Want To Communicate And Market? 3 Keys To Language That Resonates

When it comes to the challenges of communicating — telling a story, marketing a practice, stating a case — old dogs often wear blinders. Exhibit A: Yours Truly.

A dear friend was talking about the prevalence of a practice she referred to as speaking in the language of a club. As she spoke, I was probably nodding in complete agreement, imagining I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Every group has one — a lingua franca — a set of words, terms, acronyms and phrases that, over time, morph into a cultural shorthand for everyone in-the-know.

There is an upside when it comes to connecting with “members of the club.” But the downside is that the language, including those aspects that are unique to the identity of the group, inevitably sneak into our everyday vocabulary.

As my friend continues, I’m still nodding in agreement. I have often climbed into the pulpit to announce the problems of a message that utilizes our language and is all about us – without respect to whether it builds a bridge or a barrier.

And then my friend (unintentionally, I’m sure) got personal.

She had moved from a discussion about business to speaking of those everyday conversations — the personal ones over coffee, in the break room or hallway, at lunch and networking events, during the kids’ softball games.

I was still nodding; but with less exuberance. The conversation was causing me to think about moments, even among friends, when the topics I choose and the language I use actually limit communication. Maybe even build barriers.

Now — finally — I was hearing what she was saying with different ears.

Multiple times every single day most of us have golden opportunities to build or strengthen the bridge that enables on-going conversation. This is the fabric of relationship we’re talking about — whether in business, or in a personal context.

Eliminate The Club–Speak

Getting the most out of opportunities to connect, not to mention deepening existing relationship, means eliminating the club-speak from our interactions. And here are three initial steps:

  • Remember that, in the ear of almost anyone with whom you wish to connect, the best conversations probably do not revolve around you;
  • Listen intentionally — to identify what your target cares about;
  • Whenever possible, use the language of your target instead of the language of your group — few things say ”this is all about you” with more clarity.

With almost any target, there is no message that will resonates more.

But Now We’re Back To The Issue With Old Dogs

We rarely learn quickly, do we?

We are most inclined to talk about what we know and care about — what we do, and how we do it. We easily gravitate to our expertise. Our interests. Our causes. Our point of view.

Translation: we sound like every other dog on the block.

Far too often, when I have the opportunity to drive a conversation — albeit with the best of intentions — it is all about me, framed in the language of my own personal interests and concerns. As a result, countless opportunities to build a bridge have been lost.

On the other hand, when I consider the best connectors and communicators I know — whether in business or personal relationships — there is one commonality: their ability to connect is based on a relentless focus on what the target cares about.

If you see me, I’ll be trying to get the blinders off. And to my friend, thanks for the reminder.

Leadership, Communication and the Gift of Self-Awareness

Extraordinary leadership — the kind that inspires and motivates over the long haul — comes with an uncanny awareness of both circumstance and self.

Most of us have known that rare individual who always seems to say the right thing at the right time. We think of it as a gift — being able to connect in even the most challenging moments.

We are drawn to individuals possesing this rare gift — eager to listen. Willing to follow. Expecting to be inspired.

We’ve also all witnessed that guy who seems clueless — eager to have the floor; but, words notwithstanding, with little to contribute.

Yes…I’m looking in the mirror. My earliest such personal recollection is a both-feet-in-the-mouth-moment in 3rd grade. While “performing” in a class dramatic presentation, I forgot my line. I was so preoccupied with my moment in the spotlight — how important my line was and how great it was going to sound — that, not only did I forget the scripted line; I improvised with something highly inappropriate. (Don’t ask for details; suffice to say I remember the sense of humiliation.)

There have been countless instances not unlike that one in 3rd grade when I would have paid any price for a second chance at really connecting.

Almost any price. It turns out that in order to really connect, one must get over one’s self.

A preoccupation with being heard is the most telling sign of one who is unaware of the tenor of the moment.

The Key To Self-Awareness

It sounds counter-intuitive; but self-awareness begins with a tenacious focus on others. It is the sum of strategic silence and intentional listening.

Wherever self-awareness is in short supply, mark it down – there is little listening, a lot of noise (because everyone wants/needs to be heard), and almost no real connecting.

And now we get back to where this started.

