Crossing the Chasm and a Few Other Favorite Books
By Michelle Pujadas, Founder & co-CEO
Have you ever had a book impact your business life in a meaningful and long-lasting way? For me, that book is Crossing the Chasm. I first read it in the mid-1990’s and it stuck. Like good glue. When we started Zer0 to 5ive in 1999, the positioning model in Crossing the Chasm became the heart of Step 2 of our Zer0 to 5ive Roadmap – positioning and messaging – the core of all sales and marketing. I reread the book a number of times, and it became required reading for all Zer0 to 5ivers.
I’m not the only one who loves Crossing the Chasm. Over the past 20 years, I can attribute at least 10 client wins to a shared love and dedication to the tenets of Crossing the Chasm: “People change their behavior due to pain! Mainstream buyers want a complete solution!” It seems so obvious now, but back then it was a light bulb moment that has been shared by millions over the years.
A few years ago, we had a number of interns for the summer and my first assignment to them was to read Crossing the Chasm and do a presentation on it. They made their way through it, some understanding the concepts better than others, but all recognizing that technology marketing is different. Two years later, I heard from two of the interns that they had to read Crossing the Chasm for their class and felt fully prepared. How great it was to hear that! And better yet, it’s rewarding to hear that this book that has been part of my life for more than 20 years is alive and well!
We have a whole list of favorite books, but others that I have read and actively used include: Selling the Invisible, Play Harder, Blue Ocean Strategy, and Contagious: Why Things Catch On.
Send me some of your favorites at firstname.lastname@example.org!
In this book review, Zer0 to 5ive’s Alyson Kuritz features Bernadette Jiwa’s “Marketing A Love Story: How to Matter to Your Customers“.
It’s a simple concept, but oftentimes an overlooked one: in order to be effective in marketing, you have to see the world through the eyes of your customers. What do they really want? Why will someone really care about this? Bernadette Jiwa points out in her book, “Marketing A Love Story,” that the best marketing is accomplished by communicating how our ideas translate into value and solve real problems. She explains that if we find ways to authentically show people that we care about them, we have a better chance of mattering to them.
In the age of technology and instant gratification, where there are a dozen options for streaming TV, getting a ride or selecting a phone, delivering a positive customer experience is one of the most valuable investments a company can make.
The introduction of the book recounts her time as a bean counter for a grocery store. Often times while stocking shelves, she’d be approached by a customer needing help locating or reaching a product, but instead of helping them herself, she’d pass them along to another clerk as she had been instructed to do. She reflected on how odd it was that the store spent so much time trying to get people in and out, but not to offer the best, most memorable experience, to keep them coming back.
As the title implies, the book is divided up into a number of blog posts, or “love stories” as she refers to them, in three distinct categories: strategy, context and story. The brief pieces utilize real-life examples and analogies, making it easy to for the reader to consume and to read on to the next short story. In this blog post, I have highlighted one entry from each section that resonated the most with me and my career as a communications professional.
Life After Launch Day: Introducing the One-Page Marketing Plan
Jiwa compares launch day to giving birth. As a marketer who has helped launch many companies and products (and at the time of writing this post was very pregnant), I felt like she was writing this post for me. What do the two have in common? It’s quite simple, actually. You read the books, you take the classes, you have a 10 point plan for every scenario that could happen during 20 hours of labor, but what about the next 20 years?
Oftentimes organizations get so caught up in activities leading up to the launch that it’s easy to overlook the long-term strategy. She says “day one is easy to imagine – but what’s the plan for day two?” To succeed beyond the first 24 hours, she outlines the key elements that should go into every one-page marketing plan:
- Price and positioning
- Promotion strategy
- Conversion strategy
- Growth strategy
- Referral strategy
- Strategy for increasing transaction value
- Retention strategy
The Value of Asking ‘What If?’
“Because we’ve always done it that way” is a risky trap to fall into, and one that doesn’t often come with much reward. Jiwa reminds us of that with an example of Marriott testing a pilot program, which offered dining credit or loyalty points in exchange for each day without housekeeping.
