Forget Resolutions, Just Be Better

arrows-1836570_1920.jpg

Ever wonder how New Year’s resolutions originated? I did, too. So I did some research. New Year’s resolutions originated thousands of years ago, tracing back to the ancient Babylonians and Romans. Back then, these people used resolutions as a way to appease the gods. As Christianity emerged, Christians also began to make promises to be more devout and cleanse the sins from the former year.

New Year’s resolutions, which are mainly secular these days, have now turned into a joke with the likelihood to keep them very slim. I’m sure they still have meaning to some; if for nothing else than to contemplate the year that has passed.

I don’t make resolutions. I do set goals. But these goals don’t hinge on a new year. I don’t need any additional pressure to “change” my life come January 1st. I want to always be willing and open to change and growth. So why not start every day with the hope to be a better person? I’m not a self help expert or a motivational guru. I’m just a real person with real challenges that loves to write. I don’t have it all together by any means. I just try hard every day to be better. Here are some thoughts on “better.”

Be accountable. This is your life. You made the choices, for better or worse, that led you to this moment. Stop blaming everything and everyone for your situation. Yes, we’ve all had things happen to us outside of our control. Right now at this moment you’ve got to stop thinking that someone or something else is the reason for your current condition. Own your own life! We’ve run out of time to change the past. Stop being stuck in it. Being stuck in the past is like quicksand. If you don’t clear your way out, you’ll sink into it and disappear.

If you are depressed, anxious or both, get help! There’s no reason to suffer. And your spouse, partner or best friend isn’t the help I mean. Yes, having a support system is important, but I mean professional help. There’s no shame in this. Take meds if you need them. It’s okay to ask for help. Because guess what, your life’s not perfect. And it doesn’t have to be.

Stop being so self-absorbed. Try being present with those in front of you. Put your phone away. Look people in the eye. Have a real conversation. Self absorption isn’t just about the self, it’s often disguised by whatever you’re focused on like your children or job. Look, I’m no expert on kids. I’m not a parent. But I have been obsessed with my career. That was my priority. I was always working. And my relationships suffered. So whether it’s kids or career or something else, just remember that if someone is taking the time to be present with you then reciprocate.

Stop waiting for that magical thing to happen that will make you feel happy or successful or some other emotion you crave. It’s not going to happen. Maybe it will, but don’t count on waking up the next day with all your worries gone and a cloak of happiness. I fell in that trap, thinking when I accomplish this professional goal then I’ll finally feel like a success. It never happened. While I still struggle with what “success” means, I’m no longer waiting for that unicorn to ride in with a “You’re a Success” banner. The same thing with relationships. Thinking that if you’ll find the “one” you’ll live happily ever after is utter bullshit. There is no “one”; there are people out there you’ll be more compatible with than others. Ultimately though you’ve got to be right with yourself to have a real, lasting relationship that is healthy. Stop waiting on that happiness train; it’s never on time and will pass you by.

So that’s my non-advice. I call it this because I don’t really think I’m in a position to provide advice. What I can do is tell good stories based on what I’ve learned. Writing this is as much for me as for anyone who reads it. Just remember, you’re still here. You’ve successfully made it through a lot of spectacular and horrible things. The only thing you need to do is just be better.

What I Learned from 2016

good-year-1925134_1920

Well, 2016, you sure did not disappoint. It’s been up and down all the way through. And in the end, whether if just by a thread, I’m still here, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

The year started with a break up; I left I job I loved for many reasons yet it was clear I needed to move on. What I hated leaving were mostly the people. These great people made a lasting impression on me. I learned a lot about myself through the eyes of these people and took some lessons from them as well. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you have the pleasure of being around fascinating people that make you want to just be better.

Since then my professional life has been on the rise. I got back to who I am and what I want to do. I relaunched this blog, which has been such a joy for me. To write about life and share my stories makes me happy. And I am motivated even more to keep telling more stories because of the response I’ve received. I’ve also been able to meet and work with many interesting and intelligent people on marketing strategies. My “day job” is a bit of a bore, but I’ve met many exceptional people.

