The new principles for growth as seen through operations

Today marks the official launch of Tenet Partners, a brand innovation and marketing consultancy, which represents the combined entity of two established firms that joined forces earlier this year — Brandlogic and CoreBrand.

Yes, we are now presenting ourselves as one with a new name, logo, go-to-market strategy, brand voice and look and feel. We are expressing ourselves via a new personality through a verbal and visual expression that externally brings credibility and energy to our customer-centered growth strategies. But before any of this could even begin to take place, we had to take the time to evaluate the key internal components of the two separate entities that comprise what is oftentimes referred to as “the back room” or back operations of the firm and determine how to launch a successful integration process.

Any acquisition or merger regardless of how big or small requires that the daily operations continue to run seamlessly while, at the same time, a core team evaluates all operations closely to determine the best practices that will provide clients with an experience they not only expect, but deserve.

We know that how we are viewed externally is contingent upon how we operate internally. From our phone system to our email address and signature, from scoping, estimating and managing projects to billing and invoicing individually and collectively reflect upon what it is like to work with us every day. With four primary office locations from east to west that needed to be synchronized, we took a close look at a range of touchpoints that impact customer experience:

  • Finance, including financial software, budgeting, forecasting, financial reporting, billing, and AP/AR to ensure compliance, accuracy, responsiveness and flexibility. We have successfully simplified the process for both our team and our clients.
  • HR resources and competitive employee benefits/policies to ensure we retain and attract the best talent
  • Facilities and technology such as office locations, phone, IT and CRM integration to enable constant connectivity among and between locations to successfully service clients around the globe
  • Project management, tracking and scheduling to keep our team and our clients on track, on budget and on time
  • Talent and areas of expertise to instill confidence that we can deliver against our value props and customer-centered positioning. This included assessing our talent across disciplines and identifying growth opportunities.
  • Shaking up our corporate structure, transitioning from a “flat” structure to one that incorporates various levels of talent and career growth, providing our clients with expertise from vast backgrounds and branding experiences. Our new org chart fosters an interdisciplinary environment that supports a range of possibilities to help uncover unique opportunities for clients.
  • Go-to-market strategy–ensuring that our own marketing and digital content and how it applies to messaging through our pitches, website, social media, blogs, books and white papers, public relations and speaking engagements instill confidence in our staff, clients and prospects that our knowledge, experience, know-how and innovative approach will result in solutions that will help make our clients think differently about their businesses.

All of this needed to be accomplished within a set time frame, while taking into consideration how to best blend two cultures. Our emphasis is on our first applying our customer-centered business strategy with our own customers–our team members. Achieving a successful balance between what we need to do in order to be effective day in and day out by putting our team at the center of our thought processes helped to ground us in many of our decisions. The key was communicating often, and there is no such thing as communicating too often when it comes to staff. While for many of us the acquisition brought feelings of excitement, optimism, renewed energy, career growth opportunities and endless possibilities, for others there were feelings of anxiety, fear and apprehension. Recognizing and balancing the two sets of emotions was critical to our achieving success in launching our new brand.

Being new to M+As, no one could have prepared me for how integral and challenging this process would be. It is after experiencing a company integration firsthand, that I have now come to understand and appreciate the core attributes for M+A success – optimism, patience, understanding, time (allow for double the amount of time you think will be required), realistic expectations, a dedicated and committed team with a “can do” attitude and making sure that you put one of your key principles for growth at the center of all you do – your employees. While the daily operations and processes that have been identified will help our firm run smoothly, we know that our team is a unique point-of-difference and makes Tenet Partners stand out from all others.

To say that we have all of this 100 percent figured out would not be 100 percent true; it is still evolving every day. What I do know is that we are confident that we’ve built a strong brand and marketing consultancy that is running smoothly and is comprised of a team of experts who work really well together and are ready to help our clients uncover and develop customer-centered growth strategies.

Brand-led Innovation

Digital is having a profound impact on business strategy, branding and customer experience. It’s clear that organizations need to take a fresh look at how to embrace the shift. But how to innovate successfully in this highly connected environment requires more focus than ever before.

