Create a SquareOff, Not Just Another Poll

 

SquareOffs

We are squaring off here.

The days of writing a mini book report to poll your readers is over. You’re now able to take your online polls to the next level, beyond the text and radio button.

People are busy. Engage them on an emotional level and they can become your biggest fans. Be relevant and shareable. Buzzfeed knows this well. Just look at their clever The 20 Coolest Hybrid Animals campaign they did for Toyota. Relevant and sharable with everybody from the cute animal loving set to the sustainable consumer crowd.

 

The best SquareOffs spark and spread an ongoing conversation around your content. They will enhance the social interaction on your site and generate more impressions for your brand. One-sided debates are not exciting. Remember, we are squaring off here.

Get to the point! Are you talking about something too obscure? Keep it simple. If you must add some detail for your readers, do it in the side defense area not in the front page of the SquareOff.

Zebroid (photo credit: Buzzfeed via http://www.spiegel.de/img/0,1020,904914,00.jpg)

Even a Zebroid has two sides.

Choose subject matter that is topical or contentious. Look at your own content across your site. What are your writers writing about? What are your readers talking about? And don’t underestimate the power of Local. If you’re a local news operation, tap into the trends happening on the ground.

For further inspiration, check out Google Trends or what’s trending now on Twitter. This will help boost your reach as people share their votes out to social networks and bringing new readers back to your site.

 

Check out some live examples and contact SquareOffs to get it on your website.

 

Write Better, Live Healthier #2

 

Packing serious power.

In the Write Better, Live Healthier  series I’m giving you practical advice on ways to improve the quality of your life. Creativity, happiness, success — there’s never a bad time to think more about it and go get it. It’s also a forum to explore and debate topics that we all care about but rarely have time to stop and consider amidst our busy lives. Think of it as a quick push notification for your life, full of little nuggets of byte-sized wisdom nudging you to tap into something new and good.

 

#2… Stop training for marathons, start training your mind.

Austin is my new favorite hot spot — not just for reasons some may think. Sure, it can be a mighty fine non-stop culinary and cocktail rodeo. But it’s also a place with people who live healthier lifestyles. That’s hard to do in the Everything-Is-BIG Texas.

It’s also home to two very cool and inspired people who I’ve come to know as great friends the last year — Andy & Nichole. You can read about their amazing story here. I recently was down in ATX to handle some business, surprise Nichole for her birthday, and retrieve my favorite burnt orange “trainers” (running shoes in the standard British-American English translation). Andy and I were having a discussion about what it takes to make a difference physically in your life. Nichole knows this like the back of her hand, so if you want to know more about her new project “The Real Lean Startup”  you can go here.

Back to me and Andy’s chat…

I was lamenting how I’ve known so many people that train for marathons, run in them, but never really seem to make much of a difference with their physical fitness. They still physically look the same as they always have. Conventional wisdom would tell you otherwise. But Andy reminded me what Nichole said once that stuck with us both, and that was “80% is your nutrition.” What I really worry about is all this focus on excessive cardio starting to eat into our muscles — the lean fat burning machine of our bodies.

About seven years ago, my doctor told me I was a little “fat” for my age and height whilst still being an athlete. I always tell this story to people, and might be a bit ridiculous. But I tell it to remind myself to stay on track. I played basketball in a fairly competitive pickup league every Tuesday night. I’d run up and down the floor for two hours, burn a ton of calories. I’d go to the gym a few days a week and run once a week on top of that. Here’s what happened. Amidst all the physical activity and exercise I was repeating some of these bad habits:

  • staying up too late and getting less sleep
  • neglecting my down time, i.e. no relaxation activities, but finding more work to do
  • eating like a buzzard while traveling on the road
  • stressing out too much about dumb shit

Whenever I visit Austin, I make a point to spend time with Andy & Nichole. We share a nice ritual of going to the store and picking up fresh ingredients for dinner. Then we go back to Bevanham Castle and cook an awesome fajita dinner. It’s good to slow it down a bit. Eat later. Do some food prep, open a bottle on wine, rap about life and business, and put on some crazy Swedish house music on the iPad. This is what my friends might call a “cheat” day. It’s never really a big deal because you’re doing the all the right things the rest of the week. And this is my practical message to anybody, but specifically to entrepreneurs  moving at a constant ludicrous speed:

It’s not about the bad stuff, as much as it is about not doing enough of the good stuff.