Of course what took precedence most of the year was the remodel. I spent months with no floor, a few weeks with no kitchen and a few moments when I may have considered going to a hotel alone! And then finally, things came together. I won’t congratulate us just yet. We still have one more ceiling to scrape and two bathrooms, which means we’ll have to share a bathroom for a time.  Good luck to us.

While things have been mostly positive and joyful, the world itself has continued to be challenging. It’s nothing new. Conflict arises over the same things over and over – religion, race, power, money and anything that seems “different.” Have we learned nothing from history, have we really devolved? I’m not an expert on the human condition; I am however an observant storyteller. I’ve seen real anger and fear in the faces of many. Yet I’ve also seen beautiful signs of humanity. One afternoon on the way home, I saw a dog with no leash or human. It’s a busy road. He was definitely someone’s pup based on his good condition. I went to pull over and three other cars did as well. A lady jumped out and scooped him up as he was about to walk into the road. I needed to see that, it gave me hope.

I lost a lot of hope in this culture during the election. It showed a lot of the worst in people. I don’t believe that some people are all bad or good. I think people are all shades of gray, light and dark pieces in us all. But l learned something very important the morning after the election. I was on the train, earlier than normal. Two middle aged men were standing behind me on their way to offices in skyscrapers. They were complaining about lack of sleep because “They waited so long to call it.” Then one says to the other, “At least there’s not a woman in the White House.”

I don’t believe the race was lost because of gender. I’ve tried hard to dissect how and why things happened as they did. I get that things certainly aren’t as our founding fathers imagined. But I do know that when they wrote, all men are created equal, they meant white men like themselves. Everyone else has had to keep fighting for that equal. Those words I heard that morning helped me understand that I need to keep trying to be a strong voice and force for women in any way I can regardless of who is in office. I’m not burying my head in the sand. I’m going to stay as educated and informed as possible. Someone has to.

The year ended with a simple wedding, joining two people who are more concerned with a dazzling marriage. Marriage, and the wonderful man I now call husband, have taught me so much already. No matter what 2017 has in store, we will weather it together. This is perhaps the best lesson of 2016 – it’s the special moments and time with those we love that matter – everything else is just noise. I’m all for more joy and less noise in 2017. I’ll do my part; hope you will, too.

 

Thoughts on Westworld and What It Means to be Human

heart-1463424_1920

So, we are fascinated by Westworld. Billed as a science-fiction thriller where humans live out their fantasies with AI-induced hosts, Westworld is actually about much more. It asks the question, “What does it mean to be human?” and has a running theme of “pain” as the crux of consciousness. The hosts are wiped clean after every trauma but soon begin to remember. Is this what pushes them toward consciousness?

In the real world, humans of course can’t have their memories erased. We carry them around. They may act as shields or barriers or even medals. Our experiences do shape us and inform who we are and the choices we make. Sometimes for good; sometimes to our detriment. But it’s worth asking: does pain make us human?

I don’t do a lot of what if anymore, where I would run through my life and consider alternatives. What if my mom would have lived? What if my father would have been a part of my life? What if I never had cancer? There are a million other ways my life could have gone. I have no idea if I’d be the same person without pain, but my guess is no.

Westworld also has a recurring thought about loss, that the pain from loss (in the show it’s the loss of a child) is all someone has left. I’ve written about this before. That my pain is what makes me know it was real, that my mom and her love and devotion to me were real. I long ago stopped trying to shred it, but it’s also no longer my armor. You don’t have to be consumed by your pain in order to hang onto it. It’s not going anywhere. I won’t miraculously wake up one morning and have a whole heart again.

If I had to answer the question, then I’d say yes, pain does make us human. I don’t think any of us are pain free, however, some have led a more comfortable life. If given the choice, I’d say many would opt for that comfortable life. Not me. I’ll take the pain. I’ll take all the good and bad that came with my life. I didn’t choose the pain. I didn’t ask to be born. But I choose to live this life that I have and make the best of it. Without this life and in turn this pain, I wouldn’t be able to write things like this with such passion. My voice would more subdued; my thoughts more simple.

Westworld has been a ride in its first season. I was so eager for every second of it, reminding me of my obsession over Lost. But like any great piece of art, it made me think about my own place in the world and question it. I’m glad to be aware of where I’ve been and where I am. And, I would always choose the pain even if enchanting Dr. Ford told me he’d wipe it all away.

