Archives for category: Marketing

Prove It by Melanie Deziel with Phil M Jones: Exactly How Modern Marketers Earn Trust, is the follow-up to Ms. Deziel excellent The Content Fuel Framework which I reviewed last year.

Like its predecessor, Prove It is a how to guide that many marketers will find familiar for the ideas and concepts are not really new and are the fodder that modern marketing is based on. However, like her previous book, what Ms. Deziel and Mr. Jones do in Prove It is to create an overarching framework and concept that put these ideas into context and provides a guide to future ideas and processes.

The main thrust of Prove Its is that today’s customers don’t want to be told why they should buy a product or service but to be shown why they should with concrete and provable examples. This process then becomes the underpinning for a brand as a whole. Where Prove It really works its magic is by showing rather than telling. It uses the slogans and catchphrases that the reader will be all too familiar with to make its points crystal clear.  “Fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance” for example is Geico’s way of proving that they are easy and convenient to deal with while also potentially being able to save the customer money – ‘give us a little of your time and we’ll lower your car insurance rate.’

Prove it is full of these examples for every type of business or service and how these claims can be discovered about your business, and how that discovery process in turn leads into a marketing / branding strategy. The book also encourages the reader to back up these claims with documentation and to use this a method of re-enforcing the brand’s identity by doing so. Where Prove It really scores on this front is by pointing out that businesses often already have access this documentation in other forms. Reviews on sites such as Yelp, customer service surveys, or just by talking to customers themselves can yield not only great content but can also provide witness to the claims that a brand is making and therefore backup the branding process itself.

What I personally found very interesting was a dissection of how Apple ‘coached’ its client base to not necessarily believe the claims of its competitors when it came to the differences between using a Mac or another computer brand with its “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” series of TV ads. The idea that an ad can be coaching a customer to ask the difficult questions that the competition may not want to answer is fascinating and subtly brilliant.

Prove It is a short and engaging book for both marketing professionals and beginners alike. It demystifies how modern advertising and content marketing work. This is not a nuts and bolts “place this type of ad at this type of time” kind of book; but more about mindset. This is a book to understand how to sell a product or service so that a customer can easily identity the ‘why’ they are prepared to buy.

To sum up it so very worth your time and its place on your bookshelf.

Digital signage is something I have embraced more and more over the years and this post is an attempt to share some of those technological solutions. Managing multiple veterinary hospitals, these solutions are obviously geared towards the needs of the veterinary hospitals as are the pictured examples; however, these examples will also work with any business trying to achieve the same goals. I also only use PCs; however, most of these solutions should work with Macs or other platforms.

Delivering Video Content

The simplest and cheapest way I have found to deliver video content is to use Apple TVs. These are a simple “set top” boxes that allow for the streaming of video content from the internet or from a networked server computer running iTunes. Please note this would not be your main network server, although I guess is could be, but is more likely just be a conveniently located computer running iTunes that acts as a content server. A monitor can just be plugged into the Apple TV using an HDMI cable and the Apple TV can access the network via an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi (I would recommend the ethernet cable.)

Apple TV
Rear of the Apple TV

For example, a playlist of video content can be created on YouTube and then streamed to the Apple TV. Alternatively, content is stored on a local computer, categorized Music Videos instead of Home Videos, and then put in a playlist. The playlist can then be selected, on repeat, from the “computer” icon in the Apple TV setup and then streamed.

Please note that you should always have permission, or own the content, that you are displaying to the public for copyright reasons.

Theses days most “Smart TVs” have a built in YouTube app meaning it is possible to not use the Apple TV boxes at all and just stream directly from YouTube. YouTube allows for the creation of playlists and content can be unlisted so that only those that are logged into your account or who have a direct link can video those videos. The downside to this is that it means uploading all content and then continuously streaming it from the internet. That’s a lot of bandwidth and time moving around very large files. It obviously also means replying on an internet connection for delivery and an outside service which may change its policies on advertising at any time.

The upside to streaming content like this is that multiple new playlists can be created from a central location and then played back whenever ready from the display using the Apple TV remote or the smart TV remote.

The downside to using streaming, whether directly to a smart TV or to an Apple TV box and then a to a display is that multiple displays cannot be synced. In my experience this is not a problem for most applications, but if having the same thing displaying on multiple displays at the same time is important then combining an Apple TV system with a Wolfpack system (see below) will achieve this.  

Displaying a Computer Screen

Many computer programs have dashboards, censuses, electronic whiteboards, PowerPoint, or even just CCTV feeds that it would be helpful to displayed around a building. One can obviously just use individual computers and monitors for this job. However, this can be expensive in terms of software and hardware, and often is just not ergonomically satisfying due to the size of the PC and needing a mouse and keyboard to make changes and general maintenance.

