Cultural Intelligence: Huh?

What is Cultural Intelligence?

So what in the world is Cultural Intelligence?

I’m so glad you asked!

Just like the Intelligence Quotient (IQ), there is a Cultural Intelligence Quotient (CQ) that measures a person’s ability to function well in unfamiliar environments.

This definition published by the Harvard Business Review is helpful:

Cultural intelligence: an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would.

Let me give you a few snippets from a great article at Forbes about Cultural Intelligence:

  1. Leaders with high CQs understand how to encounter new cultural situations, judge what goes on in them and make appropriate adjustments to understand and behave effectively in those otherwise disorienting circumstances. They have repertoires of strategies and behaviors for orienting themselves when they encounter unfamiliar behaviors and perspectives, so they can discern whether a seemingly bizarre behavior is explained by culture or is unique to a particular person or organization. Such discernment is critical in, for instance, cross-border negotiations, understanding new markets, unifying dispersed leadership teams and developing global marketing plans.
  2. Business leaders with a low CQ may see no connection between cultural intelligence and the profit-and-loss sheets that determine their survival, but they miss the staggering bottom line differences that separate people and companies who prioritize enhancing their cultural intelligence from those who don’t. Research … has found that people with higher CQs are consistently more personally and professionally effective. They have an edge in the crowded job market and enjoy greater personal satisfaction and less burnout in all kinds of multicultural situations.
  3. A growing number of leaders in business, government and nonprofits are realizing the benefits of assessing and developing their CQ. It’s a matter of having the skills you need to lead in today’s globalized world. You don’t get CQ from intuition or experience alone, but anyone can develop it.

The Good News about Your Cultural Intelligence Quotient (CQ)

Well, first the bad news: Going with your gut is NOT a good strategy! Especially if this is your first foray into an intercultural environment. Trust me, you won’t just “get it right” because you’re considered a people-person in your home context. But the good news is this: we can all DEVELOP OUR INTELLIGENCE in this important area. Check these guys out for some First Steps, or Next Steps in your CQ development.

The Culture of Choice

Choosing is an art, and it is shaped by our culture much more than we realize. When researching the way Americans choose, as compared to the way people from other nations choose, the contrasts are quite revealing! Here is a short list of How we Like to Choose (as Americans). The contrast with other preferences shows us how easy it will be to experience misunderstanding when functioning in multicultural contexts. I highly recommend the Ted Global 2010 presentation by Sheena Iyengar (see below), but here’s the short list of decision-making preferences, from the American cultural point of view:

  1. It is best to make your OWN, individual choices
  2. More options = better choices
  3. You must NEVER say “no” to choice!

It’s time to take a critical look at these assumptions, and to ask some fresh questions about them.

Choosing, and the Culture of Choicesheena iyengar the culture of choice

The entire “American Dream” is built on the assumption that limitless freedom to choose, and limitless options to choose from, promises enduring success and fulfillment. But when you look at that “American Dream” a bit more closely, you’ll begin to see the holes; holes that people from different cultures tend to see much more readily (even if it’s tough for them to define exactly what ‘holes’ they are seeing). Sheena Iyengar does a fantastic job of helping Americans actually understand (at least partially) the reasonableness of OTHER WAYS OF SEEING. But remember, you don’t usually have a Sheena walking around with you, explaining the world to you. Unless we are, as a matter of discipline, being intentionally cross-culturally aware, we can be almost CERTAIN that we will misinterpret what’s going on around us. We are pretty much FORCED (when just going “on our gut”) to read the behaviors around us through the lenses that we’ve inherited from our own cultural pressures. We’re naturally (innocently?) unaware of these lenses, and think we’re just “being objective”. But we rarely are!

If you’ve got 20 minutes, enjoy this excellent presentation by Sheena Iyengar (over 2 million people have found it worth watching!).

The Hurdle of Hierarchy: Banking in India

The Hurdle of Hierarchy

Take my money; pretty please!

