Speaking the Language

If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign land, you know how important it is to “speak the language”.  When I was in college, I spent a winter term in Japan where I not only didn’t speak the language – but I couldn’t even attempt to read the signs that surrounded me.  Fortunately or maybe foolishly, I was young enough and naive enough to not recognize how truly terrifying an experience that SHOULD have been for a 21 year old woman abroad.

In Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox for February 4: Teenage Usability: Designing Teen-Targeted Websites, web developers and marketers alike are warned that “speaking the language” isn’t enough to get the job done when it comes to connecting with teens via the web.

This is why I am a strong advocate of the “tightly targeting your niche market” strategy for my blogging clients so that when you’re blogging you can communicate effectively with your audience.  However, when you “don’t know what you don’t know” – that’s often when the truly EPIC mistakes are made when you don’t speak the language.

I spend most of my time within my practice translating “geek” into “English” for my clients.  Translation is just as much an art as it is science..  If you don’t believe me, just try running phrase you’ve entered into a translation program by a native speaker of the language.  It’s positively alarming how distorted a message can get when it’s run through one of the many “free” translation programs available online.

Case in point, trying to translate English into Hebrew.  There’s a site devoted to just such faux pas called Bad Hebrew.  One of my favorite posts is this one, Bad Hebrew Tattoos.

For all intents and purposes, we have here some kind of pagan male pregnancy totem.

First, there is the writing, a declaration, “He Shall be Pregnant!”, in Hebrew, permanently tattooed on our subject’s limb.

You can also see a bush, obviously representing an invitation to the spot at the local gay cruising park, where this guy conducts his baby making attempts.

Since this isn’t tattooed on myself or a loved on – I can laugh.  However, the point is – translation involves a lot more than simply using the “right words” to convey a message.

Big brands have been making these kinds of mistakes for decades – but now the web affords the same “equal opportunity” to small and medium sized business owners as well.  The lesson to be learned is this: If you don’t know your audience – if you don’t speak the language – nothing beats consulting a “native” to make sure you get the right translation.

Build a brand like a pro

Unique Branding

“What”s a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect.” – Al Ries

Branding is perhaps one of the most overused and misunderstood phrases of the last 50 years. At its essence – branding is the term we use to encapsulate how your business is perceived in the marketplace.

Every decision you make, every action you or your employees take within your business all contribute to building your “brand”.   This is why branding is so critical to the success of your business – and why branding is so much more than simply the colors of your website or the font used in your logo.

Over at Fast Company, there’s an article featured which promises to show you how you can “build a brand like Bond”  in just 7 easy steps.  Ken Carbone does a great job of dissecting the Bond franchise and sharing the “secrets” to the brand’s success. He points out that the Bond brand is a work in process.  As a matter of fact, the Bond “brand” has been providing direction for the film franchise since before the phrase became a marketing catch phrase.

It’s one thing to look back and see all the things a company or film franchise has done “right” in hindsight – it’s another matter entirely to make the decisions on the fly which are necessary to build a truly successful brand.

For a wonderful example of how “hard” those brand building decisions can be – take a look at another branding powerhouse in the film industry – Pixar.  The history of the making of The Incredibles illustrates just how important branding is to the decisions you must make as you strive to build not only your business but also your brand.

In the original DVD – the original “vision” of the movie was featured as part of the “added extras” which show a much darker, “adult” animated film.

The original story boards showed a very different movie than the one released in theaters and  was diametrically opposed to the carefully crafted Pixar brand. It’s my understanding that making the decision to go back and “rework” the film after production had begun was not only difficult but risky.

Fortunately since Pixar’s management team fully understood their “brand” – they made a hard call to add significant expense to an already expensive process.

Ah – there’s the rub.  Building a brand requires making tough decisions and taking risks.  The “right” call on behalf of the “brand” may not be the least expensive option in the short run.

Branding isn’t about the short run – it’s about the long run.

The Pixar management team clearly understood the Pixar brand – and as a result they made the right call when it came to the direction of the movie The Incredibles.   Over the past half century, the various directors of the 23 Bond films have also had a clear vision of the Bond “brand” to guide their movie making decisions along the way.

But what about your brand?  Do you have a clear vision of your company’s brand?  Even if you’re “just” a freelancer – are you making the hard decisions needed to build your brand over the next decade?   It’s more than just telling a story – it’s telling the RIGHT story.  It’s more than  defining a visual style – it’s deciding upon the right style.

Creating a powerful brand means having a vision of your business ten years from now and orchestrating everything you do today to accomplish that vision of a distant tomorrow.

If this makes building your company’s brand sound more like planning an expedition to climb Mt. Everest than planning a picnic in the park – that’s good because it’s the truth.  Climbing Mt. Everest is not only extremely difficult – it’s potentially life threatening.  The same is true of your business’ branding.

With the right guide – and the right vision – branding your business can not only be enjoyable – but profitable.

