In 20 years of marketing, I’ve (obviously) honed quite a few skills. I still think that objective listening is the most important. It sounds simple, but sitting back and using those half-moon shaped skin flaps on either side of your head is an uncelebrated resource. I get the best gems when I’m having straightforward conversations with clients and colleagues, and it’s often during those relaxed conversations that I typically unearth the most creative and groundbreaking content ideas.
I spend a lot of time listening, especially when I start a new relationship with a client. What shocks me, after 20 years as a marketer, is how many companies and leaders fail to notice where and how they’ve earned their best bragging rights.
Example #1: Missed Core Value
I was on vacation over the holidays and met a friend of a friend who was visiting from Canada. Her company is in the garment industry and creates and sustains hundreds of jobs locally. This company, she told me, also goes out of its way to source local materials, focuses on its very localized supply chain, ensures that they maintain safe factories, and pays a living wage.
In an industry where most brands offshore their labor pool and source cheap materials, the fact that this North American company has retained a local factory and has such a focus on sustainability must be be central to their messaging, I said.
“We never even bring it up,” she said.
As a designer, she had little control over the company’s messaging, which is tragic. She could see the value in that story. So could I. Unfortunately, that message wasn’t the story that their customers are being told about the brand.
Example #2: Missed Leadership Story
I was working for another client in 2017 and found out that the CEO had previously developed the SEO strategy for a huge retailer (I’ve signed stacks of NDAs, or I’d tell you more; suffice it to say, “huge retailer” is maybe the world’s biggest understatement). When I say developed: he was the first SEO head that retailer had ever hired; he was tasked with creating a team (with individual members of separate brand and marketing departments) to work together seamlessly and revamp—invent, really—the company’s e-commerce presence. Said another way: my client, the CEO of an e-commerce platform, built the SEO department (thriving today) of one of the planet’s largest retailers from scratch.
As the head of an e-commerce software supplier, shouldn’t this information be central in the company’s marketing message?
Short answer: of course. Was it? Well...no.
In chatting with the sales team, I found out that this story about their CEO’s experience was central to how they won business; they leveraged it to win meetings with brands and multi-channel retailers in all of their pitches.
Yet: that story was nowhere to be found online or in any of their marketing materials.
Thankfully, they listened to me, and we changed that together.
It Takes an Outsider to See What You’re Missing
It often (and also, it USUALLY) takes a set of outside eyes to notice a set of company values that you may have missed. Your product marketing team and your e-commerce team already have full plates and too many balls in the air. Conferences, production deadlines, and clients are so time consuming, it also may be asking too much for that overworked team to execute that message throughout your content platforms.
The good news is that if you have that story: unearthing it and telling it sparks morale for those creative teams and starts truly exciting conversations with your audience. That audience won’t know what that story is, though, unless you start telling them as soon as possible.
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