13 Easy Templates For Writing a Compelling Value Proposition

Take a minute and think about one person who could really help boost your business. Maybe they have access to the money, contacts, or influence to take your business to the next level. Close your eyes and see their face. (It's okay. I'll wait.)

Now, what would you say to them?

You only have a few seconds of their attention. How would you get the light bulb to go off in their mind? How would you convince them that you are worth working with, investing in, or talking about?

In this moment, the difference between an "Ah-ha!" and a "Oh...interesting" is huge. And it doesn't extend only to the influential people we imagined above. Every potential customer goes through the same process. You need to convince them that you are interesting and that your product or service is worth exploring. That "pitch" moment is where you would use your value proposition.

Your value proposition is an important part of your foundational content and should be written once you've come up with the features and benefits of your product/service (more about foundational content here).

So what is a value proposition then?

A value proposition is simply a one sentence description of why your ideal customer should use your product or service. It should say exactly what problem your product or service solves, list the benefits to the consumer, and place priority on your point of difference.

Your value proposition is a crucial piece of content for your marketing and sales team because it's basically their conversation starter. It should pique interest and entice the potential buyer to want to know more. Upon reading or hearing, your potential buyer should say "Ooh! Tell me more!"

If you're not the best at sales writing (or writing in general) you're in luck. I've compiled a list of templates you can use to help you write a compelling value proposition. Try all of them or a few of them to see which template works best for your brand.

 

1.  Steve Blanks’ XYZ

This may be the simplest value proposition template we’ve seen:

“We help X do Y doing Z”. The idea is to explain briefly why you exist, and then run it by a few people and see if it makes sense to them. If they don’t get it, give  them a brief explanation of your product and have them summarize it for you.

 

2. Geoff Moore’s Value Positioning Statement

This is probably the most popular one. This template has helped thousands of brands communicate their relative value to their audiences and is used most frequently in Fortune 500 firms. The template goes like this:

For______________________________________________(target customer)

who______________________________________________(opportunity)

is a ______________________________________________(company name)

that ______________________________________________(benefit statement).

 

3. Pitching Hacks

This model uses one sentence that distills your vision, but working off of an already know concept:

“Proven industry example for/of (new idea).”

Here’s an example:

The Walmart of health food stores.

 

4. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development - Cooper & Vlaskovits CPS

This model suggests describing things in a specific order:

Customer: __________________________ (who is your customer is)

Problem: _________________________________ (what problem you’re solving for the customer)

Solution:__________________________________ (what is your solution for the problem)

 

5. Dave McClure’s Elevator Ride

Keeping to the origins of the elevator pitch, this is the 30-second quick pitch:

  1. Short, simple, memorable – what, how, why
  2. Use 3 Keywords or phrases
  3. No expert jargon – KISS

 

6. Dave Cowan’s Pitchcraft

This pitch should be short enough to deliver in seconds and not include any confusing industry-related jargon, similar to Pitching Hacks above:

(Your solution to market need) and our product is (use metaphor for  something people already know).

Here’s an example:

We are bringing trust to cyberspace, and our first product is a Driver’s License for the Internet.

 

7. Eric Sink’s Positioning

One easy way to think of this structure is to remember the 3Ws: Why, What, Who:

  1. Superlative – why choose this product? (ex. Easiest, best, number one)
  2. Label – what is the product? (ex. Snack food, operating system)
  3. Qualifiers – who is the audience?  Who should use your product? (ex. busy moms )

 

8. Mindtool’s Elevator Pitch

Create a brief, compelling speech that sounds natural in conversation:

  1. Identify your goal.
  2. Explain what you do.
  3. Communicate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
  4. Engage with a Question.
  5. Put it together.
  6. Practice.

 

9. Peter Sandeen’s Value Proposition

The idea is to “hit people over the head with what makes you different”:

  • What makes you valuable?  Collect all of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and take the action you’re asking for.
  • Can you prove that? Use studies, testimonials, social proof, etc to prove  your claim.

 

10. Peep Laja’s Value Proposition

Create a short paragraph of text along with a photo:

  1. Headline. What is the end-benefit you’re offering, in 1 short sentence. Can mention the product and/or the customer. Attention grabber.
  2. Sub-headline or a 2-3 sentence paragraph. A specific explanation of what you do/offer, for whom and why is it useful.
  3. Three bullet points. List the key benefits or features.
  4. Visual. Images communicate much faster than words. Show the product, the hero shot or an image reinforcing your main message.

 

11. Marketing Experiments Value Proposition Worksheet

This exercise focuses on identifying the primary reason why a customer should buy from you and then using specific measures to rank your proposition - customer desire, exclusivity, etc. Continue to refine until you have one concise sentence that brings immediately credibility.

 

12. Blend

First, consider what sets you apart from the competition. If you’re unsure, do a competitive analysis.

Then for each of these four components, write down how your product satisfies each one: Capability, Impact, Proof, and Cost. Create one sentence that summarizes all.

 

13. Advisor Perspectives’ Value Proposition

Speak directly to your target audience and tell them specifically why they should buy your products and services. Your statement should incorporate the answers to these questions:

  • Who you are.

  • What you do (not how you do it).

  • What problem you solve. (You want people to say, “This is exactly what I am looking for.”)

  • Who your ideal client is.

  • Why your approach is more valuable than other approaches.

