About scott.gillum

Scott heads the DC Office for gyro, a global advertising agency, and leads the Channel Marketing practice. Prior to joining gyro, he spent a dozen years at a professional services firm that specializes in B2B sales and marketing. Scott also writes for Forbes CMO Network, and his blog B2B KnowledgeSharing, feeds sites such as Sales Blog, B2B Marketing Zone and TechnologyMarketer. Follow him on Twitter @sgillum

Telling is Selling?

My first job out of college was selling office equipment. The first thing I ever learned about selling (from my very Southern sales manger) was that “Telling ain’t selling.” In layman terms, stop telling customers why they need your product and start listening to their needs.

For years this simple phase remained in my memory. It guided me as a way to engage prospects in advisory-like sales dialogue, probing for a need to sell to. But, after attending CEB’s Sales & Marketing Summit last week, where new research highlighted the increased complexity in reaching a purchase decision, I’m now considering rethinking my whole approach.

Why? Because buyers have become overwhelmed by the potential choices, IMG_1220and the involvement of other decision makers in the process, according to Brent Adamson, co-author of The Challenger Customer. Too much information, too many options and too many people involved in the process are making it more difficult than ever to reach a consensus, let alone a purchase decision. Given the complexity, stalled deals are no longer a sales issue; they’re a buying problem.

The question is: Are marketers contributing to that problem? Is it possible our content marketing efforts, aimed at helping buyers make an informed choice, are becoming part of the “too much” problem? According to Psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, too much choice often results in no choice at all.

Dr. Schwartz’s research has shown that limiting choice is often necessary to reach a decision, and/or to speed up the buying process. As he said, “When you make choice easier, or more simple, you will sell more.”

For business-to-business sales and marketers, the key is to become “prescriptive,” according to Adamson. Customers need a “trusted advisor” to help guide them through the complexity of the decision making process, in particular in driving a consistent point of view on the problem, and the best solution. Schwartz suggests focusing on the following three areas:

  1. Be the “expert” or “simplifier.” Help reduce the complexity of the problem, process and/or solution. Smart content should help to explain and simplify solutions to complex problems.
  2. Create an “anchor.” Help customers understand how to assess the value you offer. Buyers may have a hard time assessing the true value of a new purchase or a new vendor. Help them by giving them context. Find a relatable anchor comparison. Think: ”Platinum service at a standard price.”
  3. Understand the impact of “no decision.” If no decision is the right decision, then find a way to make it the default answer. This approach is commonly seen in software or subscription-based services where membership/licensing automatically renews.

Do we now dictate to customers/prospects? Not according to Schwartz. Asking probing questions that lead customers to convince themselves that they need your product is the path to goal attainment. Help them understand how your product/service uniquely solves their problem by guiding their path to purchase.

The words of wisdom given to me years ago were right, but given today’s increased complexity it needs an updated “Telling ain’t selling…until it is.”

Why “Cheating” Brands Break Customers’ Hearts

IMG_1184The Volkswagen scandal has already claimed the CEO. But could the damage also take down the company, or be the nail in the coffin for diesel automobiles in the US? Some are starting to think so: VW stock has fallen 30 percent since the scandal broke, and there are broader concerns about the impact on the reputation of Germany’s automobile industry. How could something that has the potential to be so damaging to an organization, and industry, happen?

At some point, someone in the VW organization decided to cheat, and others within the organization approved that decision. And with that, it set in motion a chain of events that would reach across the organization. Someone designed the “defeat device” that could sense when the car was undergoing emission testing; another group tested the software to ensure it was working properly. Others submitted data to governing organizations using the deceptive and/or outright false data and so on (you get the picture, and it’s not pretty). VW’s corporate culture condoned this behavior.

“Big deal,” you say. “Things like this are probably going on in big global corporations all the time, all over the world. CEOs are out to win at any cost.” Not so fast. Research from the FORTUNE Knowledge Group and gyro found that sixty percent of executives prefer to do business with companies that are intent on doing what’s right, even when it doesn’t necessarily maximize revenue.

And don’t think that CEOs aren’t paying attention to a company’s reputation. When choosing a company to do business with, 70 percent of executives in the study cite company reputation as the most influential factor, with the company’s culture being the top driver of reputation, according to 53 percent of executives surveyed by FORTUNE and gyro.