Why would they do that? It turns out that each daily room cleaning costs Marriott at least $22. They began to explore ways that their residents could get more value out of that cost. What if they value privacy or “being green” more than a made bed? It turns out that they were onto something, and customers appreciated the option.
Jiwa explained that stepping out of your comfort zone feels risky because you might find out that all the hard work you’ve put in place might not be the best solution. However, not asking the question guarantees you’re going nowhere.
How to Tell the Story of Your Idea Using the Value Proposition Hack
One of the biggest challenges isn’t coming up with a great idea; it’s how to communicate the value of that idea to its customers. This is hard to do if you don’t have a place to start, so she developed the ‘value proposition hack’ for people to explain the value of an idea in a single sentence.
We do ________ so that you can do/feel/be _________.
We created ________ so you don’t have to do/feel/be______.
This ‘love story’ stood out to me because it was closely aligned with what we’re taught on day one of working at Zer0 to 5ive: Geoffrey Moore’s positioning model, featured in his book, Crossing the Chasm. Moore takes the value proposition hack a few steps further, and in addition to showing the value your company offers, also highlights what differentiates you from the competition in the market.
Whether you are someone with ten or more years experience in marketing and PR like me, or you’re an entrepreneur or a student, I highly recommend reading this book. It might serve as a refresher for concepts you’re already familiar with, or could open your eyes to a different way to position your company. Either way, it was entertaining, included tangible, real-world examples, and was digestible in a single train ride – always a plus!
By Alyson Kuritz, Director
A public relations crisis can happen to any company of any size at any time. Sometimes, they happen quickly, like a product failure or a personal scandal involving a top executive. Others build up slowly, like a growing customer service issue. Lately you can’t go online or turn on the TV without reading about a company’s or person’s public relations crisis unfolding.
A PR crisis can rattle even the most seasoned PR professionals. When a company is not prepared for an unexpected situation, it can spiral out of control quickly, with PR professionals scrambling to do damage control. While companies cannot always prevent a crisis from happening, it pays to be prepared and ready for action when the crisis hits.
Damage Control: The Essential Lessons of Crisis Management
Preparation can help turn a negative situation into a positive outcome. However, sometimes in a crisis, a “positive” outcome is not possible – but you can turn a negative outcome into something when the impact is minimized. And to do that, you need the skills to understand how to manage a crisis.
That reality is one of the key lessons conveyed by the book, “Damage Control: The Essential Lessons of Crisis Management,” by authors Eric Dezenhall and John Weber, which turns some of the conventional crisis wisdom on its head.
The book provides a detailed overview on modern crisis management and presents real-life case studies and best practices for making “bad situations less bad” through preparation, messaging and crisis management strategies.
Keep Calm and Call the Crisis Team
The book touches on examples of crisis management strategies including media relations, dissuasion, offensive techniques, and knowing when to “execute a strategic retreat.”
And, while often much of the focus of crisis management is on PR, the book points out that while PR is an integral part of managing any crisis, crisis management goes beyond messaging and communication – and can include legal action, restitution, and more.
Successfully handling a crisis is about planning, quick thinking and strong leadership. And, the authors say that while no plan can anticipate all possible crisis scenarios, executives need to at least have an educated guess about what awaits them in the years ahead.
Prepare for These 10 Company Crisis Trends
In the book, the authors share 10 key trends shaping tomorrow’s crisis environment:
- Corporate mission creep: Companies of all sizes are committing to social, civic and environmental responsibilities and goals, outside of the day-to-day business. Crisis managers will need to learn to multitask across the sometimes-contradictory goals of the greater good vs. shareholder value.
- The demise of science: While “sound science” was rarely questioned in the past, the proliferation of “fake news” and pseudo-science have made consumers more discerning when it comes to believing studies and research in support of a product.
- Outspent and outgunned: In the past, large companies were able to buy their way out of a crisis. Now, many NGOs fighting against the large corporations are well funded and PR savvy, and able to launch large-scale campaigns to the turn public and media sentiment against the large corporations.
