2017 was jam packed with a variety of new methods, theories and tools for spreading the word about a business. With the plethora of social sites, new apps and expert suggestions, I had my hands full. Especially since I make it a policy to never recommend anything to my clients I have not tried out myself. But there was one experiment I tried this year that produced better results than any social media campaign or speech I gave. It’s not a new theory, hot app or magical software. Rather, it’s a good old-fashioned core principle of business development that I have taught my clients for years. Click here to read it: This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
Many, if not most, are surprised to learn just how necessary it is for them to create a strong CEO brand in their new role as the chief brand ambassador of their companies. Those who do catch on, realize that creating a CEO brand is a powerful way to position their leadership and build the brand of the business. Here are three important ways to pursue your personal brand as a new CEO. This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
Recently a new branding client called me in a panic saying, “We have to get on Snapchat. It’s the hottest thing. We can’t miss the boat.” I gently pointed out to the client that their core customer was women age 45-60, more likely the Pinterest — not the Snapchat — crowd.
This intense pressure to keep up with the online Joneses has led to a flurry of action, but not necessarily impact. The idea that you should be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, and more leads many business owners to join each and every social media network–but do none of them well.
Instead, I encourage my small-business clients to think through the following three critical questions before choosing which social media sites to focus on:
1. Where and how does our ideal audience(s) consume their information?
Are they more likely to be reading blogs at Inc.com or surfing their Twitter feed three times a day? The answers help determine the social media site(s) that makes the best use of your resources.
2. What are the demographics of the various sites?
It’s important to take into consideration the details of each site you are considering. For example:
Facebook. According to the Pew report, 72 percent of female and 63 percent of male Internet users are on Facebook, equaling over a billion users a month. The site also has a strong presence across several age groups with a majority being 18- to 29-year-olds, but with solid users in the 30-49 and 50-64 brackets as well.
For businesses that have a strong business-to-consumer component, Facebook is a great place to showcase your brand personality since the site supports posting pictures, quotes, and fun updates–all opportunities to present your brand narrative to followers.
Twitter. Twitter has an estimated 250 million unique monthly visitors but according to the Pew report is marginally more popular with males and with users ages 18-29. Unlike LinkedIn, where status updates can be weekly, successful Tweeters post at least 2-3 times a day, but no more than 8-10. Businesses using Twitter as a main social media strategy need to have a significant amount of how-to and informational tips, ideas, strategies, and suggestions they can tweet.
LinkedIn. Considered the top B2B site for professionals, LinkedIn tends to attract an older, more educated and higher earning crowd than its competitors. One report by Royal Pingdom reveals that 79 percent of LinkedIn users are 35 or older. In short, LinkedIn is all about business. According to Lab42, top-level executives primarily use LinkedIn for industry networking and promoting their business.
Pinterest. Pinterest is best known for appealing to a mostly female audience, with 72 percent of users being women at an average age of between 25 and 54. Twenty-five percent of Pinterest users have earned a bachelor’s or higher degree, and the majority have a household income of between $25,000 and $75,000.
3. Do we have the time, talent, and/or money to pursue this social media tactic with excellence?
Another client I was working with–the CEO of a mid-cap high-tech firm–felt strongly that writing a regular blog would be of great benefit to his CEO brand and his company brand. The problem? He wasn’t a very good writer.
I suggested someone from his staff might take on capturing his ideas and turning them into initial blog posts. Sadly, no such person existed. As for hiring a professional writer, the costs–given the quality the client wanted–were prohibitive.
In the final analysis the client settled on a strategy featuring a monthly, rather than a weekly, blog. He also went whole hog on his Twitter strategy–reaching out to influencers in their space to gain brand recognition.
Regardless of which direction you decide to take your social media strategy in, the most important aspects to building your brand online are consistency and quality. Don’t let your social media accounts go idle, and don’t bombard your followers with promotion-only posts.