I can still remember my surprise and frustration as I tried to help one of my employees, Faiz, open his very first bank account (he was 30 years old). We were working in North India, and I had a great relationship with the Premium Banking support personnel at our local branch of Axis Bank where I did my business banking. I was in for a confusing conversation! Faiz had been working for me for an entire year, and had a record of his pay stubs in hand. He also had ME, a valued business client at Axis, standing at his side as we chatted with one of my acquaintances at the Premium Banking desk. In the end, my bankhierarchy in india decided they could NOT open an account for Faiz. “We don’t do savings accounts for situations like this.” What?

Honestly, to this day I don’t think I can explain the reasoning that was presented to me at the Premium Desk. Faiz and I walked out of the bank; I was offended, but Faiz was not surprised in the least. “Sir,” he said, “bharat mein aise hain” (it’s just like that in India). A month later, we tried again at the State Bank of India. Wow. They were so unkind to Faiz, I could hardly believe it. You would have thought we were asking the bank for a loan (or for “free money”)! We just wanted them to help Faiz save a portion of his paycheck each week, so that he’d eventually be able to purchase a motorcycle for personal transportation. With the help of my secretary, Faiz made 3 more trips to the State Bank of India, and they reluctantly granted him a savings account.

Flat Societies vs. Hierarchical Societies

For those who are accustomed to the relatively “flat” structures in America, we can really get confused (or angry) when we run up against the strict hierarchy structures in other places. (My dad took me to the local bank in California when I was 6 years old, and with $12 dollars, they opened a savings account for me, and handed me the printed “passbook” within 10 minutes). The whole “hierarchy thing” is big in India, as people are assigned a particular status in life, and they are simply not permitted to move beyond it. A person’s gender, their last name, their particular job, and the type of education he/she has accomplished pretty much place a person “in their slot” and signal how all others should relate to them. Faiz was a blue collar worker back then, and that meant that just about everyone working at the bank (except those that swept and dusted) would naturally see themselves as superior and not obligated to serve him. There was no hiding it! Even if the bank clerk’s job was to attend to Faiz and open the account, that clerk probably felt an involuntary bias toward making things difficult for Faiz. Bharat mein, aise hain!

India: attempting to level the playing field

Last year, when Narendra Modi was running for Prime Minister of India, he made an offer of “bank accounts for all”, and he’s made SOME significant progress. But it’s still a pretty complicated picture. Here’s the video from the Wall Street Journal report earlier this month.

Successful Education: Old School is Good School

Learning from Chinese Schools

Go East, Young Man: Learning from China

Are you ready for this: 30 educators from the UK went to Shanghai to find out why Chinese kids are scoring 30% higher on international tests. The English Minister of Education (Nick Gibb) told the schools to start copying China, and ditch the trendy discovery-based, student-driven techniques. It’s time for teachers to get back up front and TEACH.

The UK’s trip to Shanghai was actually a year ago, but the discovery will take awhile to implement in the West, because we’ve really become enamored of the student-as-driver mentality. Let me point you to two different articles that digest the UK report. First, there’s the article in The Conversation, ‘Chalk and talk’ teaching might be the best way after all’. Then there’s the Business Insider’s article, boldly concluding that “…the West is instructing students wrong”. (Both of these articles are just digesting the original in the Daily Mail).

The debate centers around “Direct Instruction” vs. “Indirect Instruction”. In the U.S., the prominence of Indirect Instruction is aligned old school in Chinawith the UK’s current momentum, and we would expect a group of 30 teachers from the US visiting China to have come home with the same type of observation.

