Three things that help me during the work week

I've written about a lot of productivity-esque topics on this blog. I've tried out several different to-do list apps, note taking approaches and have made several changes to my routine. Though I am still always trying to look at ways to make my day-to-day more effective (working smarter versus working harder), I've nailed down three different things that (currently) help my focus during the work week. 

Getting enough quality sleep

It wasn't until I started wearing a Fitbit to bed that I realized that I wasn't getting great sleep. Sure, I may have been lying down for 7-8 hours, but I was still waking up really tired. My Fitbit data confirmed what my wife had been telling me since day one of our marriage: I tossed and turned A LOT. Something had to change.

Realistically, I couldn't go to bed even earlier than I already had been. So, I tweaked my routine. I started implementing a "screen free" time at least thirty minutes before I went to bed. Instead of reading the news on my phone (or scanning Instagram/Twitter), I would go upstairs and read a book. In addition to that, I would brew a cup of sleepy time tea. I had friends that own an awesome up-and-coming tea company, K-Teas, that recommended a perfect chamomile tea just for that winding down purpose.

After doing a few nights of reading (a printed book) and drinking tea, I noticed great gains in my sleep quality. My Fitbit data showed better quality deep sleep and I felt better and more alert during the day. It's amazing how quality sleep helps you get more done than any productivity app in the app store. Plus, carving out the extra time to read new books is always good for the brain.

Taking paper notes

I have always had this conflict between taking meeting notes digitally with Evernote or just taking a paper notebook. I love the simplicity and hand-to-brain memorization taking notes with paper provided. However, I liked the simple, cloud-based search-ability of digital notes in Evernote. This conflict was temporarily resolved when my wife got me an Evernote Moleskin notebook for Christmas a couple of years back. However, paying $30 every time I ran out of pages lost its appeal. 

A few weeks ago, I discovered Evernote's Scannable app. Now, I have the best of both worlds. I take a paper notebook to all meetings and avoid taking my laptop if at all possible. I have less distractions (turns out paper doesn't have as many push notifications) and I benefit from that hand-to-brain memory gain that comes from handwriting. After I handwrite my notes, I snap a photo with Scannable and index all of my handwritten content digitally with Evernote. It's amazing. 

Eating the big frogs first

Every week at DeMoss we do brief lunch and learns (called "Trade") to catch up on new trends, client case studies or other things we are learning. A few weeks ago, a teammate gave us some learnings about productivity. 

No, I didn't learn about a new app to get stuff done. 

I did learn about a mindset. I had heard this quote from Mark Twain but our teammate presented it in a way that finally clicked in my brain. 

 

I made a bad habit of doing the quick, less exerting tasks in the morning. However, while I had that adrenaline rush of being able to cross things off my list quickly, I would either go down another rabbit trail doing something or find other ways to put off the big important tasks that I may have been less-than-thrilled about. "Eating the biggest frog first" has helped me get a lot more done in the day - and stay focused for longer periods of time. 

Plus, it helps that our whole office got small plastic frogs to keep on our desk as a reminder. 

Mindsets trump tools

I love technology and if there's a more efficient way to get stuff done and organize my life, I'm going to try it out. However, productivity isn't reliant on a system. It's a mindset. Jeff Hilimire wrote a great short piece explaining how no app is a replacement for self-discipline. I agree with that. 

How about you? Any tips to tackling the day?

Is Microsoft succeeding at trying to be cool?

I have read headlines and seen videos in the last week that I never would have expected. First off, on the heels of their Microsoft 10 press event, I find this video from Microsoft where they take a stab at reinventing the whiteboard. It had enough of a cool factor that it ended up on PSFK, my go-to source for trendy things before they're trendy in tech.

Then, as I dig more into Microsoft that day, I learned about HoloLens. If I had paid enough attention to the Internet that day, I would've have learned about it earlier from the press coverage.

But then again, I didn't have anything in my recent memory that gave me reason to believe paying attention to Microsoft announcements was worth my time (or the real estate space on my second computer monitor).

But HoloLens was announced. It's cool - not totally practical yet - but really cool. The Verge did a good write up here describing seven potential use cases for HoloLens in the future.

Then the kicker came today. On Twitter, I read this headline (also from The Verge):

The best Gmail app for the iPhone is now made by Microsoft

I also saw a similar headline from Business Insider that affirmed this bold statement.

After reading both articles, I downloaded the new Outlook app from Microsoft. While I have only used it for ten minutes at the time of writing this article, I have to admit - it's a great email client for iPhone. These claims are bold but not far fetched.

So...Is Microsoft Cool?

I won't say yes or no at this point. But it seems like they're trying to head that direction. And it's a good strategy.

In the past, they've tried to literally buy their way into marketshare. The NFL analysts every Sunday have Surface Pro tablets. There are a ton of ads. Microsoft sponsors updates and features on several other programs. Their logo is everywhere. But advertising and product placement can't buy loyalty. Only a cool factor can.

It looks like they are now trying to actually provide products that have their own market advantage. Like they're not trying to buy their way into people's hearts. Or mimic Apple (as much).

I'll probably spend more time actually paying attention to what Microsoft has to say in the near future. These past couple of weeks could be all hype that doesn't turn into anything substantial.

