Maintaining an on-brand message during a crisis.

Due to unavoidable built-in wiring that comes installed free in all humans, we will each at some point during a time of crisis, be overcome by the part of our nervous system that in an effort to protect us, shuts down everything we don’t need in an emergency. Despite how much we might wish to use them, while in “fight or flight” mode, triggered by stress, panic, or surprise, our brains will be momentarily closed for decision making.

With a few slow, deep breaths, your brain will kick back into gear. And with it your ability to think wisely about how to proceed with creating the necessary messaging to communicate with your teams, partners, vendors, and most importantly, customers.

Four things to keep in mind while you navigate communication during a pandemic, that will serve you always:

 

Empathy: We are all experiencing a loss of some sort. Keep this in mind while you frame your intended message.

Information: There are so many rumors and so many rules, it is hard to keep the facts from the assumptions right now. Stick to what you know, keep it as brief as possible, share the most crucial information each type of audience needs from you, in the simplest form.

Optimism: We are bombarded by bad news on a normal day, let alone during a pandemic. Unfortunately, this causes more stress on the nervous system and consequently more stress on the immune system. Incorporating positivity and forward-looking optimism into your message is one way to support the health and wellness of your tribes, at no cost to you.

Consistency: When you know someone well and have a sense of comfort and fondness in your established relationship it is shocking when one day that person shows up with a totally different hairstyle or accent, or tone of voice. The same is true for your brand. In any message you are sharing, stay true to your aesthetic – the visual side of your brand, your color palette (or lack of one), and the language you use to communicate. The more you look and sound like yourself while sharing information, the more normalcy, comfort, and possibility for connection you bring.

For more information about how to create compelling and on-brand messages during a crisis or anytime, send us an email at hello@seedagency.com We’d love to help.

Notes for young creatives starting out.

You like me, you really, really like me.

I don’t think there is any better feeling in the world than feeling seen. The feeling when another person compliments you on something that you love doing. A little taste and I want more and my brain, as with jelly beans, will do almost anything to get more. Including sometimes, giving work away for free.

But when we enter the state of bliss brought on by positive affirmation, we must take note and take care.

When a client compliments us on a job well done, we say thank you. Of course, we want more adulation so it is tempting to work hard and overdeliver. Sometimes, when a client compliments, he or she might add in with that compliment a request for more. This is a normal part of being a client. They see that you have skill beyond what they had seen before. We cannot assume they are trying to be exploitive, we can only assume they are seeking the best work and solutions for their business. That is their job.

But if you find yourself so high from the compliment that you agree to do additional work without acknowledging the additional time and effort this work will involve, you have just compromised your business for the sake of someone else’s.

Flattery will get you everywhere, or nowhere.

When flattery is used as a manipulative tactic, it is the flatterer who appears to win. But long term, nobody wins as the added expectations for more work without additional compensation create resentment and sours the relationship.

After school tricks that you are too smart to fall for.

When I was a child I would use a naughty trick with my sister while we watched after-school specials in the family room. “I bet you can’t get to the kitchen and bring me some ice cream in three minutes.” “Yes, I can!” She would exclaim. “Really?” I’d say. “Prove it.” Off she’d dash. A few moments later I’d be sitting in front of the tv, a giant bowl of rocky road on my lap. This scenario only repeated a few times before she got wise.

If we are to run successful and sustainable businesses we must wake up and not just know but make clear the value we represent to our clients. We must thank them for their acknowledgment of our hard-earned skills and talents, and at the same time, charge appropriately for our expertise.

Gratitude and curiosity.

As a small business owner, this can be scary. We love it when people want more of our work, and asking for more money after you’ve just received a nice compliment and a small request seems petty. So what do you do? I find the simplest approach is to go to your heart and answer from there. Say thank you to your client, for the compliment. Then let them know you would love to fulfill this new need, how they would like you to handle the time needed to address it?

You are not chicken, you are a brave and talented soul.

Let me remind you that you did not get into this business because you’re a chicken. You are doing this because you are a brave, brilliant, talented person who can think and create in ways that other people cannot.