  • Why you can help people reach their goal. (After all, this is your core competency.)

Now that you have 13 great templates to choose from get started on your value proposition and once it's written, please share it with us!

Special thanks to Tor Grønsund for his great round up of  templates and examples.

126 Powerful Action Verbs to Kickstart Your Mission Statement

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your mission statement is the single most important piece of content you have. Your mission statement is your rallying cry to every person within your organization and the foundation upon which every other piece of content or decision your organization makes.

No pressure right?

I have been moderating and helping visionaries create mission and vision statements since before I founded BrandVox. And with every group I facilitate, the biggest challenge is figuring out where to start. Most would just jump in and start brainstorming full sentences. The problem with this approach is that when we are taught to write growing up, we were taught to use lots of adjectives to describe things. Adjectives are useful creative writing, but in a mission statement they are bulky. If you want to write a mission statement that packs a punch - that is really powerful - you need the right verb.

Here is an exercise that I developed that will help you discover that powerful action verb your mission statement needs to be succinct, engaging, and powerful.

Action Verb Exercise

Below is a downloadable list of 126 action verbs that I took from my Top 50 Non-Profit Mission Statements list and my Top 50 For-Profit Mission Statements list (plus a few more I thought were effective). Download and print this list and cut out all of the verbs into labels. Trust me, this works better than you think!

Next, lay the labels out on a table so that you can see them all. Read each one out loud and do a gut check. Yes or no: Does this verb resonate with your brand?

Now that you have some verbs narrowed down, start trying to match nouns with the verbs. Here’s where a dialogue will start to happen as you try to pair nouns with your action verbs. You will start to form some sentences that may or may not work. What’s important is the dialogue that happens during this process.

From here, you should be able to come up with a mission statement that defines your brand. Be sure that your mission statement is short (under 7 words), has inspirational or aspirational language, and packs a punch. Before you leave the room with the final sentence ask yourselves: Is this a rally cry? Does this drive us to get up every morning and do what we do? If not, go back to the drawing board.

Why does this work?

First, it’s a starting point - the hardest part is knowing where to start. Second, it’s a dialogue starter. Third, the hardest part of the process is finding that first word. In this exercise, your choices are laid out for you. The reason we choose vague words like “help” in our mission statement is because it’s the first word we go to. When you use a verb like “help” or “make”, you end up convoluting the mission statement with adjectives instead of empowering the statement with a strong verb. Using the right verbs lets you avoid all of those adjectives and leads to a better mission statement in the end.

Remember, your mission statement is the most important piece of content you write for your brand.

Try this exercise out and tell me how it went in the comment section.

Here are some other posts to check out:

How to Write a Mission Statement That Actually Inspired Your Employees and Customers

Stop Writing Your Mission Statement and Start Writing Your Rally Cry

The Secret to Writing Copy That Sells

Have you seen the AT&T commercial with the cute exchange between the installer and the girl who is excited she’ll be able to post from the break room? Either way, take a minute to check out the commercial:

I love this commercial -  and not just because it makes me chuckle. The first time I saw it, I was already thinking about this blog post. It’s the perfect example of the difference between features and benefits. The features and benefits of your products and services are two important but different pieces of content for a brand. Having shiny and useful features is important, but when it comes to sales, you’ve got to be able to translate those features into benefits for the consumer.

When it comes to purchasing, the consumer wants to know one of two things:

1. “What’s in it for me?”

2. “How does this solve my problem?”

Listing a ton of features doesn’t answer any of these questions for the consumer - no one cares because no one understands. Just like in the commercial:

“We’re fine tuning these small cells that improve coverage, capacity and quality of the network.”

Huh?

These features, while important, mean nothing to a consumer until you translate them into how they benefit the consumer: “It means you’ll be able to post from the breakroom.”

Features are great, but if you want to make the sale you’ve got to write copy that focuses on benefits.

How To Translate Features Into Benefits

Let’s start with the definition of both:

Features describe attributes or characteristics about your product. They’re factual and tend to be nouns.

Benefits are why your product/service features matter to your ideal customer. Chances are, you’ll see way more verbs than nouns when you’re writing benefits.

Writing features and benefits are are important steps when creating foundational content for your brand to stand on. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Make a list of features for all of your products and offerings.
  2. Write down why those features were created or are important.
  3. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and write reasons why they would care about a feature.
  4. Read each benefit and ask yourself if the benefits you wrote are actually compelling.

Copyblogger has a great post on turning features into benefits (Does Your Copy Pass The “Forehead Slap Test”). They warn against writing “Fake Benefits” and suggest a great test (“The Forehead Slap Test”) to make sure your benefits are true benefits.

The Forehead Slap Test:

“Have you ever woken up from a deep sleep, slapped yourself in the forehead, and exclaimed [insert benefit]?” If the answer is no, then you’re not likely to convince anyone else that your so-called benefit is worth their money.

If you can successfully translate your features into true benefits that either solve your ideal customer’s problems or relate to them on an emotional level you’ll make more sales guaranteed. 

Here’s one more example for you:

Benefits of the Find Your Brand Voice Class:
The BrandVox class, Find Your Brand Voice: Personality for Business Success, will help you gain more word of mouth, more sales referrals, more loyal customers and increased brand awareness by teaching you step by step how some of the world’s biggest brands develop a brand voice that people fall in love with.

