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Transparency is all the rage in business and government these days. Which seems funny (as in headshaking versus LOL) to me because the opposite is opacity and deception. What Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Marketing in his or her right mind would advocate to a board of directors a strategy of treating customers like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and bury them in crap).

 

Yet marketers allow their companies to do this actively and passively every day, and it really needs to stop.  Here are a few simple examples I’ve encountered recently:

  • Food packaging. Single cans of tuna at the grocery store shrank from 6.5 oz. to 5.0 oz. in the past year with no visible change in the can form factor or messaging on the can, yet the price stayed the same.  Besides the honesty in packaging argument, recipes often state quantities in terms of how they are packaged, not just weight/volume.
  • Cell phone plans.  Let’s use Verizon as an example because I tried to find this information recently.  What are the peak and off-peak Night and Weekends (i.e. free) calling hours in their plans?  The hours are not listed anywhere on their website or my bill.  They sell the benefit, but don’t publish the terms so customers are left to guess and run up overages.
  • Auto repair.  Why can’t I go to the websites of car dealerships and auto repair companies and look up prices for standardized repairs like oil changes, brake repair and transmission service?  These companies have set prices (and times required to make the repair) in the computer programs they use to run their businesses.

Transparency often requires the point of a spear.  It took a threat of an act of Congress – the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2004 – to force credit card companies to voluntarily make it easier for their customers to know and understand what they were being charged to use their cards.  This legislation has died in every Congressional session since and a 2009 version fights for its life even now.

 

We could debate all day which is the greater offender, business or government.  The Transparency in Government Act of 2008 is “a broad legislative effort intended to make the work of Congress and the executive branch more transparent by creating laws and regulations that would bring more information online and available to the public in a timely manner.”  Organizations like the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International exist to end corruption, promote accountability and establish the systems to improve access to information.

 

So what can marketers do to promote transparency, and build trust, in marketing:

  • Work in the Open – Expose the process of research, development, and planning to internal audiences, strategic partners, vendors, etc.  There is an art and a science to marketing, but it’s not magic.  Invite input, share assumptions, debate findings, publish conclusions.
  • Communicate With Constituents Like People – How many articles/blogs/tweets/etc. need to be published before professional communicators stop issuing news releases and creating website content that demonstrate they never speak with real people?  Use the “Mother” test (“if my Mother can understand it…”).  Speak in plain English.  State clear benefits.  Better yet, if a clear benefit can’t be stated in plain English, don’t.
  • Be the Conscience of Your Organization – Marketers bring the voice of the marketplace back to internal audiences while serving as brand champions back to the marketplace. This gives us a position from which to call “bullshit” on bad ideas, misleading messages, and inferior products and services.  The most influential marketing execs are not afraid to exercise that responsibility.
  • Demonstrate Accountability – Establish at the outset the criteria that will be used to measure success and the methods for that measurement.  Publish them to the organization.  Evaluate the results of marketing efforts and publish them as well.

“Buzz doesn’t have a measurable ROI”

This is a great quote by Jeffery Eisenberg, co-founder and CEO of FutureNow, Inc., in David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing & PR.  Eisenberg goes on to say, “The cumulative effect of doing a lot of right things is what works…”

It got me thinking…is it possible for a person or business to have “buzz” or “street cred” and not know it?  Is it possible to have it and not be able to measure the benefits that purportedly come from having “it”.  Whether it’s a book launch or re-branding a business or achieving your own personal positioning.  Is “buzz” a measure of success?  How do we define “success”?

A few years back I was managing a 501(c)(3) non-profit dance company I co-founded with my now ex-wife.  This particular day our warehouse open space was being considered by a small indie theater company as a location for a series of performances.  Out of the blue, the artist commented to us that in certain corners of the Southern Nevada artistic community our little company had “swerve”…by which he meant favorable buzz on the street.  It was a pleasant surprise to hear, and while we had decent foot traffic from media articles and paid advertising, I can’t say I could quantify the ROI our “swerve” might have been generating.

Even further back in my career as a marketing and communications agency executive, PR firms were constantly challenged by clients to “measure our results” so they could calculate a mysterious ROI on the money they were paying us and therefore be able to defend our efforts (and their decision to use us) to their bosses. I’m sure the situation is not much changed today.