Over the past two years, I have been steeped in a broad-based management program at Harvard Business School that focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship. The experience has left a permanent imprint on my thinking about how to drive success in a rapidly changing business landscape. The primary theme is focused on making choices. The argument, achieving strategic and executional clarity requires many tradeoffs. In the works of Michael Porter and Earl Sasser, the takeaway can be summarized in one thought. ‘Business strategy’ is about choosing what you won’t do and ‘service excellence’ is about choosing what you won’t do well. It took me a bit of time to grapple with that one, but once I wrapped my head around the idea, it’s a powerful way of thinking. And, let’s face it, making choices is the toughest part of business.

So, how do leaders build better business strategies and deliver powerful customer experiences? I believe the answer is brand-led innovation.

For our firm, brand embodies key elements of business strategy, especially the articulation of competitive advantage. Every business has a strategy, whether planned or unplanned, that which at its core is a set of attributes and activities that you have decided to pursue to create distinctive value in the market. If you understand what those activities are, you have made the first step to understanding how to achieve differentiation with your brand. If you understand why customers choose you and how they think of you, you have made the second step to building and managing brand perceptions around your competitive advantage. Unfortunately, and all too often, companies are unclear about their business strategy, their brand, and how to deliver a great customer experience to the right customer. Usually, no one has stopped to look at the big picture and to do the hard job of making choices.

A central theme of innovation is how to incrementally improve or create new products or services, business processes or new employee behaviors. Increasingly, innovations come through new ways of connecting and communicating with customers using digital and related technologies. For example, something as simple as a mobile app for travelers is using a suite of digital and technology elements to redefine the customer experience. This can have a big impact on the bottom line or fall flat due to a lack of alignment to your strategy and brand.

If the innovation does not create value for the customer, it will surely be a miss. Again, more often than not, companies pursue innovations for the sake of chasing a fad, and as a result are having a hard time finding the return on those investments. The outcomes don’t produce as much value as possible because the innovations are not intrinsically or extrinsically aligned.

Enter brand-led innovation. Leaders can create strategic clarity and enhance value by creating alignment with a comprehensive branding program. Brands help people see what a company stands for, their unique capabilities and how they deliver value to customers. Most importantly, an organization gains a better understanding of what customers want, need and value through the branding process. Developing and managing a brand requires companies to look at their business strategy, study their competition and dive deep into the needs of customers. That journey ultimately involves making choices that inform strategy, defines the brand, identifies opportunities for real innovations, and drives value creation. Powerful stuff.

Organizations that are crystal clear about their strategy, their brand and their customer have the basis to ignite growth.

Put experience at the center of your brand

Brand is a set of experiences delivered, not just promises communicated. When you embark on a strategic rethink of your company’s brand it is critical to keep this in mind from the outset. It isn’t just about capturing the language of repositioning; it’s about engaging your organization to deliver a set of intended, distinctive experiences across customer touch points. This has never been more true than it is in today’s environment.

Technology is opening up new opportunities to both differentiate customer experiences and establish new or additional incentives for trial, selection and loyalty across nearly every industry. It is accepted that these changes should become factors of business strategy, but they must also be reflected in the definition of brand strategy, experience design and even corporate purpose.

Mastering the interplay of customer experience and brand strategy is becoming a crucial test for marketers. With brands built more and more through orchestrated experiences, an omni-channel review of customer experience as part of discovery is vital. Without it, no brand team can provide guidance that unifies the direction for brand communications and service delivery in ways that heighten relevance, attraction and the loyalty of customers.

Integration is the key. Only when you rise above historic patterns to integrate disciplines and processes can you create new value through a customer-experience-centered brand. In today’s digital world, isn’t it time to stop thinking about brand strategy, customer experience, and corporate purpose as related but separate disciplines?

Let me know what you think.

Photography matters when it comes to building a brand

Recently I drove by a billboard advertising a pharmaceutical and swore I recognized the woman in the ad. I can’t remember the name of the advertised drug, but I certainly remember the handsome, gray-haired woman. I couldn’t instantly place her, but I knew I’d seen her before. And then it finally dawned on me. I recognized her from many hours of searching for royalty-free stock images. I’d seen her in all sorts of situations—from boardroom meetings to intense one-on-one conversations with coworkers. And now here she was walking on the beach!