Or it could.

What do you think? Is Microsoft starting to creep into "cool" territory?

One Play Doesn't Win a Game

I've been watching a lot of football lately, along with millions of other people. The next morning when we watch recaps on SportsCenter, we only see the big plays. The plays that all of us talk about and see replays of for years to come.

Seriously, if I said "Super Bowl helmet catch," most of you know which game I'm talking about and where you were when you saw it.

It's more fun to talk about the big plays. Those memorable moments that changed the game. But those moments don't win games on their own. Teams win games after a culmination of small steps and winning little victories that set them up for the ultimate success. The blocks that help get those many small 3-5 yard gains. The snaps that are caught. The time off the field working hard to be successful on the field.

Marketing has its own equivalent, especially in social media. It's the viral hits that make news. Those videos that get millions of views. The tweets that end up on the news the next morning. And it's great for brands that hit those milestones. Sometimes those viral hits can positively change the course for the brand that is reaping that momentary award.

Shouldn't we always go after those big hits?

Not always.

I'm not saying to not aim big. We should consistently . However, we shouldn't neglect the small steps that it takes to build a brand. That attention to the details. Getting the little things right establishing systems for multiple little wins. It's the small steps that become part of a brands routine that help lay the foundation for big successes.

We shouldn't sacrifice getting the little things right so we can chase one-in-a-million situations.

Just look at Arby's Pharrell tweet last year. It's easy to see how that one tweet became one of the biggest hits in real-time marketing in 2014. However, we never talk about the processes setup over a long period of time that set Arby's up to capitalize on that success. When listening to Arby's Director of Social Josh Martin talk about social at Arby's, he'll tell you about the consistent listening that they worked at over a long period of time before they had that big win. They also had small engagement wins over the last couple of years with other campaigns and responses to trending topics. Having those processes and habits in place help them make the most of their big Grammy's moment.

This doesn't just apply to marketing. It applies to all areas of success. When success stories are told, we only hear the parts involving the tip of the iceberg. We rarely hear all of the non-flashy details and moments that took place over an even longer period of time that contributed to the big play and the big win.

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outstanding-tl-2amsy5t

So that's what I'm focusing on in 2015. I have big goals, but I'm going to be putting more focus on doing the little things right. Hopefully, when the big plays come, I'll be ready to make the most of it.

What about you?

In Defense of the Algorithm

Keeping up with algorithm changes. It's a full time job.

When I first got out of college, Google's search algorithm was the only thing I had to concern myself with. That wasn't so bad. If you were good at dropping keywords into website copy and blog posts, you were set.

Then Facebook came along. Shortly behind that, Facebook's Edge Rank algorithm came to surface...and pretty much ruined the day of many marketers. You didn't (and still don't) always know what content played well with Facebook's algorithm and what would actually show up in the news feed.

Then, while we're fighting the Facebook algorithm with our left hand, our right is tied up keeping up with Google's changing search algorithms. As it turns out, loading websites with keywords wasn't so much of a secret and people were gaming the system rather effectively. So marketers had to adjust to that too.

Now, Twitter is testing a "while you were away" feature that will have an algorithm built in to show people the tweets they missed while they weren't staring at a screen.

Great - another algorithm. 

And all in the name of user experience. Apparently, all of these services are concerned with showing users "high quality content." Like, stuff people actually care about looking at.

The nerve...

Now, to even be seen, we have to pay-to-play. These publicly traded companies are trying to profit off of advertiser content. It's an old bait-and-switch. It appears as if riding the gravy train of free advertising on the world's most trafficked websites is coming to a screeching halt.

And I'm okay with that. For two reasons.

As a user, I get my life back

Excluding Google, you would have to stay glued to a screen to be clued in on what was going on. A story could come from anywhere (well...it still can). Keeping up with a trend can be a full time job. An algorithm that sorts everything out for me and only delivers me the most shared or highest quality info at the time keeps me away from a lot of manual digging. I get the information I need quickly and effectively.

This really hit home for me with Twitter. I was trying to keep up with this year's #CES2015 and opened up a saved stream of that hashtag on my Tweetdeck dashboard. The stream was moving so fast and there was so much noise I didn't want to hear that I eventually moved onto Twitter.com's search page. There, they delivered the top stories, the most shared photos and tweets from the most authoritative people and news outlets on-site. It made finding the information I wanted a lot easier to find.

Now that Twitter is coming out with a new "while you were away" feature, this is even better. Now I can put down the phone, close the laptop and do work.

Or read a book.

Or talk to someone and stay engaged in the conversation for its entirety. And I won't worry about missing a thing.

Sure, I may not be the first person to learn the latest news...but that's not always a bad thing. Most of the time, the first bit of news isn't the most accurate. Facebook's algorithm accomplishes the same thing.

I don't have to keep up with a rapidly moving news feed. I can see what my friends are sharing and commenting on at my own leisure...and stay in the loop with half the effort.

As a marketer, I'm forced to prioritize my time

Working in any communications field (advertising, marketing, public relations etc.) provides its own set of challenges and pressure to stay up-to-date. There's always a new platform coming out and more places to engage with audiences than any one person has time in a single day to use. Chasing the next shiny object is exhausting.

