It's My Birthday, but YOU Get the Gift!

Cat's out of the bag -- tomorrow is my 33rd birthday!

I thought of a million different ways to celebrate, but then it came to me. I want to use my birthday to celebrate the most important thing: YOU!

You have been there supporting me, and BrandVox, for the past year. I started this business almost on a whim, and you've been on the sidelines, cheering me on. I've had the opportunity to work with big, global brands and I'm even writing a book. It's all been because of your support and that means the world to me.

It occurred to me that my birthday lined up perfectly with a brand-spanking new class that I just launched. It's called Find Your Brand Voice: Personality for Business Success. I created it because I know how hard it can be to create a brand that stands out in today's noisy market. Plus, the stats show that having a well-defined brand means bottom-line results: higher valuation at sale, more engaged employees, more loyal customers, higher sales through word of mouth marketing, and the list goes on...

Normally, this class costs $97. And people have paid that price and told me what a great value it is. There's a lot of content. The course is a whole road map with step-by-step instructions on exactly how I've engineered the personalities for some of the world's largest brands. It's worked for me and I know it will work for you to create a brand voice that really sets you apart from your competition. Here's a peek at what's in the class: 

Brand Voice Benefits
In this section, you'll learn what a brand is and why it's important. You'll see brain research that shows how falling in love with a brand is a lot like falling in love with a human, and how personality matters when it comes to the bottom line. You'll also learn how to find your brand voice sweet spot with the same model Andrea uses for her Fortune 100 clients. 

Create Foundational Content
If you want to build a house that stands up to the elements, you need a good foundation. The same is true for your brand. A good foundation will help you weather the storms of a changing marketplace. In this section, you'll build your foundation with a step-by-step process. First, you'll focus on your organizational content: your mission statement, vision statement and core values. Next, you'll learn how to step into the shoes of your audience and create compelling content that makes them fall in love. Finally, you'll learn how to position your product or service in the best light to spark a conversation and spur word of mouth. 

Discover Your Personality
Once your foundation is laid, you'll start developing a distinct and engaging personality. Andrea will share her favorite tips, tools, and techniques for facilitating a group discussion. You'll also get access to her popular Brand Character Profile™ to help you find your top six distinguishing brand traits. 

Use Your Brand Voice Across an Organization
The best brands give a consistent experience in any department. In this section, we'll look at how your brand voice will change in different situations. Using Andrea's Tone Wheel™, you'll walk through your entire business to ensure everyone is able to use your new brand voice consistently and confidently. 

Training Your Team
You'll wrap up the course by learning the best way to roll out your new team. You'll get access to a Brand Voice Style Guide template that you can easily modify and share with your team. 

At first, I thought about giving $10 off, but clearly that wasn't good enough...

Then I thought about giving you 33% off, but I still didn't think that was enough to celebrate how much I appreciate you...

Then, I had it! This weekend only, you can get my class for just $33!

That's 66% off the regular price! You get all the videos and a 53-page e-book that will walk you through how to:

Here's how to get this one-time-only offer:
1. Go to http://classes.yourbrandvox.com/courses/find-your-brand-voice
2. Use the promo code BDAY33 at check out. 

...all for the lowest price that I will ever, ever, ever offer it.

The code is only valid through Sunday, June 29th 11:59PM Eastern Time. So take advantage of this offer while you're thinking about it.

Need more info? No problem!

Want to hear more about the class and about creating online classes in general? Check out my recent interview with Design Recharge here:

What students are saying about my online courses:

Andrea covered several aspects to the process that I had not considered before, and offered useful suggestions and resources." -Beth Robertson
"This class gave me a lot to think about and some critical planning steps I may have jumped over in the past. Definitely a lot of helpful, usable information." -Tracey Mcclure
"This was a really well organized and well taught course. Thank you, Andrea! It was a great mix of broad strokes, large concepts mixed in with necessary details. I really appreciated the additional resources for each subject/theme. Each video built on one another, and I felt that I was able to develop my material and then build on that material in the next video/class. Highly recommend!" -Jessica S. 

I hope you enjoy my birthday as much as I will. Thanks again for all of your support. You rock!

