Universe converging

They say to feel your path.  To let things happen organically.  When they do we need to listen to them.

When you listen you start to see opportunities and a path emerge.

At the same time things can start to happen that sit uncomfortably in your current situation.

When your mind starts to numb and lose the feeling of excitement and drive.

When you start to look around and feel other paths, to feel what fits.

Its frustrating because you want to stay present, but you can’t because you start making space to find clarity to think about the future.

In these times of quiet it opens you up to the exciting new possibilities around the corner.

Bringing back a craving of feeling alive and having purpose

Maybe creating something…

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Differences of opinion

Differences of opinion

 

Aside


Its 2012, a new year, time for a fresh start.  This article from the blog Ordinary Courage got me thinking this week.

It’s about an initiative called ‘One Little Word’ where you define one word that will be yours for 2012.

‘Can you identify a single word that sums up what you want for yourself in 2012? It can be something tangible or intangible. It could be a thought, or a feeling, or an emotion. It can be singular or plural. The key is to find something that has personal meaning for you. This is not your mother’s word or your spouse’s word or your child’s word – this is YOUR word.’

I liked the idea of striving for happiness through the simplicity of focusing on a single word objective.

My word for 2012 came to me this morning.

Commitment.

The last few years have been curious, which is good but unsettled, I’ve started lots of things, tried lots of things out and haven’t always seen them through, invested enough time or been disciplined enough to get the full potential out.

I want 2012 to be the year that I do stick it out.  In relation to career, projects, sport, relationships, family time, catching up with people when I say I will and even finishing clearing up after mealtimes or hanging my washing up after its done.  Staying curious , but focused on what I want to achieve.

So that’s my word – what’s yours?

The happiness of feeling vulnerable

Photo credit

Where I work at Leo Burnett Sydney, we have a monthly award for the person in the team who ‘gives something a go’, feels the fear and does it anyway.   It’s one of my favourite things about the culture there that we reward that kind of attitude.

It sucks to not be good at something, or expose yourself for not being able to keep up with others.  It makes us feel shameful about ourselves.  We can all empathise with that feeling too –  I never learnt to skip at school, because other kids laughed at me when I tried, so I avoided it more and more and to this day I still get an almighty fear when I am faced with a rope at the gym.  I always try and make excuses that I’ll get more benefit of doing something I am good at.  My trainer never buys that argument though and actively encourages me to take on the challenge to be uncomfortable.

We all do it.  We stay safe.  We stay in control.  Everything is good and calm here, it minimises stress when we are here.

Whilst that is all very nice however, when you do things that make you fearful, or you enter into something where you have little or no control  - that’s when things happen that make life that bit more exciting and worthwhile.  The ups and the downs are what make next Wednesday feel different to last Wednesday.

Sure we might get it wrong,  fuck up, or heaven forbid we might fail and look stupid to other people and they might not want to know us anymore.  But by exposing ourselves we experience new emotions and feelings and that is where new inspiration often happens.  You experience something you haven’t felt previously, adrenaline and endorphins flow as we experience the rush of the high.   It’s when we form connections with others who go with us on the journey.  All of these things that all have the power to make us feel happier.

The more I thought about all of this,  the more I started to see the things I had put off, made excuses about and ‘protected’ myself against, protected by immersing myself in other places where I felt comfortable and restricting the time and energy I could put in elsewhere.  It was time to take on some of my very own fears and start embracing the vulnerable.  Here’s what I did and what I got out of it.

1 – I got my hands dirty

I am not great in the kitchen, but I decided instead of taking the easy option of buying a cake for a Bridal Shower I was attending I would try I baking Scottish Shortbread.   Of course, I failed miserably and had to throw it all out and buy replacement goods in the end.  But the experience gave me a story to tell my Mum on Skype on Sunday, and it meant she could share her advice with me and the whole experience ended with me having a laugh with her about it all and feeling positive I might give it another try soon with a bit more direction and guidance from the homeland.

2 – I dived in

A girl who has never really pushed herself in the water, happy bobbing about in summer and leisurely breast stroking to no great exertion.  I’ve decided to train for the first time to do an ocean swim.  Starting with a dive into some fresh water under a fairly chilly, grey October day.  Taking a deep breath and feeling that fear that I was about to start doing something I don’t really know how to do yet.