A great deal of time, effort and money is spent on building powerful, unique brands. From research and strategy to logos and websites, companies clearly understand the value in creating memorable experiences for customers. So, it makes me wonder why bland, generic stock images are becoming the norm.

As I continued to think about photography and its role in brand building, I started exploring companies that are clearly investing in creative photography and companies that are clearly NOT. I think we can learn a lot from looking at two very different brands that are certainly getting it right when it comes to their photography style.

The first is charity: water, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. With a truly distinctive tone, the photography charity: water uses to tell its story is authentic, captivating and always emotional. With far too many non-profits relying on user generated photos that tend to lack consistency and quality, charity: water stands out in a bold and memorable way.

The second is John Deere, an iconic brand with a long history of using photography that perfectly captures its personality. The quality of the light, the expansiveness of the landscapes and the scale of the machinery is instantly recognizable. The John Deere style is just what it should be: Strong, filled with pride and thoroughly American.

All brands should be impactful, memorable and distinctive. The right photography can certainly help get you there.

Getting the most out of employee engagement

Employee engagement has been known to be a crucial element in the success of organizations for years. The Gold Standard of research in employee engagement is The Gallup organization that has been measuring employee engagement for decades. Their research has proven the important connections between employee engagement and productivity, profitability, job satisfaction, lower health care costs, higher stock price and host of other positive factors.

It’s become a regular practice for the Human Resource departments of thousands of companies to survey periodically their employees for their levels of engagement. The surveys often measure similar factors such as the importance and level of satisfaction of the interactions between employees and managers, understanding a company’s mission or vision, willingness to refer new employees and other questions about employees’ sense of belonging and participation in the organization. Some surveys also delve into employees’ sense of connection to the company’s end customers.

Levels of employee engagement
Gallup’s 2012 State of The American Workplace survey revealed that of the estimated 100 million people who are employed full-time, “30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work…5 million (50%) American workers are not engaged, just being present…and at the other end…roughly 20 million (20%) are actively disengaged…spreading discontent.” If you were to graph these figures, it could appear as a classic Bell Curve.

Certainly, levels of engagement differ by industry, by employee age and demographic, and by geography. Some sectors, such as service companies often rank higher in levels of engagement than those employees in industries where there is little interaction between them and customers.

However, at the heart of it, I believe, Gallup’s employee engagement measurements concentrate primarily on the “present-ness” of employees. That is, when they are at their job, are they “present” in the moment—concentrating on their tasks, aware of their complex interwoven connections with their co-workers, cognizant of their impact on their customer’s or clients’ experience with the organization. In Gallup’s definition of engagement, think of gears that are engaged in a clock, each spinning in harmony to power the hands turning the dial. Or in a car’s transmission, when the gears transfer the power of the engine to the wheels to create motion. Engagement is as much mental action as it is about physical action.

Living the brand on their own terms
However, employees’ actions are also a human and personal representation of a company’s brand. Whether in the retail service industry, a company’s call center, B2B sales, or even those employees who only interact with other employees, how deeply employees are engaged with their brand—and how they demonstrate their brand through their behavior—has a huge impact on the successful integration of the brand into the organization.

Employees who are actively engaged with their company’s brand are a critical link in the success of the organization. Because through their behaviors and actions every day, they help differentiate the brand experientially for customers and each other.

Over the past 20 years, I have worked with nearly 100 companies, many in the Fortune 1500, to launch their new brands internally to their employees. Methodologically, the employee engagement programs are designed to use internal communications, manager training, digital media and HR integration to inform, engage and drive action among the employee population. Companies that successfully implemented consistent, sustainable and action-oriented employee engagement programs found a deeper commitment and understanding of their company’s brand across all segments of their workforce.

One of the best stories I remember about employee engagement that demonstrates this was an impromptu conversation I had with a diesel engine technician in the Caterpillar assembly plant outside of Brussels, Belgium. The technician was working on a very large diesel engine. I asked him why he was taking such care with the task. He carefully put down his tools, wiped his hands on a cloth, and proceed to tell me in French (which I spoke well enough to understand) that if he did not meet the standards of Caterpillar, the engine would fail, delaying the work of the contractor who bought the construction equipment the engine was powering, thus casting a negative reputation on the Cat dealer who sold it, as well as the Caterpillar brand. Perfect!