Those that inspire us to listen are, themselves, tenacious listeners. To borrow words attributed to the thirteenth-century Saint Francis of Assisi, they do not seek so much to be understood, as to understand.

The byproduct of this brand of listening? An awareness that informs when one should speak, what should be offered, and how a message should be delivered in order to maximize communication.

One-off communiques can certainly connect. But leadership that inspires an individual, a team or a target audience to seek your message and hang on your words is borne of crystal clear self-awareness.

For Marketing Results, Don’t Let The Cart Get In Front Of The Horse

This is one of the great challenges of marketing — keeping the cart in its place.

After all, the cool stuff is in the cart — the engaging, interactive, attention-grabbing things that everyone talks about.

And then there is the fact that all of the things that should come first can be tedious, and for most, just aren’t that much fun. (On the other hand, everyone enjoys providing opinions on the colors in the logo, the font size on the website and the copy in an ad.)

So it’s understandable that we’re easily distracted by the visible, tangible elements.  But if marketing efforts are continually unwieldy, frequently derailed, and rarely take you where you intended, chances are good you’ve allowed the cart to come before the horse.

Putting First Things First

Successful marketing seldom begins with a focus on the high-profile elements of an executable plan. Start by focusing on the catchy tag lines, high-end production, and copy points, and — absent a fat budget and a time-frame flexible enough to cover short-term missteps — you’ll likely watch as your campaign goes nowhere.

In a crowded, noisy marketplace, how do you make a dent? How do you reach your audience if you don’t have an Apple-like budget?

Keep the horse squarely in front of the cart.

In practical terms, this means begin by knowing who your target is. Specifically. For professional service providers this means the name of an individual with hiring authority. Or, as noted below, an individual (or group) that is part of a relationship map leading to the hiring authority. In this context, an industry rarely qualifies as a target. Nor does a company. A target is the person vested with the authority to subscribe to your services.

With the target identified, it’s time to invest in listening. This is the market research piece of the process. A highly functioning listening platform will reveal what your target cares about most, and help you create a relationship map that leads to connection and conversation.

It isn’t sexy. Nobody hums the jingle. It isn’t the focus of black-tie award ceremonies, and doesn’t lead to hanging out with celebrity spokespersons.

But it is the key to marketing success.

Smart targeting takes time. It requires a strategic foundation. But if you’re not putting appropriate resources here, you’re essentially hoping the market targets you.

And listening is just plain difficult (if not downright intrusive to practice and processes you have in place) — especially when you have killer-products / services. The natural tendency is to skip the listening part, and jump right in with your elevator speech, talking points, or list of offerings.

But targeting and listening are where the journey is measured, and roadblocks and detours anticipated.

For every enterprise or professional service practice that wrestles to gain visibility, differentiate itself from the competition, and get the most from each resource invested in marketing, these two steps change the equation.

Invest in this less-than-glamorous roll-up-your-sleeves work, and all that stuff in the cart becomes much more relevant and effective — primarily because it will hit the target.

A Blog Anchors Your Online Strategy — Here’s Why…

McKeown_Kevin_LI 2014Note: Kevin McKeown is a colleague, a friend, and a thought leader on blogging, social media and leadership. I hang on his content, appreciate his contributions to any conversation, and asked him to share the way he thinks in the form of this Guest Post.

Eric, thanks for asking me to share why I believe a blog needs to be the anchor of a professional’s online strategy.

I think of my blogging as the locomotive and other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ or even email newsletters as the train tracks. I use these tracks to share, distribute, and amplify my blog’s reach. I deeply believe that to own your blog is to take control of your professional destiny. And, I’m not the only person who believes this.

Here’s a triad of influencers (Clark, Singer and Hyatt) making different but related points that underscore the case for owning your blog:

1) Blogging Is More Essential Than Ever

…[F]or organizations and individuals that want to be known for their ideas, the clearest–yet most underrated–path is through blogging. It hasn’t been buzzed about in years, but it’s more essential than ever…

If you want to shape public opinion, you need to be the one creating the narrative. A fascinating study last year by Yahoo Research showed that only 20,000 Twitter users (a mere .05% of the user base at the time) generated 50% of all tweets consumed. A small number of “elite users” sets the conversational tenor, just as in the general world of blogging.

