Monday, June 25, 2012

Don't Rank Me: Getting Past Scores And Numbers

Kelly Whalen and David Binkowski presented a session on branding and how it isn't simply the numbers that make us who we are. They talked a lot at Type A Conference about building brands and what that looks like. You can find them on Twitter as @centsiblelife and @dbinkowski.

My first Type A Conference recap was of the keynote by Chris Garrett. This one is Don't Rank Me: Getting Past Scores and Numbers with David Binkowski and Kelly Whalen. 

Kelly Whalen:  Creating and growing your brand: It's something people don't really understand as they get online and get into being a personality.  If you want to get in with a PR company, they have a series of brands that they represent, and you need to be a brand, too.  You have to create a brand, and this is one of the bigger questions I've heard from bloggers - why don't companies reach out to me or why don't they do it more often or why don't they do it beyond just a pitch in my inbox.

I think most of you have the same questions when we first start out. How to grow your brand, what is your brand?  I've been blogging for about 4 years, starting like many people do to talk about things I'm interested in - finance and getting out of debt, leading into a smart life. I loved talking to my readers and building a community and working with brands.  I've started from a little blog into a full fledged brand.  You can read more on my website about who I am.

David Binkowski: I'm David Binkowski, a partner at Large Media and this is my third time presenting at Type A. I want to thank Kelby - at this time last year I was working for a different agency, and Kelby was pushing me, asking why I was making money for someone else. She said she'd publicly shame me if I didn't start up my own agency in a few months.

[posts a slide with his “pitch” biography]

This is how I sell myself. I have a lot of hands on experience in working with a variety of brands and have spoken at a lot of conferences. I wrote the rules to the road for WOMMA and included that experience in there. It says three things: I have experience, I’m a “word of mouth” guy and I’ve worked with a lot of companies.

I can help you get past what they're thinking about you now. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m direct and am going to tell you the way it is.

[turns to slide about Large Media]

So I did start up Large Media as of last July, and we have to pitch to get clients - we're a word of mouth based company that does use social media but we also use other channels -- online and offline -- to meet their goals. I didn’t want to get pigeon holed into being a “social media agency” because everyone and their brother claims to be doing it. [points to conference logos] We also get asked to speak at the various industry conferences. I’m conveying here that we’re more than social media and it’s consistent with the brand I’ve created for myself.

When I thought about starting up a business and creating a brand, I first had to understand how I wanted to brand it. It's easy to say “I have a company and we do social media.”; the problem is that everyone else is doing that too. Being word of mouth-centric makes us different, hence the talking bubbles in our logo.

[shows slide defining the word “brand”]

Kelly:  You are a brand, whether you accept the idea or not.  Every time you present yourself in a public space like this, they get a picture of who you are. They get a sense of who you are, and you are different from anyone else, so don't try to be like someone else. Your blog is also a brand - but a separate one.  Many people confuse the idea that they're the same.  While you do represent your blog, that isn't all of who you are.  Many people have taken their blogs to a different level because they have separated themselves from it and their blog is a separate hub - they get writing and speaking gigs, etc. through their blogs.  You want to make sure you have a great design and a great logo.  I cannot tell you the number of blogs I've seen that make me want to throw up.  You have to find a design that is you but that is not too distracting from your message.  It isn't too in your face or not clean.  I really like a clean design.  Hire someone to do it if you aren't a good designer.

What's your story?  That goes back to the idea that you're a brand.  Your about page should have a story about who you are, how you got into blogging, and what makes you so different as a person from someone else writing a similar blog.  You want to share what makes you unique and different.  Don't think you don't have a story.  We talk about this a lot - you need to have an elevator pitch.  You will ride in an elevator with someone today who will want to know who you are and what you write about.  You need to be able to say who you are and what your blog is about in about 20 seconds.  You can have a longer one in writing, but you need this statement ready to spit out when you talk to someone.  Write it down, have someone else look at it, but have your elevator pitch ready.