Behind closed doors when we were trying to articulate such metrics…and perhaps to relieve some tension…I used to show a viewgraph of an old Sidney Harris cartoon, in which a professor is being critiqued about a complicated mathematical formula he’s written on the blackboard.  Just before the equal sign is the notation “Then a miracle occurs.”

Famous Sidney Harris cartoon

Famous Sidney Harris cartoon

We all want to achieve success in what we do, whether it’s work related, raising a child or a few, making a relationship work, or making a difference for others.  We all do a lot of right things, sometimes without really thinking about them, to move closer to our goal.

Maybe it really comes down to how each of us measures or quanitifies success.  And what is the miracle, the tipping point that takes us from going to bed one night thinking “this just isn’t working” to waking up the next day and proclaiming “Huzzah! Success!”

I consult with organizations about their strategic marketing and communications challenges and one of the first questions I ask is: “What criteria for success have you established and what methods do you employ for measuring performance against those criteria?”

“None.”  “We don’t have any.”  “That’s a good question.”  This is what I get 100% of the time.  Or the one I really like: “That’s why you’re here.”

The big point here is to understand that success is a measure of the “whole,” not of the parts.  You measure success by putting your starting point in a qualifiable frame of reference and your goal in that frame of reference plus X. 

It’s important to measure the effect of the tactics you employ to move the needle.  There are lots of tools to help you do that such as Google Alerts, Radian6, Google Analytics, Google Blogsearch, Technorati, and Twitter hashtags.  Even old school techniques like clip books (if you need something to send your Mom) and Nielsen ratings. But with tweets, re-tweets, blog posts, reblogs, etc. it’s impossible to accurately quantify many tactics.

Eisenberg adds, “[Success] is the measure of how many little things you do right.  Lots of small things [add] up to make the difference.”

Maybe “buzz” is today’s version of “a miracle occurs here.”

UPDATE: Click here to learn how to find your next job instead of waiting for it to find you.

 

This is the third post of a three-part series offering concrete, actionable ideas for how to separate yourself from the pack in today’s feverishly-competitive job market.

 

In Part I, I shared the Sales Cover Letter (“Your Resume Won’t Get You a Job”) as an approach for making your resume stand out and get you the face-to-face interview.  In Part II, I proposed the Interview Binder (“You Can Have Them at ‘Hello’”), a tool for optimal pre-interview preparation and creating a leadership impression with the interviewer(s) before the first question.

 

Part III:  Ask yourself this — Will the people interviewing you remember you after you’ve left the room? What will they remember? How can you be sure?

 

“Numerous psychological studies have shown that human beings are not very good at identifying people they saw only once for a relatively short period of time. The studies reveal error rates of as high as fifty percent,” wrote Michael C. Dorf, Vice Dean and Professor of Law at Columbia University, in a 2001 article “How Reliable is Eyewitness Testimony” published on FindLaw.com.  Fifty percent.

 

My solution – leave a big piece of you behind to speak for you. 

 

I’m talking about a Capabilities eBrochure, a leave-behind collateral piece that is all about you, your skills, experience and accomplishments, and most importantly, your plan for success for the new position if hired. And the way I suggest it, you put your face right on the cover.

 

Today’s executive job market is a buyer’s market. Organizations have no trouble attracting 1000 or more resumes for a VP-level position posted on TheLadders.com, and the short list of finalists can include 10 or more candidates.  Each gets an hour. Interviewed back-to-back over a couple of days. With a mad scramble to check email and voicemail in between meetings. How was it you planned to stand out in that mess?

 

Marketing, public relations and advertising agencies understand well this beauty pageant routine when competing for new business and wouldn’t think to show up for such a meeting without their carefully-prepared and rehearsed capabilities presentations, and copies to leave behind.

 

The Capabilities eBrochure is a document any professional can create without any special software or skills.  It can be created in a weekend and produced in quantity for relatively little money. The basics of the Capabilities eBrochure look like this:

