The Power of the Story: For sale, baby shoes, never worn

By Sue Brady

“They Laughed When I sat Down at the Piano – But When I Started to Play!” John CaplesPiano

This headline, written in 1926 by John Caples is still quoted as one of the best advertising headlines of all time. Why? Because it promises a story. It lures the reader in. And that’s really the key to effective marketing. After all, who doesn’t like a good story?

Taking a ‘story’ approach when you write your next piece of content, commercial or ad is almost certain to deliver more success than presenting your product as, well, a product.

Stories are relatively easy to write in marketing. A good story has a beginning, middle and end. The steps to create a story are:

  1. Establish the setting and introduce your character(s)
  2. Set up the problem
  3. End with the solution

Here’s an old fashioned example:

Establishing the setting: Mom or Dad come home from work and enter the kitchen
Setting up the problem: The kids are hungry and the parents haven’t had a chance to figure out dinner

Providing the solution: Hamburger Helper to the rescue!

Michael Brenner, a great content marketing strategist, says that great marketing story telling accomplishes three things:

  1. Establishes your brand
  2. Turns your brand from a product into an experience
  3. Lures the reader into that experience so that the consumer wants to “build your product into their lives.

When you search for brands that have mastered this technique, you’ll find Nike, Budweiser, Dove and even Google.Nikes

Nikes are just gym shoes, no? Hardly. Air Jordans are the top selling sneaker of all time. How did they get there? Michael Jordan actually almost ended his contract with Nike because he wasn’t pleased with the first two iterations of Air Jordan. But ‘shoe architect’ Tinker Hatfield had a eureka moment. He realized that the shoes could tell the story of the greatest basketball player ever. He used what he knew about MJ to create a shoe he knew Michael, and the public, would love. It told a story and had style. And it worked.

Try writing some headlines for your product to make it an experience. You can create your story from there. It’s great practice. Here are some examples (not originals!):

Product: iPod

Experience: “An iPod is 1000 songs in your pocket.”

Product: Soap

Experience: “Dove. Be your beautiful self.”

Product: Beer

Experience: “For all you do, this Bud’s for you.”

And I leave you with perhaps the best short story ever written: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.*

Baby shoes*This story’s origin is an urban legend, with likely false attribution to Ernest Hemingway.

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The #1 Way to Get More Reviews for your Business

By Sue Brady

It turns out that the easiest way to get consumers to review your business, is to ask them. And the best time to ask for a review is right after a customer has made a purchase.

Amazon is great at soliciting post-purchase reviews. Uber sends out an immediate request following a ride. Make it easy for your customer. According to BrightLocal, 68% of consumers will leave a review if asked to do so!

It’s no secret that consumer shopping behavior has changed in the last few years.  Almost 50% of shoppers seek out online reviews prior to making a purchase.  And 85% of consumers trust those reviews.

There are a few review sites where you need to make sure your business has a presence. 

  • Yelp
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • BBB
  • TripAdvisor (depending on your business)

As a side note, Facebook reviews are becoming more important. In fact, Yelp and Facebook are tied for being the most trusted review sites. Google comes in 3rd. BBB.org is 4th (source: Brightlocal’s October, 2017 Consumer Review Survey).

Review sites from brightLocal
BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey 2017

As a business, make sure you have the review feature enabled on your Facebook page. Here are instructions on how to do that.

How can you ask for those reviews? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Send a ‘thank you for your purchase’ email and ask for the review there. You can include a link to the review site you prefer.
  2. If you aren’t comfortable asking at the time you say thank you, wait a few days and send a follow-up email that includes the request.
  3. Include a ‘review us’ on your company website that either goes directly to your preferred review site, or that offers choices.

Taking a few easy steps can make a huge difference in your online review presence.

  1. Identify review sites that are important to you.
  2. Make sure your company has a profile on those sites.
  3. Invite your customers to leave reviews.