Using individual computers to run displays from Practice Management Software (PMS)

HMDI over ethernet is a possible solution. There are a few different systems out there, but I really like the Wolfpack system from HDTV Supply.

The Wolfpack Matrix Switcher with Transmitter and Receiver boxes

The Wolfpack system does not send HDMI signals over a building’s network, rather it converts HDMI signals to Ethernet and then back again. A central matrix switch allows the administrator to route inputs to outputs as needed.

A Computer running PMS displayed at multiple locations using the Wolfpack system

As you can see in the above image, the display HDMI signal from a computer is sent to a Wolfpack transmitter box and converted so it can run over Ethernet. In turn, this Ethernet cable is plugged into the matrix switch which then sends the signal to as many receivers as needed. Each outlet will need its own Ethernet cable / route. These Ethernet outputs are then plugged into Wolfpack receiver boxes and converted back into HDMI which can then be plugged into the displays.

If setting up a system like this, I strongly recommend having a display local to the computer rather than just replying on the remote displays. This can be achieved by having a second video card in the computer or by having an additional Wolfpack receiver box and monitor where the computer is.

A more complicated wolfpack system with two different computers displaying different information from the PMS to multiple locations

These systems are extremely flexible, but please be aware that since each display requires its own Ethernet route existing ethernet lines can get used up fast and therefore cause problems for your traditional computer network. Another advantage of this system is that adding a new display is only as expensive as the display itself and a new receiver box.

It is possible to combine both the Apple TV system and the Wolfpack system to allow for content displays to display the same content in sync with each other. The HDMI output of the Apple TV plugs into a Wolfpack transmitter box and from there the signal is routed to Wolfpack receiver boxes and the attached displays. Again, I would strongly recommend if setting up a system like this to have a display local to the Apple TV for setup and maintenance purposes.

Screen Savers as Digital Signage    

Although the need for screen savers on modern computers is not longer the requirement it once was, the tools offered by screen savers on individual PCs makes for great static digital signage. Images, not video as of this writing, can be displayed sequentially or in a random order on some or all of a building’s computers. Indeed, it is even possible to have multiple different sequences running on different computers depending on the companies needs or where those computers are in the building itself. The huge advantage of using screen savers is that there is no hardware or software to be purchased; the screens and computers already exist.

Screen savers as digital signage also has the added advantage of the simplicity of using images and is therefore a great starting point for beginners trying to introduce other team members to the benefits of using digital signage.

Screen savers being used to display new employee information throughout the building

The way to achieve screen saver digital signage is to use the “photo” screen saver tool on each individual computer. This is time consuming but only needs to be done once. The photo screen saver tool is generally found under “settings” and then “display” on PCs and needs to point to a folder on the network, preferably the server, that contains the images to be displayed. Windows, displays images in numerical and / or alphabetical order of the file name. If a particular order is needed, then the naming convention of the images in the folder needs to be considered. To have a separate set of images for a different set of computers or area of the building simply have second folder and point those computers screen savers to that location on the network.

Screen savers in an exam room being used to deliver marketing information while clients wait

With a probably configured system, adding new images into the screen saver is merely a matter of dropping new images into the correct folder. To remove images, just remove them from the folder. A discussion of what is trying to be achieved is probably worth having with the network administrator or IT vendor as the networked folder for the images will probably require access adjustments.

Screen savers being used to deliver staff bios to clients in an exam room

Pro tip – getting the speed at which images change, particularly if those images contain a lot of text can be tricky. Most screen saver tools just have slow medium or fast as options. However, duplicating images and giving them sequential file names (1a.jpg and 1b.jpg for example) will allow for an increase in the time spent on any one image. Please note this does not work if the photos are being displayed in a random order.

Digital signage is a great dynamic tool; however, it is only as good as the content that is displayed on it. Consideration as to what is going to be displayed, how it is going to generated, and who is responsible for updating are all key questions that need answered before jumping into the world of digital signage.  

Have we really learned nothing over the past 20 years?

Last week, the SEC filed a lawsuit against former executives of the now defunct MoviePass. It alleges what has become an all too familiar tale. That MoviePass was not only a business that could never work, but that its owners knew it could never work, lied to customers, investors, and the markets, and to cap things off siphoned money away to executives through fraudulent invoices for services never delivered.

MoviePass was a service whereby movie patrons would pay $9.99 per month and see as many movies as they liked –  MoviePass would reimburse the movie theater for the price of the ticket. From the start there were those that said that this could never work. But the modern gods of data, analytics, and consumer research said otherwise – or so we were told. It turns out this was not the case. There was no research, no analytical software, and what boils down to no business plan – alleges the SEC. 

I for one am getting pretty sick of this.

