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Digital marketing survival guide for small businesses (review of See You on the Internet)

The internet is the only place we’ll be seeing your small business while we self-isolate and do our part to help flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Online is where we’ll get to know you, stay connected and decide whether to spend money with you during the weeks ahead.

Yet with every small business ramping up their online presence in a scramble to survive, how can you stand out and weather the storm?

Now more than ever, you need a digital marketing strategy. Just as you can’t afford not to market online, you can’t afford to get it wrong.

Avery Swartz, founder and CEO of Camp Tech, has a strategy-building framework that she uses with her small business and non-profit clients.

see you“Every small business owner I’ve ever worked with feels the pressure of limited time and resources,” says Swartz, author of See You on the Internet: Building Your Small Business with Digital Marketing.

“You’re constantly trying to weigh the effort of any marketing initiative in your business against the potential reward it will bring. And if you’re not sure it is going to bring you a reward, it can be so tempting to skip it. When the going gets tough, you have to be able to measure (and confidentially know) if the juice is worth the squeeze. And if it’s not, then it’s totally okay to move on to something else.”

Here’s Swartz’s six-step digital marketing framework:

  1. Set a specific, measurable and actionable business goal.
  2. Choose one key performance indicator (KPI) tied to your goal. “There are all kinds of metrics and values you can use to measure your success. It can be totally overwhelming and paralyzing. That’s why it’s essential to focus on just one metric – the one that tells you whether you’re getting any closer to your goal.”
  3. Measure where you currently stand, using your KPI as the measuring stick.
  4. Take a calculated leap into the unknown with digital marketing. Avoid a giant leap. “Don’t spend a lot of money or time at this stage; you’re trying something out to see if it works. Start small and get the results. If your measurement shows some success, great! Double down.” If you don’t hit it out of the park, adjust your strategy and take a different approach online.
  5. Measure what actually happened. “This is the step that requires the most discipline and honesty,” says Swartz. “The only purpose of looking at metrics is to learn, so you can improve. It’s not to make yourself feel good.”
  6. Learn from what you’ve done. What would you do again? Do more of or do it differently? “Look for the signal in the noise to determine what’s working and then double down on those efforts.”

Once you’ve worked through the framework’s six steps, you move into an iterative cycle of planning, executing, measuring and learning.

Along with her framework, Swartz gives a primer on domain names, websites, search engine optimization, social media, email marketing, online advertising and digital metrics. You’ll learn enough to have an intelligent conversation when negotiating with a consultant or marketing firm.

“Digital marketing is hard,” says Swartz. “At some point, I promise you, it will feel like a slog. If you start using a digital tool before you know what you want to achieve with it, and before you make a plan for getting you closer to that goal, you’ll waste your time,” says Swartz.

And in these unprecedented times, no small business owner has any time to waste and no room to wing it. Use Swartz’s digital marketing strategy to know exactly what’s working, what’s not and where to go next.

This review ran in the April 4 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

A better way to solve tough problems (review of What’s Your Problem?)

How would you solve the problem of too many dogs waiting to get adopted from your local animal shelter?

You could run pop-up adoption shops. Roll out a dog-of-the-week promo with your local newspaper and TV station. Revamp the shelter’s website, give the dogs their own Instagram account and launch a matchmaking mobile app that’s like Tinder for dogs.

problemOr you could reframe the problem from getting more dogs adopted to having fewer dogs put up for adoption. Downtown Dog Rescue did exactly that and gets a shout-out from innovation and problem-solving expert Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg in his new book What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve.

The Los Angeles non-profit looked at the dogs in its shelter and realized it had a poverty problem.  Around a third of the dogs were being surrendered by owners. These owners weren’t irresponsible; they were caught in desperate financial straits and forced to make a hard decision. So the shelter created an intervention program that financially helps owners keep their dogs. The program saves owners from heartbreak and saves the shelter money, proving to be less costly than taking in dogs and putting them up for adoption.

“Sometimes, to solve a hard problem, you have to stop looking for solutions to it,” says Wedell-Wedellsborg. “The way you frame a problem determines which solutions you come up with. By shifting the way you see the problem, you can sometimes find radically better solutions.”

problem 5

To reframe a problem, test your initial understanding and underlying assumptions. What are you missing in looking at this problem? Is there a better goal or objective to pursue? What’s your role in creating the mess you’re in? How do other people perceive this problem? When and where is this not a problem and who’s already solved it? “Paying attention to positive exceptions can give you a new perspective on the problem and may even point you directly to a viable solution.”

