Last Thursday, most of Buffalo was outside enjoying a beautiful night. Ad Club of Buffalo members, however, congregated inside Templeton Landing’s ballroom listening to an ADHD-infused speech covering everything from the early days of the internet (modems and chat rooms: the precursor to Twitter) to running Ironman races – and learned how a clever idea making fun of the movie Titanic led to the start of a public relations firm.
The main attraction was Peter Shankman, who for an hour and a half jumped across all of the topics and then some. His fast-paced personal accounts of how each had a hand in his marketing, public relations and social media efforts all revolved around the same premise: customer service is the most important thing any company can do to stay alive.
The premise was simple, and seemed like common sense. But Peter’s examples of how most companies fail to comprehend this basic tenet made for a great discussion on how small changes can make a huge difference in your company, or for your clients.
A New York City-based consultant to companies like NASA, Shankman is a Vice President at PR conglomerate Vocus. He rallied the conversation around four rules for success, dropping hilarious experiences and practical ideas within each of these pillars.
Own Your Own Shit
The first point Peter made is to own your stuff –the good and the bad – and brand whatever you build. Today, it is too easy for someone to copy an idea and run with it. The faster you attach your name or your company’s name to a concept or product, the harder it is to lose. Years ago, when the movie Titanic was launched as the ‘cinematic equivalent to unicorns walking the earth,’ Peter made a T-shirt stating, “It sunk. Get over it.” He went on to net $100,000 in sales from that shirt, and with the seed money and the buzz it generated, started a PR firm.
Today, you’d see 20 variations of that shirt within 15 minutes just from a Facebook photo shared. Thanks to camera phones, everyone thinks they’re a journalist now – you need to be quicker, and more unique, to stand out.
Peter pointed out that the other side to this is owning up to mistakes. It’s never been easier to do so, and the only thing America loves to do more than beat a person down is help a comeback story.
So, own your shit fast. And brand the shit out of everything.
The second point Peter made about today’s marketing world is to be relevant. Ask customers what they want, and then do it. It sounds simple, but how many companies you interact with actually react to your requests, as opposed to thinking they know what’s best and forcing you to conform? Blackberry®, anyone? Blockbuster®? These two models don’t work any more, because people prefer using touchscreens and the ability to digest movies and content easily – not returning a DVD to a store. They missed the paradigm shift. Don’t let it happen to you.
The direction of your company is controlled by your customers. This might be hard for senior leadership or experts to comprehend, but the more you ask your customers their opinion, and the opinion of those who work directly with those customers, and integrate that feedback into the day-to-day, the better chance you have to survive. Companies that are nimble, and not stubborn, will be the ones who succeed.
Peter’s third point is brevity – and to write ‘gooder’ (more on that in a minute). Studies show you have 2.7 seconds to attract a first-time user. Ironically, that’s the exact same amount of time it takes to read 140 characters (the Twitter character limit). That is the average attention span of today’s consumer, so unless you piqué their interest with your subject line, paid search ad or Tweet, good luck. Peter proclaimed, “Bad writing is destroying America – the art or writing is all but lost.” Everyone in your organization from the top down should strive to improve their writing. Getting across your unique selling proposition or differentiation is difficult in and of itself. Throwing in a hint of humor or compassion, said Peter – it’s a skill few people have nowadays. We can all work at writing ‘gooder.’ Maybe it will make you better.
The Next Revolution Will Occur In Your Pocket
Finally, the last point of the discussion is to stay ‘top-of-mind.’ Duh, right. That’s one of the social media buzzword bingo staples: top-of-mind, engagement, community, blah, blah, blah. We all say it, but how much do we do it? On average, most people and brands only talk to 1% of their social network. That doesn’t seem very engaging, does it? Talking to people only when you need something is a surefire way to make people, fans, or followers feel like crap. Because most brands make such a limited effort, treating your customers/followers ‘one level above crap’ is all you need to do to make people feel special. Those brands that do go above and beyond are well documented, but they are the anomaly.
Spend the effort to reach out to people when least expected, said Peter. They might be skeptical at first, but checking in to see how a person, or vendor, or follower is doing ‘just because’ can go a long way to building that social relationship. And, when doing so, shut your mouth and listen. The more time we spend listening, the more we find out about what customers expect, what new things vendors might have coming, or what a friend has been up to.
If you missed Thursday night’s talk, you missed some great examples of how these ideals can fit within your organization, as well as a ton of laughs. Peter is living proof that listening to people and making connections (his main claim to fame is founding HARO (add link), a simple tool connecting journalists and sources) can go a long way – especially now with all of the ways people can connect through that smartphone in your pocket.
The next revolution will be more transparent and built on simple premises, but doing all of the steps Peter talked about will help others tell your story. No one cares when you say something positive about yourself. But if you treat your customers right, they’ll do your promotion for you.
Thanks, Peter, for saying it ‘gooder’ than I could.