Being Heard in a World of B2B Kardashian Brands

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Being Heard in a World of B2B Kardashian Brands

You know them - the “Kardashian brands" of the business world.

These are tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Tesla, Slack and Apple that make headlines anytime an intern sneezes.

At least it feels that way.

 

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It’s the power of the name. Publishers know if they put “Kardashian” in an Instagram post or article headline they’ll see an increase in traffic, clicks, follows, likes, shares, comments, and all the other things modern media needs to stay viable and earn ad revenue today.

In business press, these aforementioned "Kardashian brands" seem to carry the same clout as America’s royal family, nearly guaranteeing traffic and boosting view counts. What’s old Zuck up to this week?

Despite the obvious fact that their tech impacts billions of people every day, another contributing factor may just be that former Google PR leaders now work at Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, Square, Uber, Lyft, Yahoo, Pinterest and Snapchat -- a fascinating diaspora. Read more here.

 

There is value where there is attention and buzz.

... especially if you’re operating a media business. Facebook has cracked this code, making $9.16B in ad revenue last quarter alone based on its ability to serve up the kind of timely, instant news and content cycle that users crave.

Pubs that cover politics are reaping the benefits of a highly-engaged readership now more than ever as readers share their content as a way of defining belief systems and political leanings.

Please, some empathy for the journalist in 2017.

I don’t mean to knock the newsroom workers or journalists who cover these brands.

My friend, the brilliant communications strategist Katelyn Holbrook recently spoke at a General Assembly event on PR.

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She explained what it’s like to be a journalist in 2017. (A little empathy goes a long way in understanding what’s going on here.)

Many newsrooms are shrinking, with fewer staff and yet more responsibilities than ever to create enough content to keep up with traffic demands (huh, sounds a lot like marketing.)

The news cycle is constant, yet fleeting, with events happening in 24/7 real-time. Our trade press is declining (RIP) as brands have become content hubs of their own, and trust in the media varies by source.

It’s a difficult time to be writing for the press. The institution of “media” has given way a bit to other platforms for discovering news and discussing ideas and opinions. This is one of the major shifts that’s rocked the world of communications, PR, and B2B digital marketing, and created an opening for a new role - buzz builder.

Buzz - the evolution of PR.

In my POV, PR has evolved to a more ambiguous discipline of buzz-building, which involves a highly orchestrated combination of tactics (like anything else, any tactic that exists in a silo doesn't work.)

“Buzz” just may be the evolution of PR in an age of digital marketing.

You could consider buzz-building as the new intersection of thought leadership, content marketing, social media, awards, speaking, influencer and media engagement, and events. But to be honest, every company features a different application of these tactics depending on their industry, staffing, budget, experience, and expertise.

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As I wrote in Samantha Stone’s Unleash Possible (named a top 25 must-read marketing book this summer!):

"Creating buzz is a continuous and very intentional,strategic act of positioning your brand as a trusted resource in your industry, of raising the profile of your executives and brand stewards to a position ofauthority, and of earning air cover while your business does what it needs to do - grow. It takes into account who matters in your space, what they’re talking about, and works with timely precision to insert your brand message into that narrative."

And when it works, it amplifies.

Great buzz commands attention, changes narratives, and creates a platform upon which to build relationships, drive sales, secure funding, or hire great talent. Buyers don’t do business with companies they’ve never heard of, and with those they do not trust. Creating the right kind of buzz impacts both.

The challenge for B2B brands.

Ok coming back down to Earth for a minute… Kardashian brands like Google fueling traffic for ad-revenue-dependent media companies has created a paradox for smaller organizations.

Brands need attention to grow, but it’s never been harder to break through.

This has been true for every team I’ve been part of. In my career I’ve worked primarily with B2B companies from 2 to 200 people. I like startups. I’m drawn to their pace of growth. These companies are full of ambiguity and ambition rolled into one ugly beautiful mess of a job.

The ones that have broken through all the Kardashian clutter look similar.

They want to grow, create change, and punch above their weight.

They’re ascending brands.

 

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You’re an ascending B2B brand if you demonstrate continued growth and momentum, punch above your weight against often larger competition or bigger ideas, and operate with a sense of ambition that is reflected in the thoughts you put into the world.

Ascending brands are those who earn buzz.

As I wrote recently in Chief Marketer Magazine, “Merit alone does not a market leader make.”

Some still believe that a remarkable product alone is enough to earn customers and grow over time. That's simply not the case, not even for a tool touted as a model for modern-day organic SaaS growth, Slack.

This company's very famous founder, Stewart Butterfield (who once founded Flickr), brought strong media contacts to his new role at Slack. The company invested heavily in content and social (see their Medium posts.) Combine this with their strong product/market fit, smart and pervasive integration strategy with hundreds of tools (my favorite is /giphy), and boom... The holy grail of buzz that results in awareness, word of mouth, 1.25M paid users, 4M active daily users, and a casual $4B valuation. Read more about Slack's journey in this excellent post.

But, we’re not all Slack, and we’re all not likely benefitting from the diaspora of Google’s PR team infiltrating our ranks.