Some new highflying new business comes along and promises to change the world and by implication telling us that we are doing it all wrong. And it leaves those who do not buy into the hype scratching their heads wondering what they are missing. What is rarely discussed is the reliance on venture capital. On creating market share above all else – stability and long-term viability be damned. The magicians point to Google, Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, Facebook, YouTube, PayPal, et al. But for every one of these there are hundreds or thousands of companies that don’t, that can’t, work. And some of these flameout spectacularly: Theranos, WeWork, Enron, pets.com, remember these?

I can’t help thinking about the Michael Lewis book, and its surprisingly faithful movie adaptation; “The Big Short.” The Big Short is about the housing crisis and the subsequent crash and world recession. More precisely, the book is about those who saw that the subprime housing market was fundamentally flawed if not actually fraudulent and spend most of the book trying to figure out what they are missing. As it turns out there are missing anything other than the willingness of others to delude themselves. 

Business should be about delivering goods and services to the community. The contract being that if a business delivers a fair product, at a fair price, a business should be rewarded by being profitable, paying its employees fairly, and if the owners want, being able to sell that business as a going concern in the future.

Where things have gone wrong is the idea of using a business to create a narrative. A narrative of the potential of the future. One day we will be profitable. One day we will be sustainable because our competitors will be out of business. We’ve ran the numbers and by some magic it will all work out down the road – look at all our customers. South Park highlighted this nonsense best with a group of gnomes who collect underpants. Their three-step plan being step one: collect underpants and step three: being profit, but never actually figuring out what step two, the most important step, actually is.

Once those at the top realize that their emperor has no clothes the lies start, and then in some cases, the fraud. Even if it does not lead to lies and fraud, the implications for society can be dire when we up end markets on a promise rather than a sound financial plan. Rental arbitrage for example, where properties are rented and then put up for short term rentals using services such as Airbnb, have made renting impossibly expensive in many cities for people who just want somewhere to live.

Now I like to think I’m not an idiot. I understand that some industries need scale to be able to work. That a startup might well have significant burn rate (the rate at which it spends investors cash). Visionary ideas are often not recognized. Disruption can be painful – and there are businesses that do need to be disrupted. There are businesses that leave money on the table that become opportunities for others. Finally, I also get that startup culture has changed our world, for the better, in a lot of ways.

But in turn, that does not mean that we should blindly accept the narrative of a businesses that sounds too good to be true is actually just ahead of their time when actually the much simpler explanation of them actually being too good to be true is more accurate. What does is say about our business landscape when a company, or an existing industry which is profitable is put out of existence by a company that can never be profitable except in the minds of those willing to finance the risk up until the point they can sell the risk to someone else and make boat loads of cash?

Take Uber. The poster child for the disruption of an industry that needed disrupting. A radical change to how people get around cities. However, they still have not made a profit in any meaningful way. Just how big does a company like Uber need to be in order to be profitable? Lots of people have gotten rich, lots of other companies have gone out of business as a result, lots of ethical lapses, lots of legally questionable tactics, and an internal culture so toxic it got its own TV show – the excellent Super Pumped on Showtime.

Uber makes our lives easier but customers underpaying for something always makes customers happier. And that’s the problem. I would argue, that in the long run stability is what matters for society. The jury is still out as to whether Uber drivers are happier than Taxi drivers. Uber is certainly more convenient for drivers, they tend to be more productive, and the barriers to entry have been removed (although there is a significant argument that Lyft deserves more of the credit here). The recent lawsuits about employee classification would seem to suggest that all in not well in the space. But what happens when Uber is “too big to fail?” Does it become the very industry is sought to disrupt?

In the end, while traditional business can be seen as stale and boring, without the glamor and potential riches of startup culture, they have the advantage of adding to society and generally being profitable. The masters of the universe of startup culture, and venture capitalism, at times seem to be the peddlers of nothing but vision. While there is lots of talk about changing the world, this is often at the expense of internal culture and the norms of doing business. Breaking things is not always the best way to get what you want done. Not all startups / venture capital funded enterprises are toxic cesspits and not more traditional business are sweetness and light.

What is becoming obvious, however, is that just disruption and having a good vison are not enough to achieve results in the real world and there by bring benefit to society as a whole.

Writing an accessible and thorough book about a complex and everchanging subject, such as social media, is a daunting prospect – particularly when your audience is a niche one such as veterinary medicine. Dr. Caitlin DeWilde; however, has done just that.

With the look and feel of a textbook, but the format a “Dummies” or “Idiots how to” book, Social Media and Marketing for Veterinary Professionals is a how to guide to all the major Social Media platforms and to all the tasks needing to be understood for someone who is not a marketing professional or even someone that interested in social media or reviews.