  • Eat right more often than not – Dave Thomas and Colonel Sanders are not your nutritionists. Neither are Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy John and Cinnabon. So don’t let them take over your crammed and slammed week of pitches, meetings, and hackathons.
  • Get out from under the laptop and get active — Surely. But don’t amass days and weeks of bad habits and think you’re rewarding yourself with a fun run or a marathon. That’s just backwards thinking. Instead…
  • Start training your mind to think ahead — Moderate exercise is a healthy habit to take up. No argument there. But stop for moment and think about what will take your mind and body farther and higher well into your best years. It’s the nutrition stupid.

Try this routine out. One weeknight a week. Work later (yes, I said work later). Go home around 8 or 9. Slow down, take the rest of the night off and cook yourself a healthy meal. Fajitas are great (Andy puts too much guac and sour cream on his), or try one of my all-time favorites. It’s fresh Wild Alaskan Salmon with sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts (use olive oil instead of butter, substitute prosciutto for bacon if you must!).

Little victories like these throughout the week will begin to train your mind with healthier habits. Watch your body become your new best follower.

Write Better, Live Healthier #1

 

Lettuce, begin.

In the Write Better, Live Healthier  series I’m giving you practical advice on ways to improve the quality of your life. Creativity, happiness, success — there’s never a bad time to think more about it and go get it. It’s also a forum to explore and debate topics that we all care about but rarely have time to stop and consider amidst our busy lives. Think of it as a quick push notification for your life, full of little nuggets of byte-sized wisdom nudging you to tap into something new and good.

#1…You need to make an effort to Write Better stuff.

I see a lot of poor writing out there. I see it in business — RFPs, emails, docs, Powerpoints, product specs and other things. I see it online — web copy, UI, blogs, profiles, social media posts and comments.  I also see out there in general, in the wild — ads, billboards, industrial designs, instructions, signage, even menus at bars and restaurants.

Nobody’s perfect, and I’ll certainly carry the torch for imperfection. Maybe at some point I’ll put up a few examples. But to quote a famous line from a Supreme Court judge and James Bond, “I know it when I see it.”

There are three reasons it’s important to Write Better:

  • Write Better to organize your thoughts. We all have ideas that pop into our head all the time. Use whatever system you want for getting these into some recognizable and referenceable format. I like blogging them, but I also like recording them on paper. For the latter, it has the added benefit of always being “wireless.”
  • Write Better to reuse your content. Time is precious. Why waste it on trying to recreate something every time you want to reference it, link to it, or expand upon it. I like this idea of becoming a buffalo content maker. Don’t waste anything. If you write it better the first time then it will be much easier to call-up and reuse again for maximum impact.
  • Write Better to inspire yourself and others. Make it memorable, and fun. How cool would it be to have a running catalog of stuff you wrote that gives you or someone else a lift in their day? Very. There’s an amazing thing that happens when you write in an inspired voice, a bonus. You often end up with content that can easily work into a verbal communication on the subject. This is because it was written in a conversational style that is a natural for connecting with the listener.

I leave you with this poster called 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer to get you pumped up. It’s from Copyblogger Media, makers of the StudioPress Genesis Framework. They make awesome WordPress themes. I am a big fan.

In future installments, I’ll cover specific tools and techniques for Writing Better for different situations in life — professional and personal. And of course I’ll be diving into the Healthier  side of this series. Topics for that one are top secret at the moment. I might need kid gloves.

