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The Road to Hedge Fund Transparency: Marketing Essentials and Potential Pitfalls

To survive and prosper in a marketplace where transparency and trust are now valued by investors and promoted by regulators, hedge funds will be increasingly required to build a rational and risk-averse approach to external communication. Ideally, those plans will also avoid many of the non-productive tactics that marketers are known to promote.

Here’s a marketing roadmap designed to achieve that objective:

Build your brand strategy first. This internal discipline yields a unified view and clear expression of what your firm seeks to achieve for investors, how it addresses that goal, what makes it uniquely qualified for consideration, and why investors should select and trust your firm. An upfront articulation of the firm’s value proposition serves as the cornerstone of a written marketing plan that should include: tangible business goals, appropriate marketing strategies and tactics, calendarized activity, budgets and accountabilities. Any firm that operates without a formal plan (which should be simple, and not take months to create), eventually becomes a victim of “trust me it’s working” marketing. No plan = lots of wheel-spinning + no tangible business outcomes.

Create a bona fide website, not a proxy. In an online world, websites are the mother ship of market transparency. If a hedge fund is unwilling to provide on its website essential information related to its capabilities and credibility, then the firm is not really serious about market communication. Ideally, your website should express institutional values, explain investment processes, showcase human capital, provide examples of thought leadership and include inherent 3rd party endorsements. It’s not a sales pitch or report card. Your website will generate investor interest by allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions about the firm and its potential to help them achieve their goals.

Leverage your firm’s intellectual capital. Thought leadership – which is overused marketing jargon – is a strategy that leverages knowledge and ideas to engage target audiences. Effective thought leadership can involve a broad range of marketing tactics, but should always be designed to achieve measurable goals; not to simply have people think you’re smart. A hedge fund’s intellectual capital represents its most powerful market differentiator, and can be showcased without giving away any proprietary information or methodologies.

Harness the market reach of LinkedIn. LinkedIn has become an important due diligence tool for investors, intermediaries and the financial press. Most hedge funds understand this, and either provide a very basic firm profile, and / or allow its employees to post their personal profiles on LinkedIn. But to harness LinkedIn’s enormous market reach and professional clientele, hedge funds must establish a buttoned-up institutional persona that’s consistent with the firm’s (bona fide) website; ensure that its employees’ profiles enhance the firm’s brand positioning; and take full advantage of appropriate user groups on LinkedIn to raise brand visibility and display its thought leadership. 

Hold off on Twitter and other social media sites. Twitter can be a great information source, and most hedge funds should use it exclusively for that purpose: to listen rather than to speak. Few hedge funds have the time or social media sophistication to engage safely and consistently on Twitter, and the compliance risks are significant. Facebook is simply not an appropriate channel for hedge funds, and posting comments on independent blogs or online publications will not yield meaningful results.

Manage press exposure selectively. Beneficial media exposure can provide valuable brand credibility. But this is a high-risk tactic because reporters have agendas, can make mistakes, and are not in business to make your firm look good. However, hedge funds should proactively seek media exposure through participation in targeted editorial opportunities – such as bylined articles, OpEd pieces and certain types of feature articles – if they provide total or nearly complete control over what’s published. Although guest spots on financial news channels such as CNBC can fuel the ego, these are high-risk opportunities that most hedge funds should avoid.

Unfortunately, most media coverage yields no marketing value, because it’s simply hung like a hunting trophy on a firm’s website. To benefit from the implied 3rd party endorsement, beneficial coverage must be properly integrated into the firm’s direct communication strategy with clients, prospects and referral sources.

Merchandise conference participation. Investor conferences are high-cost tactics that can be effective for hedge funds. But these events also yield low results because firms fail to properly re-purpose the related thought leadership they’ve produced; which can serve as raw material to influence target audiences that are much larger, and sometimes of higher value, than those in attendance at the conference. Doing all the heavy lifting (in terms of content preparation, travel, time away from office and home), but failing to benefit from that investment – both before or after the event itself – represents a tangible opportunity loss.

Forget advertising for now, and perhaps forever. Regulators have not made it easy for hedge funds to understand the rules of the new advertising game, so the industry is better off encouraging the very large players – with deep compliance muscle – to be the first ones on the field. But there are more significant reasons why most hedge funds should never include advertising in their marketing plans. Notably, institutional advertising is expensive, requires a long-term commitment to be effective, and is very difficult to measure or generate a market response. More importantly, at most hedge funds there is an extensive list of marketing strategies and tactics (for example, building an effective website) that should be addressed first, and that will provide a more meaningful return than advertising.

