Featured on MarketingProfs

I’m excited to get back into writing after a rather long absence (building a career is hard work!), and I’m so excited that my first article of the year is on MarketingProfs. I love Ann Handley and the MarketingProfs team, and after a lively discussion about Periscope at a Bay Area meetup, I wrote my first piece for them. Check out “Four Kinds of Periscope Broadcasts You Should Be Creating” for tips on adding live-streaming to your B2B marketing strategy.

A New Venture!

Just one day into summer break, and I’m already spinning up a new venture 🙂 Like I said, I suck at vacation! However, this venture has been in the works for several months, and we finally had to kick it out of the nest and let it fly. I’m excited to announce a new side business with my husband, Faus Photography. This brings up all sorts of fun topics about business and marketing, so let’s ponder a few things!

I had a guest poster a few weeks ago that talked about turning your hobby into a business, and that’s what we’ve done with Faus Photography. For us, the biggest thing was making sure that we are professionals, not just in our equipment and skill, but in our presentation. I think this is a key point that a lot of amateurs miss when they decide they want to make money at their hobby. When my husband and I started seriously discussing this as a business, my first comment was that we’d need to work on our branding. What is our style? What does our brand mean? Are we elegant, edgy, classic, whimsical? We settled on “authentic”, because don’t like overly photoshopped pictures that make you look plastic, and we don’t like overly staged photos that make the moment look fake. We think life itself is full of beauty, so why ruin the natural beauty by altering it? However, we also believe in using technology to enhance life, which brought us to our tagline, “Authentic moments, perfect memories”. We spent a lot of time picking out a font for our logo and browsing themes for our website. I think a website is something that can make or break a professional image, particularly for creative endeavors like photography. Do all the links work? Is it aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate? Is everything spelled correctly? Does it load quickly? All of these attributes are hallmarks of a professional site, run by professional people, so it was important to us to make sure it was perfect before go live (speaking of which, perfection is impossible, so if you see something wrong on the site, let me know!).

Next, the publicity. Clearly, this is my area of expertise and my passion 🙂 Here’s the thing: DON’T SELL! I’ve said time and again that my philosophy and practice of marketing is not based on selling things that people don’t need, but rather connecting problems with solutions. Tons of people need photographers, and there are literally thousands of options to choose from. Why choose Faus Photography? I don’t want the answer to be, “Well, I know Ashley, and it would be a nice thing to do for her, so I guess I’ll suck it up and pay her to take some pictures.” NO! I want you to choose our services because you believe you’re getting quality, and our style meshes well with your style. To that end, I didn’t send out a big note to friends and family to request that they “sell” us to others, I haven’t been spamming Facebook with big “news” (which, in my extended circle on FB would probably lead to pregnancy rumors. So we’re clear, no, I’m not pregnant), and I won’t be Tweeting links to Faus Photography every 5 minutes. Yes, you need to make people aware of your new venture, but you don’t need to badger them about it. I think sometimes hobbyist-turned-professionals get too bogged down in staying top-of-mind. Granted, corporate companies do the same thing with email blasts and billboards, so the amateurs learned it somewhere! In short, my publicity strategy is going to be more about word-of-mouth and occasional links if we have a new album to share, but not overload on all my social platforms.

Finally, the question of turning your hobby into your full-time pursuit. We have no plans to do this any time soon, but many side businesses turn into full-time jobs. I think the approach is very different if you’re intending to quit your day job, and I think for most, a gradual shift in priorities is much safer than a giant leap. A few considerations before heading into the great unknown: Do you have all your paperwork completed, like IRS forms, permits, and registrations? Can you do all the business functions yourself, or will you need to outsource things like accounting and marketing? Is your business scalable, and can you actually make enough money to live? Many people think that starting a business will be “fun”… yes, it’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work, particularly if you’re not a fan of every function of business! My husband dislikes the marketing side of the business, and I dislike the technical side of the business. We’re fortunate to have a built-in partnership, and we compliment each other perfectly in this pursuit. But what if you don’t have a spouse or friend to go in with? All of these questions need to be considered before exiting the corporate world.