Old School is Good School: some quotes from the articles

  • The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.
  • There is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance (emphasis mine)
  • Many in Australian education believe children are only really learning when they are active. As a result, teachers are told it is wrong to sit children at their desks and ask them to listen to what is being taught. Again, the evidence proves otherwise.
  • The psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style.
  • Overly praising students, especially those who under-perform, is especially counterproductive. It conveys the message that teachers have low expectations and reinforces the belief that near enough is good enough, instead of aiming high and expecting strong results.
  • There’s not just one way to teach… In the early years of primary school, children need to memorise things like times tables and poems and ballads so that they can be recalled easily and automatically. Education is also about curiosity and innovation and there will be other times when rote learning will be unsuitable – for example, when students explore a topic that excites them and where they undertake their own research and analysis.

OK, teaching is a complex art, right? I hope no one is denying thatBut I’m sure glad to see that China — always derided for imitating — has not followed the West in terms of classroom instruction methodologies. They’re still standing there as a challenge to what we THOUGHT was a no-brainer improvement!

Warning: Headlines Can Kill You

WARNING! Headlines can kill you!

Headlines and post titles will make you or break you. You can write killer content, but end up getting no eyes on it. Why? Because readers have to quickly filter through mountains of posts, clicking only on the titles that promise to be useful. How do they make that decision so quickly? They judge a book by it’s cover. Yep; they base their decision on the headline, because they simply don’t have time to click, load and read the first paragraph before deciding to read the whole article. They have to decide by looking at the headline.

And what type of headline will they click? Here’s what Susannah Breslin says:

“To make someone twitch their digit [i.e. click], you must reach inside their brain and pull a lever. This is not done by being boring, by being dull, by being a fact factory.”

There are already plenty of good articles out there about how to write awesome headlines and post titles, so I’m going to talk a bit about writing BAD headlines; the kind of headlines that will kill you!

Headlines Can Kill You — 3 Ways to End up with Lonely Content

1. HEADLINES THAT ARE TOO LONG

One sure way to end up with lonely content is to give a lengthy title. You weren’t creative enough to capture your core message and display it in a few enticing words, so you give too much information in the title. How long is too long? A good guide is to keep it under 70 characters, because the Search Engines will chop off whatever goes beyond that anyway. Here are a few samples of “too long”:

Warning Headlines Can Kill You

2. BAIT & SWITCH HEADLINES

Another content-killer is the headline that appeals perfectly to what people are looking for, but then disappoints by not delivering what was promised. Sure, you’ll get some clicks, but you’ll only generate UN-fans, and UN-followers. Bait & Switch Headlines look great, but they don’t match the content!

  • Lose 15 Pounds in 15 Days (then the article just sells a drug, rather than explains the process).
  • The Key to Improved Search Results (then the article gives 10 factors to juggle, without naming a “key”).
  • How I Earned $10,000 Online by Blogging (then the article requires you to purchase the eBook).

3. BORING HEADLINES

You just can’t afford to write a boring headline. Sorry. The competition is too stiff (with 2 million new posts being published every 24 hours). You’ve got to find your inner artist, and create something that is both ENTICING and RELEVANT to the content. You know what boring looks like, and here’s how you can fix it:

  • “Some good recipes for making quick meals” vs. “3 Complete Meals You Can Prepare in 30 Minutes or Less”
  • Working from home can be much better than working at the office” vs. “Want More Money & Freedom? Work from Home!”

OK, you get the idea.

If you’re putting out the effort to create great content, then give 15 minutes to writing a headline that will give your content a fighting chance to be seen.

You live in a cultural cage!

You're in a cultural cage!

Most of us are locked up pretty tightly inside our “cultural cages”, and it’s the rare person that even BEGINS to see this about himself. That’s the “trick” about culture and worldview, we hardly even notice how strongly it is shaping our lives!

People ask me what I mean by “cultural cages”, and I’d like to try to coax out a clear meaning, and apply it to ourselves and to those around us in cross cultural contexts.01-hens in cage

What’s culture?

Culture, as most of our readers know, eludes simple definitions. The key components of what we call culture would include: shared beliefs; shared values; learned responses; patterns of behavior; passed on through a socialization process. For the anthropologically and technically oriented, these descriptors do an adequate job of painting the picture.

