Sunday, December 26, 2010

Yoga for the Digital Age

I recently had the pleasure of participating in yoga instructor training through Yogafit Training Systems. In addition to two days of intensive training and making new connections with fellow yogi, new instructors must complete a volunteer teaching experience. In my case, this requirement is hardly such, as it was the main draw for me to become a yoga instructor.

In my own experience, fitness has been a key contributor to personal strength, professional creativity, and clear thinking. Yoga has been front-and-center in my own development of a centered life, and as a result I include it in my aim to bring fitness, a healthy mindset, and grounded realization of limitless potential to everyone who is receptive, regardless of where they are on their own journeys.

I sought a new and different way to share yoga with people who either have not accessed it through formal classes at yoga studios and gyms or have felt apprehensive about trying yoga for the first time in front of their peers. From here, the idea of an all-online class was born. Completely new and experimental, the idea is to encourage trial among people in all locations.

With the support of the wonderful people at Cisco Systems, I will be teaching 8 yoga classes over the course of a week completely online via Cisco WebEx. Participants need only a yoga mat and a computer with an internet connection. Classes are completely free, accessible worldwide, and a couple of them will incorporate a 1980s musical theme.

While no yoga experience is necessary, participants are encouraged to become familiar with the basic poses before taking the class in order to ensure proper form and to plan for any props and modifications that may be needed.

Welcome to the digital age of fitness!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Life, Marketing, and the Power of Context

“Never believe a rumor at face value, even when the person telling you is familiar and credible and the “evidence” they present appears factual.
-My Mother to me at age 13

We’ve all seen the power of context at play in our lives as high school students, or perhaps earlier. We’ve also seen how errors in judgment arise from misinterpretation of context, which can often result in missed opportunities, damaged reputations, and inaccurate conclusions. And it isn’t limited to teenagers or to the popular movie, Mean Girls. It’s brought to bear in many facets of adult life and runs rampant in offices and cubicles.

Would you think differently, for example, of the woman who cut you off in traffic if you came to know that her daughter had been hit by a car and she was racing to the ER to find out if she was OK? Most likely, you would. But rarely do we get a glimpse into the impetus for this type of action.

Character Plays a Role in Perception

A few years ago, I read The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, which explains how epidemics and wide-scale beliefs can result from the actions and influence of very few. Since then, I have observed the power of context and the law of the few at play in many situations, both personally and professionally.

“Character is..a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstances and context1.” How many times have you believed a story--or dismissed one--based on your historically predicated beliefs of the storyteller or the subject? While it is important to build a reputation of honest, credible, reliable character, we must be careful not to assume that past history alone will always yield consistent behavior.

Consider the high profile corporate scandals of the last 10 years. Those who were caught embezzling and committing fraud weren’t considered to be of ill character before these acts. In fact, many of their colleagues, family, and friends were shocked by their actions because they had known these people for years as honest professionals and never considered them capable of criminal activity. As a friend or relative, your loyalty may prohibit you from even considering such things about your loved ones, but as a business leader, you are called upon by your constituents to put assumptions aside and remain vigilant about the actions of your employees.

Life and the Power of Context
Consider the following scenarios:

Formed Perception:
“I’m going to beat the kids one more time and then we’ll meet you at the arena.”

Jane sends this text message to her husband, Mike, which accidentally landed in the inbox of her neighbor who bears the same first name. Neighbor Mike promptly called Child Protective Services, the action we’re all compelled to take when child abuse is suspect.

The Reality: Jane, her husband Mike, and their two children were planning to compete as a family in a video game competition at their local sports arena that evening. She was referring to a pre-game practice she was going to have with the children. Husband Mike would have had the proper context, however human error caused the message to be delivered to the wrong recipient. In this case, Mike the neighbor acted in accordance with his civic duty and would not be required to consider context before acting.