I really struggled, I tried 6 times unsuccessfully to swim a lap freestyle.  My heart was thumping and my emotions working overtime.  Those little voices in my head telling me “Why are you doing this?  You’ll never manage to actually swim a whole ocean swim if you can’t even do one lap.”  But I tried and tried, eventually I did manage to swim one and then thinking about what had worked and what hadn’t worked a bit more, I managed to swim two, the second way stronger than the first.  Exhausted, I pulled myself out of the pool feeling exhilarated and buzzing share my success with anyone who’d listen.

3 – I admitted I had a problem

I am terrible at saving money.  But I sat down and looked honestly at my financial state of affairs for the first time and made a plan.  A plan that is very scary for the lifestyle I like to lead, but one that will help me have a more stable and secure future.

I know I am not going to be any good at any of these things any time soon.  Which is sad in a way I will probably feel a bit crap about myself for a while, but my efforts in trying I’m hoping will teach me some good lessons including;

  • Accepting that people will point out where I need to improve and learn not take it too personally.
  • To train myself to have more discipline to keep at things, not just giving in when it gets hard or scary.
  • Learn how to fail gracefully.
  • To take my learnings and apply them to other elements of my life where I might feel comfortable now and have the confidence to shake them up a bit too.
  • To complete something I feel proud of.  To start is one thing, to get to a point of completion is a whole other.
  • To embrace feeling a bit vulnerable and have the courage to do so.

If you haven’t already seen them watch/read the things that inspired this post.

Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Wholeheartedness

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, where she has spent the past ten years studying a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness, posing the questions: How do we engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?’ (Thank you to Marie Claire Jenkins who helped this fascinating talk cross my path)

Creation Myth.  Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation. by Malcolm Gladwell

Andy Rooney.  Force for Technological Innovation

Lastly,  have a think about what scares you.

Make a plan to tackle 1 fear or if you are feeling ambitious like me, maybe 3 and let me know how you go, it’ll be nice to have some company as I face mine!

Community planning principles (inspired by festivals and foodies)

I always forget how much I appreciate being involved communities until one of those days happen where you get a massive hit of oxytocin and realise how important they are in putting a smile on our face.

When I say community, I use the term very loosely.  It is one of those words that‘s applied across so many different things now, in this case I am referring to a group of people who were brought together to share in the adventure of going on an road trip to a music festival together.

Its not often you meet a group of people who, other than knowing one or two others, didn’t know the majority of people there, but still very quickly and naturally become a happy, thriving mini community.    Other than having an awesome time, the experience got me thinking about why it worked so well?  Was there anything about the approach that was taken that I could learn from?  About the traits you need to build, lead and inspire a strong community of people, where the members get the happiness hit of belonging and the team spirit is strong.

The rough model below is what I came up with.

How that would apply to my festival experience ;

  • People – A group of 35 people all brought together through friends of friends.
  • Passion  – A love of music festivals.
  • Person – The leader of the group, the one who brings it all together.  In this case it was a guy celebrating his 30th birthday, who with a few close friends has co-ordinated the crew, sorted the logistics, answered questions, organized a meet up session where the group could get to know each other beforehand and made sure we had walkie talkies for our convey of 6 campervans so we could keep the conversation going through the entire (long) drive north to Splendour from Sydney.   (Just one of the little touches that helped the community feel ‘together’)
  • Place – As well as the initial face to face meet up, a private Facebook group was created where in the lead up our lead would post regular updates to re-invigorate excitement and others were encouraged to post links and info.  Building momentum and excitement all the while.  It also easily allowed the unfamiliar crew to connect and get to know each other a little better before we departed.   Then of course we had our base camp at the festival, complete with decorated Marque.
  • Points of discussion – The trip and the festival ensured there was always conversation to be had.  Conversation everyone could be involved in and have a point of view about.  Pre the trip the posts on the Facebook group kept the group talking, connecting about the line up, the weather, the party, the food, the outfits, etc.  During the festival there was no shortage of face to face banter and discussion about the acts and general goings-on. Post the event, facebook has again became the place to share photos, videos, memories, in-jokes to keep the conversation and community going, long after the final chillout.

