blue collar career of creating things with his hands would have made him happy. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made him wealthy or well known, but he certainly would have been more fulfilled and more connected with his purpose on this earth.

My sister was referring to the commonly-held belief that material achievement or external recognition will make a person happier and more fulfilled, and that a lack these things is some kind of sign we’ve failed.

It was, to quote Oprah, an “A-Ha” moment for me. I realized why I stayed in television long past the time I should have.

I had set a goal of being a television reporter, and believed that giving up on my goal was failure. Even though I had changed, my life circumstances had changed, and the job of being a television reporter had changed so much that the original goal was basically unrecognizable.

In the year since I quit I have:

-Started my own referral-based writing and consulting business

-Started making my living based on my writing

-Actually been paid to write a comedy script for one of my favourite comedians

-Written two novels I am now editing in advance of seeking publication

-Started a little side business sculpting & selling my sculpted jewelry

-Walked outside with my son Lennox every.single.day

-Been home for Lennox’s bedtime every.single.night

-Enjoyed a number of small freedoms & personal victories that would have been impossible were I still in news

All of these things involved letting go of the external gratification that came with my attachment to succeeding at a goal I set for myself. I also had to let go of assured income, but as shockingly to me as anyone, it really is true that if you do what you love, the money will follow.

I see the difficulty in letting go of an old goal now in some of my clients. They launch a marketing plan that is based on a format they’ve followed for years. Maybe it includes tactics like media relations. Paid radio advertising. Expensive sponsored events. Sponsoring golf holes at golf tournaments. But none of those things seems to be having an impact on brand awareness or ROI anymore.  

Or, maybe those strategies have done wonders for brand awareness, but the company has a new offering and can’t get anyone to see them in a new light.

It can be very daunting to abandon what has worked in the past and embrace new ideas, new tactics and new challenges.

If you are working toward a goal you set ten years ago and you’ve changed, and the world has changed, you probably need to revisit the goal and change too.

The main difference between marketing efforts today and the old school methods is ownership. YOU own your social channels. YOU run your blog. YOU create the videos that tell your story instead of begging the news media to feature you, or paying a commercial producer to promote you.

I don’t mean to sound all Marxist, banging on about power belonging to those who own the means of production. However, I do think there is a bit of truth in the idea that freedom comes with not having to ask permission.

I had insomnia problems as a reporter, but these days I sleep like a baby. I think it’s because I don’t have to wonder if someone else is going to let me down. If I’m going to get to do the story I want to do, if I’m going to get the job I want, if the company I work for will prioritize “me the shareholder” over “me the employee.”

As an entrepreneur, I succeed and fail on the worth of my own ideas and the strength of my own efforts. As long as I have more of both, I know I’ll be fine.

Many people ask me if I miss news and I don’t. Ever. Not even one little bit. I’m in a place now where I think back on it really fondly though, and for me, that is the benefit of embracing needed change. Instead of feeling down about being stagnant, you get to feel happy about what was, and excited for what will be.

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Donald Trump is president and it’s all my fault

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I’m what the alt-right like to call an SJW, a social justice warrior. My actual voting patterns are all over the map, but I support abortion rights, many environmental protection measures, gay marriage and access to healthcare for all. I police my dad’s language for political correctness, and I’m raising my 3-year-old son as a feminist in gender neutral clothing. For small-g god’s sake, I was a television reporter for 15 years.

And I’m sorry.

Not for any of the above things, my views haven’t changed. However, the feelings that overwhelmed me today when I woke up to a Donald Trump presidency today were guilt and shame. Because I know in a way, the Donald Trump presidency is all my fault.

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The people have spoken. You can break it down by whatever demographic you like, but some measure of a majority of Americans, and therefore a substantial part of North America, feels like they’re being willfully excluded by the educated, the wealthy, the powerful. The people who like to think think they dictate behaviour and codify social norms. 

I like to think of myself as someone who donates to charity. Someone who feels empathy for the homeless and underhoused, for those with mental illness and addiction problems. I support accepting refugees from Syria and other conflict zones around the world. I embrace newcomers. I correct people who call them “immigrants” instead of “newcomers.”