An article lives forever on the web and will be seen around the world.

SM Connection CycleNowadays, we’re measured by the quality of information — not its brand name. If you create high-quality content, you legitimately may become a source as powerful and trusted as the “legacy media.”

Writing is still the clearest and most definitive medium for demonstrating expertise on the web. …In an information-hungry world, there will always be a need for expert content. And there will always be more readers and “retweeters” than there will be creators.

If you want to have an impact, you might as well be the one setting the agenda by blogging your ideas.

Read: If You’re Serious about Ideas, Get Serious About Blogging by Dorie Clark (HBR)

2) Blogging Answers The Long Tail of Search And Social

When you set up your blog as a “hub” for your social strategy, you are best positioned to benefit most from all that top-of-funnel awareness.

With a blog, you have assets to feed each stream in a way that when you do something that matters, you won’t have to worry so much about changes in platforms. You are free to step back and focus on the big-picture things that matter, like an editorial vision.

…Blogs let you think user-centric, not platform-centric.

Blog PhotoWithout blogging, it is difficult to build an ever-increasing amount of content to be discovered via search engines and shared via social. …[E]ach time you publish a blog post, you make it so significant that the industry takes notice.

A perfect example of a brand doing this well is Tesla. Each time they have news, their blog is the central place where it’s shared and whatever is published is amplified not just by social but media of all types. It’s worth following them as an example of a brand that understands the importance of self-publishing and a model you could follow.

Call it blogging, digital publishing, or whatever you prefer: you’ve been able to publish your own ideas, in any format you like, wrapped in your own template, with full access to analytics and ability to monetize how you see fit (or use it to generate organic leads to equal revenue later) and distribute across search, social, and email since the Web existed.

…To give your best content over to someone else as the canonical place makes as little sense now as it ever did. To amplify and share your ideas in OPPs (Other People’s Platforms) in a way that adds value and is efficient for you is the smartest path to digital success.

Read Why Blogging Still Matters: Data, Distribution, and Ownership of Content by Adam Singer (ClickZ).

3) Build Your Blog On A Home Base That You Control

…[W]hen it comes to your platform, you can’t afford to build your house on a rented lot. And Facebook continues to teach the same lesson.

Like Twitter, Facebook is an important part of my platform. But it’s not integral. It’s too fickle for that. Owners make rules, not tenants. And Facebook owns the lot.

Facebook, Platforms you don't controlI was an early adopter and advocate of social media. I still am. But I encourage everyone interested in growing a platform to begin with a home base that you control. Use other services to expand your reach, but build your house on your own lot.

Few things in life are truly stable, but some things are more stable than others. I bought MichaelHyatt.com in 1998. It’s been through a lot of iterations, but it’s always been mine. Ownership provides stability because you set the rules.

This means that you post your primary content on your own blog.

Read Don’t Build Your Social Media House on a Rented Lot by Mike Hyatt

How Did I Evolve Into A Blogger?

I started listening online via Twitter to gain perspective and enhance my professional development. I began to tweet but a 140-characters wasn’t enough. I turned the digital dials more in my favor by blogging. Plus, the act of listening to blog well helped me understand the conversation around the colliding forces of social networking, leadership and the business of relationships.

Over time you’ll realize that by calling out others in your posts, you facilitate a level of connection that fosters the relationships necessary to extend your knowledge and network. The people I cite have colleagues, associates, friends and family who will share my posts across their social circles if my content is good.

So, I find that by anchoring myself online with a blog, Google sees the signals (E.g. my posts being shared on social networks) and rewards me with better search results. Today, my blog is not just a tool for fostering and developing business but also a creative outlet for my writing.


22london-marathon_4-articleLargeBuilding an online persona that equals or exceeds your offline reputation is a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on quality content and long-term connections. As Adam Singer says, “What’s popular is typically easy, but what’s easy isn’t always what produces the best results.”

To reiterate:

  • Blogging is more essential than ever.
  • Blogging answers the long tail of search and social.
  • Build your blog on a home base that you control.

Make sure you own and control your blog like comments from Clark, Singer and Hyatt advocate.