With chapters dedicated to each of the major platforms making up the first half of the book this can at times feel redundant; however, the thoroughness will be welcomed by those feeling out of their depth in a brand-new field and the dedication to not making assumptions is more than admirable. The second half of the book is a much more interesting read for the existing user, touching on issues such as retargeting (when online ads seem to follow you around the internet), review bombing, return on investment (ROI), and general advertising strategies both online and in print ads.

Filled with footnotes, the book is impeccably researched as would expect from someone with Dr. DeWilde’s reputation as “The Social DVM.” The index is a little thin, but it at least has one and it covers most of the things that one is likely to need to find in a hurry. What is a surprising addition is the over 80 QR Codes that link directly to an online resource for forms and other digital content. It is a little disappointing that the QR codes only take the user to a menu structure that the reader then must navigate through to get the required content. But this is a minor quibble and is a great use of a technology that is often used and abused. The fact that these online resources exist at all, and are included in the price of this volume, more than makes up for any navigation quibbles.

While I waded through all 200 odd and large format pages in three or four sittings, this is actually a book to tackle one chapter at a time, or to dip into as required. Growing your knowledge with your own experimentation and reading. While there is some building on what has come before, the chapters generally stand on their own and therefore can be used as a reference book if so desired.

Whether it be new managers suddenly saddled with a topic they know nothing about, staff members who have only ever used social media for their own personal networks, or those looking to build their own personal brands online there is now a guide for you with no translations from other industries required. To the vast majority of its readers, the subject of this book will always be a side interest to their main passion – whether it be veterinary management or veterinary medicine. We don’t often get resources geared towards niche areas within other niche areas. It is great to see this one.

Dr. DeWilde has literally written the book on using social media as a veterinary professional.

And it’s a good one.

I have a pitch for the reissue or follow up to “The Revenge of Analog” for Mr. Sax. He should call it “The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog.” If two years of a global pandemic have taught us nothing us, and I believe it has taught us a great deal, it is that the primary thesis of Mr. Sax’s excellent 2016 book is even more right than I think even he believed possible.

Real things matter.

Digital has transformed our world and for most people this is a good thing. Digital makes life easier and more productive. It allows easy access to information like never before and it allows for an ease of communication that is straight out of science fiction. The author’s point is not that digital is necessarily a bad thing, but that to live in a solely digital only world is a cold and sterile existence that can be lacking in creativity and positive unintended, consequences.

Using examples such as books, vinyl records, music production, movies, education, paper notebooks, the design process, and games, “The Revenge of Analog” makes the case that with digital it is all to easy to fit ideas to fit processes and so by extension limit those ideas.  There is also a drive, often by those who are older and want to be seen as innovative and “with it,” to focus on the technology and then try to apply it to problems rather than start with the problem and see what solutions might work- technological or otherwise. Indeed, one of the more intriguing facts in the book is that it is often those who have grown up with digital that are the ones that see the most value in analog records, books, and notebooks for example. There is value in inconveniences if the experience is more authentic.

 The wider point is that technology and digital media are just tools. Badly implemented tools, or tools that are adopted without first understanding the problem, are destined to fail. However, what is less well understood is that when tools are easy to use and do solve multiple issues, they can also reduce the value of an experience in the mind of the participant. To embrace analog items in our digital world is not a repudiation of that world – it is an acknowledgment of its shortcomings and a possible solution to them. Digital processes in the creative world can lead to homogeneity – there is nothing more creatively open than a blank piece of paper.

One of the realizations from the pandemic that almost everyone can agree on, was that meetings over zoom, for example, are not a good replacement for meetings in person. That while some people liked working from home, others found it isolating and lacking in comradery. The pandemic almost universally proved that remote education is fraught with difficulties for both students and teachers. A class being together with a teacher has value that far exceeds the delivery of knowledge.

If there was any doubt after reading Mr. Sax’s excellent book, the pandemic removed it all.

So Mr. Sax, The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog?

Just after finishing the first draft of this review, I saw that David Sax has a new book coming out – “The Future is Analog.” So much for “The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog.”

Does anyone care about reviews anymore?

Well – yes we should, however, even amongst those of us who care about reviews, we quite possibly care a bit less.

Why?

As the always insightful Mike Blumenthal says in this article about the fall in user and review growth on Yelp and this article on the fall in reviews on Google Local, things are not looking great for the review space. It cannot all be blamed on COVID-19. The trends of reduced new user numbers and a significant slowing in the rate of new reviews was well in place before the pandemic.

So, what is going on?

I believe what we are seeing is what I have dubbed “The Karen Effect.” The origins of the term “Karen,” meaning in rough terms a middle-aged white woman demanding to speak to the manager, being overly officious / unreasonable, or just being downright racist, is not exactly known. However, the term Karen exploded in usage during 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer of the Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd. Karen today could mean anyone, of any gender, losing their temper over or generally overreacting to a perceived wrong.  