Content Strategists: Here's Why You Can't Sell Your Ideas

Where were you the first time you heard the words "content strategy"? For me, I remember it clearly. I remember what I was wearing, what I was doing, and with whom I was interacting. It's a flashbulb moment in my life, much like the 9/11 attacks or the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle.

If you don't remember where you were, that's perfectly ok. The reason it mattered so much to me was because I felt like I had finally discovered a term to describe all the disparate points of my career. In what has become a seminal post in A List Apart, Kristina Halvorson put forth this definition:

Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

My eyes must have widened like saucers, because for one of the first times in my professional life, I felt like I belonged. Here, in black and white, was the single invisible thread that perfectly tied together all my sales, marketing, writing, and social media strategy positions. I saw that there was a community, at least in theory, of folks who saw the strategic importance of creating cohesive communications to impact the bottom line.

But as I've gotten to know the content strategy community, I'm discovering that we are selling ourselves short of our strategic importance. We have settled. We allow ourselves to be treated as technicians, focusing more on inputs and less on impact. We don't know how to communicate our value and this is costing us, and the organizations we work for, dearly.

Recently, the Content Strategy Alliance sent out a survey to content strategists worldwide to understand who content strategists are and what they do. Over 1200 people responded. The result? Most content strategists (73%) spend the majority of their time doing content audits and inventories. This was by far the most popular task, with editing (71.4%), copywriting (62.9%), and analytics (57.1%) not far behind. Additionally, more than half of all content strategists don't even touch content that appears outside of the digital realm. This bothers me an such a deep level because it runs contrary to what I first felt was the core of content strategy.

Where's the breakdown? We think of content as only digital communications, when in fact the term content should be applied to ANY piece of communication that is created with a purpose. Yes, digital communication is content, but so are print and verbal communications. Content strategists need to take their heads out of their websites and think bigger and broader. We need to think like a CEO and look at how communications impact our entire organization, regardless of their medium or channel. We have the power to bring cohesion to the chaos, but we need to step up and accept the challenge.

Another breakdown we encounter is we don't know how to sell our value to decision makers. "Conducting a content audit" doesn't talk about the benefits of our work. A CEO doesn't care about how the data gets collected. She's not worried over the semantics of whether or not a spreadsheet is an inventory or an audit. She cares about the strategic recommendations that come from the analysis. She cares about getting more customers. She cares about besting her competitors. She cares about creating a brand that creates value for its shareholders.

So, I challenge all content strategists to stop explaining their process and start communicating our value. Only then will we start getting the projects, budgets, and respect we know we deserve.

How Becoming a Buffer Power User Completely Changed My Life and Business

 Buffer lets you create a content reservoir and publish it in a steady drip. 

Buffer lets you create a content reservoir and publish it in a steady drip. 

Of all the social media management tools I’ve ever used, (and there have been a lot of them), Buffer is the one that has changed my life the most. It’s changed my world, taking the frantic world of social media and making it fun again. For the past two years, Buffer has become an absolutely essential part of my daily workflow. Here’s a peek behind the curtain, so you can revolutionize your life, too.

Why Is Buffer So Awesome?

There are many, many, reasons, but for me, the biggest reason I love Buffer is that I can separate my content creation and publication. I’m not quick-witted and time pressure kills my creativity. I need a lot of creative foreplay before ideas start really flowing. I work best when I can focus on the task at hand, without distraction. So, when I’m creating content, I tend to create a lot of it at one time. Once I’m in the zone, I’m milking those creative juices for all I can. If I were to produce all of my content as I published it, I’d be missing opportunities, annoying my audience, and not using channels to their potential. On the flip side, if I try to focus on tweeting at just the right time, I get stressed and my work wouldn't be as good as it could be.

Buffer is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a buffer that I can use between when I create my content and when it goes out. It’s like a faucet for my content. I can have a full reservoir of content waiting in the wings, but my content is published in a steady stream that I control.

Buffer also integrates with the tools I’m already using, like Chrome, Pocket, Zite, Feedly, and Twitter. The user experience is well designed so in the off chance that I think of a tweet while I’m reading an article, I can put it in my Buffer effortlessly and quickly return to what I was doing. I don’t lose the flow, which is critical to me staying in a creative space.