Wedell-Wedellsborg calls reframing a fundamental skill we all need to learn. “Frankly, this is stuff that everyone should have been taught a long time ago. And it frightens me to consider how many mistakes are made every day because smart, talented people keep solving the wrong problems.”

So why aren’t we masters of reframing? We have a bias for action and an aversion to thinking before acting, even though reframing when done well is a quick detour that saves time, money and aggravation.

problem 4

We prefer to focus on problems that we’re already experts at solving. “Most people have a tendency to frame problems to match their own ‘hammer’, hewing to the tools or analytical perspectives they favour.”

We’re also guilty of falling in love with solutions that are in search of a problem.  “Sometimes, people have fallen in love with an idea – let’s do X! – with zero evidence that the solution they are dreaming of solves a real-world problem.”

PROBLEM 3

Reputations can be built and fortunes made off tackling wicked problems and seemingly intractable global challenges. Yet our best way forward may come from learning how to reframe hard problems into far easier challenges to solve.

“What difference might it make to your life – to the people and the causes you care about – if everyone got just a little bit better at barking up the right trees? People who master reframing make better decisions, get more original ideas and tend to lead more remarkable lives.”

This review first ran in the March 14 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to ask for help at work (review of All You Have to Do is Ask)

I still don’t have an answer to the one question my boss always asks at the end of our one-on-one meetings.

What can I do to help make it easier for you to do your job?

I keep drawing a blank because this has never been a frequently asked question throughout my career. And I’ve brought that on myself, having spent too many years being the go-it-alone, stubbornly self-reliant lone wolf.

Not asking for directions can make lone wolves lousy travelling companions. Not asking for direction, guidance or help at work can be a career-limiting, or even a job-ending, move.

AllYouHaveToDoIsAsk_ByWayneBaker_BookCoverImage“Not asking for help is one of the most self-limiting, self-constraining, even self-destructive decisions we can make,” says Wayne Baker, University of Michigan business professor and author of All You Have to Do is Ask. “Without the help and assistance of others, we don’t receive the resources that we need to get our work done, to solve problems, and to fulfill our missions in the world.”

We have our reasons for not asking for help. We underestimate just how ready, willing and able people are to lend a hand. We believe that asking for help makes us look weak, incapable, incompetent, lazy or dependent. We fool ourselves into thinking we can somehow do it all on our own. We feel we haven’t earned the privilege to ask for help, we don’t know how to make a request or we work for organizations where asking for help just isn’t done and getting help is near impossible.

While we tell ourselves it’s better to give than to receive, Baker believes it’s best if we regularly do both. “The two acts are two sides of the same coin. There is no giving without receiving and there is now receiving without giving. And it’s the request that starts the wheel turning.”

To ask for and then get what we need, Baker recommends making requests that are specific, personally meaningful, action-oriented, realistic and time-based. “When others know why you are making the request, they are more motivated to respond,” says Baker. “They empathize with you.”

Leaders need to lead by example, stringing together a psychological safety net and creating a “thanks for asking” culture that recognizes and rewards people who request a helping hand.

One way to achieve this is by setting up reciprocity rings. Up to 24 people get together and take turns making both a personal and work-related request. Asking for help is the price of admission to a reciprocity ring. People in the ring can ask for information, advice, recommendations, referrals and extra resources. Anyone who can help in any way steps forward.

You can also introduce five-minute favours. Commandeer a room and tape sheets of flip chart paper to the walls. Have employees write requests on the top half of the sheets and add their names to the bottom of sheets where they can offer assistance.

Yet another suggestion is to write one problem or question a week on a whiteboard and invite employees to weigh in with solutions and answers.  Review all the ideas on Friday afternoons.

And as a leader, you too can ask for help. Baker highlights a CEO and chairman of the board who, at an employee town hall, asked for everyone’s help in meeting his three personal goals – “stay happily married to my wife of some 30 years, don’t miss any important dates / events for my two daughters back home, lose 20 pounds and eat better.” One employee offered to be the CEO’s running partner while others made sure he skipped desserts and ate salads.