Let the particular medium dictate what and how often you tweet, post, or pin, and you will be on your way to branding your business like a pro.
I recently attended yet another in a long series of professional time management & productivity workshops I have been to over the course of my career. And while each has its own spin, they all promote some version of the same holy grail of an efficient work life: be focused, be persistent–and above all, be on time.
So it was with pleasant surprise that I read Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman’s new book A Mind at Play (Simon & Schuster). The book chronicles the story of Dr. Claude Shannon, a modest, quirky mathematician and engineer who was one of the founders of the information revolution, and arguably one of the lesser-known geniuses of the 20th century.
While you might not know Shannon’s name–you have benefited from his work. That’s because Dr. Shannon developed the idea of the “bit,” and it’s these millions of bits traveling through space that make this blog post possible.
Shannon wasn’t just a brilliant math mind, he was also a unicyclist, an inventor, a juggler, a stock picker, a gambler, a chess player, a pilot, and the co-creator of the world’s first wearable device. He was someone who passionately followed his interests, wherever they led him, and he built a life out of doing what he loved. It’s a life that has a lot to teach us about the prevailing wisdom of productivity, and why we just may have it all wrong.
Here are a few of the unconventional (and even counterintuitive) lessons from this 20th century genius:
In his graduate school days, Shannon would find himself in the middle of working on some thorny math problem, and rather than double down and focus even harder, he would step away–and play the clarinet. Later in his life, Shannon would come into his office and spend the morning engrossed in long games of chess or juggling.
He’s not the only one who used the distraction strategy. Albert Einstein would famously play the violin as a way of working through some challenging physics problems, and Darwin took long walks.
These breaks, as it turns out, are part of brilliance. Top-level minds treat their mental capacity the way a sprinter treats his muscles: with brief bursts of activity, followed by periods of rest. Today’s science confirms our instinct to pause after intense work. But geniuses like Shannon, Darwin, and Einstein knew it well before the experts proved it.
The right distraction (often considered a dirty word in the world of work) might just provide the important break you need, before your next eureka moment.
Be an amateur.
Dr. Claude Shannon had a PhD from MIT, worked at the hypercompetitive Bell Laboratories, and ended his career with a dual appointment in MIT’s world-renowned math and engineering departments. He won nearly every major prize in his field and was given the National Medal of Science by President Lyndon Johnson.
And yet, for all his professional accolades, Shannon was comfortable being something that we too often take for granted: an amateur.Shannon was “an amateur unicyclist” and “an amateur juggler,” and could often be found tinkering away at his home, building things from scratch such as a robotic mouse that could navigate a maze.
Successful entrepreneurs, experts, and businesspeople often feel the pressure to be successful in all parts of their lives. But one lesson from Shannon’s genius is his willingness to not be a genius–his willingness to try and test and play.
Walk away from your successes.
Shannon experienced a brief flash of fame after the publication of his seminal work on information theory in 1948. Life Magazine wanted him. He was put on national television. He even got a spread in Vogue magazine. If he wanted to, Shannon could have ridden the wave of his popularity for a long time.
But instead, he wrote a 350-word piece letting his colleagues know that things had gotten out of hand. A document–that flies totally in the face of Shannon’s self-interest. Shannon took it even one step further: He walked away from the field of information theory almost entirely and pursued other lines of research and inquiry. That decision led to some of the most imaginative, out-of-the-box work he ever produced.
How often do we feel the pressure to repeat ourselves, doing the same thing, the same way, for years, just because we are good (or great) at it? Shannon’s brilliance shows us that we shouldn’t be afraid to walk away. Our best work might just be right around the corner.
A Mind at Play show us that you don’t need to be a genius to learn from a genius. Claude Shannon’s inventive, vibrant life demonstrates how vital the act of play can be to making the most of work.
Years ago I went to visit some friends who lived in South Lake Tahoe. As I came over the crest of the hill, the panoramic view opened up before me. White snowy mountains, a deep blue lake, and crisp green pine trees–I was hooked.