As market dynamics of the investment world drag hedge funds, however reluctantly, into the new era of transparency, there is some good news for those firms. Hedge funds have long demonstrated their ability to sustain a successful business enterprise without traditional marketing tactics. So any benefits that effective market communication might provide for them are very likely to result in incremental asset growth.

Additionally, because hedge funds do not currently depend on marketing for survival, they can act in a deliberate, strategic manner. Hedge funds have the luxury of being able to design and implement their marketing programs incrementally, and to focus on doing a limited number of things very well.

In that regard, other vertical industries may eventually point to hedge funds as examples of best practices in branding and marketing. But at the current rate of change, that’s unlikely to occur in our lifetimes.

 

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The Attention Web: What B2B Marketers Need to Know

For B2B marketers who are too busy to keep up-to-date on every marketing trend and buzzword, here are a few thoughts on all the current noise about the Attention Web:

  • Attention as a marketing asset is not a new concept: Top-of-mind awareness has always served as a cornerstone of effective B2B marketing.  In their 2001 book, The Attention Economy, social scholars Thomas Davenport and John Beck proposed that in today’s information-flooded world, the most scarce resource does not involve ideas, money or talent. They argued that unless companies learn to effectively capture, manage and maintain attention – both internally and in the marketplace – they will fail. Here’s one way to understand what’s happening:

Attention Web

  • Pageviews, Likes, Clicks, Shares and Downloads do not measure engagement: Now that the advertising industry is using actual data to evaluate online behavior, smart B2B marketers can validate what they’ve always suspected about the metrics that are used to measure the effectiveness of the content they produce. There is now hard evidence that shows the number of clicks, comments, and shares are not indicative of how much time people spend engaged with the actual content. One recent study, reflected below – produced by Chartbeat and based on a boatload of data – demonstrates that there is no relationship between how often a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention the average reader will give that content. The good news for B2B marketers is that there are now editorial analytic tools that can provide attention and engagement metrics and insights.

article sharing

  • Attention, engagement and business relationships are driven by quality content: Beyond whatever products or services they sell, all B2B companies must establish credibility and trust with clients, prospects and referral sources. Initial inquiries and longstanding relationships are not nurtured by bombarding target audiences with aggregated content from 3rd parties. The most successful B2B firms only associate their brand with highly relevant content, most often home-grown, that supports their value proposition, stakes out intellectual territory, avoids self-serving claims and truly differentiates their company from competitors. Less can be more, when it comes to B2B content.

 

  • Don’t rely on the internet exclusively to generate market attention. For B2B firms, direct communication (email, snail mail, face-to-face, etc.) with target audiences remains the most effective means of gaining and maintaining engagement. If you’ve created high quality content, ensure that it earns an adequate marketing ROI by consistently putting it in front of the right people; don’t expect them to find your content by themselves on your company website or blog, on LinkedIn or through Twitter. Those online channels should be considered a secondary, rather than the primary means, of generating attention and engagement through content.

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Stop the Insanity. Fire Your PR Firm in 2014.

The attribution is unsupported, but Albert Einstein is often credited with the quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Its source notwithstanding, the axiom applies perfectly to the great number of companies that retain PR firms, year after year, to generate publicity that will have little or no impact on tangible business outcomes.

Over the past 5 decades, to rationalize hefty monthly fees, the PR profession has successfully promoted three underlying assumptions:

  • Any publicity is good publicity.
  • The more publicity, the better.
  • Publicity generates revenue.

Here are just a few reasons why it’s insane for most businesses to base their marketing strategy on any of those assumptions:

  1. Lots of Media Exposure is Worthless. The “worthless media” category can include one-off quotes or mentions in round-up stories that also reference your competitors…if you’ve gained no unique mindshare.  It can include appearances on network and cable TV…if the topics have a short shelf-life, or are unlikely to be of interest to target audiences.  And it always includes exposure in advertorials (regardless of the sponsoring publication’s stature) and feature articles in pay-to-play vanity publications…because you gain no credible 3rd party validation.
  2. Counting Media Clips is a Zero Sum Game. PR firms often justify their value by the sheer volume of media exposure they generate…regardless of whether it stakes out intellectual territory, supports a client’s value proposition, or differentiates them in the marketplace. The goal should be to create an arsenal of effective credibility tools; not simply to generate clippings to hang like hunting trophies in the “Media” section of a website.  This zero sum game is also played in social media, where scorecards of “likes” and “followers” are used as hollow substitutes for meaningful business metrics.
  3. It’s All About Merchandising. Business leaders must address two key questions in advance of seeking any publicity: “1. What type of media exposure will benefit us most?” and “2. If we gain that exposure, what will we DO with it?” Responses to Question #2 must provide clear direction regarding how it will support the firm’s sales and marketing strategy; how it will be used to drive leads; how it will initiate meaningful conversations with clients and prospects; and how it can be leveraged to gain other opportunities for targeted exposure.

Most PR firms fail to deliver on the potential of their craft because performing it correctly requires really hard work, takes time, and demands accountability for business results. Your role as a responsible client requires that you hold your PR agency’s feet to the fire by expecting results that have a measurable impact on your company’s balance sheet. It also means that you must provide your agency with the time and guidance necessary for them to deliver something more than a pile of useless press clippings.

If you’re unwilling to make that commitment, or if they’re incapable of delivering on your expectations, then it’s time to stop the insanity. Fire your PR firm in 2014.

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Make Your Corporate Anniversary Worth Celebrating

candle_cupcake_thumbnail1-233x300

B2B firms that have flourished for 20, 30 or 50 years are understandably proud of their longevity, particularly after having endured the most recent decade’s harsh economic conditions. But many of those companies do not leverage their achievement, by failing to capture the attention, interest and engagement of the internal and external audiences that will determine their continued success.

Too often important corporate milestones are treated in a manner similar to a wedding anniversary: companies will send out an announcement (press release, advertisement or email blast), host a modest reception, and provide a memento to a select number of longstanding clients.

These traditional corporate anniversary tactics may yield a few congratulatory notes, but will not deliver what might have been achieved – in terms of confirming core values, building corporate culture, and reinforcing brand presence – if the company had approached the opportunity in a strategic manner.

As a starting point, effective corporate anniversaries require the same high level of planning discipline that’s applied to other aspects of business development at the firm, which should include:

  • Articulation of measurable business objectives the program will seek to achieve;
  • Identification and prioritization of the target audiences the program will reach and influence, including employees, current and prospective clients, suppliers, referral sources, the media, etc.;
  • Framing the core messages that will be expressed through the program, and
  • How success of the anniversary program will be evaluated.

Based on that strategic groundwork, a company is prepared to identify appropriate tactics, make well-informed decisions regarding budgetary allocations, assign responsibilities for tactical implementation, and to build a program calendar.

Ideally, a corporate anniversary strategy is based on a limited number of high-quality tactics, rather than a long list of activities with limited impact or strategic value. A few examples of high value tactics might include:

  • Logo Modification – This need not be elaborate or permanent, and might also include a forward-looking tag line or theme. A simple “Celebrating 25 Years” or “Since 1988” can easily be integrated into an existing logo design. The reference can also be integrated into email signatures of all employees.
  • Website Visibility – This can be as simple as an anniversary banner at the bottom corner of the home page, or as elaborate as a corporate timeline or new “history” section that explains significant events since the company’s founding.
  • Client / Employee Gifts – If it’s deemed appropriate to give an anniversary gift to long-time clients, employees or suppliers, these gifts should be personalized and delivered in a very personal manner; either presented individually and in person, or accompanied by a customized letter from the CEO, managing partner or owners.
  • History Wall – This multi-media display, consisting of photographs and historical artifacts, displayed in the firm’s lobby or a conference room, can serve as a permanent and updatable validation of the company’s milestones and achievements.
  • Custom Publication – A commemorative book or brochure, well-written and nicely produced, can tell your company’s story and feature the people who have been responsible for its success. For the same reason people hold onto their high school and college yearbooks, this keepsake item has a useful shelf-life that extends far beyond your firm’s anniversary year.
  • Client-Focused Ad Campaign – Rather than touting your company’s anniversary, select 4 or 5 blue chip clients who are willing to be profiled in an advertising campaign that promotes their longevity and success. Passing (rather than direct) reference to the length of your firm’s relationships with those clients suggests that your company puts client interests ahead of its own.
  • Video Profiles – To humanize the firm, and pay tribute to long-time employees, video interviews can showcase the personal stories, values and dedication that have served as the cornerstone of the company’s success. These 2 – 3 minute videos can be posted on the corporate website, and on the company’s social media sites.
  • Earned Media – Press releases announcing corporate anniversaries are of little interest to most journalists. But if your company has an interesting or inspirational story to tell – involving hardship, unique challenges, failure or creativity – it’s well worth soliciting interest from appropriate media sources. Positive coverage in respected business or trade publications provides valuable 3rd party endorsement of your company’s long-term achievement.
  • Philanthropy – Rather than hosting an expensive celebration or social event, a charitable tactic may generate greater client goodwill and provide opportunities to promote the firm’s anniversary (and underlying values.) These tactics might include scholarships, research grants, sponsorships, named donations, fundraisers, etc. that are related to the firm’s business or mission.
  • Recurring Content  – To sustain top-of-mind awareness related to the firm’s anniversary and reinforce thought leadership, firms can publish and distribute theme-based content that’s likely to be of interest to target audiences. For example, an accounting firm celebrating its 25th anniversary might publish an interview series featuring CEOs of 25 long-term clients, who share the best business advice they’ve ever received. If published monthly, this tactic represents 12 separate opportunities to promote the firm’s anniversary.