Think differently. Not different.
The ultimate goal for an employee engagement campaign is to reach as many employees as possible—giving them the information, tools, encouragement and support not to do a different job, but to do their job differently.

Curiously, just as Gallup mapped levels of classic engagement in an organization, there is an interesting corollary among employees regarding brand engagement. Branding, as a marketing discipline, has evolved considerably since the confluence of design, advertising, naming, marketing and strategy in the mid-1980s. Up until then, brand was considered a logo, a color scheme or a tagline, at best. Even though more and more companies have come to understand branding as a business asset, many more executives and employees have grasped the importance of living a company’s brand through their daily responsibilities.

We call these Brand Behaviors. Consider this: If a company includes Integrity as one of their brand values, it’s impossible to ask every employee to simply act with integrity. There are far too many ways this can be done and would result in inconsistent demonstrations of the value. What’s required is a committed brand engagement program that can help inform them how to incorporate “integrity” into their own jobs, individually relevant, but organizationally consistent. Their level of participation in an internal brand engagement can vary depending on their capacity to integrate the company’s brand into their everyday behavioral choices and actions, as well as their level of brand awareness.

Four types of brand employees
I have found there are four basic types of employees when it comes to brand awareness: Brand Advocates, Brand Believers, Brand Innocents, Brand Doubters. On the leading edge, Advocates are those types of employees who intuitively and naturally understand their brand. Often they are the exemplars upon whom a brand positioning is based. They aren’t always organization’s leaders, but are found throughout a company living the brand as easily as they do their jobs. Believers follow behind the Advocates. Believers understand the value of branding in general, and are willing to follow an engagement program with enthusiasm, if told what to do. Innocents land on the back of the central curve; they don’t understand branding, simply do their job without a connection to the bigger picture. Lastly, on the tail end of the curve are Doubters. These are the naysayers who can loudly sabotage any efforts to implement an employee engagement program. When you overlay Gallup’s assessment of levels of engagement over the pattern of branding types, it lines up.

What this can help us understand is how to focus resources and who needs to be conscripted as advocates and allies in the process to educate and lead the others. Identifying them early on in any employee engagement program will help improve brand engagement efforts. It will drive more successes and waste less resources. It can also help know which specific messages to send to the right audiences.

A Branding Roundup: The Good, the Bad and the Confused

A big part of what I truly enjoy about my job is the diversity of things I am able to do. From research to strategy, naming to marketing, brand architecture to positioning and content development to employee engagement. This breadth of experience leads me to notice details of brand and marketing campaigns that others may not. Over the last few weeks, I’ve collected a handful of these observations – both positive and negative – to share here.

Positioning
In clear violation of my New Year’s resolution, my husband and I shared some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream last week. I took note that the name of the flavor was different than the last time I had eaten it. Coffee Heath Bar Crunch was now Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch. Difficult to say and not nearly as catchy, but the new name proved that the company had truly committed to its public statement of removing all GMO ingredients from its products. It was an impressive commitment to its brand.

However, what really struck me was another sentence on the top of the carton (yes, I look this closely at ice cream containers). The sentence simply said, “We make the best possible ice cream in the best possible way.” Every now and again, I come across a line I wish I had written. This was one of those times. It was a clear, simple and compelling positioning statement that said so much in so few words.

That one sentence communicated the who, what and how of Ben & Jerry’s. Its values, its approachability, its commitment to quality and community, and its heritage were all encompassed in one sentence. Most often, positioning statements are limited, able to communicate what a company does, how it does it or why. Yet this statement tackled all three elements. Kudos to Ben & Jerry’s for having such a distinct vision, and for being able to so clearly communicate it to customers. It’s an example of brand strategy at its best.

Placement
Smokey the Bear has been an advertising icon and popular culture mascot for 70 years. I know this because every time I turn on the television lately, no matter the channel and no matter the time of day, there is a PSA on the screen that features Smokey. Only I can prevent wildfires – by not lighting birthday candles in the woods, by not dragging tow chains and by not lighting a bonfire in dry brush. Sensible.