  • Software.  Use software you already have and should know how to use well – Microsoft PowerPoint (or equivalent presentation software like Zoho Show).
  • Look-and-Feel.  This is basically a magazine or sales collateral about you. Make it attractive and artistic. If you can’t, then hire someone who can. This should NOT look like a hard copy of a Powerpoint presentation.
  • Section 1: Reasons Why They Should Hire You.  The front of the eBrochure is your canvas to articulate the specific criteria the organization should use to choose the winning candidate, and why you exceed each.
  • Section 2: Your Plan for Success.  “What have you done lately” isn’t good enough any more.  Companies hiring VP-level and C-level executives expect you to know what you’ll accomplish for them in your first 100 days and to be able to tell them.  Put your 100-Day Plan here.
  • Addenda: Supporting Documents.  This is where you can add a very select set of evidence that clearly supports the reasons to hire you and/or your 100 Day Plan. Add only enough to make your point. Too much and they’ll never read it.
  • Production.  Don’t scrimp here. Print the eBrochure on high quality semi-gloss paper, 24# weight or higher. Go to Fedex Office, Office Depot or OfficeMax and get each document coil-bound with a clear front cover and rigid black back cover. Make enough for everyone in the room PLUS anyone not there who you might want to send one to later.
  • Presentation.  When you enter the room, quietly pull the stack of eBrochures from your briefcase and place them in front of you. Don’t say anything about them until the opportune moment. Generally in an interview, there is a moment when the candidate is asked, “What would your first 90-100 days on board look like?”  This is that moment. Now is when you hand them out. Depending on your audience, you may want to lead them through each page, or you may want to selectively cite content on specific pages to support points you make as your interview progresses.

Final thought: I’ve linked an eBrochure (Mark Olson Capabilities eBrochure) I developed and used recently for an executive-level marketing position at a private college. I am making a major career change into higher education and it’s important for me to explain why I am qualified and why I will make a major difference.

 

If you have thoughts or similar documents you’d like to share, I’d love to see them.

Every week I’ll highlight a word that catches my attention. As a marketing and communications professional, I stress simple, straightforward language in my work, however I’m always watching for the evolving lexicon of the market. For growing vocabulary, I recommend these sites: FreeRice.com, UrbanDictionary.com, InvestorWords.com, BusinessDictionary.com, Merriam-Webster Online]

 

The word for this week is — FAIL.  Maybe it’s me, but when did it become acceptable, even humorous, to denounce a person, comment, organization, government, etc. with a single word verdict?

 

FAIL as a “thumbs down” from a websphere heckler falls into the same bucket of dismissive, lazy interjections as “whatever” and “sucks”.

 

Urbandictionary.com has 41 entries for the term FAIL.  A quick Google Blogsearch for the exact phrase FAIL yields more than 7 million entries, but that includes the appropriate use of the verb, so it’s hard to sort out how pervasive its use is as a pejorative. 

 

There is even a Failblog.org site which I have to confess has some pretty funny content.

 

The bigger picture is this: I’d like to believe we’re more evolved than reducing our subjective interpersonal vocabulary to single-word backhands.  Let’s bring back intelligent, constructive conversation.  Or: “If you can’t think of anything nice to say…”

This is the second of a three-part series offering concrete, actionable ideas for how to separate yourself from the pack in today’s feverishly-competitive job market.

 

Part II: Treat the interview like you’re on trial.  Or in front of a Congressional sub-committee.  If you show up and elect to “wing it” because you’re so sure you know your material cold, or somehow you’re under the impression that the person/people conducting the interview are your “friends,” it’s probably over before it begins.

 

An Interview Binder can be the difference between killing or flopping at an interview.  More on this in a minute.


In Part I yesterday, I shared the concept of a Sales Cover Letter (“Your Resume Won’t Get You a Job”) as a tool for rising to the top of the resume pile to get to the invitation to interview face-to-face.  Congratulations, you got the call and the meeting.  Today I provide an approach for creating a dramatic, compelling impression as a superior candidate…before the actual interview begins.

 

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of assuming you’ve got a crisp, well-considered answer for any question that might be thrown at you in an interview.  After all, you’ve gotten this far in your career because you’re an expert in your field and at your profession.  You’ve been in countless meetings and presentations with little more than an agenda and a notepad.  And that’s probably worked out for you.

 

This new interview is not one of those times.  You want to stand out from the other candidates because you get one shot.  This interview is Pass/Fail.  But your schedule is packed.  You’ve got budgets, meetings, reviews, maybe a trade show.  “I’ll be ready” you think.  And maybe you will.  The problem is that the interview is not about you…it’s about them.  Have you done enough to be ready for them?

 

The typical candidate prepares by putting a fresh pad of paper in a leather-bound notepad holder, a nice Cross pen, a few copies of the resume, a printout of the Position Description, and a few pages from the company’s website.  A quick scan just before entering the interview and “it’s ‘go’ time.” 