Yet I hold in disdain Fox News viewers, bigots, gun owners who are too enthusiastic, people who don’t take care of their health, people who oppose abortion, people who oppose gay marriage. No matter how in need or disenfranchised the people in these groups, I reject them because of their beliefs.

No matter how in need or disenfranchised the people in these groups, I reject them because of who they are.

I will say, “Okay but why can’t those gun nuts just have a conversation about safety regulations or gun show laws? How is that an infringement on their rights?”  

I also say, “Well of course I personally think super late term abortion is wrong, but we can’t limit it!  If you give those religious nuts one inch they’ll overturn Roe v Wade and then where will women be?”

Where indeed.

And hey, how bout those Fox News viewers, those Alex Jones listeners, those Paul Joseph Watson followers, those Milo whatsisname supporters? I’ve spent the last decade pointing out what a sham that media system is. I lamented the echo chamber of their supporters, whose views are SO wrong, and just constantly reinforced because those people only choose to consume media that say what they want to hear.

Well guess what. I’ve been watching Jon Oliver, Samantha Bee, listening to CBC and reading the Washington Post, tuning in to Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show. You can imagine my surprise when the results started to roll in last night.

It would seem that I’ve been stuck in an echo chamber that only reinforces what I want to hear. And I am so glad that I’m not waking up this morning as a working member of the mainstream media, because I would have even more to be ashamed of. 

What all this has taught me is, it’s time for all of us to stop consciously or subconsciously looking into the nitty gritty of someone else’s beliefs, before we decide if their trials and challenges are worth caring about.

Look, I don’t support socially conservative values any more than I ever did. What all this has taught me is, it’s time for all of us to stop consciously or subconsciously looking into the nitty gritty of someone else’s beliefs, before we decide if their trials and challenges are worth caring about. Particularly me, because that’s what I’ve spent this campaign accusing my opponents of doing.

Everyone’s hard times are worth caring about. Even/especially our political opponents. I think and fear and worry we’re about to find that out with greater clarity than ever before.

If there is any comfort or hope I have, it’s that historically out of great division, great anger, great despair has come great leadership.

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The kind of conditions that exist today in first world countries and developing countries, in peaceful countries and countries at war, are the kinds of conditions that brought us the wisdom of Reverend King, of Jesus Christ, of Bishop Tutu, of Aung San Suu Kyi.

I don’t know what the next months and years hold, but conditions are right for new thinking, new ideas and a new story, and today I’m choosing to focus on that.

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How to Go Viral: Just Don’t

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I read a great post recently by a social media marketing expert I really admire, Susanna Gebauer. In it, she cautioned against using “going viral” as a marketing strategy, and I agree wholeheartedly. Purposely cultivating a targeted audience is far more valuable. Gebauer notes that “going viral” is a best case scenario of all the hard work it takes to build that audience, but I would actually caution that you might consider avoiding it altogether. If you have a tailored, engaged audience, you don’t need viral content, and I’ll tell you why.

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I was on TV every day for the better part of 15 years, and achieved precisely the amount of “fame” to make my life annoying, but not any better. I was a journalist, which ruled out free stuff and I’m an introvert, so I hated getting recognized. Besides, typically the people who do recognize you tend to do so when you’re at the pharmacy at ten o’clock at night in your rattiest sweatpants buying something embarrassing. I’m not the kind of person to put on lipstick just because people might notice I’m “that news lady.”

I’m also not the kind of person to leverage the modest level of notoriety one earns in local news for a dinner reservation. Okay, one time, I upgraded my B.B. King tickets, and I stand by that decision because HELLO, blues legend. But my husband and I had such an enormous fight at that concert that King’s music is now kind of ruined for me, which is probably karma.

I digress. My point is: any advantage to the heightened level of attention that comes with being on television was most certainly cancelled out by all the disadvantages; the additional scrutiny, the internet trolls, the forced conversations with nosy strangers, the people yelling disgusting obscenities at me on live television. This was my experience as a local news reporter. I can’t imagine what it’s like for actual celebrities. My observation is: if they love you, they also love to tear you down.

So think long and hard, as a business owner, before you set out to get a lot of attention for yourself. I encourage the idea of producing great content for your own personal tribe. Your customers, your target audience, your workforce and potential workforce.