#2… Stop training for marathons, start training your mind.

 

 

Un-Predictions 2013

 

Bark park

Off the leash.

 

With so many predictions flying around out there, I’m taking a page from the unconventional and making this post about the things that I believe will not be changing — the “un-predictions”  for 2013.

I heard once in a great talk from Jason Fried of 37signals quoting Bezos wisdom, ‘focus on things that don’t change in your business.’ For example, a product needs to be slower and harder to use…said no customer ever! You get the idea. It’s in these tiny oft-overlooked realisms that we find our focus and keep delivering value.

My New Year’s gift to you:

pinstagram.ly…ify.io

Companies will continue to pop onto the scene with these uber crazy tech sounding names. If they’ve actually got something then these cheeky monikers will help them stand out for a little while. After their coolifyness wears off they’ll need to be tenacious about reinforcing their brand and value as more pop-up around them. Or, worse, this might happen. It’s true that slowly and certaintly the universe of possible legit sounding dot com domain names are dwindling down. But companies that opt for the other side of creativity — the bold and abstract, utilitarian, or sometimes ironic — still have a place in the market without going all creatify on it.

G+ Identity Crisis?

The tech press will continue to beat the living Internet out of Google for their supposed FAIL on an unrelenting effort to create an alternative to the Facebook social network. What will also continue over at the “Gplex” is their undying focus on building great context into networking and productivity tools for account holders of their service. The digital world is largely an impressions economy, not a winner-take-all moat. Information and people will always find ways to move about their pipes freely. We want context. It’s not about the plus one. It’s about the plus done!

Small Keeps Winning

Somebody asked me recently to sum up the “mobile revolution” and what it means for content. I politely mea culpa’d that I’m probably not the best person to answer that question despite being an early adopter at most things tech. Here’s one simple idea. Content makers will need to continue taking a hard look at how many impressions they can get from content that’s smaller versus bigger, longer form, etc. The context of how and where people are consuming information is constantly changing…and that will not change.

foursquare Quietly Eats the Physical World

“Excuse me while I check-in before we order” is NOT what foursquare is all about, or what makes it still very much relevant. To paraquote its founder, Dennis Crowley, foursquare is ‘making the world around us easier to use.’ It’s a discovery tool  for people that get out of the house and want to experience the world around them. foursquare’s new UI is slick for sure, but two enhancements pushed out this year are a sign of more goodness to come. Users can now synch an AMEX card with their account and get the deal auto-magically when using the credit card at those venues — check-ins not necessary. This takes foursquare more mainstream and further closes the data loop so many deal sites have been struggling with to date. There’s also a slew of new services presenting foursquare businesses with a customer dashboard where they can make quick decisions on data and push out relevance to their best customers. This is customer enchantment at its finest, and signals a sustained focus on value-add for their most active users and the businesses they frequent.

Impressions Not Emails

I’m on a bit of an email crusade these days. I’m both fighting it and on the hunt to improve it. It’s an odd pursuit trying to justify the value of something that’s still very practical but yet has become increasingly irrelevant in my connected life. Which leads me to a brief thought on marketing. How much value are you really creating in your audience’s inbox? Did they convert because of your email, or because it was just one of many impressions that collectively moved them to take action?  I ask this question of every marketer from the tenacious blog owner to the big brander. I’m almost not sold anymore on the email “subscriber” model of online marketing. #11 of on this prediction list especially got my attention. These are important and honest questions we will continue to tackle together in the coming year.

Simple Explanations Rule!

Need a New Year’s resolution? How about practicing explaining complex things in simple ways to non-techy people. It’s fun and challenging. It will ultimately help you become a better communicator. Most of all, it’s a great gift to offer those among us that haven’t yet figured all this new stuff out yet. Here’s a free sampler. Mom: “What’s the point of PayPal anyway?” Me: “It’s so I don’t have to do this every time I want to pay for something”…as a I pull my wallet out of my pocket. The people that fervently push SIMPLE on a complex world will continue to lead the pack of ideas in 2013 and beyond.