But here’s the thing; I live in an urban area. There are no forests. We celebrate our birthdays indoors. And I’m certainly not lighting a bonfire in the alleyway. Additionally, it is the dead of winter; it’s far too cold to be entertaining any of the outdoor activities that Smokey is concerned about.

I appreciate that Smokey is meeting a new generation, and that he is cuddlier and kinder with his appreciative bear hugs. The tone of the ads has shifted from reprimand to reward to reflect a similar cultural shift overt the decades. All of these things are smart. But with more than $1 billion in air time donated to Smokey placements since 1980, I would hope that The Advertising Council would better use its access by targeting a more appropriate audience at a time of the year when Smokey’s important message would resonate. In my opinion, these ads are a big miss.

Engagement
My brother-in-law applied for a job using The Ladders, “the premier mobile network for career driven professionals.” About a week after he applied for the job, he received an “application status” emailed to him. The email detailed statistics about the open position. Information included the number of applications submitted for the position, the number of applications opened, resumes downloaded and shared, and the most recent date on which the recruiter had been active.

The email, however, included no information about my brother-in-law’s actual application status. It provided him no insight as to whether his application had been reviewed, how he compared to the other 48 applicants, whether the position had been filled, or how many other applicants were contacted for an interview. In essence, the “application status” was not a status at all. It offered no insight to help my brother-in-law assess his position or make a decision with how to proceed next.

The best engagements are build on solid relationships. What keeps those relationships productive depends on the shared value of the experience. In this experience, there was no value for the applicant. There were numbers, not information, and data, not insight. The data was neither predictive nor informative, what I consider baseline metrics for assessing the quality of an email marketing campaign. Here, the idea of an application status email was strong. However, the execution was weak.

Missed opportunity
Let me start this last assessment with a guilty admission, I love a pun. Any pun. It need not be witty, or smart or good. If you’re looking for an easy laugh, I’m always the girl who will find things very punny. That said I believe Cascade, the dishwashing detergent, has missed a clear opportunity in its latest commercial.

Consider the following transcript from the advertisement, “Having to scrape food off of dishes after they’re done means that they’re not clean. Solve your dish issues with Cascade Platinum.” People I know don’t have dish issues. They have “dissues” or even “dish-use.”

You’re welcome, Cascade.

The “Gamer” Strategy Marketing one point at a time

There are many activities that I do not always enjoy, or do not always actively engage in. Either they’re routine or just not my thing. This got me thinking to how marketers are continuously striving to better engage with their audiences and encourage longer and more fruitful interactions. One thing I’ve learned about currently active brands: It’s all in the experience.

Augment reality with real-time virtual interaction
While augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) software is still underutilized in retail, the entertainment industry has been refining the technology for years now. Systems like the Oculus Rift and Google Glass are the better-known representatives of what AR and VR can do.

Stores like American Apparel have already made great strides in in-store digital interactions with their Vuforia app, to allow shoppers to view products and get more info on each apparel item. Ikea also has their own AR app, to allow users to see if a product would fit in the desired room. Even cosmetic companies, like Shiseido, provide similar digital interactivity, to show how different products will work on individual customers.

Going beyond what’s already out there, having the ability to custom size a model to my measurements and see previews of clothing on the model would be fantastic — both just online and with the ability to scan at the store and use an app to preview. This would be great during holiday seasons, when changing rooms aren’t always easily usable. And if you have the necessary measurements, you could better gauge whether or not the clothing would fit.

There’s an omelet’s worth of Easter egg opportunities out there
“Easter eggs” are more than just an edible treat during a holiday; game publishers have used the term to define hidden content and info in their products for decades now. Similar to how AR can upgrade the retail experience, providing Easter egg content amidst products and stores is a fascinating way to engage with some consumers.

There’s an impending wave of part augmented reality / part upgraded interactivity in current technology when it comes to e-books and other digital content. I’ve seen companies at Book Expo America demonstrate enhanced e-reader software to allow authors and publishers to add “Easter egg” type information within books. If you tap on certain words or phrases, you can get information on a character, get insight from the author as to how plot points were developed, and more. Akin to a director’s commentary, really.