HOWEVER, I find that all of us benefit from talking about culture in much more earthy, concrete terms.

So let’s just add these common-man’s key components of culture:

It’s the way you feel about things, the way you decide that one thing is more important than another.

It’s actually behind your reaction to movies and to what you call “good music”. Culture even pushes you to feel repulsed by some ‘foods’ and very strongly attracted to others. (My Faroese friend loves the “aged” meat from the head of a lamb, but nearly vomits at the thought of peanut  butter). Culture is what makes you feel like some people are “weird” and other people are “normal”. It’s what causes you to recognize that you’re not “at home” when you’re in a different country (or different PART of the country, or city).

Culture is like water for a fish: they don’t notice it! 

They only notice if they’re OUT of it! It’s like the lenses in a good pair of glasses: you don’t see them, you only see THROUGH them. Those lenses affect every single thing that you see, but you’re rarely even aware that the lenses are shaping (and changing the shape) of the images coming to your eyes. Culture does the same thing: it shapes what we see, how we feel, what we like, what we dread, but the thing itself – culture – is practically invisible.

Cages keep things in, and keep things out. Our ‘cultural cage’ is what limits our perception.

It locks us into a very narrow range of possibilities. “Dangerous driving” is something than most can talk about, but country-to-country people will not agree on what it looks like.

An Indian will feel very differently from an American about what “dangerous driving” looks like. The “cage” that’s built by culture has, over time, become pretty strong! Both the Indian and the American have heard, since infancy, references to “that crazy driver!”.

But what their mom or dad or friend is referring to when making such a pronouncement is very different. When the Indian and American stand side by side in the middle of traffic, trying to cross the street, they will NOT agree about whether or not there are “crazy drivers” or “dangerous driving” all around them. They’re inside their respective cages, and can’t seem to get out. They see it “one way”, and can’t seem to see it another!

Many of us are living in very real, very concrete and palpable contexts of cultural tension and cultural misunderstanding. If people from the same culture experience interpersonal conflict as a rather expected routine, imagine how much MORE common it is in multicultural contexts!

We naturally move AWAY from that tension. 

Yep. That’s what humans do: we avoid the hassle and the discomfort that comes from working through cross-cultural obstacles.

So what happens?

What happens is division, separation and ostracism. People that are comfortable with their cage are happy to hang with people who live in similar cages. We all see things the same way!

We all “know” what’s good, bad and ugly. But those “other people” have such a DIFFERENT way of seeing things. We look out through the bars of our cages at each other, pointing our fingers at each other, saying in unison, “You’re weird!”.

When thinking about ourselves as cultural beings, it’s fair (I think) to lump ourselves into two basic categories: (1) Mono-cultural and (2) Multi-cultural.

The mono-cultural person, unfortunately, lives out her/his life without ever really taking a deep look at the cultural influences that shaped them, and consequently rarely knows how to respect, appreciate or understand OTHER cultural ‘shapes’. They’re just sort of ‘stuck in their cultural cage’.

But the Multi-cultural person (which, by the way, can even be achieved by people living in their own home culture) takes a posture of inquisitive exploration, desiring to “get inside” of why other people “live life differently”.

This multi-cultural person believes that they’ll discover good reasons why people are different. They know that they’ll be able to disagree too, but that they’ll disagree from a position of understanding, rather than from a default position of ignorance. The multi-cultural person is attracted to the idea of crossing from “outsider” status, to “insider” status, and by the intrigue of developing friendships with people that are, at first “different”, but soon to become “understood”.

The multi-cultural person actually starts SEEING their own “cage”, recognizing that they’ve been shaped by a particular community.

They’re “o.k.” with that; they even love that. But they do recognize that it’s only “one shape among many”.

SEO: Cutting Through the Fog

Cutting through the Fog

What do we mean by “SEO”? Yeah, sure, you could say “Search Engine Optimization”, but that’s just because you’re trying to be funny. In the real world, if we ask people to define or explain SEO, we’d get as many different descriptions as we’d have writers. Let’s try to cut through the fog a bit.