This recent post focused on the importance of negative reviews. It’s worth the read!

Negative Reviews are Good for Business

By Sue Brady

I belong to my neighborhood Facebook group. Recently, someone posted a negative Food Truckreview about a food truck that had been selling in our neighborhood. The review was something like:

I had to wait 2 hours, and then the food wasn’t very good!

While it wasn’t a good review by intent, I read it as Wow!  My neighbors are willing to wait two hours for this food. It must be great! The other important outcome from that review was that the business owner was able to respond to the poster with an apology and free food offer to get her to try again.

Here’s a stat for you: When it comes to doing research before buying, “85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (source Bright Local  ‘Local Consumer Review Survey 2017′).”  While that’s a stunning statistic, it does make sense. How many of us use Tripadvisor to pick a place to stay in an unknown area, or read Amazon reviews when debating a purchase?

5 Stars!

Online reviews are important because the positive ones help your business, and because the negative ones help your business.

The benefit of positive reviews is obvious. The benefit of negative reviews is perhaps less so. In the food truck example above, the business itself can use that negative review to identify areas where they can do better. For instance, perhaps the owner gained some useful knowledge that can help him change his business moving forward. Maybe he can set up a webcam for neighbors to view how long the line is, try setting up a 2nd truck, or invest in a better food warmer.

Reviews and postings in general can also serve as an early warning system for a business. You can read about that here.

The moral of the story is: don’t ignore those bad reviews. Understand why they were written and use those insights to identify improvements.

The next post will focus on how you can generate those all-important positive reviews. Stay tuned!

5 Ways to Use Social Media as an Early Warning System for Customer Issues

By Sue Brady

Social media is used in many ways. Among other things, people use it to share Warninginformation about themselves, catch up on what others are doing, and to find news stories they might find interesting. As a business, you probably use social media to let your customers know about your products, hear what they have to say, and respond to complaints that they might post.

But if you aren’t using social media to identify larger trends that might be affecting your business, read on.

How can you use social media to identify a train that’s barreling down the tracks, before it’s out of control? The simple answer is: trends.

There are many ways to keep track of posts about your brands.  Most companies these days have people responsible for monitoring social media so that if their brand is mentioned, they can immediately respond if necessary.  But by looking collectively at what is being said about your brand, and noticing spikes that are out of the ordinary, you can create an early warning system for your company.

Using social volume: Suppose that you typically see 35 tweets per day that involve your brand. If on any particular day, that number goes above 35, there may be something going on with your brand that has customers talking. You need to know what it is. It might be that your brand had a mention on the news, but it also might mean that there’s a problem and your customers are picking up on it and spreading that news. Or maybe it is exactly on the same day each week that your negative chatter increases. Is something about your product impacted by that day, ie you open your new barrel of coffee beans every Friday, and on Fridays thru Mondays you always have way more positive customer sentiment than on other days.  That might mean that you need a better method for keeping your coffee beans fresh.

Using keywords: The increased use of certain keywords in social media and in blogs can let you know of a developing trend.  You probably already track your brand in the social media space, but do you include word combinations that might indicate a problem?  For instance, are you tracking the mention of your brand with the word ‘issue’ or ‘sucks’?  Consider it! Understand how many negative posts you typically get per day, and if that number moves, immediately read what’s being posted to see if you can figure out why. Once you figure it out, you can fix what’s wrong and issue a statement to your customers that you’re working on the problem.

Understanding themes: By keeping a close eye on what customers are saying every day about your brand, you’ll be able to notice increases in certain areas and identify trends. For instance, let’s say you sell yogurt. On Monday, you see a couple of negative posts from customers in Maine about damaged cartons.  On Tuesday, similar complaints are coming in from Vermont. That could mean that you have an issue with your distribution in that part of the country. By seeing those posts, rather than dealing with them on a one-off basis, you can solve the problem by immediately shipping new product to that area etc.