Features of the Find Your Brand Voice Class:

  • 53 Page E-book that helps you create a comprehensive brand voice style guide

  • You will learn the research behind how people fall in love with a brand

  • Learn step-by-step how to develop your foundational content

  • Learn how to find your brand voice sweet spot

  • Discover your brand’s personality

  • Gain access to the Brand Character Profile

  • Learn how to have a consistent brand voice across your organization

  • Learn how to roll out your new brand voice to your team

  • This is an online course that can be done at your own pace

  • The project steps make it easy for you to implement what you learn as you learn it

When Features Become Important

So, what do we do with all those features? Do we just throw them out and never use them? Of course not! Like an ace up our sleeve, we just need to know the right time to pull them out.

When people make purchase decisions, they follow a pattern: AIDA. First, they become aware that your product or service even exists. Then, they become curious and interested. In both of these situations, emotionally charged benefit-driven language will help your potential customer move closer and closer to a sale.

But then, a switch flips. In the next phase, the decision making phase, we start looking at things more rationally. We don’t want to be taken for a sucker, so we crave those fact-focused features to help us know exactly what we’re getting. This is particularly important if you have a highly technical audience.

Apple does a great job at this. They use benefit-driven hooks and soundbites to pique interest, but when you dive deeper into the purchasing process, you’re presented with meaty comparison charts filled with features galore.

In the last phase, we are trying to encourage action, so it’s time to ask for them to do something. This is our call to action and the more specific you are about what to do next, the more likely you are to get a result. Typically, a call to action on a website will be in the form of a button with specific text.

So, now that you know the difference between features and benefits, and more importantly, when to apply each one, you’re armed and ready to make some sales. Keep us posted on your progress in the comments!

Brand Voice Victor: Threadless, Wolf Shirts and Using Your E.A.R for Customer Service

I was on the hunt for a wolf shirt.

Why, you may ask? Because I'm a member of a wolf pack — the 804RVA Wolf Pack to be exact. You see, instead of working from home, I'm a member of a co-working space. I love being around other productive and creative people every day. But most of all, I love Larkin Garbee, the owner, who rallies us together with goofy get-togethers like Wolf Shirt Wednesdays. Before joining 804RVA, my wardrobe was noticeably lacking t-shirts of the lupine variety. So, I turned to the interwebs to purchase one and found an amazing collection to choose from on Threadless.

But this is not a story about wolf shirts, it’s a story about customer service emails.

I recently received an email from Threadless alerting me to a problem they had with their systems. Due to a glitch in their system they signed everyone who entered an email address into their system up for their newsletter - even if they clicked the “I don’t want to receive emails” button. Oops.

The way Threadless handled the situation was spot on. They were proactive and kept true to their casual and slightly goofy brand voice. Here's a screenshot of the email I received. 

Customer service is an important channel to think about when it comes to brand voice because your brand is the collection of experiences your customers have with it, no matter whether that experience comes from inside or outside of the marketing department. Receiving this email for me (I actually don’t remember if I opted in or I opted out) was a positive experience because it made me feel like they cared. They could have just ignored the mistake and left it up for people who didn't want their emails to unsubscribe but they didn't. They owned up to the problem and offered a solution. I was so impressed I tweeted about it!

 

 

This is why (among many other reasons), customer service is so important. At the end of the day, you want the collection of experiences each person has had with your brand to be positive.

The most common mistakes in customer service emails

I've seen (and worked through) these mistakes with many customer service departments. Making any one of these can lead to miscommunication and a bad customer service experience.

  1. They are far too formal.
  2. They start with an immediate apology.
  3. They lack empathy.
  4. They don't solve anyone's problems.

This is why I developed the E.A.R. model for customer service emails. Here’s how it works.

Empathy

Customers don't want empty apologies. What they want is someone to let them know that they understand where they are coming from. The first step to empathy is to truly understand what the customer is going through and then to express empathy for the person in your response back. Empathy is such a powerful tool in customer service. Empathy, which is different than sympathy, is the ability to hold someone else’s feelings as your own. Sympathy, on the other hand, is a sense of pity. Sympathy means that you feel bad when someone else is going through a difficult time, but it subtly sends the message of being at an arm’s length. 

Starting a customer communication off with a blanket apology often has the opposite effect that is intended. It can actually put more distance between you and your customer. So instead of starting your email off with an apology, take a cue from Threadless and acknowledge how your reader is likely to be feeling. 

Acknowledge (And If Necessary, Admit or Apologize)

Once you've grounded your statement in empathy, then you can explore culpability. There are lots of different situations that could be at play here. The customer could be wrong, you both could be at fault on some level, or you could be 100% at fault. Not all of these situations warrants an apology.  In fact, apologizing in our communications too much can sometimes be more frustrating than no apology at all. Over-apologizing sends the signal to our customer that we aren't working towards a solution. Solutions, not apologies, are what mend fractured customer relationships.

The acknowledge step is where “Formality by Fright” often rears its ugly head.  When we feel threatened or challenged our immediate tendency is to turn up our formal tone to impress through language. I call this Formality by Fright. It’s a symptom of Red Pen Syndrome (our fear of conversational writing). Formal writing in a customer service email may seem proper but often it's not the best tone to use. The problem with being overly formal in your customer service communications (especially when you have a fun or casual marketing tone) is that it’s often misconstrued as distant, which is not what you want to convey. Using a warmer, more conversational tone makes you more approachable and frankly more human.