How are you developing your online persona? Do you control the platform that serves as the hub of your digital presence?

LexBlog LogoKevin McKeown (@KevinMcKeown) is president of LexBlog. His blog is Leadership Close Up. LexBlog empowers lawyers to increase their visibility and accelerate business relationships online. With LexBlog’s help, legal professionals use their subject matter expertise to drive powerful business development through blogging and social media. Visit LexBlog.com. LexBlog also hosts LXBN, the world’s largest network of professional blogs. With more than 8,000 authors, LXBN is the only media source featuring the latest lawyer-generated commentary on news and issues from around the globe. Visit LXBN.com.

A Marketing Lesson For The Price Of Breakfast

Everyone has a story like this. Many of us have more than one. But I’m still taken aback when it happens.

I left my room in a well known national chain, and headed down to the quasi-high-toned restaurant attached to the hotel.

Truth be known, the restaurant is probably a reluctant player in the whole breakfast thing. It’s an operation of one of the big name restaurateurs in the area, and wouldn’t strike you as the kind of place that would think an egg worth scrambling, much less care to mess with an omelette. But proximity to the hotel likely weighs in the decision.

Road warriors know the drill. Frequent-staying comes with a (little) perk here and there. This particular stay included complimentary breakfast. So, heeding mom’s counsel, I aimed to enjoy the most important meal of the day. Along with a cup of black coffee (mom would not be particularly proud).

But this early morning experience was about to be all about the restaurant — not about the customer. When I presented my breakfast certificate, I could tell something was awry.

Clearly perplexed, the waiter flagged down the manager. They whispered between themselves, and then the manager articulated (?) the dilemma. “You only have the yellow copy of your breakfast coupon.”

I felt reprimanded, and I knew not why.

She provided explanation. I should have presented a two-part certificate — the yellow, which lay before us, and a white version, which I reasoned must have become separated 17 floors and 10 minutes away.

For an instant the manager appeared to wrestle with the issue. What might be done? I explained that I had checked in the day before, would be here all week, and the hotel might be able to verify my creds.

But this wasn’t part of the plan. And process won out. Without the white copy of my certificate, this high-end big name restaurant had no way for the server to get credit for having served me breakfast.

I didn’t want that to happen. And since this was clearly my fault, and the morning schedule did not allow time to retrieve the stray white certificate, I meekly copped to my shortcoming, and asked for permission to charge breakfast to my room.

At this point it might be fair to note that I frequent both the hotel and the restaurant. Or, I used to frequent the restaurant. Sometimes 3 or 4 times in a work week for lunch or dinner.

But the experience they consistently deliver says “We are special — and you are oh-so-fortunate we are here.”

This was an excellent reminder that — whatever our endeavor — the experience we deliver will eventually trump a reputation, a quality product / service, and any glossy ad or eloquent marketing message.

Scores of restaurants serve a pretty darn good breakfast.

And in today’s market, the experience you deliver IS your marketing message.

Making “Client-Centered” More Than A Marketing Copy Point

Everyone talks about being client-centered.

Those who back up all the talk with real substance are rare.

The legendary father of advertising, David Ogilvy, was so committed to acting in the client’s best interest, that in the early days some thought the preoccupation a product of eccentricity.

On one occasion in the late 1950′s he and his team had been invited to make a presentation and pitch for the advertising and marketing account of Greyhound Bus Lines. When Ogilvy entered the pitch room, in true Mad Men fashion the art boards of a competitor’s creative presentation stared him in the face.

When it came his time to speak, Ogilvy turned to the assembled Greyhound execs and informed them that, though confident and proud of the presentation he and his team had created, the ideal solution to Greyhound’s advertising needs had already been presented — by one of his competitors.

Hence launched the successful and long-running Leave The Driving To Us campaign.

David Ogilvy didn’t build one of the most successful and decorated advertising agencies in the world by making a habit of selling work for the competition. But he did have the reputation of consistently acting in what he believed to be the best interest of the client.

Yes! We Are Client Centered (Really, We Are)

If it could be spoken into existence, we would all be masters in the art of being client-centered.

Peruse websites and marketing collateral and it is clear that the idea of coming at things from the client’s point of view is deemed worthy of marquis status.