Today, a poem

memories-407021_1920

I’m busy working on thoughts and ideas. Sometimes you have to walk away from what you are writing and come back to it. So today, a poem. I wrote this many years ago. It’s still one of my favorites. Never think that words aren’t powerful. They absolutely are. And don’t ever think that you can’t come back from something. You may just realize you have wings that work when you take that jump or leap.

Picture

I have this picture
You in that old olive recliner
Me poised on the arm.
We’re mirrored
From the green Izod shirts
To the blonde strands of hair.
It sits in a frame.
It hangs in my heart.
I remember you young & tan
Before too many things
Sank into your skin.
When I had pigtails
And called you mommy.
Maybe time fades pictures, curls their edges.
I’ve taken a million steps away
From that moment
It’s still clear, it’s still happening
Whenever I close my eyes.

 

My Love Song to Sara Bareilles

img_3038-2

Dear Sara,

I finished your book a few weeks ago. I bought it when it first came out, but I was saving it like a long hidden Reese’s cup. I knew there would be a time I needed it, and that time arrived. I would probably prefer to read words by you every day, but then we’d need to be friends in real life (there’s still hope for that; I’m available!).

I have great admiration for you and your talent. Your beautiful words and songs have meant a lot to me over the years. After I bought Little Voice, I listened to it over and over. It was my refuge from a bad marriage. I’d put my earphones on at night, listen to your album and cry, tears of hurt, fear and hope. I didn’t know how to get out. I was in an emotional meltdown because for so many years there had been a ban on feelings (as in feelings will not pass go and be sent straight to jail). I had been solely in survival mode. I was in trouble. Your music made a difference in my life. They aren’t just songs; they are mantras, they are inspiration, they are as you might say, “satellites.”

I thank you so much for sharing your talent and for allowing us a glimpse behind the music in your book. As women, we often face more challenges than men, especially relating to our appearance and self worth. Your candid and refreshing stories cemented what I already heard in your music: you are someone who cares, you like all of us are human and flawed.

Your next album Kaleidoscope Heart helped me through heartbreak. It fed my courage. It made me believe that I would come out the other side. It helped me understand that love is a lot different than the notions we have in our heads. Thanks for keeping me steady.

I listen to at least one of your songs most every day. They are a friend and a comfort to me. Because some days are good, some are okay and some are really horrible. Something will happen almost every day that breaks your heart a little. It’s what we do with all those little cracks that matters. My heart has a lot of cracks, tributaries of fissures from one side to the next. But it’s still beating; it’s still strong. Maybe stronger than it would have been untouched.

Thank you for being a part of the fabric holding all those cracks in place and for reminding me to hold my own heart.

This, Sara, is my love song to you.

22 Things You Didn’t Know About Me

22

As a professional introvert, it takes time to get to know me. However, if you read my blog then you’re on the express path since I’m more apt to share my stories here than at a party or social outing. Lucky for you I’ve got lots more to share! I was just thinking the other day about random things that are important to me and what makes up someone’s character. So here’s a quick list of some possibly insightful, possibly funny tidbits. You’ll leave with something, maybe even some giggles.

1.      I’ve been to the Olympics. I was in Sydney during the 2000 games. I went to the women’s soccer gold medal match; the U.S. lost. I also met a German man who had just won a silver medal in weightlifting. He let us all try it on.

2.      I am not scared of spiders. I will often transplant them back outside if possible. They are good to have around, mainly because they eat mosquitoes.

3.      I take care of my skin. I’ve been getting facials and treatments for about 15 years. More importantly, I stay out of the sun; after all, I am transparent. I always wear sunscreen and haven’t had a burn in over a decade. Please take care of your skin; not just for vanity. It’s the largest and often most abused organ.

4.      I rarely wear lipstick. People ask me a lot about what kind of lip product I use. It’s chapstick. I am no makeup expert so I usually don’t wear lipstick or lip gloss unless I have a professional doing it.

5.      I will never hate or look down on someone because they are different than me; rather that be because of race, gender, religion, sexuality, education or socio-economic differences. I choose to live my life embracing the differences of everyone and believing everyone is human and deserves to be treated as such.

