Our brains are incredible. They make new connections throughout our lives, constantly build new pathways and maintain information already stored. With hardware like this, it is difficult to understand why we often struggle with creative thinking.
Sparking creativity is difficult without the right tool set. Next time you are stuck in a creativity rut, try these “warm-ups”:
Think outside the box. Our brains are capable of exploring multiple pathways. Use this to your advantage by viewing an idea from various angles. Ask yourself questions that evoke different responses and meanings, i.e. emotional, physical and conceptual.
Work up a sweat. Next time your creative brainstorming session hits a roadblock, take a quick walk around the block. Exercise Exercise gets blood pumping to your brain and creates a positive mood, making it an excellent way to get your creative juices flowing.
Pencil in some creative time. When filling out your weekly schedule, dedicate an hour or two for creativity. Scheduling creative time will allow you to focus solely on creativity without added distractions. I suggest activities like painting, gardening or even discovering new music.
Looking for additional creativity inspiration? Click here for more creativity boosting tips and tricks.
Tagged Creativity tips, Laura Jung, Morningstar Communications
In today’s information rich world, people form opinions and make decisions based on what they see and hear online, in print and by word-of-mouth. This makes it more important than ever to proactively manage your company’s reputation through strategic communications, including thought leadership and a drumbeat of consistent communication. It’s through these practices that the information your brand advocates, customers and clients find is created and distributed.
Through content, including blogs, white papers, bylines, social media, etc., companies can demonstrate thought leadership to differentiate themselves from the competition. When a BtoB buyer decides to make a purchasing decision, prior to forming an opinion, they research and consider these things along with what they are hear through word-of-mouth. These things often occur before the decision maker ever initiates contact with a company’s representative.
My colleague Holly shared this great graphic from HubSpot that explains the new buying cycle.
Each of these touch points distinctively form a company’s reputation, and it’s our job as communications professionals to ensure it’s a good one. The importance of your reputation can be seen in several studies:
In short, your reputation is your greatest asset, and it’s important you diligently and proactively manage how others think of you.Tagged Content Marketing, Tricia Jaworski
You are a brand, and at all times, you are an extension of your brand. Not only are you a brand for yourself, but you also represent the brand reputation of your company and your clients. That’s a lot to take in, but as a professional in the always evolving and incredibly active world of PR, communications, marketing and advertising – we know this fact to be true. What you do, say, post, wear, etc., speaks for more than just you.
Heavy stuff, isn’t it? But, if we already know this, why blog on the topic? Because time-after-time I witness painful personal fails as people get a little too comfortable or have a little too much fun, seemingly not aware that they still represent their team, their company and their clients after 5:00 p.m.
We’re fortunate to work amongst exciting, innovative industries – industries that allow us to step away from our desks to attend networking events, client happy hours and trade shows and events in great locations. We work in a fun industry, so by no means should you eliminate fun from this job – it’s one of the best parts. In fact, our clients often like working with us because we’re an enjoyable group.
It’s important to simply balance having fun and enjoying yourself with the knowledge that you’re representing your company and clients at all times. Remember: you are always on, and people associate multiple brand reputations with you as a person whether you’re at your desk or not.
So, what can we do to ensure we’re on top of our game as professionals while still enjoying the perks of the industry?
Act with tact: Just as your mother told you: be tactful, considerate, perceptive, polite and responsible. Easy enough, right? Keep in mind that your actions and your words both speak loudly. Keep simple courtesies in mind when networking, when engaging on social media sites and especially when sharing opinions or advice. Keep it clean and don’t be sloppy. Ensure your behavior matches the image your company and clients want portray.
