heart first

It’s been some two and a half years since I publicly introduced my concept of The Connected Brand.

Just to recap, my definition of a ‘connected brand’ is a person, company or organisation that:

  • connects with the people who matter the most to the success of its business, or cause or issue;
  • contributes to their lives in respectful and meaningful ways;
  • cultivates relationships with those people who are already fans, advocates, supporters and allies; and
  • collaborates with other like-minded brands as a means of reaching new audiences, as well as helping it to stay fresh, relevant and vital.

4shotcropHow do they do this?

Through content creation (and curation), by kick-starting, facilitating and participating in conversation with customers and stakeholders via social media and other mediums (events, for example), and building a sense of community (or what I like to call ‘village of support’) around its brand by being empathetic, responsive and inclusive.

Over time, the brand becomes better placed to instigate its commercial call to action.

In other words, it has earned the right to pitch its wares and thus has a ready-made market predisposed to its message.

Too often we see businesses go for the sales ‘kill’ straight away without going through any of the above steps; they pitch cold without putting in the groundwork to build any semblance of a relationship with people. It’s akin to someone interrupting you at a networking event, shoving their business card into your hand and pitching you their new product or service – and we all know how well that works!

But please allow me to push this idea a bit further … and I apologise in advance for the length of this post – consider it a ‘stake in the ground’ – I’m building a case for a different way to market your brand, and you can’t do that in 140 characters :)

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to see a growing number of businesses and organisations – let’s for the sake of this article call them ‘connected brands’ – that are taking a human, holistic and heart-first approach to marketing, and it’s really working for them and, more importantly, the public they serve.

Where more ‘mercenary’ businesses see people as prospects and leads to be nurtured and converted, connected brands see human beings and thus treat them accordingly, with empathy and respect.

So while the make-the-sale-at-any-cost merchants are focused on the hustle (but often with little empathy for customers), connected brands are busy delivering value over and above their products and services, and are generating a positive impact on the marketplace and their bottom line as a result.

Now before you say “but hey, businesses are there to make money and build shareholder value”, let me state right here, right now: I get it!

I get that business is about making the sale and churning out growing levels of profit year in, year out. That’s not what this is about – I’m more concerned with how businesses go about marketing their brand; I’m saying there is a better way to do that in today’s socially-fuelled ‘connection economy’.

Every time you call us “consumers” we feel like cows looking up the word “meat.” (Doc Searls and David Weinberger/BACKCHANNEL)

Continue in ‘old school’ fashion – the traditional marketing model – and I can almost guarantee you’ll be overtaken at some stage by individuals and organisations who demonstrate empathy and generosity, who lead with their heart first, calculator second.

Remember: People are now empowered and they love it! They have more information at their fingertips than ever before. They have connections and influence. In a world of abundance, they don’t need you or your products and services. So how are you going to appeal to this increasingly discerning customer base?

The answer is inject a spirit of generosity into your business, bring your people out from the shadows and humanise your organisation, add value by providing helpful and relevant ‘non-salesy’ information, and most of all lead with your heart!

I’m not the only one who veers down this path of ‘heart first’. This philosophy manifests itself in many different ways as we’ll see below, but there’s definitely a pattern forming. Allow me to elaborate – and I’d love to hear your take on this theme as well :)

unsellingScott Stratten, in his book Unselling, talks about “community before commerce” (I often talk about ‘connection before commerce’ as per The Connected Brand theory above, but I like Scott’s quote way better).

Mark Schaefer has judiciously and enthusiastically leveraged the power of blogging and social media to build an international platform for his personal brand; today he’s a globally-recognised blogger, speaker, educator, business consultant and author. Schaefer has come from a traditional sales and marketing role but understands better than most the shifting sands underneath the feet of marketers.

In his book Social Media Explained, Schaefer writes:

In an always-on, real-time, global world of business communications, the priority is on human interaction that leads to connections. Connections lead to awareness. Awareness leads to trust. Trust is the ultimate catalyst to business benefits, as it has always been.”

How good is that?

Bryan Kramer is the author of the acclaimed book ‘Human to Human #H2H’, which focuses on helping CEOs and marketers to bring back the “human side of communication, in all its imperfection, empathy, and simplicity”.