The depth and range of anniversary-related tactics that can be leveraged by B2B firms is limited only by creativity and budget. But activity is not the benchmark for success. The real challenge involves alignment of strategy and tactics to achieve tangible business outcomes.

[If you’re looking for some guidance to create your company’s anniversary plan, we’d love to be of help. Reach out to us here.] 

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Two Living Reasons Why Scouting Still Matters

Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms

Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms

Last night, my 16 year-old grandson was awarded the Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms for saving his younger brother and himself from drowning in a sudden squall and rip current in the Pacific Ocean. The Boy Scouts of America gives this award only “in exceptional cases to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at extreme risk to self.”  Fewer than 300 of these medals have been awarded since the recognition was established in 1938.

My grandson has been a Boy Scout for 5 years, and has internalized Scouting’s “Be Prepared” motto. On that particular day in the Pacific, he understood the importance of remaining calm in an emergency. He knew how to approach and assist a drowning person. Most importantly, he lives the concept of service to others, a cornerstone of the Scout Oath,“…to help other people at all times.”

It could be argued that without his Boy Scout training my grandson may have displayed similar skill and courage in rescuing his brother. But Scouting’s positive influence cannot be denied in this near tragedy, or in the countless efforts of boys who strive to live up to the Scout Slogan, to “Do a Good Turn Daily.” Most of their acts of daily kindness, including some that may also be deserving of Scouting’s Honor Medal, go largely unrecognized.

Similar to other religious and civic organizations, the Boy Scouts of America has attracted depraved individuals who’ve preyed on their youth, and has been forced to wrestle with tough 21st Century social and moral issues, where public opinion is always divided and rancorous. Because Scouting’s local chartering organizations represent such a range of ethnic, political and religious diversity, finding acceptable solutions to those thorny issues is particularly challenging. And BSA’s responses to those obstacles, however well-intentioned, have often been ham-fisted or inconsistent.

Scouting’s visible and very real shortcomings, however, don’t justify the broad scale ridicule and disrespect the program has received over the past decade. The gradual demise of Scouting – validated by dramatic membership decline – is a loss for our nation, for our families and for our youth. There is no other institution serving American youth that for more than 100 years has combined training in practical skills, respect for the environment, teamwork, leadership and personal values. No sports team, marching band or school club even comes close.

Regardless of how far a boy progresses on the trail to Eagle Scout, he’s likely to benefit from Scouting in some lasting way.  Long after he’s forgotten how to tie a clove hitch or apply a tourniquet, a Boy Scout often retains something more meaningful, whether it’s self-confidence from serving as a patrol leader, or appreciation of central plumbing from roughing it on camping trips.  Forty-five years after I last wore a Boy Scout uniform, the 12 Points of the Scout Law continue to influence my life, in ways that are far more tangible than any lesson I took away from 16 years of Catholic school education or from decades of listening to sermons in church.

My grandson’s unvarnished account of his heroics gives me goose bumps. He wrote, “As the big waves kept coming, I was trying to stay near my brother. I then began to panic more than before, because I knew the situation was serious. Finally, I grabbed him and tried to swim toward the shore. I felt exhausted and worried. I knew how scared he was and I had to face the fact that we weren’t going to be able to get help, and that it was up to me to get us to safety.”

