Category: Marketing

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.

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Your Marketing Needs a Plan: 4 Steps to get You Started

By Sue Brady

Marketing doesn’t just happen, and it’s definitely NOT the easiest job in a company.check list

Here are the basics when creating your marketing plan:

SET CLEAR GOALS

What do you want your marketing to accomplish: Sales, brand awareness, positive social media coverage, award-winning recognition?

All might be valid goals for you, and all would have different approaches. Understanding your goals is perhaps the most important element to spell out in advance of launching any new marketing program. And don’t forget that goals have nuances. If your goal is sales, it makes a difference if you are after a one-time sale or if your product is a subscription or requires repeat sales throughout the customer life.  Knowing the difference will determine how you segment your acquisition file, how you message your campaign, and how you communicate with the customer post-sale.

DEFINE WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

While sales might be a goal, success metrics go further. Metrics could be gross revenue per new customer, % business from existing customers, mobile app downloads, Return on Investment (ROI)* above a defined amount, Cost per Orders (CPOs)* lower than a certain level.  All are valid. The key is to know what you’re after.

IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET MARKET

And it can’t be everyone. Get specific. What type of person needs your product? How much money do they make? Are they college educated? Do they live in urban areas? Are they in their 20s? Do they tend to use Facebook? Knowing who your customer is will make finding them easier.

DESIGN A CAMPAIGN THAT WILL MEET YOUR GOALS 

If your goal is say 500 mobile app downloads, you might want to run a campaign targeting your audience on their mobile phones.  If you also know that they are Facebook users in a certain age group with certain interests, you can run a highly targeted campaign on Facebook.

As with every post I write about marketing, if you aren’t testing every time you go into market, you are missing out on an opportunity to learn. Whatever campaign you choose to run, there’s almost always room for testing. Testing will make your next campaign better. Test the most important things first: offer, audience, creative. 

* CPOs are calculated by looking at the total cost to generate an order, and dividing that by the total number of orders received. Total cost typically does not include creative development, because creative can be used well beyond the campaign it’s first designed to support. Think of some of the well-known marketing campaigns out there.  Take Flo from Progressive Insurance. If the folks that created that campaign took all of the campaign development costs against the orders for that first campaign, it most likely wouldn’t have been considered successful because of the high CPO. Flo has been used for years now, and so the cost of developing that initial campaign has benefited many campaigns that came later.

ROI can be a trickier metric. ROI is calculated by looking at how much revenue is generated vs how much it cost to generate that revenue. Higher ROI is obviously better. But how you calculate that ROI can vary. True ROI should look over the life of each customer generated off of the specific campaign spend, and also take into account other business generated from that marketing effort. For instance, TV ads often drive consumers to search on the web, or to respond to a direct mail or email campaign that arrives at the same time. This gets into the importance of attribution. You can read a post about that here.

Verbs are Your Friends – The Importance of Call-to-Action Buttons

By Sue Brady

Call-to-action buttons, or CTAs for those in the know, are the buttonsBuy Now a user clicks on from your website to complete an action. Typically, it’s to complete an action you want the user to complete, like ‘BUY NOW,’ and that’s why they are so important. in fact CTAs are probably the most important thing on the page. It’s critical to test your CTAs to figure out what will work best for your site.

Elements Worth Testing

  • Message – Does it call on the user to do something specific?
  • Appearance – Does it blend in or stand out?
  • Size – Again, does it blend in or stand out?
  • Color – Hmm, does it blend in or stand out?

The message. Text can be short or long, but make sure you include a verb. Action words will get users to take action. Funny how that works. Most experts who write about button text will say that shorter is better, and they are probably right. But you won’t know until you test it yourself, on your particular pages. And make sure you are directing the user to do something you want them to do. For instance, if your CTA is simply ‘Learn,’ a user might not understand why he should click. Retailers seem to have figured out that a button that says ‘Add to Cart’ is universally understood as the next step needed when someone wants to make an actual purchase. Your own CTA should be just as clear.

Appearance. It’s a mistake to make the user have to work to figure out where they are supposed to click. If your button blends in so nicely with the look and feel of your site, it will be difficult to find. Test something bold and different. Make sure the button is ‘findable’ without having to scroll. And also, reversed out white type works just fine against a bold button background.

Size. Big and bold. This relates back to my previous statement about making sure the user doesn’t have to work to know where to click. With a big and bold CTA button, the direction to the user should be obvious. If someone sees nothing else on your page, you want them to notice that CTA button.

Color choice. Way back when I first started working with direct response websites, I remember someone telling me that I shouldn’t use red on my CTA buttons. That advice makes sense. Red means stop and has a negative ‘feel,’ but you won’t know until you test. When I worked at AOL, where we tested everything often, orange was frequently a clear winner in this type of testing. That was many years ago, and I still see orange used a lot, but I also frequently see green and blue.

Remember, verbs are your friends. Please share this post! 🙂

CTA

“An SEO expert walks into a bar, bars, pub, drinks…”

By Sue Brady

Pub, bar, barroom

Not my joke, but it’s funny. And you marketers out there probably even snickered a little bit and perhaps have the urge to read on.