I’ve seen others create educational books, with AR functionality to see and interact with extra content. Having a textbook with Easter egg info and AR functionality would be well worth the investment in my opinion. With three college degrees on my wall, I would have definitely appreciated interactive content in some of the more information-dense texts.

While I use my kindle sparingly, certain references or characters regularly fascinate me. Having embedded info I can pull up on a whim would definitely get me to trim down my digital reading pile and result in more reviews and recommendations.

Level up your accounts for chronic reward accumulators
Most people end up with rewards cards from various retailers. Be it your market, coffee shop, bookstore or apparel retailer. The more you buy, the more points you get towards some form of discount or other incentive. While I still have a small stack of physical reward cards for the smaller retailers and indie places I frequent (Molten Java still has the best coffee in the county, hands down), with the prevalence of smart phones there’s now countless apps that do the exact same thing as a rewards card.

Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have provided apps for a while now, to provide digital methods for making purchases and tracking rewards. Same for other large chains, from Stop & Shop, to AMC Cinema to Staples, they’re all offering ways to track rewards points, and get notifications on current sale items and promotions.

One style of reward tracking I haven’t seen utilized is the Trivial Pursuit style of points accumulation. Take theaters, you get points per movie seen, but bonus points if you see a certain amount of different genres. I know I’d be more interested in catching a wider diversity of movies, if it’d count towards a discount at the concession stand.

I’ve been slow to adapt to the augmented reality software and services, but I have no qualms about piling up with rewards programs. And I’m hoping the extended content within e-books and other media will become more prevalent and integrated over the next few years.

How have brands engaged with you in new and different ways? Are you one to use smart phone apps and rewards cards wherever you go? Do you engage with the augmented reality and added content brands are providing?

Designing for Crisis

Over the holiday season, I started noticing numerous year-in-review videos in my admittedly seldom-visited Facebook feed. At the end of 2013, when Facebook produced a similar offering, I recall being utterly impressed with the engineering effort — and the overall computing resources it must require — to create a customized video on demand for every one of their billion users.

Facebook, overall, does an extraordinarily good job with the production and presentation of these videos. They are personal, emotional and a great way to celebrate your year with your friends and loved ones.

However, let’s focus on that word “celebrate”. A problem with the way Facebook introduces these videos becomes crystal clear when you have a year that you don’t particularly want to celebrate. Eric Meyer, a long-time champion of web standards, tragically lost his little girl in 2014 and publicly journaled throughout the ordeal on his blog and on Twitter. The video preview that Facebook automatically set up for him, and forcibly showed itself in his feed, featured his daughter with her portrait on top of a celebratory background. I’m sure for anyone in his situation that would elicit a raw wave of emotions, the exact opposite of what Facebook would have liked to spark for you. He wrote about the experience in his brilliantly crafted article, Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty. The piece grew some legs and was picked up by major news outlets around the world. Eventually Facebook issued an apology.

What’s the lesson here for us software designers? Certainly Facebook didn’t mean to cause grief, and Eric was understanding and reasonable, knowing full well that this was not a result of malice, but of a use case not considered in the original design of the software.

I consider it a call for empathy. Let our humanity shine through the software we design. Empathize with not only your ideal user, but for the unexpected. Consider the different realities that your audience might be approaching you with.

For Facebook’s year-in-review, rather than automatically including it precompiled in your feed for you, they can simply ask whether you’d like to see your video. Perhaps next to the question they can include examples from your friends who have chosen to publish their videos already, so that expectations can be set.

There are all kinds of scenarios that designers cannot possibly know at the time a feature is being created, and they vary on the site or tool and the audience expected to visit. For example, if you’re a health care provider, the overwhelming majority of your audience may be there to learn about the services and benefits you provide. But, perhaps some consideration should also be made for people coming to your site who are in desperate need for information on a personal health emergency. Or, take a broader crisis with the snowstorm that hit the northeast this past week. In the event that all roads and public transit in New York City shut down in anticipation of the storm, a well considered city website would have an area to prominently display updated bus and subway schedules, and what to do if you found yourself stranded with no way to get home.

I think the most important takeaway for designers is to embrace our humanity, and design as if the software we build was human, too.