If you’re looking for just such a guide – don’t look to me but instead look to my branding guru – Rosemary Davies-Janes.  I’ve relied upon Rosemary for the better part of two decades to help guide my own branding efforts and when I learned that she was offering a free 3-Part Teleclass Series on branding, my first response was to ask if I could share that info here.

If you’re a small business owner or a freelancer – the information Rosemary has to share about creating your own authentic personal brand is priceless.  I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business.

Is it a hobby or a business?

Some things are harder than they look!

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.  A few months ago I obviously had some kind of break with reality because I decided that I wanted to grow my own tomatoes.  This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to grow vegetables – and it won’t be my last.

My most recent descent into gardening madness began simply enough.  I purchased three tomato plants at a cost of approx. $4 a piece.  At the time, I had visions of a bountiful harvest of delicious tomatoes grown for a fraction of the cost of purchasing them at the local grocer.

Since I live in Florida, the soil which surrounds my home won’t grow grass so I figured it wouldn’t grow tomatoes either. That meant purchasing SEVERAL bags of potting soil at am average cost of $9 per bag.  Then I needed containers (whiskey barrel halves @ $30) in which the purchased soil and said tomatoes would live.   Oh – and since tomatoes need support, I purchased tomato cages (@ $4) and Mater Magic – the fertilizer which promised to increase my bountiful harvest exponentially for another $4.  The first trip total was roughly $165 – but that’s OK because I’m going to have a bountiful harvest of beautiful tomatoes.

That was then … a time of great expectations.  This is now – a time of great disillusionment.

It’s been about 4 months since that initial trip to the garden center.   You can imagine my HORROR when the tiny tomatoes (TINY – like cherry tomatoes but they’re not) were ripening full of holes with large rubbery patches.  This resulted in several trips to the garden center in search of answers and solutions.  Each trip has resulted in a well meaning employee selling me more stuff to solve my problems.  I estimate that each trip costs approximately $140 – $150 yet none of the “helpful” tips have proven to be helpful at all.  My tomatoes are still inedible and ugly to boot!

At this point, I’ve got about $700 invested in trying to grow these damned things – AND IT ISN’T EVEN MAY YET!!!

I’ve come to the conclusion that unless these tomato plants produce in excess of 700lbs of tomatoes – I would have been better off visiting the farmer’s market and buying pampered organic tomatoes hand painted by local artisans.

So what’s this got to do with social media and the web?  Well, a lot actually.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you have probably entered this realm in the same place I’m entering the world of gardening.   You’ve got your area of expertise – but the web isn’t that area.   When you’re in that position – you don’t know what you don’t know which means you don’t know enough to know where to start searching for answer.

You may have had the same experience I had – asking people who were supposedly “experts” for help and advice only to find that most if not all of that advice was rubbish, accomplishing little more than emptying your checking account.

I can laugh at my utter and complete failure at growing tomatoes in my backyard because it’s only a problem if/when the zombie apocalypse happens.  Until then, I can stumble along and “pay” as I play gardener and continue to purchase tomatoes grown successfully by experts.

However, if you’re a business owner – you probably don’t have the time, patience or resources to invest YEARS trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to your web on the internet.

If you’re frustrated by your efforts at web marketing – contact me and let’s see if we can’t get your web site producing better results than I’m getting with my tomato plants.

Branding in less than 3 minutes a day

Everywhere you turn, you’ll get advice on using social media to “brand” your business.  The gurus and experts talk about branding like it’s something you can “do” to your business – like slapping a fresh coat of paint on a wall.  If only branding were that simple.

Branding is what consumers DO to your business and are not the logo, color scheme, font and other visual elements you use to represent your business.  Sure these elements play an important role  part in branding your business but not in the way you might think.  Those visual elements are not your “brand” but rather those visual elements play an important role in shaping consumer expectations.

It’s not just bad behavior that earns you the wrath of users of social media.  Often, consumers have a tendency to bitch quite freely when a marketing campaign paints an unrealistic expectations.  Unrealistic expectations can quickly turn any social media campaign into an ugly social media nightmare resembling the Zombie Apocalypse.

When expectations are properly “shaped” – then you have a much better chance of pleasing the ever increasing horde of Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts and avoiding the carnage their combined wrath can engender.

On Friday, April 13, 2012 – Zak Muscovitch, the Domain Name Lawyer spent three minutes in an online chat with me, answering a question I had about a prospective domain name purchase.  I want to point out that the only reason I HAD the question in the first place is because I discovered his blog a while back and subscribed to his RSS feed. I’ve followed his blog posts, learning about many of the potential dangers which lurk in the simple process of registering a domain name.  So when I found a plethora of tasty .com’s which included a potential to infringe upon the intellectual property of one of the world’s largest companies – I decided to hit the “chat” button on the website and ask a quick question.

Zak didn’t charge me for his time – and I felt such gratitude that I immediately tweeted about the encounter.  However, I wanted to delve deeper here on how that 3 minute investment of time is working to build his “brand”.

