Scrutinize Your Brand Communications Before Someone Else Does

Integrated marketers work to ensure that every customer touchpoint is maximized for the customer’s benefit. When all the touchpoints eventually line up, you can display them on a customer journey map and begin to visualize in greater detail what moves customers to buy.

According to McKinsey:

In most companies, there are a handful of critical customer journeys. Understanding them, customer segment by customer segment, helps a business to maintain focus, have a positive impact on customer satisfaction, and begin the process of redesigning functions around customer needs.

“Redesigning functions around customer needs,” it must be noted, is for the brave of brand heart. Many people prefer to approach their ever delicate sales and marketing problems with a jackhammer.

If you’re concentrating on what you want to say instead of what your customers need to hear, you’re doing it wrong. If you won’t admit that you’re capable of doing it wrong, you’re also doing it wrong. Saying so isn’t a blame game, it’s a reminder to look at your own Marcom practices and see the parts that need improvement.

Novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, recently argued that “politeness is no substitute for morality, and won’t save us in the end.” She was talking about politics, but the same holds true for our businesses. The best work in all fields is the result of ruthless and steady scrutiny and a willingness to re-examine time-tested concepts.

If you’re ready to do it right in 2017 and beyond, let’s outline the opportunities and a plan of action. It all starts with a brisk walk in your customer’s shoes. To schedule the first in a series of brand communications walks, give me a ring at 503-970-3862 or send a note to

Client Showcase #23

HealthCo Information Systems has a compelling brand story to convey to physicians and to clinic admins. We gathered video testimony from customers and company leaders and condensed it into a two-minute narrative.

The Tualatin-based healthcare IT specialist also seeks to reach new staff and its current team with information that reveals company culture, and a clear look at future objectives and directions.

The new video is now featured front-and-center on the company’s homepage.


Major hat tip to Jenn Byrne for her expert shooting and editing on this project.

Only Fully Revealed Brands Are Open To A Customer Relationship

It’s fun to unearth a thoughtful talk on YouTube, one that can help inform your own work. The following offering from Chicago Booth School of Business features two professors and a client. The client is sharp.

Ann Mukherjee, former President of Pepsi Global Insights and current Global CMO at S.C. Johnson, says:

Every corporation today is looking to build sustainable results for their shareholders. What a brand does is connect your product, your service to a consumer. You want that growth to be sustainable? You better have very strong brands.

In today’s world of infinite choices, you have loyalty today and not tomorrow. What brands do is create a relationship, and in today’s world of marketing it’s not just about buying brands, it’s about buying into brands.

I love that she says a brand’s purpose is to connect to a consumer.

When we go to work for clients, we want to win hearts and minds—that’s the path to brand preference and customer loyalty. The question is, how does a particular brand achieve these lofty goals when people don’t like advertising, and they don’t like altering their behaviors?

The answer is simpler than you may think. Companies must peel away their layers and truly reveal themselves. People need something to grab onto and hold in their minds. Something simple but strong.

Columbia Sportswear, for instance, is “Tested Tough in the Pacific Northwest.” That’s simple and strong (and not something we came up with). It also happens to be true.

It’s never easy to pare things down to one elegant thought that perfectly captures the company’s spirit. It takes the kind of focus that a craftsman brings to woodworking or a sculptor to stone. You chisel away—day after day—until the true form is revealed, and the meaning conveyed.

Make Better Connections And Stronger Bonds By Practicing Conversational Intelligence

conversations matter

Judith E. Glaser, noted author of seven books and the founder and CEO of Benchmark Communications, is an organizational anthropologist focused on “Conversational Intelligence.”

We now know from neuroscientific research how the brain opens up or closes down during conversations. We know from our own personal experience, that when we work with others as ‘peers’ and our ‘peers are open to listening to connect, the quality of our conversations elevates. In addition, our ability to generate new ideas, especially really different and radically new ideas, elevates, and we trust that we will not be rejected, or diminished or judged.

For those of us operating in creative industries, it’s essential to develop a culture that allows for everyone to be genuinely heard. Company leaders must encourage people to speak up, which means leaders must also create organizational fearlessness. That is, it must be safe to oppose the prevailing winds, regardless of their force.

It sounds simple, but deep listening is a skill that’s missing from so many of our day-to-day conversations at work, with friends and family, and online. To me, it’s important that we address this missing piece in almost all content marketing plans. Brands and their agency partners are so wrapped up in what they need to say, they forget to pause, to breathe and to allow for other voices to be heard. I might add, hearing is not an end in itself. We need to hear from our audiences and then apply what we’ve learned to our operations. Otherwise, it’s listening for listening’s sake, and that’s the kind of false politeness that can come nowhere near a thriving brand.

Is it possible for marketers learn to quiet their “mind?” Yes! It means developing empathy for the audience members, or customers, as the case may be. When a company’s leadership team honestly values and consistently promotes empathy inside the organization, it naturally extends to the brand. Customer interactions can be dramatically improved, and loyalty earned through the company’s ability to nurture staff so they can, in turn, extend themselves to others with compassion, heart, and grace. It sounds like I am advocating for a new form of marketing yoga, but I think it’s simpler than that.