Not only will VW take it on the chin from consumers – especially customers who own their diesel cars – but they are also going to feel the repercussion on the business side as well. Key decision makers, from suppliers to dealers, are going to be distancing themselves from the organization. This could potentially hurt the company’s ability to repair its reputation, which, according to a 2013 study by Deloitte, is the “number one strategic risk for large companies.”

The lesson: If you cheat, you will eventually get caught. Even though you may be able to avoid punishment (like a certain football player), you will not escape having your brand and reputation damaged. For some brands, that could represent up to two-thirds of the company’s value.

When an organization deceives us, they betray our trust and it’s deeply personal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or a car manufacturer, our brains trust brands the same way we trust our friends, according to research from the Institute for Experimental Business Psychology at Leuphana University in Luneburg, Germany (of all places).

The Paradox of Personalization in B2B Marketing

Just when we’ve convinced the organization that the key to our marketing communication success is personalized content, new research from CEB highlights that we actually may be doing more harm than good.

The years spent improving our understanding of the buyers journey, the development of more insightful personas and content, may have resulted in marketers ability to be too good at personalizing solutions to buyers. How can that be?

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.08.13 PMThe issue, according to CEB’s research underpinning their new book The Challenger Customer, is that our improved ability to increase a buyer’s awareness of those areas of a solution most relevant to them, has inadvertently increased visibility into the overall risks associated with the purchase decision and/or change. As a result, buyers begin to unbundle and simplify solutions, driving down price points. The shocker of this insight is that marketers improved ability to personalize content may be coming at a cost to sales.

According to co-author, Pat Spenner, the real challenge lies in convincing buyers to first agree on making a change. “Focus your content marketing efforts on creating a consensus case for change among the decision making group,” which according to CEB’s research, now involves at least five people in the typical B2B purchase.

According to Spenner, “personalization can hurt the buyer’s ability to get that critical early consensus, because it can cement those individual stakeholders into their individual contexts, without doing anything to bring that more diverse group together around a common vision for change.”

So should we stop personalizing our communication? No, but it does highlight the need to also create that common rallying point, and to equip key buying group stakeholders with the tools to create consensus around it. Something the authors say helps clients elevate the conversation from “me to we,” an umbrella approach that ties your content efforts together regardless of the audience being targeted.

To motivate buyers to change you first have to disrupt their status quo by planting and nourishing seeds of doubt about “business as usual.” Show them not just the benefits of action, but the consequences of inaction. CEB recommends using fact-based content built off a Commercial Insight to break down buyers existing mental models.

Concurrent with breaking down the audience’s long held beliefs, you need to give them something to aspire to — a new future state that rallies the group to take action. This is where a compelling creative campaign does the heavy lifting. A “big play” campaign, like IBM’s “Smarter Planet” creates a compelling future vision but also provides a broad platform to disrupt IBM’s many different buyers and to cover IBM’s expansive solution/product portfolio.

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Personalization is still essential, and comes via messaging to specific audiences, but it is built on the commercial insight, and aligned to the common vision of the future state. It’s not that personalization doesn’t work, in fact, it can be very effective for breaking the status quo,” according to Spenner, “but you also need an unifying rallying point for buyers who may be too attuned to the risk associated with change.”

The key to leveraging the good work marketers have done to increase relevancy with buyers? Properly balance and/or convince the audiences that the rewards associated with making the change, both organizationally and personally, outweigh the risks you’re asking them to take on. If not, they will reduce the risk for you, and you may be hearing about it from sales.

3 Mind Benders from Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference

This year’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen was an incredible experience.

FullSizeRenderThere were fantastic insights dropped by speakers like Rahm and Ari Emanuel, John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Reid Hoffman, CEO of Greylock Partner and co-founder of LinkedIn. I came away from the two and half-day event with three “ah-ha’s” because of their potential impact as game changers for marketers.

The New Native Advertising

Consumers are interacting with brands nearly all of the time. In the past, no one was watching and no one really cared, but new digital platforms and big data companies are about to change that. Companies like Storehouse, are giving consumers a platform to tell and share their story, many of which involve brands. Organizations like are capturing those moments and are beginning to alert brands. This “new native advertising” will grow out of naturally occurring brand experience that quickly get amplified and shared with others — real people, experiencing real brands, in real time. As this trend evolves, look for the role of the agency to shift from that of being the creator of disruptive ads aimed at getting your attention to amplifier and distributor of consumer generated organic ads.