So hooked in fact that I decided to buy a cute cabin in a quiet neighborhood a few short blocks from the lake. As part of my ownership obligation, I was advised by my local realtorto make my new home as “cabiny” as possible. The reasoning behind this was that renters apparently expect a Tahoe cabin to look, well–like a Tahoe cabin.
When I inquired as to what exactly comprised this mountain-esqe decor, I was shown images of log furniture, pinecone ornamentation, and anything with a moose on it–moose placemats, moose lampshades, moose pencil cup holders, and yes, even a moose toilet paper holder.
Despite the fact that no actual moose have been seen in South Lake Tahoe for decades, the moose theme is so synonymous with cabin life that my friend Lynette and I coined the term “moosey” as a kind of shorthand to represent all things South Lake Tahoe–decoration-wise, that is.
Essentially we had transformed the word “moose” from a noun to a verb. For example, my cabin did not need an interior design update. Rather, it was in need of a moose-i-fication makeover and some moose-ing up.
The slang name for this process is “verbing.” The official term, according to etymologists, is “anthimeria,” meaning a functional shift in the use of a word.
Successful brands do this all the time. Google has now become so associated with the activity of searching the web that regardless of the search engine you may be using (Yahoo!, Bing, YouTube, etc.) the common expression is “I’m going to Google that.”
Hoping to turn a noun into a verb in your business? Bear in mind that this requires a fair amount of fate–one communications professor, Scott R. Hamula of Ithaca College, says it’s “more aspirational than achievable and involves a lot of serendipity.”
Regardless, here are three steps you can follow to help lady luck moosify (so to speak) your brand:
1. Replace a sentence for the action with a single word.
Brands that become verbalized replace sentences that represent actions with single words. For example, people don’t say, “I will Gmail that” because a word for that–“email”–already existed. They do however say, “I’ll Uber,” because prior only a sentence such as “I’m going to call a car service to get home from the party,” could convey the idea.
- What actions do people take when they use your service or product?
- Is there a current word that exists for that? If not, is there a single word you can extract to represent the action?
- Are you the first to bring this to market? If not, is there an aspect of what you are doing that is first?
- Is there a way we can make our brand an “ing” so that it is a thing?
2. Keep it to two or three syllables.
A Skype call, Google search, Photoshop image, or FedEx package. All of these have one thing in common: They’re simple to say and contain very few syllables. In general the shorter and sweeter you can keep the term, the greater the chance you have that it will catch on.
3. Socialize it.
The more you can use your noun as a verb in your marketing collateral and conversation with your customer base, the stronger the possibility that it will become verbalized. For example, Twitter created and promoted the idea of “tweeting”–and now even presidents do it.
One word of warning.
Turning your company brand into a verb can potentially endanger the trademark, if it becomes the generic term for the product or service; i.e., Xerox (for copies) and Kleenex (for tissues). Barbara Findlay Schenck, coauthor of Branding for Dummies, points out that Rollerblade inline skates spends heavily to educate consumers that rollerblading isn’t a sport; it’s a specific brand.
Consider the trademark case where Windsurfer applied for a wind-propelled, surfboard-like apparatus patented in 1968. The term was presented as a verb (windsurfing) to describe the sport of sailboarding, and the courts found the mark to be generic and no longer protectable.
If all this has your head spinning and you feel like you might need some time to step back and think about how to verbalize your brand, I’ve got a nice cabin in the woods that’s all moosed up and ready to go.
And the award goes to…
On Sunday June 11th, 2017, the annual Tony Awards will take place at Radio City Music Hall. The Tonys (sponsored by The American Theater Wing) are as coveted by the Broadway set as the Oscars are by the Hollywood crowd.
As an unabashed theater geek, and proud New Yorker, I try to see as many of the top-nominated plays and musicals as I can before the awards ceremony airs so I can vote in the party pool with at least some degree of credibility.