Formed Perception:
“Hey Tony- remember how I told you that I think of you like a brother? Well I was wrong. It’s much more than that. When you’re ready, I’ll fill you in.” -Steve

This was an email sent between two people with a business relationship who had become close friends, both having full contextual understanding. At a later date, Steve accidentally discovered a secret that Tony had been trying to keep hidden. Although Steve remained a loyal friend, Tony lashed out at him, using this email and portions of others as “evidence” to support the story he created that Steve was needy and had become obsessed with Tony. This was a fabrication (in fact, while Steve was visibly having a difficult time, it was really Tony who was dealing with a lot of issues which Steve had helped with behind the scenes, and the two rarely discussed Steve's struggles), however their mutual friends and colleagues believed this tale, taking the communications out of context as presented, causing damage to Steve’s reputation and career. Phone logs and other records easily cleared Steve of the accusation, proving Tony to have been slanderous, but the perception had already been formed in people’s minds.

The Reality: Steve had been studying metaphysics and came to believe that he and Tony had been brothers in a previous lifetime, which Tony found intriguing. Later, Steve stumbled upon information that caused him to believe he and Tony had known each other in many previous lives (“It’s much more than that.”). Regardless of whether or not you share their spiritual beliefs, Tony had deliberately manipulated context to further his malicious--and arguably narcissistic--intent.

In both of these rather extreme examples, context was misapplied. By sending a text to an unintended recipient, Jane made a common error that many of us have experienced and could not have prepared for misinterpretation of context. Steve forwent the need to frame context because he was communicating in response to an ongoing conversation he’d been having with his friend Tony, whom he’d trusted. We don’t know why Tony behaved inconsistently with the values his friends and colleagues had come to know as his character but there is certainly more going on with him that likely has nothing to do with Steve. When context isn’t applied, backstories are unclear, which can create further assumptive responses.

Using Context and Influence in Marketing
Unlike in life, where you often have prior personal experience with the people involved, in marketing, we rely on brand image and clever messaging to create initial impressions, designed to induce some sort of action--try, buy, tell your friends, etc. And unlike in life, we expect our customers and prospects to respond to our messages with a perception-is-reality mindset.

In acquisition marketing, we have just a few seconds to capture attention and elicit response to our messages. This is why brand building and customer community engagement through means such as social networking are such important aspects to any marketing effort. Much like our life examples, historical knowledge and multiple touch points with a brand create a foundational impression and enable us to proactively frame context.

Then, it is up to us to deliver on our promises and to keep delivering, both in terms of product quality and authentic interactions. Unlike our overly-trusting friend Steve in the example above, consumers will seek consistently positive experiences with our brand in every interaction, and although past performance may induce purchase in the present, the easy access of substitutes--particularly for low-touch purchases--can lure non-captives away following even one negative experience. A misinterpreted message counts as a negative experience.

As marketers, many of us are what Gladwell calls “connectors.” We have large, powerful networks that we leverage to bring people together and to coalesce ideas. We should feel free to use the power of context to our advantage, applying techniques such as whisper campaigns and teasers in our communications. Market testing (i.e. culture and other segmentation cuts) is an important step in ensuring that context will be understood. This is especially necessary in series communications in which campaign stories are built across multiple communications vehicles and media. Examples of successful application of series context are the California Milk Processor Board’s “Got Milk”, Mastercard’s “Priceless”, and Intel’s “Intel Inside” campaigns, to name a few.

Life and marketing come together when the power of context is applied at a human level. In both, you are dealing first and foremost with people, most of whom apply logic and rationalization to their decisions. Supportive context and frame of reference are imperative, as is the expectation that assumptions will guide some conclusions while individual experiences will guide others.

Oh, and in life as in marketing, authenticity rules. If you veer from it, you will be exposed. If you don’t believe me, just ask Tony.

Did I get that right, Mom?

1Malcolm Gladwell ,The Tipping Point, 2002.
Photo Credit

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Marketing and the Law of Attraction: Walk the Talk and Customers Will Flock

What if your company had infinite potential? According to Jack Canfield, it can.
In his book, Key to Living the Law of Attraction, Canfield asserts that you can use the Law of Attraction to attract people, resources, money, ideas, strategies, and circumstances - literally everything you need to create the future of your dreams.