6.      My mom had lots of nicknames for me. She called me Buffy mostly, which many of my friends who I’ve known my whole life still call me. She also used to call me Trixie. I’ve never really had a nickname as an adult. It’s just Beth. But on that note, I have never gone by Elizabeth. If someone called me that, I usually don’t respond because I don’t think they are talking to me.

7.      I do judge people by their movie choices. Don’t tell me a movie from 20 years ago is a classic. I will stop talking to you forever.

8.      If I could have lunch with three people, I’d choose my mom, Sara Bareilles and Jennifer Weiner.

9.      I have horrible motion sickness. I’ve gotten sick on every type of transpiration available: car, plane, boat and train.

10. My favorite place is Paris. If I had the option, I’d live there.

11. I love learning. I’d be a professional student if that were possible. I’d love to go to law school and get a Ph.D. in marketing.

12. The first real concert I went to (because I refuse to count NKOTB) was Pink Floyd. Since then I’ve seen basically every group I love, including the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead (before Jerry died), Fleetwood Mac (multiple times), Aerosmith, the Eagles (multiple times), The Killers, The Who, U2, Dave Matthews Band (about 30 times), Heart, Def Leopard, One Republic, O.A.R., Sara Bareilles (multiple times) and many more big and small artists. My only regret is not seeing Prince before he passed. Music has informed a lot of my life. I have always found it very healing and a catalyst for creativity. I am, however, not musically inclined myself. My brief foray into piano lasted not very long. But almost every guy I’ve ever dated or been in a relationship with has been a musician or had musical talents.

13. My belly button is crooked. It wasn’t always but after three surgeries it’s kind of lopsided. It use to bother me; not so much anymore.

14. I use to love scary movies. Now, not so much. I like the idea of them and watching the trailer. But now I’m a big wuss. I still have nightmares about the scariest movie I ever saw, which will remain nameless so I don’t start thinking about it (too late, I’m SCARED!).

15. I am not a good bike rider. It’s been a while. I’m not so sure it’s like “getting back on a bike” easy. I should really address this. I’m missing out. It’s totally embarrassing.

16. I’ve never broken a bone, which is amazing, because I fall a lot. I wouldn’t say I’m a klutz. I have just taken many tumbles in my day, so many which often included stairs. These bones must be like Wolverine grade.

17. My most prized possessions are:

·         Postcards my mom sent me when she was in Europe

·         The Pink Lady figurine that was my Granny Helen’s

·         Some amazing shoes I bought in Paris

·         A pink painted plate that was my Granny Faye’s

·         A bracelet Justin gave me

18.  I am a Pisces. I am no Astrology expert nor do I read my horoscope. I will say that almost every other Pisces I’ve ever met, I’ve gotten along with wonderfully. We immediately hit it off and had lots in common before finding out of our shared sign.

19. This makes the most upset: People who don’t spay and neuter their animals. Or those that chain dogs up and call that a life. Also, please adopt don’t shop.

20. My favorite sounds in the world are the sweet moan that Honey makes just for me and Justin’s voice – it’s so calming.

21. My first crush was J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). I cried for an hour when he died. Dallas was my favorite TV show ever. I remember watching it with my mom. I was probably too young, but I’m glad she let me watch it. I’m going to the real Southfork this fall when we go to Dallas.

22.  I’ve kept every journal I’ve ever had since I was very young. There’s some interesting stuff in there. I’d tell my younger self to lighten up a bit, and enjoy the moment.

I Don’t Have a Five Year Plan

writer-605764_1920

I’ve always had a plan. I am a planner. Not to say I’m not up for spontaneity, but you won’t find me waiting for a table on a Saturday night because I’d have a reservation.

I’ve always wanted to be in control of my future. Planning seemed the logical path. However, most of my plans have required revision and rerouting. It’s important to be flexible. Not everything can be planned for in life.

I was an ambitious planner in my teens and 20s. I had a vision. I knew what I wanted. I did everything I could to get there. I had lots I needed to check off my list. My young self never got tired (even migraines rarely slowed me). I was emphatic about what and who I was going to be: happy, successful, something.

I finished my second novel at 25. And was busy planning for more. I was submitting poetry and fiction to journals weekly. I was writing pitch letters to agents, researching everything I needed to do to get noticed and basically doing everything to say I’m a writer!