David: How I differentiate my firm.  We all offer the same services to some degree.  How do I stay true to myself and still differentiate?  Every touch point you as a consumer have with a brand is word of mouth.  You talk about a brand in-store or via digital or mobile.

If I say I'm word of mouth as a brand - I can do anything from events to digital campaigns and more.  It touches everything from billboards to customer service.It touches everything from billboards to customer service.

The experience is a big differentiator. I've said many times in the past that there are not a lot of firms here at this conference, so that sets me apart that I'm here.

I'm also set up different from many other agencies - they have one senior person, tons of people out of college and maybe some managers to ensure work gets done. That model doesn’t work, so I wanted to do it in a way that’s based around clients, not P&L’s.

I don't carry that overhead because I'm on demand. I have the same people who have worked at other agencies who now work for me. I'm not a bs-er and I'll say no to client ideas because it's the right thing to do -- and the money will come back to me in the end by doing the right thing for a brand.

[switches slide to brand equity definition]

Brand equity is key. It’s not going away and only becoming more important as you need to differentiate yourself. My experience means I’m talking to clients and not coming (as much) to conferences.

It goes beyond this, though. Having equity means that if I’m Coke I can charge $1.75 or $1.80 for a 20 ounce soda where the store brand may be under $1. That goes for the brand equity you've built up. You can be the discount provider, and that's fine - just know that's the equity you've built and charge accordingly.

[loads new slide showing brand equity pyramid]

The equity pyramid starts with who you are. Once you figure that out, you start to look at the rational and emotional - the decisions based on logic and facts or your based on your heart. Your design, for example, is the emotional. What do you stand for? If you don’t know, and you’re pitching a brand to work with but it’s unclear, then they’re certainly not going to know what you brand is or what you stand for.

[points to top of pyramid]

The final phase is what about you is different -- what is the equity that you've built up? How do we [reader/brand and blogger] have a relationship?

That's the elephant in the room - how often do you have the issues that "I've been pitched once, and now the brand is gone." If you've taken care of the bottom part of the pyramid, this wouldn't be a problem and you would still be working with them beyond that one campaign.

Kelly:  A little on creating your home base on the web.  You want to have a base everywhere on the web.  You have to be everywhere and have a presence everywhere.  You don't have to be passionate about Pinterest or tweeting all the time, and you don't always have to be on there.  You don't have to always talk about yourself on those siters, but you want to know what's popular in those areas.  Is there some relationship there with my brands?

Maybe you're a food blogger and there's a recipe that is getting a ton of pins and you want to put your own spin on it.  It may then become really popular not just with your own readers but new people who can find you because it is a popular topic.  If there's any place to put a bio or linkbacks to who you are, do it.  People need to be able to find you on your blog or twitter or from your YouTube page.  It needs to be visible and front and center.

A lot of bloggers don't realize that even though you aren't passionate about it or don't love it, you still need to be on a platform because others are passionate about it.  LinkedIn is a great example.  Most bloggers aren't there, but they should be.  If you've worked with a brand or someone that you've networked with, connect with them.  If you've worked well with a brand or someone, write recommendations for them.  They'll really appreciate it.

David: LinkedIn is huge, but it's so underutilized. I’ve read that the average agency relationship is about two and a half years. So think about that if I‘m looking for new business -- it might be three years before I get to work with that company. I ping them every once in awhile to stay in touch, to stay top of mind. They might say they’re not looking for an agency, or they’re not interested -- but that’s today. Things change!

It's like direct mail; send it out every once in awhile and even if you only get small returns, they are still returns. LinkedIn’s also a great place to show brands which brands you've worked with in the past through recommendations. Get them from the brands you’ve worked with!

Also, if you connect with all your checkins and tweets and such on LinkedIn, it's a spam. Don't do it. For people who look at it on a daily basis and finds leads from there, it's distracting.

Kelly: Increasing your traffic.  You want to create topical, searchable, and shareable content.  It's hard to be all these things at once.  If something comes into your wheelhouse that is topical, why not embrace it and use it and get your message and move your brand a little further?  Searchable is definitely key.  If you aren't familiar with it, Kelby has great tips on Mom Blogger SEO.  It's important to know what people are searching for.  