Before Buffer

Before Buffer, I really struggled with Twitter. I launched an account in 2007 and after a few months, promptly wrote about how it was “a complete waste of my time”. Boy, was I wrong. In the early days, I think my lack of love was due to the fact that there wasn’t really a community yet. Or, at least not my community. I deleted my account without remorse and thought that was the end of it. But, of course, we know that’s not the end of the story.

In 2009, I rejoined Twitter. I was working on the internal creative team at Capital One, exploring how we could use social media to provide a better customer experience. I started using Twitter to connect with people at conferences. I found it incredibly useful for connecting with like-minded people, but I was in constant awe of how so many people found time to tweet throughout the day. For me, composing a tweet was a complete break in my workflow. Again, I resigned to the fact that Twitter wasn’t a good fit for me, but kept my account up and running.

Discovering Buffer

I remember the exact moment when I saw Buffer for the first time. It’s one of those flashbulb moments that marks a permanent place in your brain. By now, it was 2012 and I was at a digital agency, leading a team of community managers who ran the social media for several Fortune 500 clients. My job was to find ways to help them be more efficient and effective. I sat in my office and as I read Buffer’s spot-on website copy, I could hardly believe that someone had built a product for my exact problem! My eyes widened as I tested it out and I ran into the bullpen bursting with enthusiasm. About half my team was as excited as I was, and the other half didn’t have a clue as to why we blue-sky thinkers needed more than two seconds to write a tweet.

Using Buffer

Now that I’m back to being an entrepreneur, using social media well makes a difference to my bottom line. Here are just some of the ways I like to use Buffer in my daily workflow.

Use Buffer to Quote Articles in Pocket

This is one of my all time favorite features. When I find an interesting article, I save it to Pocket. (I also have an IFTTT recipe that automatically saves the link of any tweet I favorite to Pocket, too) Then, when I’m reading all the great stuff I’ve saved, if I highlight a quote and click the Buffer icon, it will automatically create a tweet from the highlighted text.

Use Buffer to Shuffle Between Social Media Accounts

Today, I don’t just have one Twitter account. I have five. There’s one for me, one for each of the businesses I own, and one for each of my books. And then there’s Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ for all my brands, too. When I find something interesting, there’s a high chance that it will be relevant across many accounts. But it’s annoying to my followers if they see a tweet by me followed immediately by the exact same tweet from my business. Luckily, Buffer thought of that with the shuffle button. Whenever I finish a power session with Buffer, I head into the app and click the shuffle button on all my accounts. This way, I save time and my followers stay engaged. Win-win!

Use Buffer to Tweet at a Better Time

I do my best writing late at night. It’s 3:37am as I type this. If I had a brilliant thought now and published it, no one in my audience is around to interact with it. So, Buffer saves the day again. Now, I can create content when my mind works best and delay publication to a time when my audience is actually there to have a conversation.

Use Buffer to Get Help

Now that I have a team, Buffer comes to the rescue again. By adding team members to my account, I can get help with contributions so I share more frequently. I have control over whether someone can post directly to a Buffer or if I need to approve their work before it is published. Again, the set up is intuitive and easy to use.

Use Buffer to Find Content to Share

A few months ago, I noticed Buffer started suggesting content for me to share. Over and over again, I’ve found their suggestions to be spot on. The content they suggest is relevant and interesting and, again, saves me time.

While my list of loves is long, there are a few teeny things that would make Buffer even better. I’d love to see an integration with Tweetbot and a mobile version of the Chrome extension. But other than that, I really don’t have any complaints. Joel and his team have really put a lot of love into this app. They’re constantly asking for feedback (in a nice way that makes me want to give it) and their customer support is just as good as their marketing. I’m just as thrilled using Buffer today as I was two years ago when I discovered it.

How about you? Have you given Buffer a shot? What’s your favorite feature? Did you learn something new by reading this? Let me know in the comments!

Content Strategy Lessons from Hollywood Costume Designers

 Image Credit: Bigstock/vclements

Image Credit: Bigstock/vclements

Take a minute and think about some of these iconic movie characters. 

Indiana Jones...

Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz...

Harry Potter...

Go on. Close your eyes. Watch them come to life in your mind.