- Is junior covering your crisis?: As money and advertising continue to take precedence over public interest journalism in many newsrooms, reporting quality will suffer. Too few reporters, with little experience or training, doing little research and poor reporting will create an environment ripe for mischief, misrepresentation and malfeasance.
- Wall street war zone: Businesses are becoming more aware of the need to act more responsibly, and embracing environmental and social policies, so as to not alienate those invested in their companies.
- Everyone’s a pundit: While the mainstream media is still the main source of news for many people, news of any type is now crowd sourced from around the globe 24/7, increasing both the likelihood of an issue becoming a crisis, and the speed at which it does.
- Make ‘em laugh: Today, a large chunk of the American public gets their news from comedians. This trend will continue, providing a barometer of just how deep a corporate crisis has worked its way into the public consciousness.
- Your brand is a target: For large companies, a well-known brand can be both an asset and a liability, as anti-corporate campaigners will continue to promote their issues by associating it with a well-known brand. In the future, companies will need to couple promotional campaigns with brand-defense campaigns to mitigate these efforts.
- Protecting intellectual property: In today’s “open source” culture, businesses will be increasingly pressured to share their knowledge at a reduced return. Communications teams will need to know where to draw the distinction between altruism and protecting intellectual property.
- The porous corporation: Attacks from within a corporation can be equally as devastating as external attacks. Digital and social media has made it easier than ever for employees to share sensitive company documents with others.
No matter how big or well-regarded your business, chances are your company will face a PR crisis at some point.
At Zer0 to 5ive, we know the importance of crisis planning, and recommend to all PR clients that they put into place a crisis communications plan with a media response protocol and template messages. While we can’t be prepared for everything – we can at least have a plan of action should a crisis occur.
By Jennifer Moritz, Managing Principal
In today’s digital-focused world its hard to find someone who isn’t on social media – whether it be your grandfather using Facebook to check in on the grandkids or your teenage niece posting every chance she gets. As of 2017, 81% of the population had at least one social media profile, so leveraging these channels is a must for every business’ marketing plan.
Social media is a fast communications channel that may be overwhelming to marketers trying to grab attention. Gary Vaynerchuck, author of the book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How To Tell Your Story In a Noisy Social World, argues that even if marketers are posting a constant stream of fresh content, they need to think that the social media equation requires both quantity and quality. Brands need to look relevant, engaged and authentic in order to attract their target audience and stand out from the crowd. Vaynerchuck cautions about boring content, noting that only outstanding content can break through the noise.
Vaynerchuck identifies 6 rules the make great content and compelling stories for social media:
1) It’s Native – Native content amps up your story’s power and seamlessly blends in any social media platform. Native content can range from sharing a quote, a picture, an idea, a song, a spoof, or something else – there’s not exact formula, but just have to be something that is relatable to your brand without looking like a straight up advertisement to sell. Native content is crafted to mimic everything that makes a platform attractive and valuable to a consumer, and also offers the same value as other content that people consume on the platform. This content has to engage the consumer at an emotional level. Native content has been compared to infomercials, but isn’t as cheesy when done correctly. Native content should hit the consumer’s emotional center and make them take that next step and share with other users, thus extending your reach.
2) It Doesn’t Interrupt – Ads and marketing are supposed to evoke emotion and make consumers act on that feeling. For content marketing in social media, it should positively effect, or augment, your consumer’s experience. People have no patience anymore, and social media content has to ensure it is providing value, as well as engagement. They might not buy anything today, but will far be likely to buy from a brand that understands them.
3) It Doesn’t Make Demands – Often – Companies need to be engaging and find shared interests with their audience so that their social media content doesn’t always come with a “sell” message. A makeup company can offer makeup and grooming tips so that its audience sees them as an industry resource and establishes trust. Then, when a sales message is pushed out it feels more like a recommendation from a friend than a sales call. Bottom line: Provide content that is not only relevant to your brand, but also interesting to your audience so that you keep their attention.