Ok. I’m not a chicken. But I feel like one right now so what do I do?

Start by noticing if you’re feeling annoyance or anger. A psychologist would say that behind your anger is fear. Put the fear to the side for the moment. Then recognize that your client is only seeing what looks like brilliance, with no effort on your part. To them, your skill is the equivalent of magic.

Magic = billable.

What they aren’t thinking about is that this skill is not a magic trick that we can do without thinking. This is a skill developed through thousands of hours of practice. And just because the result of thousands of hours of practice is that we make something look easy, doesn’t mean that it has no value. It means the reverse. The easier something looks, the more time and effort went into learning how to do it, and thus, the more valuable it is.

Muzzles sometimes required.

The one thing I have done and wish I hadn’t at times (long, long ago of course – like last week) was to become defensive. Don’t be defensive. Don’t let these kinds of requests trigger deeply buried personal feelings of not being valuable or acceptable or worthy. You are valuable and you are capable of communicating that calmly and confidently.

You can do this.

In summary, when a client seeks the very best from you they are doing what they must do to support their business. Your business depends upon you doing everything in your power to run sustainably and that means charging the appropriate fees for the value you bring as the result of your excellence in your craft. Just because you enjoy what you do, and you make it look easy, does not mean that it is to be given away free.

Quite the opposite.

Now go. Do something brilliant and bill appropriately. I promise, it will feel just as good if not better than getting that compliment.

 

 

Our approach to creating relatable brands for our clients.

Q:

Does our logo look tired? Can you tell us how we should update it? Is the orange still relevant? Is the typeface dated? Is the icon working?

A:

If we answered these questions before asking many more first, we would be referencing our ideas of what is valuable, relevant, and interesting. Those answers would be about us, not about youyour customer or the true value you represent and therefore, they would be wrong.

If that was our process, we recommend you fire us.

Your questions need answers that come from looking more deeply at who you want to have a conversation with. Who do you serve? How do you serve them? What is the most important way that your service improves their life? How are you serving them vs. the competition? What insights and additional questions come from asking these questions? And so on.

The answers can reveal which services your customers need and value, and which may need to change, a little or a lot, to better meet customer’s true needs and practices as well as revealing clues as to the best way to speak to your customer so that they can hear you.

The world changes with ever-increasing speed. Thus, the way you talk to people, the reasons you think they work with you or buy from you and the narratives and media channels you use all benefit from consistent, periodic evaluations.

Pop Quiz

Who is using your product? What are their 3 biggest stressors daily? 

Why and how do your customers choose and use you?

What are you doing now that positively impacts your customers lives that your competitors are not?

And how is that message reaching your customer? 

If you haven’t considered these questions in a while, we can help you through the process.

And from there, we can talk about the color of your logo.

At Seed Agency, we help clients navigate their brands through an ever-changing landscape of customers, behaviors, media platforms and data. If you need a partner in better navigating toward your own north star, we are here to help.

 

Word of the moment: CONNECTION. What can you do about it?

As in fashion, home decor, art, and architecture, trends exist in the words brands use to talk about what they deliver. A notable promise ubiquitous today is the idea of a brand delivering “connection”. We are guilty of this as much as anyone, so let’s talk about what this really means and where it works.

Customers are bombarded by the messaging, ads, and calls to action, in the physical and digital realm at a rate of about 4,000 ads per day. Studies have shown that the number of messages can increase to 20,000 for those who are perpetually online.

Everyone wants connection, and brands know this, so they have turned connection into part of their value proposition. Promising that if you engage with their offering, you will experience a greater sense of connection, to yourself, or to others. But do these promises of connection really bring about better connection?

Can promises of connection be backed up by actions and results? Are brands researching and discovering better ways for customers to live a more meaningful and connected life by engaging with their product? Or are they just leveraging the latest brand buzzword in an attempt to win more eyeballs and dollars?

We are challenging our clients to let go of trying to achieve connection by talking about it and instead represent it, facilitate it, be part of making it happen.