Maybe that’s why the majority of our B2B buyers are disappointed in the quality of insights produced by companies. 56% of executives in a LinkedIn / Edelmen study said they do not gain valuable insights from the “thought leadership” they consume. When it’s good, it works. 45% of these execs report that thought leadership has directly led them to decide to do business with a company.

If you’re not a "Kardashian brand," your best chance at breaking through, earning attention, and convincing buyers to trust you is to become really really good at creating the right kind of buzz.

Get people talking about your ideas, start to change how others see their own world. Act like an ascending brand.

When I worked for a PR industry luminary, Maura Fitzgerald, one of the most consistent pieces of advice I heard her give to marketing leaders, CEOs, and founders was that they needed to behave like the kind of company they wanted to become.

The late poet Leonard Cohen (RIP) said it another way “Act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act.”

If you want to be a market leader, act like a market leader.

If you want to disrupt the market, act like a disruptive brand.

Market leaders and disruptive brands set the agenda of their space – not only in what features they build, but how the market thinks and talks about their category. These brands have the ability to influence the overall narrative because they are confident in their point of view, and highly strategic in how they make that POV heard.

"Displacement technologies compete with incumbents on the same buying parameters. Disruptive companies change the way a buyer thinks about solving their need. Most SaaS products today are displacers."
Tomasz Tunguz, VC at Redpoint

 

In spaces that are fast-moving and full of confusion (hello, MarTech) – ascending brands are those who continuously lead with assurance in their world view. They are relentless in their ability to publish opinions, thought leadership, and guidance that create a kind of crescendo effect as their ideas take hold.

Important note: Ascending brands don’t achieve continued momentum without a killer, solid, remarkable product. Nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing, as the saying goes.

In contrast, descending brands sit still, off the radar. They stagnate. To stakeholders like prospective buyers, investors, and partners, if you’re not seen to be growing or otherwise moving in the right direction, you’re doomed.

Momentum, in business, is everything. Descending brands are dangerous.

To compete for attention with "Kardashian brands," make sure the world knows you’re an ascending brand.

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Let’s talk about this -  Join me at Connect to Convert, August 21-23 in New York Cityor the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum, October 3-6 in Boston. I'll be discussing this paradox for ascending B2B brands, and sharing some ideas that have worked in the past.

I’m continually fascinated by the concept of authority, leadership, and attention. What gets people talking about an idea? What earns a buyer’s very limited focus and head space? Who shapes their opinions and informs their point of view? It’s a very powerful position to be in - and I welcome a conversation (or, you know, a non-troll comment here) on this topic if you’ve got something to share.

Feel free to reach out at katie@katie-martell.com.

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Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Get on the list.

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On-demand webinar: Are You Set Up for ABM Success? What to Know Before You Go.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a live webinar with Jon Russo, founder of marketing performance firm B2BFusion.

Jon is often a voice of clarity to me in what has become a complex world of marketing and sales technology. Choosing the right vendor is enough of a challenge, but making systems work to their full potential is another story.

What's more, making tech work together in stacks can be a major challenge preventing organizations from seeing value in their investments. 

I asked Jon to present his worldview working with clients to find success with ABM tools. Watch the free, on-demand recording of our event, below. One-time registration is required (but is soooo worth it, trust me.)

Are You Set Up for ABM Success? What to Know Before You Go.

Account-Based Marketing tools like Engagio, DemandBase, and Terminus are powerful, exciting pieces of technology. But without the right data and decisions in place, it's like putting really nice shutters on a house without a foundation.

B2B companies must be thoughtful about their ABM setup. 

Join Katie Martell, on-demand B2B marketer, and Jon Russo, B2B marketing operations expert and high-tech CMO as they walk through EXACTLY what companies need to get these tools to work. They'll share a real-life example of how to wrangle data and MAP/CRM integrations to get up and running with account-based strategies. 

Everyone's on a journey with ABM, but some are in different places than others. This session is ideal for anyone who's interested in getting started with ABM, who has bought an ABM tool and wants to improve their implementation, or who wants to see more value from their investment in ABM.

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Dove’s Ad Blunder Shows the Bar is Set Higher for Marketing to Women

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Dove’s Ad Blunder Shows the Bar is Set Higher for Marketing to Women

Let me start with a question. Have you seen Dove’s most recent campaign?

 

Now, Dove is owned by the same parent company, Unilever who sells Axe, male-targeted grooming products with a looooooong history of ads like this:

 

 

Don't get me wrong - this ad is hilarious, just hypocritical coming from the same company promoting the "real beauty" narrative.

Yes, Unilever, tell us again how you lead the fight against unrealistic body standards in the media.

Dove (Unilever)’s body-shaped bottle campaign in the UK (in partnership with Ogilvy London) is yet another example of a company stumbling and crashing head-first as they attempt to traverse the space between women’s body-image in the media, and selling consumer goods.

While the notion that society needs equality between men and women has been around since the 1700s it just happens to be f***ing trendy right now.

I have written before about the exploitation of marketing to womenMore than once.

But the Daily Dot says it best:

“When is a movement not a movement? When it’s a marketing campaign in a movement’s clothing.”

Yeah.

Movements in marketing, done well, are powerful. I just presented on this very topic at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience in Vegas. But they must strike a tone of authenticity. The most recent ridiculous body shape bottles from Dove miss the mark. I particularly enjoy Jeff Beer of Fast Company’s take on it:

“Dove itself conditioned us against this type of thing. It's too easy. Too shallow. The quality of its past work, means there is no room for half-stepping.