It's ok. I'll wait...

Now, what did you see? 

Chances are, you saw more than just a face. You saw the character in their full wardrobe. Did you see Indy's hat? Dorothy's shoes? Harry's cape and wand? Of course you did. Because, as I learned recently at the VMFA's Hollywood Costume exhibit, that's exactly how the costume designer planned it. 

As I strolled through the exhibit, looking at some of the most memorable costumes in cinema, I was struck by how familiar the role of the Costume Designer is in movie making to that of a Content Strategist in the business world. 

Research is the Key to Results

"I started by spending about a year researching the time period..." That sentence, in some form or another, was in just about all of the interviews that accompanied the costumes, whether it was the elaborate period pieces from Shakespeare in Love or the totally utilitarian ensemble worn by Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity. Everything starts with research. It's much the same with content strategy. The key to getting it right is by researching the heck out of our client and their audience. We rely on audits and analytics to get our job done. 

Executing Someone Else's Vision

Directors, and business leaders, come in all different types. Some are easy going and collaborative. Others are controlling and reluctant to trust. Some are grandiose and gregarious. Others are subdued and reserved. But, at the end of the day, whatever their personality is, it's always their vision that needs to be portrayed, not our own. 

Authenticity Depends on Your Audience

Deborah Scott, the award winning costume designer of Titanic, described how when you're designing for periods in the past, it's still important to make sure your designs are attractive to a contemporary audience. If you adhere too tightly to the fashions of yesterday, your design won't feel authentic, even if it's more historically accurate. Brands need to think much the same way. Rather than strictly adhere to the "correct" way to create our content, we need to think about the context in which our audience will view it.   

Goals Are Different for Every Project

The Costume Designer may work on a fantastical action-adventure movie and then move on to an intimate dramatic love story. Marit Allen is a good example. In 2003, she was the costume designer for Hulk and in 2005 she worked on Brokeback Mountain. Both movies had very different stories they wanted to share, which meant the goals for Allen's designs changed dramatically from project to project. Just like no two movies are exactly alike, all businesses are different, too. This means that the Content Strategist needs to be adaptable and clearly understand the goals of their projects. 

Building Memorable Characters and Experiences

While it's true that Costume Designers and Content Strategists don't usually execute the final vision (that's left up to the talented actors and writers, respectively) our work still goes a long way in developing characters. During the exhibit, all the costumes were displayed on black mannequins, but the emotional connection to the character was still very real. The same is true with Content Strategists, we develop the overall voice and tone of a brand, create foundational content to give guidance, and audit to make sure ideas are executed properly, but the actual words are usually written by someone else.

Not Noticing Our Work is a Usually a Good Thing

For the Content Strategist, our medium is style guides, audits and editorial calendars. While they're not always visible to the final audience, they're critical to making sure the vision of the business leader is executed correctly. The same is true for Costume Designers. You want to get so lost in a world that you don't notice distinct costumes, regardless of how over-the-top or understated they are. 

We aren't in the front and center. You likely won't know us by name. But without us, the magnificent characters of film, and business, wouldn't exist. What are your thoughts? What would film be like without Costume Designers? Or business without Content Strategists? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments!

How Getting Laryngitis Helped Me Get the Most Out of BlendConf

 BlendConf was the first conference I attended that had a "no device" policy. I hope it's not the last.  

BlendConf was the first conference I attended that had a "no device" policy. I hope it's not the last.  

A jeep, three friends, a road trip, and Don't Stop Believin' by Journey — the perfect recipe for laryngitis.

Our group (Chris, Larkin, Arnold and yours truly), we were so excited to attend BlendConf that we sang for two straight hours at the top of our lungs. We passed the stereo plug and democracy played DJ. Next up? Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. With the Lights Out by Nirvana. And one of my personal faves, Hold On by Wilson Phillips.  (And yes, I knew all the words before the movie, Bridesmaids.)

I'm not sure if I sang louder or differently than my friends, but somehow I ended up with a scratchy throat when we pulled into the hotel. By the first day of the workshops, my voice was a full octave deeper, but that didn't stop me from pitching a teleportation device powered completely by green energy. Go big or go home, right?   