But as anyone truly committed to it knows, client-centeredness is not as simple as crafting a headline and a few eloquent proclamations. Even award-winning attempts to script it into the offerings of a service organization often come up short when tested against what clients say and believe.

Why? Because client-centeredness is an attribute that either resides at the core of an organization, or tends to be easily brushed aside when push comes to shove in decisive moments.

When present, the client-centered attribute is manifest in experiences that communicate far more effectively than the best website service description ever written.

The Path To Trusted Advisor Status

I’m betting most of us remember a handful of times when the experience we received transcended any tangible marketing claim or promise. With deference to that old adage, we possess first-hand knowledge that experiences speak louder than words. 

Yet, it is easy to do precious little beyond talking about great client service. If we talk about it long enough, maybe it will be real!

Two things are worth noting. First, the experience you deliver IS your marketing message. Talk about it in collateral materials, announce it on your website and proclaim it until you lose your voice; but if what you say doesn’t align with the experiences you deliver, one message will be loud and clear — your game is all talk.

Second — the only real path to trusted advisor status is to consistently deliver an experience that demonstrates the client’s interests and concerns are paramount. Nothing will differentiate you in the market place more emphatically or more quickly.

And just in case it sounds like I’m suggesting your written message doesn’t matter, let’s pause. I believe in the power of the pen. I have been a writer since before I had a career. This is not a suggestion that the content on your website isn’t important. It is to say that when marketing content doesn’t align with the market’s experience, no amount of award-winning prose will help.

Client-centeredness is not a copy point. Copy points don’t live, and they are easily dismissed or forgotten.

Being client-centered is the byproduct of a core belief. And as is so often the case, the communication of core beliefs is most profound when seen and experienced. It is a fortunate consequence for the rare few who operate from a client-centered position that the experiences we deliver are memorable, differentiators and the most articulate marketing message possible.

Want To Instigate Dialogue and Lead? Choose Your Words Carefully.

Words matter. If the goal is to connect and build bridges, you’ll choose them carefully.

They set tone, dictate parameters and conjure experiences that shape interpretation.

The right words can comfort, support, strengthen and inspire. They can tap into memories and stir new dreams.

Yet, for all their power, they are imperfect and incomplete. Packaging and presentation can have everything to do with how words are received. To further confound, meanings can change right before our ears.

And, as we learn early, they can do big-time damage. That playground ditty many of us learned — “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” — that’s wrong. We learn the handful of epithets sure to cut any conversation short.

Remembering Mom’s Advice

My mother was always big on the way we used words. In her view, words like stupid, idiot and ignorant had no place in the conversations of a family. They did nothing to build bridges. Slang (not to mention expletives) signaled what mom thought to be a limited command of the language — if not laziness. Experientially she underscored the admonition “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

Mom believed a positive spirit was the best way to connect with others. And the words we choose should be indicative of that spirit.

I suppose it is her influence that echoes when I’m tempted to call someone a derogatory name. (Not suggesting I don’t give in — just saying I still hear her voice when I do.)

And maybe this is why I feel such discomfort with how quickly we seem to fling nasty names and ugly characterizations at those with whom we have differences.

Whatever the source — and whether right or wrong — I’m weary of what seems to me to be little more than playground name-calling, accompanied by a conviction that he who talks loudest, Wins — from playground to boardroom to media feed.

If Conversation Is The Goal

Conversation — honest give-and-take — is one of the joys of friendship, and a basic element of community. It adds dimension and fabric to relationship. It broadens and deepens experiences.

At a pragmatic level, it is essential to partnership, collaboration and leadership.

Anyone that knows me knows I enjoy a good debate. But increasingly I find myself shying away from interactions with those who see nothing good around them; who are quick to point out inadequacies; who are convinced they (and those who agree with them) possess the only right view. In my experience at least, there is little real dialogue with these friends or colleagues; their mission is singular — to fix what is wrong.

Where this spirit persists there is little exploration or intentional listening. And decidedly limited progress.

The possession of a point-of-view, a big voice (or potent amplifier), and a pulpit is no guarantee that a message has what it takes to resonate, instigate dialogue and influence direction.