I won’t be quitting my day job to pursue photography any time soon, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about cameras, lights, and editing! But, I’m excited to say that Faus Photography is officially open for business!

Evolution or Big Bang?

No, no, I’m not about to re-hash the debate on how we all got here, but I am going to talk about the best choice for a brand roll-out. I’m working on a couple of projects that involve creating a brand from scratch, and I just switched to the new Microsoft Outlook email system, so I’ve been following their roll-out of the re-brand. So, which is better: the brand evolution or the big bang roll-out?

Honestly, I think both have merit, depending on the situation. The brand evolution is a piecemeal roll-out, where you implement new product lines, logos, campaigns, and platforms as you create them. The big bang roll-out goes all in from day one, with a content-rich website, booming Twitter presence, snazzy ad campaign, and forums with a ton of information. Can you guess which company chose the big bang? Microsoft, of course! One of my projects is for a musician, and I’m advising the piecemeal roll-out for him. So, why do some projects need evolution, and some need a big bang?

The Big Bang:

– Ideal for companies with an established brand identity

– Companies with the time, money, and manpower to create, distribute, and manage content across multiple platforms

– Companies that need to make a splash in the press – nothing says “big news” like the buzz of something big, and then flipping the switch on a new brand identity!

– Products with a broad market appeal – you need to make a splash in the press to get their attention, remember?


The Evolution:

– Ideal for brands that are new to the marketplace

– Roll-outs of each new aspect of the brand creates more customer touch-points by offering new reasons to invite your customers to view your content

– Small companies/individuals will NEVER release a brand if they have to wait until it’s completely finished because they’ll be wrestling with themselves forever! (Trust me, I’m struggling to kick a project out of the nest right now, even though I know it will fly!)

– Limited resources necessitate making a little money before spending a long of money, and the steady roll-out allows you to get a little business before you invest in the next piece. You won’t get in over your head by trying to manage a web site, an ad campaign, a Twitter presence, and… oh yeah, actually making and selling your product or providing your services!

– Ability to test, try and fail. You might not need every tool in the marketing tool box, so start with the most effective tool, and work your way down. It’s easier to add it on later than to watch your whole brand crumble because you took on too many ineffective tools.

I think there’s a strong case for each option, but it depends on your goal and your resources. Microsoft is a well-oiled machine when it comes to re-brands or brand roll-outs, and you expect to hit a fully formed marketing effort when they flip the switch. My musician, on the other hand, will be well-served by a slower release of his content. He’s excited to jump in with a website, blog, YouTube channel, and Twitter presence, but I’m advising him to slow down the releases. Instead of posting all 6 videos on launch day, just post one. That way, you already have a bank of content to draw from, and you can release the videos over several weeks to keep people coming back. Don’t commit to blogging every day, start with once a week. Again, you can always build up to multiple posts each week, but posting weekly will give you a reason to talk to your customers in the beginning.

Do you prefer evolution or a big bang? Do you think one method is truly better than the other, or does it depend on your business?

Dimensions of a Brand Re-Visited

Today’s discussion is about dimensions of a brand, which I’ve discussed before. In particular, we’re going to talk about dimensions of my personal brand. Well, technically it’s the “personal” brand that I have at the office, but it’s really, “Who is business Ashley?”