 

 

Personal Branding: Are You @GaryVee or The Stealth Bomber?

 

Say something.

 

[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Founder to CEO: Mastering the Unnatural" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

This is a quick post about branding. Personal branding. I’m not going to cover the “what” of personal branding, i.e. tools, techniques, etc. Instead, I’m going to talk briefly about the HOW. Use this as a quick gut check on where you are with your own personal branding.

Let’s talk goals first. Are you looking to get a lift in your job search and networking? Become a better thought leader in your space of learning and expertise? Get the word out about your new startup? The main question you must constantly ask yourself is, “What am I comfortable with out in the wild?” For some, it’s a series of baby steps, walks or skips. For others, it’s big leaps at every turn. Virtually all of us are looking for the same thing. We want our message to be seen and heard by people who care.

Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle of these two approaches, blend them at times, depending on the challenge or opportunity that’s in front of us. This is practicing situational awareness. I’m fairly new to personal branding and admittedly still finding the right mix. And that’s ok. The problem comes when your goals, expectations, and aspirations are out of alignment with your approach. For example, if you’re a soft-spoken entrepreneur and have big, lofty expectations for your idea in the marketplace you want to seriously consider turning up the volume on your personal branding even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

Now, this doesn’t mean you will instantly gravitate to either extreme outlined below. But it does mean that when you decide to say something big, you should consider how big you want to say it. You’ll need to eventually put most of your personal branding chips into one of these two pots.

The Stealth Bomber

You’re a bit of a lurker. You smartly poke around different environments and platforms making incremental gains in building up your sphere of influence and network. You might even take center stage sometimes. Not a bad play. When played right, this strategy allows you to fly under-the-radar but still be visible when you need to be. You’re usually well-connected. It’s also handy for using the element of surprise when the right opportunity presents itself. You strike when the iron is hot, and do so decisively.

“…featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons.” — The Stealth Bomber

Personal branders should always strive for congruence. How you say something should align well with how you actually are — your authentic true self. Let’s say you’re known as somebody that doesn’t speak up much, but when you do, you do so confidently and decisively. Your personal branding should reflect this. That’s an example of being congruent. Conversely, if the same person is all over the map and offers no conviction in their personal branding, they are out of alignment with their true authentic self — and it will show. This is where being a stealth bomber can blow up on you. Let authenticity be your watchword with this approach.

@GaryVee

If you follow social marketing trends and aren’t familiar with @GaryVee of Vayner Media and Wine Library TV, get on Twitter or YouTube right now.  He advises some of the biggest consumer brands in their world on their customer engagement and marketing strategies. What sets him apart is his ability to put himself virtually/completely out there for mass consumption in his personal branding. It’s an integral part of his business branding too. This is a far cry from the stealthy approach outlined above. This approach requires a unique set of attributes, featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition. You must be comfortable in your level of exposure out in the wild being somewhere higher than the moon and stars.

“…featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition.”

I think you get the point with this approach. You’re putting your personal stamp on just about everything you’re putting out to the world. And you’re doing it in a very BIG and memorable way. If you buy into this approach, you are telling the world you’re confident that your message will persuade them to move in your direction.

The biggest difference between this approach and the previous one? In the @GaryVee approach, you’re putting all your chips into this pot, ALL the time. There is very little, if any, filter when it comes to your strength of conviction. Congruence is equally important with this approach to personal branding. But if you currently fall into this camp or are contemplating it, chances are you’re already the type of person that can pull this off.

Your Homework

To get you warmed up and inspired for how you’ll tackle personal branding in the New Year, watch this short video on marketing by the late Steve Jobs. In it, Mr. Jobs explains that ‘this is a noisy world, be clear on what you are about.’ It will challenge you to think differently about what you are currently doing. To say nothing is no longer an option.