So, to the degree an old dog can learn, I’m trying to listen for common ground, choose words carefully, and abide by mom’s advice — if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.

The Issue With Messages That Fail

Maybe — just maybe the single biggest issue with messaging that fails to generate the desired response is the degree to which it is closer to fiction than fact.

Heretical to suggest such a thing, I know; few of us set out to deliberately mislead. But hang with me.

What might some messages look or sound like if terms like client-centered had to pass a truth-test before insertion into marketing content?

What if, before we could boldly proclaim client-centeredness, we were forced to at least consider the implication to clients of significant operational initiatives?

Or what if, before a culture could be characterized as warm and collegial with no room for (euphemism alert) jerks, we had to actually call-out the jerks in our midst?

The Audience Knows

Sooner or later (and in most cases, it is sooner), the audience — internal or external — instinctively recognizes the unaligned, never mind the fabricated message.

It may be the by-product of service that doesn’t stand-up in the marketplace. Or the sum of actions indicative of a lack of respect. In any case, when words — however eloquent — fail to align with experience, the message will eventually be dismissed.

The Power of Alignment

What if an all-knowing monitor-of-bull were able to delete messages that fail to align with intention?

My friend Roger Hayse recently spotlighted the six law firms appearing on Fortune’s most recent list of 100 Best Companies To Work For In America. And while it goes without saying that no institution is perfect, the fact is that these firms are almost certainly intent on an ideal. This intention is manifest in priorities. And actions taken.

Whatever we’re marketing — ideas, programs, services or products — it eventually becomes very difficult to hide a disconnect between what we say and what we do. And once recognized, no matter how creative or poetic, this message will never create positive action, generate a desired response or move the needle in the right direction.

Just saying it on the website doesn’t make it so.

And if you’re hoping the articulation of a marketing message will suddenly make up for product, service or strategic deficiencies, expectations are about to be dashed . . . again.

An “Aha!” Moment In Law Firm Sales

A Guest Post by professional services sales innovator and law firm sales & marketing leader, Steve Bell.  ______________________________

A correspondent recently asked me: “When did you have your first ‘Aha!’ moment about law firm sales?”

It’s a great memory, and it actually occurred long before Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice became a pioneer in the legal profession and asked me to serve as director of sales.

The Real Beginning — An Accidental Volunteer

The path that led me to professional service (and eventually, legal) sales goes further back than I care to admit. I was an Associate National Director of Marketing at Price Waterhouse LLP — long before the merger with Coopers & Lybrand.

The legendary Price Waterhouse Vice Chairman of Tax, Pete Hart, was – appropriately — asking revenue questions of International Tax partners, who had put together many elaborate marketing brochures, staged numerous wonderful educational sessions, and traveled abroad with international tax planning concepts. (Any of this sound familiar?) But, in spite of great investment and much activity, the group wasn’t “connecting the dots with the cash register” as well as Pete would have liked.

“Who,” Pete asked, “will follow up with the people who attended the seminars to meet with them face to face? Who will make phone calls to the people receiving the fancy brochures to see if they have any questions?”

In old World War II movies, there are scenes about the unwilling volunteer.  In these scenes, a commanding officer asks for volunteers to step forward.  Inevitably, a newbie stands still while the wizened hands all take steps backward.

Those scenes remind me of how I “volunteered” to make the move from professional services marketing to sales; I “volunteered” by not declining to do so.

Fortunately, I’d had some professional services sales experience prior to joining Price Waterhouse, and, in addition, at Price Waterhouse I was able to participate in Miller-Heiman’s “Strategic Selling” courses.  So, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready.

The focus of our fledgling sales effort was to “connect those dots”, and we began scheduling follow-up meetings with potential clients.  Thankfully, my training had equipped me in the art of connecting, and the science of keeping opportunities on track. And, over time (the sale of professional services rarely occurs overnight), we were able to achieve some of the conversions Pete Hart knew to be critical to success.

“Sales” began to develop some strong roots at Price Waterhouse as well as other accounting firms, as the accounting profession caught wind of the possibilities. Sales became a critical competency in the professional services arena — eventually (albeit, with reluctance at many turns) the idea has crept into legal.