Treat people well, and they come back for more. Click To Tweet

In marketing terms, treating people well means shining truth on the product or service. You can imagine how things fly off the rails when the product or service isn’t what it claims to be. When a company fabricates a story, instead of finding the real stories inherent to the brand, it treats people poorly, not well. “Treat people well and they come back for more” means finding the core truths about your product or service and helping people to see how it serves their best interets, not yours. When you get this alignment just right, your own best interests will also be served.

Make Ads When You Need To; Make Organizational Change Part Of Your Every Day

beach commune

Change is not something that we naturally embrace. As human beings, we like our well-established patterns, even when those habits don’t necessarily serve us, or a larger purpose.

In the context of work, we are often presented with change and what do we do? We “fight through it.” Which leads me to ask, why is change so damn hard to adopt? And what is our role as brand stewards in introducing and ushering in the changes needed for overall client success?

Author, speaker and consultant, David C. Baker of ReCourses, Inc., believes that one’s current success presents one in a line of obstacles to substantive change.

The most critical reason we don’t make as much progress as we could is our own success. It traps us. We scratch and claw our way to a certain lifestyle inside a fairly predictable, arranged world. We know that it’s not what it could be but we’d rather tweak it than blow it up. If we tweak in the wrong direction, we can untweak it. But if we blow it up and nothing else rises in its place, we’re sitting there cross-legged on the ground with dust in our hair wondering what’s next.

In other words, your agency may have a significant amount of business, even though the account mix is not ideal. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to fire the accounts that aren’t productive and profitable and replace them with new accounts that fit your business model better? That’s the desired action. But what are the real actions taken on a routine basis to help create the results you seek?

On the client side of the coin, change comes in waves.

  • A new CEO joins the company.
  • Sales are good but not great.
  • Turnover is through the roof.
  • Competition is gaining an edge.

Baker argues that the job of a consultant is to humanize and simplify recommendations so they can be applied successfully in the real world. He also suggests the need to “speak the truth, retaining any credibility you have by being the objective advisor they hate to love (not love to hate).” That’s solid advice.

We routinely ask that an action or series of actions be taken by people inside the client company. This is where communications meets operations.

For example, a new direct mail piece provides more qualified leads than the sales organization can handle (a rare and good problem to have!). More likely, the new company website is content-reliant, but no one bothered to hire an editor or train the team. Or maybe a company is struggling to retain its staff finds that better recruitment advertising brings more qualified people in the front door, but their operational problems on the ground remain and that causes people to walk out the back door.

In the case above, a person who identifies as “ad maker” may say the campaign worked, technically speaking. A consultant, on the other hand, will work to fix the disconnects, and this means poking around in the business and ruffling a few feathers. A client in this situation can either appreciate the value added or feel that the agency overstepped. To avoid a misunderstanding, it is crucial to lay the groundwork at the beginning of any new client engagement. The client must know if they’ve hired a pair of hands to do things they can not do, or if the pair of hands comes attached to heads and hearts, fully committed to organizational growth, no matter the difficulty.

One of the tricks here is moving initial conversations from, “We want a website or new ad campaign” to “We need more qualified leads in the pipeline and a way to consistently nurture those leads.” A client may come calling with desired outputs in mind, and that’s totally legit. Nevertheless, our job is to ask the right questions and listen intently in order to get a firm grasp on what the real challenges are and how our firm can help meet them head on.

When you’re dedicated to growing successful businesses you end up going way beyond making ads. You become an essential part of the team and invested in the outcomes. This level of teamwork and commitment may surprise some clients. It’s our belief that we need to care about the marketing problems at hand, but more that than, we need to care about the human beings our work impacts, namely our client’s customers and prospects, and the community of people employed by the company.

Client Showcase #22

Event marketing is becoming an increasingly important part of our business.

It’s something we’re grateful for, as it grows our reach, and tightens up our effectiveness. Almost all marketing programs rely on face time with customers and prospects, and a free event, customized for the heart of your audience is one way to make a lasting impression.


Last week, we helped drive practice managers from clinics around the Portland metro to Marylhurst University for Accelerate 2016, HealthCo Information Systems’ first in a series of half-day workshops.

We played a key support role in organizing the event and promoting it via email marketing to HealthCo’s lists. Darby Strong, our head of client success and production, went to school at Marylhurst, so it was a natural to host the event there. The Lake Oswego campus is peaceful, beautiful and centrally located in the Portland metro.

Our client, Jason Porter, chose the speakers for the event and all three delivered immense value to the audience.

Andrea Cunningham, HealthCo’s director of professional services, walked participants through a presentation about maximizing a clinic’s investment in EMR software. Jean Roque, founder and president of TruppHR in Portland, spoke about staffing in the context of organizational change (something all clinics are struggling to manage). The third presentation of the morning was by Sean Hoar, a partner at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine and an expert in data security—a pressing concern, given the epidemic of medical identity theft.

Here’s one of two stand-up banners that we made for all of HealthCo’s “road show” needs:

Stand Up Banner