When you raise your audience's expectation, you're simply not allowed to sink back into common gimmickry.”

 

While the marketer in me empathizes with the intention of this latest campaign (I get it, it’s difficult to think of creative ideas to break through the noise,) I can’t help but cringe at the thought of a room full of my peers nodding in agreement at this stunt, saying “you know what - this is a GREAT idea!”

And it’s not just me – the body-shaped bottle nightmare has driven headlines and mockery online:

“I’ve yet to meet the woman honoured and celebrated by plastic bottles on supermarket shelves." – Ruth Mortimer in Marketing Week

“Dove, I have arms, please advise” – Rachel Handler on Twitter

“With this campaign, Dove has moved from celebrating the diversity of the human body to celebrating the diversity of its products’ packaging,” – Clayton Purdom in AV Club

“Have you ever been in the shower, picked up your smooth, perfect soap container and screamed ‘I CAN’T LIVE UP TO THESE STANDARDS!’”? – Aimee Lutkin in Jezebel

Hilarious.

 

Another buzzword nobody needs: Femvertising

Perhaps the worst thing to emerge from all of this is a term that nobody needs - “femvertising” or what Forbes defines as “harnessing feminism in advertising” something Dove has apparently created.

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” back in 2004 in partnership with Ogilvy & Mather, Edelman Public Relations, and Harbinger Communications was… cute. And it was praised heavily for its message for women – love thyself (then go buy our stuff). The buzz around the campaign drove 30X the exposure than the paid-for media space.

But I have some qualms about this word, “femvertising.” Let’s recap:

·     Feminism = the idea that women should be treated equally to men

·     Advertising = paid announcement meant to sell product

·     Exploitation = taking advantage of someone to benefit from their work

So before we all celebrate the ridiculous concept of “femvertising!” let’s stop and consider the importance of actual feminism, the motivation behind these attempts-at-exploiting feminism, and the very real consequences.

Dove (and every single company for that matter) can do more to support women instead of these dopey, minimizing, lazy, exploitative bottles.

Within the tech space, an industry with devastatingly unequal gender parity set against a narrative of lawsuits, it’s encouraging to read stories like this one, a real SaaS company (client) with two female co-founders who have built a culture of gender equality. They don’t just talk a big game, they bring the concept of equality to life in real business decisions.

Passing the mic back to Ruth Mortimer:

"I like that a brand wants to celebrate women. But here’s a useful guide to doing so. Employ lots of them.

Demand your agencies and suppliers are diverse. Celebrate women for their actual achievements, not just their appearance. Align yourself with causes that benefit women. Continue to show diverse people with diverse figures in your advertising.”

 

If basic decency isn’t enough motivation for companies to support women, women are the ultimate economic accelerator.

Companies with a strong track record of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher earnings than their peers. In fact, among all Fortune 500 companies, the ones with the highest representation of women on their boards significantly outperform the others. Read more.

This backlash about Dove shows it’s time to set the bar higher.

 

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I’m going to take this moment to again share pioneering activist Jean Kilbourne’s incredible work to expose the power (and danger) of advertising, since the late 1960s. Take a few minutes to watch her videos. Just do it.

You know what, don’t get up, I’ll embed one right here if you’re skimming this post for the good stuff:

 

 

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Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Get on the list.

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MarTech, AI, and that Time I Met Fabio at Oracle MME / Modern CX

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MarTech, AI, and that Time I Met Fabio at Oracle MME / Modern CX

By Accenture research, Artificial Intelligence could double annual growth rates in 12 developed countries. It has the potential to change the very nature of work by creating a “new relationship between man and machine.”

Investors are pouring millions ($1.3B in 2016) into related startups, and meanwhile, Elon Musk is working double-time to “save humanity from machine-learning overlords” in response to Silicon Valley‘s rush to embrace AI.

As for me… I spent the week in Las Vegas, high-tailing past the smoke-filled rows of slot machines and navigating the maze of the Mandalay Bay convention center during Oracle Modern Marketing Experience.

No wait, I mean Oracle Modern Customer Experience.

Same event, two names.

It’s like when Prince became the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Whatever you call it, it’s still somehow both iconic and complicated at the same time.

PS: I never got to meet the real Fabio, but I did spend some quality time with his cardboard cutout. I love marketing conferences.

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Besides Fabio-FOMO... here's what I took away from the event.

Post-acquisition, Eloqua is the same, only, very different.  

I’m a bit of a marketing trade show veteran, on the circuit back in the day when this was Eloqua Experience. There were familiar sights, including the Markies - and Adrian Chang’s glamorous gold accoutrement putting us all to shame. 

New for 2017: drone delivery.

New for 2017: drone delivery.

 

This had always been an event born of Eloqua’s innovative, smart brand, a celebration of marketing excellence, the spirit of which carries on as alumni move on to roles at SiriusDecisions, Allocadia, Nudge, Fuze and LookBook, solidifying each of these as companies to watch by the sheer quality of their teams.