Although Canfield is addressing individuals, the belief in limitless possibilities can apply to corporations as well. Companies that engage the Law of Attraction reap what they sow by attracting and retaining top talent, harvesting new ideas for R&D, and selling products and services. They also incorporate community impact into their business mantras.

The Law of Attraction Goes to Market
As a marketer, you may be wondering how to take the Law of Attraction to market. The key critical success factor is authenticity -- in your messaging, through your social networks, in your product designs, and in all areas of your business. Like charity, authenticity begins at home. This sounds simple enough, but many companies fall short of fully living their corporate visions and values as they carry from the CEO down the ranks. In today’s highly-networked, social media-driven marketing climate, any inconsistencies in applying these values in all areas of the business become quickly exposed. The great news is that the environment also supports quickly exposing any company that walks its talk.

Living Proof
If you’ve read my 2 most recent Word Up articles, you’ve undoubtedly observed my penchant for fitness. So it will come as no surprise that I’m highlighting a company in that industry as living proof of the law of attraction playing out across an entire organization and permeating into the customer base.

lululemon athletica communicates its vision to the world by way of a manifesto, which includes simple yet powerful statements such as, “Do one thing a day that scares you; Friends are more important than money; Creativity is maximized when you’re living in the moment.”

And these aren’t just words.

Over the past year, as I’ve progressed along my own personal health and fitness journey, I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with several members of the lululemon athletica Boston-area staff, from educators (those on the front lines) to store managers and the regional manager. Each of these wonderful people ingrains the manifesto into his/her own lifestyle, seeks continuous improvement, and thereby becomes a powerful brand ambassador for the company. lululemon employees are walking examples of the Law of Attraction, emulating their corporate values from simple acts of kindness to extensive community outreach and volunteerism as well as constant creation and innovation fostered by a corporate climate that embraces these behaviors. In return, they attract people who share similar values and who are also engaged in the very activities that lululemon promotes. These customers become extensions of the team, and many even spread the manifesto as lululemon ambassadors. To us, this is a new form of marketing that is proving very effective. To lululemon, it is a way of life.

With 2010 sales growth just exceeding 28%*, they must be doing something right.

Using the Law of Attraction for Crowdsourcing
lululemon athletica is a prime example of a company whose existence centers around relationships rather than transactions. The level of commitment they achieve from customers who align their personal brands to the company’s extends far beyond product sales to something of greater worth. lululemon is establishing a network of loyal and altruistic brand representatives who will, in kind, locate others in their own circles who live the manifesto and collaboratively turn out new product ideas, thus creating not merely a customer base but rather an entire culture of community-minded individuals who also happen to enhance shareholder value.

I know for sure about their existence because I have become one of them. The encouragement the lululemon staff exhibited toward me as I progressed toward my own goals far exceeds the expectations I hold of any business, and it will not be forgotten, as I intend to pay it forward. The people behind the brand have inspired me to pursue a number of industry certifications aimed at my personal extracurricular goal of bringing opportunities for formal fitness programs to those who would not otherwise be able to access them and helping people unleash their own unlimited potential.

And of course, I will continue to recommend lululemon products throughout my network.

*Source: on Sept 23, 2010
Photo Credit:

Monday, August 30, 2010

Marketing to the Midlife Crisis

For those who were not convinced of my commitment to get a little more personal by my December 2008 article, Keeping it Personal at Work, this one’s for you. I don't blame you. In hindsight, that post was still pretty general. Having been told by several people that I am a private person and by many exes that I tend to take on the role of the man in those relationships (which I'm sure was not meant as a compliment), I’m going to follow my go-big-or-go-home approach and warm things up on public domain. Ready? Here goes: My name is Sarah and I’m having a midlife crisis. Personal enough for you? No? Read on.

Once I did the fast math and realized that I was closer to 40 than 30 and closer to 50 than 20, Bam! It came on like a Mack truck. Or perhaps, if you agree with Cornell sociologist, Elaine Wethington, along with more than 25% of Americans over the age of 35, I may just think I am having a midlife crisis. Regardless, we are all prime candidates for marketing.