Now we have to pay to even be seen on the shiny objects. And I'm okay with that.

I work with nonprofits and low budgets most of the time, so it's not like I'm rolling in ad budgets or lack a realistic perspective on the plight of the average business. I get it. Resources are tight. Being asked to cough up more money for marketing is the last thing most people want to hear.

That said, it's easy to forget that time is money. If you are not willing to pour hard costs into Facebook promoted posts, Twitter promoted tweets or a simple AdWord campaign, you probably shouldn't be willing spend any time costs in those spaces either.

If we can agree that time is money, social media has never been free.  

Limited resources has forced me (along with many other people) to prioritize where my clients spend time online. Where are they going to get the most bang for their buck? We can't piss into the wind and call it marketing strategy or innovation anymore. Algorithms have forced us to actually be strategic with the content brands share online. It's not sustainable to produce mediocre content.

What do you think?

At the end of the day, it's all about the user experience. It's the priority all of these platforms have to keep people using their services. As marketers, we should be equally concerned with user experience.

How have the addition of algorithms and the new pay-to-play approach affected how you prioritize your time?

How have you been affected?

What are you going to do about it?

Yeah, I'm A Dude. And I Watch The Bachelor.

Snacks. Drinks. A room full of people huddled around heckling the flat screen TV in the middle of the living room. It got loud on several occasions. We weren't watching a sporting event.

It was The Bachelor premiere.

And no, I wasn't the only guy. Of the 18 people watching the show in our friend's apartment, seven were guys. All husbands, like me, scoring brownie points with our wives.

For many of us guys in the room, this wasn't our first rodeo. In fact, I believe one of us probably won the evening's game of "Bachelor Bingo."

Yeah. I'm a dude. I watch the Bachelor. And I'm okay with that.

Do I like The Bachelor? Like is a strong word. But I do watch it.

The Bachelor premier viewing party for farmer Chris's season.
The Bachelor premier viewing party for farmer Chris's season.

Do I enjoy watching it?

No, not really. At least not at first. On my own terms, if I was just at home sitting by myself, I would probably just be watching reruns of Archer or The West Wing on Netflix.

But I got married. I went from being a bachelor to watching one on TV.

At first, I really did sit through it out of obligation. It was painful at first. I played many games of Angry Birds as I patiently waited for the episode to be over with. Then I started to overhear bits and pieces of the show. I got into it. I can't remember which season it happened but I eventually started keeping up with the "plot."

Now, I can keep up with most any female (that watches the Bachelor) on what's going on in the current season.

It's like a train wreck. You don't really want to keep watching. But you can't not watch it after a certain breaking point. It sucks you in and you can't stop. On the plus side, it will (hopefully) make you feel a lot better about your own life choices.

Fortunately, I've had other husbands in the same boat as me. We support each other in a way. We own it. A few other guys are joining us this season for the first time. They have no idea what they're getting into.

What about this season?

Chris (the bachelor) is a farmer from Iowa and seems like a good guy. He at least appeared to be last season. I think ABC is trying to compensate for the overall d-baggery that was Juan Pablo (nobody liked Juan Pablo...not even the host). It also seems like a ploy to increase the show's reach with a middle America audience using a farmer from the midwest.

The host Chris Harrison still comes across as a creepy/charmer type to me. I sometimes get the impression that he's the kind of guy who would slip something into someone's drink by the end of the night...but it's that level of host that makes the show work. Seriously, if you're looking for a show with a strong moral compass, watching one where one person simultaneously dates 20+ different people and proposes to one of them after a few weeks isn't the one for you.

Also, I'm convinced the first set of roses have to be picked by the producers.

First off, there's no way any bachelor could remember all of those names for the first rose ceremony.

Throw that on top of some of the crazy contestants that somehow get picked week after week and keep the show entertaining. For example, some of those limo entrances and first impressions we saw tonight included:

  • Awkwardly long hugs followed by more conversations specifically about hugs
  • Brining a heart in a small cooler
  • Wearing a pig snout
  • Singing in a pink karaoke machine

Most intentional first impressions like these would throw up a red flag to a normal person in most social situations.

But this is no normal social situation. This is a wine-fueled group date. This is The Bachelor.

A huge weight has been lifted

I've always wanted to open up more and be more transparent on this blog. I feel like I've finally done it. A huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I can say it out loud.

I watch The Bachelor.

I know there are other guys out there just like me. Don't worry. We're all in this together.

Until next week...

Back to Blogging in 2015

I haven't blogged in a couple of months at this point. Normally this is the part where most bloggers say that they missed blogging, where they regretted not getting around to posting something new more often. This isn't one of those times for me. This has been the longest stretch that I've gone without blogging but I can't say that I missed it.

Why the break?

It wasn't intentional or planned at all, it just kind of happened. Life happened. Work happened. I got to a point where I was juggling many things and had to build margin somewhere. This blog happened to fall victim to that margin. I had a choice many nights to either spend time reading a new book or writing a new post. I ended up taking a small season of trying to fill up and learn more instead of creating more. I highly recommend anyone doing that from time to time.