 

The Interview Binder is a tool that accomplishes three of the most important objectives in an interview: 1) it gives you structure for optimal pre-interview preparation; 2) it creates an indelible impression with the interviewer(s) before the first question; and, 3) it sets the bar for any other candidates.  The basic construct of the Interview Binder I’m suggesting looks like this:

  1. The Binder:  Buy a new one.  A 1.5-inch binder is a good size because it can hold about 100 pages comfortably, including tab dividers.  D-ring is key because when you open it all the pages lay flat.  Don’t leave the front and back cover sleeves and spine unfilled.  These are panels you can use to market your intention.
  2. Tab Dividers:  The 8-tab dividers provide enough sections for the scope of research and preparation you’ll need to perform.  Clear tabs allow you to insert custom labels about each section’s contents. The sections most commonly used are found in #3-10 as follows:
  3. Answers to Their Questions:  This comes first because it is the crux of the meeting.  Write out the hardest, most awkward questions you can imagine being asked, then write out your answers.  Practice answering these questions in front of a mirror or with a friend.  Refine them until you are crisp, concise and compelling.  “60 Minutes” built a franchise on top of people who thought they could handle any question thrown at them and got burnt.  Key Point: the answers should be framed about them and their needs, not you and your needs.
  4. Your Questions for Them:  This is your chance to uncover information about the position and the company you will use to decide if you want the position.  Questions like: “Why is this position available?”, “What are the issues that keep you up at night?”, “What are the opportunities you want to go after now but can’t, and why?”
  5. Capabilities eBrochure:  More on this tomorrow.
  6. Job Description/Correspondence:  Just what it says.  Print out and include here the description and all correspondence that has transpired between you and the company.
  7. Research on Interviewers:  Know who is sitting across from you and what his/her/their hot button issues are.  Google, Zoominfo.com, LinkedIn.com and the company’s website are great places to start this research.  Break down your research into key talking points you can insert into your interview at opportune moments.  It’s amazing how people open up and take notice when someone asks them to talk about themselves.
  8. Company Website/Research:  Print out important pages from their website, find points of interest you can use in your interview and use Post-Its to make it easy to turn quickly to a particular page to reference a point as you’re making it.  Use Google and Google Blogsearch to find articles and other commentary about the company you can reference to demonstrate you understand their “today” issues.
  9. Competitive Research:  Do your homework on their top 3-5 competitors.  Create your own competitive issues matrix document or print out and highlight web research.
  10. Research on Yourself:  Nobody ever does this.  Research yourself on Google and Zoominfo.com.  Put yourself in their position and find the landmines and goldmines about yourself that exist online.  Have those pages and notes that explain or exploit each major point.

Final Tip:  Practice using the Binder before your interview.  Develop a smooth, natural interaction with the material emphasizing eye contact with your interviewers.  Use the material to support points you want to make, while maintaining the connection with them.  If asked, it’s okay to show them what you’ve assembled.  Never leave the binder behind.  Unless they trade you for an offer letter.

 

Wednesday:  Part III: The Closing eBrochure

UPDATE: Click here to learn how to find your next job instead of waiting for it to find you.

 

This is the first of a three-part series offering concrete, actionable ideas for how to separate yourself from the pack in today’s feverishly-competitive job market using marketing and sales, instead of job hunting, techniques.

 

Part I:  Your resume won’t get you a job.  Not by itself, anyway.  And probably not the version you’re using now.  Still thousands of experienced professionals carpet-bomb the few openings available today with a resume and a 2-line cover letter.

 

A Sales Cover Letter with your resume can get you a job.  More on this tool in a minute.

 

Look at a job search from the perspective of a search professional or committee, or hiring manager.  Each is working with a thoughtfully-prepared Position Description that elucidates the typical responsibilities and candidate requirements for the position.  Once advertised, the next step is to sort through 100 to 1,500 applications that consist mostly of 1-to-4 page resumes (all in different formats and with candidate data presented from the candidate’s perspective) and cover letters that often are not much more than two lines that say “check out my resume and you’ll see I’m a perfect fit.”

 

So who ends up doing the work to figure out if you’re a good fit and whether your resume should be moved to the top of the pile?  The search professional/hiring manager?  If you knew about the same position and met the hiring manager on the street, would you use that opportunity to hand over your resume, tell him/her to read it to see that you’re a perfect fit, and walk away?  See where the mass mailing approach breaks down?