Rectify

Beyond empathy, and beyond acknowledgement, a customer complaint is a call for you to fix a problem. Something is wrong and not that it has been brought to your attention, it is in your hands to fix it. I know it seems like common sense but you have to actually rectify the situation when you receive a customer complaint. Customer service isn’t about apologizing it’s about fixing problems, making things right, and mending the relationship.

So let’s get back to that Threadless email. Here’s why it’s so great.

  1. It’s written in a conversational tone that is in the company’s brand voice.
  2. They acknowledged the situation and explained how it happened.
  3. They didn't start with an apology, they started with an upbeat explanation.
  4. Instead of just saying “We’re sorry” they chose to say: “we've been sending you emails you didn't sign up for, which makes us feel terrible.”
  5. They offered an easy solution to the problem.

That’s how you rock customer service. Start using the E.A.R. template in your customer service emails and you’ll be sure to improve your communications and connect deeper with your customers.

84 Words Weird Al Mocks in "Mission Statement"

Weird Al, the parody-loving singer-songwriter (and my new personal hero) just released a new album. On it, he has a song called "Mission Statement" which mocks the jargon-filled buzzwords that are too common in business today.

Check out the video:

Here's a list of the words he includes. Take a peek and ask yourself how likely your mission statement is to be mocked. 

If you find yourself on the receiving end of the joke, don't worry. You can read posts about how to make your mission statement better herehereherehere, and here

  1. achieving
  2. administrate
  3. advance
  4. assets
  5. awareness
  6. best of breed
  7. bleeding-edge
  8. brand 
  9. business
  10. capitalized
  11. chain
  12. change
  13. client-centric
  14. commitment
  15. company
  16. competencies
  17. core
  18. corporate
  19. cross-platform
  20. customer
  21. day-to-day
  22. deliverables
  23. distill
  24. diversity
  25. downsized
  26. effectively
  27. efficiently
  28. enhancing
  29. exceptional
  30. experience
  31. functionality
  32. fundamentals
  33. gaining
  34. globalization
  35. grow
  36. holistically
  37. identity
  38. incentivized
  39. infrastructure
  40. innovation
  41. integration
  42. invest
  43. leverage
  44. management
  45. marketplace
  46. methodology
  47. mission-critical
  48. monetize
  49. networking
  50. next-generation
  51. operationalize
  52. overseeing
  53. paradigm
  54. philosophy
  55. proactively
  56. promoting
  57. proven
  58. providing
  59. purple-poster-flexible-solutions
  60. quality
  61. reputation
  62. resources
  63. robust
  64. scalable
  65. seamless
  66. share
  67. services
  68. shift
  69. solutions
  70. strategies
  71. strong
  72. succeed
  73. supply
  74. synergy
  75. technology
  76. traction
  77. trajectory
  78. transitioning
  79. value-added
  80. viability
  81. vis-à-vis
  82. visualize
  83. will
  84. world-class

Customer Service: Why Zappos is So Good and Comcast is So Bad

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Customer service is the new marketing...

Because when you do it right, your customers tell their friends, and your business grows. But when you do it poorly, all it takes is a click until you're the laughing stock of the internet. 

Earlier this week, Ryan Block, who happens to be a tech journalist and the VP of Product at AOL, recorded a gut-wrenching conversation of his attempt to disconnect his Comcast service. Then, he tweeted it, to his almost 90,000 followers. The story was picked up by media outlets such as Ars Technica, NPR, Huffington Post, Good Morning America, and The Washington Post, just to name a few. In just two days, 4.5 million people have listened to the call through soundcloud and added the negative experience as a strike against wanting to do business with Comcast. 

Comcast is now in crisis mode and has issued an apology

We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and Ms. Belmont and are contacting them to personally apologize.  The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action.  While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.

But this is likely an issue of too little too late. Part of the reason why this recording went viral is because it rings true with so many people. Comcast has been ranked as the worst customer service in America, in any industry. People empathized with Block because they had likely experienced something similar themselves. That empathy fueled the social sharing and erupted into what is now a big stain on Comcast's reputation. A brand's promise in their commercials means nothing if the experience doesn't match it.

So what went wrong? To contrast, let's compare Comcast with one of America's most loved customer service brands, Zappos.

A Customer Service Mission Makes the Difference

At Zappos, their mission isn't about their product, it's about the people they serve. Their mission puts the customer front and center: to provide the best customer service possible. They've created a culture where their employees know where to take a stand, even in difficult situations like an unhappy customer. The challenge with many conglomerated and publicly traded companies like Comcast is that the individual representing the organization is far removed from the mission and doesn't feel a personal connection to the company. That's why it's important for leaders to use their mission statement as a rallying cry for the culture they want to create. 

Incentives Make the Difference

In Comcast's apology, they indicated that this representative didn't act in accordance with his training. But training is just part of what causes an employee to act. When Comcast investigates this issue, they need to ask themselves if they're incentivizing the right things. The position of this rep is what's known in a call center as a retention representative and in many organizations, if their disconnect ratio is too high, their job is on the line. It's difficult to default to a training guide if you're wondering if you're going to be able to pay your rent next month.