 Smart Carts recently launched to bring club discount shopping online. Its innovative business model is built off of the “smart cart.” As consumers fill up their cart, the price of the items begins to change based on availability of the item and the shipping location. sources items from small business and tries to fill orders from local merchants. For example, you buy a baseball and a bat; you’ll get one price, add a baseball mitt and it will change the price for all three items depending on what type of mitt you are buying. To get the best price, wait a couple of days for shipping. Buy it immediately, and you’ll pay another price. promises savings of 10-15 percent by using the advantage of filling orders locally and then passing the shipping cost savings along to the consumer.

The Internet of Things

Connected cars are coming. Actually, you could argue that it arrived years ago with GM’s OnStar. The next evolution later this year will include apps, beacons and commerce platforms like Visa Checkout and Apple Pay. Order a pizza from the Pizza Hut app on the screen in your car and payment processes automatically. Pull into the specially marked space in front of the restaurant and a beacon alerts them you have arrived for pickup. It also verifies your identity confirming payment. As beacons and autos unite, companies must begin to find ways for that 5-8” screen in your car to be the next big opportunity for advertising. IMG_0930

The most mind-blowing thing I saw or heard, though, is Founded by Damien Patton, the company is what Inc. magazine describes as the “The Most Important Social Media Company You’ve Never Heard Of.”, by mining social media, can figure out what is happening anywhere in the world in real time by looking at a specific place at a specific time. was the first to detect the Boston Marathon bombing, the Ukrainian plane downing and even the Amtrak train wreck in Philadelphia. According to Patton, they beat traditional media organizations to the story by eight minutes on average.

Here’s the mind-blowing part: has built a virtual grid of more than 25 billion squares as an overlay of the entire globe. Their software monitors geo-located social posts for anomalies and then flags them for further investigation. It is, as Damien describes, “a crystal ball.” For marketers, it presents an opportunity to help facilitate the new native advertisement I mentioned above.

IMG_0936Overall, the event was one of the most insightful conferences I’ve ever attended. From the location (Aspen) to the speakers, the event had a certain energy unlike any other event. It could be because of the amount of start-ups and investor present, but I believe it came from the attendees themselves. I met interesting people from fascinating companies who had a shared goal of meeting people and gaining knowledge. If you have the opportunity, put this in your budget for next year and book this event. I highly recommend it

3 Hidden Reasons Why B2B Companies Have Hard Time Being Authentic

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 5.11.57 PMJohn Grant, author of The New Marketing Manifesto, states that, “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.” If being authentic is that important, why has it been done so poorly by so many? If honesty and trust are foundation elements for building authentic brands, shouldn’t it be easy?

Business marketers often site issues relating to creating a consistent experience and message across the organization and/or across channels, staying true to the organization’s origins, and/or delivering on brand/product promises. All valid reasons, but perhaps there is another challenge at the core that goes unnoticed, something that inhibits the organizations ability tobe “real.” Aproblem simple in form, but difficult to detect and correct.

Yes, it is the senior executives, marketers, sales folks and service people themselves. The employees, who as humans, are uniquely influenced, and some may say flawed, by their own perceptions, bias, and motivations. Here are a few flaws that inhibit an organizations ability to be authentic:

  1. Biased views – research has found that executives, for better or worse, create “business personas” and view the world with that “business hat” on. In some ways, we play a “role” at work that fits a title, area of responsibility, or how others view you, that may not be realistic. Are we being fake? Maybe, maybe not, but if we say one thing, and believe something else that may be at odds with our “persona,” we just might be. It’s phenomenon researchers have observed with consumers their actions don’t necessarily match their words. In the business world, we act in a similar manner and may not realize that we are not being completely honest with ourselves, or with our customers…but they know.
  2. Refusing to recognize or accept change – customer preferences shift, markets fluctuate, competitors enter and exit, and companies evolve. One of the few certainties in business is that change is a constant. The problem is that many organizations are slow to recognize and react to a change. Even worse they flat out ignore it. As a result, companies continue to live in the past, or recognize the need for change and try to shift overnight. Authenticity involves an emotional connection with an audience and that connection is forged over years through consistency. Consistency builds trust and integrity. Ignoring the reality of your audiences’ world, trying to be something you’re not, or telling customers what you think they want to hear, quickly deteriorates trust and erodes integrity. “Keeping it real” involves keeping your head out of the sand and on the lookout for change, for better or worse. It also involves accepting reality as it is, no matter how painful it might be.
  3. The need for control – trust is a foundation element, and when we feel like it is lacking it sets off a basic human reaction to seek control over a situation. Inversely, when we trust, a handshake, for example, will often do look at the rise of shared economy companies like Uber, Airbnb. For established companies, take a look at the ever-expanding legal language in contracts and evaluate the impact it might be having on eroding trust with customers. In the business-to-business world, there are some situations where people have to trust each other to be successful and/or make progress. If we make it too complicated, we invite doubt and/or skepticism into the conversation making it difficult to create the foundation for a long-term relationship. Additionally, if we have an established relationship with a customer keep an eye on  contracting, service agreements, product delivery language, etc.

I’ve only a listed a few of the “flaws” that challenge companies, many more exist, but multiply these by the number of humans (employees) at your company, and the number of channels an audience has to interact with your brand, and you begin to get a sense of the complexity of business marketing.

How do successful companies do it? How do they create and maintain an authentic message, perception, and/or brand, by building and preserving a strong corporate culture, but allowing for flexibility. As Bill Breen writes in Fast Company “To maintain its integrity, a brand must remain true to its values. And yet, to be relevant—or cool—a brand must be as dynamic as change itself.” Or as Shakespeare might say: “To thine own self be true.”

Does All Work and No Play Make Marketers Dull?

Look at the tweet, then read the graphic. Why is the headline on this tweet by Spencer Stuart, “Majority of marketing leaders want to see data-and analysis driven decision marketing on their teams,” and not “Majority of marketing leaders want to see more creative thinking and exploration on their teams?”

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Statistically they’re the same, yet Spencer Stuart emphasized the data/analytic decision making why? “Combine Fun, Passion and Excitement” with “Decision and Bold Action” and you have a solid argument for changing the marketing team’s culture to “Exploration and Creative Thinking.”

On the flip side, only 5% of marketing wants a culture of “Planning, Caution and Being Thoughtful,” amen brother. Ok, I hear you, “if it was “fun” they would call it “play” not work, but maybe we need a little more play at work.

According to Peter Gray, a professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, ”play” can be the key that unlocks the mindset of bold creative thinking. In an article on Psychology Today, Gray says that the “alert but unstressed condition” of a playful mind has been shown repeatedly, in psychological experiments, to be ideal for creativity and learning new skills.

“Experiments have shown that strong pressure to perform well (which induces a non-playful state) improves performance on tasks that are mentally easy or habitual for the person, but worsens performance on tasks that require creativity, or conscious decision making, or the learning of new skills.” Although accountants may perform well under pressure, it could be a creativity killer for marketers.

One could conclude then, if an organization too narrowly focuses on “analysis and data driven decision making,” it may come at the expense of “Exploration and Creative Thinking” mentioned in the research and Tweet. Said differently, all work and no play, could make your marketers dull.

Pressure to perform in business marketing is a given, so how do you strike a healthy balance? Stephanie Anderson, CMO of Time Warner Cable’s business division, suggested that by ” focusing on business results first, ensuring that you have a way to show the business impact of marketing activities, you’ll have the foundation in place in order to inject a fun and creativity into the workplace.”

From SXSW to ISBM: Where Tech is Leading Us

Last week I had the opportunity to attend two conferences that spanned the horizon of marketing. I went from “hoodies” at SXSW to “blue blazers” at the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) Winter Member Meeting

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Attendees at SXSW Interactive were young digital marketers, at the early stage of their careers. The ISBM crowd was comprised of mostly senior-level executives with 20 to 30 years of experience working for established companies.