This rise in petty unreasonableness and overly bad behavior, towards those working in service industries or retail, during the pandemic has in turn given rise to another phenomenon: the sharing of this behavior online. I wrote about my fears about clients trying to leverage live streams and social platforms in an aggressive manner in this 2016 post. While this weaponizing of the documenting of interactions with a business has been successfully attempted, it has also backfired.

The first time I became aware of the potential for this tide to turn was after seeing this 2014 viral video:

This is an all too familiar scene that could have happened yesterday rather than eight years ago. A customer, believing they have been wronged, exacting their revenge on social media and in doing so exposes their own failings and unreasonableness. It also highlights the extremes to which employees will go to try and address customer complaints and keep their cool while doing so.

This is the Karren Effect.

What does this have to do with reviews?

Videos of front-line employees being polite, following their business’s policies, and trying to help a customer are not great social capital. In fact, they are boring. Watching a customer “lose their sh*t” over a perceived wrong is great social capital and in turn adds a measure of retribution for someone being punished for bad behavior. This, of course, is not always the case. Some businesses screw up, act badly, and can be badly represented by employees. But since the rise of the Karen, and the flooding of social media showing just how bad things can be, would you trust a stranger’s opinions about a business? Particularly a negative opinion? The embrace of video on social media, and everyone having a high definition video camera in their pocket, or more likely in their hand, has meant that good content can be generated from bad behavior – although generally not for the person behaving badly.

Likewise, influencer marketing and the dubious reputation that it has in many circles has also not helped the review space. While many social media influencers go to great lengths to inform their followers as to when posts are a paid promotion and thereby stay on the right side of the law, others do not and also try to leverage their “influence” into free products and services.

Influencers who try to abuse their Influence has also fallen foul of “The Karen Effect.” Most social media users have little tolerance for influencers those who abuse their power – a power given to the influencer by those same social media users – and businesses despise them. This leads us back to reviews. If influencers, who by definition are known to their audience, are not be trusted with their opinions due to undisclosed commercial relationships, how can review platform users trust complete strangers – regardless of whether the review is good or bad?

The Karen Effect is the loss of trust in the opinions of strangers.

One can hope that the Karen Effect leads to a resurgence of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or gives rise to another organization of a similar ilk. I have always bemoaned that most of the complaints about Yelp and Google Local were effectively dealt with by the BBB and that it was businesses, by not supporting them, that led to their diminished standing today and the rise of Yelp and Google Local.

It seems that people are looking for someone to trust online. They are finding other users online lacking. It will be interesting to see what fills the void.

What allows us to feel like we belong somewhere?

How do we harness belonging to create buy-in for our teams and how do outside influences affect our own sense of belonging in the world? What can damage that sense of belonging? How do we avoid destroying what we seek to create?

In Daniel Coyle’s book , The Culture Code – which I reviewed here, he puts forth the idea that the things that create great culture in groups and teams do so by triggering a sense of belonging. These are things such as uniforms, special phrases or codes, and a shared vision of purpose. By triggering these ‘belonging cues’ we feel safe and part of a collective. We have shared values and a shared identity. This feeling of belonging is even more strongly triggered when there is an outside enemy or outside set of circumstances.

The fear of the outsider being used as a rallying cry for uniting a people has a dark reputation in history, but also has its more positive outcomes as well. The dramatic drop in crime in New York city in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks being an obvious example.

My own personal sense of belonging was also triggered in the shadow of tragedy.

When the 10/1/17 mass shooting happened at the Route 91 Festival in my adoptive hometown of Las Vegas, which killed 58 people (60 at the time of this writing), there was obviously shock and horror from not just people in Las Vegas, but also around the country. People who live in Las Vegas have an odd relationship with its tourist nature, in as much as there is great respect for the people who visit and for the things that draw them to our town, but that does not necessarily mean that we want much do with those people or those parts of the town. However, to attack those things, and those people is very much seen as an attack on the entire city. A city based on welcoming strangers to our town, and hoping that they have a good time during their visit.

The reaction of the city, with people lining up around the block to donate blood, the general feeling of outrage that this could happen, and that someone could abuse our hospitality in such a hideous manner, created a greater sense of ownership of this odd place in the desert where I live than at any other time in previous five years of my residency.

But something else happened at the same time in Las Vegas.

The city got its first professional sports team in the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK).

To the hockey world and the sports pundits, this was less than a joke. A city which had no history of support for major league sports, that has shown little interest in hockey, and where it was 115 degrees in the summer. It seemed like a terrible idea from just about every corner. However, at its darkest hour – or what certainly felt like its darkest hour at the time, the Vegas Golden Knights showed that they wanted to be part of the community, which let’s face it – they were not.