However, time and again I have clients and potential clients tell me they want to create content that will “go viral.” My response is always the same. Think about the phrase for a second, “go viral.” A virus moves from cell to cell, overtaking its systems, changing constantly so we can’t control it in any way. Does that sound like part of a good business plan to you?

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Let’s look at a best-case-scenario of “going viral” first: The Ice Bucket Challenge. Who would have ever thought that dumping a bucket of cold water on yourself would take off like social media wildfire AND bring in millions for ALS?  Although I did not dump ice water on myself on video, (see introvert comment, above) I DID donate a lot of money to others who did.

It was very meaningful to me because my beloved father-in-law had died of ALS just months before the Ice Bucket Challenge took off. I knew firsthand how hard it was for ALS charities to compete for donation dollars with other, worthy organizations who were better understood by the general public. I was excited for ALS charities to get this publicity.

“With windfall comes scrutiny.”

 

However, with windfall comes scrutiny. People thought the amount of attention and money being raised was disproportionate to the number of people who get the disease. Some people even complained it wasted water. The more successful the campaign became, the more it was scrutinized and criticized.

Then, there is the example of Ken Bone. Dear, sweet Ken Bone. For something like 24 hours, he was a folk hero, a modern day Johnny Appleseed. His earnest demeanor was embraced by the audience when he questioned candidates in the U.S. presidential debate and became a viral sensation.

There was actually an article in GQ, begging the internet not to do what the internet always does: look for dirt on a seemingly nice guy. But you can’t stop a virus.The Internet dug and dug until it came to rest on anything unflattering about Ken Bone. Ken Bone probably wishes he and his red sweater just stayed the hell home.

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Viruses want to rage on until their host is dead. It’s what they do. Your “viral sensation” will be no different. In 15 years of reporting, I never saw anyone escape their 15 minutes of fame unscathed. Not. Once.

Once, I interviewed this sweet mom about a delay for an ambulance to arrive after she called 911. She got threats because people didn’t think she had a good enough reason for calling emergency crews. Threats, people. Threats. I felt horrible, like I should have somehow predicted that. But how could I predict that?

That’s my point. You can never predict where your 15 minutes of fame will take you. That mom will think twice about ever “seeking attention” again, believe me.

You don’t need the whole world to be your audience, you only need your audience to be your audience. If you go looking for external validation, you are at the mercy of external scrutiny. Better to be secure in the knowledge that your offering is tailored to those who are in the market for it, and speak confidently, directly to them.

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Why use content marketing?

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Recently, entrepreneur Krystal Choo said that her analysis shows brand-produced content doesn’t drive sales. Choo founded Wander, an evolving app that has found its footing as a messaging service.  Her comments were retweeted throughout the content marketing world and I saw them on the Twitter feed of content marketing savant, Gareth O’Sullivan of The Creation Agency.

About content marketing, Choo said, “Even if someone recognises your brand a little bit more, it doesn’t actually mean a shift to conversion.”

I think she’s wrong. Content — a blog, a flourishing social media presence, web optimised video– doesn’t automatically mean a shift to a conversion, but it has become a necessary ingredient. Non-optional.

Choo advocates for more emphasis on engagement marketing to drive performance.

Engagement marketing, the idea of connecting so seamlessly with your audience/customer that they invite you into their lives because you’re an expert in their needs and motivations, is obviously ideal.

However, Choo seems to think engagement can be successful solely by collecting in-depth data about your audience, and then tailoring an experience for them, independent of also creating content like branded blogs, videos, etc. Simply speaking, any real engagement with your audience can. not. happen successfully without the existence of robust, quality company-branded content.

As a purveyor of content, yeahokay sure I’m biased, but the data backs me up.

In order to make engagement marketing a success, you need a relationship with your customer. And a relationship isn’t a one way proposition. A company needs data gathered about the customer, but that doesn’t make a relationship.  A relationship by definition works both ways, which means the customer needs information about the company too.

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This is where good quality content (blogs, video, web copy) comes in. Consumers don’t make purchasing decisions with their conscious brains analysing data, they make purchasing decisions with subconscious brains and their emotions. 95% of our buying decisions take place on a subconscious level.