Kramer believes “relationships are the new currency in today’s social world”. He recommends companies keep it simple: ”Just be helpful. Do what you say you’ll do. Become better storytellers,” he writes.

Gary Vaynerchuk understands …

Gary Vaynerchuk is a born entrepreneur who is all about the hustle but he still understands better than most that by putting value first, by interacting with your community and building relationships, you’re going to ultimately win the fight for people’s hearts, minds and wallets.

Adherence to this philosophy has seen Vaynerchuk skyrocket from liquor store obscurity to becoming a social media powerhouse – professional speaker, best-selling author three times over, in-demand media commentator, angel investor and co-founder of a social media branding agency that employs some 420 people and in 2013 generated revenue of $23 million.

In his book The Thank You Economy, Vaynerchuk writes:

If your organization’s intentions transcend the mere act of selling a product or service, and it is brave enough to expose its heart and soul, people will respond. They will connect. They will like you. They will talk. They will buy.”

Ted Rubin talks and writes not about ROI, but ROR – Return on Relationships.

Rubin says: “Return on Relationship (ROR, #RonR), simply put, is the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship, whereas ROI is simple dollars and cents. ROR is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through loyalty, recommendations and sharing, and is used to define and educate companies, brands, and people about the importance of creating authentic connection, interaction, and engagement.” (SOURCE)

How do you build and strengthen relationships with your audience (as a whole, and as individuals) to increase your ROR? Rubin says:

  1. Listen
  2. Make it be about THEM
  3. Ask “How can I serve you?”
  4. Aim for Ongoing Engagement
  5. Know the People in Your Audience

Sounds like a heart-first approach to me!

In Unselling, Scott Stratten writes enthusiastically about Big Ass Fans, a company that designs, engineers and manufactures overhead and directional fans for industrial, commercial and residential spaces.

Founder of Big Ass Fans, Carey Smith, is quoted in the book: “Relationship first – then making money is good business.” Be part of the community, Smith advocates.

When you invest in the community, you know the pulse of those around you – your customers and your employees.”

Marketing software company HubSpot is all about people and education.

The company’s co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah says: “The future of marketing is about being human”.

HubSpot walks Shah’s talk. With great emphasis on educating the marketplace and teaching people to become better marketers, HubSpot has earned its reputation as one of the world’s leading brand-led content publishers. Does it work?

Well, the company is certainly no slouch when it comes to generating leads and closing sales – its business booked $115 million in revenue last year (via HubSpot’s 2014 Year in Review).


Okay, so let’s recap:

We’ve touched on the power of connection and how brands need to use social media and online publishing platforms to build deeper relationships, or as Mark Schaefer says, to “provide consistent, small provocations and conversations through content that lead to engagement and interactions” (SOURCE).

But what does this look like in action?

Here in Australia, companies such as Firebrand Talent and Valerie Khoo‘s Australian Writers’ Centre are not just growing their audiences (their respective ‘villages of support’) via social media, but their businesses as well. I frequently refer to these businesses as being classic examples of ‘connected brands’.

Give away your IP – and reap the rewards

Cam McLellan and his team at the property investment advisory firm Open Wealth Creation give away a fair whack of their ‘IP’ via their blog and particularly their daily video series. In an industry known for its fair share of ‘sharks’ and hard-sell tactics, this approach is not only refreshing but stands out like a beacon in the night (a beacon, I might add, that people are attracted to).

Cam didn’t start with the mentality of: “How many leads will this blog post generate?” No, he looked at his audience, developed empathy for their issues and pain points, and created and published content that gave away all his ‘secrets’ (and in doing so empowered people with information they crave).

And the strategy is working big time: Business Review Weekly last year ranked Open Wealth Creation 13th on its BRW Fast 100 list; the business turned over $6.1 million in 2013-14, with growth pegged at 137 per cent.

The Honey Bar’s Steve Vallas: Building a ‘village of support’

Steve Vallas from The Honey Bar is a purist when it comes to social media. He’s all about using the likes of Twitter and Facebook to build relationships with people as well as a sense of community around the Honey Bar brand.