You want people to find it engaging and searchable.  If people are searching for something, make it easy for them.  Also, make sure you have share buttons on your blog.  If you have pictures, you want to make sure you have a Pinterest button on all your photos, and people dig that when they can just click a button and share it.

Blogging is a great way to build your traffic and get known outside the circles you're in right now.  Guest post elsewhere.  Do it on other sites, and link back on Google+.  Use the html rel author to link back to your site.  If there is a place for your bio on the site where you're contributing, make sure it tags back to your bio on your own site so Google knows that you've written something.  It will be more searchable that way.

Put your best foot forward on those sites.  If that means you have to cut back on your own blog, do it.  Take the time to make sure it's well edited and you've researched it well.  Obviously social networking is huge.  You don't want to just broadcast but engage other people.  Follow them.  Like them.  Interact.

What should you be  worried about with clicks and impressions?  As my blog grew, I found I needed to focus more on what those measurement tools are and what traffic is coming from where. The idea isn't that I have X page views, someone else has Y Twitter followers.  Don't measure yourself against anyone else; it's measuring against yourself.

Know that a number is not who you are and what you are.  Look at what numbers are growing and from where.  Where are your social numbers growing?  I've found that Twitter isn't bringing clicks anymore.  Facebook is becoming bigger on my blog, as is Pinterest.  But maybe your audience is coming from somewhere else.  Learn how you can keep pushing forward with that audience.  You also get databased when you do this, and you start getting found for various tools if someone is searching for a brand or topic and you have some weight behind it because of where you're talking about it.  That's good that you're on those lists.  I'm not a fan of Klout.  I don't think it's accurate or relevant.  Don't focus on that.

David: When you want to pitch a brand, what is different about you and what are you good at? If you're not good on camera, either practice or don't do it. If you're great at writing, then stick with writing. Regardless, practice. You're better off doing what you're best at and make sure you put your best foot forward.

Know what you want from the brand when you work with them. If they won't pay for [an expense, like] parking, is that what you're good with? If you're just excited to be working with a brand, you'll get walked over. Know when to walk away, too. You're better off doing nothing sometimes than doing something and getting walked on or hurting yourself. But if you are ok with just working with them for free, then go ahead and do so.

Kelly: If you're active in the offline world, that matters to a brand.  If you coach or mentor or are a PTO mom, that's actually really interesting to a brand.  It can just be that you have friends you talk to every day or that you could invite to your house for a house party or that you could easily get moms together to talk about something and that you have those friends who you could easily get together.  Brands value this. You need to be out there living life and doing things, not just because you're balanced but becuse you have more to offer a brand that way.

David: Don't forget about offline lives - think about, and I’ve put in Yelp and Foursquare - because showing you have a life or are expert somewhere in the “real world” matters.

I put in pictures of Melanie Notkin, aka the Savvy Auntie, and Rookie Moms. Both saw opportunities to be expert in their niche - aunts who spoil their nieces and nephews, Whitney and Heather talk to new moms. Hence, “Rookie Moms”.

If you do create your brand the right way and show that you have a niche, you can pitch that. That's what you're useful for - your subject matter expertise.

You need to be available and easy to work with. For starters, know what you need to make a project work: what expenses will you need to cover and detail it out. This is a business and it costs you money for child care!

And I totally get it: For me it's not always convenient to do a meeting at 4pm when my three boys are home. Tell your clients “This is my schedule of when I can work and am available; that's not being difficult, it’s being practical. Being difficult is canceling at the last minute because you don't get childcare. That's when you get taken off lists. Again, I get it -- sometimes a fever comes up and you have to take care of your child. I’ve been there. But don't do it repeatedly or you will get blacklisted.

Kelly: You need to get to know someone before you go out on a date.  Research a brand before you pitch a brand or send back an email.  It doesn't have to be extensive.  Responding to a pitch, you can go back to look at a website and then make sure you bring it back to them in your response using the words they use.