Don’t get too comfortable: Whether you’re with colleagues, clients or other contacts, it’s typically a good move to leave the dire personal stories and experiences to yourself. In short, be friendly, but don’t be too friendly. It’s wonderful to love your clients and associates, but lines can be crossed. Don’t let what you intend to be a private joke or silly, personal story turn into a nightmare after the fact. Word gets around, and you want to come off as professional, even after hours. Don’t permit your actions one night to jeopardize the respect you’ve earned over time. Although you feel comfortable in good company, be careful not to release private information that was intended to be strictly between you and a client. Don’t give your associates and clients a reason to think you’re anything less than fabulous all around. A drink or two might be a great bonding experience, and silly stories can be fun for all – but just keep them clean and appropriate.
Prep as much as possible: It’s fair to say that in this industry, things come up. On any given day you might rush out of the office to assist a client with an interview or meet up with a journalist at an after hours event. So be prepared. Before you leave, take time to think about why you are going, and keep those goals in mind. Pack your business cards, brush up on recent articles, trends and general news that pertain to the industry and your client. Being perceptive and tactful comes in here once again – but so does being fun. You want people to want to work with you. So, before you run out the door in a hurry, take two minutes to think about with whom you’re going to spend time. Maybe you’ll find a funny meme on their Twitter account you can bond over. Who knows? Little things like this make you memorable and enjoyable. You’re more likely to get somewhere with a journalist or a business partner who knows you’re not only intelligent and poised, but also generally informed and fun to be around.
Attitude is everything: For the most part, we’re a bunch of Type A people in this industry. Type A to a T. Don’t be a wallflower when there is fun and networking opportunities to be had. Ask questions; compliment someone on their fun shoe selection, whatever it takes to strike up a conversation. Smile, talk about your company, your agency, your client, the news, the latest autotuned news piece – establish relationships, that’s the kicker. You might be at a party, but you’re there for your company or client. Word will get around that you’re the person always sitting in the corner or that you’re the person everyone wants to talk to.
Know your limits: In this industry, you may find yourself at a good party from time to time. Alcohol is typically present, and often free flowing. At these events, you are often, “Mrs. Smith representing (insert fabulous client name here).” Mind your P’s and Q’s and know your limits. Don’t be the person your client mentions Monday morning while discussing people who went too far at the party, and certainly don’t be the person your associates have to carry out.Tagged best practices, brand, brand recognition, Marketing, Morningstar Communications, Networking, preparation, professionalism, public relations, Susan Hinds, tips and tricks
Over the past 10+ years, I have moved and made new homes from one city to another, one state to the next, from the northern hemisphere to the southern and back. Still, I can tell you from experience, nothing compares to moving offices. It does not matter if you are moving across town or just a few miles up the road; the amount of work that goes into it is staggering. As we prepare for our move, we realize with each passing day how much work is involved and how stressful moving can be. Of course, it will be well worth it in the end.
Following are some tips to deal with and beat the move blues:
1. Get organized: Being uber-organized is one of the most important steps when preparing for a move. Keep a file or an e-file, with everything that involves your move: a checklist of all the things you want to get accomplished before the big day, contact names and phone numbers of various contractors, architects, designers and handymen that you may need to get in touch with any given time, plus the utility companies for your current space as well as the new office.
2. Declutter and clean up: Moving offices is the perfect time for you to get rid of all the things you are hoarding in the current office that you’ve got stashed away in a cupboard somewhere collecting dust. If you haven’t used something in the last six months, it’s likely that you don’t need it and it can be given away or disposed of. This can be a fun exercise if you get all your staff involved in the process. We used a portion of our summer play day last year dividing our staff into teams with incentives to win prizes for the oldest item and coolest item found. We all had a blast and we amassed a large amount of items we were able to clear out of the office.
3. Hire a reputable office moving company: As soon as you know when you will be moving, the next important step will be to contact various movers to get a bid and then choose the one that best fits your needs and budget. It’s very important to be clear about what exactly they will be doing for you. Pay specific attention to uninstallation at the current space and reinstallation at the new space. Some companies do not want to be involved in that step because of potential damage to walls and will offer you third party solutions which may be a cost you weren’t planning on including in your original move budget. Finding a company that offers an all-encompassing solution may be a better time saving option for you, even at a slightly higher cost.