What's been going on recently?

October through December were event-filled months but great ones. We picked up a few new interesting clients at DeMoss. The digital end of our work started to grow even more as a result.

We went on a few fall getaway weekends and saw views like this:

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I got to travel to Lambeau Field for the first time and watch the Packers absolutely crush the Bears in a Sunday night game.

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My wife and I hosted Thanksgiving at our home for the first time ever.

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We had to buy a new car. We spent a week traveling in Kentucky for Christmas with the new selfie stick given to me by my aunt for Christmas. I had never taken a selfie in my life until I received that stick. Now, I love using it to take group shots (does that still make them selfies?)

WKU track team reunion (aka my groomsmen and their wives)

Christmas party with my cousins

I even had the opportunity to speak on Pinterest at an event hosted by The Cove. It was one of the smaller events I've attended but probably one of my favorites. Imagine your typical social media conference but take out the buzzwords, the blue oxford shirts and trade show stands. Then host that event in a big lodge in the Appalachian Mountains. In the winter. With a huge fireplace and with less than 100 people there. It was their first year hosting it and have my fingers crossed they invite me back. I loved it.

Pictures from The Cove's blogger retreat with fellow speakers Jon Acuff, Jen Schmidt and Jess Connolly

What can you expect on this blog in 2015?

I've spent a month doing a lot of reading and have learned a lot in that time. You'll probably see more posts on new trends in PR and marketing. I'll write about books I've read recently, new daily routines I've been trying out, and challenges I've faced in work or life.

At the end of the day, this blog will be a place for me to exercise writing skills. Working at a PR firm, I'm having to write increasingly more often. Having a place to practice writing and work out a few of the kinks should help me in what I do in my day job.

The discipline of blogging, not every day but with a consistent pace, should have positive carryover in other parts of my work too.

But enough about me. What other projects, goals or habits are you working on building in 2015?

 

If virality is dumb luck, what's the point of trying?

By the time you read this post, all of the #AlexFromTarget shenanigans should be behind us. Hopefully. In one of its most glorious moments of "why the heck not?" the republic of the Internet made this teenage bag boy at Target an instant celebrity. This was one of the quickest rises to meme-based stardom that I've seen in a while, helping this random kid garner over 400,000 Twitter followers overnight.

Literally.

While most of the world worked on crafting their attempts at a clever #AlexFromTarget meme, the rest of us social/digital marketers trying to make our brands achieve levels of internet success on purpose were left scratching our heads.

I've been working on a content strategy for a new client the last couple of days, thinking through audience, channel purpose and success metrics very meticulously. When I saw Alex achieve viral fame for no apparent reason, my initial reaction probably looked something like this.

Sheldon-Cooper-Effect_o_96551

Is success on the Internet really just dumb, stupid luck?

Yes and no.

It depends on how you're measuring success.

Sure, no matter what some pundits tell you, there is a stroke of luck involved in seeing massive web success. I would be the first to tell you that Board of Man was a lucky break at the end of the day. We didn't have a well thought out strategy when we started. There were no goals or benchmarks that we were aiming to achieve. We just happened to strike Pinterest with the right idea at the right time. An idea that happened to resonate with thousands of people.

However, with that luck, we were able to learn. The team I worked with didn't just sit back and high five ourselves (though we did high five other people). We looked at what other factors  (other than luck) contributed to our Pinterest success. And we learned a lot. We applied what we learned from luck to other business-related client projects.

Even if virality is often based on luck, there are many extremely successful campaigns that most people haven't heard of. Just because a brand's video or online campaign wasn't heard around the world, that doesn't mean that brand isn't effective online.

Spend your time and energy doing what works for you and your brand(s) online, not what worked for others. Don't let a random internet lightning strike guide your strategy. Learn as much as you can from those random viral moments - but don't count on them.

Even if virality is often dumb luck, it doesn't mean we need to give up. While one stroke of luck may win the day, consistent quality strategic thinking will win out over the long haul.

What do you think? Is virality luck? Or skill?

Want to Succeed in PR? Sharpen Your Math Skills

IMG_2184 For a long time, public relations was a business of words. It still is to some extent. But sometimes words aren't enough.

I think I initially chose advertising as a major because of the lack of math classes. My only math requirements were a statistics class and a college algebra class. I rarely had to worry about Excel spreadsheets or make sense of large sets of numbers. In my naive college mind, I felt like I could make it on creative thinking and good presentation skills alone.

Man, was I wrong.

My last two years at a PR firm like DeMoss have sharpened my writing skills. Whether it's a long report, a thought leadership white paper (one coming soon) or a proposal for new business, I've written more long form content in the last two years than I ever have. At the same time, I've also had to do considerably more math.

We were fortunate at Engauge to have a full-blown analytics team. People whose full-time job was to make sense of large amounts of data and work with us to translate that story in a client report. At a smaller shop like DeMoss, we don't have a large group dedicated to measurement, so measuring digital campaigns usually falls on my list of responsibilities.

Every day I'm in Excel doing something. I may be exporting Facebook insights to measure the effectiveness of a client's content strategy. I could be in Twitter using data to justify why a client should/should not have a specific username in use. I could even be in Brandwatch, listening to content trends online and quantifying conversations to help craft client brand messages.