In his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh shares his insights into how measurement can backfire in customer service.  

Most call centers measure their employee's performance based on what's known in the industry as "average handle time," which focuses on how many calls each rep can take in a day. This translates into reps worrying about how quickly they can get a customer off the phone, which in our eyes is not delivering great customer service. Most call centers also have scripts and force their reps to upsell to generate additional revenue. 
At Zappos, we don't measure call times (our longest call was almost six hours long!), and we don't upsell. We just care about whether the rep goes above and beyond for every customer. We don't have scripts because we trust our employees to use their best judgement when dealing with each and every customer. 

So sure, there's the onus on the employee to live up to his training, but the company needs to also make sure they create a culture that supports the values that are in that training. Block agreed that he felt that the problem was much more systemic than a poorly trained employee: 


What do you think? Are there other reasons the customer service at Zappos and Comcast are perceived so differently? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments. 

14 Essential Steps to Creating a Brand Voice that Works Wonders

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To sir, or not to sir…

That’s just one of the many decisions you need to make about your brand voice. Answering these questions is no easy task, especially when you have conflicting advice. Just a few weeks ago, two articles came out from experts offering their opinion. In Entrepreneur Magazine, Grant Cardone told you that you need to mind your manners when dealing with customers so you can make more sales. He advised that you should absolutely use surnames when dealing with customers.

“Don't call me bro, don’t call me buddy and don’t call me pal, just because I accepted your friendship on Facebook or because you follow me on Twitter or Instagram…. Oh, yes, manners are not just for the other party. They are for you! And calling me sir or Mr. Cardone will amount to money in your pocket.”

Two days later, in Mashable, Erica Cerulo told you first names felt more approachable.

Ultimately, you want people to trust you and connect with you, and that’s a tough ask if they feel like you’re wearing a mask.”

You Can’t Copy and Paste Another Business’ Brand Voice

So, which one is correct? They both are. And they’re both wrong, too.

Both of these authors have done their research and clearly defined how they communicate to their customers. And guess what? It works for them – so much so that they each decided to share their tips with the rest of us. What’s the problem? Just because it worked for their business doesn't mean it will work for yours. You can’t copy and paste a brand voice from one business and apply it to your problem. Instead, you need to figure out which option is the best bet for you.

Lucky for you, I've got a step-by-step guide to help you come up with your OWN voice. I've worked on building hundreds of brands over the past decade and I have been able to spot some trends. One of the biggest ones I've discovered is that the brands that stand the test of time all have a solid content foundation. They know their organization, their audience and their product, and it’s this preliminary content, this foundational content, that enables them to decide on the specific tactics that make their brand voice come to life.

Image: Bigstock/Glynnis Jones

Image: Bigstock/Glynnis Jones

Focus on Building a Solid Content Foundation

You can’t build a structurally sound house without pouring the foundation first. It’s the same for brands. You can’t build a brand without developing your foundational content. Foundational content is the content that aligns your organization, audience, and products into one clear brand voice. It is crucial to create this content before you do any marketing, write any copy, or take any advice about communicating with customers.

Your foundational content is made up of three main pillars: your organization, your audience, and your offer. Each pillar has its own set of steps. If you’re in the process of building your brand, don’t just implement the advice of an expert. Follow these fourteen steps and then decide for yourself what your brand voice should be.

Steps to Building Your Foundational Content

Organization

Step One: Create a Mission Statement
Your Mission Statement describes what your business does and acts as the rally cry that makes you want to do what you do every day. It is the heart of your company - the first and most important piece of content your organization should have. Just like the heart pumps blood throughout the body, your mission statement pumps content throughout your organization. It should start with an action verb, be specific, short (under 7 words), inspirational (or aspirational), something you can actually achieve, and pack a punch. More on creating a Mission Statement here.

Step Two: Create a Vision Statement
Your vision statement is a description of what the world looks like once your mission is achieved. Your vision statement should be a natural segue from your mission statement. When developing a vision statement, start by clearly defining what it is you want to build or create as the founder of your company. Your vision statement should spell out your brand’s goals at a high level for all employees and consumers to understand. It should also articulate a clear win between your brand, its customers and your employees.

Step Three: Write your Core Values
Your core values are essentially rules of engagement for your organization. They should consist of 6-10 character traits that define your brand. Each one should include a short description for clarity. Your core values should not be vague or taken lightly - they are the traits that form a consistent identity that transcends every aspect of your brand. 

Step Four: Write your Personality Traits
Your brand’s personality traits are human characteristics that describe your brand’s personality, how it speaks, interacts, and most importantly relates to your customers. Your core values are what guides everyone in your organization on how to engage with the world, your personality traits are what guides your copywriters, marketers, or anyone who writes any piece of content in your organization.

Audience

Step Five: Determine the Demographics of Your Target Audience
You can’t be effective in your marketing if you don’t research your audience. The first step is to identify the demographics of your audience. Demographics are character traits you can measure (age, gender, income etc.). You will most likely have more than one target audience (or segment). In this step, define each segment demographically.

Step Six: Determine the Psychographics of Your Target Audience
Demographics tell you who your audience is, psychographics help you understand your audience. They are character traits you can’t measure (lifestyle, beliefs, etc.). Psychographics dig deeper to tell you things like what your audience’s daily habits are, what they find valuable, and what opinions they have. Discovering your psychographics is all about taking the marketing data you have and determining the what. What get’s downloaded, what is the most popular email, etc. You can also gather psychographics from your customer service team and from surveys.