4) It Leverages Pop Culture – Take a minute and think about the brands that are constantly noted for excelling at social media. What do they have in common? Leveraging popular and timely events/news/music in a creative and fun way that still manages to tie back to their brand. Personify your brands by leveraging pop culture and showing your audience that you’re just like them. For example, Bud Light used a native post on Facebook with a bottle of Bud Light that says, “Summer is coming.” This was a clear nod to the popular HBO show, Game of Thrones, highlighting the fact that Bud Light understood that many of their consumers were anticipating the show.
5) It’s Micro – Social media content should be really considered “micro-content” – tiny unique nuggets of information, humor, commentary or inspiration that you reimagine everyday, as you respond to today’s conversations in real time. Vaynerchuck uses the example of a blackout during the 2013 Super Bowl, where Oreo responded with a simple tweet “Power Out? No Problem” with a photo of a lone cookie in the dark that said, “you can still dunk in the dark.” This was a reminder that Oreo is a fun brand and a cookie for all occasions. Oreo wasn’t overtly selling, but responded in a timely manner with original micro content, which made the brand seem almost human. Social media is 24/7 and should be talking all the time.
6) It’s Consistent and Self Aware – Though your micro-content will vary every day, it must consistently answer the question, “Who are we?” Your core story must remain constant, as well as your personality and brand identity. When you know your message, it’s simple to keep it consistent in every setting. Creating micro-content is simply a way to adapt to the circumstances of your audience and is one of your brand’s best chances of being noticed.
These characteristics of great content should be used when building a social media strategy and will help ensure that you get noticed.
By Patrick Reilly
For many of us, presenting in front of large groups can be a daunting task. Just think back to your school days – you dreaded getting up in front of the class to present your book report or science project. All you could think about at that time was “I can’t wait until I’m an adult and I don’t have to give presentations again!”
However, little did we know that for many of us presentation skills could make or break you in business.
Just ask Peter Coughter, the president of Coughter & Company, which consults with leading advertising agencies around the world. Coughter is also the author of the well-known book, The Art of The Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills That Win Business, which offers advertising and marketing professionals the tools and tips to develop and give great presentations that deliver business and grow as a professional.
In his book, Coughter asserts that simply having the best work or the best ideas is not enough to win business. You must show the audience, or potential client, that you want their business and are willing to do what it takes to win it. In order to do that, Coughter offers a few tips on the art of pitching and developing a great presentation:
- Know Your Audience: It is easy to talk to people you know, right? So, get to know your audience before the pitch. In the time before you presentation, spend as much time as you can understanding your audience both as a whole and as individuals. What kind of people are they? What are their demographics and cultures? Where are they on the issue or topic you’ll be discussing? What are their expectations? You should even go as far as finding out about their personal lives. What are their hobbies? Where did they go to school? Are the sports fans?
- Have a Conversation: The mortal sin of presenting is talking at your audience and boring them. You must make your presentation conversational and get the audience involved. When you do this, your audience will feel less like they are being lectured and be more likely to remember what you said.
- Make It Personal: Great presenters are not afraid to introduce a level of intimacy as most people make decisions emotionally. If you share a personal story, the audience is able to relate to you on a higher level and it helps you build credibility and make lasting connections.
- Work as a Team: Teamwork really does make the dream work. When a team doesn’t like one another or get along, a client or potential client will sense it immediately. Even if the team’s presentation is perfect and they offer great ideas, the only thing the audience will take away from it is, “If the team can’t get along, how will they successfully work on our business?” And, you won’t win the business.
- Rehearse: It is paramount that you rehearse your entire presentation out loud and that you know your material – not just your part, but also everyone’s. If you do so, the presentation will feel natural and even give the appearance of spontaneity to the audience. In addition, the chances of surprises arising on the day of the presentation will decrease significantly.
- Be Yourself: The most important thing to remember is to be yourself, be human and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, Coughter asserts that the most amazing presenters acknowledge their mistakes and attract the audience by being so honest, vulnerable and authentic. If you’re not, the audience will immediately recognize it and they won’t believe that your ideas or advice are genuine. Ultimately, you’ll end up losing the business because of it.