I feel like I portray a brand that balances an efficient, serious, ambitious person with that of an adventurous, creative, energetic person. I think all of these elements are crucial to my success at the office and my sanity as a human, but a recent conversation had me wondering if I really do show all the facets of my brand in the office. A co-worker asked about my plans for July 4th, and I mentioned that my husband and I would be heading to the lake to grill, swim, and watch the fireworks. My co-worker looked a little surprised, and said, “Oh, you’re going to swim in the lake?” I of course, looked confused as to why I WOULDN’T swim in the lake, which elicited a reply, “Wow, so you’re not one of those girls! That’s cool!” Apparently, I don’t seem like the outdoorsy type, and I must be afraid of the dirty, murky lake water! This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth, and I’m not sure how this aspect of my life as has escaped the knowledge of my co-worker. I backpack and drink out of streams, for cryin’ out loud (and I think this post showcases the many facets of my brand as it relates to being outdoors and being a corporate marketer)! I feel like I make the aspects of my brand known to all, but clearly, I’ve missed the mark.

This happens to individual and corporate brands all the time, and it’s worth looking at. How do you convey all the properties of your brand, without looking like you’re trying to be everything to everyone? How do you make sure your message is heard, without obnoxiously blaring out the message in bold print? I think you have to bring it up in casual conversation, and occasionally do something unexpected. Corporate brands do this with billboards and commercials, and then occasionally form an odd partnership to showcase a new aspect of their brand. Are you showing all the depth of your personal brand, or just sticking to a predictable message? What are you “known” for, and is that what you WANT to be known for?

They’re Talking About YOU!

We’ve established that my privacy threshold is pretty low online, but this article on Forbes re-affirms my comments that people are, in fact, talking about you. The article takes a slightly different angle on your personal web presence, but I think many of the points transcend into the corporate brand as well.

Transparency. The author tells an anecdote about her friend that’s interning at a recruiting firm. The friend has become a gatekeeper in the hiring process, and her job is to check out candidates’ online life. The thing is, squeaky clean profiles actually throw up a red flag! If there’s absolutely no negative coverage, her friend starts assuming that the person must be hiding something, because nobody is that perfect. Ever felt that way about brands? If there’s no drawbacks to their product, no bad experiences noted in the reviews, doesn’t it make you wonder if the company has scrubbed the forums or written company-sponsored Yelp reviews? Even the best corporate brands have a bad incident in their past! A completely flawless online profile might actually make you seem more suspicious, and these days, companies want transparency.

Consistency. So your resume says you went to Harvard, but your Facebook profile doesn’t list a school. Your Twitter location shows Dallas, but your LinkedIn profile shows New York. Hmm…. that’s odd. Some of these inconsistencies could be easily explained, but in this economy, companies probably won’t take the time to hear you out. And, it’s not just companies that don’t have time, it’s customers of your corporate brand. When I’m shopping for a product or service, I want your marketing jargon to match up with customer reviews and my own personal experience. Every piece of your personal and corporate message should fit together, and inconsistent online evidence will hurt you in the long-run.

Compatibility. The article mentions that safe profiles make you pretty boring, and companies want to know that you’ll fit in with the culture around the office. If all your status updates show that you simply go to work, simply come home, and simply go to bed, you sound like a drag. Sure, you don’t need to be posting about raging parties every night, but show some personality! Do you kick butt at the gym every Friday night? Do you love taking pictures and scrapbooking them? These characteristics might be crucial in your ability to fit in with your future co-workers. This definitely does not stop at your personal brand! The movement toward green products and ethical sourcing is growing rapidly, and many companies are trying to differentiate themselves to customers with CSR programs. It’s not enough to just put the cliche “made from 50% recycled products” in tiny print on a label, you have to show that you really care about this movement! Are you trying to get in with the artists, the cool kids, the business people, or the sports addicts? You need to show that you understand your demographic, and that your products or services are compatible with their lifestyles, values, and needs.

Control the conversation. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe that the conversation is going to happen. Do you want to have a voice in the conversation, or do you want to let others talk about you behind your back? My name is fairly unique, so most of the content you find when you Bing me is most likely created by me. I did this on purpose! I don’t have enemies or competitors trying to ruin my personal brand, but many people and corporations do. Do you really want your competitors making the only comments in the conversation? Get involved, talk about your awesome product (for your personal brand, your product is YOU!), contribute to the online information about your services, and exert some control over your web presence. You can stay silent, but the internet will keep talking.