For a long time, public relations was a soft science. Now it's a real science where nearly everything can be measured. It's never been a better time to be able to justify the results of your work using hard data. There's also never been more opportunities for work accountability with the improvements made in data collection and measuring online activity.

In times when I've had to debate whether a strategy or tactic was the right one, I've found that math is the strongest trump card. It's hard to argue opinions when faced with tangible results.

The PR professional that survives in the future will be the one that's not afraid to get in the weeds and crunch numbers. They will find what's measurable...and maybe even allow math to prove their own opinions wrong in the process.

What about you? Have you seen your time crunching numbers increase over the last few years?

Did you get into the business of words to avoid the business of numbers?

Thoughtful Thoughts on Ello

Ello

Ello I realize that this is very much a "me too" post.

Last week I received an invite to join Ello (thanks Lee) and jumped into this new network that everyone was talking about. I really do appreciate the non-commercial heart behind this project, I really do. That may seem counterintuitive to hear coming from a person who markets brands online. Making a sacred space to only share non-commercial things or have a website that is completely ad free (well, this one is too...where's my Fast Company article?!) is a space that is apparently attractive to a lot of people.  But this isn't the first time we've tried our hand at a brand-free social network.

Remember Path?

A few years ago, Path was the new golden child of social media. It was private and limited to <150 of your online friends. The app was life-streamy at first, only allowing you to share photos, thoughts, or what you were listening to at the time (until eventually they put in some features like Nike+ integration and stickers). It was an app void of spammy links Path also had two huge things in its corner that Ello does not:

Beautiful design and a mobile presence.

Path was mobile exclusive. It was well-designed. It had everyone talking. Now I hardly know anyone still using it.

Ello Could Be Different

This recent research from RJ Metrics proves that Ello could be more than flash in the pan. It's stickiness is outperforming recently buzzed app Jelly and is on par with Twitter's new user engagement.

 

Despite these metrics, I'm still lukewarm on Ello.

What It Is: A Way of Sticking It to the Man

Ello's mission statement is to be ad-free. While they can't totally police that, I could definitely see a self-policing effort from users like you see with Reddit and spammy links. Design and UX isn't what makes them different. It's their public commitment to be the anti-marketing social network. With all of the data collection and tracking being done with technology like Facebook's Atlas, the market for an ad-free space isn't niche. There's definitely a demand.

Ello won't survive on vapors and investors for long. They'll have to find a way to monetize. Could they be a social network that requires a membership fee? Maybe. But they won't be able to compromise on their ad-free mission to keep their audience. This focus is THE thing that differentiates them from other ways to spend time online.

Staying true to their mission will make or break them in the long haul.

What It Is Not: A Shining Example of Great UX

Sure, the design is incredibly simple. Not having ads will help in that capacity. However, I didn't find the experience to be uber intuitive.

Signing up wasn't completely straightforward once I received an invite code. I know myself and another lead social marketer had a hard time getting into it. It's not very clear on how to do what once you are in there. It's almost too minimal.

Comment threads are interesting too. You really have to open up the individual thread to read comments. I appreciate the effort to de-clutter the page ( I get it) but it's not super intuitive to use. I guess other sites have us too trained on what we should "expect" to see on a social network. But that may be what makes Ello different (and maybe lead to their success).

What Matters At the End of the Day: Not My Opinion

Until there's a strong mobile component, I don't see myself getting too personally invested in Ello. I may give it a solid try for a week and really invest some time to get to know it. After all, I use to have the same lukewarm feelings about Pinterest (and we saw what happened there). So maybe I'll come around. I'm just not sure it has the stickiness.

I feel like Ello will be very popular for a niche market but may not have the mass utility appeal that Facebook or Twitter do. The "invite-only" angle is what drives much of its appeal at the moment. People want an invite to feel like they're "in" (I'll admit to being one of those people).

But Ello doesn't need my blessing to succeed. They really could be onto something.

What Does Matter: Your Opinion

Who else is on Ello? Any initial thoughts so far?

Social Data Should Tell A Story

big-data1 Big data - or just data in general - is a topic that marketers love to talk about. Working with data is also something easier said than done. Especially when you have a lot of it.

We do a lot of social media listening at DeMoss for several clients. When you are in the business of reputation management like we are, having a pulse of what is being said online (and where) about all of our clients is clutch. Not only has this information helped us with crisis management situations, but has also helped our clients better refine their own social media strategies and prioritize channels where they already have highly-engaged audiences. Being better informed about social media behaviors of people online has helped us be more strategic in providing digital counsel.

Despite the fact that the tool we use (Brandwatch) helps us organize massive amounts of data into easy-to-read dashboards, the information overload can still be overwhelming. We have the ability see any public post ever created about a client - which for some brands is quite a bit of data. When I'm creating a report for a client, picking out which data points to include can be daunting. Out of all the information available, which information could lead to actionable next steps?