During the awards show dinner, I spoke to one attendee who was new on the MarTech scene (ignorance is bliss.) They remarked at the expanse of the Oracle Marketing Cloud – and the number of solutions within the famous Scott Brinker landscape slide. I held back from lamenting “when I was your age… we had 100 marketing technologies to choose from… and we liked it!”

Easy, grandma.

Given my appreciation for who Eloqua was and what they were able to accomplish, I was eager to find out how this event had changed since Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua (for a cool $871M), and what I found validated what we’d heard all along would happen.

We were told consolidation in the chaotic marketing technology world would come, and it has. The Oracle Marketing Cloud boasts six solutions all working in alleged harmony to meet the needs of an orchestrated customer experience (hence the name change).

That consolidation drove a 65% increase in net-new logos for the business, according to CEO Mark Hurd in the press room, part of an overall 72% growth rate – one that he was sure to point out as faster than that of Microsoft and Amazon.

And all this means…

The barrier to technology adoption is lower than ever

Mark's point was clear: GE can now access the same technology stack as BlueApron (both customers.)

This is a unique point in the history of business. With the ubiquity of the cloud, we all have access to the same tools and technology.

This means every business faces an unprecedented level of opportunity. My smaller clients can buy the same tools as my largest clients, leveling the playing field such that it’s back to basics for marketers.

No longer is having the best tool or tech a competitive advantage. That’s all table stakes. Our ability to build sound strategy and put these tools into practice to achieve that strategy is what will separate the long-term winners from those who fizzle out.  

 

Artificial Intelligence is not going to replace jobs 

The technology du jour for Oracle MME (ok ok, ModernCX) 2017 was AI.

As mentioned before, the world is abuzz with the potentials of this sexy capability, but with that comes some misconceptions.

Mark (who, by the way, is remarkably approachable for a guy worth $35M at the helm of a 136,000-person organization) sounded a lot more like an entrepreneur than a blue chip CEO when he took aim at our obsession with jargon.

He bemoaned the habit of an industry that often wants to come up with a new term and find problems to solve later – sound familiar?  

"We're not lacking data, we're lacking the ability to use data at the specific moment of contact with customers,” he said in his opening keynote.

Here’s what I heard loud and clear: AI will not replace jobs.

 

Sure, some jobs will go away - but really, AI will create new opportunities, new capabilities, and provide assistance to the next step of the customer lifecycle.

Just look at what Oracle is introducing behind the scenes for support professionals. A service rep armed with customer data like their VIP status, lifetime value, at risk status and more has amazing context to make the right decisions.

My interpretation is that this functionality will play out the same way automation did – smoke and mirrors at first as we all figure out what the hell we can do with this technology, but eventually some sound use cases as the smoke clears and the dust settles.  

Steve Krause, Group Vice President of Product Management at Oracle Marketing Cloud shared his stance on the world of AI. According to him, the use case for AI is already here.

“Marketers have a fundamental need to match the right offer to right person - AI makes this possible. What’s manual today instead gets a smart copilot in the future.”

 

Creativity is the endgame of AI

Is creative problem-solving the ultimate goal of AI?

According to Jack Berkowitz, VP of Products and Data Science at Oracle Adaptive Intelligence, yes.

"AI is about having a machine understand the context of the situation, and give you aid to amplify your abilities in that situation. AI is a partnership between people and their systems.”

During the invite-only panel about AI, Jack made this clear: The point of AI is to unlock creativity, to give talent the time they need to do their job.

He told the story of Netflix, beginning as a delivery channel, an innovative new way of accessing content. It’s now a content company because it’s got a foundation of incredible technology that allows it to deploy sophisticated market segmentation in order to free up their time to bigger, more important things.

FYI, Netflix boasts 94 million global subscribers, and some analysts predict Netflix will continue to add 19.2 million new subscribers annually moving forward.

The gap of tech promise and adoption

All in all this event reminded me of the cyclical nature of technology adoption. What’s old tends to be new again, and it tends to be hyped up again… just look at the fact that AI companies have existed for 20-30 years.

(And the fact that, inexplicably, everything I wore in the 90s is suddenly back in fashion. WHAT.)

Consumers today welcome a credit card fraud warning, said Steve. That’s driven by AI. But, he points out, the excitement fell apart. Where these concepts reach adoption – when they’re truly valuable – is when they can be applied to a real business problem.

Marketing automation – taking this full circle and back to Eloqua - demonstrates this cycle of hype and adoption. What was exciting and new in 2008 is moving right along the bell curve. Slowly.

Some studies have the adoption of marketing automation at 42% of companies (Ascend2). Other surveys have it at 4% (VentureBeat). But talk to vendors, and the media, and it can feel that everybody is doing it, and if you’re not, you’re the freak.

It’s like high school all over again.

 

And yet the industry and its media is ready to move on to Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and what’s next.

Oracle Marketing Cloud’s SVP and GM Laura Ipsen called it “apps anxiety and innovation insecurity.”

 

I think it's a timing problem. Our trade shows are annual. Every year begets a new theme, a new buzzword, and a new focus. Readers are hungry for something fresh and new.

What earns a click, however, rarely matches what a practitioner is ready for (but how else are digital publications measured?)

Our adoption of tech does not fall neatly into a 365-day package.

