The Psychological Advantage

Business-Psychology-Learning-how-to-Make-your-Products-Stand-out-to-Potential-CustomersAccording to Forbes, 39.2% of psychology majors coming right out of college had an offer for a job somewhere. Of course, the knowledge and skill base of your average graduate is pretty variable, but it does speak to the utility of a background in psychology. Most companies, at some point or another, fall into a trap of the latest psychological-metric trend guaranteed to increase growth and productivity, or lend a hand to HR in order to hire the right folks.

However, let’s talk about using psychology to your benefit.

Watson and Skinner, the pioneers of behaviorism, taught us a lot about human behavior and how to understand behavioral contingencies. It was Skinner, however, who gifted us operant conditioning and a quick path to behavior modification that could yield actionable goal-setting (and adherence) behavior.

Alright, let’s back up.

That was a lot of jargon coming at your fast.

Understand the behavior. So what is that you are trying to do? Be accurate and honest here. Are you trying to write more every day? Do you want more conversions from your marketing campaign? Do you want to be more productive and complete more things on your to-do list? Whatever the thing is that you want to do, define it, and describe it well.

Salient, powerful reward. This is really the tricky part for program adherence. When we think of rewarding ourselves, we generally land on something that we could do without, or something we have a lot of ways to get. What you want to do is choose something specific, salient, and powerful; and by that I mean something that you couldn’t go through the day without. How about an example? A good friend of mine really wanted to finish the novel he had been talking about for a decade. The problem was: he didn’t make the time; and he lacked the discipline to stick to a writing schedule. He asked me what he could do differently since I am a productivity and discipline junkie. I asked what he did every day; he shrugged. As we were sitting over coffee, I noticed that he checked his phone a few times. I asked him what had captured his attention. Apparently, he had become addicted to one of those app games where you built little towns and went to war with other players. He explained that if he didn’t check in often, his town and little digital population would be decimated. That was the a-ha moment: I had successfully found what he couldn’t live without. The solution was simple. He would have to write a certain amount of words in order to check on his digital world. Lo and behold, the strategy worked because the reward was very clear.

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Volume. Behavior change takes time; as such, you will have lots of opportunities to fail (which is the currency of success), but, more importantly, you will be able to repeat the behavior-reward dyad enough times to truly turn it into a habit. The actual amount of time it takes for this kind of habituation varies based on psychological makeup, the task, the reward, and a host of other things. Some estimates put it as low as 10 days and more conservative suggestions put it at closer to eight weeks. Either way, volume is your friend; when in doubt, keep working that behavioral contingency.

Make the behavior as easy as possible to guarantee program adherence. Human beings like to complicate things. We want difficult explanations to simple problems, because we can’t imagine that the answer shouldn’t be multi-faceted and complex. You might talk about looking for a simple solution, but what you really mean is you want an easy answer, which is not the same.

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Changing of the Guard: What Behavioral Marketing Has to Become

8468788107_6a1b3ae1ea_oWhat it was

Behavioral marketing is still the go-to for major companies, as well as smaller professionals. The purpose being very simple: use information to tailor a personal experience instead of bludgeoning people with the same message time and again. The digital age helped usher in this type of advertising, as analytics and cookies overtook data collection. Retargeting and direct targeting was simpler than ever and you were one step away from closing the loop and using information collected during an internet search to get your product in front of a potential customer.

What you like determines what you are shown.

For an older generation, this kind of marketing has great value. The demographic for Facebook users continues to rise, and it should come as no surprise that among internet giants, Facebook represents the most nuanced approach to behavioral marketing: bundling, collating, and redirecting interests and behaviors in or to show you relevant ads. Our feeds are increasing filled with bright and shiny advertisements created specifically for our enjoyment.

So why does it need to change?

Simply put: the population is getting older, which means a young generation (millennials) are increasingly involved in traditionally robust purchasing activities (cars, homes, condos, interior design). Unsurprisingly, this contrarian generation has little interest in being advertised to; in point of fact, a Forbes article from April 2015 suggested that they were moving away from this kind of “talking at you” approach in favor of a more authentic conversation.

If you want to sell to the millennial generation, then perhaps you need to pivot to a more transformational type of marketing; one that involves millennials in the conversation, as opposed to trying to out-think them in a technological space (where they are very adept).


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What it needs to become

Buzzfeed adopted a native advertising approach that has been paying dividends in terms of engagement and interest. Not all companies are set up for this kind of information-driven type of advertising, and suggesting that they adopt it would be foolish.

Nativism need not be about company pitches written as clickbait articles.