From winning business and bringing in revenue, to creating great relationships, a great presentation can open many doors for you as a professional or firm in public relations, marketing and advertising. A bad one can also close many doors. So make sure your next presentation is perfect by remembering the art of a pitch.
By Maggie Markert, Senior Strategist
“Because you can’t eat brand equity, and can’t pay a team with it” – Laura Hanly, Digital Marketing Expert and Author, “Content That Converts: How to Create a Profitable and Predictable B2B Content Marketing Strategy”
When done correctly, content marketing can serve as a powerful arm to your overall marketing strategy – it establishes you as an authority and has the potential to increase your revenue and profit. That’s why CMOs at the largest technology companies report that building out content marketing as an organizational competency is the second most important initiative, only behind measuring ROI.
For those still wrapping their head around the concept, according to Forrester:
“Content marketing is a strategy where brands create interest, relevance, and relationships with customers by producing, curating, and sharing content that addresses specific customer needs and delivers visible value.”
The challenge is figuring out how to do it right. As author Laura Hanly explains in her book, “Content That Converts: How to Create a Profitable and Predictable B2B Content Marketing Strategy,” content is not a magic bullet.
Content marketing will not:
- Turn you into an internet celebrity (at least not overnight)
- Make you rich beyond your wildest dreams
And when done poorly, can:
- Harm your brand
- Put off potential customers
- Never pay off (resulting in wasted time and resources)
Hanly stresses the importance of having a consistent strategy for the content that you’re producing, so that your audience is engaged, comes to know and respect you as an authority, and will buy from you when the time is right (because the ultimate goal is sales, isn’t it?) Every single piece of content needs to end with a call to action that can lead to a sale.
Some questions to ask yourself and your team before committing to a content marketing strategy include:
- What is the purpose of our content marketing?
- Who are we trying to reach?
- What types of content should we produce?
- Do we have someone who can produce the content?
- Do we have good ideas about what our content would be focused on?
- Is our market segment interested in consuming that kind of content?
- How will we measure our success?
There are two main types of content you can use: recurring content, which builds a customer base gradually over time, and content assets (such as a whitepaper, a book, a webinar series or a learning workshop) that can be used as near-term client acquisition tools. Before choosing the route that’s best for your business, there are four things to ask yourself (what Hanly calls the Conversion Quadrant):
What’s the intersection between what your customers want and/or need?
Figure out what your customers really care about. What do they look to your company for insight about? How can your expertise intersect with what your customer wants and needs?
What do you want to be known as an industry authority for?
The simplest way to become an authority on something is to say the same things about that topic over and over again. Don’t just chase the latest trend – find the one thing you can focus on becoming known for that will make it easier to develop, market and sell products that your audience will buy again and again.
What is the format in which you produce your best content?
While most people think that its best to tailor your content to audience preferences, Hanly recommends choosing the format that you most enjoy working in – because if you like it, you’ll enjoy creating it, and your audience will like it too.
What’s your quarterly plan?
Mapping out your content helps you to be strategic about your production. This should include:
- A clear statement of your “one thing” your company will be an authority on
- Four themes you want to rotate through
- Three topics per theme, including key points on each
- Headlines for each topic
- Scheduled date of publication for each topic
Whichever path you decide to take with your content, if you don’t have the resources or bandwidth to do it right – if it feels like a chore every time you go to write – STOP. This will only result in an inconsistent content cycle with content that feels forced, uninspiring and unlikely to resonate with your audience.
The powerful thing about content marketing is that your assets increase in value over time. Whether it’s a blog, a book, a podcast or a whitepaper – you can always update later to improve it, modify key messages and share it with new audiences to see greater returns on early investments of your time and resources.
Remember – every piece of content you put out under your brand needs to be the best possible representation of who you are. Most prospects will have their first interaction with your brand through your content and just like in dating, you get one chance to make a good first impression.