“Most people are in fact willing to help – if they are asked,” says Baker. “But most people don’t ask and as a result, all those answers, solutions and resources are being left untouched, unused and wasted – for no good reason.”

Lone wolves take note. It’s time we ditch the stubborn independence and start asking for help.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Wondering if there’s more than this? You’re ready to climb the second mountain (review)

mountain climbYou went to a good school, graduated into a great job and built yourself a rewarding career.

You’ve earned serious money, status and power.

You’re living the dream and life is good.

But what if it could be exponentially better?

“Most of the time we aim too low,” says David Brooks, New York Times columnist and author of The Second Mountain. “We walk in shoes too small for us. We spend our days shooting for a little burst of approval or some small career victory.

“But there’s a joyful way of being that’s not just a little bit better than the way we are currently living; it’s a quantum leap better. It’s as if we’re all competing to get a little closer to a sunlamp. If we get up and live a different way, we can bathe in real sunshine.”

second mountainBrooks says there are two metaphorical mountains for us to climb.

Most of us are in a mad scramble up the first mountain. We’re decked out in “I’m free to be me” athleisure as we pursue happiness and self-love, build our personal brands, manage our reputations, curate our best lives on social media, keep score and take stock of how we measure up.

“The goals on the first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses – to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited to the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness,” says Brooks. “It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.”

Maybe we’ll reach the peak and love the view. But we may suffer existential dread as we wonder if there’s more than this. Or we could get tossed off the mountain after losing our job, good health or reputation.

Fortunately, there’s a second mountain for us to climb. On this mountain, we trade independence for interdependence and swap happiness for joy. Instead of living our best life, we’re dedicated to making life better for others. Choosing one or more commitments to a vocation, spouse or family, a philosophy or faith, and a community is our price of admission to the second mountain.

“A commitment is making a promise to something without expecting a reward,” says Brooks. “Adult life is about making promises to others, being faithful to those promises. The beautiful life is found in the mutual giving of unconditional gifts. When I meet people leading lives of deep commitment, this fact hits me: joy is real.”

On the first mountain, we have careers. On the second mountain, we dedicate ourselves to vocations.

A career is based on what we’re good at while a vocation is built on what we’ve been obsessively interested in for many years.

“In choosing a vocation, it’s precisely wrong to say that talent should trump interest,” says Brooks. “Interest multiples talent and is in most cases more important than talent.  The crucial terrain to be explored in any vocation search is the terrain of your heart and soul, your long-term motivation. Knowledge is plentiful; motivation is scarce.”

Still searching for your vocation? Say yes to everything. “Say yes to every opportunity that comes along, because you never know what will lead to what,” says Brooks. “Have a bias toward action. Think of yourself as a fish that is hoping to get caught. Go out there among the fishhooks.”

If you’ve been blown off the first mountain or find yourself underwhelmed by the view, Brooks will help you find the fishhooks and the courage to climb your second mountain.

This review first ran in the Feb. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. I serve as communications manager for McMaster’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and have reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Turn your customers into loyal fans (review of Fanocracy)

free-images-for-copywritingIf it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I ignored that adage while registering for a “free” webinar.

When the webinar ended, the spam emails and sales calls started and didn’t stop. I got emails and phone calls from multiple salespeople from the same company.

Irritation replaced my initial appreciation. I took a hard pass when the company invited me to join another webinar, even though the topic was relevant and line-up of speakers was impressive.

It’s too bad because I could’ve been a fan of the company and helped spread the word about their webinars. I may have even bought what they were selling. But now, I’m not a fan.

If you’re giving away content online, lift the gates. Make it truly and completely free. Let us watch your webinars and download your whitepapers, e-books and special reports without first having to turn ourselves into a sales lead.

Fanocracy-HC-3D“Free content with strings attached feels like coercion while great content given away freely attracts loyal fans,” say David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott, the father-daughter authors of Fanocracy: Turning Fans Into Customers and Customers Into Fans.

“The problem with gating content is many people won’t bother to register for privacy reasons. They don’t want an email or phone call from a salesperson.  Another problem with gated content is there is very little sharing on social media because people don’t want to expose those in their social networks to possible spam.”