Tracking your Overall Customer Sentiment: It’s important to understand if your customers are less happy over time (that is, complaining more). As in the prior example, it may highlight a specific area where you have a problem that needs solving.

Thumbs up or down

Monitoring your Competitors’ Social Media: In this case, you’re looking for an increase in mentions on a specific topic that’s relevant to your business, because it may also serve as an early warning for you. The key is to understand how the tone and topics of posts are changing, because they could predict a tidal wave of dissatisfaction that you’re much better off nipping in the bud if it’s going to impact your business too. Or, it could highlight an opportunity for you to fill a gap that your competitor is inadvertently creating with his own base of customers.

The good news is that you are not on your own. There are many social listening tools available. In addition to the list mentioned at the start of this post, there are many free tools that may provide what you need.  And you may need more than one tool to accomplish all of the necessary monitoring.

By coupling analytics with social listening, these tools will save you time, help you identify problems when they are still small, and identify trends before they lead to real issues.  The ultimate goal is keeping your customers happy. By tweaking your social strategy from reactive to big picture, you can do just that.

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I Didn’t Sleep with my Boss (and Lost my Job)

It took me years to tell anyone about this. Why? Because I was embarrassed, I took responsibility for causing it, it was his word against mine. The expression ‘he could sell ice to Eskimos’ was surely written with him in mind. I moved on. But, now it’s time to put pen to paper. One of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes comes from when he was released from prison and said: “…if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” And so here’s my story.

A few years ago, I was working for a company where I loved my job. Let me rephrase that. I actually didn’t care much for most of my job responsibilities, but I loved my boss, and that made a world of difference. He was smart and savvy and I was learning a lot from him. The good news was, he thought I was great at my job and that I was a great person and told me so frequently. After my first year, I had my first review and it was the best I have ever received in my entire career. At the time he gave me that review, he also said that if he were starting his own company, I’d be among the first five employees he’d hire. Wow. How great to be so appreciated! I fairly swooned from his attention. And to be truthful, it helped that he was a young and handsome guy.

Fast forward a few months. My boss and I were on a business trip together, just the two of us. We were at a coffee counter preparing for the afternoon meeting and it happened. He made an overt pass. I froze. I mean, I loved his attention, I really did, but I wasn’t interested in taking our relationship to this new level. So I did nothing. I didn’t respond and eventually suggested that it was time to go. The next week in the office he said to me that “we’ve got to stop ‘this,’” and that his wife had been depressed. That was both the start of, and the end to, the conversation. And  actually, I wasn’t really disturbed by what happened, and just expected things to go back to the way they were.

About 2 months later it started. My boss took me off of the business I’d been managing since I started working for him, and put me on a business about 1/10th the size. And he also moved my office to a building that was completely separate from the bulk of the company. I felt like I was in The Office. I was shocked by his actions and told him so. My problem was, I was so crushed that someone who I cared so much about, and who clearly cared so much about me (ha!), could turn in a heartbeat. For whatever reason, I didn’t actually make the connection to ‘the incident.’ I was just hurt and I’ll confess, I couldn’t talk about it without dissolving into tears. And so I didn’t. Instead, I started the process of looking for a new job.

Things got worse. Because I wasn’t sitting with the rest of the company, I started to feel more and more out of touch. By now I had accepted that ‘the pass’ had everything to do with what was happening, but I didn’t want anyone to know about that. And that made me more susceptible to what was becoming a massive mind-f***. Sorry to be crude, but it’s the only way to describe it.

The next review period was approaching and I was nervous. I was the sole wage-earner in my family. My husband had been a stay-at-home Dad for over 20 years and so my earnings kept us going, kept our kids in college, kept us insured etc. Because my first review had been done late, this next review came only 9-months later. And it was scathing. It was the polar opposite of the first one.