By: Colleen Martin
In Jason Miller’s 2014 magnum opus, Welcome to the Funnel, he riffs on several high-level concepts related to marketing, including the Big Rock, the blogging food groups and the 6 golden rules of social media. While each one of these concepts can stretch well beyond the world of marketing, one in particular carries over to public relations better than the rest: the Leftover Turkey analogy.
Imagine your typical Thanksgiving. You cook up a giant turkey and serve one glorious meal to your entire family. Afterwards, you proceed to slice and dice the remaining meat for weeks, repurposing the bird for tasty soups, sandwiches and casseroles. The same can be done with content.
Miller describes Leftover Turkey as a method that you can use to feed the marketing machine by looking for opportunities to repurpose content that you already have created. Some examples in regards to content marketing include turning:
- Research reports into infographics
- Webinars into blog posts
- White papers into SlideShare presentations
- Interviews into podcasts
- Evergreen content into updated and improved content
The basic premise of Leftover Turkey is to look for opportunities to repurpose information that you already have, which can also be part of a larger PR strategy. You just need to find pre-existing content, or even fresh content, that can be diced up into something new and exciting. When used just right, those PR turkey slices can spread existing ideas that align with your core message to a wider audience.
Some examples of how the Leftover Turkey analogy can be applied to PR include:
- Turning blog posts into bylines
When we’re writing a blog post on how a certain technology works or why we’re a great alternative service to a specific pain point, we can repurpose these posts and put a different spin on them for a byline. We wouldn’t make them carbon copies of the original post, but we wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel if the information is already available. We would just need to make them easily digestible and apply changes where necessary. The whole idea here is that if we have a topic that we find to be media friendly and relevant to readers, we can push it out to a larger audience simply by modifying it into a different format.
- Turning case studies into pitches
Chances are you have many success stories with customers who have raved about the benefits of your products or services. Why keep those case studies confined to your website? Many times, PR professionals can write up a pitch that outlines those success stories specifically for media outlets. The press generally wants an outside voice regarding your products or services anyway, so this is an easy win-win that often gets readers interested.
- Turning almost anything your company does into a blog post
Press releases, company announcements, executive speeches, media hits, events attended, thoughts on a topic and awards won can all be repurposed into a blog post. In Welcome to the Funnel, Miller explains that your blog is a symbol of your company’s wealth. It’s a form of social currency and a harbinger of future revenue. So you should be consistently adding information to your blog that you already have on tap. As a bonus, this will also improve your SEO and influence search rankings.
The bottom line is that Leftover Turkey enables you to produce more PR content faster, and therefore increase the likelihood of a media hit. More importantly, those irresistible turkey slices help you extend your story to a larger audience by obtaining more potential hits on a variety of platforms and outlets.
Crocs. Cake Pops. Uggs. Snuggies. What do all these have in common? Well, you probably hated them before you loved them. Uggs were ugly, Cake pops were foreign, and Crocs were for geezers.
Turns out, these products had some genius behind them. That genius is called ZAG.
So, what is ZAG? Marty Neumeier describes it in his book, Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands, as the embodiment of what it means to be different.
Today, we all have a need for speed. Amazon ships overnight, Seamless delivers everywhere, messages send in seconds, and what used to take years to discover is now accessible with the click of a button. What comes with this fast-paced lifestyle is a heck of a lot of marketplace clutter.
Every day, the app store is flooded with new products, services, and indications that there really is no limit to progress. Peruse the supermarket isles and you’ll find twenty brands of toothpaste, thirty kinds of chips, fifty different cereals. Where do we even start?
As we struggle to block out all the clutter, we gravitate towards what’s really useful, or what seems the most interesting. In Neumeier’s words, we crave what is different, what stands out. In his book, he outlines seventeen checkpoints to breach before you can fully own your ZAG. Here are some of his main points that you want to keep in mind when creating a product and bringing it to market.
Hit ‘em where they ain’t
Imagine yourself standing at home plate, bat in hand. When the pitcher throws the ball, you swing hard and aim for the gap in right field, not directly at the shortstop.