I thought this article had an interesting perspective on the advice about your social media presence. They’re talking about you… but are YOU talking about you?

So You Wanna Start a Blog

We  recently discussed personal branding in one of my OB classes, and ways that your online presence can add or detract from your personal brand. There were a lot of questions about blogging, from how to get started, to the benefits or headaches of having a blog. I had one in-depth conversation about starting a blog, and I figured it would be helpful for anyone else that is considering a blog. So, here’s a few questions and tips to consider if you wanna start a blog:


What’s your goal? First, what are you trying to accomplish by starting a blog? Are you trying to position yourself as an expert in your field? Catalog your thoughts, phases of a specific project, or stages in life? Are you trying to help people with your expertise? The goal of the blog will drive the content, posting schedule, and tone, so you want the goal to be fairly broad. You also want to make sure it’s adaptable to different platforms and styles. This part of the principle comes from the book, “Built to Last”, which discusses how great companies use a flexible goal to keep pace with changing times. Google’s goal wasn’t “control the internet”, it was “compile and deliver information”, which means that if search engines become obsolete, Google won’t stray from its mission about information by moving to a new platform. Similarly, “position myself as an expert” is a much better goal than “write 800 words per day about the subject of pricing in retail markets”.

What kind of format? Sometimes a traditional “blog” format is not the best way to deliver your content. If you’re looking to help people by sharing your expertise, “how-to” archives might be a better fit than a daily or weekly blog post. If you’re looking to exchange ideas with people in your industry, a forum might best meet the needs. It’s wise to consider whether you intend to post regularly on an ever-changing topic, post static information on standard best practices, or respond to reader questions and comments. Many of these methods co-mingle, so you don’t have to pick just one. However, you need to consider each format and plan your approach for content delivery.

What’s the perspective? Are you planning to post anonymously, under a pseudonym, or under your real name? Do you plan to discuss personal, professional, or mixed topics? These questions are directly linked to the goal and format of the blog, but the answers can change over time. Many bloggers have started out as anonymous posters discussing professional topics, but eventually outed themselves as the owner of the blog. Others started posting professional topics, but later wove in personal stories. There’s no right or wrong answer, but you need to decide on the tone of the blog before you get started.

What’s the posting schedule? One of my biggest mistakes when I started my blog, was not considering a posting schedule. I figured I would just post whenever something popped into my head, and as a result, sometimes I had 1 post per month, and sometimes I had 20 posts per month. Your goal and the type of content you choose will drive your posting schedule. If you’re posting on a subject matter with very little change or new information, it will be pretty difficult to come up with new material for daily or weekly posts. Again, there’s no “correct” posting schedule, but it’s best to set expectations for your readers. Should they plan to stop by every day? Can they ignore you for 3 months and then show up to one new article?

Prepare for launch. I also made the mistake of launching my blog with no material! I hit the “go live” button, and then let it sit for a few days with no articles, no links, nothing besides my “hello world” post. This is a bad idea, particularly if you start publicizing your blog immediately. I highly recommend creating at least a month’s worth of content, and posting a few days’ worth of content before telling the world that you have a blog. Also, how are you planning to tell the world you have a blog? Are you intending to link to on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Is it going to become a line on your resume? Are you planning to use word-of-mouth for publicity? The amount of content and type of publicity prior to launch will be driven by your goal, format, and posting schedule, as determined above.


I jumped into the deep end when I started my blog, and I didn’t really consider ANY of the questions or tips that I presented above. Because I was wandering aimlessly, it took about a year for me to gain any traction in readership and brand-building. There’s no right or wrong way to answer any of these questions, but if you wanna start a blog, I highly recommend taking the time to consider each question in detail!