Step 7: Use Archetypes
Beyond demographics and psychographics are archetypes. Archetypes are storytelling patterns that transcend time, geography, and culture. Archetypes help you discover what motivates your audience. They are based on research done by Carl Jung – who developed 12 archetypes that acted as models of people, personalities or behaviors. By using this research you can really get deep into your audience and ultimately save time. Read more about archetypes here.

Step 8: Develop Personas for your audience
Now that you’ve identified your demographics, psychographics, and archetypes, you need to put them all together and develop personas. Personas are fictional, generalized characters based on the data you’ve collected on your target audience. These personas should be in paragraph form.

Step 9: Determine Who Your Ideal Customer Is
Your ideal customer is a real life person who represents your persona. Think of the personas you created, and then think of who you know, and assign the real life person who fits each of your personas. This will help you when it comes time to write for this audience segment – because now you know them.

Product/Service

Step 10: Write Down the Features for All of Your Offerings
You know all of those great things that make your product/service so cool and unique? Write them all down in a bulleted list for everyone in your organization to memorize and use. Anything and everything that makes your product distinctive and useful should be on the list.

Step 11: Write Down the Benefits Each Offer Brings to Your Audience
There’s a huge difference between benefits and features. Features describe attributes and benefits that tell buyers what’s in it for them. They tell them why your product/service features matter to your ideal customer. Think about all of the benefits that your product’s features provide your ideal customer and write them all down. To do this effectively, go back to your personas and think about the benefits from their perspective.

Step 12:  Write a Value Proposition for Each Offer
Now that you have all of the features and benefits of your product(s)/service(s) written down you need to develop a one sentence description of why your ideal customer should use your product or service. Your value proposition should say exactly what problem your product or service solves, list the benefits to the consumer, and place priority on your point of difference.

Step 13: Do a Competitive Analysis
How do you know what makes you different or sets you apart if you haven’t done any research on the competition? A competitive analysis will help you determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors in the market so that you can really hone in on the places you shine and the places where you might need to do some tweaking.

Step 14: Write an Elevator Pitch
I don’t mean a cheesy canned statement (where at the end no one knows what you do). Your pitch should be a script for starting a conversation about your product or service that gets to the point quickly but clearly articulates our products and services. 

Follows these steps and you will have the perfect foundation upon which to develop your brand voice, engage with your customers, and market effectively. Then, and only then, can you take advice about brand voice.

Want to know what happens when you don’t have your foundational content in check? Read my post about the Free People ad campaign. And if you’re interested in exploring this topic in-depth, check out my online class, Find Your Brand Voice: Personality for Business Success

50+ Non-Profit Mission Statements to Inspire Your Organization

A few weeks ago, I posted 50+ Mission Statements from businesses that get it right. Now, it's the non-profit sector's turn! So many non-profits have long drawn out mission statements that don't inspire anyone, and that's a shame because many of these organizations are doing such amazing work. Your mission statement isn't something you check off for your strategic plan — it's your rallying cry

Getting to a place where your mission statement is short and concise is no small task (if you're interested in learning how, check out this post.) It takes a lot of effort and politics, but the results are worth it. An inspiring mission statement helps donors connect with your purpose. It makes fundraising, engaging volunteers, and filling programs so much easier. And when we're all working on tighter budgets and deadlines than ever, every bit helps. 

Look through these non-profit mission statements that get it right. See how yours stacks up. Is yours dry and written by committee? Or does it actually do its job to rally people behind your organization? 

  1. "To build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke." -American Heart Association

  2. "To help resource-constrained communities and nations make positive, sustainable changes that improve accessibility to a broad range of high-quality healthcare services and preventive programs." -American International Health Alliance

  3. "To save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease." -American Lung Association

  4. "Prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors." -American Red Cross

  5. "Empower professionals to develop knowledge & skills successfully." -American Society for Training and Development

  6. "To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States." -ASPCA

  7. "To change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders." -Autism Speaks

  8. "To be the leader in advancing marketplace trust." -Better Business Bureau

  9. "We help children realize their potential and build their futures. We nurture children and strengthen communities." -Big Brothers Big Sisters

  10. "Provides workforce development services to individuals and employers in Washington State." -Career Path Services

  11. "The world's largest petition platform, empowering people everywhere to create the change they want to see." -Change.org

  12. "Bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations." -Charity: Water

  13. "Improves the lives of young people by providing excellent clinical care with compassion and understanding, and by empowering families, schools, and communities." -Chicago Children's Clinic

  14. "Champion effective nonprofit marketing through pro bono marathons." -Createathon

  15. "To use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities." -D.C. Central Kitchen

  16. "To improve the health and quality of life of women with diabetes, and to advocate on their behalf." -Diabetes Sisters

  17. "To promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life." -Dress For Success

  18. "To promote the transition to a sustainable energy future by advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy." -Energy Foundation

  19. "To preserve the natural systems on which all life depends." -Environmental Defense Fund

  20. "To end hunger in New York City by organizing food, information and support for community survival and dignity." -Food Bank for New York City