Culture, not trends. What millennials care about is sharing a culture, not just sharing the trend that everyone else is riding. This generation has been sourcing things digitally for nearly their entire lives; what they are searching for is a meaningful relationship with a brand that also provides a service or product. Trending topics dominate the digital sphere, but the best companies bend them to meet the needs of their subscriber base and not the other wall around.

Less noise, more perspective. Let’s face it, repurposing articles and talking about whatever is current becomes noise once you get past the first or second page of a feed or search.  Every company has a story or a narrative, and that is what you should be advocating: your perspective. What makes you unique? How do you provide something different, meaningful, and valuable?

Be agile and offer value. Content marketing has value because it checks a lot of the boxes we are talking about. You want to craft content, not just refurbish generalities from other similar sites you gleaned doing a long-tail keyword search. Returning to this idea of native marketing, it is not likely you will be able to replicate Buzzfeed’s model. You can take a step in the right direction by leaning more heavily on generating organic conversations through social media instead of bombarding visitors to your site with a barrage of pop-ups and squeeze pages.

Authenticity matters. This shows empathy by not immediately doubling down on sales scripts triggered by SEO and redirected landing pages. By imagining the customer’s experience, putting yourselves in the shoes of someone coming to your site, you are harnessing an approach that better sets up having a conversation, as opposed to a hard sales pitch. It is in avoiding this kind of sales deafness that you can tap into something that really matters for millennials: mindfulness. Replace the salesman with a teacher, someone who wants to share powerful information that can change someone’s life; this fosters social proof, one of the most valuable things in business.

Highlight the transformative process, not the product. One of the most tangible ways to experience a paradigm shift in your sales is to see social outreach as a transformative process that turns cold leads into advocates. And the simplest way to accomplish this is to be present, to focus on being a part of the conversation as opposed to scheduling the conversation.

The tools of the trade may change, but one thing as always been true about marketing and sales development: consistency. Day in and day out, you need to have a plan, delegate accordingly, and prepare for market and industry shifts. The millennials represent a new shift, and it is time to adapt.

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Cut the Spam and Offer Value

CTA_mailinglistWe have all experienced the deluge of spam emails from companies we have subscribed to with the good-faith idea that we would be getting value, not fluff. On the other hand, many business professionals have been in the unenviable position of knowing that an email marketing campaign converts (and they really do), but not really know what to include in order to get subscribers engaged with the material. No one wants to receive spam, and no one sends out subscriber emails wanting them to end up in a spam filter.

Often, the difference between spam email marketing and good email marketing is minimal. However, if you can’t learn to recognize the difference, then your subscriber base will taper off and potential clients will start to tune you out.

Spam email precludes a relationship with your subscriber base. It demonstrates a lack of understanding for what they want to read, how often they want to read, and how they like to consume information. Whenever your instinct is to send something out in bulk or as unsolicited, then I can almost guarantee you either are meaning to spam or, at the very least, are being an unintentional spammer.

There are plenty of instances of digital communication that qualifies as unsolicited without necessarily being spam, like an email to a potential client or reaching out to a blogger or journalist for an interview even though you had not previously networked with them. Unless you are being very negligent in your prospect research, you will at least address it to the right person, use the correct name, and have a real reason for contacting them.

However, the moment you drop a slew of captured emails into a newsletter and blast a generic sales pitch or clickbait article, you’ve adopted the questionable practice of spam email marketing. Try to remember why people come to your blog (or website) in the first place. Why did they even bother signing up for a newsletter? I can be fairly certain it was not to read generic sales pitches sent to their email with alarming frequency.

So what can you do?

Offer value. A growing trend in content marketing (and digital marketing in general) is offering meaningful networking that nurtures relationships, as opposed to hammering the sales goal relentlessly in each and every communication. Generic content just makes sure search engines pick it up; you want to cultivate content that people read who use search engines to find it. More than half of folks will not even bother reading an impersonal and irrelevant-looking email sent to their inbox. If that doesn’t scream caution when sending out your newsletter, then perhaps spam marketing is for you.

Keep it honest. If they signed up, then, at least initially, they felt like you were someone they could trust. By staying true to your initial focus for creating a newsletter or email campaign in the first place, your subscribers will be more likely to open and engage with your content. Don’t overwhelm them with erroneous or unrelated information that does not speak to why they signed up in the first place.

Keep it simple. There are basic email practices for a reason. Don’t barrage the subject line with titles where all the letters are capitalized or relies on an over-usage of spam-like keywords that people believe work all the time. Learn your email client so that instead of a generic salutation, you can actually include the subscriber’s name. Relevancy rears its ugly head again; don’t bother sending them content that tries to trick them into a sale. The simple math is if you keep sending things people don’t want, there will not be any subscribers to send content to.