Throughout the night, as I met one amazing person after another, I strained my larynx so that I could simply ask questions and participate in conversations. By the end of the first night, my voice was cracking and screeching more than a thirteen year old boy. I went to bed with two distinct feelings; trepidation over the conference's "no device" policy, and gratitude that my voice loss really wasn't that bad.  

On Friday morning, I awoke as normal, my throat feeling scratchy but not sore. I turned to say good morning to my roommate, but all that came out of my mouth was a faint whisper. No screeching, no cracking. No, well, anything. 

woah.  

I breathed deep and realized that I'd have to act fast. How was I supposed to communicate with 350 strangers with no iPhone, no computer, and worst of all, no voice?!

A quick tweet was all it took for inspiration to strike.  

 

brandvox_blog_blendconf_tweet.png

Sweet, Diana! 

I took out my sharpie and journal and quickly scribed answers to questions that I anticipated hearing.  

 Even though I couldn't talk during BlendConf, that didn't keep me from meeting new people.  

Even though I couldn't talk during BlendConf, that didn't keep me from meeting new people.  

The first few times I pulled out the journal, I got some bizarre looks, but it ended up working better that I ever could have expected. It made me memorable and was a natural conversation starter. At the end of the conference I even got the karaoke party started by singing first. That way, no one had to be afraid that they'd be the worst singer. My song of choice? "Don't Stop Believing", of course. 

As for the "no devices" concept, my trepidation was relieved when I found a gorgeous notebook by boundforanything.com in my swag bag. I had forgotten how much I liked taking analog notes. With the pressure to fill a Twitter backchannel removed, I found myself doodling and dreaming of ways to make meaningful changes to my business. I also discovered that I walked away with deeper and more meaningful relationships than I have at past conferences. 

A big thanks to Bermon Painter who organized the whole shebang on his own. I wouldn't be surprised if Blend makes its name with the big boys like TED and SXSW in a few years. It was that good, even with laryngitis. 

Game of Chores: Use This Chore Chart to Actually Get Stuff Done

 Life-size replica of the Iron Throne used on HBO's popular show, Game of Thrones. It can be yours for the rock-bottom price of $30,000. Better get some chores done to save for it.  

Life-size replica of the Iron Throne used on HBO's popular show, Game of Thrones. It can be yours for the rock-bottom price of $30,000. Better get some chores done to save for it.  

Pleasure. Or pain.  

Those are the only two ways to change a behavior. People want to pursue pleasure or avoid pain. That's it. So, if you want your family (be it Stark, Lannister, or in my case, Ford) to actually get stuff done, you need to structure your requests so it appeals to one of those two desires. 

As a Message Architect, I do this all the time in my day job. I work with organizations to structure their messaging to increase customer loyalty, engagement, and sales. But I completely neglected this principle at home which meant my house was messy, unorganized, and difficult to maintain.

I could blame it on the baby. Or my husband. But in reality, it's not their fault. I looked at the dusty list of chores on the refrigerator and realized that other than the inherent "ahhhhh" from living in a clean house, there was zero motivation to actually cross things off the list. Life would always get in the way because we didn't appeal to pleasure or pain. 

Enter, my family's weekly challenge.   

I got the idea from watching my husband play the video game Skyrim. When he needs some down time, he cracks open his 6-inch thick players guide and checks off all the things. He genuinely enjoys collecting these virtual points. It's how he relaxes. So I surmised, in theory, I could replicate this structure for our chore chart and instead of playing video games, he would be motivated to help me keep the house clean. 

After using it for two weeks, I'm happy to report that it's working. Not only are we enjoying life in a cleaner home, we're actually having fun keeping it clean. You can see this in the language my husband uses to talk about chores: 

 Before — "Sorry I forgot to take out the trash before the truck came. I didn't think of it until it was too late."

After  — "So, do I get a point for EACH toilet I clean? Score!" (Runs off to clean the bathrooms.)

Can I get one?

Sure thing. You can download the chart above as a Pages or PDF file. I tried exporting it to Word and Google Docs, but had issues with the formatting so it's not available. If someone has the time to make them, I'll be happy to link to them.

Enjoy! And if you have any questions, just let me know in the comments.