The points that follow summarize my own experiences along with the qualitative information I’ve gathered from friends and colleagues when researching this article, however it does not purport to represent the population at large. The discussions I had with these folks were enlightening, and at times, heart-wrenching.

I’ll preface this with the acknowledgment that everyone’s situation is different. Some are depressed while others see tremendous opportunity. For most of us, it's a combination of the two. Responses to this could be as subtle as flirting with the bartender at the local watering hole or getting a piercing or new hair color, or as intense as moving to another country or offering one's friend a night with his/her spouse (true story). Translation to marketing- we’re not all looking to be bombarded with ads for dating websites and body part enlargements. 20-something marketers beware- the midlife crisis customer is not as predictable as you may think.

During this time, we’re not just seeking fast cars, younger arm candy, and a return to our glory days. We’re identifying who our real friends are (and aren’t), contemplating how we can make a difference in the world, relinquishing our fear of making changes for ourselves, watching our children become adolescents, and thinking about the legacy we want to leave on the planet. We’re seeking to act on all those things we said we’d try “someday.” Many of us are getting married, remarried, or divorced. We’re experiencing challenges we’ve never seen before and healing hurts caused by people we thought we could trust. We’re questioning our own intuition and judgment. We may be changing careers or zip codes. And if a fast car or young rocker stud accompany those changes, well so be it.

In my case, the most profound of these include: recognition of my own strength and potential; a new definition of friendship that entails fewer, closer relationships and the knowledge that I can choose my family -- that close friends can act in as familial a capacity as blood relatives, sometimes more so; personal discovery through prayer and meditation; an understanding of what I want out of life and a commitment to show up for it; a newfound ability to clearly express to others how I feel and what I need; confirmation that asking for help and support on occasion is far more mature and evolved than my wildly unsuccessful former method of facing everything alone; a focused dedication to physical fitness; and my first tattoo, among others. Thanks to all who gave me consistent feedback that I needed to open up more and for your patience as I baby-stepped into it.

When marketing to the midlife crisis customer, consider a few things:

“Midlife Crisis” is not equivalent to “mental holiday.” It doesn’t relegate us to devil-may-care spendaholics. We’re thinking differently about our lives, which extends to the products and services we buy. While this deeper thought requires a higher-touch marketing model, you will reap the benefits of our loyalty once we do buy. We may associate value to different things than we did in our 20s and you’ll have to work harder to convert us. We are difficult to profile, even with the most sophisticated neural networks. Create compelling and authentic messaging to which we can relate during this time. Focus on engaging us directly, and less on our peer influencers, as this group has become more dynamic. Deploy tactics that support this messaging and forego the gimmicks. We see right through that. Remember, we’ve been marketing targets for decades now.

The older we get, the less we care what other people think. For evidence of this, check out the picture at the top of this article to see what I recently wore to a group fitness class. I didn't worry about what anyone thought about my channeling Madonna, and I got a better workout as a result. The midlife crisis prompts us to surface memories of happier times. My friends and I are children of the 1980s and we’re damn proud of that. We remember analog phones, pink gloves, fishnets, big hair, and rocking out to Poison and Def Leppard. We will pay attention to products and services that can reignite those feelings and emotions without recreating the experiences themselves or keeping us stuck in the past. And I’ll keep my cell phone.

I know someone who swears by a very specific and expensive skin care regimen that can only be done to her satisfaction in a doctor’s office, along with associated self-care products. She has nearly perfect skin that makes her look 25, but try telling her that. She will only commit to products that prove themselves worthy. She signed up for this particular set after a detailed small-group marketing pitch and a WOM referral from another customer. I, on the other hand, am very loyal to a couple fashion brands which I wouldn’t have even considered 5 years ago. Why? Because wearing them makes me feel young. And when I feel young, I feel more confident.

So do proceed with marketing to the midlife crisis customer. We’re a big, bold group of people seeking new opportunities and open to offer marketing. But understand that we’ll see you coming. Keep that in mind in 10-20 years when you enter our demographic. Oh, and I can speak for myself along with several of my friends- we’re open to test driving whatever speedster you’re selling.