Below are some insights from both of the events:

  • Marketing is a tech wonderland. I had the chance to wander the event floor at SXSW, marvel at all of the new technologies, play with new apps, as well as attend a couple ofsessions by new tech vendors. The theme of the ISBM event was Analytics & Analysis, and I got more than my fair share of data analytics, business intelligence, econometric modeling … you name it. If you still think that half of your marketing budget is wasting away, but you don’t know which half, you’re behind the times.
  • Analytics and dashboards are foundational. I saw a great presentation by Dell, which showed how the company has now mapped buyers across the buying process, complete with understanding their needs, time spent at each stage and how to optimize the experience. Likewise, Wesco and Teradata shared a wonderful journey of how Wesco put into place the tools needed to become a data-driven marketing group, enabling the company to tie its activities to business outcomes, or in this case, revenue. From what I heard and saw, companies have built the foundation to pull, analyze and report marketing performance data. Some have even made the leap into forecasting and predictive modeling.
  • Investment is still a challenge. A thread ran through the ISBM event concerning the challenge of securing the funding to buy new marketing tools and/or staffing teams. Despite several speakers presenting solid case studies with clear ROIs, they were still challenged with getting the support and funding needed to continue making progress.

After having time to digest the week’s sessions, I still had a few lingering questions in my mind concerning what I heard and saw. For example:

  • Is there a lack of organizational acceptance and/or appreciation of marketing insight and activities? The question that popped into my head regarding the funding challenge was, “Are marketers able to make the business case in a way that makes executives want to fund their request?” The other issue was marketing’s ability to communicate effectively across the organization based on itScreen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.13.16 AMs culture. One speaker, Bill Rozier from Ciena, provided insight into how to do it effectively. Bill created a lead generation report in an easy to understand PowerPoint slide. As Bill said, “The sales team has to be able to get all the information they need in 30 seconds or less, or we’ve lost them.” Since Bill’s new report launched less than two months ago, lead reconciliation rates have gone from 13 percent to over 70 percent.
  • Is there, or will there be, a communication gap between the “Hoodies” and “Blue Blazers”? It’s not necessarily a generational one, although there is that. Rather, it’s one based on what they view to be important and valuable. I saw some great social media tools at SXSW that provided deep insights into audience engagement and buyer intent. But close to half the marketing executives at the ISBM meeting had revenue targets, and almost all had lead targets. It made me think that there may be, or may soon be, a potential communication issue between the digital-savvy “engagement and intent” crowd and the “lead and revenue” veterans. From what I saw, there is still work to be done to close the gap between social media results and the connection to key performance metrics valued by marketing executives.
  • Will marketing overplay analytics? Perhaps my biggest concern reflecting on the week is twofold. In business-to-business companies with strong product (and engineering) cultures that are empirically driven, will the utilization and reliance on new marketing tools and data limit an organization’s creativity, and/or innovation? The second concern has to do with organizations where marketing feels like they are under attack. Will marketers use their new reporting capabilities as a defense mechanism, hiding behind the data, instead of using it proactively to provide the organization with new insights and opportunities?

Despite these and other questions still weighing heavily on my mind, I did reach two solid conclusions. The first, Austin is by far the best food-truck town in the United States, and the second is that Tampa’s weather is the salve for the burn of the harsh Northeast winter — a point brought home to me as I returned from Tampa just in time for our first-day-of-spring snowstorm.

The Power of Creating an Emotional Connection with Buyers

For business, this is turning out to be the “year of the human.” Andy Goldberg, global creative director at GE, said in an interview with Advertising Age about marketing trends in 2015: “We need B-to-B to be more human.” Karen Walkers, SVP of marketing at Cisco, went ever further by saying, “Devotion to brands begins and ends with an emotional connection. Buyers are people, people are humans and humans are emotional beings.”

Why this sudden awakening of humanity in tech marketing? The recognition that business decision makers are also people with emotional needs? Well, the answer might surprise you, and it’s based on a good bit of data and research.

The CEB (formerly Corporate Executive Board) first picked up on this trend in their research that found communicating business value (functional benefits of a product or service) was not differentiating because perceptions on that value hScreen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.49.41 PMardly varied between brands.

For example, a recent brand health study for a tech client found that 90 percent of their brand health (defined by a willingness to recommend and consider) was driven by service quality. Service quality made up 90 percent of the attributes in the graphic.