Taking the model out of the context of a crazy crew of pumped people all heading north to party, I thought I would try applying it to another example of another one of my favourite communities.

Secret Foodies.  If you love great food and great company definitely look it up.  They host weekly dining experiences across Sydney that bring foodies together.

“Hosted by Ms Darlinghurst, Secret Foodies’ events are designed to suit people who love great food, meeting new people and have a sense of adventure.”  Secret Foodies website.

  • People – Foodies.  People who express that food is a part of their identity and are proud to freely labeling themselves with that tag that others easily understand and can identify with.
  • Passion – Food, food, more food and some wine and ultimately having a passion for new, different and good food experiences.
  • Place – Talk and discussion is a crucial part of building a community and creating that connection that gives us our happiness hit as people.  Here is takes the form of a dinner table.  One of the most historic community forums of all time.
  • Person  – Ms Darlinghurst aka Alex is the ultimate hostess and runs Secret Foodies.  Always smiling, she has an uncanny knack of always making you feel welcome, included and interesting.  She also effortlessly starts conversations that bring people together, keeps the party energized and always has or finds an answer to any foodie query.
  • Points of discussion – Conversation needs fed.  In this example, this it was literally the food of the 4 course meal we worked our way through, plus the accompanying wines that maintained a lively discussion.   Alex also does a great job at keeping the conversation going after the event through her blog post reviews that everyone is encouraged to get involved in.

Photo courtsey of Secretfoodies.com.au

Overall, both of these examples in reflection seem like common sense, however I think it did no harm to think about them in the context of a model, to help think about what it is about these communities that makes them work and applying those principles before diving into a social or community based marketing initiative.  It is also valuable to think about the technology available that is available to help connect and bring people together, because done well, its this kind of stuff that can help an experience mean so much more.

(Splendour photos courtesy of Alex Luther)

Brand socialising

I recently went to a trendy cocktail bar in Sydney.  I admit my small town girl roots mean I still get pretty excited about the glamour of these places and all the beautiful people who go there.

I was unpleasantly surprised however, when I had to wait almost 15 minutes to be served a drink and the bar person who did looked at me like it was totally cramping her style to even be talking to me.

Post my belittling bar experience I scuttled back to the safety of my friend, who obviously clocked my deflated face, “don’t worry about it – they recruit here for attitude. It’s part of their whole ‘exclusive’ brand experience” she mocked. “You should feel lucky you get to be here!”

I looked back at the bar, with its dismissive beautiful people looking miserable and moodily out onto the crowd and thought how utterly bizarre, yet brandedly brilliant this was.

There is something fascinating in a person physically purposefully ‘being’ a brand in their approach and interaction with others.  Supreme Skateboards are a brand famous for their purposely arrogant, and almost obnoxious attitude to credibly be seen as a relevant skate brand tapping into the subculture around that scene.

We also see this in recruiting people to work in our own organisations – whether they posess our company ‘DNA’, but because people are all unique in our own ways, we always bring a little bit of ourselves to our representation of our brand.  Plus, we behave differently on different days, different times, with different people and in different situations.  We typically have more layers than a brand onion.  You can never fully control an individual being the bar person. Nor would you want to, because that is what makes the interaction more real, more human and feel right for the social situation you’re in.

Is social media any different to this?  We use our social networks to interact and communicate with our friends.  As people we expect to interact with other people in this forum.  Not plastic, unpersonalised brands.  We don’t want to hear it.  In fact, as Grace Gordon pointed out in JC’s blog a few weeks ago – we are switching off to being targeted by the “beast that is facebook” and restricting to our inner online circles where we can interact with other people we have relationships with.

Trying too hard to be perfect?

Online, we have the ability to put in processes that have ultimate control over everything we say.  Unlike the bar or the skate shop, where an individual can become their own interpretation of the brand, in social media every word we publish and respond with can be scrutinised and in some cases, be legally approved, before being broadcast, but my impression, like or dislike of you will still be judged on how you behave in the social context of where we are and if you feel like a ‘person’ I want to talk to and potential have a relationship with.

An example of that this week was when Cussons tried to tell people about their ‘amazing’ products on Twitter.  Again and again, the same, shiny, polished ad copy was pumped out.  Presumably to ensure no-one missed the valuable information they were giving us.