Research credits- Jamie Barnett, Christine Perkett, Kelly Ferguson, Andrew Nielsen, Tobi Baillie, Marie Luppold, Scott Gleason, Tina Surpitski, Erin Presseau, Mike Presseau, Andrew Ferguson, Raleen Gagnon, George Gagnon, Mike Lewis, Donna Farrell, Margaret DeGraff, Brian Carvalho, Michelle Parker Dowdy, Lauren Krawczyk, Lynne Crimmins, Rich Baillie, Christine Major, Kerry Gorgone

Photo Credit:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Add Muscle to Your Marketing

The next time you find yourself contemplating ways to strengthen and tone your marketing strategy, you might want to consider learning from a personal fitness trainer.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I decided last year to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Although I am still a workaholic and have yet to reclaim my late nights and weekends, I am steadily inching my way to success-story status when it comes to weight loss and fitness. And I owe much of that achievement to my personal trainer.

Throughout this process, I have gained significant learnings from my trainer and from my peers (other clients) about best practices in fitness training that we can apply to our daily lives as IT marketers. Many marketing experts and modern career theorists, including my former employer, The Intelligent Career Card Sort, contend that the line separating personal from professional interests continues to blur. Social networks have burgeoned on the marketplace, creating new ways to engage communities and to share word-of-mouth experiences. One-to-one marketing is more achievable than ever.

Therein lies opportunity for marketers in all industries to engage a more informed and widely-networked customer base. NBC's edgy trainer on The Biggest Loser, Jillian Michaels, has taken the mainstream media by storm, marketing her own franchise and having been touted as the next Oprah and as a life coach in Women's Health Magazine.

But even before social media and The Biggest Loser, the most tuned-in personal trainers, herein referred to as the greats, served at the forefront of this highly individualized arena. We marketers can hone in on many of their practices for our own go-to-market strategies.

While any trainer will customize a fitness routine for you, the greats will also:

Know their products- Great personal trainers understand that the personal part of the title is the real value-add. They apply the mind/body connection and make adjustments to a client’s routine that support overall fitness goals and also day-to-day fluctuations to the client's whole being (which could entail periods of added stress, personal distractions and other issues that impact motivation, sleep, diet, and health). Many also hold college degrees in related fields, such as psychology, nutritional science, sports medicine, etc. In the case of greats, customer loyalty resides with the trainer rather than with the organization. Therefore, fitness centers and gyms that employ great personal trainers must pay particular attention to their needs and job satisfaction in order to ensure client retention.

Similarly, a great marketer also understands the need to focus on customer challenges instead of on the product itself. Customers and prospects should be segmented not just by demographics or firmographics, but also by personas. Marketing strategies must align to their dynamic, often-changing requirements. As my trainer says, “One size does NOT fit all.” How universally true.

Involve the client - The greats understand that goals and motivators vary between clients, and they solicit client input and feedback frequently. For example, my goal is backed by my unrelenting drive to meet objectives - which I channel into the gym as well as the office. While my trainer has plenty of clients who prefer to work out alone, she creates a unique program for me with the understanding that I respond best to a regimen that includes group fitness classes for peer motivation in addition to a weight lifting routine that changes often. She cheerfully accommodates my Type A personality and relentlessly high standards (lucky her), adjusting my program so that I have a different workout, tuned just for me each time we meet. This level of customization can only be achieved by checking in with the client on a frequent basis - during and between workouts.

Great marketers look at the goals and motivators of each customer persona and align offers and messaging accordingly. They solicit feedback from customers and prospects on their products, messaging, and marketing vehicles. In addition to taking pulse of prospects, we must also commit to partnering with our existing customers, recalling the Marketing 101 lesson about the cost of retention being significantly lower than that for acquisition. These interactions extend to a higher touch model with more extensive word-of-mouth impressions that engages individuals and communities through feedback and idea forums, online social networks, and customer interviews, among others.

Great marketing strategies extend beyond end users toward all influencers, who may not be in the market for a particular product or service - yet. The personal training industry does this too. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) identifies its audience as fitness instructors and trainers, and also “...broadening our reach to fitness enthusiasts everywhere.”