Cutting through the fog of SEO

SEO: Is it dead, or just transformed?

Want to have some fun? Just google “SEO is Dead”, and see what you get. The really funny thing about it, is that you’ll find half of the posts are by people who are actually SERIOUS when trying to say that there’s no more place for SEO; and the other half will be using the “SEO is Dead” slogan facetiously, pointing out the still-important-aspects of HOW TO PRESENT YOUR CONTENT IN WAYS THAT THE SEARCH ENGINES CAN EASILY INTERPRET IT.

I think it’s best to just think of SEO as “transformed”. Yeah, the heart and soul is still there (I’m talking about white-hat SEO, ok?); but the SHAPE is different.

SEO: Is it something you do AFTER you write content, or WHILE you write content?

C’mon guys. This question ought to be answered by now!!! Yes, SEO is something that happens AS YOU WRITE GOOD CONTENT. How can this be? How can a copywriter take care of SEO WHILE they’re writing. It’s simple! Make sure that you’re producing RELEVANT CONTENT (i.e. stuff that people are reading) and that you’re getting it to the right people (yeah; those that will share it). You’re already producing QUALITY CONTENT, right? Then take care of the search engines by making it RELEVANT (address the reader’s need / answer the reader’s question) and making it SHARE-WORTHY (intriguing enough to to be send on to the reader’s friends).

But aren’t there some TECHNICAL aspects of SEO BEYOND good content writing?

Yep; there ARE some technical aspects that you OUGHT to keep in mind:

  • Lay out your seo title (and url) in a way that search engines can easily determine the theme.
  • Compose page descriptions for human readers, but with attention to “engine intelligence”.
  • Have a real, human author, linked to their G+ page (authorship)
  • Link OUT to good sources that complement your content.
  • Link INTERNALLY to other related posts on your site.

The reason I’m not going to detail these simple tech aspects is this: If you write good, quality content you will not HAVE TO worry about the deeper intricacies of search engine algorithms. Why? Because those algorithms are BUILT and DESIGNED to identify good content as “good content” (and move it up into higher search ranking). Sure, you ought to keep in mind this short list of “technical aspects” (above), but JUST FOCUS ON WRITING QUALITY CONTENT!!

If you don’t trust me, read this…

I just read a great article (actually, it’s a transcription of a great podcast). Last week, Andrew Youderian took a few minutes to interview AJ Ghergich, for the eCommerceFuel podcast. Andrew and AJ talked extensively about SEO, eCommerce, Marketing, and what 2014 will bring. You can listen to the PodCast at the eCommerceFuel site by clicking here. Or you can read the transcript by going to Ghergich.com, where Kate Gramlich Roumbos laid the whole thing out for us! Either way, you’ll read (or hear) some great stuff. In fact, I’m going to revive a two-year old quote by Lee Odden that was included in Kate’s post:

IT’S NOT SEO ANYMORE, IT’S MARKETING. DEAL WITH IT.

The One Marketing Mistake That Costs You 75% of Your Page Views

Mistake that costs marketers 75% of page views!

There are a number of basic marketing mistakes that can hurt your page views and overall traffic. Poor user interface on your site; poorly written content; boring or irrelevant post titles; lack of optimization (url, description, anchor text, etc.). But let’s talk about the content marketing mistake (a very common one) that can cost you, on average, 75% of your normal volume of page views.

Talk too much about yourself: lose 75% of your readers

But according to the statistics at Content Marketing Institute, the one marketing mistake that can cost you 75% of your normal page views is TO TALK ABOUT YOURSELF!

If we don’t talk about ourselves, who will?!!

Trust comes first; selling comes later

This is not just a little “Marketing no-no”; it’s actually a content marketing death wish. It’s never been very polite to talk about yourself, so this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but in fact, it IS a bit surprising to many of us. Branding, Advertising and Marketing have — for so long — been seen as efforts to tell everyone about our great array of products and services. Our rhetorical question is, “If we don’t talk about ourselves, who will?!”