Here are some places to start:

  1. Connect to your community by donating time or a percentage of your profits to local homeless shelters, food banks or schools.
  2. Invite young creative talent in local schools to decorate an open public space, plant a garden or perform on a weekend afternoon.
  3. Invite actors or performers to put on workshops for your tenants and the surrounding community – who doesn’t want to learn to chat more comfortably at a cocktail party or how to use humor as a tool for better networking and relationship building.
  4. Host a mini TEDx style lecture series. 
  5. Get out and talk to people to discover something your community needs. Put a task-force together to tackle it. 

Taking positive action to benefit your community has to power to elicit positive feelings, make real change and indelibly imprint a brand in the minds of users more than any combination of words and images.

Ready, go.

Can I borrow your eyes for a moment? Using empathy to better understand and engage your ideal customer.

To win eyeballs you might want to first imagine they are yours.

It’s very easy to look at perceived behavior and data, and project what people want. But it’s another thing to empathize with the experience of your key customers to better understand where they might be coming from and what they need from you.

You want their attention, their eyeballs, but what you really need are their eyes.

To better understand how to get their attention, imagine first that you can borrow their eyes and look out. While you’re at it, borrow their shoes as well. You don’t need a degree in cultural anthropology, as fascinating as the Yanomamo people and indigenous tribes of Africa can be. Instead try pausing for a moment letting go of your own view of the world, and your own beliefs and stories of how things work and simply imagine that you are your target customer.

What is that customer thinking about when he/she wakes up? What is their biggest challenge of the morning or day? What do they need most? And how does what you do solve for that need?

Use data. Use empathy. Use both to gain broader insights into the real challenges your customer faces and how you can help solve them.

“Is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes even for an instant.”

-Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

Humans fail to fit into most standard settings. Why that’s good news for brands looking to connect.

Are you a small, medium, large, or…?

Living in an industrialized world means that we are surrounded by systems that attempt to automate and simplify most activities, services, and products down to a basic set of options and settings. But nothing about you or your customer is a standard size. And that is a good thing.

The gold is in the variations.

People do many of the same things but with slight variations and reasons behind each one every day. Why do we do what we do? Why do we like what we like and crave what we crave? Our behaviors and thinking are a mix of built-in habits and responses to the detailed and ever-changing world around us with some hard-wired caveman stuff thrown in. Most behavior is driven by our need to accomplish large and small goals and a desire for doing this in the simplest and most enjoyable way possible.

Forget ‘branding’ and ‘positioning.’ Once you understand customer behavior, everything else falls into place.

Thomas Stemberg, founder of Staples

Ask why and then keep asking.

When looking for better ways to authentically and helpfully engage with your customer, look first at their actions before, during or after they use your product. What is your customer doing and feeling  in each phase of the interaction? Now that you are in the mindset of your customer, how you can improve their experience?

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz discovered that between home and work, people could enjoy a small but meaningful moment for themselves, and the idea of the ‘third place’ was born. Starbucks still uses this ‘third place’ concept to craft a customer experience which results in a much larger imprint on customers than discussions of beans or coffee preparation alone.

Keep looking and stay malleable.

Getting into your customer’s mindset and asking questions is a discovery exercise that you can do to fine-tune any branding or messaging effort. To keep up with the ever-changing world your customers occupy, repeat the practice a few times each year to stay tuned-in to your true customer experience to maintain a positive impression.

Let us know how it turned out, or, if you don’t think this is your thing, we are but an email away.

 

Man plans. God laughs. Plan anyway.

They say that when man plans, God laughs. We find it wonderful to make people, and if possible deities laugh, so we plan.

We also find that if we don’t plan, we are super busy all day, but in the end, find it hard to measure just what we accomplished with all of that busy-ness. So, we set goals, create action plans, look back to see what worked and what didn’t work and use that insight to adjust and keep going forward.

In the midst of the holiday frenzy of parties and shopping, light shows, and end of year ‘best of’ lists, we are stopping for a moment and asking ourselves a few questions to help get 2018 off on the right foot. In our Girl Scout-inspired spirit of preparedness, we offer this list of things to ponder, as you get ready to kill it in 2018.