4. Start packing: Once you have signed on with a moving company, they will provide you with appropriate packing materials (see picture below for what we will be using). Start with the nonessential items first. That way when you are in the new office, and need something in a hurry, you are not having to unpack your whole box to get to the important item right at the bottom. When packing your office possessions, label every box but do not list items included out on the label. If you do need to know what is in each box, using a note app on your smartphones, tablets or even a simple notepad can be the best solution. Use color coded labels to mark what goes and what stays back. It is also a good idea to mark where in the new office this box will go especially if you already know the floor plan and designated cube/office space. Also clearly mark boxes if fragile items are inside.
5. Keep consistent communication with movers and other key contacts: As it gets closer to the big day, it is a good idea to get in touch with the movers, contractors and other key contacts to make sure all is still as planned. There are always unexpected things that can happen – weather issues, illness, mechanical problems – and keeping on top of it by being in contact with these resources will help with identifying a backup plan or being prepared for delays.
6. Be prepared to notify important contacts of your move: Set up with USPS to have your mail forwarded to your new office with change-of-address forms. This can easily be done online on usps.com or by heading in to your local post office. Have your website updated with the correct mailing information. Notify all the local services you use about your impending change of address.
7. Set up necessary services at the new office: Coordinate with phone/Internet companies to set you up at the new office on the day of the move to avoid unnecessary delays to your company’s productivity. The last thing you need is to come in on your first day at the new office to find your essential services not working as they should be. This not only adds to what has undoubtedly been a stressful last few weeks, but is now affecting your business and clients.
It takes a lot of energy, planning and organization to accomplish a successful, mostly painless office move. The above tips should help you on your next one.Morningstar Communications, Suchitra Kamath
Spring is the perfect time of year to declutter and refresh both at home and at the office. My spring cleaning routine includes cleaning out my closet, desk drawer and garage.
I recently came across an article on Entrepreneur.com entitled “4 Ways to Spring Clean Your Brand.” This article resonated with me. Like my closet, brands are constantly changing and growing, and if left unattended, they become messy, crowded and outdated. Here are the four recommended tips for giving your brand a good spring cleaning:
1. Renovate your audience. Target audiences may change over time. Taking a second glance at your current audience allows you to refocus your priorities and locate where you should be planting new business seeds. Ask yourself whether or not you are reaching the most relevant people to your brand.
2. Refresh your services. After looking into your audience, examine all that your company offers to them. Do your products and services still work for your customers, or do they require something new? Transcend customer satisfaction. Even if customers are content, you want to surpass expectations.
3. Examine your online presence. Customers’ opinions matter. Try doing a quick online search of your company. What are the reviews? Are customers happy with you or are they looking for change? Staying on top of what others are saying about your company will allow you to better serve their needs.
4. Stay on top of your social media tools. Staying up-to-date on the latest and greatest social media apps can be tricky, but it is important for your brand to be “in the know.” Is your company accessible through various social media outlets? Is all of your information updated and accurate? Think about which social networks best communicate your brand messages.Tagged Laura Jung, Morningstar Communications, Spring Cleaning Business Tips
“There’s an app for that.”
You might remember those Apple commercials that further opened our eyes to the evolution of digital technology. It’s marvelous how far mobile technology has come – even in the past five years.
At what point do we hit a wall? When do we run out of ideas? When will we have everything we could possibly need right at our fingertips?
While there seems to be an app for almost everything these days, here are a few mobile application ideas I would like to see come to life. Entrepreneurs and relevant brands interested in making a killing, and better communicating with their customers in the digital age, should work on developing the following apps:
Dude, where’s my car (going)?
It would be awesome if venues like sports arenas and airports could monitor their parking lots and let customers know where they can park. It would reduce traffic and time wasted searching for open parking spots.