I try to tell a story

Think of it in a real life storytelling scenario. Last year a corporate jet crashed behind my house. When I told that story here, I include the details that drove the story home. I included the loud jet noise, feeling the explosion and the fire near our back deck. There were a lot of other things going on simultaneously during that time, details that were directly related to that story. I could have mentioned the temperature outside, the reaction of my next door neighbors, the news trucks and emergency vehicles blocking roads in our neighborhood, or even all of the smoke Megan had to drive through to get to our house after the fact. However, those details weren't important for the main story I was telling - the social media impact of that event happening near us.

I had a plethora of information but chose a few details to tell a more concise and relevant story.

Journalists do the same thing (for better or worse). They may be covering an event and have a lot going on around them. Even though they could report on every detail they see, the only details that appear in the news are the ones that actively contribute the story they are trying to tell.

Data can work the same way

Nobody should ever get into the business of data collection for the sake of data collection. Everyone wants to say "oh yeah, we work with big data" but it means nothing if there's no value coming out of it. Through social listening or even something like lead capturing, you can proactively try to learn things like:

  • What is actually being said on my brand?
  • Where are people talking the most about my brand? Is it where we proactively spend time?
  • How did people react to this news story?
  • How did our most recent campaign affect our overall brand lift?
  • Through opt-ins, which channels do people voluntarily want to hear from us (SMS, email, Twitter, mobile app push notifications etc.)?

Plan what you want to learn before you try and learn it.

Sure, you may find a few surprise bits of information that are interesting and worth investigating along the way. However, without a focus or purpose, telling that story will feel impossible.

Once you know what you are trying to learn, do everything you can to gather information on it. Afterwards, tell the story of what you learned and how you went about doing it.

When it comes to data, marketing and PR should have a "scientific method" approach:

  • Ask a question
  • Do some preliminary research to draw a hypothesis
  • Perform an experiment (do the data collection via campaign, online listening query, etc.)
  • Analyze your data (what happened and why)
  • Draw a conclusion - tell the story of what you learned

What do you think? Is there value for brands to collect data without a clear intent or purpose of how they'll use it?

How else could you incorporate storytelling into big data?

Are We Trying to Harvest Before We Finish Planting Seeds?

If you're a young professional, it's easy to get caught up in the young entrepreneurs making it big early. Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker, Tom from MySpace...all of these guys found more success in the first decade of their professional lives than most of us could ever dream of.

But that's why they make news. Because it's not normal.

Even beyond the tech prodigies of today, it's easy to play a comparison game with those folks in similar industries as us but seeing a lot of success. When your in your late 20s like me, falling into a comparison trap is easy. We live in a world of instant gratification and having to take years to grind out success appears almost countercultural.

One day as I was having one of those comparison moments, wandering if I had done enough to "make it" and ran across this tweet from @PaulAngone:

Your 20s aren't about what you harvest, but what you plant in the ground. #Millennials

— Paul Angone (@PaulAngone) September 15, 2014

It's easy to want to rush success but some of the most successful people out there didn't strike gold early. They worked hard, stayed disciplined and worked at their craft for a very long time before experiencing what others perceive as an "overnight success."

Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy is a great example of years of hard work bearing fruit. His restaurant chain is one of the most successful in the country. He became a billionaire several times over and was one of the most highly regarded businessmen in our lifetime. However, it wasn't until this last week that I realized the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich didn't come about until he was in his early 40s.

HIS FORTIES.

At a time when most of us dream of kicking back and retiring, his dream was just getting started. He had been in the restaurant business for a couple of decades before things really took off. Sure, he became one of the most successful businessmen out there at the time of his passing a few weeks ago, but he was also 93 years old.

93 years is a long time to work on building a lifetime of work. Makes me feel silly when I put pressure on my career at age 27.

Great things take time to come to fruition, not just careers. Financial experts will tell you that it's not a salary that builds wealth but great habits that continue building over a long period of time. In long distance running, you don't get fast overnight but after months (if not years) of long, grueling miles.  Many bloggers will tell you (myself included) that it took years of consistently publishing posts before they retained any sizable audience.

We'll be working for a long time

When contemplating my last job switch, moving from Engauge to DeMoss, I had a phone call with a career mentor of mine asking for his two cents. I was stressing out on what would be the right move. After hearing him out, he finished the call by saying:

No matter what decision you end up making, you're going to be working for a long time. You might as well be enjoying what you do.

It's easy to look at our careers, or even our entire lives, through a narrow scope instead of viewing everything from a bigger picture. We get wrapped up in wondering why everything doesn't happen now.

Achieving anything worthwhile takes time. We should focus on the process (planting) and enjoy it as much as we can. The harvest will come when it's ready.

What seeds are you planting?

My Recent Morning Routine + Tools

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QDSMoAMTYaZoXpcwBjsL__DSC0104-1 I've had a solid routine in the mornings a while, but there's always room to improve how I spend my time or the tools that I use to get things done throughout the day. In the past, I've been a heavy user of Any.Do and Google apps but have since migrated to new tools and new workflows. Here are a few new things I've been doing for the last couple of weeks to get more done but feel more relaxed doing it:

Using Timeful for Meetings and To-Do Lists

It's hard to find a task management app that also works well with your work calendar but Timeful is filling that void. I talked about it on here not long ago and have kept using it since. I love it. While Any.Do does a great job of telling me what I have to get done during the day, Timeful helps me schedule time in my day to do it. I input all of my to-dos for the day and set time increments for how long I want to work on each task. When I get to the office in the morning, I spend a few minutes dragging my to do items in between any scheduled meetings for the day. The to-dos sync up with my Exchange calendar and drop me reminders to start the next task on my desktop throughout the day.