Marketers are left to bridge the gap between the hype of the industry, and the reality in their companies. They operate somewhere between pace of real change, and the consensus of the status quo.

That gap, some days, seems wider than ever.

 

 

 

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Bold Calls to Action from the 2017 Women’s Leadership Forum

We’ve all heard the stats:

  • Women make 78 cents for every dollar men do.[1]
  • Latina women earn 55% of what their white male counterparts earn.[2]
  • Women hold 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.[3]
  • Two-thirds of illiterate adults in the world are women, as they are more likely to be denied education.[4]
  • Only 13% of venture capital goes to women-led enterprises.[5]

And all too often, we have heard the stories behind these stats of women who face the daily struggle of pervasive gender inequality at work and at home. Our most recent presidential election was no exception.

But, last week, we had the opportunity to hear a defiant response: Stories told, by women bold.

The Women’s Leadership Forum, hosted by the AdClub, brought over 1,000 leaders together in Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center to learn from the experience of 7 women making a remarkable impact in our world. Their bold calls to action remind all of us that there is work to be done, and the baton is in our hands.

Photo: Ryan Stranz

Photo: Ryan Stranz

 

1. “You represent millions of dollars of purchasing power. Do some good in this world.”

- Mary Mazzio – Award winning director and social impact documentary film maker

 

Her earliest film, A Hero for Daisy, chronicled the fight for equality of Title IX pioneer and two-time Olympian Chris Ernst. At this year’s WLF, Mazzio shared the motivation behind her seventh social impact film since then, named I am Jane Doe, as she works to expose the very real epidemic of child sex trafficking here in the US.

Mazzio cited a recent study that showed 60% of consumers five years ago bought products based on quality, price, or value. Today, those same consumers make decisions based on what a company stands for.

She implored many of the business leaders in the room to help not only their organizations, but also the world at large by leveraging their marketing purchasing power for good, by supporting initiatives like hers that work to create positive change.

 

Photo: Ryan Stranz

Photo: Ryan Stranz

 

2. “Find your own voice, and use that voice to lead.”

- Sarah Hurtwitz – Chief Speechwriter to Michelle Obama

 

In today’s climate, Sarah described, we often hear a call to fear, blame, anger, and obedience. She reminded attendees that these are not – and never will be – American values.

She told the story of her own non-linear career progression, from white house intern to chief speechwriter for Michelle Obama, and the struggles of her own mother and grandmother. What Sarah learned, and what she instilled in us, is that we are each in a position to succeed because of those who came before us.

American values, Sarah clarified, are founded in hard work, and a duty to leave the world in a better place for our children, especially in the face of rising inequality, and declining social mobility. She urged all attendees to heed this calling, to use our voices to lead in today’s climate, and to keep telling our very best American story.

 

 

Photo: Ryan Stranz

Photo: Ryan Stranz

 

3. “Embrace emotions as an essential part of life, not a sign of weakness.”

– Dr. Miriam Meckel, Expert on Media Economics and Communication

 

“The mind, body, and soul are a human trinity that cannot be torn about, or ignored,” shared Dr. Miriam Meckel.

Often, particularly in situations of survival or in a professional setting, we suppress emotions, treating them as a sign of weakness. Meckel urged us to embrace the emotional aspects of our lives as women at work and at home. When we ignore our emotional life, she said, we actually miss out on an essential part of what it means to be human. If our left-brain selves dominate – that comes at a price.

The power of emotion is real, and if we let it, that power can guide us to be more whole. We all make decisions every day in an attempt to be rational, casting aside the impact of emotions on those choices. But emotions provide a kind of map to ourselves, when we grant ourselves the freedom to explore these complexities.

Regarding women’s equality, Meckel urged attendees to continue the fight for acceptance beyond only formalized equality such as legislative rights for women. She reminded us there is still uncharted territory in the fight for equality that requires us to bring our hearts and souls into the movement, and to use both hemispheres of our brains.

“Feminism is not just a rational choice,” she said. “It is a deeply emotional movement, a fight for acceptance, and a fight for inclusion. It is worth every endeavor, every resistant move, and every tear related to it.”

Meckel’s call to action, truly, was to live wholeheartedly, and to uncover what sustains us from the inside.

 

Photo: Ryan Stranz

Photo: Ryan Stranz

 

4. “Fight for the ideas that matter, and deliver them your way.”

- Lizz Winstead – Comedian, Writer, & Co-Creator of The Daily Show

Winstead is one of the top political satirists in America, having helped change the very landscape of how people consume news media.

She told a poignant story of watching the news one evening at a bar on a particularly bad date, as they watched real-time coverage of the Gulf War. Between explosions and dramatized talking heads, she realized that the news media has a tendency to portray things in a sensational way.

“I couldn’t tell if they were trying to sell me the war or report on it.”

This was the inspiration for The Daily Show, a series that felt like the news, looked like the news, but, to quote Winstead, “gave the audience some credit, and exposed all the BS that is the news, and the people behind it.”

Using humor as the vehicle for truths about the world at large was not only effective, it was necessary. After 9/11, she said, people needed to laugh. It was a catharsis.

Today, her understanding of the power and impact of humor has lent itself to Lady Parts Justice, a comedy-based champion of reproductive rights, as she continues to educate, galvanize, and support the women’s health mission through comedy. She inspired all of us to fight for those ideas that truly matter, and to deliver them our way.