But beyond the joyful magic of sitting in a dark theater waiting for the play to begin, I often walk away from these shows thinking about how some aspect of the play applies to my life — workwise and other. Here’s my two cents on the takeaways from a few of this year’s top Tony contenders.
Dear Evan Hansen: Nominated for best musical.
The plot. Awkward (and possibly on the autism spectrum) teenage boy weaves a web of lies with a good intention, which eventually (of course) gets out of hand.
The takeaway. As the tagline for the show goes — “You will be found.” No matter how successful we may seem on the outside, everyone feels some degree of aloneness and isolation — often exaggerated by social media. In one poignant song, titled Waving Through a Window, the show’s Ben Platt (in the title role) faces a backscreen full of Facebook-type posts and sings…
“On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window”
The bottom line. Commit investing a percentage of the energy and attention you normally put into your online life into more real-life connections. For example, instead of texting back and forth with a client or friend, invite them to lunch or pick up the phone — you’ll feel less alone and more seen. In fact, a slew of recent studies has suggested that there are direct links in some cases between social media use and isolation, depression and ill health. So forget about being online for an evening and go stand in a real line and see a play. You might just come out the better for it.
Hello Dolly: Nominated for best revival of a musical.
The plot. The classic role of Dolly Levi, matchmaker extraordinaire, is brought back to life with Bette Midler in the title role.
The takeaway. 70-year-old short women can storm a stage and captivate an audience as well as any 25-year-old hottie in a cabaret getup. Oh, and by the way, the night I saw her she was overcoming a cold and not at her singing best — it made no difference at all. Her energy, enthusiasm and sheer onstage presence carried the day.
The bottom line. You’re never too old to be a star — in your own life or at the office. There is something to be said for 6 or 7 decades of experience and passion, as many employers are rediscovering. The trend toward hiring retired seniors as greeters, customer service agents and more takes advantage of a valuable human resource. Considering a career change or new challenge? Don’t let your age be the determining factor.
Sweat: Nominated for best play.
The plot. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, playwright Lynn Nottage tells the story of a group of friends who work together on a factory floor and whose friendships are falling apart due to economic and emotional issues.
The takeaway. To know the world (and people) around you better, consider things from their point of view. Not a stunning realization, but Nottage has managed to show the subtle differences in how 8 different characters see the same situation — without judgement.
The bottom line. Everyone has a story to tell — and that story usually explains a great deal about why they act the way they do. Curiosity about how others see the world can be the difference that makes the difference. A recent study even pointed out that considering how another person might be feeling in a situation (as opposed to putting yourself in their shoes) creates a better outcome for both parties.
The Little Foxes: Nominated for best revival of a play.
The plot. Consummate actresses Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon play sisters-in-law in Lillian Hellman’s classic 20th century drama, which takes place in in a small town in Alabama in the 1900s. The play, featuring characters struggling for control of a family business (and their own identities), was first performed in 1939.
The takeaway. More than 70 years later, The Little Foxes is still timely and relevant. Even so, I don’t think the play would have been nearly as successful if not for the extraordinary range of flexibility exhibited by its female stars. Linney and Nixon regularly switch roles, each playing the other’s character on designated nights of the show — and both are so good that at various times during the performance I attended, spontaneous applause broke out after their razor-sharp deliveries of a line. Both have also been nominated as actors for a Tony as well.
The bottom line. Don’t let yourself be typecast by your own competencies. Getting stuck in what you do well can be a trap. I continually hear successful executives, entrepreneurs and business owners complaining about how bored they are with what they are doing. Stretching yourself beyond what’s usual is a good way to grow and find your learning edge.
As always the Tonys promise to be an entertaining (and sartorially spectacular) evening with emotional speeches and occasional sentimentalism. But beyond the fanfare, the shows on Broadway this year can bring new life to some old ideas — you just have to open your eyes wide enough to see them.