Well, fortunately, there’s a good answer for that question. If we’re willing to produce and provide content that really satisfies a need or answers a question that our target reader has, then THEY will be the ones to eventually be talking about us! This approach to marketing can be labeled as Inbound Marketing, or as “Give-to-Get” marketing. It’s related also to what I call “Reality Marketing”. But the main point is this: if we provide content that adds value to the reader by addressing a real need that they have, then they will engage more with our content, they will share it with their friends, and they will develop a sense of trust in our Brand. At that point, THEY will be the ones to look further into our products and services and come looking for that information about ourselves that we chose not to force upon them.

People look for your goods and services AFTER they trust you

Joe Pulizzi observes, in his article about Epic Content Marketing, that the normal content at CMI — which is educational, and designed to answer people’s real questions — will suffer a 75% loss in page views when they publish a piece of content about themselves. CMI’s experience is very similar to what we see at Shift Digital Media: people will look for your goods and services AFTER they’ve developed trust in your Brand.

So…create content that provides relevant help for your target readers’ questions. Talk about yourself LATER, when they’re the ones asking you about your company!

Buy Twitter Followers? Are you Kidding?!

Buy Twitter Followers! Are you Kidding?!

Well, if you can purchase a bride through mail order, then it only makes sense that you can buy Twitter followers too. Most of my readers already know how easy and cheap it is to buy Twitter followers, but do you know how counter-productive it can be to your brand-building efforts?

Why would you buy Twitter Followers?

Let’s all admit it: when we check out somebody’s Twitter page, and see that they only have 32 followers, we think that either (1) they opened their account 15 minutes ago, or (2) they have absolutely NOTHING worth my time. Then the next logical step in that line of thinking is: “But if they have 500 followers, then they definitely DO have something worth checking into.” And obviously, continuing along that line, we come to the (false) conclusion that “the greater the number of followers, the more valuable the content”. Oops. Let’s look a bit below the surface.

What does your follower list say about you?

Sure, you can buy followers! It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s fast. Just look at these samples from a couple of sites that sell Followers:

Buy Twitter FollowersBuy Twitter Followers? Are you kidding?

 

But what message does it send when people take a look at your followers? Here are a couple samples of Follower lists obtained through purchasing followers, and given as “proof” of success:

If you look at the profiles of these “followers” they usually turn out to be complete “fluff-and-bluff”, and obviously purchased. They have no history of quality tweets, no followers, etc.

Fake Twitter Followers

Fake Twitter Followers!

So if you’re trying to actually build your brand (or your client’s brand), and you did it by bringing in this big pile of followers, what happens when someone looks at your follower list? What does this list say about you?

  1. You’re falsely inflating your online image.
  2. You cannot be trusted.
  3. You’re probably going to scam me if I engage with your advertised product or service.

Pretty dismal, eh?

Buying Twitter Followers: a couple redeeming possibilities

Before I wrap up this post with some summary observations, let me just note here that buying Twitter Followers CAN have a couple positive benefits:

  1. There are plenty of people that do NOT take a careful look. They see that you have a ton of followers (2,000 or 20,000) and decide that it’s worth a trip to your website to learn more about you. Assuming that you DO have a good product or service to offer from you site, then you’ve really benefitted by bringing a potentially interested buyer/subscriber right to your site, where you can now show them (in contrast to your lousy Follower list) some high quality stuff.
  2. There are also people that, upon seeing that you have a long list of followers, decide automatically (superficially?) to follow you too. But these followers are actually following you because they found you through a Twitter search for the particular features in your description, and will likely be interested in the products or services that you are offering.