What happened next is the stuff of fairy tales. An unprecedented run for the Stanley Cup, and a city adopting a sport and a team as their own – making Las Vegas one of the best places to experience a hockey game in the country. For the whole story of that first year, I cannot recommend enough the documentary “Valiant” the trailer for which you will find below.

 I should explain at this point explain that I have no time for sports. Apart from the odd summer evening watching baseball, more for the company and enjoying the summer evening in a crowd, than for anything happening on the field, sports was something that other people did.  So, the question becomes, how did I become the owner of three hockey jerseys? What happened that first year of the Vegas Golden Knights, and in successive years, to make mee feel like they were my team, but also to become proud and emotional about my adoptive hometown? How did I come to believe that I belonged as a Vegas Golden Knights fan and that by extension that I felt ownership of a city that is, by definition, a place to be visited?

The Route 91 tragedy was obviously a horrible event for all concerned, but it was also a serious blow to the city and to its self-image. Las Vegas – America’s playground to quote the movie Ocean’s Eleven – a safe place for people to go a little wild. To shatter that image in the eyes of the wider world, also damaged that image in the eyes of the people who live and work here. The Vegas Golden Knights were also a team with an image problem. The players were all cast offs from other teams, and they were expected to be the worst team in the league that year – and possibly for years to come. That alignment of adversity created shared purpose.

And then against all odds the Golden Knights started, and kept, winning. A city which needed something to cheer and be happy about – got it in spades. The Vegas Golden Knights belonged to Las Vegas and Las Vegas belonged to the Vegas Golden Knights.

But there was more than fate at work in this bonding. The Vegas Golden Knights created their own medieval pantomime as a branding exercise; however, they also adopted the symbols and sounds that have come to epitomize Las Vegas. The sounds of coins, the roll of a dice, a mascot named “Chance,” “Viva Las Vegas”, and just the very golden coloring of anything and everything in sight made the Golden Knights feel like Las Vegas, but also to feel that it was okay to embrace the visitor tropes of Las Vegas.

People like to take pride in things, and it was easy to take pride in the Vegas Golden Knights. The fan experience was considered the best in the league, they continued to play well, cleanly, and get involved in the community. It also brought pride to the city because the Golden Knights did not exist for visitors – although all are welcome. They existed for the residents of Las Vegas.

The symbols of Golden Knights became synonymous with the city of Las Vegas, and with #VegasStrong. The uniforms, symbols, the shared experience of adversity, and the games created a whole new culture. A culture that the people of Las Vegas could belong to.

For that first Vegas Golden Knights season in 2017 / 2018 I was not a fan or even really bought into the culture. I was aware of it building all around me; but being aware of how the triggering of belonging cues can feel like manipulation I tried to stay aloof. It was not until the beginning of the 2018 / 2019 season, and going to my first game, that I finally succumbed, and ultimately embraced the sport and the team.

Fast forward to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first game of the second round. The Vegas Golden Knights vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado were considered the favorites, of not just the series, but of the entire playoffs. Game one is a disaster for the Golden Knights. A 7-1 loss. Not only do they look out classed on the ice, but they show their frustration by getting into fights and giving up penalties. This culminates in Vegas enforcer Ryan Reeves kneeing on the head of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves in apparent retaliation for an earlier hit by Graves on Vegas player Janmark. Reeves was tossed from the game and received a two-game suspension. The VGK receive an extraordinary nine-minute penalty, and arguably play their best hocky of the game for the first seven minutes of that penalty, until two Vegas players decide they would rather hit a Colorado player rather than defend, and Colorado scores yet again.

This game caused a great crisis of faith for me. In the game and in the team I had come to love. Vegas is known as a team that plays “heavy, but clean.” Reeves actions, seemed dangerous, petty, and revengeful. In addition, the entire team seemed petulant at the resounding loss. To add to the disappointment, Reeves had been an outspoken advocate for police reform in the light of the George Floyd murder, and yet here he was kneeling on the head of another player. A professional, using excessive force because he could.

Chuck Klosterman in his book “But What If We Are Wrong?,” which I reviewed here, talks about the fall in popularity of boxing, and the potential for the fall of professional football, due to mainstream occasional fans, as opposed to dedicated “my team can do no wrong” kind of fans, being turned off by the serious life threatening injuries than can occur in those sports.

At the end of that game against Colorado, I was ashamed to be a Golden Knights fan. I believed that they had betrayed what they stood for. Other fans had a problem with them losing in such spectacular form – I didn’t. My problem was with them seeming to being petty and vengeful.

Game two of the series, while still a loss for Vegas, began to restore my faith in the team as they acquitted themselves as professionals.

However, just nine games later again my faith would be shaken. Testing my commitment to this sport and to being a fan. This time due to the behavior of the fans themselves.

