Q: You’re a highly talented writer and skilled speaker, which are essential skills for digital marketers and online learners. Where did you learn to write so well, and how much of what you know about marketing communication is learned through experience (the best teacher), self-taught (the second-best teacher, especially when it comes to online learning), or more formal education (which is full of great teachers)?
I always liked writing, but I really was never good at it. In high school, I would get C’s in English but it was weird. When I wrote an essay for a friend who went to a different school, she got an A. Regardless, some people told me my writing sucked so I stopped for a long time. Then around half a decade or more ago, I started reading Copyblogger.
After reading Copyblogger, I tried writing copy for some of the startups I worked with. It did decently and brought in new business. But I felt I wasn’t good enough to write for myself. So I figured I needed to better improve my writing style. Then after I broke my ankle in 2012 and had a lot of time at home to myself, I practiced writing on Facebook to my network of friends. I started to get around 10 likes a post and comments about how people didn’t realize these stories about my life happened to me. But my writing was still a bit convoluted at the time and it wasn’t as clear as it could be.
So what I did is I took some of my favorite authors, like Malcolm Gladwell and James Altucher, and wrote their books and articles down word for word. This subconsciously helped me figure out their writing styles and why they wrote certain words at certain points in a sentence. On top of that, I started to write how I talked, so my message wouldn’t be bogged down with internal thoughts that wouldn’t make it into a live conversation with a close friend.
After I did this, when I went back to write my own content, it improved significantly. It was easier to read because it was written at a lower grade level, which could be understood globally, even in non native English speaking communities. This helped propel my content to be read over 2 million times within the first six months, and 10 million times within 1.5 years.
I took a few writing classes in college along the way, but the majority of what I learned was self-taught and through experience.
Q: You’re also a personal branding expert with a lot of excellent advice about brand personalization, as well as an inspiring personal story that many tend to think of as a “rags to riches” tale about the fulfillment of the American Dream. How can digital marketers and lifelong learners personalize their online educations in a way that can make their story stand out like yours?
The Marketing Communication master’s concentration prompts you to analyze consumer behavior, conduct market research, and engage the power of brands and messages in order to develop powerful digital marketing strategies. Evaluate various tactics, measure their effectiveness, and explore the intricacies of working with or in complex, multi-functional teams to execute compelling marketing campaigns.
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No one cares what you do until they know who you are first. When I used to do sales, this was the process:
Step 1: Meet and Greet (Hi, it’s a pleasure to meet you! My name is Leonard, and you are?) Step 2. Sell Yourself (Asking questions to find common ground) Step 3. Sell Your Company (Features, Functions, Benefits) Step 4. Qualify (Find budget, etc.) And so forth.
When you have in person conversations with someone, it’s pretty easy to sell yourself. You can ask someone questions like what they do for fun, if they have a family, what their favorite travel destinations are, if they went on a vacation recently and so forth. All these questions help you figure out how you can find a moment where you say ‘me too!’ and start a conversation based off of something you mutually enjoy.
The problem with being online is that you can’t ask people these questions. I mean you could, but you wouldn’t be able to see a response in a video or an article. So what you need to do instead is highlight your interests and hobbies so when other people see you speak about these traits, they can say ‘me too!’ in their head.
That instantaneous connection only happens when you present who you are first. The best way to do this is to create your own personal story.
But how much of your story should you tell?
If you are rummaging through your story and you find something that scares you, you should use that fear as an indicator that you are onto something great. So many people are scared to talk about what they are scared of, for fear of being judged or looked down upon. But these fears are what you talk about when you meet a friend and ask them for sincere advice. And they usually respond back with a similar story of what they experienced themselves. And when you are finished with the conversation, the bond between you two more often than not becomes closer, because you two feel like you can trust each other.
The same thing happens online, but at a much larger scale. When you share what you are scared to talk about, that vulnerability and authenticity gives you the ability to make an instant connection with your audience.
Q: Our State of Marketing Education found that online marketing is becoming more contentious, largely due to the prevalence of Donald Trump and political conversations on almost all channels over the past two years, which have taught us, to quote the article, “that saying something contentious gets attention, and that making a bold statement — whether it be in reference to current affairs, pop culture, or fellow competitors– while also taking a big risk, can result in a huge reward, even in a brand name is attached to the perceived winner.” How can online learners or digital marketers enter this contentious scene and learn to harness it to their benefit?
To be contentious, you need to be bold. You will get backlash. You will get personal attacks. And you will not be liked for your statement.
The numbers aren’t exact, but chances are, 50 percent of the people you encounter will feel strongly in favor of what you are saying, while 50 percent of the people you encounter will feel strongly against what you are saying. When you alienate one audience, you make the other audience stronger. So what happens is you get loyal followers to your marketing message, while at the same time, people who absolutely hate it.
The first thing you need to do is realize that when you make a decision to do contentious marketing, you can’t back down from it. You have to go all in.
The second thing you need to do is be as strategic as possible. Think through the campaign from front to end. Is what you are saying going to offend your target market? What benefits will you gain? How will the message be communicated in the mainstream media?
The third thing you need to do is come up with multiple concepts of the same message.
Once you have these, you will be able to run them by your peers and people outside of your industry to see how they react to the content. Most importantly, you need to get some samples of reactions from the other side. If you aren’t getting enough of a positive reaction, and tend to be getting more of the wrong reaction from the other side where they can use the message against you, then chances are, the campaign will backfire.
After you find the campaign that touches the right emotions on your target audience, then launch it. But be prepared to take your personal emotions out of the campaign, because there will be messages from all angles, both in favor and against what you are communicating. And your job after the campaign is launched is to amplify your message, not to enter into a battle against what others are saying. So ignore the hate and amplify your contentious message even further.