Companies that have axed email registrations report that 20 to 50 times more people now download their free content.

“If you want to spread your ideas, free content is the way to go,” say the authors. “We frequently hear from people who say that if you give away your ideas for free via web content, people won’t have a need to buy your products or services. However, many organizations have successfully used this approach.”

If you’re not ready to make this leap of faith, try a hybrid approach. Make a truly free initial offer that contains a secondary follow-up offer that requires registration. Your initial offer will reach more people and generate higher quality leads.

“The hybrid approach generates email addresses from people who have already consumed your initial free content and now want more information about your company and your products and services and are eager to learn more.”

Giving more than you have to is one way to convert customers into avid, loyal and loud fans.

Bringing customers together offline is another fan-building strategy that captures the zeitgeist of our times. The authors say we’re on the cusp of a major cultural shift away from an increasingly polarized, cold, unsocial and algorithm-driven digital world.

“The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of superficial online communications at a time when people are hungry for true human connection. Many people now feel that the promise of online social connection just isn’t for them anymore – the romance is over. We’ve gone too far into manufactured friendship through social media, and something different is coming next. The pendulum is swinging back to genuine, authentic human connection.”

What can your business or organization do to bring like-minded people together in unique places and spaces for special events and activities? If you love what your customers love, they’ll find room in the hearts and wallets to love you too. Book stores have book clubs. Libraries have speakers’ series. Shoe stores have running clubs. Garden centres have classes on how to mix cocktails using herbs. What’s your equivalent?

Hagerty Insurance is one of the company’s showcased in Fanocracy. “Insurance sucks,” admits the CEO. “Nobody wants to buy insurance. It’s not fun.” What is fun for Hagerty’s customers are classic cars. So the company created a free classic car auction tracker app and launched a Hagerty Drivers Club last year. Members get a subscription to the company’s magazine, exclusive discounts, road side service assistance and invites to members-only events.  Hagerty is now the largest classic car insurer, with double-digit compound growth.

“A fanocracy is a culture where fans rule, and that’s what we see emerging in today’s world,” say the authors. “We are moving into an era that prizes people over products. The relationships we build with our customers are more important than the products and services we sell to them.”

I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. I’m a fan of the Washington Capitals, the New England Patriots, Peter Gabriel and Phoebe Bridgers.

Tell an undeniable story to win support for your impossible idea (review of Story 10x).

I had no clue what the consultants were talking about.

Early in my career, I was on a team that was tasked with carrying out a re-engineering project.

Consultants were brought in to crunch numbers, run reports and help get employees onboard for big sweeping changes in who and how work got done.

The consultants were big believers in burning platforms.

Some employees will resist change and stick with the status quo until the bitter end, said the consultants. By burning down the platform, they’ll be forced to jump. The pain of staying in their comfort zone will be greater than the fear of making a change.

Even though the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster wouldn’t happen for another 15 years, this seemed like a horrible analogy and a lousy strategy to pull off a major change.

Burning the platform wound up stoking more anger than fear. Employees saw through the smoke and didn’t jump. In the end, the only ones tossed overboard were the consultants and our project team.

Michael Margolis is not a fan of burning platforms.

Story10x_hardcover-mock-angle3a“As an innovator and change agent, you’re programmed to confront and challenge the status quo,” says Margolis, the author of Story 10X and founder of a strategic messaging firm. “To show people how things are wrong, bad or broken. And what is required to fix it. While you have truth on your side, who likes to be told they are wrong, bad or stupid?

“In fairness, this is just conditioned behavior. We all want to be right, yet, when you learn to tell your story in a manner that goes beyond right / wrong, you can truly move the needle, bend the curve and transform the world.”

If you want us to embrace whatever change you’re selling, make us feel good about going along for the ride. “Feeling good is contagious. You’re more likely to pique curiosity, leaving them intrigued and hungry for more. Yes begets more yes. They’ll see you as an ally around shared interests or needs and they’ll be open to your message rather than closed to it.”