Round Three, Game four, was not a good game for Vegas. Ultimately a 4-1 loss for the VGK at home. However, seeing your team booed off the ice at the end of the second period and at the end of a power play but their own fans was more than a little disquieting. As was the failure of the two people next to me and the eight people in front of me not returning to their seats for the 3rd period. I did not want to belong to a fan base that only supported a team when they were winning. Near the end of the game, Montreal scored an empty net gold making the score 4-1. There has always been fans who leave near the end of a game when it is obvious that their team is going to lose. This, however, was not a few fans.

This was an exodos.

I estimated 2/3s to 3/4s of the auditorium.         

It was heartbreaking for the players I’m sure. Yes, they did not play well, or it would seem with much heart, but they did not deserve to be treated that way. Vegas has always seemed to have a hospitable fan base. Welcoming opposing fan bases into T-Mobile Arena, making sure they felt welcome in our barn and in our city. It has also forgiven its team for its losses and supported them as they once supported us. Its one of the things that I love about supporting the team – everyone was generally ways positive, friendly to all, and just wanting to have a good time. It the light of this game some fans expressed that the team deserved it as they had not shown up to play, and that far worse happened at other areas with other teams.

But that misses the point. Vegas was supposed to be different.

Cultures are made up of shared beliefs, shared values, and a shared sense of identity. This is reenforced by the sharing of uniforms, language, and customs. Damage to the sense of belonging by upending any of these threatens that fragile culture.

I myself have found myself feeling like an outsider in a culture I helped create in an online community, due to the shifting priorities of those in charge, a lack of inclusiveness, and a feeling that my sense of wanting to contribute was devalued and unappreciated. The feeling that I’m getting far less out than I’m putting in is often why people leave companies.

We mess with shared values and culture at our peril. These are fragile things. Belonging allows us to feel safe. It flips a switch in our cave-person brain and tells us “it’s ok,” “you are among friends,” “the saber tooth tigers are not going to get you today.”

But belonging goes further. Belonging allows us to feel. To connect. To bond. To Think.

All we do as humans is think, feel, and run around.

Cultures have to be fought for, to champion for, but they are not a bottomless well. When that sense of belonging is gone, it is gone for good.

I am still a Golden Knights fan, but there were some ugly moments for our team and the fan base during these playoffs.

Our teams that we lead and belong to, if we are lucky, have the same sense of belonging that fans feel for sports teams. But we can damage them just as easily as sports teams can by our actions and inactions.

Belonging is what we all want. But it can never be taken for granted.

Books that have a simple premise that sounds clever, often push that premise to breaking point and turn into a cluttered mess. Thankfully, The Content Fuel Framework is not one of them.

Its simple premise, that story ideas for marketing purposes can be generated by using a 10 x 10 matrix of focuses and formats, is the kind of thing that marketers tend to do by instinct. Where Ms. Deziel scores is in the simple and obvious idea of writing this all down in a matrix to see what unusual and interesting ideas, that would normally never get thought of, develop.   

By deconstructing the steps which most marketers take when creating story ideas, Ms. Deziel demystifies the whole process and allows it to become accessible for all. This is not a book about the nuts and bolts of marketing, but more about how to stress test your ideas to find out what are the best ways for them to be handled – particularly when working as part of a team.

I hesitate to write down the 10 focuses and formats here in a review, as without the context that the book provides, I suspect that using the matrix will initially problematic. However, the context that is provided in The Content Fuel Framework allows the reader to not only see these ideas applied in the real world, but also to recognize from the marketing that we consume every day, the same applied concepts.

A short book, The Content Fuel Framework is a book that has made me do something that no other marketing book has done before; and this is to copy the 10 Focuses and 10 Formats and pin them to my wall as a reminder. Ultimately, that has to be the main indication of where a book as merit or not – does it make the reader think, or does it change something about the readers behavior?

By solidifying into a formal structure, the internal processes that a lot of marketers go through; The Content Fuel Network gives both validation and new life into marketing storytelling.

It should be on every marketer’s bookshelf.

…or pinned to the wall.   

Scott Stratten, and latterly with his wife Alison, have written five other books on the intersection of customer service, social media, and marketing. I have reviewed most of them, which you can find here, routinely listen to their podcast, The Unpodcast, and I have a framed and signed “Don’t try to win over the haters. You are not the Jackass Whisperer” poster in my office. I am an unashamed fan boy.

Their books have swung from deep dives into marketing theory, to jokey and fairly superficial explorations of the absurdities that the marketing, and wider business world, is full of  – always with humor sprinkled throughout.  Although by no means an expert, I am certainly familiar with their work and their thinking on a variety of subjects.

Their latest book, would seem to an addition to their collection of books with a “gimmick.” A 125 question and answer book to see whether when presented with an example of “jackassery” one responds with a “Jackass Reaction” or a “Whisperer Reaction.”