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Neuro-imagery shows that when making brand assessments, consumers are using their own personal feelings and past experiences rather than brand attributes, features and facts. No matter which side of politics you fall on, you have seen this in people who believe the opposite of you –willingness to bend and shape logic to adapt to their beliefs. We all do it.

Choo says her company’s numbers show by some reasonable measure, content doesn’t generate enough return on the investment, but engagement marketing does. I challenge her measurement for two reasons. First, if you exclude from the sample those that do content poorly, (and doing it right is pretty darn important) then creating content does yield a return because consumers use that content as the anchor point for the reputation, authenticity and value they need to feel before before investing the emotional capital necessary for any engagement marketing campaign to be successful. Show me a company that has success with engagement marketing , and I’ll show you a company that also has good branded content.

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Second, instead of comparing conversion levels in a company before and after a content marketing campaign, she should be comparing conversion levels between similar companies, those that use content marketing and those that don’t. This is because consumer expectations have changed over time, so while a company could maintain a successful relationship with its audience without good content at one time, that’s no longer the case. So even if conversions haven’t risen in a given company in a given time period since its use of a blog or video content were adopted, they would have surely fallen without those efforts.

Here’s an example: I got a degree midway through my 15-year career as a television news reporter and my income did not change markedly when I did so. So by that measure, you could say that it was a waste of time and effort for me to bother getting a 4-year bachelor’s degree, I could have just carried on with the 2-year broadcasting diploma I started out with. There was no “conversion” to a higher income.

However, the world changed over the 15 years I was a journalist. Anecdotally, I heard from various people who hired me that if I didn’t upgrade to a degree at my career midpoint, they would not have offered me the opportunities that I was given. So while the degree didn’t give me any immediate benefits, I would not have been able to navigate the television world in the same way without it.

Similarly, consumers have a higher degree of interest in the companies from whom they purchase than ever before. You can choose not to put out content, or to put out inauthentic content, but that comes at a higher cost than it would have, even five years ago. A 2015 study by Deliotte clearly demonstrates consumers expectations of the buying experience has risen substantially, and is trending higher. They want to know who they’re buying from and feel special.

In content marketing we talk about authenticity a lot. I do especially, because I’m an ex-journalist and I know how people who are inauthentic come across in print or on TV –the smarmy politician, the crooked business person, I’ve interviewed ‘em all.

High quality content such as a compelling blog, or a well-shot recruiting video or even a good “how our company started” story on your website is not going to get you any sales. Zip. Zero. Notta one. But it will protect you from a very serious business risk, the risk of seeming inauthentic.

You basically have four choices when it comes to your personal business story. You can:

  1. Tell your story badly
  2. Tell a disingenuous/misleading story
  3. Tell no story at all
  4. Tell a compelling, authentic story

So while Ms. Choo is correct, content might not immediately convert, it doesn’t really matter if it converts or not. You still have to make one of these four choices, so which is it going to be? If you tell an uninspired or hack story, you might miss an opportunity to connect with someone, a connection which might be that conversion you’re looking for. Putting out amateur hour content will hurt you:

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Or, you can tell a disingenuous or misleading story, and possibly break the trust of your customer that may never be repaired. Ask Volkswagen how well that route is working for them.

You could tell no story at all, which is the space many companies are in who have been too busy working to get around to marketing. Let your customer wonder who you really are, while your competitors work to forge a connection. Ask Chapstick how their bottom line is doing, now that Burt’s Bees and EOS are in the house.

Or you can tell your story in the most compelling way possible. Be authentic. If you aren’t a writer or a storyteller, hire one. This recruiting video for West Sydney University is the best example I’ve maybe ever, ever seen. Worth the watch.

The thing about content marketing is, it isn’t a magic wand. It doesn’t make up for product failure or bad customer service. It doesn’t automatically produce engagement or improve user experience. It doesn’t capture influencer attention or build your brand all by itself.

The first piece advice I would have for Ms Choo or anyone else shelling out for brand content is “manage your expectations.” Buying a new power saw won’t build you a house, and if that’s your measure of how well the saw works you’ll be disappointed.

But here’s the thing: building a house without a saw is basically impossible. Content is only a tool, but it’s one your marketing plan is no longer complete without.