This was early 2000s. Online journals were fairly new. Pitch letters were mailed. Social media hadn’t really become a thing. Back then self publishing was not what you did as a serious writer. So for years, I was planning and working every day. I stayed convinced I could be something. I paid little attention to my own world; wrapped up instead in the worlds I had created.

Perseverance would get me noticed I thought. But it didn’t. There were small victories: short stories and poems were published. A few agents actually wrote me back. So I kept pushing until I had to walk away. Had to find a new plan and tame that dream.

By this time writing was my job. I realized that in marketing I could get paid for writing; it just wasn’t going to be my story to tell. So I rechanneled my energy. I could be a success in marketing. So I went to grad school. Worked all day and went to class at night. Those were long days, but it kept me busy. I needed to be busy. And needed to believe this plan would work. I would shape brands and make the money I deserved. Ambition suited me well; always has.

After grad school, I got a new job with unlimited possibilities. I threw myself into building this brand and increasing business. Work became all I was. My personal life was in shambles so I needed the diversion. Most weeks I worked 60 hours. There was no boundary between life and work. I answered emails late at night and calls on Saturday mornings. Because in my plan if I just worked harder and longer then I’d get where I needed to go. WRONG.

Life’s not fair. Rewards rarely come for the ones always there doing what they say they’re going to do. People will use you, manipulate you and disappoint you. I was burning out when another offer came my way. This opportunity had more structure and a chance to build a marketing team. It seemed like a win. I still had so much drive; so much I wanted to offer.

I did a lot in my time there. But there were still long hours and lots of miles traveled. What was worse was the wall of frustration. I couldn’t get excited about a project because I knew like the 100 before, it would go nowhere. When you don’t allow people to succeed and shine, you dim their passion. When passion is extinguished there’s no resuscitating it. So I had to go leading me to where I am now.

Which is me not really having a plan. I mean I do have a broad picture in mind. And I still keep lots of running lists of what I need to do to further myself. I’m not always motivated. I’m not always my own cheerleader. I could do more.

My plan looks different now. It’s not about money or status or titles. Success looks a little different now. I want to be excited every day about what I’m doing. It’s about loving writing again and not looking at it as a chore.

What will I do without that five year plan that every guru tells me I need? I’m just going to be a rebel. Look, I had plans. They didn’t work out. I waited patiently for that big break, for someone to tell me I was talented. I’m still waiting. Waiting for that one post to go viral or for one publisher to think I’ve got what it takes.

Yet I still feel like a failure 93% of the time. I still worry every day I haven’t lived up to my potential. I’m still haunted by things I should have done differently. I think these things, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past. Maybe I wasn’t ready for success earlier. Maybe my voice has to get stronger.

So what do I do? Keep writing. Keep posting. Keep believing that if it’s good stuff people will read it. I once heard that dreams can’t become more than that while you’re still sleeping. I’m awake now. Wide awake.

Summer Book Review

books-1168303_1920

If reading were an Olympic sport, I’d be on my way to gold this summer. I am beyond fascinated with books. I prefer them to most TV and movies. I think because I have such a vivid imagination. I like to imagine the characters in my mind. It’s often why I refuse to watch adaptations of stories I’ve loved. I do lean toward fiction, specifically literary and women’s fiction. I rarely read mass fiction or genres like mystery or science fiction – that’s just not my thing. I also love biographies and true crime.

I fell in love with reading early. My mom and grandmother were both voracious readers. I even used to read encyclopedias and dictionaries! I moved quickly from simple books to chapter books. I read a lot of stuff that probably wasn’t suitable for a kid, but I don’t think it corrupted me.

No one ever had to make me read, whether for English class or fun. I even liked the ones others grumbled about like A Tale of Two Cities or anything Shakespeare. Sometimes it wasn’t so easy to understand because we don’t really talk like that anymore, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

So as I said I’ve been burning through books this summer. I haven’t been to the beach or on holiday, but it’s been my escape from the heat. Here’s a quick review of my summer reads.