And while that works for him personally, it’s also a highly effective strategy in growing the Honey business.

Steve’s a businessman and he’s very cognisant the ROI that can be achieved by building relationships. On achieving an outcome with social media, he says:

If the outcome starts with ‘I want to get them here drinking’, then chances are what you produce and the sorts of conversations you have are very one-dimensional – you’ve got to add some value to people, and whether the value is conversation late at night or whether the value is the space I’ve got to offer or an introduction I can potentially do – it comes in many different forms – the value is the key proposition”

For a deeper dive into how Steve uses social media to grow his business, check out the video interview above.

Brian Goulet: How can I help the most people?

I love what US-based Brian Goulet and the team at Goulet Pen Company are doing – they are in my eyes the absolute epitome of ‘The Connected Brand’ philosophy.

Rather than approach their content marketing efforts from the perspective of “how much traffic and how many sales will this video generate?”, Brian asks: “How can I help the most people?”

And it works! Goulet Pen Company provides so much value to its ever-growing community of adoring fans, followers, supporters and advocates of its brand, it’s seriously impressive.

The lengths Brian Goulet and his team go to, to help people and answer their questions through content and social interaction, would put most larger organisations to shame.

If you want to know what people think about the Goulet brand, check out the comments on this blog post. Indeed, I urge you to take a look and see first-hand what a community of raving fans looks like, then ask yourself: Would this heart-first approach to marketing work for my brand?

“Goulet Pens experienced 200% growth during their first year of business and have continued to enjoy growth rates each year in the 50-100% range.” (SOURCE)

Buffer is brilliant!

Social tech business Buffer too is brilliant at being fun, human, useful and helpful beyond the call of duty. The passion the company shows for its community is obvious, and they’ve built a serious global reputation in a short space of time.

Companies could do worse than check out Buffer to see how they go about their business.

buffer twitter

Becoming a social executive

Dionne (aka ‘The Social Executive’) Lew gives heaps without the expectation of getting anything in return. For example, Dionne is terrific at connecting people with common interests.

She takes notice of what people are talking/tweeting/writing about and then introduces them if she thinks there would be a ‘good fit’ intellectually and personality-wise.

Along similar lines, one of France’s leading marketing bloggers Gregory Pouy tells this wonderful story about the real-life ROI of Twitter. He writes:

Twitter is an incredible tool for managing customer relations, promoting your products, and following the discussions involving your brand. But perhaps most importantly, Twitter allows you to connect with people who may very well change your life or your business.

Mark Masters & The ID Group

mark_masters_1393192200_36And finally, we have the ever-cheerful Mark Masters (left) who runs a design and content marketing agency based in regional England.

Rather than always be pushing his promotional message on to people, Mark – who’s also a blogger, podcaster and author – prefers to explore topics and issues by creating content, telling stories and participating on social channels. ”Let’s talk about it”, he says.

He writes in one blog post (‘Make Deeper Connections, Not Throwaway Moments’):

It is time to discover the ways where we can make an impact on others and to cause a reaction where we can challenge, entertain and be seen as representing a credible source that can create moments for others to be part of.

It’s working for Mark as he’s quickly making a name for himself in international content marketing circles. His new book – THE CONTENT REVOLUTION: Telling a Better Story to Differentiate From the Competition – is set to be released any time now.

(I recently recorded an interview with Mark for my Reputation Revolution podcast if you’re interested in hearing Mark’s philosophies in more detail).

But I’ll leave you with a quote from marketing provocateur and professional ruckus-maker Seth Godin:

“What matters now:

  • Trust
  • Permission
  • Remarkability
  • Leadership
  • Stories that spread
  • Humanity: connection, compassion, and humility”

And yes, I underscored that last bit for a reason

Sorry this was a bit of an opus – consider it my ‘line in the sand’ moment for 2015! – but I think it’s a conversation worth having and as taking a ‘heart-first approach to marketing’ can manifest itself in many ways, I feel it’s a good idea for people to see the how this theme is emerging across the various different industries as highlighted above.

Over to you – what are your thoughts on this subject?