David: If you know someone who has worked with that brand before, talk to them.  See how the experience was.  Did they follow through?  Was it pleasant?  Would they work with that brand again?

Kelly: People now google and Facebook search and so forth when they date someone.  Look to see who else the brands are associated with.  Do I want to be associated with that person?  Do they have other PR gaffes where they've really messed up?  If you know you can go in and bring them something different, tell them.  Say, "I can do something that will work for you because of what I know."

Make sure the conversation about your "date" is about them, but do talk a little bit about you.  Listen to them and talk, but make sure you're listening most of the time.  I let them talk and go on and on about what they want to tell me, so that when I go back to them with a proposal or an email response, I know exactly what they're looking for and what I can do for them.  Know what you do and make sure they know what you're interested in.  We all get the emails that aren't a good fit, even some that offer payment.  If it's a totally different segment, don't feel afraid to say no.

Dress to impress - it goes back to your logo and sign and even your own dress when you're meeting people in person.  You want things to be thought out; you don't want things to be thrown together.  It's ok to have your own style - it really is ok - but you need to make sure that it's polished and put together.  If that means that you curse and talk about things that might be a little X-rated, then that's ok.  You need to know that and own that and present it in a way that is a little more PR friendly in person.  Make sure you're keeping things short and sweet.  You don't need to give a lot of information or go way into depth.  People get bent out of shape when pitching a brand.

David: Why brands want free publicity. They still see this space as earned media. The dirty little secret is that brands take bloggers and media on junkets. They will take them to concerts or get pedicures. They do things that I feel are payola, and later they may hire them [as an expert or spokesperson]. They feel that bloggers are free media. Don't fall for it. They [the brands] have money. Sometimes they don't know how to measure this. I sometimes help other agencies measure this and come in as a consultant to help with that. The reality is they don't know how to justify how to pay a blogger or what you’re worth.

I talked about pitching yourself, and my business even, and you also need to know when the “offseason” is for a brand or product. A Summer brand typically plans in the Winter, so if you go to them in the Spring with a pitch, you may have to wait through a full planning cycle before you can get in with them.

Kelly: The bigger the brand, the longer it takes to get something approved.  If you're pitching someone and they come to you with a small project, you can say, "This was great working with you, I'd love to work more with you and here's what I want to do.  What does your budget look like?"  They may tell you when they will have the budget to look at something else with you.  Put it in your phone to remind yourself to ping them about that and create a project.

David:  Think like a marketer.  How does your brand work with their brand and how can they work together?  How can this blogger fit in this campaign?  They don't think long term, but this is where you as a blogger can help fix it.  If you research what they're doing big picture, you may see that they're doing something in six months in Philly and then approach them to say, "I'd love to work with you to put together a live event or be a spokesperson, etc because I live in Philly."

If you're not ok giving it away for free, don't.  If you give it away for free, it will be harder to get paid going forward.  Look at how you can interject yourself into what a brand is doing.  Look at the reports that companies like BlogHer put together saying bloggers are more trusted than other media and use that data.  Pitch all areas where you're able to help and are strong in.  If you aren't prepared to walk the walk, don't engage.

Kelly:  You will pitch, and they'll come back saying they don't have the budget.  Don't take a no as a never.  The word no doesn't devalue what you're doing.  It just means that you can move to the next brand or pitch them again in a year.  It's very confusing when you get emails from a "brand" saying they don't have the budget - look at who's sending them.  Is it the agency, the brand, another blogger?  It's not always streamlined.  You often just need to find the right person who has the money and that's who you need to pitch.

David:  You need to know your value. This is not just in the blogging business, but everything. Take babysitting - when I hired my friend’s daughter to watch my kids so I could get some work done, I asked her how much I owed her. She said “Oh I don’t know”. My wife chewed her out and told her to ask what she wants. I’ve done this (not the chewing out part) with bloggers I’ve worked with. Don’t tell me you don’t know -- you have bills to pay and expenses to cover!