Instead of burning platforms, tell us an undeniable story that’ll inspire us to join you in turning the impossible into the inevitable. “An undeniable story is a strategic narrative that transports your audience into the future – leading them on a journey beyond the world they know to the promised land of possibility. It conveys a new vision, strategy and roadmap so convincingly and compellingly that your audience can’t help but see it, feel it and believe it. They want what you’re selling. Because your idea is a self-evident truth that people can relate to.”

motivation-4330453_1920Margolis says narrative intelligence is as important as cognitive and emotional intelligence. Great leaders are great storytellers. “Business is built on persuasion and persuasion is rooted in story. The very best leaders are well versed in the art and science of story. They make magical things happen with their words.”

The best leaders make their stories personal and show vulnerability. They put their heart at the heart their stories.“If your message is personal to you, you have a much better chance of making it personal to your audience. If you’re emotionally invested in your ideas, your audience will equate that to motivation, resilience and long-term achievement. Let your vulnerabilities be seen and you’re far more likely to engender trust and rapport.”

So if you’re looking to change the world in 2020, Margolis can show you how to share an undeniable story that’ll give us faith in disrupting and innovating our way to a better future.

By day, I’m the communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science. Hamilton is home and I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The unsustainable costs of cheap & fast fashion (review of Fashionopolis)

sweatshirts-428607_1920Want to save the planet? Start with your closet and skip next week’s Boxing Day sales.

We’re making and buying more clothes than ever before. Between 2000 and 2014, worldwide production doubled to 100 billion items. Twenty per cent of those items go unsold and get buried, shredded or incinerated.

And we’re not holding on for long to the 80 billion clothes that we do buy. On average, we wear clothes just seven times before burying them in our closets, giving them away or tossing them in the trash. Each of us throws out around 36 kilograms worth of clothes annually.

We’re on an epic shopping spree thanks to fast fashion. Our malls and big box stores are continually restocked with trendy and inexpensive clothes made and shipped at lightning speeds from subcontracted sweatshops that run on the cheapest labour in the world’s poorest countries.

fashionopolisThe clothes may be cheap but they come at a steep and unsustainable cost, says Dana Thomas, journalist and author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

“Every day, billions of people buy clothes with nary a thought – nor even a twinge of remorse – about the consequences of those purchases.”

Fashion is big business. It’s a $2.4 trillion industry that employs one out of every six people around the world. Yet less than two per cent of those workers earn a living wage.

“Since the invention of the mechanical loom nearly two and a half centuries ago fashion has been a dirty, unscrupulous business that has exploited humans and Earth alike to harvest bountiful profits. Slavery, child labor and prison labor have all been integral parts of the supply chain at one time or another – including today.”

Along with exploiting the poorest of the poor, we’re wrecking the planet every time we buy yet another cheap t-shirt, hoodie, dress or pair of jeans.

The World Bank estimates that manufacturing clothes accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all industrial water pollution and 10 per cent of carbon emissions.

One-fifth of all insecticides are used to grow cotton. Manufacturing a single cotton t-shirt requires nearly half a kilogram of fertilizer, 25.3 kilowatts of electricity and 2,700 litres of water.

Synthetic fabrics are no better. Up to 40 per cent of microfibres from these fabrics wind up in rivers, lakes and oceans and worm their way up the food chain. Nearly 90 per cent of 2,000 fresh- and seawater samples tested by the Global Microplastics Initiative contain microfibres.

“We, as consumers, play a pivotal part,” says Thomas. “It’s time to quit the mindless shopping and consider what we are doing, culturally and spiritually. When we ask ourselves ‘what am I going to wear today?’, we should be able to answer knowledgeably and with a dash of pride. We have been casual about our clothes, but we can get dressed with intention. It is time to really care.”

We can show we care by joining the slow fashion revolution. Thomas showcases a growing movement of makers, designers, merchants and manufacturers who are championing localization and regionalism, honoring craftsmanship, respecting tradition, embracing modern technology to make production cleaner and greener and treating workers well.

Yes, we’ll pay more for slow fashion clothes. But it’ll be worth it if you care about the planet and the people who do the work. And really, how many t-shirts, hoodies, dresses and jeans does one person need?

This review ran in the Dec. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. I’ve reviewed business books for the Spectator since 1999. By day, I’m communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton, Ontario home.

Want us to share your online content? Make it all about us and not you (review)

Take three minutes and watch Kraig Reinhart get offered his dream job in a pretty remarkable recruitment video.