  21. "Serves as a conduit for food, education, and awareness between donors, volunteers, agencies and people in need." -Food Finders

  22. "To preserve and enhance the park as a recreational resource for residents, workers, and visitors in the City of Boston." -Friends of Copley Square

  23. "Defends the environment and champions a healthy and just world." -Friends of the Earth

  24. "To enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by helping people reach their full potential through education, skills training and the power of work." -Goodwill

  25. "We defend the natural world and promote peace by investigating, exposing and confronting environmental abuse, and championing environmentally responsible solutions." -Greenpeace

  26. "To put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope." -Habitat for Humanity

  27. "To help former gang members redirect their lives and become contributing members of their families and our community." -Homeboy Industries

  28. "Defends the rights of people worldwide." -Human Rights Watch

  29. "To connect people through lending to alleviate poverty." -Kiva

  30. "Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all people affected by lupus through programs of research, education and advocacy." -Lupus Foundation of America

  31. "To stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking." -MADD

  32. "To improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, infant mortality, and premature birth." -March of Dimes

  33. "To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research." -Mayo Clinic

  34. "Cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage." -National Park Service

  35. "Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future." -National Wildlife Federation

  36. "Story by story, we bring you the world." -NPR

  37. "To equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education and coordination of services.” -One Roof

  38. "To create a belief that college is an option for everyone, and that through the program, we can make this belief a reality." -Pathways to College

  39. "To create content that educates, informs and inspires." -PBS

  40. "The increase and diffusion of knowledge." -Smithsonian

  41. "To advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment." -St. Jude Children's Hospital Research

  42. "Growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education." -Teach for America

  43. "Leveraging the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves, their families, their communities, their countries and the world." -The Girl Effect

  44. "Celebrating Animals, Preventing Cruelty." -The Humane Society

  45. "To expand knowledge about marine mammals—their health and that of their ocean environment—and to inspire their global conservation." -The Marine Mammal Center

  46. "Empowers veterans facing the challenge of adjusting to life at home to find new missions." -The Mission Continues

  47. "To conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends."-The Nature Conservancy

  48. "To build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people." -The Open Society Foundations

  49. "To increase and organize investment in protecting and restoring the natural resources and communities of the Sierra Nevada." -The Sierra Fund

  50. "To promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access." -U.S. Department of Education

  51. "Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community." -U.S. Department of State

  52. "To deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to government and the American people." -U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)

  53. "To honor and empower Wounded Warriors." -Wounded Warrior Project

  54. "To close the opportunity divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education." -Year Up

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!

Why Knowing Your Audience is So Important (And Not Knowing It is So Dangerous)

It seems like a no brainer. When you have a product to sell, you should know the audience you’re selling it to. As simple as this concept is, the process of defining and learning about an audience seems to fall through the cracks for some brands. As a content strategist, I can’t stress this point enough. But it’s hard to find real, tangible examples to show the detriment to your brand when you launch a campaign without knowing the audience you are trying to engage.

Enter Free People.

I was perusing Buzzfeed as I sometimes do (hey, no judgement!) and found this gem: This Is What a Real Dancer Looks Like. Looking further I saw that this is an excellent example of why really knowing your audience is so important. Here's the deal...

Free People is a clothing company that sells multiple clothing lines, but recently launched a new campaign to promote their "Movement” line. This line was designed for three very niche audiences: ballerinas, surfers, and women who do yoga. The article, and the Free People campaign for their ballerina line, are the perfect example of why knowing your audience is so important.

Here’s the Free People ad for their clothing line that targets ballerinas:

To the average person, there’s nothing wrong with this ad. To the ballerinas who watched it, everything about this ad was wrong. Why? Because the actress in the ad is not a trained ballerina. You wouldn’t know it, but to anyone who does ballet it’s glaringly obvious. So obvious, that several parodies surfaced in response to it.

Here are two gif’s side by side that show the difference between the Free People dancer (left) and a real ballerina (right).

Image: YouTube/Free People

Image: YouTube/Free People

Image: Vimeo/AKP Film & Media

Image: Vimeo/AKP Film & Media

As you can see, there is a huge difference. This ad enraged the very audience they were trying to engage, so much so that hundreds of comments were left under the ad on YouTube. Here are just a few:

First-Time-Point.png

Had Free People done their research on this segment of their audience, they would know how important the form, and the pointe shoes are to them. This is a great example of why you can’t just launch a campaign without having your foundational content in place.

What is Foundational Content?

Your foundational content is the content that aligns your organization, audience, and products into one clear brand voice. It is crucial to create this content before you do any marketing or write any copy. Just like you wouldn't build a house without first pouring the foundation, you shouldn't build a brand or content marketing plan without first having these elements in place. Here are the pieces of your foundational content:

Organizational Content

Content written to understand yourself.

Mission Statement: Describes what your business does and acts as the rally cry that makes you want to do what you do every day.

Vision Statement: A description of what the world looks like once your mission is achieved.

Core Values: Define your rules of engagement using 6-10 character traits your organization should abide by.

Personality Traits: What are 4-6 character traits that make your brand distinct?

Audience Content

Content written through research to deeply understand your audience and each segment you may have

Segmentation: Grouping your audience into broad categories.

Demographics: Character traits you can measure (age, income, etc.)

Psychographics: Character traits you can’t measure (lifestyle, beliefs, etc.)

