Committing to Content Strategy without a Brand Strategy When a client is not established yet, or in startup mode, brand strategy is part aspiration and part adventure — these are exciting times. But when you are working with an established company the rules are bit different and excitement is tempered by the stakes being much higher. Early this year we entered into a lengthy content strategy engagement with a large company that admitted it did not have a brand strategy in place — we’re “working on it,” they said. While we did a lot right: conducted internal interviews that identified disconnects in a +$1mm content strategy process, established baseline communication guidelines and fixed huge holes in a supposed “Agile” process — we never got over the hurdle of brand clarity. It nipped at us during every turn because we had no baseline to build on. Throughout the process of establishing and tuning the strategy we inevitably kept asking - Does this fulfill the brand promise? Is this message on brand? We never had an answer. So…we never had an answer.
Lesson learned: Brand needs strategy and strategy needs brand.
Tip: Get 5 min of (non-marketing) C-suite time and discuss brand. Ensure this resonates with your stakeholder’s version of brand and buy this Four Steps to the Epiphany
When you think small. You stay small. When we started the business 5+ years ago I had an imaginary number of 11 as a perfect head count. We had good reason for the smallish number (so we thought) 2 children under 2, experience managing/working with smaller teams and some (now transparent) quality of life requirements Tim Ferriss sold us. When you’re small you need to hire yourself (the owner) to do many things you wouldn’t otherwise hire yourself for if there was someone else more qualified. Sometimes this is challenging in a good way, like: Our mobile strategy work with Weendy. Other times it is challenging in a bad way, like: stuffing boxes when you should be wireframing. I now realize that establishing a business based on head count is crazy talk. We need to be the “size of amazing” and that number might be 5, 500 or 5,000. Whatever size is required to provide the best customer experience for our clients and our client’s clients, that’s our goal. Of note we are growing and looking to hire a Sr. Strategist. Now!
Lesson learned: We are our people. Not the # of desks we have.
Tip: read this Minimum Viable Personnel article from Inc.
You can’t do everything, at once. Historically I’ve successfully* been able to break this rule, but time catches up, luck runs out and magnification points out flaws. During Q4 I put some ridiculous deadlines on my team and myself. (So ridiculous I’m embarrassed to list them out here.) It took attending Seth Godin’s Medicine Ball event and a LeanStartup event (on the same weekend) to realize I was pushing too hard. Specifically I realized that it was unfair to my family, friends, employees and investors for us not to be operating at optimal efficiency on every project. In our case, that means moving forward we are only taking on client projects that I am 100% committed to and if they are internal projects they need to have the ability to go big. If I don’t follow these rules I’m not just wasting my time but the time of those most important to me: family, friends and co-workers. Somewhere in a book, or on the Twitters, I picked up the line – “Do fewer things extraordinarily.” It’s a hard transition for someone infinitely fascinated in possibilities but it’s the right direction to take for 2012. (As of 3 weeks ago I stopped working on 3 pet projects and turned away 2 smaller jobs that would strain the team.)
Lesson learned: Not every good idea has a viable market. Having a great idea and bringing a great idea to life are two very different commitments with two very different responsibilities.
Tip: 2+2+2 = If you had 2 people that could work on 2 projects for 2 months each, every year, would you choose this project to be one of them? Ask yourself this whenever you are wondering whether or not to dedicate time to pet projects.
*Example: Rebuild house while living in it, while having a newborn and launching a business and coaching basketball.
Hiding behind email. There is a strange device on my desk that gets less attention each year despite its power — the phone. Three proposals last year with potential clients totaled over 400 emails. Let’s write that out in check format – Four Hundred Emails and Zero Sense. I should have trusted my intuition as well heeded last years #2 rule. Notwithstanding that flub-up I should have just picked up the phone and said, “Hey, let’s nail this down, on this call.” Instead, I wasted 33 hours on email (400 emails x 5 min). Emails are great for binary decision making but not so much for back and forth conversations. You lose the nuances, pauses, concatenated thoughts and the process becomes less of a playing field and more like a race track.
Lesson learned: Pick up the damn phone! Emails rarely clarify things and almost always lead to more emails.
Tip: If you find yourself substantively rewriting an email — call instead.
Not Celebrating. The founders of Eat Media (that would be Britta and Ian) tend to be a fairly serious duo. Not Accenture Consulting, Brooks Brother suit serious but intense and focused serious — like Janáček – we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves, to a fault. When we land a new account we tend to get right into solution mode, before the ink dries on the contract. Internally the team deserves to celebrate a win and too often we skip that part. On the external/marketing side of things we tend to believe in that old adage of “great gets found”. I think great “used to get found;” now what gets found is what gets heralded. Under promise, over deliver. Get paid a dollar, do a dollar-fifty worth of work. Great building blocks and inspirational bullet points, but announcing a win and celebrating that win with others gets both internal and external teams excited for you and with you.
Lesson learned: Lunch on the boss is not celebrating. Celebration is active and necessary.
Tip: Go a little crazy every once in awhile.
These are my confessions of a growing agency. What were your 2011 mistakes?