 

Look at it even another way…if you were doing your marketing, sales or business development job for your employer and met a potential customer on the street, would you just hand the prospect a brochure, tell them to read it to see that your product or service was perfect for them, and walk away?  Probably not.

 

The Sales Cover Letter is your spokesperson on the hiring manager/search professional’s desk.  It does the work of matching your skills, experience and accomplishments to each and every Position Requirement.  It does so from the hiring manager’s perspective, but in your own voice.  And in an ocean of two-line cover letters, your Sales Cover Letter will leap off the pile and speak directly to the hiring manager about your fit.

 

The basic construct of the Sales Cover Letter I’m suggesting looks like this:

  1. Opening Paragraph:  State the position for which you are applying.
  2. Benefit Statement:  State what the benefit to the employer will be if they hire you.  If you don’t know, stop.  You’re not ready to apply yet.  Do your homework until you do know.
  3. Why You Care:  Explain your inspiration for seeking the position.  If you can’t think of anything more thoughtful than “I want a job at your company” then don’t apply until you can.  If you can’t express why you care, why should they.
  4. Point-by-Point:  This is the key section.  Copy-and-paste the Position Description into your letter and break it down sentence by sentence or by each discernable criteria.  Sometimes a Position Description will repeat criteria and it is OK to group them together.  Under each criteria, take as much room as you need to make your case, but use clear, crisp, well-written sentences.  Use bullet points as needed to make it an easy read.  Only state verifiable facts.  Emphasize results, not action.  Quality versus quantity.
  5. Call to Action:  Invite the followup call, then stop writing.  You’re done.

FAQs

Q:  Shouldn’t a cover letter be no longer than 150 words.

A:  If your resume is littered with experience at Fortune 500 companies or category leaders (e.g. Google and  Intel for tech; Procter & Gamble for CPG; etc.) and your career plan is to stay in the same industry, then 150 word cover letter might be enough.  For most, this simply doesn’t work.  Moreover, I have yet to see a Position Description that is only 150 words.

 

Q:  How can I use the Sales Cover Letter when online job boards only provide for attaching a PDF of a resume and separately including a cover letter of 750 words or less in a text window?

A:  Create a personalized Sales Cover Letter according to the construct above and bundle your resume as the last pages so you produce a PDF that is all one document.  Use the space provided by the online job board to explain how the employer will benefit from hiring you, and invite them to read further in the attached PDF Sales Cover Letter/Resume.

 

Q:  What if I use the Sales Cover Letter format, but I don’t have skills or experience to list against every criteria?

A:  Then you’re probably not qualified for the position and you shouldn’t apply.  Sorry.  The Sales Cover Letter also can serve as a filter to keep you from wasting your time and the hiring manager’s time.

 

Final Tip.  If you use the Sales Cover Letter to its fullest potential, you are going to apply to 1/10th the number of openings you did previously, but you are going to make a 10x better application for each.  It can take up to a week to write each Letter.  I’m reminded of an old business joke…”we’re going to lose money on each unit, but we’ll make it up in volume…”  The same is true here.  If you’re not compelling in a single letter, sending out hundreds of half-hearted efforts isn’t going to improve your chances.

 

Tuesday: Part II:  The Interview Binder
Wednesday: Part III:  The Closing eBrochure

Conflate this!

[Every week I'll highlight a word that catches my attention.  As a marketing and communications professional, I stress simple, straightforward language in my work, however I'm always watching for the evolving lexicon of the market.  For growing vocabulary, I recommend these sites: FreeRice.com, UrbanDictionary.com, InvestorWords.com, BusinessDictionary.com, Merriam-Webster Online]

The word for this week is — conflate.  I started running across this in the blogs I read with increasing some weeks ago and a quick Google Blog Search reveals more than 32,500 results. 

In fact, there’s even a blog titled “conflate”.

It describes the mashup of words, phrases or ideas into a new composite expression.  A quick scan of Google and Google Blog Search results shows the usage of conflate seems to fall into roughly three camps: religion, politics and the economy.  It’s an aggressive, jarring word most often used to unfavorably, even confrontationally, highlight the pairing of ideas with which the user takes issue.

From a marketing and communications perspective, I think it works best in op-ed pieces, speeches and blogs.  And sparingly.

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