I’m often asked for marketing advice to help businesses grow. My answer is never popular.
Most businesses think (hope) they’ve not been using their marketing tools wrong, so they think (hope) I can wave a magic wand or give them a few quick tricks to help them do it better.
The problem is however rarely the way marketing tools (social media, websites, emails etc) are used. Too few businesses understand what it is they’re supposed to be marketing.
Only once you know what you want to be known for when you get to where you are going, can you invite customers to join you on the journey.
My first question when asked for marketing advice is always: “Why should customers buy from you?”
The answer is usually a muddle between technical specifications, how long the business has been around, and “because we need them to”.
None of these reasons are however strong enough to make a case for a prospective customer that is faced with too many options, and not enough guidance. But businesses can’t guide customer decisions if they themselves are not crystal clear on the value they offer, or how it connects to the needs of their customers.
Business growth starts with a strategy that balances historical value, future innovation, and current relevance determined by customer need.
Marketing initiatives should focus less on the tools to be used, and more on staying in sync with what customers need now, and how the world they live in is changing. Only then will you be able to develop marketing messages that can be matched with marketing tools that support your business growth objectives.
Most people avoid speaking in public like the plague. Sharing your story on a stage however remains one of the best ways to influence stakeholders and build reputation.
To add another dimension to your public relations efforts, keep the following in mind when you are approached - or actively searching for - a speaking opportunity:
Is the occasion relevant to what you or your organisation want to achieve? Speaking engagements take up a significant amount of time, and this time is best invested if it is related to achieving strategic objectives.
You can test the relevancy of a speaking engament based on:
- the audience that will be attending,
- the overall theme of the event,
- the speaker guidelines that might allow or restrict certain types of presentations, and
- how confident you are with the topic you need to address (irrespective of your comfort with public speaking).
The value of a speaking engagement doesn't necessarily lie in the fee that might accompany it, but how you can maximise the activity around it. If the organisers are promoting the event and/or speakers via social media, make sure that you share their content with your own network. Famous by association is still very much a "thing", and your connection to an event of the right calibre and type might be of great reputational value to you.
If you develop custom content (presentation, whitepaper, article) for the speaking engagement, make sure that you share the content on various other relevant platforms after the event. Linkedin allows for sharing content in numerous formats, and is also the best place to share business related content.
Use a speaking engagement to empower, enlighten, or energise the audience. Never use it to sell a product, share a history, or show off your accomplishments.
Executives are often invited as keynote speakers or programme directors, but they might not necessarily be the best person for the job. If you are approached for a session that you feel is about your current level of speech delivery expertise, rather request whether a different type of session is available. As your speaking expertise improves, you'll be able to accept a wider variety of engagements.
Always consider the amount of preparation necessary for each speaking engagement. It is always a good idea to customise your content somewhat according to the event and audience, but accepting speaking engagements are much easier if you can rely on content that you are very confident with, and have existing presentation material ready for.
Never fall into the trap of having someone else prepare your speech or presentation material on your behalf right before a speaking engagement. A nervous presenter is forgiven much more often than a poorly prepared one.
Conferences used to be a highlight on many corporate calendars as these events provided rare networking opportunities with peers and insights from global thought leaders.
These days many of these thought leaders regularly share easily digestible snippets of wisdom via social media, and peer networking activities ignore geographical boundaries.
Despite this, there aren’t many conferences that have moved on from long days with drawn-out programmes and struggles to deal with information overload, shortly relieved by predictable breaks and a tangible lack of delegate networking.
Conference delegates needs have changed, and in tough economic times organisations expect more tangible benefit from their investment in delegate registration fees. Conference organisers have to do better than just updating the speaker list of the previous year’s conference.
The first step to realise this change is by not thinking of conferences as large-scale meetings with an agenda of items to get through
Arranging a meeting requires logistics; creating a conference is a form of art. Conference organisers should create collaborative corporate theatre productions.
Think audience comfort first
It has become necessary to make it easy for delegates to stay at the venue for the duration of the conference instead of relying on their own motivation.
Obvious items such as unlimited free wifi – with connection assistance available on site – and a plug point for each seat should become commonplace. These items however incur significant additional costs, and are unfortunately not approved in many conference budgets.
Adjustments that can be made without any additional costs stem from being aware of differing levels of stimulation needed by delegates to maintain energy levels throughout the programme.
While some might be comfortable in dimly lit venue for an entire day, others might do well if the lights are turned up during speaker introductions or panel discussions. Even the type of background music and variations in levels of sound could be manipulated during the day to suit or change the audience energy.
Obvious but often overlooked items such as communication geared to not only convey instructions, but enhance each individual delegate’s experience of the conference cost very little, but make a big difference.
Delegates must be made to feel as if their needs have been anticipated, not as if they are an inconvenience crammed into what was available.
Audience comfort has to be anticipated and accommodated from registration and arrival right through to the closing session at the end of the programme.
Make each delegate the main character in an exciting storyline
Conferences have all the hype and excitement at the beginning with the host or main sponsors usually as the star. This focus needs to be changed around so that delegates form the main characters in creating a conference story that is relevant to their own individual needs.
Instead of allowing content only from speakers and sponsors, conference organisers should work towards developing an additive conference model.