Winning: What marketing initiatives and events went right or better than expected in 2017? For each of those wins, name three decisions, actions, or people responsible.

Learning: What didn’t go as planned? What ideas failed? What were three things learned from those failures?

Change: In what areas do you plan to grow or change in 2018? And how will this set of changes solve problems that your customers or stakeholders struggle with now?

Actions: What are 3 action steps must be taken for you or your team to successfully make these changes? And what lessons from number two can you apply as you create your plan of action?

Assessment: How will you measure the effectiveness of the changes you are making? And how often will you measure?

Time: What timeline are you giving yourself and your team for putting these changes into place?

Partnership & Cookies: Who can be your partner in planning, mapping, strategically thinking about, taking action and achieving your goals? Who will hold you accountable to your timeline and pick up the slack or play cheerleader when you or your team are overwhelmed? That is the easiest question of all. Us!

Wishing you the joys of the season and a spectacular new year.

How do users really experience your brand?

The repetition of traveling daily to one place, driving into the same building or walking into the same space can cause an unintended blindness to what is in front of and around us. Understandably, most people are moving through life, intently focused on the next action steps needed to achieve their goals. This practice repeated contributes to success, but over time, can also contribute to oversights that can damage the perception of your brand.

How is space related to your brand, you may be wondering?

“The impact architecture has on a person’s mood is huge. Arguably these are the fundamentals of architecture: not how it looks, but how we feel it, through the way it allows us to act, behave, think and reflect,” says Dr. Melanie Dodd, program director of spatial practices at the Central St Martins art school.

Given that your mood can positively or negatively affect your entire day, why not leverage this information to benefit the perception and experience of your brand?

Below are 7 simple steps to help you see your environment and pivot where necessary to make a more positive impression.

Take a walk.

Start to gain objectivity by stepping away from your space and re-entering along a new or different path. If time permits, take a quick walk around the block and come back inside through an entrance not normally taken.

Settle into a moment. 

Find a place to sit, ideally with a view of the busiest area. Put on your Margaret Mead hat and get curious.

What is the flow of users?

Where are they coming from? Where are they going? Where are they congregated? How does this behavior inform the placement of your signage, both fixed and temporary? Is anyone lost or confused? Is the flow of movement efficient?

A visitor will most likely not tell you that a sign could be in a more helpful place, or include a more clear message, but watching traffic flow for just 5 minutes during a busy time of day will.

How are people using the space?

Furnishings? Accessories? Signage? Is there anything that can be added, moved or removed to improve the user experience?

What do you hear? 

Watch and listen to interactions with staff members: How are valets handling car flows? How are security and staff members handling check-ins? What phrases, questions, comments, and expressions are you hearing by those passing by?

Is there music? Is there clanging? Is there a buzz of energy or a din of chaos?

How does what you see align with your original vision?

And how is what you currently see aligning with users needs? Or not aligning?

Celebrate, ideate and take action.

Make a note of what’s working well or better than you envisioned. Reach out to staff or managers to pass on positive feedback and reinforce what’s working.

Address neutral or negative observations with a 30-minute afternoon brainstorming session. Bring issues to light and invite team members to share ideas for shifting the user experience toward the positive and in a way that is more aligned with your original vision.

Periodically repeat the steps above, to remain attentive to and nurture the brand you have so carefully built. Leverage the power of space to convert customers to a happy army of brand advocates.

Share your story.

Have other ways that you find objectivity in the familiar? Or tips for furthering the connection between your audience and your brand through curated spaces? Send us an email, we’d love to hear more.

 

How do we connect better?

As part of our series on connection, I asked Ben Woo, founder and managing partner at market research firm QC Strategy/Beamline Partners how we can connect better, and avoid common pitfalls? Here are 5 golden rules to stick by – let’s go! 

Put things in a language that your audience can understand.  A language around benefits vs. features.