By Any Name, It Is About Connecting The Dots

Each of us at some point in a career faces the very practical questions Pete Hart posed to the Price Waterhouse Tax Partners — who is going to take the steps necessary to connect with prospects?

Whether marketers, business developers, strategy architects, accountants or lawyers — few, if any of us can afford to wait for the market to come to us. If you’re reluctant to lean on the “S” word, think of it as simply connecting the dots between the needs of your prospects and the service and counsel you can deliver.

When it comes to efforts that hit the bottom-line, that’s the “Aha Moment”.

Steve Bell is the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of the law firm of Womble Carlyle. He has deep experience in professional services business development and sales, and previously led the sales efforts at Grant Thornton and Price Waterhouse. He is a legal marketing thought leader, innovator, speaker, and also serves as Marketing Vice Chairman, Americas of Lex Mundi.

Follow Steve on Twitter. And find him on Linked In, here.

3 Keys To An Authentic Voice — The Building Block of Social Media Marketing Success

Dispute its reach if you like. Bemoan its shortcomings. Even refuse to participate (if you dare). But Social Media has exploded. And the reason should capture the imagination of anyone marketing a service or product.

How so? Because for all the hype, falderal, misuse and criticism swirling about, Social Media is, simply, about the dynamics of community.

Hence some confusion. And the challenge.

Is it community? Or is it media?

If media, complete with the prospect of reaching the masses, we immediately focus on the message. (A mistake in its own right; but that is another discussion.)

Community, on the other hand, is about neighbors, conversations and collaboration. It is about building relationships.

Social Media is both. And (this is one of those good-news-bad-news notes) it gives everyone in the community a voice. This is the reason for the explosion. And the source of difficulty.

The Challenge of Authenticity

The universal availability makes the social community a noisy place.

So if you aspire to communicate and market using Social Media, the first job is to develop a voice that will rise above the noise, and resonate with the target audience.

This is not unique to Social, of course. Students of speech will remember the story of Demosthenes, the orator of ancient Greece. To overcome an impediment that made it difficult for his audience to listen, he practiced achieving clarity of speech with stones in his mouth.

Then along came tools that could broadcast a message to the masses — which often only serves to amplify the challenge. Recall the story of King George VI, popularized in the 2010 film, The King’s Speech.

The fact is that not even pivotal moments or profound content can guarantee a message will connect. Or be received.

And now Social suggests we deliver a message 140 characters with millions of other messages swirling about. Or via a Vine or an Instagram. And who knows what a “Like” or “endorsement” really means?

Top 3 Keys To An Authentic Social Voice

If you spend time in any social community you’ve likely encountered the social broadcasters — the messengers too busy dispensing canned content to be bothered with conversation or collaboration.

You also know it when you encounter an authentic voice.

What is the difference?

I recently had the pleasure of doing a guest spot on the popular weekly Twitter program for marketers, MMChat. (If you’re a marketer, you might enjoy participating — check it out every Monday evening at 8:00 PM Eastern, using the hashtag #MMChat.) The topic was the Keys To Developing An Authentic Social Voice. It was a lively exchange, and here are three ideas to emerge from the conversation.

1. Listen Intently. As opposed to an initial preoccupation with what you will say, begin with a focus on listening. Pay close attention and your market is likely to reveal precisely what it takes to become relevant, what resonates with them, and what is dismissed as noise.

2. Engage With Your Market. This is the DNA of social communities. And one of the most dynamic forms of engagement is to participate in the dialogue and agendas most important to your market. This is the most basic form of collaboration. And supporting other authentic voices allows you to leverage their resonance and credibility.

3. Deliver Value. This is about more than the service, product or solution you’re marketing. Social is about building and nurturing relationships. Relationship is about trust. Trust has roots in giving. Seek to understand your Targets’ needs; then provide a solution. This is the ultimate in delivering value. And by the way — the value you deliver may have little to do with the product or service you ultimately provide. Value is defined by the community. Want to be part of the community? Understand what it values.

Social Media presents challenges, to be sure. But the more voices vying for attention, the more authenticity differentiates, and rises above the din. Practice these three keys with consistency, and your voice becomes more and more authentic. And this is the beginning of a marketing message that connects.