As we speak, there are people out there looking for help, and they may not even know it yet. Locate a job that needs doing, and do it. Don’t try to squeeze your way into an already jam-packed market. The open spaces are there. You just need to find them, and the crowd will love you for it when you do.
Be the only [BLANK] that [BLANKS]
Today, when you wake up craving a waffle, all it takes is a trip to the freezer to satisfy that hankering. Sixty years ago, that wasn’t the case. When Eggo invented the first toaster waffle in 1953, they were able to say, “We just made the only waffle you can toast.”
As Neumeier puts it, if you can’t say you’re the “only,” go back and start over. Without your “only” statement, you can’t have ZAG.
A poor name is a drag
Though it won’t make or break you, a strong name accelerates your product’s popularity. Find a name that’s meaningful but catchy, interactive but understandable. Think Apple, Google, Nike, Oreo. Fun to say but filled with meaning, these names have become staples in household conversation.
What wave are you riding?
Today, trends come and go like waves. If you see the water swell, get in front of it and ride that wave home. When online shopping surged, eBay came around. Because today’s youth is addicted to smartphones, Pokemon Go was able to take over. Harness that momentum and bring your product to all the tanning, happy beach bums.
Let the revolution begin!
There’s always a bad guy. It’s just a matter of finding him and using him to your product’s advantage. Crocs are not cute sandals, cake pops need no fork, trendy boots freeze your toes and average, sleeveless blankets fall to the floor. These first four examples had clear enemies they used to propel their product forward. Find your enemy and prove that you are not them.
Who loves you?
Every product needs a community, but it’s not enough to simply identify your target market. Make an emotional connection with your customers and establish a loyalty that lasts. Chances are, if you remember their coffee order, or know they hate pickles, they’ll trust you with their daily indulgences.
Exercise self-discipline, and know when to say “no.” By trying to take on new competitors and expand your brand, you may put yourself on a playing field you’re not prepared to dominate. That, and you risk confusing your customers. Stick with your ZAG, and be careful before stretching yourself too thin.
Have you ever been told you that you weren’t creative?
Maybe it was an art teacher you had in 6th grade who shook her head in pity when she reviewed your work, or a classmate who made fun, or possibly even an old boss who told you, “stick to your day job.” Whatever it was, being told we aren’t creative can scar us for life. It instills the kind of fear that makes us hesitant to do anything outside the box or raise our hand when we have an idea (even a great one!).
A lot of us have stories like that, which is why companies and individuals often assume that creativity and innovation are the domain of those “creative types.” But in their book Creative Confidence, authors David Kelley, IDEO founder and Stanford d.School creator, and his brother Tom Kelley, IDEO partner and author of The Art of Innovation, show that each and every one of us is creative.
Myth: Being creative is a fixed trait you are born with, like having brown or blue eyes. It is a rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few.
Fact: We are all creative. Creative Confidence is like a muscle—it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience. Creativity comes into play whenever you have the opportunity to generate new ideas, solutions or approaches, and it is one of our most precious resources.
In the world of public relations, we must be creative every day. How do we create news for a client when they have no news? How do we transform something mundane into something interesting? How can we get our clients into the conversations they want to be in and into the headlines of the publications their buyers read?
Here at Zer0 to 5ive, we may not all be painters, musicians, or culinary mavens (although some of us are pretty darned good in the kitchen), but experienced public relations professionals know that what we do is not an exact science—PR is an art form. What works in one situation may not work in another, and what worked last year (frustratingly) may not work this year. It takes practice, trial and error, which is why people outside our field often struggle to understand what we do. Many chalk it up to magic, spin, or just being naturally persuasive. Although a little salesmanship may come into play, being creative in PR is a skill that we all have developed through hard work, many rejections and lots and lots of practice.
The next time you need to “find” your creative confidence, look to these tips offered by Tom and David Kelley in their book:
- Choose creativity: The first step is to decide you want to be creative.