 

Photo: Ryan Stranz

Photo: Ryan Stranz

 

5. “You’ve got to tell people who you are.”

- Madge Meyer - Award-winning author, former EVP and Chief Innovation Officer at State Street Corporation

 

Meyer shared a number of compelling stories from her career, which cumulated into a series of lessons that I previously chronicled here.

One particular story I enjoyed from early in Madge’s career focused on a series of achievements she made in highly complex technical roles. With degrees in mathematics and chemistry, she worked in – literally - rocket science. Despite outstanding work, she found herself passed over for promotion in favor of her male colleagues multiple times.

Her brother gave her important advice to this end. “You’ve got to tell people who you are, otherwise, why would they listen to you?”

Being a Chinese immigrant, she held a cultural expectation that her accomplishments would be enough to get her promoted. Her experienced was proving this not necessarily true in America. While she did not want to brag, she realized the importance of outside recognition.

Years later, as a manager at State Street, Madge ensured the work her team did was recognized consistently, to the tune of 32 industry awards. She encouraged all of us to consistently show our value to the business, as doing a good job is simply not enough. It's critical to toot our own horns, and to be our own advocates.

 

Photo: Ryan Stranz

Photo: Ryan Stranz

 

6. “Say yes, and figure it out.”

-       Grace Kelly, Musician, Singer, Entertainer, and Songwriter

Grace lent her musical skills to this year’s WLF, kicking off the event with a performance that served well as a metaphor for her - full of energy, brazenly unexpected, and refreshingly talented.

This prodigy recorded her first album at 12, played with the Boston Pops at 14, and played for President Obama’s Inauguration at 16. Today, into her 20s, she’s part of The Late Show’s house band. She is acclaimed by critics and audiences alike as she’s muscled her way into the boys’ club industry of jazz music and entertainment.

With so much success early on, Grace shared the lesson that guided her through endless uncertainty and doubt in her career: Say yes, and figure out how to make it happen.

Her confidence in the face of insecurity was a powerful message for those in the room.

 

Photo: Ryan Stranz

Photo: Ryan Stranz

 

7. “Never accept no for an answer.”

-       Collette Divitto, Entrepreneur, Collettey’s Cookies

We were all endlessly inspired by the day’s recipient of the Women’s Leadership Forum Admiration Award, presented by John Hancock. Receiving this esteemed recognition this year was Collette Divitto, a remarkable woman with Down Syndrome who did not let a series of job application rejections keep her from her dream of making a living through her baking skills.

Rather than accept “no” as an answer, she founded her own business, Collettey’s Cookies, and business is flourishing. Divitto serves as a model for all women who face setbacks in their pursuit of their dream. Today, she is leveraging her success to help others with disabilities find employment. (And, for the record, her cookies are delicious.)

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The 2017 Women’s Leadership Forum brought together bold stories from bold women, and today, these stories matter more than ever.

Thank you to all who were involved in making it happen, and to these seven individuals who shared their experiences within the larger narrative of what it means to be a woman in 2017.

May we each be inspired by these calls to action, as we work to continuously shape that narrative towards equality.

 

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/equal-pay#top

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2016/04/12/equal-pay-for-equal-work-the-gender-wage-gap-by-the-numbers/#1fc628c15f9e

[3] http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-ceos-sp-500

[4] http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf

[5] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/pl/Documents/Reports/pl_Putting_all%20our_Ideas_to_Work_Women_and_Entrepreneurship.pdf

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Listen Well, Speak Up; and 3 more Lessons from Madge

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Listen Well, Speak Up; and 3 more Lessons from Madge

There really isn’t a word that accurately describes the feeling of walking into a room of over 1000 women.

Part of me was surprised – I mean, I’m so used to conferences being a room filled with mostly men. Another part of me was filled with anticipation - I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks.

It was the 2017 Women’s Leadership Forum, hosted by the Ad Club.

Regardless of how I felt walking in, it’s easy to articulate how I felt walking out:

Emboldened. Activated. Reassured.

One talk among many that day left me feeling particularly energized. It was given by Madge Meyer – a public speaker, author, and former EVP and Chief Innovation Officer at State Street, with a long career at organizations including Merrill Lynch and IBM.

Madge offered concise, yet profound lessons to the room, good and sound advice for both men and women.

1.    Speak Up

Early in Madge’s career, at IBM, she was told by a manager that she’d be no longer invited to his meetings. Why? Her quiet and shy personality.

“You never ask questions or make suggestions. You occupy a seat, and never give me any value.”

Though she was listening, albeit passively, it wasn’t good enough. This is an important takeaway for anyone (talking to you, ladies) who may feel nervous about speaking up in a meeting.

Madge asked her manager for a second chance. She promised to ask at least one question, and make at least one good suggestion every meeting. She was allowed to return.

Studies show (and so does women's collective experience every day) that professional women are actually penalized for voicing their opinions more frequently.

“Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.”

Read more in this NYT article.

The article describes a speaking-up double bind that harms organizations by depriving them of valuable ideas.

While before, Madge would attend passively, she began attending actively – and her success in doing so was predicated on her ability to listen the right way.