Kraig’s a student in Conestoga College’s Advanced Police Studies program. Kraig and his classmates are being interviewed on camera by the communications manager with the Waterloo Regional Police Service.

Kraig is talking about his dream of working for the service so he can give back to his hometown.  A uniformed officer then walks unannounced into the classroom and presents a job offer to the shocked and speechless student.

Kraig pulls himself together, shakes the officer’s hand, thanks his cheering professors and classmates and then steps out into the hall to call his mom with the news.

This video checks all the boxes when it comes to shareability.

break“Being shareable means that you create content with such high value for the people viewing it that they are compelled to share it with their friends,” say Tim Staples cofounder and CEO of Shareability and author of Break Through the Noise.

“Being shareable is all about making people lean in rather than click off or swipe past.”

You need to create highly shareable content because nobody cares, says Staples.

“Nobody cares about that video you just posted, that photo you Instagrammed last night, and especially not that commercial that your brand just pushed out. Really, nobody cares.

“It’s nothing personal. People are so bombarded by messaging that they tune out nearly all of it. This is the reality of the internet world.”

But we can be made to care and then share. The key is to realize that we’re sharing your content for selfish reasons. “People like and share internet content not for others, but rather to define themselves and for how it makes them look and feel. In short, they do it for self-serving or selfish reasons.

“If you want people to share your content, it has to be about them, not about you.”

According to Staples, there are five emotions that drive a disproportionate number of shares online: happiness, awe, empathy, curiosity and surprise. The Waterloo Regional Police Service video will make you feel happy and leave you with a smile.

Regardless of what emotion drives your video, you must offer value to viewers.  Give us content that we actually want to watch.  Offer value without asking for anything up front. Continue to lead with value until you can identify the people who enthusiastically interact the most with you.  Eventually, those are the people you can ask to part with their hard-earned dollars or join your organization as a freshly minted college grad.

Instead of focusing on what you want to tell us in your next online video, figure out what we’d want to watch and what we’d consider to be valuable.

“If you can determine the answers to these questions, and deliver something of true value, the audience will love you for it. Then, maybe you can ask them for that dollar in their pocket.”

So resist the urge to create yet another unwatchable and unshareable “five reasons why you should work, study or spend money with us” video with obligatory aerial drone shots. And aim higher than a gimmicky lip synch video that may go viral for a day on Tik Tok and then disappear.

Instead, watch the Waterloo Regional Police Service video for inspiration and then read Staples’ book to learn the nine rules that’ll get us caring and sharing your content.

This review was published in the Dec. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. By day, I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton home. I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to get us to earn our attention, trust and business (review of Think Say Do)

Would you close your store on Black Friday and turn away customers online?

Outdoor retailer REI Co-op launched #OptOutside in 2015 so customers and employers could head outdoors during one of the busiest retail days of the year. Along with closing all 157 stores and giving its 13,000 employees a paid holiday, the company doesn’t process online payments.

This year, the company’s adding a call to action that invites everyone to join one of 11 organized environmental clean-up projects on Black Friday.

More than 15 million people, and more than 700 organizations, have so far joined REI’s anti-shopping movement.

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REI launched #OptOutside with an ad campaign starring their former chief executive officer sitting at a desk on a mountaintop. “We believe a life lived outside is a life worth living. We’d rather be in the mountains than in the aisles,” said Jerry Stritzke.

Ron Tite, author of Think Do Say and founder and CEO of marketing agency Church + State, thinks REI is genius for closing while competitors slash prices, roll out special promotions and spend big bucks on advertising in an all-out war to gin up pre-holiday spending.

think do say“REI shut down on its busiest day of the year and actually grew revenue in the process,” says Tite. “They got consumers to look. They established trust in the brand. The result was incredible momentum and growth, all because everyone from the CEO to the cashier were aligned on what they thought, what they did and what they said.”

Alignment gets you noticed in an increasingly chaotic world where we no longer know where to look or who to trust. The marketplace is flooded with products and services clamoring for our attention and wallets. At the same time, we’re witnessing a massive breach of trust in consumer marketing.

“Great brands, great companies and great leaders are based on what they think, what they do and what they say. When all three of those pillars work together, people look up. Getting them to do that has never been more difficult.”