- Think like a traveler: Like a visitor to a foreign land, try turning fresh eyes on your surroundings, no matter how mundane or familiar. Expose yourself to new ideas, experiences and approaches.
- Engage relaxed attention: Flashes of insight often come when your mind is relaxed and not focused on completing a specific task, allowing the mind to make new connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.
- Empathize with your end user: You come up with more innovative ideas when you better understand the needs and context of the people you are creating solutions for.
- Do observations in the field: If you observe others the same way an anthropologist would, you might discover new opportunities hidden in plain sight.
- Ask questions, starting with why: A series of “why” questions can brush past surface details and get to the heart of the matter. For example, if you ask someone why they are still using a fading technology (think flip phones), the answers might have more to do with psychology than practicality.
- Reframe challenges: Sometimes, the first step toward a great solution is to reframe the question. Starting from a different point of view can help you get to the essence of the problem.
- Build a creative support network: Creativity can flow more easily and be more fun when you have others to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of.
A little creative confidence can go a long way. You just need to remember that everyone has the innate potential to be creative. If you keep flexing the muscles of your imagination, you can be as creative as Picasso, no matter what your 6th grade teacher said!
What does it mean to be creative? Do you always need to think outside the box, or can you be creative within a set of rules you need to abide by? Are you born creative, or is it a learned skill?
In PR, you have to be creative much of the time, which can be scary to some. Ed Catmull explains in his book, Creativity, Inc., that it’s okay to be scared if you learn to overcome it. Being creative and innovative, as he describes it, is an earned right. You need to fail early, fail fast, and fail fearlessly. Every early failure is a door that closes on future wasted time, allowing you to focus on the opportunities that have real potential.
Catmull, who was one of the co-founders of Pixar Animation Studios, clearly knows how to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of successful innovation. These “dark forces,” as he calls them, flourish in fear—fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of change, fear of others. Fear kills innovation. Being able to stand up to fear is what makes a company and an individual more creative and more innovative.
With Catmull’s concept of “fearless innovation” in mind, here are five different ways to apply his guiding principles to public relations:
- Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: You can’t be truly innovative if you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Being creative requires you to try new things, even if you fail. Failure will make your future ideas and approaches better. When you’re writing a pitch, think outside the box. This will lead to more creative pitches, which in turn can lead to better outcomes.
- Great Minds: Surround yourself with a great team, a team that might have different viewpoints than your own. If you can respect these differences in opinions, your collective creativity will be stronger for it. In PR, you shouldn’t go at it alone, because you’ll be at risk of becoming dry. Being on a team that challenges you to be better, or come up with the best pitch for a certain topic or press release, will help you grow as a person and as a PR professional.
- Be Honest: You should encourage others around you to be honest about your work. If you’re not completely candid about your team’s work, then your final product won’t be the best it can be. In PR, you and your team should provide constructive criticism, so that the ultimate pitch or great byline topic can go out the door
- Team Leads: If you lead a team, you should listen to others while keeping control. You should also fail with your team, grow as a group, and succeed as one powerful unit. This is especially true in public relations for account leads. Retaining control while allowing your team to grow as PR professionals is essential to your team’s success. When not pitching “mission critical” news, let your team experiment and see where it takes you.
- Opportunity: PR can be random – a winning pitch that doesn’t deliver, or a weird, but interesting pitch that captures the imagination in a top-tier editor. You should embrace this unreliability, as some of the best innovations happen because of a curveball. If you receive a negative comment from a customer on an article, don’t see it as a PR nightmare. View it as an opportunity! Your reply has the opportunity to engage, shed light on the topic, get people to think in news ways, or just let readers know that you are listening to their feedback.
There is no set definition on how to be creative, and every profession presents different opportunities to show your creativity. In PR, it might mean a great pitch or an awesome byline. In teaching, it might mean finding creative ways to engage your students. However, one thing is true for all forms of creativity: Don’t be afraid to fail, try out new ideas or ask for feedback – success is just around the corner!
By Jim Dougherty