The Vegas Diaries – Holly Madison
She’s the former playmate who made her debut into fame on reality TV, but she ditched the mansion and headed to find herself in Vegas. I really liked Holly’s first book, which focused on her time at the mansion so I gave her second book a try. Holly has a really clear voice in this book; maybe more so than the first. There are certainly some funny stories, but what I loved the most was how she wove in Vegas history throughout the book. I could tell that the history of a place is important to her. I highly recommend both her books.

The Weekenders – Mary Kay Andrews
This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but she has been a bestseller for quite some time. It’s definitely a beach read. It is actually set in NC so I appreciated that. It’s a bit of mystery meets chick lit. It was somewhat predictable. Most of the characters were either not very developed or were straight from a recipe of how this type of person should be. I was more interested in the main character’s best friend, but she was just the sidekick role. Sometimes we don’t want to work too hard to be entertained so if you don’t this is a good book.

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
This is probably one of my all time favorites! A young professor accompanies her boyfriend for a summer vacation back to his home country of Singapore; only to find out he’s crazy rich. I had little exposure to Singapore or Asian culture before reading this, and I learned a lot while also being entertained. The characters are well drawn; the dialogue is spot on and the descriptions beautifully done. It’s a massive book, but so good, I finished in a weekend. The author grew up in Singapore so it’s truly authentic. This is the first in a series. Will be reading the next one as well. You must read this book!

We Could Be Beautiful – Swan Huntley
This is a debut novel. I read some good reviews so I gave it a shot. It features the ultra rich of NYC centering around a woman who lives off a trust, is unlucky in love and has a mother suffering from dementia. I was pretty turned off by the protagonist. She wasn’t someone I could with whom I could relate. I will say that in any good book, you don’t have to like the characters but be intrigued and interested by them. I was neither. But I’m a sucker for a twist. However, finding out who her new suitor really is wasn’t hard. I did finish the book. The ending tries to tie up everything nicely without making sense. It’s billed as a psychological thriller. I would say it’s more melodrama.

The Last One – Alexandra Oliva
The book starts with a survival reality show then something goes wrong. Something has happened in the outside world, but the main character isn’t sure if it’s real or not. This was a great read. Suspenseful but very character driven. The protagonist was richly developed, and I really empathized with her. I won’t give any more away, but I will say it ends on a bright note.

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty
This is from the author of The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, both of which were great books. The author is Australian and the story is set in Sydney and its suburbs. Three families are having a barbecue on a Sunday afternoon when something happens. You don’t know what that something is until about 300 pages in, but the back story and the development of the characters is worth it. What the characters do and how they react makes sense because you feel like you know them. This was probably my least favorite of the three books I have read, but the characters were real and flawed. It certainly made me think of the consequences of even the smallest mistakes.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch
I first began familiar with this author when I watched the Wayward Pines last summer. I loved the show and thought I’d check out the books, too. I only read the first one in the trilogy. I preferred the TV show to the book. The book seemed to go on and on during this one scene where the protagonist is trying to make it up a mountain. Anyway, I decided I’d give him another try with his new novel. And I’m glad I did. This book was a definite improvement. It has tones of science fiction, but it is much more than that. The characters are the heart of the book. Also, the big ideas of quantum physics are explained simply so even an English major could understand! The story centers around a college professor who thinks about what his life would have been like had he not married and had a family. What were the other choices that he could have made? What if there are infinite worlds out there with many versions of ourselves that are different simply because of the choices we have made. This book was really well done. Highly recommend.

I also reread 1984 by George Orwell, which seemed fitting in these times. It’s a classic for a reason. Haven’t picked my next book yet. Thinking about non-fiction. I’m anxiously awaiting the publishing of one of my favorite authors Jennifer Weiner’s new book, Hungry Heart, which is a collection of essays. Have any suggestions? Would love to hear what your summer read was.

Happy reading!

Marketing Chat: Insights & Best Practices

marketing-998561_1920

I’ve had the pleasure of being part of many great conversations about marketing, both with those in the discipline and outside of it. I’m always happy to share my experiences, what I’ve learned, my opinions and what I think are the most critical strategies. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions or discussions I’ve been a part of recently.