2.    How to Listen Well

Madge pointed out that many suffer from selected listening in meetings.

We can all likely relate to this. Who hasn’t interacted with someone who spends entire conversations just waiting for their turn to talk?

For Madge, the difference between passively and actively attending was to cultivate the skill of listening well – focusing on what someone really says, and asking intelligent questions.

She shared the tenets of Ting – the Chinese word for the art of listening, which consists of four elements in its Chinese character; ear, ten eyes, a heart, and a king.

Listen with your ear, but with 100% attention and focus (ten eyes), wholeheartedly, and as if listening to your King.

Wouldn’t that make for different meetings…

3.    Tell People Who You Are

One particular story I enjoyed from early in Madge’s career focused on a series of achievements she made in highly complex technical roles. With degrees in mathematics in chemistry, she worked in… well… literal rocket science.

Despite outstanding work, she found herself passed over for promotion in favor of her male colleagues multiple times. Frustrated, she went to her brother for advice.

What he said to her resonated with me, and the rest of the room, as I saw heads nodding in agreement:

“You’ve got to tell people who you are, otherwise, why would they listen to you?”

Being a Chinese immigrant, she possessed a cultural expectation that her accomplishments would be enough to get her promoted. Her experienced was proving this not necessarily true in America. While she did not want to brag, she realized the importance of outside recognition.

“You must show your value to the business. Doing a good job is not enough.”

Years later, as a manager at State Street, Madge ensured the work her team did was recognized consistently, to the tune of 32 industry awards.  

It's critical to toot your own horn. Be your own advocate.

4.    Never Accept No

Whether it was “you’re no longer invited to this meeting” or “you will never become an EVP” or “the answer is no on this project” – Madge persisted.

In one story shared, Madge had identified a massive cost-savings opportunity for State Street. While it would require some significant change, it would save the organization millions. Her proposal, however, was rejected by a committee who told her – Madge, the answer is no.

Expecting a fight, they were relieved to hear her say “OK” in the meeting, and walk out.

Where she was headed, however, was directly to her manager. She confidently brokered a deal (seriously, love this woman) – to let the results of a test dictate the viability of the proposal. If she couldn’t save the company $10M, they could fire her.

Yeah, she bet her job on it. No pressure. Casual.

Madge ended up saving the company $42M (boom), and earning the trust she so well deserved on her path to EVP.

In this story, she mentioned a piece of advice from her parents:

“When the boat hits the shore, you don’t keep trying to move forward. You turn right or left.”

Never accept no for an answer. Go around, and find a way to make it a yes.

5.    How to Innovate

All of these stories, weaved throughout her experience, built a strong foundation for Madge’s unique understanding of the concept of innovation – something she consults organizations on now. At the end of her talk, Madge shared a kind of alphabet of innovation, at least from A-G.

Innovation is:

Anticipatory, not reactive.

Business focused, not technology-driven.

Creative destruction, not guardianship. It’s very easy to hold on to the old way of doing things. Change is a risk.

Distributive leadership, not command and control. Companies that are top down must consider a culture of innovation, letting all people bring ideas to the surface.

Execution, not just inspiration. Madge recalled a Japanese saying:

If you have a vision with no execution, you have a day dream. If you have execution with no vision, you have a nightmare.

Fast and flexible, not fixed or frozen.

Global mindset nor parochial thinking. Leaders must move past only what they're comfortable with, and reach beyond boundaries.

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I could not get enough of Madge’s easy humor, or her confident humility.

I realize “confident humility” may be an oxymoron, but what I witnessed was a delicate balance of touting her remarkable success, sharing lessons born of mistakes, all delivered with an empathy that left each of us feeling that her journey was – or could be - our own.

 

For more, listen to Madge’s podcast “Innovation is Business as Usual” and read her book The Innovator’s Path.

Thank you to the Ad Club of Boston for having me at the 9th annual Womens Leadership Forum – Stories told, by women bold.

 

 

Every Saturday morning I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Get on the list.

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When to Start a Company

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When to Start a Company

90% of startups just don’t make it (Fortune). Yet, every year, despite these odds, 100 million businesses are started (GEM Global Report.)

That’s 3 businesses every second. 11,000 per hour. 

That’s nuts.

But we should celebrate entrepreneurship - more than half of all entrepreneurs expect to create jobs in the next five years (GEM). 

Speaking from personal experience, cofounding a business was one of the hardest, and most rewarding, things I’ve ever done. I love meeting others who can relate to the roller coaster of bootstrapping, fundraising, and growing a startup. Especially those who happen to be women. 

Last week, I had an excellent chance to do just that at Female Founders Night at VentureCafe. If you’re in Boston/Cambridge, and you’re interested in entrepreneurship or Boston’s startup ecosystem, their weekly programming and open office hours are an excellent resource. Learn more.

This particular event featured a fireside chat with Communispace Chairman and founder, Diane Hessan, a panel of investors including Deb Kemper from Golden Seeds, Payal Divakaran from .406 Ventures, and Jennifer Jordan of MassVentures, and a female founder panel featuring Janelle Nanos from the Boston Globe, Donna Levin, co-founder of Care.com, my good friend Nataly Kogan, CEO of Happier Inc, the hilarious Zoe Barry, CEO of ZappRX, and Snejina Zachria, CEO of Insurify.com. 