For me, my grandsons are two living reasons why Scouting still matters. Parents looking for an organization that’s prepared to help them to instill in their son strength of character and practical life skills would be well served to measure Scouting’s worth with a clear lens; without all the current noise regarding membership criteria, and ignoring the vitriol of critics who often know little about Scouting.

Those looking to use the messy politics of Scouting to keep their son from becoming a Boy Scout will always find ample raw material to justify that decision. But when your son or grandson is struggling in troubled waters 100 yards from shore, none of those moral objections are likely to seem very important.

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5 Ways to Merchandise the “Masthead Value” of Publicity

Not to be confused with "The Wall Street Transcript"

Not to be confused with “The Wall Street Transcript”

Many companies will invest considerable effort seeking positive publicity in influential media sources, and then fail to benefit from the masthead value of that exposure.

Originally a seafaring term relating to the brass plate attached to a ship’s mainmast that memorialized its owners and builders, a publication’s masthead lists the members of its current editorial and production staff. The industry term “masthead value” can be defined broadly as the level of stature, credibility and influence associated with a specific media source. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has high masthead value; the Wall Street Transcript…not so much.

Masthead value can be relative. A respected trade or professional publication in a particular industry may have greater masthead value – in terms of its influence with a particular audience – than well known publications such as the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. For example, physicians are likely to assign the New England Journal of Medicine greater masthead value than the Journal or Times on topics relating to clinical care of patients.

Masthead value should drive your publicity strategy. A placement from a single highly respected source can be far more valuable, in terms of influence, than a dozen hits with low masthead value. Because gaining inherent 3rd party endorsement is the end goal, in the publicity game quality always trumps quantity.

Here are 5 ways to leverage media placements with strong masthead value:

  • Put high value placements directly in front of your target audiences – Even if your coverage appears on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or makes the cover of Fortune magazine, don’t assume it will be read by clients, prospects, referral sources…or even by your employees. There’s simply too much offline and online noise to ensure that any media exposure on its own will gain the attention you’re seeking. If you’ve developed an internal CRM-driven discipline to communicate directly and regularly with target audiences, then you’re well prepared to apply that distribution capability to increase the chances that decision makers will notice, remember, and respond to your high value exposure. (Lacking that discipline, your time may be best spent building an effective distribution capability, in advance of seeking additional publicity.)
  • Avoid “Hey, look at me!” self-promotion – Pickup in a media source with high masthead value provides some reason for high-fives internally, but it should not serve as a platform for self-promotion. Extreme examples of this error include companies that issue a press release, or generate Twitter and Facebook postings to announce, for example, that their CEO has been profiled in Inc. magazine. This type of over-reaction to high value publicity suggests to target audiences that you were surprised to receive the media endorsement, and therefore may not have really deserved it. The key is to showcase the media exposure in a relevant context (you may need to create this), to make the media placement secondary to the underlying content (such as the reasons why your CEO was profiled in Inc.) and to pull off these tasks with a matter-of-fact level of self-confidence.
  • Rank graphics over content, in terms of impact – Most people are surface readers. Online visitors are more likely to scan images, heads, subheads and captions, than they are to read body copy. (Long blocks of copy on websites that require scrolling are rarely read.) If you’ve earned a placement with high masthead value, you can increase the likelihood of your company being associated with the “endorsing” publication by displaying its logo with the capsule description and link to the placement. To be clear: the critical element is the logo. If your placement is from the New York Times, for example, you should replicate the logo – as it appears on the front page of that publication. Based on how people gather information, simply typing, “from The New York Times,” or a similar attribution, is about 75% less effective than actually depicting the New York Times logo.
  • Prominently showcase high value placements – If you’ve invested and succeeded in generating media placements with high masthead value, why make it difficult for target audiences to find them on your website? Rather than burying influential publicity in an obscure “In the News” section that requires multiple clicks for visitors to locate, you can amortize your investment in publicity (and perhaps improve your website’s bounce rate in the process) if you create a location for these high value items on your home page. This can be accomplished by applying a design format in which the content either remains fixed or is refreshed regularly. For formats that supply current information, extend the shelf-life of each placement by not including its publication date.
  • Cite a relevant endorsement on your home page – One of the most effective  ways to  merchandise high-value media exposure is to select a very brief, relevant phrase from the coverage, for placement in a prominent position on your home page. Here’s a hypothetical example:

“…a recognized authority in Big Data technology.”

