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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.