What happened?  No-one really cared, except being  met with retaliation.

With brands though, it can’t all be freestyled either, we know we have to be careful about what we say and what we do online, while the guy in the Supreme store might break his aloof poise to help the cute girl who visits the store that day will go unnoticed, the internet never forgets, it captures every interaction and its open for all to see, including the senior members of staff and the legal department.

So, how do we balance behaving like people in social spaces, while abiding by brand law?  How do you define  your brand’s approach for social spaces in such a way people want to share and connect with you?  How do you create a relationship they will get something out of too?

3 potential approaches I’ve seen.

1 – Be a person(ality)

People and characters are more interesting than brands.  They posess characteristics we can empathise with and enjoy interacting with and they can adapt their behaviour in a more natural way to the environment they are in.

When I went home last year to the UK I was shocked at how popular a character created for a financial services comparison site had become.  To the extent people could buy soft toys, pencil cases and even garden ornaments of Aleksandr Orlov, the Meerkat.

Whilst social media allows us to build a more 3 dimensional character to engage with for fans, that we have control over, I think there will always be a reliance on other media featuring that character to build an awareness and a desire to interact with them online.   Bertrum Thumbcat pulls in more fans than the Cravendale Milk ad he’s in, but I suspect the TV ad has a lot to do with his success on facebook.

Characters can be a good way to play in this space in an interesting way.  But you should also ask why and what you are willing to invest time and budget in developing a whole character that will build a relationship with your audience, what that says about your brand and what it will do for you.

2 – Be a real person behind the brand.

We are seeing more and more that brands who do a customer service job in social media space allow the people doing the work to attach their name to the post and response.  I like this approach, because again it allows us to add a more human layer to the interaction and you’ll often see the customer start to refer to the team member by name.

3 – Be the entertainment

At any party or social occasion there is the band, the comedian or the storyteller at the table that keeps the conversation going or just keeps people smiling  - which gives us a more positive, happy vibe.

We know the internet is full of lurkers who watch and love stuff out there, but may not ever interact with it.   When using Facebook’s Sponsored Stories I found it interesting that the posts getting the highest number of views interestingly weren’t always the ones with the most interactions.

Whilst being a great way to engage people with your brand, it may be the toughest to measure the impact of your work.

Two of my own personal favourite pages that do that in the US are

Skittles

Mentos

Again, you need to decide if that is the approach that is right for your brand and if you have a credible service or product to do this without cynical backlash.

Can brands be social?

Yes.  Its a great way to have more of a personality that people can build more of a relationship with your brand around.  Essentially, so they’ll just like you more.  However,  you need to carefully consider who you are, what the environment is and how you will behave in it.  Think about how you yourself would want to be perceived before entering a party, what types of people would want to talk to you and why?  What will make you interesting for them?  Otherwise, you run the risk of being that daggy, dull person that everyone awkwardly ignores.

Let’s get engaged

I saw this video last week.   I actually watched it twice.  Closet massive romantic at heart, always ready to be enchanted by a good love story.

Then I showed it to my flatmate.  We cooed over it together.  But that time I realised the shots of the car were rather professionally art directed…

I, like many of the people in the comments stream suspect it is a piece of branded content for Ford.   The branded YouTube channel and website that have popped up in the last few days would suggest there is certainly more happiness to share in the coming tales of Matt & Ginny and their shiny red Ford.

Another happy moment witnessed at the weekend was when  two teenage girls standing next to me at a tram stop in Melbourne spontaneously started rein-acting this Tiffany ad on the panel opposite them.

Putting their arms around each other and walking up the lane,  one mockingly stares into the other’s eyes asks the other if one day she’ll buy her some Tiffany, as they erupt into a fit of giggles.  I was gutted I didn’t quite manage to get their picture in time.

It’s so easy to get addicted to all  the oxytocin and thrill of ‘likes’ and interactions, (an ever popular discussion point in the Sydney Community Manager group) but both Matt & Ginny, if they are a piece of marketing and the Tiffany ad reminded me about the importance and the magic of being able to truly engage with people and make them smile by telling stories with our brands.

Because just liking someone will never make a long lasting love story.