Just because there is something that you think about a lot, doesn’t mean that everybody else does. Driving with your own frame on situations can prevent connection. Ben provides an example of work he did recently with a digital media company. If in the process of conducting research, he and his team were to ask consumers, “Which of the following things make you more likely to consume a piece of content?” Most likely they wouldn’t learn much. People don’t walk around thinking about the content they’re consuming. Instead, they think about a particular show they watch or an author or genre they like to read, so it’s key to focus more on how those things really show up in people’s lives. Companies that make products tend to focus overly on product features, tech specs, and innovation but that’s not how consumers think. Customers think in terms of benefits. In terms of, “How will this product affect my life?”

When interviewing or trying to get to know someone, say as little as possible.

When you ask shorter questions, you get longer answers and in the process of doing this, you are putting less of your own language or your own frame onto things. Craft open-ended questions to get more detailed answers. Keep in mind that you want to hear the story of the other person, as opposed to having them fill gaps in your own story.

Keep the focus on the other person, resisting the urge to interject.

I asked Ben about this as it frequently trips me up in conversations – when someone shares something that I too have experienced, it’s tempting to interject and share a story, in an effort to relate. As much as my intention in doing this is a good one, what I’ve learned is that switching to my own story lessons that moment of connection when the focus was on the other person. Ben’s view was enlightening, and inspiring, “Keep in mind that initiating connection is all about giving, about giving kindness openly without direct hope of something in return. As someone is answering something about their own life experience, to give somebody space to do that is a gift.” Ben reinforces, “It’s good to relate to folks, but not by making it about you.”

Approach conversation more like a Ouija board and less like a sheepdog.

Try to push the other person’s story forward, as opposed to interjecting with bits of yours, cutting them off or redirecting that energy. If there is an objective to the conversation, you have to make sure you can get there, but it is much more Ouija board than it is sheepdog.

Listen and follow up with simple questions.

Don’t worry about your questions needing to sound like your favorite late-night talk show host. Use simple follow-ups such as, “Oh, what was that like? And then what happened? Why? When did this happen?” Resist the feeling that you need to entertain and instead focus on gently pushing the conversation along.

What are your companies’ connection questions or challenges? Share them with us and become part of the conversation.

Thank you the founder and managing partner at market research firm QC Strategy/Beamline Partners, Ben Woo, for sharing his valueable time and knowledge. 

 

Using curiosity & storytelling to reconnect teams.

A brand may be working well on many fronts, but if there is conflict within an organization the brand will begin to suffer. Unresolved conflict within companies doesn’t stay put. It starts to perceptively leak outward and the result reflects negatively on the brand as a whole.

With this in mind, I asked Debra Valle, organizational behavior expert, strategist and executive leadership coach, to share some of the processes she uses to help broken teams get back to a productive state of connection. Debra works with Fortune 100 corporate leaders and their teams to create high performance. She is frequently called in when there is a particular drama with key team members at stake and they need to create more alignment and collaboration, re-establishing connection and communication.

Why is the source of most team conflict? Is it just human and unavoidable?

My first guess about disconnection was that we each bring different modes of operation and maybe some baggage and sensitivities into the workplace, which might create conflict or result in some relationships working less well than others.

A starting point.

Debra clarified that she doesn’t start there. She begins with the idea that we all come to work every day wanting to do our very best and that we bring with us a certain way of looking at the world. Where we get our energy, the way we interpret information, what we hear and how we hear it, our particular strengths and blind spots, each of these things is unique to a person. What’s important is that we appreciate the fact that nobody’s like us on this planet and that we each bring to any situation, problem or strategic plan a particular slant or view and we are best served by keeping in mind the idea that none of us is as smart as all of us. If we can learn to appreciate our differences and be self-aware enough to understand our own blind spots, we can create and connect better.

Focus on higher good.

Debra asks her clients to look at what triggers them and what might be getting in the way of their success. She doesn’t ask them to try to figure out if it’s because their mother or father didn’t love them or some other aspect of their personal history. She instead helps clients to focus on the higher good that they’re wanting to accomplish and to look at the ways they can engage the other in order not to be assumptive, in conflict or create drama.

She suggests starting from a neutral place, from an understanding that we look at the world through a different lens and that’s a good thing.