1. What are the best ways to build an email list?

First, you have to do it legally. Anyone you email has to agree that you can email them, and they have the ability to unsubscribe at any time. Email is a currency. You get people to “pay” with their email address so you have to create value. Hubspot recently posted a blog on this that was spot on. This is what I think are the best strategies:

  • Landing pages with relevant offers – typically this would be high value content that is targeted to specific segments and is centered on education and information rather than a product
  • Social Media: connecting with followers in almost any platform provides you the opportunity to allow them to opt in
  • Website forms: include forms throughout your website for a variety of offers based on what pages they are landing on – subscribe to blog, download an asset, schedule a demo or any other CTA (call to action)
  • Webinars: these are low cost events that are virtual in nature and should again be educationally focused. If you have a great topic that can genuinely help someone with their challenges, they will sign up for webinars, and spend an hour with you.

But do not buy lists! These people don’t know you. Your unsubscribes and bounces will go up. Don’t spend your marketing dollars here. 

2. What should I post on social media?

I typically advise that the rule should be 50/30/20: 50% should be your content that is general, educational and informational; 30% should be content not authored by you but is relevant to your industry or audience (leading experts, SMEs) and 20% promotional, wherein you have a specific social media promotion, like a giveaway or offer, to generate leads.

3. Should we do direct mail campaigns?

In most circumstances, I’d say no. They are costly and have little response. It’s hard to track ROI on this unless there’s a promotional code. For B2B, I would advise it only if it’s clever and relevant. Do you have an actual product versus a service? When I worked in the large format printing industry, we had a laser cutter that was a really innovative piece of machinery. I often toted around small samples of what the machine could do. People could see the quality and intricacy of the finished product. To add relevance, I often brought them samples of their logo to keep. This would have been a neat direct mail campaign that could have generated interest from current and prospective customers. For any direct mail campaign to work, it’s got to be targeted and executed well.

4. Do I need a content strategy?

YES! Content strategy at its most fundamental is creating the right content for the right audience and posting it in the right place. It’s not something that’s best done off the cuff. It takes research and planning to learn how to cultivate and repurpose content and to ensure it has a clear voice while also changing tone where appropriate. Content strategy is a huge part of your overall marketing plan and shouldn’t be ignored.

5. Why inbound marketing?

I’m an inbound marketing enthusiast. I absolutely believe in its ability to connect with audiences and generate quality leads. It has the power to convert unlike outbound marketing or cold calling. It relies heavily on well-written, authentic content. It takes into consideration who your buyer is and where they are on the buyer’s journey. It integrates content, SEO, email and social media. I could write for days on the marvels of inbound marketing. If you are not currently embracing it, do your research. Understand its importance in elevating your brand to the next level. I recommend inbound.org as a starting point.

6. How can I increase my open rate on emails?

When considering open rate, think about these metrics:

  • How many people actually received the email (hard and soft bounces)
  • Is it optimized for mobile? We as a society now tend to open most email on phones.
  • Am I clearing spam filters?
  • Is my subject line intriguing? Is it short enough? Does it present the idea of value?

7. How do I determine what content I should require an email to view versus what do I give away?

This is subjective. But I’ve considered this when building websites and took on a scoring approach. The shorter the content the more likely I was to tag it as free. The content I felt was really for those at the beginning of the buyer’s journey I typically didn’t require an email. Whitepapers, which are longer and require more research, most likely required an email. The more work I had to put into producing it; the more valuable I believed it to be so I wanted an email for all my hard work! You can also look at trends to see how well content fared from a landing page or email campaign. It if it was popular that may mean people are willing to pay with their email address. Also more targeted content usually required an email address because it was for such a select industry or group.

8. What are the biggest obstacles to marketing success?

Speaking personally, the challenges I have faced in being successful were:

  • Lack of Tools: not having the right software or platforms to manage, measure and automate. If you have do most of this manually, it takes a long time, and you don’t have time to focus on more important things. Tools provide amazing insights and help you see trends so that you are aware of when a lead is sales ready.
  • Inability to Execute: Fear from the powers that be kept me from executing many planned out strategies. I developed websites, product launches and social media strategies that never went anywhere because the company didn’t really understand the value of marketing. They were so afraid to make any little mistake that fear kept them from doing anything. I’m not a status quo kind of person so it was pretty impossible to succeed in this type of environment. When you hire people that are experts in their industry, trust them! They really know what they’re talking about, and if it doesn’t work, then keep trying and learning.