As someone who bills time during the day, using Timeful to manage when I work on what projects helps lessen the pain of doing my time sheets throughout the day. It may appear that I'm micromanaging my day too much, but I've found that I take more productive breaks during the day and get a lot more done when I am at my desk.

Going All In on Mac Apps

Up until about a week ago, I used Outlook for work email and meetings, Chrome for web browsing, an iPhone for work and personal use, Gmail for personal emails and Google calendar for personal appointments. As an experiment, I recently decided to go all in on using Mac apps for everything. I've discarded Outlook and Gmail and stream all of my personal and work email through the native Mail app on my Mac. I am using the native Calendar app on my Macbook for all of my calendars and have even shifted all of my Chrome bookmarks over to Safari for web browsing. With iOS 8 coming out, a new desktop OS on my Mac and a pending upgrade on our work iPhones to iPhone 6, I wanted to see how much easier things could be keeping everything inside of Apple's ecosystem.

Once the new OS drops on my desktop and allows me to text anyone, not just iOS users, from my computer, I could see this making life a lot easier. I've only been Apple exclusive for about a week and haven't quite landed on how much I like it yet. My only real complaint is syncing Gmail with my Mail app. They don't play well together. In a few weeks once all of the mobile and desktop operating systems get their upgrades, I'll get a better picture on whether or not I made a good decision.

Intentionally Winding Down Before Bed

This basically means eliminating screens before bed - including the TV. I use a Fitbit to track my exercise, steps, water consumption and sleep activity every day. According to my Fitbit, I apparently toss and turn quite a bit during the night, a fact also confirmed by my wife. It explains why I wake up super tired despite going to bed early enough to get a good night of sleep. I've since changed my routine to cutting out all screens (TV, laptop, Kindle  at least half an hour before going to bed. I make a hot cup of chamomile tea, go up to my office space and read a book for a few minutes.

This hasn't completely eliminated my restlessness but has definitely improved my sleep. It's amazing the difference in how relaxed I feel just making this one small change. I can tell a huge difference at the office too.

Not Checking Email in the Morning

First thing when I woke up, I used to roll over, turn off my phone alarm and immediately flip through my email app and Facebook app. Now, I try my best to avoid checking email before I get to the office in the morning. There are exceptions to that rule (like client deadlines or crisis situations) but it helps me set the tone for my day. This routine affords me time to walk my dog, read or run in the morning with a clear head before tackling work at the office. Also, when I get to the office...

I Take Ten Minutes to Map Out My Day Before Starting Anything at Work

Not long ago, our COO sent us an HBR article talking about spending the first ten to fifteen minutes of your day planning out your day. Not spending your first few moments reading email, not jumping immediately into your first task - but instead taking a few minutes to plan out what you want to accomplish. I've tried this recently and really like this routine. This is time I spend getting coffee out of our office cafe and placing to-do items inside of my Timeful app in between meetings. I know what I want to get out of my day before I get lost in the weeds of work. Like the email situation above, there are exceptions to this rule from time to time. However, on a "normal" day, this process has done wonders for establishing focus for my day.

What about you all? What are some tools or routines that you've adopted recently to get more out of your days?

 

I've Learned About One Key Ingredient to Success: Priorities

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Priorities. Focus is talked about a lot in the work world. I have even talked about it. But without priorities, you don't know what to focus on.

We lost arguably one of the most successful restaurant owners in US history Monday when Truett Cathy passed away. Putting aside any politics or viewpoints people have that may coincide or clash with the company, we can all agree that he grew a successful business and helped a lot of people along the way. He was quoted as often saying:

“I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order. We live in a changing word, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed."

Truett Cathy's priorities helped guide all of his decision making. He wasn't in the chicken business purely to get rich. He got into the chicken business as a way to serve people. Cathy's main focus was to be able to help improve the lives of people in his community. Selling great chicken sandwiches was a way that helped him accomplish that mission.

Even without the billions he made over a lifetime, he would have still been considered a successful person because he always stayed true to his own personal mission. He kept his priorities in order throughout his entire life.

When we establish what our priorities in life are, we will know what to focus on and make better decisions. Does setting your mind to only a few things restrict your lifestyle. Not at all! I would argue that the opposite is true

Focus is liberating.

Our agency founder Mark DeMoss talks about "staying under the umbrella" in his book The Little Red Book of Wisdom. In there, he talks about staying true to your mission no matter the cost or intriguing distraction that comes your way. In the book he's quoted as saying:

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Even Mission Drift, a book I read not long ago, talks about how organizations that stay focused on their one mission are the ones that have the best longevity and success. Neglecting priorities are an easy way to run off course.

Easier said than done

Being completely honest with yourself and nailing down what your priorities are (or at least what you feel they should be) isn't the easiest thing in the world.  I'm still trying to nail what my own goals are in many ways. But I'm learning that setting basic priorities is the easiest way to stay on task.