Some final observations about Purchased Followers:

  1. C’mon! Let’s get real: people hate spin, and their spin-detectors are becoming more and more sensitive. Get caught fluffing and bluffing and you’ll send away potential customers.
  2. I’ve written about “Reality Marketing” elsewhere, and you need to know that “buying followers” is a very strong signal that you’ve really got nothing high-quality to offer; your excellent products might be EXACTLY what the person needs, but they won’t go check it out because you’ve killed them with the falsely-inflated follower list.
  3. Remember: you WANT engagement! You WANT followers who are interested in what you’re providing! You want followers that are giving you feedback, input, critique and high-fives! The purchased followers? Nope; they don’t plan on engaging.
  4. You see Google building more and more intelligence into their algorithms, right? How long before they’ll figure out an algorithm to determine “less-than-genuine followers”, and slap a little results-penalty on your site?
  5. As I said, you MIGHT pull down a bit of follower-action through having the inflated number of followers on your Twitter page. Yeah, MIGHT. But what you won’t ever know about is the searcher who found your Twitter page by searching for your type of product/service, but then ran in the opposite direction when they saw your fake followers.

Bottom line: Do the work. Invest the effort. Produce something terrific! Live with (and enjoy) the followers that you earn through the ongoing conversation and interaction with your site and your helpful tweets!

Worst Mistake in Branding

Worst Mistake in Branding

Have you ever heard, “Don’t talk about yourself; it’s not polite.”? Well in marketing, we often believe that it’s our JOB to talk about ourselves, because if we don’t, who will? Conventional wisdom used to tell us to take every opportunity available to get our Brand and our list of products out there in front of everybody. Tell ‘em what you’ve got. Tell ‘em what you’ve done. Tell ‘em why you’re great. But that’s a one-dimensional approach, and it’s getting weaker by the day.Worst Mistake in Branding

Branding 101 – Balance your Content

Is there a place for explaining the unique benefits of your brand? Of course there is! It’s probably the most important feature of branding: being able to show why your product or service is EXACTLY what people need to solve their current challenge. But here’s the problem you can run into if you’re living in that “one dimension” of blowing your own horn all the time: you’ll only be playing to a very narrow band of listeners. You’ll only be talking to those that have already decided they need your product. You’ll have very little to offer those that AREN’T SURE THAT THEY NEED YOU YET. And that’s where the growth is going to come from: making friends, establishing yourself as a good source of information or an entertaining place to spend 10 minutes for people that are just poking around the edges of your industry, and just not quite ready to commit yet. This is a basic enough principle to qualify for a “Branding 101″ type of post.

But who’s gonna talk about my brand?!

So let me answer that rhetorical question: “If we don’t talk about ourselves, who will?” The answer: your followers! Show them that you have great stuff to read or view. Show them that you’ve got relevant information, easy to consume and entertaining. Show them that you know how to talk about valuable stuff WITHOUT cramming your brand down their throats. Show them that you can add value to their life, with no strings attached. What am I talking about? I’m talking about content marketing: using content to demonstrate authority, trust and usefulness. Let them be pleased with what they see, and THEN ask themselves, “Hmmmm…. Who are these guys? They seem to know what they’re talking about, and I LOVE their personality.” Don’t worry, they’ll know how to navigate to your About Us page to read your story and to find out about all the cool stuff you have to offer. It will be natural because THEY will know that THEY were in control of reading what THEY wanted to read, and were genuinely interested in finding out more. And you know what they’ll do next? Yep; you guessed it: they’ll talk about you to their friends.

Your best content won’t be about YOU

The brands that truly understand content are the ones that recognize the best content is not about them, but about something valuable to the people who see or read it.

That’s a quote from Carrie Kerpen, the CEO of Likeable Media. Perhaps you’d consider me a small-time Content Marketing Strategist, but Carrie is big-time! So if you can’t take MY word for it, take Carrie’s word for it. Don’t keep pushing your brand and your list of cool products. It’s not polite to talk so much about yourself! Balance that with lots of intriguing, entertaining, relevant-to-your-followers type of content. Let them get to know your personality, your authority, your reliability, your humor…. THEN let them decide it’s worth a look at your Products and Services page!