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The Made South Approach To Everything Is Marketing

Chris Thomas has been an entrepreneur waiting to happen his entire life. Like many of us who have entrepreneurial leanings, he’s had his share of good and bad ideas, but a year ago something started to stick.

He had been trying to figure out how to combine his love for handmade products from the South with his natural affinity for curating interesting things other people haven’t yet discovered. The end result is Made South, a quarterly subscription service that delivers interesting surprises from Southern makers.

Chris gets that everything is marketing now and his first Made South shipment revealed this understanding in a dozen ways like how he got his own branded tape for the box even though it would have been cheaper and faster to buy something ordinary.

He pushed this idea further by including a thank you note from his kids. Every subscriber got one of those.

He knows there’s a story beyond shipping a product and the story is told at multiple levels:

  • The Made South story that includes his own journey and the life of his family.
  • The big story about supporting American (and in this case Southern-American) made goods.
  • The individual stories of each maker included in that month’s shipment.

To tell these stories, each shipment includes Maker Notes. The Maker Notes provide an interesting bit of insight into the people behind the products but it’s all wrapped around Chris and the full experience of the Thomas Family and their journey with Made South.

Chris didn’t have to do all of that. The tape and the notes from his kids and the Maker Notes and even an inaugural pin were all extra. He could have just shipped the three items. Technically speaking that’s what people were signing up for, but Chris is trying to create an experience in a box rather than a quarterly shipment of stuff. That’s why this is going to work.

The Connection To Your Business
In a world where everything is marketing you have to evaluate every aspect of your business that touches the customer. If a policy impacts a customer you should review it. If your CEO communicates with the customer you should work with him or her to make it count and make it personal.

Or just start with a box. If the box your product ships in could be more interesting, why wouldn’t you make it that way? A box is just a box like everyone else until you treat it like something more. If you look at it as just a box you’re going to take the cheap and easy route. If, however, you see it as part of your marketing (and it is) that tells a little more about you and your company, you will find that the box and the label and even the packing materials inside say everything about you. When’s the last time you looked at one of your boxes?

The bottom line is that the obvious thing to do is deliver the product your customer is buying. The not-so-obvious thing is that everything that goes into the customer buying and receiving the product is just as important to your business as the sale.

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Case Study: The $1,000 Tweet

I’ve spoken about my work with UpDesk previously and one of the things I love about the brand is how they use Twitter. It’s their social network of choice because they have been able to connect with a wide range of taste-makers and influencers as well as people just asking questions about stand up desks.

The situation below is no different. Kamron, the community outreach director for UpDesk, saw this Twitter user, Margaret Leibovic, mention her boyfriend’s makeshift stand up desk:

Kamron responded as he does a hundred times a day with a personal, witty, comment that balances just enough business initiative with a human touch that doesn’t feel pushy:

And then nothing happened. Kamron went on with his day and so did Margaret and Gavin. It’s just that Margaret and Gavin starting checking out UpDesk and a few weeks later they bought one:

And that’s why Twitter works so well for UpDesk. It allows Kamron to make loose connections with over 500 people every week. Many of those connections don’t amount to anything, but some do. Some turn into media contacts, some turn into partnerships and some of them turn into sales that require the buyer to spend over $1,000 like in this case:

The key to UpDesk’s Twitter strategy is pretty simple. They identify people to connect with, do so very quickly and do it with a personal acknowledgement of the person and their tweet. The tweet may or may not directly say anything about UpDesk, but when the UpDesk Twitter account responds to someone, that’s just enough connection to get on someone’s radar.

Kamron understands the culture of Twitter. He knows what’s likely to come across funny and what’s likely to seem a bit creepy. UpDesk has empowered him to represent the brand with a great deal of freedom and flexibility so he can respond quickly and sometimes those timely responses are worth $1,000.

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Interview: My Leadership Story

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with John Kramp and David Atchison, the two guys behind an organization called The Riverstone Group and a great leadership podcast called Your Leadership Story.

I’ve been a part of The Riverstone Group for a year now and have benefitted greatly from it. It’s so good, in fact, that I recommended it to several friends and they have all loved the experience and insights John and David provide each month. For me, it’s been an important factor in getting clarity about my work and has forced me to think about what I’m doing in ways I would not have thought otherwise.

When John and David started the podcast earlier this year I knew they had a style and approach that would connect with leaders. They’ve done a great job interviewing a wide range of people from doctors and lawyers to artists and music industry executives. Each leader brings a distinct perspective that gives me something to consider.

I’m thankful to John and David for asking me to join them on the most recent episode. I was honored to be considered for their lineup.

If you want to check out their podcast you can listen online or download the podcast on iTunes. I’d suggest you go back and listen to all of their podcasts. It will be worth the time. Promise.

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The Myth Of The Aha Moment

I blame Oprah. Apparently she’s responsible for “aha moment” becoming a common phrase and getting added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2012. Of course people have been using this phrase for a long time. Oprah, it seems, just made it more popular. Does Oprah know there’s an unintended lie behind this hopeful little phrase?

Myth #1: Aha Moments Have No Roots
Ask most people what an aha moment is and they’ll tell you something about a sudden insight or a flash of inspiration or an instant understanding of something they hadn’t previously been able to figure out. It is talked about like a random, disconnected revelation of the universe just for you…and therein is a subtle lie.

It’s a lie because these moments are born out of everything we’ve done up to that point like your education, experiences, conversations, observations, etc. Aha moments have long tentacles that reach into days, months or even years worth of information gathering and sorting. To think that an aha moment is isolated is like appreciating a flower but denying the presence of the stem holding it up and the roots underground sustaining its life. 

The aha moment isn’t disconnected and alone. It’s just the fruit becoming evident for the first time. Yes, it may seem like a single, isolated insight, but it’s been quietly simmering in your mind for quite a while. It needed a fermentation period.

Myth #2: Aha Moments Are Accidents
The other myth of aha moments is the notion that they happen accidentally. Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually create aha moments and not wait for the lightning to strike? You can.

As I consider any aha moment I can recall, I’ve realized these moments happen more often when I’ve taken in more information and given it time to marinate. Steven Kotler underscores this idea in his book The Rise of Superman. He talks about taking in information so you can be more creative later on.

Here’s an example: one of the things I get hired to do is come up with marketing strategies, ideas and campaigns for my clients. I generally start with an information gathering and research phase and then I set aside a half day to think about ways they can spread the word, grow the brand, reach their audience, etc. I usually block out four hours for this and what I find is that the ideas in the first hour are not as good as the ideas in the second hour. By the fourth hour the ideas are even better. That’s when aha moments really start to happen, but it took the information gathering time and the early idea work to really get those breakthroughs.

Making Aha Moments
So if I can take in information, let it simmer, and then come back to think about it further, I can actually create more aha moments? Yep. It’s like winning the idea lottery every time you’re willing to do the advance work.

The big myth of the aha moment is that it seems impossible to replicate. If you think it’s a disconnected, accidental, momentary gift you may treasure it, but you’re also left waiting for lightning to strike again. We should, instead, start looking at aha moments as a skill to develop.

We all love those light bulb moments when clarity shines brightly, but the light has a switch and a power source. Lights are connected and require activation. If you want to turn on more aha moments in your work, it starts with believing a switch exists and that you can reach it.

Photo credit: “BulbBreaker” by Sergio Alvarez is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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