The smart marketer would think that in order to improve our brand health, we should increase our focus and communication for the performance attributes related to service quality. And they would be right, except for the fact that those business value drivers also apply to all competitors in the category, which is apparent in the graphic below:

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Each color line represents how a competitor scored on performance attributes under capabilities, expertise and strategic advisors. It is almost impossible to distinguish between the five companies represented (except for the competitor in orange, which also happens to have a leading share of market, mind and voice).

What is clear from the research is that rational purchase drivers that communicate business value, although important, are nothing more than “table stakes.” So what creates separation?

The answer: An organization’s ability to build and communicate value based on the understanding of the risk/reward dynamic involved with a purchase decision. The reason: There is a direct correlation between the level of risk and the emotional involvement of the buyer. The higher the risk, the more emotions play a role. Technology purchases are a particularly high risk because they support critical functions within an organization from payroll to customer communications and more.

As a result, personas need to go deeper into understanding the emotional state of buyers as they go through the buying process. Marketers should map the mental state before, during and after the purchase decision, noting the emotions that buyers might be feeling at that time. Here are some key questions to consider as you go through this process:

  • What challenge(s) does this purchase decision present for the buyer? It will defer if the buyer is new versus existing. As a marketer, it’s crucial to know how it’s different.
  • What personal risks are at stake for this decision maker? Could they lose their job if they make the wrong decision? Invest in understanding their role and their challenges.
  • What are the personal rewards for the buyer? Consider how the decision will pay off for them personally. Most often this will be career oriented, but not always.

It’s also important to note that buyers will already have preconceived feelings towards your brand. This may be a benefit or another hurdle to overcome. Our research in partnership with the FORTUNE Knowledge Group found that nearly two thirds of C-level executives said they believe subjective factors that can’t be quantified (including company culture and corporate values) increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16 percent disagree. Furthermore, 70 percent believe that a company’s reputation is the most influential factor when deciding what company to do business with.

Buyers trust their gut to make the right decision based on how they feel about a product and/or brand more than we think (and definitely more than we communicate). They make purchase decisions based on emotions, and then justify them with the business value drivers. It’s the emotional connection that triggers the decision and feature/functionality to support it, not the other way around.

What company does this best? It’s Cisco. Research has shown that they are the most emotionally connected customers. Not surprisingly, as Karen Walkers points out, Cisco recognizes that buyers are not just decision makers with budgets, but rather people who are emotional beings.

What Marketers Can Learn About Twitter From Pissed Off High School Students

Last month (January 6 to be exact,), the Washington, DC area received its first snow of the season. Dropping 3 – 5 inches of snow in the area, it sent school boards scrambling to assess driving conditions and whether to delay opening or closing schools for the day. Most school systems got it right; but one didn’t, and it set off a social media storm that would take over Twitter.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia missed the call and its students (and parents, to some extent) made certain they knew. More snow fell than was forecasted and froze quickly, making the roads and sidewalks treacherous. Close to 30 accidents – including a school bus – were reported during the early morning commute.

Students using the hashtag #closeFCPS expressed their outrage at having to report to class on time in the hazardous conditions. They also became real-time weather reporters by posting videos and photos of snow conditions, roadways and accidents.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.06.20 AMOn what was the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the day after the premier of The Bachelor, a bunch of outraged kids in Fairfax County became the top story of the day, trending no. 1 on Twitter nationwide, second worldwide, and received coverage by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, USA Today, The Huffington Post, as well as making lead story on all the local news channels. And as the day went on, the hashtag took on a life of its own.

How’d they do it?

For students who were supposed to be in class, they certainly spent an inordinate amount of time on their smartphones. As a parent of a teenager who attends a school following the snow policy determined by FCPS rulings, I had a first row seat to the social media frenzy. What can their success teach us? Here are five critical components that I observed:

  1. A common cause – Nothing rallies the Twitter troops more than a common cause. This one was a “no brainer.” A snow day is a rare and precious gift from the snow gods. This was “cause” marketing at its purest.
  2. A common enemy – The villain of the day was Ryan Mcleveen, a school board member who had developed a strong bond with students through social media (Twitter in particular). Over 41,000 people – many of them students –follow Ryan because he is the first to report school delays and closings…until he didn’t. That’s when the students made him the target of their tweet bombs.
  3. Short-term objective – Combine a common cause with a short window of opportunity, and you have a heightened sense of urgency to ignite the base and drive the effort.
  4. Humor – This is what I believe had caused the effort to trend and continue trending well past the decision point for canceling school. The students played a game of one-upmanship with Instagram posts and tweets, with the most humorous being retweeted over and over. As the day progressed, it was the entertainment value rather than the cause that kept the hashtag trending.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.08.16 AM
  1. The bandwagon – Once the hashtag trended, teenagers from other school districts, states and even countries jumped in to support the cause and/or to participate in the fun, many having no idea what the hashtag meant.

The Result

Beyond a formal apology from the school board, the students also got their snow day a day later (along with the following two days of delayed starts) while the rest of the school systems in the area were back on a regular schedule. But what they may have gained, more importantly, was influence.

The question is: Were the delays and school closing due to the weather/road conditions, or was it because of the public shaming on Twitter? We may never know, but let’s see what happens on the next snowy day in DC.

Incidentally, that was supposed to be where my story ended. But with snow in the forecast for the following week, I decided to wait to submit this post for obvious reasons. On Tuesday, January 13, the DC area received less than a half an inch of snow. And while other school districts announced a two-hour delay, Fairfax County closed its schools. #FCPSstudents #Winning

What Content Marketers Can Learn from Typhoid Mary

Just in time for the cold and flu season, scientists have recently discovered that the “Pareto principle – the 80/20 rule” applies to infectious diseases. “Super Carriers” who represent 20% of the population, are responsible for transmitting 80% of infectious diseases.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.39.56 AMSuperspreaders, like “Typhoid Mary” of the 1900’s, have the ability, although not fully understood, to infect others without falling ill themselves. Come in contact with the one of them, live in a densely populate area, and you’ve got the recipe for a massive outbreak.

Like viruses, information is spread in similar ways. The importance of “links per node” in social network influence has been studied for years. Research has shown that it’s not the number of links, but rather how “strategically placed” people are in the core of the network, that leads to dissemination of information or disease through a large fraction of the population.

“Typhoid Mary” for example, was a cook in New York City and had an opportunity to infect large groups of patrons with typhoid fever breakfast, lunch and dinner. Readers of The Hot Zone, or Dan Brown’s Inferno, will also be familiar with the concept of geometric progression’s role in the spreading of disease.

Applying these same principals to the distribution of information yields some important insights for content marketers. Given the nuclear arms race going on in content creation and distribution, finding a way to get your message to, and consumed, by targeted audiences is becoming mission critical.

Superspreaders are a perfect route, and represent an opportunity to narrow your message. Think about it this way instead of trying engage 80-100% of your target audience (being everything to everyone) which is a sure fire way to get lost in the noise, you need only to appeal to the right 20%.

How do you find them? It begins with the mind shift of moving from quantity of contacts, to the quality of those contacts…their place in the network. If your organization is set on measuring social media by the number of fans, followers, etc. you’ve got your work cut out.

Find and profile the key influencers in your industry, and/or on a particular subject matter, and don’t solely rely on social media…you’ll end up with “false gods.” Ask the sales force, monitor speakers on industry events, search for authors on the topic, and scan the academic horizon. Once you’ve created your list, study their language.

Now, use your PR and social monitoring tools, as well as other sources, to understand how and what they communicate. Narrow in on those influencers who are in the right position to distribute your content to the right audience, and not those who may have the most followers and/or may be the most active. “Right position” may be related to position to audience, but it may also include, adding validity to your information.

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In the digital world, the credibility of the content source is as important, if not more important than, as the actual author/content producer. In the past, companies aimed thought leadership campaigns directly at audience on topics they wanted to communicate. Success with content marketing depends on targeting key influencers with topics that resonate with them in their language so they will pass the information on to their followers.

As a result, you may want to score social spreaders (not a Klout score, use your own ranking) based on their influence (position + credibility). Set a goal for the year to get their attention through a mention or a share, just as you might do with targeted media. Tell your story by designing a content strategy based on the topic areas, language, and the interests of your superspreaders. Then let your “Typhoid Mary or Larry” spread your information…it’s called viral marketing for a reason!