The first pillar is the most important. What do you think? Believe in something greater, says Tite. “Go beyond the rational. Explore the emotional. Start with purpose.” REI believes that a life outdoors is a life well lived. Closing on Boxing Day aligns with what the company believes. To borrow a line from Bill Bernbach, “a principle is not a principle until it costs you money.”

Once you’ve defined your brand belief, figure out what to do to act on that belief and then how to say it.

“If you believe in something greater and you behave in a way that reinforces that belief, it’s worth talking about. And if you’re going to talk about it you should say it in a way that gets as many people onside as possible. Just state what you believe, say what you do to live it and say it in an authentic and memorable way.”

Misalignment in what you think, say and do can lead to trust-killing integrity gaps. “Do your best to avoid them, but own them when they occur because what you do immediately following an integrity gap will say more about your character than what you did before.”

Deciding what to think, do and say is hard work but the payoff is worth it, says Tite. You’ll earn our attention, trust and your business.

Need more proof? REI’s announcement that it was closing on Black Friday generated 6.7 billion media impressions and 1.2 billion social impressions. Co-op membership has grown 31 per cent since 2014 and the company’s achieved a 20 per cent five-year compound growth rate.

This review ran in the Nov. 23 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. I serve as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and have reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. Reviews are archived here.

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How empathy + connection = engagement on your social media accounts (review)

How you behave during next month’s holiday parties should guide what you post to social media in the new year.

You won’t show up at parties looking to put the squeeze on co-workers, friends and neighbours. You won’t pressure them into renting your family cottage on Airbnb, hiring your kids for summer jobs or signing up for HelloFresh meal kits so you can get the referral discount. You won’t demand that party-goers take out their phones and follow your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. You won’t corner anyone in the kitchen for an hour-long humblebrag and the opportunity to bask in your brilliance. And as soon as you get home, you won’t be firing off the first in a never-ending and unrelenting series of daily emails pressuring them into doing business with you.

Instead, you’ll strike up conversations during the parties that are free of a sales pitch. You’ll be genuinely interested in what people have to say and you’ll work hard to be just as interesting and entertaining. You’ll listen more than you talk and when you talk, it will be more about them and less about you.

Please take the exact same approach with your social media accounts for your business or organization.

social media brand“Social media is a cocktail party full of folks and your brand’s success depends on being the one person at the party everyone wants to talk to,” says Claire Diaz-Ortiz, one of Twitter’s first employees and author of Social Media Success for Every Brand.

“A successful social media strategy isn’t about convincing Mark Cuban to retweet you, ‘going viral’, or pushing your product down people’s throats. Instead, the goal of social media for any brand should be to pique existing and potential followers’ interest enough to get them to further engage by moving up something I call the engagement ladder.”

At the top of the ladder is where we make our first purchase and then become loyal customers. Social media should steer us to the lower rungs where we first get to know, like and trust you.

So how do you pique our interest on social media and get us reaching for the first rung on your engagement ladder? Diaz-Ortiz recommends following the 80/20 rule. With 80 per cent of your posts to social media, give us value-added content you’ve created or curated that’s free of hard and soft sells.

Diaz-Ortiz also advises against chasing after new followers. Focus instead on driving up engagement among your existing followers. “What most brands do not understand is that the success of your reach on social media is far less dependent on new follower growth than it is on how engaged your existing followers are with your product or service.”

You drive that engagement by combining empathy with connection. “In a world of perfectly-filtered selfies and instant gratification on every post, it’s easy to think that social media is about you. Newsflash: your brand is not the hero. Your customer is. It is important to make your story about your audience and to always seek ways to increase empathy and connection along the way, rather than constantly post about your own awesomeness (hello cocktail party dude everyone hates).”

To generate the empathy your followers crave, tell great stories where your customers are the hero. Be wildly useful and share content that helps solve their problem. And ask your followers questions and solicit their advice.

By now, every entrepreneur, small business and organization is on social media. Few of us do it well and we’re asking the wrong questions, says Diaz-Ortiz. Fortunately, she knows both the right questions and answers. Her book will make your social media accounts the life of the party.

I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. By day, I serve as  communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton, Ontario home.