Does humor have a place in your content marketing? Using humor can help humanize your brand, create greater recall, and improve engagement.

Humanizing your brand.

Three years ago, the CIA sent out its first tweet. And guess what? It helped drive interest and followers.

CIA 1st Tweet

Some questioned if the CIA should be funny, but in the end that tweet (and others that followed) accomplished what was intended: it engaged an audience. They tweet on more serious topics now, and they have the reach they were after (almost 2 million followers as of this writing!).

Creating greater recall.

Does humor help you sell more? There are many mixed views on this. It turns out humor can help. Recall for funny and relevant ads is greater than for those without. My takeaway from the various studies I read is that if the content is important to the viewer,  humor only makes it better. That means that humor on its own won’t make for a better ad or post. Once again, the headline is that RELEVANT content is key

Consumers definitely remember funny ads and share those ads more on social media, so if you create one that works, you’ll be able to get some serious mileage from it.

Kmart’s Ship my Pants ad quickly exceeded 20 million views when its edgy, humorous approach went viral. And they quickly followed up with Big Gas Savings, another hilarious ad. The jury is out however regarding whether or not Ship my Pants created enough awareness of Kmart’s shipping service. Their goal was to move consumers from shopping at their brick and mortar stores to the much better experience of shopping with them online. I couldn’t find anything supporting that it helped sales, but it sure created a lot of buzz around a dying brand.

Improving engagement.

There is no question that humorous ads are viewed more and shared. Humor attracts attention, something all advertisers want. The Kmart examples above are a great example. Same for the CIA first tweet. Humor can engage, but it has to be really good to make the brand memorable.

Remember though: humor is hard. Humor translates differently with different audiences. As with all good marketing, understanding your audience and goals is the place to start. Your humor can work, but it has to be relevant to your audience and support your campaign goals.

Not everyone agrees with the use of humor, even where it may be appropriate. Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic Monthly 

“Ultimately, however, the sheer amount of the research into humor in advertising is another data point to tell us what we already know, which is that nobody has any clue what sort of advertising works until it works. “

Fair enough.

Laughing

5 Reasons to Take Risks In Marketing

By Sue Brady

If you have financial investments, you know that deciding the level of Risk Takingrisk you are comfortable with defines your strategy. A young adult will have a higher risk tolerance than someone approaching retirement for instance, because they have longer to recover from mistakes.

But how does that translate to the business world? Risk taking when you’re spending someone else’s money is decidedly different from when you are spending your own. A former boss once told me to spend the company money as if it were my own. His point was that it’s okay to take risk, but make sure it’s calculated and you understand how much is being risked.

The really successful marketers that I know have all been risk takers.

AOL CDTake Jan Brandt for example. She was the person in charge of marketing at AOL when AOL was just starting out as a young brand. She was able to convince Steve Case that spending a bunch of money to mail the AOL software on CD roms was going to be the key to their success. She told the guy in charge of the network to get ready, the fire hose was about to open. He was skeptical…for about 5 days. And then the mail started to hit homes… and the rest is history.

There are plenty of other historical examples of how risk taking drove a company to success. And that’s the number one reason to take risk in your marketing.

Taking risks can yield large returns. In the AOL example above, Jan knew that to use AOL, you needed the software. The Internet was new enough that only a small portion of the population was connected. She needed the software to be readily available so that when someone made the decision that it was time to connect, they had an AOL rom handy. So while she took a huge risk, it was a calculated one, and the payoff was huge.

Taking a risk can help you create compelling content that prospects want to read. How? By writing something that gets folks thinking. Maybe in your corporate blog you offer a suggestion for how the government should be (or shouldn’t be) regulating your industry. Or perhaps you ask your audience how they feel about a certain topic to get them talking. You can use that conversation to help drive your next action, and then tell your readers the outcome of your efforts.

Taking risks can create success in ways you haven’t thought of. I found an old article in Ad Age that talked about the Doritos campaign from 2007. Doritos launched a contest for consumers to create an ad for the Super Bowl that the public would vote on. The Super Bowl! The granddaddy of all advertising opportunities! No one had tried that before. And it worked for them, and still works to this day. It’s a great early example of using user-generated content to drive views (Youtube hits total in the millions for these ads) and certainly engagement and press coverage. Doritos took a risk with that campaign, and it certainly seems to have paid off.

Risk-taking helps you stand-out from the competition. Taking a unique approach that differentiates your brand from everyone else’s carries risk, but if it works, creates awareness and buzz. Doing the same thing rarely gets press attention, but stepping out of your comfort-zone can. K-mart ‘Ship my Pants’  is a great example of this. That new and edgy ad campaign has over 22 million YouTube views! It got people talking!

Risk-taking can create a successful product, even when consumers don’t realize they need it. Steve Jobs is the most well known person to take this approach. He famously said that

”A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Most brands don’t have the stomach to trust their gut so fully and in the face of so little research, but for Apple, the approach paid off, at least eventually.

Think about risk when you are designing your next campaign. Hopefully your next bet will be the one that pays off. Fear not.