So absolutely the wrong answer when asked how much to pay you is to say "I don't know." Know your value. Don't take it personally if you get passed over for another blogger, but just because you get a lot of “no”s, don't start to drop your price. You'll feel worse about yourself. If you know you're worth something, value yourself.

Kelly: If someone comes to you and doesn't really have a plan or if you pitch them and they say they don't have that much money, go ahead and ask them what their budget is and then work within that.  You  can still do work with them, but on a different scale.

Questions from the audience:

I'm a little new to the blogging world.  Where do I start?

David: What are your goals, objectives, and strategies. If I know your goals and objectives, I can start to put effective strategies together for you. I hate to say write a business plan because it sounds so daunting, but you need to be able to account for the expense of having your blog designed, for example. Write out a plan of where you want to be and then work backwards to how you need to get there. Figure out what conferences you want to attend or other expenses you'll have, and figure out how much you'll need to make to do that.

Put a plan together and look at other bloggers. Who do you want to be like? What was their path? Yours will be different, but it gives you an idea. Start networking and following people on Twitter. Meet people locally. Have a plan for how you're going to do it.

For me, when I look at other agencies, it almost drives a certain amount of insecurity. I turn off Twitter sometimes because there are so many marketers that talk garbage and are just spewing nonsense constantly. It makes me feel uncomfortable because I think “This is really helping their clients or business?”, but it's not how I run my business. I'd rather meet with people in person to get business.

Kelly: Make sure you have people in your circle so you have a mentor.  Someone you can ask questions or, maybe someone you already know - start an email thread back and forth.  Most people are really nice, and those who aren't, you don't need to deal with anyway.  Know that your goals may change over time, too, and there isn't always a roadmap.  Pieces move around before you get to the end goal.

Nancy (comment from the audience):  I want to clarify something you said.  As a brand, I pay bloggers to do some things.  I will never pay a blogger for a review.  While that is work on your part, a review needs to be unbiased and payment  distorts that. That is providing content to your reader, which is a benefit for them.  If you want to be paid by a brand, talk about what you can work on together.  Regarding Klout scores, marketers and brands don't know how to measure you versus someone else.  While Klout isn't the greatest, it's what they know or how they've been taught to measure people.  If it's low, say why - explain what else makes you unique and build off that.

Kelly: Many people would agree with your review policy.  If you're a review blogger, most brands won't pay you for that.  If you want to work with them beyond that, review the product. Work with them on the review then see how you can work with them after that first simple review.  On Klout scores, I actually quit Klout.  If people ask for it, I send them to the post about why I quit Klout.  I have all sorts of other stats they may want, and I'm happy to provide those.

Nancy: That's right.  But again, it's a great place to go to quickly to look up a lot of people - and they want  easy.  And people may end up being taken off a list because of Klout.

David: Cred is a new one out there that is supposed to be more accurate. I’m not a believer. Ashton Kutcher has a huge Klout score supposedly, yet his campaigns fail.

Paula: I'm a writer, storytelling, so this doesn't fit into my brand at all...
Kelly: You absolutely can have it fit.  Velveteen Mind does an amazing story about a part of her life that includes a brand, but it's not in your face.  It may not be what you want to do, but there's a way to do it.  Freelance writing is a great way to do that.  Working with other people to teach the craft of writing is an amazing way to work with that.  Those are two things off the top of my head.

Blogger from Splash Creative Media: How do we as bloggers protect ourselves from brands taking our ideas that we've pitched and running with it with another blogger?
David: David: Put a disclaimer in your pitch that this is your intellectual property that they are not allowed to take it and run with it. If you go into a meeting with an NDA type style thing in place, that helps and is often something I do. That covers your intellectual property. I say that they can use the IP but they cannot publicize it. That's more for agencies I work with than to brands, but I've seen my pitched programs executed by other brands. So it’s “Sue them and never work with them?” That's sort of where you put yourself. It does help to create a list of brands you don't want to work with again, however [for stealing your ideas].


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