It can be lonely at the top. That’s why so many leaders seek out someone who can help them see things in a more objective light. In decades past, psychiatrists held this position — but admitting to seeing a shrink can still carry some stigma in the C-suite. Likewise, the counsel gained from conversations with subordinates, or even peers, can be tinged with political agenda. It’s for these reasons that the business of executive coaching has become such a significant staple of leadership development.
The huge increase in executive coaching has in some cases pushed out therapists who might have otherwise seen clients for similar reasons. At the same time, many counselors are getting their coaching license and moving into the traditional roles held by management consultants, mentors and executive coaches. In practice, both have a place, as they often contribute vastly different takes on the same situation.
So just who should you hire to soothe what ails you? The answer may depend on the source of your stress. I asked some business leaders and experts to weigh in on whom to see when, and for what.
Are you facing a company conflict, change or challenge?
If you’re experiencing C-suite conflict or a lack of leadership influence or feeling challenged by company change, you might try hiring a leadership coach. According to The Human Capital Institute, as many as 60 percent of American companies are using the services of executive coaches. But is this one-on-one instruction a worthwhile investment or a waste of time?
“I had a coach for the better part of a decade, and his ability to give me feedback and hold me accountable made a huge difference in how I developed as a leader,” says Brandon Black, coauthor of the new book Ego Free Leadership: Ending the Unconscious Habits that Hijack Your Business. “He was able to say things that others couldn’t because he wasn’t afraid of potential backlash,” “It’s critically important for leaders, to understand how they may be stalling innovation or creating unwanted dynamics and dysfunction,” says Black.
A formal engagement with a qualified coach can lead to a series of dynamic, confidential conversations that produce very positive consequences. The engagement may be growth-oriented — for example, helping an individual get up to speed quickly after a new promotion. Or it may be change-oriented, such as helping a high-potential individual retool their interpersonal skills so they are in a better position to be promoted.
One 2006 study from the Center for Creative Leadership found that of the 3,500 top executives surveyed, 88 percent said they highly value the mentor/coach relationship for career development. Among their top reasons for wanting a coach were.
- Assistance with leadership skills development
- Developing more vision for the company
- Team building and managing change
Are you facing a profoundly personal problem, choice or crisis?
But what about the darker side of leadership coaching? Some people take a weekend coaching workshop and then hang out a shingle declaring their readiness to sit down and help you deal with your deepest leadership issues.
Many researchers and theorists have cautioned that executive coaching is not a panacea. One leading article by psychologist Steven Berglas in the “Harvard Business Review” cited examples of coaches who lacked proper clinical training and insight, and therefore misdiagnosed coaching clients, leading to bad outcomes.
For example, Berglas describes one client who was assigned a coach to work on her “assertiveness,” when in fact she had deeper emotional and family issues that were impacting her performance and workplace relationships. The coaching that was focused on building her assertiveness was not helpful to her, and she subsequently sought the assistance of a psychotherapist.
In the final analysis, it may be your end-game goals that determine which way you go.
“Therapists are usually oriented around talking and going deeper with dialog. They are very effective at helping people identify patterns and get them from the past to the present,” explains Lolly Daskal, author of the new book The Leadership Gap: What Gets between You and Your Greatness.
“Coaches, on the other hand, often have a different mentality. They are more about creating an awareness that leads to action. Most coaches focus on getting you from the present to the future,” she says.
Whether you’re looking to make peace with your past or invent your future, a sit-down with someone savvy may be just what the doctor ordered.
To learn more about your leadership gap, check out my podcast with author Lolly Daskal.
Earlier this week I went to a preview of the MoMA NYC exhibit Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends.
This extensive retrospective of the artist’s work–the first in the twenty-first century–is a celebration of his collaborations with other artists, dancers, and musicians. The exhibit, which opens Saturday, May 20th, 2017, presents 250 works from six decades of his career, and got my branding brain and marketing mind all aflutter with inspiration. Here are three simple marketing ideas worth mentioning:
1. Put a new twist on old technology
The creative approach: Upon arriving I was given the pro forma option of using a self-directed audio tour for the exhibit. But instead of the clunky CD player of the past, I was presented with the new MoMA Audio+ mobile guide, a sleek iPod device (replete with touch screen controls) that fit lightly into the palm of my hand.