                                                       –Wired Magazine

By limiting your publicity efforts to media placements with high masthead value, and by ensuring that those placements are effectively merchandised through direct communication, social media tools and proper website visibility, PR practitioners will spend far less time worry about the ROI of public relations. The fruits of their labors will be self-evident in tangible business metrics, ranging from lead generation to high search engine page rankings.

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Should I Rekindle My Blog Love Affair…Or End It?

Can This Blog Affair Be Saved?

Can This Blog Affair Be Saved?

Here’s a sad letter from the Marketing Craftsmanship mailbag:

Dear Marketing Guy,

I’ve fallen out of love with my Blog and I need your advice. My sad story:

It was love at first sight. A company Blog had everything I was looking for in social media. It would drive SEO. Establish thought leadership. Engage clients and prospects. Create two-way communication. Build long-term relationships.

My competitors all had Blogs, and I needed one. It would complete my marketing.

Falling in love with my Blog was so easy. WordPress.com was the perfect matchmaker, and my Blog didn’t cost me a penny to build. I had big plans for my Blog. Topics we would cover together. Discussions I would moderate. I made a personal commitment to post regularly. My Blog and I would create beautiful leads together.

It was a great love affair…at least for a while.

After a few months, my Blog started demanding more of my time. But my Blog wasn’t living up to expectations. Few people visited, only employees commented on posts, and there were no leads in sight. My disappointment grew, but my Blog demanded even more content. “I need interesting ideas, not sales promotion,” my Blog would scream. We grew further apart. Weeks, and sometimes months, passed between posts.

Now, my blog and I are the office joke. Blog visitors wonder if my company has a pulse. My Blog has become a brand liability. I can’t look at the company’s website anymore, because my Blog is always there, reminding me of our failed relationship.

Does my Blog deserve a second chance? Or should I simply move on? Help!!!

Yours Truly, Blog Gone Wrong

Dear Blog Gone Wrong,

Lots of companies fall out of love with their Blogs. I feel your pain, but you’ll get little sympathy from me. Here are  a few questions to start you thinking about why your Blog relationship fell apart so quickly:

  • Was your Blog part of an integrated marketing strategy…or just a temporary infatuation?
  • Did you create an editorial calendar to provide content focus…or made promises you could never keep?
  • Did you assign sufficient resources to ensure your Blog’s long-term success…or were you just looking for a cheap date?
  • Was there a strategy to promote your Blog and to merchandise its posts…or did you think that would just “happen”?
  • Were there tangible and realistic business metrics to measure your Blog’s ROI…or did you think pre-nuptuals would kill the relationship?

My guess is that you were attracted to your Blog’s many fine features and benefits, but were unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary to build a meaningful, long-term relationship. If that’s the case, you really don’t deserve a Blog.

You might be better suited for a relationship with a Twitter account.

The Marketing Guy

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Jimmy Webb and the Power of Storytelling for B2B Companies

Music critic Miss Universe on "A Hard Day's Night" movie set

Songwriting legend Jimmy Webb has written some of pop music’s most enduring ballads, including Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, The Worst That Could Happen and the rock cantata MacArthur Park (simultaneously heralded as a musical masterpiece and the worst song ever written.)

The 66 year-old Oklahoma native now lives in Long Island and performs year-round at small venues in the US, Canada and abroad. Baby boomer fans pack the room to hear Webb strain to hit his own songs’ high notes, to listen to his tales of life on the road, and to get the real stories behind how and why he wrote specific songs.

At a show last weekend in New Jersey, Webb told fans about his first trip to London in 1964, where he fell in love with Miss Universe, who he met on the set of the Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night. According to the rambling story, in his attempt to impress the beauty queen – who had been cast as an exotic dancer and appears for 6 seconds in the film – Webb invited her back to his hotel room, where he sat her down next to him on the piano bench and performed his then unrecorded version of MacArthur Park. Unfortunately for Webb, the 7 ½-minute song failed to put her under his spell. She told him it was a silly song and left. Or so Webb’s story goes.

For the 450 people who heard Webb’s London adventure, all of whom have listened to MacArthur Park for decades, their musical experience has been forever re-shaped. When they hear that song in the future, it will provide a different context or a different meaning. Now, instead of cakes left out in the rain, they’re more likely to envision Jimmy Webb serenading Miss Universe in London. That’s the power of storytelling.