“Brand Awareness” is a Phase

I wrote about my thoughts on how the marketing has masked the message for a lot of charitable organizations, and I wanted to address the role of brand awareness. I had a wonderfully rousing discussion with my family about the issues discussed in yesterday’s post, particularly the KONY2012 video. My brother asked, “But, what if awareness is the ONLY goal? I mean all those YouTube hits mean they’ve hit their goal: to make everyone aware! They state that they just wanted to make Kony famous, and now they’ve done that.”

My response was that brand awareness, though a necessary and measurable goal, is just a phase. I believe that the purpose of marketing is to grow sales profitably, so unless “awareness” increases sales, I don’t think it can be considered the end goal. Brand awareness is just a phase, contributing to the much larger strategy. I think sometimes marketers latch onto the goal to increase brand awareness because it’s a relatively simple goal to achieve, it’s measurable, and it is ultimately valuable to the bottom line when used in conjunction with other tactics. The problem is that awareness does not automatically equal good customers or increased spending. I posited during the dinner discussion that I could quite easily make people aware by stripping down naked and yelling to all the patrons about how there’s a lot of homeless people that can’t afford clothing or food. In that situation, EVERYONE in the restaurant would become aware, but I doubt that my ranting would move any of them to work in a homeless shelter or donate clothing. “Awareness” does not translate directly into “action”.

The concept of awareness seems great. In order for customers to make a choice for your product or cause, they must first know it exists. When customers are ready to buy or donate, they make a list of choices for solutions to whatever they need (be it a soft drink or a contribution to humanity), so awareness is key for getting into their choice set (super smart marketing term to note the options the people consider when making a purchasing decision.) However, I’m aware of Apple products and Pepsi products, but they are never in my choice set. Similarly, being aware of an issue doesn’t make you take an action, so “brand awareness” should not be the ultimate goal.

My concern is that much of the controversy around these issues makes the champions of those issues feel like they’ve done something, because at least people are talking. But the old cliche, “Talk is cheap” is true, and I don’t think they should congratulate themselves just yet for creating awareness. Unless the newly-aware people make a profitable contribution to the bottom line, you’ve failed in the ultimate goal. Awareness is a great goal for Phase 1, but what about Phase 2…3…4? What is your strategy to encourage action that involves the dollars and time to make a real contribution to the bottom line?

When Marketing Masks the Message

Man there’s been a lot of controversy around the interwebs lately, and it’s sparked a few posts for this week! I’ve got views on a lot of the issues, but this blog isn’t about touting my views, it’s about marketing and business and people. So, today’s post will dive into some marketing issues around a lot of the controversial subjects that we face in our society. No matter which side you’re on, I think we can all agree that lately, the marketing has started to mask the message for a lot of organizations. What do I mean by this? I mean that the heart of the issues is so lost in the hype that neither side can make real progress.

Take Susan G. Komen, an organization with the mission to find a cure for breast cancer. I think this organization started out with a strong purpose and vision, and effectively raised money and emotional support for those facing a battle with cancer. But, between the “Save the Tatas” bracelets, the Planned Parenthood funding controversy, and the general “bandwagon” mentality, the charity seems to be more focused on the marketing than the message. They want the cute t-shirts, the trending Twitter hashtags, and the “cool kids” more than they want to find a cure. Honestly, how many people actually donate to breast cancer research by doing something other than purchase the “I heart boobies” bands? When you spend more on branding, advertising, and merchandise than you do on your actual product (in this case, donations/grants for cancer research), the marketing has masked the message. Sure, everyone is more aware, and sure, they’re “donating” to the cause when they buy a $5 plastic wristband… but when it cost a dollar in materials, a dollar in advertising, a dollar in salaries, and a dollar in distribution, people would’ve been much better off to just donate $2 directly to a lab that focuses on cancer research! But, we don’t want to do that, because then no one will know that we heart boobs, no one will know that we’re cool and good because we donated, and no one will want to re-Tweet or Like our Facebook status for being an awesome human being.