The most unique thing about the player was that it went beyond the functional “press one to play the patter about the art piece” feature and instead created an interactive experience from the start with such features as emailing yourself links which recap your visit for the day and copies of audio descriptions for selected pieces in the exhibit.
The branding and marketing takeaway: Offering these features allows the museum to instantly capture not only your contact information–but scads of information about your preferences and tastes. In fact, they immediately send you an email thanking you for visiting.
Ask yourself: In what creative ways could we use our existing technology to enhance and expand the brand beyond the initial customer experience?
2. Create a new name and solve the problem
The creative approach: In 1953 Rauschenberg created a series of paintings known as the Red Paintings. The pieces incorporated elements of paper bags, fabric, metal, wood, mirrors, lights, and more. The artist noticed that rather than looking at the piece, viewers would stand in front of the work and argue about whether it was a painting or a sculpture. To solve the situation, Rauschenberg began calling the work Combines. “The next time someone asked me,” said Rauschenberg, “I said ‘Combine.’ After that no one asked.”
The branding and marketing takeaway: What you call things matters. I often work with companies who have struggled to come up with a name (for a company, team, product, etc.) that is both catchy and evokes meaning. While naming can be a complex process, sometimes a literal take on the topic (as with Rauschenberg’s Red series) does the trick.
Ask yourself: Is there something we need to rename that would make it easier to understand and more relatable?
3. Don’t get stuck in the old, instead let collaboration create something new
The creative approach: One of the most unusual collaborations in the MoMA exhibit is Minutiae –a collaboration between the artist and Merce Cunningham, an icon of American modern dance. Cunningham requested that Rauschenberg create a work to go with a performance he had choreographed–but didn’t want the piece to function only as a backdrop but rather be integrated into something the dancers could use. The result was Rauschenberg’s first free-standing “Combine,” an artwork that stood on the floor–rather than being hung–and that the dancers could move in and out of.
The branding and marketing takeaway: It’s easy to get into the habit of doing things the way they have always been done. Testing out creative collaborations–especially with those who have a different background, perspective, or talent than ours–can lead to out-of-the-box ideas, solutions, and creations. Rauschenberg himself was keenly aware of this dynamic.
Rauschenberg is perhaps most famous for his iconic silkscreens featuring a series of 150 images in various combinations for which he won the grand prize at the Venice Biennale in 1964. His response to this honor was to call a friend and request that he destroy the screens so he would not be tempted to repeat himself.
Ask yourself: Is there an unexpected partner we could collaborate with on a project, product, or process who could bring fresh ideas and a new way of looking at how we usually do things?
Art can be a powerful force of creative inspiration. According to art historian Jonathan Fineberg, author of Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain.
In a 2015 interview with NPR, Fineberg said that seeing “is inherently a very creative act, and you’re constantly revising what you think you see… Less than 20 percent of what we see actually comes from the eye,” he said. “Most of it comes from processing in the brain and the visual cortex, and that comes from memories, reason, emotion, and all kinds of other things.” His conclusion? Looking at visual images can supercharge your brain’s creativity.
So the next time you feel like you need a little mojo to get your creative juices flowing, take a break and peruse the works at your local museum. You just might find that there’s a little bit of Robert Rauschenberg inside of you, waiting to get out.
This month I’ve had the privilege of being “author in residence” at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco. The center is a non-profit organization created to connect, inspire, and educate aspiring and current entrepreneurs.
Last week I launched my new book The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, with an on stage interview at the center. Among other points we discussed:
- Why everyone needs a personal brand
- The importance of CEO branding
- The challenge of branding in an online world
- Key brand positioning strategy actions
The entire event was live streamed on Facebook.