Archetypes: Storytelling patterns that transcend time, geography and culture.

Personas: Descriptions of demographics, psychographics, and archetypes, written in paragraph form.

Ideal Customers: A real-life person who represents your persona.

Product/Service Content

Content written to properly define and describe your products and/or services

Features: Bulleted list of attributes that make your product or service distinct or useful.

Benefits: Why your features matter to your ideal customer.

Value Proposition: One sentence description of why your ideal customer should use your product or service.

Elevator Pitch: Script for starting a conversation about your product or service. Gets to the point quickly.

This is what a good foundation looks like. Free People failed to connect to their audience because they didn’t dig deep enough into that particular segment to learn and understand them. Instead, they treated them like the rest of their audience. This led to not only enraged ballerinas, but also to showing their audience that they didn’t understand them. How can a clothing company make clothing specifically for ballerinas when it’s so clear that they don’t understand them? While this may or may not be true, it’s the message Free People sent to this audience segment - who probably won’t be purchasing their clothing now because of it.

Ditch the Formality and Start Writing Like You Talk

Image: Bigstock/photosquared

Image: Bigstock/photosquared

When I say red pen, what comes to mind? Is it your English teacher and the paper you got back with red marks all over it? If so, you’re not alone. Teachers have been giving the red pen a bad rap for years, and unfortunately the dread doesn’t leave us when we graduate.

What is Red Pen Syndrome?

In all of my brainstorming meetings with business leaders and CEOs, I’ve been struck by how fearful people are of putting things down in writing. I’ve had conversations where the person clearly discussed their passions and ideas verbally, but once written down it sounded like a completely different person. This is what I call the Red Pen Syndrome (or RPS). It comes from the fear of the English teacher’s red pen. That someone is going to judge your writing ability and make micro edits like your English teacher did in school. It’s also the fear that because you don’t have a writing degree, that you’re somehow more deficient than the people who do.

RPS is real. I know because I am recovering from it. One of the biggest symptoms for people who suffer from RPS is that they don’t write like they talk. Because we have that fear of the red pen (see how I started a sentence with a conjunction? That’s how you know I’m getting better), we try to stick to as many of the rules as we can remember and edit out all of our personality and passion. What we are left with is dull corporate speak, devoid of personality and loaded with buzzwords and formal language. This is not what engages audiences, this is what bores and scares them away.

Ditch the formality

Formality is so common because of our fear of the red pen. I call this “Formality by Fright”. When we are frightened, we turn up our formal tone. We fear we need to straighten up and be as professional and formal as possible when in fact we should just be real. It’s our RPS rearing its head telling us that we need to impress by using language that doesn’t come naturally. We’re feeling judged, and so we heighten our formality in preparation for the edits coming our way.

This formal tone can be to our detriment in several ways. First, we are more likely to be misconstrued as distant or apathetic (especially in customer service situations). Second, we miss our chance to connect with our consumers and third, we convey the wrong image of our brand – one of stuffy rather than passionate, fun, or any other positive adjective we’d like our brand to embody.

Write like you speak

For those of you who are afraid to write like you speak, let me let you in on a cultural reality: Americans fear big brother and hate corporate culture. Presenting copy in a voice that remotely sounds like corporate drab will have your readers running for the hills. Think about it. Americans these days look for local, we fight for the little guy, and we make documentaries about taking down the man. Think Office Space. Formal language just feels like a red flag. It’s a representation of what we fear: big brother. What we want is to feel connected. We want to be connected to the products we consume, the food we eat, the beer we drink, etc. The only way to connect with your audience is to show a little bit of yourself. Create a culture of content that has character and is human.

Would you rather do business with these guys?

Dunder Mifflin Inc. provides its customers quality office and information technology products, furniture, printing values, and the expertise required for making informed buying choices. We provide our products and services with a dedication to the highest degree of integrity and quality of customer satisfaction, developing long-term professional relationships with employees that develop pride, creating a stable working environment and company spirit.

Side note: Dunder Mifflin is not a real company. Most of you probably recognize that this is the fictitious paper company from the television show The Office. I was looking for a great example, discovered the website, and decided it was perfect!

Or Neenah Paper Company, who has a blog called “Against the Grain” that takes you behind the scenes of poster makers, graphic designers, and all sorts of artists within the paper industry (check out their blog and you’ll understand my point).

Formal language is nothing more than a mask that we hide behind. If you really want to be a bold, authentic brand, you’ve got to ditch the formality and start writing like you speak. Logan Zanelli of Copyblogger says, “Good writing is like a conversation between the writer and the reader.” If you want to have a conversation with your readers, you’ve got to write like you talk. I don’t mean using speech habits like umm or ah, I mean breaking that formal tone and being more conversational.

“By writing the way you talk, you can’t help but inject a little of your personality into what you write. After all, you’ll be writing in your own voice, using plain English everyone can understand, and in a tone that makes you seem more human than textbook.” Read the whole blog post by Logan Zanelli on Copyblogger here.

Here are three brands who do this well. So well that I’ve actually written case studies on them:

Buffer

Carrot App

Slides that Rock

These brands have discovered their brand personality, embraced it, and stopped fearing that dreaded red pen! Here’s my call to action to you: drop the façade, ditch the formality, embrace your personality, and start writing like you speak.

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.