Pre mind-f***, my boss would often tell me how one of the reasons he hired me was that my job references were the best he’d ever heard. Ever. Seriously, he mentioned this a lot. Then during my review, he told me that he’d thought more about my job references and realized they were all actually giving him the same ‘read-between-the-lines’ message about my lack of skill. He really said this and also that I couldn’t ask them about it because of confidentiality (for a sense of timing, this was almost two years after he would have talked to them). I should also explain that there was a sentiment throughout the office that my boss lived in his own reality. He would say things that were blatantly untrue, and then over time come to believe them. I hadn’t noticed that until now.

The mind-f*** continued. He told me that he’d had 360 discussions (a common review method where subordinates and colleagues confidentially are asked to evaluate you) with a boatload of folks at the company, and they were all negative. All of them. He told me who said what, and also said I couldn’t mention it to any of them. It had to be confidential. I knew it was all crap, but being the good employee I said nothing, just as with the comments about my references. And, he told me that if I agreed to leave the company, he’d ‘make it really good for me.’ But of course I couldn’t quit…sole wage earner and all. I had to get a new job first.  If I thought things had been bad before…

It’s also important to say that I’m in a protected class. I’m female and was over 50 at the time, working in a company where the median age was 28. That makes me hard to fire, especially with no cause.

The stress level was fairly unbearable. My eyebrows fell out. I couldn’t sleep. I dreaded going to work each day.

The mind-f*** was in full force. My boss was the king of making me feel good and two minutes or two days later kicking me in the stomach. His goal was to either make me so miserable that I’d quit, or to be able to make a case against me that of course had nothing to do with me rejecting ‘the pass.’ Here are just a few examples:

  • He would have me prepare a presentation, then give me feedback to remove a key component. I’d rewrite it and he’d deride me for its omission. I’d rewrite it with it back in and he’d want to know why. Etc, etc, etc.
  • He had a colleague of mine show up with him to one of my out-of-town partner meetings, without telling me he’d be there. And then he set me up during the meeting.
  • He asked me to meet with a friend of his because I was uniquely positioned to help this friend understand how to approach a particular business opportunity (related to my job)…and so I did. He even thanked me afterwards, saying something like “I really appreciate you meeting with him, given everything that’s going on here.”
  • I had great respect for the other senior leaders in the company. But I was also, for the most part, kept away from forming my own relationships with them. My boss wanted it that way. After that bad review, I was going to send my written response to his boss, but he asked me not to and so I didn’t. That’s how far down I’d been kicked.

What happened to me, in spite of the fact that I knew better, was that I started doubting myself. I started to believe that I really was incompetent and couldn’t do anything right. I faltered during meetings, both externally and internally. My boss would set me up and I’d fall right in. I had no confidence. I made mistakes. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy and was exactly what my boss wanted to have happen. And what was worse was that though I was getting calls for interviews for other jobs, I was so beaten down that I blew every opportunity. In one interview, I literally couldn’t answer the question: “what’s your best quality.”

And then finally, after a year of bullying, he forced my resignation. He gave me the news with the HR VP in tow, the same HR VP who once told me that she’d have to “Jew him down,” referring to a negotiation we were having with a contractor (but that’s a story for another day). I didn’t bring up ‘the pass.’ It was yet another confidence I kept until the end, out of some sick sense of loyalty.

I hired a lawyer but knew I didn’t have the stomach for a fight, even though there was no doubt I could have demanded more money. Now that it was over, I wanted out and I wanted out quickly. I was devastated and humiliated.

The good news is, I landed on my feet. I built myself (and career) back up and became the confident and competent person I’ve always been. I learned from this experience and became better for it. I learned that even smart people make mistakes, and that there is life after stupid. I learned it’s okay to trust, but to be careful with that trust. I learned that it’s never okay, no matter what, to let someone make you feel awful about yourself. And I learned the importance of relationships at work, even if someone is trying to prevent you from having one.

And that’s my story. I have made peace with myself and even forgiven him. That’s what us Jews do.