Content and email marketing is all about making a real connection with your readers. Why would you bother with spam if you can offer something meaningful?

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The customer is not always right

Customer_Relationship_Management
One great colloquialism has ruled business as long as there has been commerce: the customer is always right. While being exhaustively customer-facing can be lucrative, there is a real possibility for burnout and creating distance from your core values. The long-term success of a business depends on emotional and financial currency, though not always in equal measure.

So why has this catchphrase stood the test of time? Fear.

Fear of lost opportunities, fear of lost sales, and fear of failure have driven a business culture afraid to do something novel: question the wishes of the customer. I can imagine a collective gasp at such a notion, but let me take a step back and explain what I mean. I will start with a simple question: why does your customer purchase from you?

Are they looking for sales or administrative support? How about a trusted thought partner? Are they looking to generate more productivity, or perhaps replicate the practices of top performers in their industry? Are you providing an invaluable service? Regardless of the specific reason, I would venture to say they have to come to you because you differentiated yourself in your space and have become an expert, even if only by degrees.

It is in this expertise that your social currency has grown to create traffic, allowed you to source leads, and helped you close new business. Your customers have come to you because you have provided a solution to a problem, often a solution or a problem they didn’t realize they needed or had (respectively) until your reach overlapped with their search. So if they are looking for the best possible service, why would you settle for only reaching the very low benchmark of what they want?

I want to stress that I am not advocating for ignoring customer needs; instead, I am saying go beyond the bare minimum and find out what they really want. Ask questions, actively listen, and empathize with their position in order to create a smoother process to offer the greatest possible customer experience (or product).

It leads you away from taking ownership. Always assuming the customer is right sets up a situation where ownership of the core values of your process, service, or product has becomes about a customer’s emotional state during the sale. For you to continue to provide a high level of service, you need to understand what took you there in the first place: ownership of your process, product, or service. If a customer thinks the best way to do something is in direct contrast to your best practices (that have continuously yielded results), then own that and sell them on the value of your approach; after all, they need help and you are there to provide it (not the other way around).

Always assume innocence. Try not to see something nefarious where there is nothing; remember that hoof-beats mean horses, not zebras. If a customer wants to do things a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they are doing so to be purposefully belligerent. They might not understand why you have a process in place. Being empathetic to their position and assuming ignorance in lieu of belligerence will keep you from feeling marginalized or resentful of a customer request. You can learn a lot from listening to an angry or dissatisfied customer with an open mind.

Look for teaching opportunities. Realizing that the customer might not always be right opens up opportunities to teach your process or the value of your product. The reason why people dislike salespeople who pressure them is because they feel like they are being sold to; there is no real connection to speak of. Seeing the sales process as educating a lead or potential client on the value of what you provide not only makes them feel like the sale is a discussion, but helps you to better understand what you are doing. Really understanding yourself and your process pays dividends: it makes you both a better person and a better businessperson.

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Show me your network, I’ll show you your future

Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network event - NYCWhen we are younger, we are the sum total of the people we interact with; we are labelled according to the group we inhabit. As we get older, this doesn’t really change. For entrepreneurs and business-savvy people, your network accurately represents your ceiling, your floor, and your future. I realize that can be a paralyzing idea; I chose to see it as a liberating idea. If we can come to understand the people who influence us, then we can change the strength, value, and direction of that influence and get a better bead on who we want to be 5, 10, 25 years.

So what exactly do I mean?

Specify who and why, its health, and how they interact with your goals. When you look around at your peer group, your network, who is in it? Do you feel like you have healthy interactions and relationships? Are any of them toxic? Do they cramp your productivity, your ability to reach your goals? The first step is to decide who is in your professional network and who is in your personal network. I’m not advocating doing a comparative list for friends you still talk to from college (at least not here); what I am talking about here is the professional contacts you interact with frequently, who enter into your personal narrative. With that in mind, make a list of who they are, why they are in your network, and what their goals are. If you can’t answer those questions, then that in and of itself might be an answer.

Go through your networks and analyze. Alright, you’ve made your lists. So what? Well, now comes the critical reflection. I’m hoping you have some ideas of your goals. They can be soft ideas, but they should be clear. How do the people in your network stack up? Are they flagging on their goals? How can you help them? Can helping them help grow your network? Could some of these folks become warm leads if you only followed up and resuscitated the network?

What does all this amount to? Well, a lot of questions. Being able to answer these questions will allow you to see your network for what it is, a living outline for future. You can adapt and change your direction, but if you are always carrying weight without knowing why, then you set yourself up to be dragged down, often without notice or warning.

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