Determining our priorities is how we establish our own personal metrics of success. Not what most of the world considers success, but what success in life means to us individually.  Success won't look the same to all of us - but knowing what it does look like is a significant first step in the right direction.

What are you focusing on?

The time we bought a story over a product

VJB-Cellars-courtyard If you spend any time in a marketing or public relations environment, you hear pundits and experts talk about becoming "brand storytellers." When I've heard it mentioned, brand storytelling is normally presented in a less-than-helpful way. It's an idea floating around in space to be tweeted with a conference hashtag rather than something you see in action.

That said, brand storytelling does exist. Though it loses its meaning with every marketing conference, it's something that could make a mediocre product outsell a great product. Or it can make even the most budget conscious people want to spend money with you. The latter rang true on Megan and I's recent trip out to Sonoma in August.

A Trip to VJB Cellars

While out in wine country, we did what anyone visiting that area would do - try out different wines. I will admit, our wine pallets before this trip were less than refined. When we did actually buy a bottle, it would normally be a bottle under $5. If we ever ventured over to Perrine's over on our side of town here in Atlanta to buy a $15 or $20 bottle, it meant we were staying in on a Saturday and cooking a feast. It was an event that happened maybe once a quarter. To say our trip out to northern California was educational would be putting it mildly.

Our last day in Sonoma

We had already spent one full day in Napa and another day in Sonoma driving around and doing a few wine tastings. We'd go out to the vineyards, try the grapes that made the small splash of wine in our glass and learn about the wine making process. While we loved most of them for different reasons, we were at the point where the wineries were starting to run together. And we had yet to make any purchase outside of the occasional tasting fee. Then we went to VJB.

We drove up to VJB Cellars in Sonoma and it sat next to probably 4-5 other tasting rooms within less than half of a mile. Once you walked in you felt like you were in Italy. The venue had a very Tuscany-esque feel to it. The smell of fresh cheeses, pesto and bread greeted you when you walked into the main building. Since it was a Monday, we had the place to ourselves. We walked up to the tasting counter and the tasting list was very different than what he had seen the past two days.

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When you go to most wineries, you are normally presented with a standard list. You'll probably have a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, some medium red blend and maybe a Cabernet Sauvignon to finish. This tasting list had that but other blends we had never heard of. When we asked the sommelier about this, he started telling us the story of the winery.

VJB was started by a family (the Belmontes) from Italy. They had owned a very popular and successful restaurant in California and started dabbling in making their own Italian wines. Eventually, the Belmontes sold their restaurant and embarked on their real dream of opening up a winery. The winery is a small batch operation and the family intends to keep it that way. Most of their wines are normally only sold 300 cases at a time. At the winery itself, Maria (the matriarch) still runs a full kitchen, handmaking delicious italian food for visitors to eat. She handmade all of their bread, cheese, pesto and other ingredients. And it was delicious. The panini I had there was one of the best panini's I've ever had in my life.

Megan and I also noticed that one of the wines had the name of a girl. We asked why and the sommelier told us how every year, the 9 year old daughter of the family would go out and pick three different types of grapes and hand them to the head winemaker. Only the winemaker and her knew which grapes were involved. The winemaker would then find the right proportions and make a special blend named after her. Even the sommelier wasn't sure about the grape ratios used.

A Purchase Decision

Every winery that you visit has its own wine club where they want you to buy and ship larger quantities home ever few months. VJB wasn't any different in this regard. The only difference is what Megan and I did with that information.

Spending time, talking to the sommelier for a while and learning about the family made us feel like we were playing a small part in that story. In addition, the wine that we tasted was very good. They offered blends we couldn't find anywhere else and only made very small quantities of a few of those blends. So, surprising even ourselves, we joined VJB's wine club and will get one case shipped to us twice a year. Just enough quality wine for a special occasion and to remember our trip. The Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck connoisseurs joined a Sonoma Valley wine club.

It's All About the Story

While we legitimately enjoyed VJB's wines, it was the story that sold us on making a purchase. We would've have more than likely walked out of there with nothing more than fond memories and a casual "we need to remember that winery for later" comment walking onto our next adventure. The family story that the sommelier told us made us want to feel like we were part of that story and be able to serve something at dinners that nobody else would be able to bring to the table. VJB became a brand experience that we wanted to share with others.

This experience isn't unique to VJB. Many brands can make their potential customers feel like their part of their story. While they may not be able to have one-on-one time in person with every customer (or nonprofit donor), things like social media and great storytelling can accomplish some of this at scale. A few already do this.

TOMs shoes makes customers feel like their part of something bigger when you buy shoes from them.

Wendy's used to make it feel like you were buying a burger from Dave Thomas himself.

Monday Night tells you the story on how their company started out of a Bible study hosted in one of the founder's garage.

The NFL asks its audience about their own stories on how they make football.

While having a superior product is important, telling that product's story could make the difference between a success and a flop. A great product can fail if nobody tells its story in a compelling way. Brand storytelling before a product launches is what can make PR successful. Great brand stories are shared organically - just like how I've shared VJB's story with you all.

What brands do you see telling great stories?

Fountain at VJB