Eric Meyer expounded on the idea of designing for crisis in a recent podcast at The Web Ahead, which is well worth listening to.

Have you ever had any experience where technology or software made presumptions about you that just were off the mark? If so, what was this experience and did you do anything about it?

Mitigating the Decline of Your Facebook Organic Reach

It’s official: Facebook has become a pay-to-play platform.

For those of us in marketing, this certainly doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Facebook has been slowly turning down the organic reach of posts from our brand pages for years now. It’s likely that a promotional post published today will reach only a small fraction of the audience that has liked your brand page. In order to increase the exposure of a post from your page, you’ll have to purchase it through the Facebook ad platform.

It wasn’t always this way, and stands in stark contrast to the golden days for marketers on social media. Back then, Facebook sold itself to brands as a platform where publishers could amass large audiences to market to directly. The beauty was that there’d be no cost for it, aside from the campaigns that were built in order to draw those users in. In exchange, brands were all too happy to market Facebook in return, by encouraging their audiences to log onto the platform and “like” their pages.

But for reasons that vary – from maintaining a quality news feed for its users, to the fact that Facebook is a publicly traded company looking to make a profit – the free ride is over. If you haven’t started adjusting your social strategy to counter this, or if you’re running into problems doing so, the following post contains some ideas to help you move beyond the problem of declining organic reach.

Take time to review your content strategy
Facebook has set the expectation, with users and businesses alike, that promotional posts will primarily be the ones to have their organic reach cut. However, the definition of what constitutes promotional content is not clearly defined. For their part, Facebook’s user surveys have identified posts that pushed product purchases, app installs, contest entries and that reused content from ads as the worst offenders of promotional content.

In addition to that customer survey, you may want to consider the sheer volume of content that your post is a part of. According to Brian Boland, VP of Ads Product Marketing at Facebook, the News Feed only displays approximately 300 of the 1,500+ stories a person might see when they login to the platform. This makes the News Feed a highly competitive place, even before taking into account the decline in organic reach.

Taking both the user survey and the volume of posts into consideration, the tone of the organic posts on your Facebook page should shift out of a self-promotional style. The types of content that will have a better chance of ending up on a News Feed, as well as appeal to your followers, are the posts that provide value to your audience. Give your followers information they can take away or think about, rather than pushing a hard sell. Save that type of content for actual advertisements that you pay for on the platform. Also, craft content that encourages sharing, which will help to broaden your reach beyond the News Feeds of people who have liked your page.

Start balancing your channels
The decline of organic reach has been an excellent reminder to digital marketers that we should never rely on a single channel to deliver our message. Luckily for us, Facebook isn’t the only social network that our audience could be using. To find out where else your audience might be, start by taking a closer look at who they are and ask yourself two important questions. First, what are the characteristics of your audience? Second, what are the attributes of your brand? Use those answers to align yourself with new social networks that reflect the personality of the two.

If you’re concerned about selecting a new network, don’t. There are so many other spaces your audience and your brand could play in, and you shouldn’t pigeonhole yourself into only one. Really look at how each social network could be leveraged. For example, Pinterest is a no-brainer for any brand in the B2C space, as its a network all about discovery of objects and ideas. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is geared towards imagery and video content, which could be used in crafting an impactful visual message. The possibilities are only as limited as the number of networks available to you, but the key takeaway is that you should maintain a balanced and diverse group of social channels, rather than put all your marketing eggs in one basket.

Use paid to own your audience again
Your brand will have promotional content at some point that you’ll want to display to your social audience. In addition to having to pay for the privilege of broadcasting it to people who have already liked your page, you’ll still be forced to compete with other posts in an audience member’s timeline. Why not move away from the noise, as well as the control of Facebook, and further diversify your digital marketing channels? Use paid advertising to funnel them into more direct marketing channels, such as an email campaign. This will bring your audience onto another marketing channel that you hold the control over, and one that cuts through the noise that social media can create.

What Facebook has done by throttling down organic reach can be done on almost any other social network. It remains to be seen whether it was the right business decision for Facebook users, the company’s shareholders and marketers alike. Just keep in mind that Facebook is but one platform in a wide array of social networks and digital marketing methods at your disposal. Use it and other social channels alongside a balanced array of methods like SEO, paid search, content marketing and email, and you’ll be better prepared to adjust your strategy to business decisions like and you’ll be better prepared to adjust your strategy to business decisions like this in the future.