That’s a lot of smart women in one place. 

Throughout the evening I couldn’t help but wonder…. when should you start a company? 

 

(Yes that was a total Carrie Bradshaw moment.)

Here’s what I heard.

1. When there’s a problem worth solving. 

The #1 reason startups fail is a lack of market need for their product. 

 

Source

Donna Levin, co-founder of Care.com, experienced firsthand the massive struggle of finding reliable care for her children - one shared by many of her friends.

So she created a company to fix the problem.

Zoe Barry, CEO of ZappRX, watched her brother, diagnosed with epilepsy, wait MANY months to receive proper medication.

So she created a company to fix the problem.

Nataly Kogan, CEO of Happier, spent years chasing the idea of “happy” through achievements and success, before realizing there was a massive problem in how many of us define happiness.

So she created a company to fix the problem.

Snejina Zachria, of Insurify.com, had a background in operational excellence at Gartner. After a frustrating personal search for insurance, she was shocked that she couldn’t find what she needed instantly, with the ease of booking a hotel. So, she fixed this problem.

So she created a company to fix the problem.

Notice a theme? Find a problem worth solving. Then go start a company to fix it.

2. When you understand the game.

Eyes wide open.

Go into this thing with some idea of what to expect. 

Understand you don’t need to follow the myth of the entrepreneur, the hero, hooded white guy. You can do it your way. You can fund a company on customer revenue. You can fund it with grants. Or with only angel funds. 

“Success does not equate to venture capital,” said Payal Divakaran, Principal of .406 Ventures, who raised a common misperception among startup founders, that to be successful they need VC funding. 

She explained that, as a VC, her firm has a responsibility to invest wisely, as resources come from sources such as pension funds, etc. They must show a return, to the tune of 10X usually. 

That’s simply not the growth trajectory for many businesses. It’s why only a handful of companies she sees every year are funded. 

Know this going in, know what options are available to you, and learn the game of entrepreneurship. 

3. When you’re ready for the journey.

Jennifer Jordan, VP at MassVentures asked entrepreneurs to consider, “are you ready for the journey?” This is not a faint decision. If successful, you’re in this for the long haul. This is a multi-year commitment. 

And when you get an investor, particularly institutional funding, “it’s like going into a marriage,” said Deb Kemper, Managing Director of Golden Seeds. 

It requires long days - very long days - and a near-constant cacophony of “you’re insane” and “sorry, no.” It’s full of tough decisions like firing your friends, which Zoe Barry, CEO of ZappRX had to do. 

Or maybe you end up facing the realization that people you thought you could trust end up back-stabbing you in a way that nearly crushes your business. 

Earlier in the evening, Communispace founder Diane Hessan shared a story of hiring a salesperson she’d worked with in the past - personally advocating for this individual - who ultimately faked signed contracts with major brands. The act caused major disruption to the company’s revenue projections at a critical point in the business, threatening their trajectory and throwing a wrench into even the best laid plan.

The journey is a personal one, too.

There are moments of insurmountable pressure, and moments of stress in which you need to remain composed in your ability to be a leader. You need to be strong in the face of chaos.

At the same time, you need to be willing to continuously be transparent with your employees (to the appropriate extent), and admit when you’re wrong. 

The point is - this is not for the faint of heart.

4. When you really can’t help but start a business

Nataly Kogan shared a hilarious, but relatable, feeling that stemmed from a Russian saying “To write is like to pee. You should only do it if you can't hold it anymore.” 

She applied that same urgency to starting a company - do it when you can’t hold it in anymore, when the thought of someone else executing on the idea you have deep inside keeps you up at night.

When you can't stand the thought of looking back one day and wondering... "what if?"

It's intuition. A gut-check. Your instincts. 

Successful entrepreneurs (and great marketers, for that matter) have good instincts. 

It's that feeling that kicks in when you’re up against all odds, when you know a teeny tiny percentage of startups will make it, but you do it anyway. 

It's what keeps you going when you know, as any entrepreneur, especially a female, or a minority, you’re up against massive odds. Female CEOs receive only 2.7% of all venture funding (Inc.)

Your instincts are everything - especially in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

If yours are telling you, "start that business" well… who are you to deny them? 

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I’ve written before about the adventure joining a startup can be. I’m exceedingly attracted to early-stage organizations both for the opportunity for explosive growth, and the freedom to try new things, take some risks, and have some fun. 

I joined NetProspex as employee #12, I guided comms strategies for startups while at Version 2.0 Communications. I worked within a 30-year-old analyst firm Aberdeen Group during a pivot - like a startup creating something new. And finally, I co-founded a MarTech venture of my own with Cintell. Now, as a consultant, I work with many early-stage organizations seeking growth - seeking their shot at glory. 

The patterns are the same — the good ones have a problem, can’t help but set out to solve it, against all odds, and often knowing all the risks involved. But when the stars align - and truly some days that’s what it feels like - it’s worth it.

(And even if failure comes a'knockin, which it is undeniably prone to do, it's still worth it.)

Every week I publish a collection of thoughts on life, business, marketing, and lots more. It's the World's Best Newsletter, and you can get it right here.

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