Then there’s the KONY2012 video that went viral last week. My first exposure to it was a photo in my news feed from my 8th grade cousin, showing her and three friends with “KONY2012” markered onto their hands with cute exclamation points and bright, multi-colored font. I figured it was some club they were in, not a movement against a warlord. Then I started seeing the critics of KONY2012, and I have to admit, I felt like the marketing had masked the message. It’s like the directors were so worried about winning an award for their video, going viral, or “raising awareness” that they hurt their message to help those in Uganda. Great, you watched and shared a video… but did you actually donate? Did you sign up to go on a mission trip? Did you take any action other than the flying leap onto the bandwagon?

What about charity galas, where everyone is willing to pay $5,000 for a little 8×10 inch picture of some horror around the world, and they’re “generous” because the picture was really only worth $5, and they had chicken instead of steak for their dinner? Or the charity events where everyone gets together to hoop and holler about how the cause is so worthy, but they’ve spent all their money throwing the event to improve “community”. Don’t get me wrong, humans need community and support systems, but when the advertisement focuses so much on the fun, convenience, excitement, whatever of the event, instead of the reason behind the event, we have a problem. The celebration of accomplishment is necessary for morale, awareness, and solidarity, but we can’t lose sight of the reason for the gathering.

In these cases, it’s not that the message is bad, wrong, or otherwise unworthy. It’s that the people with the egos have gotten involved and twisted it into something that’s selfish. It’s about saying, “I had millions of hits on YouTube. My cause is superior to your cause. My fancy charity work is way better than your behind-the-scenes work.” How many people go to Africa to dig wells for clean water? How many people go to Vietnam to volunteer in an orphanage? How many people are willing to donate their time, money or their bodies to medical research? Very few, relative to the amount that will write on their hands or buy the t-shirt. And the few that go or give rarely receive recognition. Because for them, it’s about the message, not about the marketing. It’s not about being in the humanity club, where we’re all supposed to care about each other, so we pretend to care by adding to our fashion collection or our social calendar. There’s a lot that’s wrong in this world, and marketers can help make us aware of ways that we can help find or provide a solution. But don’t get confused… it’s not about the marketing.

Where Do My Loyalties Lie?

I’m probably a terrible marketer, because my brand loyalty is pretty terrible. Case in point: I’ve bought vouchers from Groupon, TravelZoo, and LivingSocial, and if Amazon puts one out that piques my interest, I’ll happily buy one from them too. The thing is, my loyalties seem to lie with one product in particular: Brazilian Steakhouses. Man, I love Brazilian Steakhouses, and I’ve now purchased 3 vouchers to Brazilian Steakhouses.

The thing is, in a first-world country, everything is so well-made that selling something on “quality” is going to be a pretty hard sell. Especially for people like my husband and I, who read a lot of frugality, personal finance, early retirement blogs (see many of the link recommendations in the Friday posts!). I’ve found that most of the generic products work just as well as the branded products. What’s funny, though, is that many of the generic products have started their own branding! Take Archer Farms, Target’s “generic” brand. They have nice packaging, and bill themselves as a premium product, even though, in theory they are “the other guy”. When generics first became popular, you saved money because items had no packaging, no advertising, no logo, nothing. You could buy a plain white bag labeled “chips” in plain black font, or “shampoo” in a plain black bottle with plain white lettering. But now, the generics have appealing pictures, catchy product names, and they occupy prime shelf space, often infringing on the SKU territory of their branded rivals.

All this to say, my loyalties are starting to lie with a type of product, not a logo. I still want the logo on some things, like Band-Aids. The generics literally don’t stick, at all, for more than 2 minutes! And, I do recognize differences in quality for clothes and make-up, but I guess I’ve found that most clothing in my price range is pretty much the same quality. Most make-up in my price range is all but equal. But canned vegetables? Give me the generics every time! And vouchers to Brazilian Steakhouses…. you don’t see any discrimination from me!