These are a few highlights from recent conversations. I’d love to hear from you! Tweet me, or reply below. I’m glad to answer them or have a discussion. I’m always up for a marketing chat!

 

 

 

Voice, Tone & Sounding Human

canned-phone-568056_1920

For the past few years, many established brands have been eager to reshape the way they speak to their audiences. They finally figured out that their professional, elevated voice was actually condescending. They’ve decided they want to sound human and authentic. Simplification isn’t a bad word anymore. That’s great that these brands, now so concerned with being customer-centric, have embraced a voice that truly can engage its audience. Yet, big brands still lack consistency. And what’s worse is that the internal dialogue hasn’t changed. It’s still weighed down by jargon, corporate speak and acronyms.

I have been accustomed to and sometimes guilty of using those terms and phrases. However, I’m so aware of it now that I won’t allow myself to just accept it. If we want to be better communicators then we should all embrace these novel ideas on voice and tone.

I’ve shaped the voice and tone of several brands. This is what I learned while working in the technology/ software sector. I’ll preface this by stating the company did not have an identified brand or voice. What they did have was an absolute text book content for how not to write.

1. They gave their audience way too much credit. You cannot read or write content from the perspective of an SME (Subject Matter Expert). You are; your audience most likely is not. And you may have multiple segments of your audience with various knowledge levels. Start with the assumption that your audience knows nothing. Write and target for different areas of knowledge but do so in blogs, ebooks or white papers. These are areas where users can choose content. Dumbing it down isn’t dumb. It’s simplification. If you can’t describe something simply then you have bigger problems!

2. Jargon is a barrier to good communication unless it’s really how your audience speaks. Most industry jargon is how ideas or practices are described internally. They may mean nothing to your audience. So how will you know how your audience speaks? Do your research. Listen to them at events and conferences. This was huge for me. I also asked our sales team questions about what they heard during conversations. Read other industry publications, not necessarily from your competition, but content directed at the group you are targeting. Compile your results, and create a toolkit of words to use and not use. These words are of course useful for SEO and PPC as well.

3. Remember than tone can change. Although, voice is stable, tone can shift depending on channel. The least formal tone is typically used in social media. Yet there’s still distinction between Twitter and LinkedIn. With Twitter, more abbreviations and brevity are the norm; LinkedIn tends to be slightly more professional. The tone of a blog post is informal yet may be presenting data or big ideas. Blogs also often prompt the reader to comment, respond or take action. All these things impact tone. It’s important to flesh out your voice then make slight adjustments to master tone.

4. Be readable! Being interesting and relevant are part of this, but what I really mean here is look at your syntax. Are your sentences too long? Are there too many compound sentences? Are the sentences hard to read because of this? I’ve seen sentences with multiple clauses that run for days it seems. And maybe they have a lot of great points. But nobody’s going to read them. It’s too overwhelming. Mix up the sentence lengths, and aim for brevity.

5. Stop trying to impress everyone with your vocabulary! I love words. I’m a word nerd that as a child read the dictionary. My vocabulary is impressive. However, I know that for something to be clearly understood by the masses, it should be on a sixth grade reading level. For example, write use not utilize. It’s that simple.

6. Avoid passive voice if possible. Showing action helps keep a reader’s attention so the subject of the sentence should be acting out the verb. It’s not completely unavoidable. Just be aware!

Brands must change to continue to be relevant. Voice is a big part of that. Communication continues to change. Think about how texting has affected writing. I do text, but I rarely abbreviate. You may get a chapter from me. I made be old school. That’s fine with me. I think it’s important to temper cultural communication shifts with principles of good writing. And of course much of it goes back to audience and reflecting on how they speak.

My last thoughts on this subject are back on internal communication. Brands have worked so hard to create a human voice. But everybody’s still talking to each other like there was no evolution. Jargon and clichéd phrases still punctuate every meeting and email. There’s eye rolling (maybe that’s just me), but it seems harder to change how we speak to each other than how we speak externally. I think we all deserve to read and hear words that sound human.

What’s your take on voice, tone and jargon? I’d love to hear the words you hope to never hear or read again!