Additive conferences enable audiences to contribute content based on their own insights, and incorporate it into the formal programme.
Instead of limiting delegate notes to scribbles on venue paper that will at best get filed back at the office, create participation spaces where the key takeaways from delegates can be collected after each session.
Such a participation space could be as impressive as a large wall covered with easily removable vinyl on which delegates can write, or a packet of sticky notes on which delegates can jot down “a-hah moments” to stick onto flipcharts.
These compiled takeaways, whether in video or written form, can be made available to other delegates as a post-conference keepsake. It also serves as additional conference content that extend the value of the conference past what was offered by the speakers.
Speed up the audience learning curve
Another benefit of active audience content contributions at regular intervals is that it speeds up the audience learning curve, enabling delegates to implement new ideas much quicker to the benefit of their employers.
The key to delegate participation is to not leave it only for scheduled break times, but incorporate it as part of the time allocated for each session. This will increase the amount of participation as it becomes a group activity rather than being left up to each delegate’s individual motivation.
The conference MC can spend 10 reflective minutes after every session to help delegates recall what they’ve heard, interpret it based on their own circumstances, and contribute a summary, thought, or challenge to the pool of audience-generated content.
Train the storytellers
It goes without saying that the MC leading these sessions needs to be a professional experienced in the craft. An MC is often chosen from a limited number of willing volunteers, and while this might seem like a cost effective option, it does very little to build better conferences.
Similarly, speakers are often selected from the information provided on application forms that traditionally focus on the intellectual value of the content, rather than the proficiency of the speaker in delivering valuable content in an engaging way.
Spending some of the conference budget on a professional keynote speaker is always a good investment, as these professionals are experienced in setting or matching the scene and mood of a conference, but it doesn’t mean that all speakers have to be professionals.
One of the best ways to elevate the performance of the volunteer speakers is to provide them with a video channel that features short examples of preferred styles and general public speaking tips that will be suitable to the specific conference. It is also very helpful to include a video submission section in the speaker application process to determine where additional assistance might be necessary.
Sponsors and exhibitors also form a significant part of the conference story. While the majority might be experienced conference participants, organisers can do a lot more to build better conferences by guiding sponsors and exhibitors in audience needs.
Organisers need to guide sponsors who will have a speaking opportunity to share with the audience why they support the conference and perhaps the sector, as people remember how brands made them feel, not what brands sold.
It might also be necessary to alter the logistics of sponsored items and hand out promotional items after a sponsor session or video, rather than including all promotional items in the delegate bag received during registration.
Don’t give away all the good stuff at the beginning of a conference; give the audience a chance to earn it throughout the programme.
THE ROBOTS ARE COMING!
Depending on your personality type, your appetite for risk and popular opinion of the people that surround you, your reaction to this statement will either be one of excitement or one of absolute terror.
The future is often described as an insurmountable obstacle racing towards us at a frightening speed.
We are however not as unprepared as we might think, even when we take into account trend predictions made by futurists. Developments over the past decade have already provided us with guidelines and structures to prepare for the future.
All we need now is a shift in mind set.
Disruption as base for vision
When we set the direction for the future we need to have a basic understanding of the innovations that are predicted to disrupt the industries we operate in and rely on.
With social media enabling the instantaneous sharing of ideas and discoveries, keeping our finger on the pulse of innovation is easier and cheaper than ever. In most instances it is not even necessary to understand the intricate details of all the innovations; a broad awareness will help guide leadership decisions toward setting a direction that is less likely to be surprised by disruption.
An honest look at what our world may be like in the future will enable us to focus on what is necessary to keep fulfilling the purpose of our effort.
We need to have a clear purpose for our efforts combined with a firm understanding of innovations that will have an impact on those efforts.
The purpose of an organisation can no longer be merely self-serving. Society demands that all organisations set a direction for responsible effort in the triple context of profit, people, and planet.
Sustainability as a habit
Sustainability is a term often used interchangeably between the continued existence of an organisation and the environmental impact of a product.
It should however be used as combination of the two and adopt the King IV Report on Good Governance description of “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
This description refers not only to the responsible use of existing limited natural resources, but also to the investment needed into alternative materials and methods that will reduce the negative environmental impact from decisions made by previous generations.
We need to consider how each decision we make now - as individuals, communities or organisations - will change the quality of life of our children and their children's children.
We must also understand that future generations will not live in the world that we know now. A change from automation by machines programmed by humans to robots that function on their own through artificial intelligence, is merely one of the changes that is no longer a prediction, but already a reality.
Communication as a hard skill
It is therefore necessary to ensure that we do not merely build our awareness of potential disruption, but that we also share it with others and prepare them for it.
Change management programmes and the communication plans that go with them has become a specialised function, but it seems to have little impact where disruption is concerned.
The problem with change management is that it is a linear process, while disruption is known for change that has changed by the time you deal with it.
Effective communication that attempts to prepare teams for disruption is barred by human nature that triggers an automatic resistive response once we're faced with something new and unfamiliar.
We need to distinguish between communicating change and communicating crisis by training our teams to form a habit of seeing disruption as an opportunity, not a threat.
To achieve this we need to stop delegating communication to marketing teams as a support function. We need to retrain our workforces to develop communication capabilities as a core skill, as that is predicted to become our saving grace for when the robots do come.