The “Brand Narrative” Pyramid

I’m a strong proponent of the brand narrative concept. I believe that any and every brand has a narrative behind it, to it and about it. The narrative behind a brand is all about the internal relevancy. How is this brand important to the company? The narrative to a brand is the external context. What’s the WiifM aspect for consumers, investors, clients, etc? And the narrative about the brand is the engagement with said external audiences, which then return to the company.

It’s a circular progression of communications. Or, as I envision it, a four-part triangle.

The lower left triangle represents Relevancy, while the lower right represents Engagement and the upper triangle represents Context. The inner triangle is a melding of the three, which when combined form an engaging Brand Narrative.

Building narrative through Relevancy: Find the connections between internal and external audiences
Building a narrative should start from within. I find Google to be a great example of this. I equate their philosophy with relevancy. One of their ten facts they focus on is: Focus on the user and all else will follow. The “user” includes employees. By building an engaging workspace internally, that mindset follows into their various products and services.

Their philosophy is built off 10 facts, which builds their framework to remain relevant to their employees and their users. Encouraging creativity, teamwork, and responsibility builds for a brand narrative that many can associate with. It’s probably why Google is now synonymous with searching for anything online. And I know that the concepts of creativity and teamwork show in their Google+ and Hangouts services, which I use on a weekly basis.

There’s also a plethora of stories out there, of how they encourage employees to balance work and play, to allow for creative time, to offer up ideas and watch as they’re tested out and implemented.

Building narrative through Context: Create connections between external audiences and society
I’ve found Apple’s brand narrative focuses on both form and function. Their current iOS slogan, “Every bit as powerful as it looks.” is a good example of a balance between form and function. I connect with Apple’s slogan — I see my apple products (Two MacBook Pros and an iPod nano) as streamlined, efficient and focused on creative endeavors. In those respects, their products are powerful and do everything I need it to do.

Microsoft’s Windows has always been about functionality to me. Due to the wide array of hardware it’s run on, functionality is a key factor in ensuring that the system runs smoothly across a wide variety of hardware set-ups. That said, when doing some digging, there are no clear examples of slogans, mottos, tag lines, or messages focused specifically on the operating system — with the exception of a recent push towards Windows 10 rather than 8.1 or 7. (I started with 3.1, skipping every other generation of OS and am currently holding onto 7)

I am however up for migrating to Windows 10, because their narrative does have me intrigued as to the changes and upgrades available since Windows 7 was released. And their logic behind the move from 8.1 to 10 makes sense to me.

(I can’t speak towards other OS developers as I’ve barely dabbled with Ubuntu, and have minimal experience with other Linux builds, or Android’s OS.)

Building narrative through Engagement: Connect with society and tie back into internal audiences
When it comes to Brand Narratives being built up by their audiences and expanded in engaging ways, I go straight to the gaming industry. They’re one of the clearest examples I know of how powerful brand narratives grow.

Not everyone pays attention to game developer brands. Most are at least familiar with the big names: EA, Activision Blizzard, Bungie, Ubisoft, Valve. There’s plenty of smaller ones just as active in the industry, and they all have one thing in common: Their audiences. For simplicity, let’s focus on two main groups: Let’s Players and Gamers. Let’s Players are the gamers recording their gameplay and engaging with the developers, generally encouraging the purchasing and playing of the games they record. Gamers are any consumer who plays games; simple as that.

There are communities like Rooster Teeth, the Yogscast, The Game Grumps, and individuals like Markiplier, Jessie Cox and Total Biscuit who are known for their discussions about game developers and dialogues with their viewers. They take a game developer’s brand narrative and product, build around it, and discuss with the general public to further the brand’s visibility. I can count a couple dozen games where I’ve purchased and played primarily because of the names above.

Relevance, context and engagement are all subjective; there is no one right method or tactic for building a powerful brand narrative. It really is customized for each company. I really do believe that actively incorporating all three aspects into your brand will make a difference.

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