One reason she doesn’t focus on people’s personal history is that for each person in the room, there are two parents. If there are six people in the room, instead of six people arguing and six points of view, you now have twelve. This makes for a crowded and not very productive room.

Curiosity as a tool for connection.

When conflict emerges, a disagreement or lack of alignment on an issue, Debra recommends that the parties involved get curious. Instead of criticizing, start trying to understand the other person. Ask where their thinking comes from; learn more about how they arrived at their position or assumption.  Sometimes when we hear the framework others have used to build their ideas we develop empathy. We may never have approached an issue in that manner, but the information we gain by asking is useful.

Multiple viewpoints create better solutions.

When we get curious, the problems we’re trying to solve are more completely flushed out. For example, some people see the world from the viewpoint of what’s occurred in the past and others are listening for facts, data and proof. They are a very valuable part of the conversation, they’re grounding. Some people are intuitive and ask questions like “What if…? Why not…? How come…?” These people allow us to stretch. Others may ask, “How would we build that?” and “What do we need to do to get that done?” and others who are focused on the people involved, seeking answers to questions like, “How do we get buy-in? How do we get financed?” Everybody’s coming to the table grounded in their framework and all those frameworks together create stronger solutions.

Debra recommends trying to cultivate and understand the perspective that the other person brings. When a view that is different from our own arises in the discussion, isn’t that a good thing? Try treating these moments as if you’re talking to somebody from a different country, and you’re authentically curious about why they do things the way that they do.

You’re wrong. Ok, you’re not wrong, you’re you.

When you hear a viewpoint that is different from your own, resist the urge to tell the other person they are wrong; instead, listen and try to understand how they got to where they are. If you can open up and hear them, you will most likely have empathy for their way of thinking. From there, you may be more open to working out a solution that makes sense to both of you.

Make positive assumptions.

If you start from the place of believing that everybody wants to do their best work every day, you will be more open to new thinking. Debra asks her clients to begin with two assumptions, that everybody walks into the room bringing their best self and that nobody wants to be intentionally oppositional or a jerk.

I know everything. Ok, I don’t know everything.

The second piece of this is to remind yourself that you don’t know everything. Get curious, over and over. What might the other person be able to share that will shed light, adding to the fuller picture of the issue? Imagine that this person’s intentions are wanting to contribute and collaborate and that you may not have all the answers. Somewhere between the two (or more) of you, there sits a kernel of something that is true for all of you. That is the nature of Debra’s work. Facilitating the kinds of conversations that are difficult to have but that are important for creating understanding and the opportunity to collaborate. One way she gets there with people is not by attacking the issue or the problem first, but by storytelling.

Tell your story.

Begin by having each person tell a story where they experienced intense collaboration, where they were able to do something extraordinary with another team in the past.

What happened? Who was there? Why did it work? What was the result of that extraordinary effort of collaboration? Everyone writes and shares their story and the group begins to see that everyone involved knows what collaboration looks like, feels like, and the idea of collaboration individually is not new to people. It is a common experience, not a stretch or something rare or elusive.

Why does this work?

From each person’s past you are building a common understanding of what must happen in order to form a connected and productive work environment. You remind the group that the state of productivity is not hopeless or unavailable to them. They each have the tools to make this work.

Through the different stories shared, each person is able to see what collaboration looks like from the other peoples’ point of view. It’s not always the same. This step allows others to shift their view of someone who at first appears only to be a roadblock.

Envision success.

Whatever the problem is or the thing they are trying to achieve, get each person of the team to imagine that six months have passed and after this period, everything has fallen into place, everything is done and working perfectly. Then ask “What do you see? What is happening? How did it get started? What happened?”

Design a process forward, together.

By sharing their stories the group is sharing a vision of the future. This process opens up the opportunity for the team to create together, paint together and out of this creative process they can design a path forward.

It all starts with curiosity, a willingness to share, and openness to be willing to listen to ideas that are not your own. Sometimes you have to build that in people because they don’t have it.

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A giant thank you to organizational behavior expert, strategist, and executive leadership coach, Debra Valle for sharing her time and knowledge.