 

 

Why Your Redesign Just Failed

 

Beautifully maintained.

 

What’s the #1 reason most organizations want to redesign their website? At some point the law-of-new-shiny-objects kicks in and someone in charge decides an “updated” look and feel is needed. The site is ugly and outdated, therefore it’s not producing any results. A new redesign is worked and launched, the hour glass is flipped, and the count down to the next redesign begins. The truth is redesigns have a high probability of failure within the first two to three months, sometimes sooner.

A fresh coat of paint, a little nip/tuck, or a make-over does not equal success. Better serving customers and generating more leads does. This is ALL that matters, and the rest is just window dressing. Making it as easy as possible for a customer to do business with you is the essential #JTBD.

Creating vs. Maintaining

So, why then is this type of thinking perpetually missing from the strategy? One idea is that maintaining something is now perceived as harder than creating something. And because most organizations aren’t confident they have the resources and expertise to maintain, the strategy becomes how long they can get by with what was created. This is why so many redesign projects are front-loaded with every ounce of cool imaginable. But don’t be fooled. A maintenance strategy is both attainable and profitable when done right.

At Green Tie Marketing (disclosure: I work with this agency), we’ve learned the marketplace has a big education gap when it comes to understanding how to manage their online strategy over time. It’s not for a lack of smart and dedicated, mission-driven people, or even budget for that matter. These are the caliber of clients we prefer to work with, and they inspire us everyday. It’s really about how they’ve traditionally defined success in their organization, and how that mindset has bled into how they define success in the online channel.

We find most clients are more than strapped for time and resources. So, everything becomes time-boxed — i.e. X needs completing by this date, Y event is happening on that date, and Z can’t begin until we’re done with X and Y. Think about a component of a larger strategy, like a redesign, and how it looks in this context. The thinking often becomes ‘if we can just get something new up there, our job will be done. Until the next time.’

This is the challenge we see with the redesign as THE strategy. All the perceived value and return on the investment is tied up in the creating not the maintaining. The reality is that marketing teams that invest in a specialist, whose sole job is to consistently refine and execute the online strategy achieve high levels of success and return. And when they outsource to an online marketing partner (if they lack the in-house specialist) they achieve even higher levels of success and return for as much as 25% the cost of an FTE. Maintaining a strategy requires laser focus, and for that you need dedicated experts that can guide and execute.

Deliver the goods, consistently good.

Let’s look at a couple extreme examples to illustrate the point of focus and execution. Have you seen craigslist before? How about Drudge Report? I love bringing up these two examples because you don’t have to know ANYTHING about website design to understand that their visual style is epically craptastic! But they do one thing better than most beautifully designed sites on the Web; and that is for years now they keep chugging along and delivering the goods. The results.

According to their site, CL has about 30 people curating, monitoring and approving content at any given time across 700 local websites in 70 countries. In the US alone, about 60 million people use the service each month. At Drudge, it’s a smaller staff (about 3-4) and their headline content is highly curated by its editors. The design of one of the most popular political news sites “remains entirely written in unscripted HTML with a mostly monochromatic color scheme of black boldface monospaced font text on a plain white background [via Wikipedia].” And Jason Fried of 37signals once called it “one of the best designed sites on the web.”

Now, this isn’t a recommendation to suddenly ditch your brand identity and personality in favor of designs like these. But the examples are living proof that the most critical piece of your online strategy is not in the creating but in the maintaining. Consistent focus over the long-term. Don’t undervalue it. If anything, over plan for it.

You bought a new wardrobe of clothes, wore them once and then neglected their up-keep. You bought the gym membership and never had a set schedule for going. You started a new diet but still kept the bad stuff sitting in your fridge or in your pantry. When you decide to pursue a redesign, make sure you have put in place the right engine for ongoing success. Otherwise, you’re just another pretty website. Until the next redesign.