But…

That is not what if going on here at all.

By coming at the subject from an indirect angle, the Stratten’s have laid bare our worst instinctual reactions to other people’s worst behavior. It shows that, in many instances we are just as much the problem rather than the innocent victim that we too often paint ourselves as. The implicit message is that the only way to deal with bad behavior is not to react to it out of outrage, but out of understanding and an attempt to solve the real underlying issue. To be the better person.

Of course, the book, and by assumption the authors, are not suggesting that all behavior is acceptable, but that “pick you battles” is really mantra we should all live by. That we have a responsibility to make the world a better place, and that starts with our interactions with each other. I find this particularly interesting as there was an element of “shame culture” in the earlier Unpodcast episodes. Jon Roson’s excellent “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” which I reviewed here, goes much deeper into the culture of naming and shaming online; and the Jackass Whisperer seems to be a repudiation of that shame culture.

The Jackass Whisper is over the top, although most of the inciting incidents seem to be based on real occurrences (we really are doomed as a species), the reactions, both as a Jackass or as a Whisperer, are so over the top that it becomes useful to use them as a gauge for how you, the reader, would deal with such a thing. If one is being honest it is easy to see where your reaction is really not helpful, although perhaps satisfying at the time in terms of revenge.

It is, or course, easy to read this book superficially – as I did initially if I’m honest. But it subtly asks questions of us that are not easily answered. Is this the person I want to be? Do I really have to react like this to perceived provocations?

I’ll leave you to guess in the comments on my Jackass scale, but really that is not what is important about the Jackass Whisperer. It is the thought, and potential internal discussion, on the nature of reaction that a thoughtful reading of the book provokes, that makes it well worth your time and the purchase price.

age of infuence
I’ve been following Neal, as a voice on marketing and social media, for easily 10 years.

When he announced the opportunity to buy his new book in advance, receive a signed copy, and be mentioned in the acknowledgments for to helping to support the book’s creation; I took him up on his offer – LinkedIn paying off once again.

You can find me mentioned, and neatly bisected, between page ix and x.

Fame at last.

I delve into this minutia because Neal’s book deals with, and makes the case for, influence and influencers. In how to both leverage and engage influencers in a successful business relationship, but also on how to be a successful influencer in the first place.

Influencer Marketing has received rather a bad wrap outside of the marketing world – particularly by the business community. This is mainly due to news stories of millennials traveling the world, and expecting hundreds of dollars in free goods and services in return for a good word on social media of dubious value. It is also not helped by stories of influencers using their networks to “take revenge” on businesses they feel slighted by; or who have spurned their advances.

“The Age of Influence” makes the case for influencer marketing to actually be an extension of normal social media engagement, taken to its next logical level. Those of us that have our own brands, and brands that we work for, on social know that our own personal posts are treated much more favorably by algorithm gods than brand business posts. It’s a “pay to play” world.

Influencer marketing leverages the personal voice for business purposes. Where “The Age of Influence” really succeeds is in showing the reader that influencer marketing should really be about the relationship between the brand, the influencer, and their larger social following. That the pinnacle of influencer marketing is not a paid Instagram post by someone famous. The pinnacle is rather the partnership, on a long-term basis, between a fan of a product or service, who also has their own fans who trusts the message because of the messenger. Trust is based on authenticity.

There is, of course, a tendency for brands to want to control their message, voice, and overall look. This is normal. As marketing professionals, we spend a lot of money, time, and energy into creating a look and personality for a brand that we are happy with. However, to do this with influencers is to stifle their natural creativity and voice that made them influencers in the first place. Likewise, influencers are not content creation adjuncts to the marketing department. Working with influencers, whose followings come in all shapes and sizes, is a partnership that could be allowing them to interview staff, get a sneak peek at a product or service, or giving discount codes, or products, to followers. The more successful the influencer, the more like working with a traditional media company the relationship becomes. But at its core, when influencer marketing is successful it is about a relationship where both parties are happy and getting what they want out of the collaboration.

There are significant legal issues with paid collaborations between influencers and brands. And while “The Age of Influence” does not deal with this in depth, it does warn of the pitfalls and make it clear that these are issues to address with any campaign that must be taken seriously.

“The Age of Influence” is much more than a “how to” manual of influencer marketing; it is a treatise on how influence is actually about boosting engagement and having a more dynamic relationship between customer and brand. How in its earliest of stages, influencer marketing is indistinguishable for just good social media engagement. As Neal states in the book, don’t get too focused on the tools; but the tools to get started are all in “The Age of Influence.”

If you feel that influencer marketing is not for you; “The Age of Influence” begs to differ, and if your interest is already there then it is the all-important bible.

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