Cut through the noise - Personal training clients are exposed to a myriad of articles, advertisements, dietary supplements, products, and friendly advice, all promising results. This slew of information has great potential for confusing and possibly demotivating the client. As the a trusted partner, a great personal trainer puts all of these things into perspective and advises the client accordingly. This requires a level of trust that cannot be achieved if the relationship is approached as a simple business transaction. Consider the people you trust today. Most likely, in their interactions with you, they do not merely go through the motions, but rather display genuine concern for your best interests and team with you to overcome your challenges and pain points. Despite my tendency to be very analytical, intrinsic trust is my driver for deferring to my trainer's advice at face value, a clear catalyst to success.

There is a similar need for trust in a marketer, and no shortage of noise. This is particularly applicable with high-impact purchase decisions such as B2B IT, medical equipment, and high risk financial services offers. Consider your main personas. What keeps them up at night? What would be the cost to them of making the wrong decision? Where are they most vulnerable?

Be Innovative - Great personal trainers stay at the forefront of advances in routines, equipment, and fitness studies, and serve as the client's first point of contact for related questions. The greatest of the great will consult with the client’s orthopedist, physical/occupational therapist, nutritionist, etc, resulting in an integrated wellness program, stemming from new as well as traditional treatments with fitness tactics modified accordingly. The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), an organization that certifies personal trainers, includes in its mission statement, “...using traditional and innovative modalities.” At this point, it should be no surprise that my trainer takes this innovative approach, and iterates constantly.

A truly great marketer remains an expert and thought leader, consulting often with other experts, such as product managers, industry analysts, and sales leaders to generate new ideas. Innovation around products is part of this, but so is new functional innovation, such as sophisticated segmentation models, new metrics, targeted field marketing campaigns, fresh guerilla marketing tactics, new ideas for leveraging multimedia, precision sales strategies, etc.

Like great personal trainers, great marketers are rare. To prevail in either field, you must generate and inspire new ideas, partner with your customers, and prove to be supportive and trustworthy.

Oh, and the next time you find yourself struggling with creativity-block, sign up for a training session. It just may induce the flow of new ideas.


Research Credits - Pragmatic Marketing, Inc; Teri Halio, Balanced Motion Physical Therapy; David Meerman Scott; Megan Reynolds, Bodies by Megan; Jean Barowski; Casey Walsh; Michael Arthur; Ben Perry

Photo credit: fitness360

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Going Social...For Hope

On Sunday, March 7, I will participate in the American Cancer Society Spin for Hope. Through the fundraising process, I've had the opportunity to see how far nonprofits have come in utilizing social networks to enhance development around events.

The ACS appears to have a firm grasp on the concept of working through others for fundraising, more so than many commercial businesses. Here are just a couple of the ways the ACS has helped me become an effective fundraiser:

Email Outreach - The ACS provides form letters (which I chose to customize to my voice), and a vehicle through which to email, remind, and thank friends and relatives. They also make email management easy by sending notices of any letters which bounced back.

Social Networks - Through my participant center on the event website, I was able to install a widget onto Facebook and enable the ACS to post progress updates to my wall. I could also follow the conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn.

While it is clear that the ACS has embraced new media for fundraising efforts, I would make the following suggestions as they (and other charities) continue to expand their social footprints:

Email Outreach - Offer guidance to event participants on how to structure, write, and customize effective appeal, reminder, and thank-you letters. Apply different versions of the form letter to donor profiles - or personas- to enhance their effectiveness. Allow participants to provide this information about their target audiences following the registration process.

Social Networks - Allow participants to place links within letters on personal fundraising pages, such as an honoree website, participant's blog (just sayin'),etc. Provide guidance to those who are not accustomed to using social networks for fundraising, such as how to leverage social communities vs straight request for funds.

And to put this all into practice, I will close this post with a plug for donations via my own fundraising page. Please consider donating to help make a difference in the battle against cancer.

And...kudos to the ACS on their event marketing.