The Reversed Funnel Reversed

I love the idea of reversing the funnel, but once you DO reverse the funnel and have customers and employees and your other constituents telling your story, you also need to allow them somewhere to return to. You need and outbound strategy AND an inbound strategy.

Seth Godin claims we need to think in terms of "earning" more traffic to your website, rather than simply "getting" more traffic, but I would like to extend this. It is not just a matter of earning more traffic (or improving your brand or your reputation or even your customer experience). You also need an internal funnel so that you can make sure that those who DO come to your site are able to find and access what they are looking for. Also, from YOUR business’ point of view, you need to make sure that you convert browsers to buyers.

You need to understand what works and what doesn’t on your site. This is about statistics and about narrative flow. On the one hand you need to know what is of most interest to your site visitors, and on the other you need to remove any blockages that stop your customers from purchasing or engaging with your site. Does this still happen? All the time!

It is the equivalent of a Dear Scott Letter for a web surfer!


A “Dear Scott” Letter

Sometimes "A Dear John Letter" is used to end a relationship. But "A Dear Scott Letter" can signal the death of a brand.

I write a lot about the storytelling capacities of our best customers, but it is important to remember that your employees can also be a vital generator of good stories. Unfortunately, as Scott found out, they can also be quite dangerous.

As Seth Godin reminds us, the onus is on you to make sure that your business is remarkable. And considering that your employees are the ones that live and breathe your brand every day, they are going to be the ones who best know, understand and can articulate your story. The Dear Scott Letter shows that your "business" is not just the product or service that you sell, but the experience that you provide.


Your First Big Lie

Do you remember your first big lie? Do you remember how delicious it was? Do you remember the fear? What is it that makes it so memorable?

Undoubtedly there were many lies before the "first" … but they are lost to memory. Certainly my earliest "memorable" lie had precedents – but "the" lie stands out because of its audacity, its scale and the passion with which I told it. It was my first exposure to building my own personal brand. It was a significant investment in the brand ME.

When I was about the age of 9 I heard the story of a child being born on a cruise liner. It sounded fantastical. So I adopted this story as it was far more glorious than my own boring, hospital birth. I became the "boy born on a boat".

I soon learned that the lie was not enough. It needed a story. It needed characters and drama … it needed energy. BUT most of all, it needed consistency.

Like most 9 year olds, I knew that managing a good lie required commitment. But this was no problem, because I had carefully mapped out the details of my story … I was born on the Indian Ocean (specifics are important), my parents were returning from an extended holiday (the supporting cast) and it was unexpected as I was 13 weeks early (well this is true, but that ALWAYS helps — and you do need drama).

My celebrity grew. All my friends were able to repeat my carefully crafted story. They told friends who told friends, and very quickly there was a buzz that was hard to believe. I was invited to "hang out" with the older kids, given sandwiches and cakes. My 9 year old life had been turned upside down by this story (note the lie had been lost in the story).

So why is this important? Isn’t there a problem with lying? Seth Godin claims all marketers are liars, so perhaps I was just an early developer!

No … the reason this is important, is that stories have a life of their own. Once you release them, they are no longer your own. Of course, stories have a beginning, middle and end — and sometimes the ending is tragic. This story stays with me because of the wide range of emotional experiences that it brought to me. And I learned many lessons … the most important one being "to tell the truth".

Believe you me, there is nothing nice when your teacher looks you in the eye and asks you to confirm your lie. Though I do think I could have held out longer if I knew that the non-blinking eye she trained on me was actually glass! (Second lesson in this — don’t try to win a stare war with a teacher with a glass eye.)

Got a good lie to share? I would love to hear it!


Planners from Pluto, Creatives from Deep Space 9

There is often a divide between Account Planners on one hand and Creatives on the other. They are both (roughly) engaged in the same activity, but seem to speak in different languages. By way of bridging the gap there are two posts on Russell Davies blog:

  • Assignment 4: Account Planning School of the Web — a project that will test the breadth of knowledge and agility of mind of many account planners
  • Meet a designer — an interview (available as a Quicktime file) with Stefan Bucher.

The assignment is great because it provides Creatives an understanding of the steps that (good) Account Planners follow in approaching a marketplace. And the interview is great because it talks about the things that go wrong in the process of bringing creative ideas into that market.

Now I am sure you all have stories to tell from both sides. Come on, now, don’t be shy (I will post mine later).


The Power of the Processor

A good story, a brand worth talking about and products that make you wish you had invented them – these are the things that I feel are important. Sure, technology can be interesting, great even, but story wins every time.

So it great to see this line in Russell Davies’ massive and hugely interesting post on the eg2006 conference:

The content isn’t in what we make. It’s in our audience’s heads. They’ve got processors in there.

He is referring to game development here … but makes the point, that as communications professionals, it is important to NOT just concentrate on the medium (whether it is print, online, TVC, outdoor etc), but to allow the story to germinate in the minds of our audiences. That way we get true engagement.


Email Stories

When writing emails, it is easy to forget that we are writing very small stories. We dash off an email and hit send without a second thought and then wait for the response.

Emails can turn into long stories or (importantly for business), conversations. They can also turn into dates, relationships, marriages, jobs, contracts and many other things. Sometimes the turning point in an email conversation may be way, way down in the history of your correspondence. And because we are not always close readers, it can be easy to miss the change in tone (for better or for worse), or some piece of sarcasm that has been read too literally. Don’t get me wrong, email has changed my life, and I could not do the work I do without it. BUT it does have pitfalls for all of us.

Guy Kawasaki has penned a neat checklist of things you should remember when writing an email. Check it out here. My favourite is "Chill out". He suggests that you wait 24 hours before responding to a "pissy email". My approach (after taking a few deep breaths) is to write my response and save it as a draft. Then I come back to it a day later to see whether I still feel the same way.

This works for two reasons. One … it allows you to articulate your own response in the heat of the moment. This allows you to capture the emotional energy of your response at the time of reading. Two … you often miss links in your story when you respond in this way. If you do want to win the argument, you will do so by considering your approach first and then crafting a response that covers all the bases.

Also, remember, the person sending you the email has probably given their own email a great deal of time and consideration. If they want to give you a kick (or if they want to praise you), they will want to make sure it works … give their response the time and focus it needs. Email has one great advantage in that you CAN respond when you are ready — so take advantage of the opportunity.


Can You Be Big AND Creative

Big companies love creativity, and they love innovation. They love research and development and sometimes they excel in these areas. And while they may love it, they do not necessarily foster it. It is good for marketing, morale and PR, but in the end, it does not necessarily boost number of billable hours.

The paradox, of course, is that creativity is necessary. But creativity in a large company has to be systematised, mandated or tolerated in some form, and in the process, can lose its authenticity. The challenge is to find a way through the red tape, the demand for "shareholder value" or accusations of "contributing to overheads".

Here are a couple of tips for staying creative within a large company:

  • Get a sponsor: Find someone more senior in the company who can champion your work. Make sure that you make your sponsor look good at every opportunity.
  • Brand your project: Apply the principles of marketing and communication to your efforts. Sure you need good results, but when you get them, make sure everyone knows about them. And make sure you have a "brand" that signifies "creativity".
  • Grass roots wins: Encourage others to be part of your projects in their spare time. If your ideas are true innovations, the talent will come to you. (And let’s face it, you can’t do it alone.)
  • Deliver early successes: Do something easy early in your program. Put up a website, talk to disaffected team members or managers, publish a newsletter … it does not matter exactly what it is you do, but just do it quickly so you can build momentum and attract interest.

There are plenty of others … feel free to share yours by commenting.