I wish I had found him back in 2005 when Copyscape showed me that a web development firm in New Zealand had stolen every page of content from my previous HTML website.  I wanted to throw up as I saw every article, every page – duplicated word for word on a site representing a firm on the other side of the world where they had placed their own copyright symbol and the current date.

I contacted a lawyer who – quite honestly – didn’t know where to begin or what to do.  Oh, he didn’t come out and admit that when I called – he asked me to pay him a $5000 deposit to get to work on the case.  When I questioned him further, like about what I might expect to receive in return – I was told to expect nothing.

I’ve never proclaimed myself the smartest business woman in the world – but spending $5K to start in an international pissing match with no possibility of seeing a penny in return just didn’t seem like a great investment at the time.

Want to build your brand?  Spend 3 minutes a day sharing what you know.  Who knows – you might get a whole blog post ranting about how wonderful you are like Zak Muscovitch did.  I asked – he answered – and now I’m sharing the link to his website and his blog so you can learn from him as well.

I hope you never need more than 3 minutes of Zak Muscovitch’s time, but if you need help protecting your domain name, trademark, or copyright, or heaven forbid – you need to defend yourself against a claim that is made against you – you’ll know where to turn.

How the social media explosion is like the Zombie Apocalypse

AMC’s The Walking Dead is a television show which follows County Sheriff Rick Grimes who was shot on duty, went into a coma and woke up weeks later in an empty hospital. He discovers that the world he once knew is gone, ravaged by a virus which causes the dead to walk – and attempt to consume the living.

In the first season – Rick joins a group of survivors and spends the entire season searching for safety – a place where there is a cure for the horror that surrounds them. In the second season, the group thinks they may have found a safe haven, only to learn that there is no where to hide from this horror – and they come to grips with the reality that they must learn to survive in this new and horrifying world.

If you’re thinking that social media hasn’t created a horrifying new world where the old rules not only don’t apply but could destroy you – you are kidding yourself just as the character Hershel was kidding himself on The Walking Dead.

Hershel thought because his farm hasn’t been over run with zombies it he could prevent it from happening. He had protocols in place to protect his farm from the occasional zombie but when a hoard of zombies encroached upon his property – he realized how naive he had been.

Here’s a real life example of how social media turned ugly for Lassonde Industries, the Quebec company that makes Oasis Juice as reported in the National Post

Way back in the year 2004 – when the social media universe was shiny and new – the days BEFORE Twitter and BEFORE Facebook accepted profiles from people without an .edu email address- Deborah Kudzman left her job with an advertising agency and launched her own little company making soap. She named her company Olivia’s Oasis. She chose Olivia because it is her daughter’s name – and she chose Oasis because she wanted to convey the image of indulgent relaxation.

In 2005, Kudzman received a letter demanding that she cease operation, recall her product from stores and turn over any profits she had earned to Lassonde immediately. She thought it was absurd as did her attorney so the little soap company took on the big juice maker in Canadian courts.

As the case crawled through the courts, Lassonde wasn’t exactly in a “social media coma” – they were actively promoting their products via their Facebook page.

In 2010, Superior Court Justice Dionysia Zerbisias issued a ruling determining that the little soap maker had NOT infringed upon the Oasis Juice trademark and added that Lassonde had engaged in “menacing and abusive conduct.” The court ruled that Lassonde owed the little soap company $100,000 to cover legal fees plus an additional $25,000 in punitive damages.

Without missing a beat, Lassonde appealed the decision and on March 30, 2012 an appeal panel overturned the original court’s decision.

When the result became public, the court of public opinion made their collective voice heard via “social media” and suddenly, Lassonde was faced with a MASSIVE public-relations nightmare Public figures with massive Twitter followings announced their boycott of the juice while the Oasis Facebook page became an out of control public forum. Instead of voicing their choice of their favorite flavor – consumers voiced their displeasure with the company’s “bully tactics” for all to see.

The backlash was so fast and so fierce, that Lassonde response was to send a high level executive to meet with Kudzman – on Easter Day by the way- to offer to pay her enormous legal bill.

Trust me – every executive officer at Lassonde Industries right now has an entirely different view of “social media” than they held just two weeks ago. What was once viewed as a source of “free” advertising is probably as frightening as a horde of encroaching zombies.

It’s a new world and new rules apply. What is truly horrifying is how many business owners are still operating like it’s “business as usual” – a.k.a. 2004 or earlier.

Oasis Juice has just discovered the “truth” I’ve been preaching for years – that “branding” is not the choice of colors used in your packaging or the logo that you feature on everything from your business cards to your Facebook page but instead “branding” is what consumers DO to your business. In this case, Oasis Juice’s “brand” is now the big bad business bully picking on the woman selling soap.

In comparison – surviving a zombie apocalypse doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Thanks to the domain name lawyer for a heads up on this story.