Social media and technology provide efficient ways for people to tell stories. But according to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, “The human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience.”

Writing in Psychology Today magazine, Dr. Rutledge notes that, “When organizations, causes, brands or individuals identify and develop a core story, they create and display authentic meaning and purpose that others can believe, participate with, and share. This is the basis for cultural and social change. This is a skill worth learning.”

Increasingly, in B2B communication, companies focus on the medium and the technology, rather than the underlying message, its meaning or purpose.  In our world of websites, blast emails, podcasts, webinars, analytics, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, marketing automation, smart phones and mobile apps…it’s easy to forget that the quality of a company’s narrative drives people to notice, participate or care about what’s begin sold – whether that be a product, service or a philosophy.

We’re all familiar with how the big brand companies such as Harley Davidson, Jack Daniels, Levi Strauss, IBM and Ben & Jerry’s have leveraged their corporate narratives to build awareness and market interest. But most small and medium-sized companies, and B2B firms in particular, are at a loss to understand how the power of storytelling can showcase their core values, mission and marketplace differentiation. But this goal can be accomplished…not by cooking up elaborate tales about the company’s founders or its early struggles… but rather, by pulling back the curtain on how and why the company makes decisions, and by using real-life examples and incidents to provide interest and context.

A great example of effective storytelling involves Davidson Trust Company, a Devon, Pennsylvania-based investment manager with around $1 billion in assets under management. In a series of columns published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Davidson’s CEO Alvin A. Clay III used stories to establish relevance for his thoughts on issues of importance and likely interest to his firm’s current and prospective investors.

In one of his columns, Davidson’s CEO described how his father – a longtime professor at Villanova – had been the beneficiary of kindness as a young man, and had devoted much of his teaching career returning the favor to others. In another, Mr. Clay recounted a heated debate he had experienced with other business leaders, and how that exchange had shaped his decision-making process regarding publication of his company’s ethics statement on its website. In all of Clay’s columns, he used storytelling to deliver insight and to position the Davidson brand in a genuine, credible and memorable manner.

At his concerts, Jimmy Webb spends more time telling stories than he does on singing his songs. And these events typically end with a 10-minute standing ovation.

Earlier this month, Davidson Trust Company received its own standing ovation. Publicly traded Bryn Mawr Bank Corporation (NASDAQ:BMTC) announced plans to acquire Davidson.

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Will Internet Transparency Devalue Craftsmanship?

As online access to information and insight into a broad range of professional and technical skills becomes more widely available, will “knowledge worker” craftsmanship become an anachronism?

For decades, medical schools have told students that patients want the Three As: Accessibility, Affability and Ability…in that order. Med students are taught that “patients don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” With the exception of Dr. Gregory House, most physicians understand that bedside manner often trumps a correct diagnosis or successful procedure. And insurance company research shows that physicians who apologize to patients for their errors are sued for malpractice far less often than those physicians who “lawyer up.”

Increasingly, online search and social media transparency will enable us to understand, manipulate, second-guess and validate the counsel of every professional discipline. If motivated, you can learn as much as your CPA knows about arcane tax laws, as much as your lawyer knows about divorce agreements, or as much as your real estate broker knows about mortgage lending.

With this level of virtual transparency, what’s the motivation for any knowledge worker to excel in their profession? If knowing only what’s necessary becomes sufficient – to avoid embarrassment and lawsuits – then why should any professional seek excellence? Rather than studying IRS rulings, is your accountant better served, in terms of business development and retention, by inviting clients and prospects out for a round of golf, dinner and drinks? As the client, would you prefer to be schmoozed by your CPA, or to have him increase your tax refund by $1,500? Would you even know if he’s capable of doing a better job for you? Maybe that’s why you’ve already replaced him withTurboTax.

Google, Twitter and TurboTax notwithstanding, as a knowledge worker, I take some solace in having seen that information and tools are often no substitute for experience. Several years ago, I was asked by a new client to create an integrated marketing strategy to serve as that company’s detailed blueprint to be implemented entirely by the CEO and his young, in-house marketing director. Two months later, the CEO engaged me again, to help his marketing director make the plan actually work.

So keep your former CPA’s phone number, because your TurboTax customer service rep will not be helpful at a tax audit with the IRS.

My guess is that true craftsmen in any profession will leverage online transparency to enhance their skills, rather than to use it as an excuse to join the status quo.

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