Here’s the trick: Customers can find a parking spot, reserve it and must arrive at the space within 30 minutes after putting the spot on hold. Once at the spot, the customer must scan a bar code provided by the app to a nearby parking meter. Yes, there are vehicle owners who won’t play by the rules and just might take your spot. But they’ll have a price to pay – facing hefty ticket or towing fees.
Installing this kind of technology is expensive, but it would improve customer satisfaction. Is there anything more important than that?
Make me over
I know hair/make up experimentation apps are out there, but they can be taken a step further. Rather than conducting another experiment, how about we bring in an expert? People can upload one or more pictures of themselves, and based on their skin tone, eyebrow color, bone structure, etc., the app can offer a complete makeover with achievable hair styles and make up techniques, then provide tips on how to go about completing the look in real life.
Yes, this sounds more like an app for the ladies, but let’s bring men into the equation. Makeovers do not have to be limited to a person’s face. The (credible, well-known) mastermind behind the app can suggest clothing styles that flatter a person’s body type, once he or she uploads a full frame photo.
The app should offer giveaways and rewards as incentives for those who really mean business about revamping their physical appearances. It will increase loyalty, as well as position the app developer as a credible source not only behind the counter, but also on the go via digital technology.
Yes, we have Pandora, which offers suggestions of artists to listen to based on your current stream. Let’s take this wonderful program to the next level.
About a couple times a month, I get the urge to transform my music library and add new playlists. However, discovering new music can be extremely time consuming. It’s one thing to scroll through social media and blogs to uncover new tunes, but it is another to actually take the time to listen to them and evaluate whether or not they’re worth keeping.
Another time saving app would be one that scans my existing iTunes library and not only recommends similar artists, but songs that I’d probably enjoy because of similar harmonies and what-have-you. Suddenly, discovering new music would no longer be such a chore. In fact, it would be a fun, productive experience.
Which of these three apps seem plausible to create and keep, and would best connect with its customers?
If you know of mobile applications similar to these ideas – please let me know! I would love to learn about them.Tagged Hannah Babcock, mobile marketing
In the Star Trek episode called Darmok Captain Picard is stranded on a planet with an alien called Captain Dathon. In spite of the fact that they both had Universal Translators they had considerable difficulties understanding each other. Dathon kept on saying “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” but since Picard didn’t know what Darmok, Jalad or Tanagra is, he couldn’t understand the meaning behind Dathon’s words.
They were missing the cultural context.
As night fell, Dathon lit a fire for warmth, but Picard was unable to. Dathon handed Picard a branch from his fire and said to Picard, “Temba, his arms wide.” Finally, Picard realized that Dathon was trying to help him and that Dathon’s language used metaphors for communication.
In this song by Melanie Amaro she says that she wants her boyfriend to be more than just a picture on her screen.
Just ten years ago, people would have thought that she was talking about a television instead of her smartphone.
One hundred years ago Ms. Amaro would have been talking about a movie.
We all use metaphors in our everyday conversation, but communication problems happen when we don’t know the context behind the metaphors. As Laura Jung, one of our interns, pointed out in her blog earlier this week, communication problems can wreak havoc on international relationships. In his blog Brian Henderson shares ten “lost in translation” gaffes that cost millions of dollars in lost opportunities, including one of my favorites. When the Chinese translated the Pepsi slogan “We bring you back to life,” a little bit too literally. To the Chinese it meant “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.”
As communicators we must be watchdogs for our clients. We need to understand their key audiences well enough to judge how they will react and know the hidden context.
Effective communication requires more than a universal translator; understanding the context behind the words is key. Imagine how much more compelling the conversation between Picard and Dathon would have been if Picard knew that Darmok and Jalad worked together, to fight a common enemy, in an epic battle at Tanagra.
PS. As I was researching this article I discovered that Microsoft is developing a real Universal Translator. I wonder if their translator will be able to handle Klingon and Vulcan.Tagged Effective Communication, International Communications, Shanny Morgenstern, Star Trek, Universal Translators
Making the leap from the domestic market to the international market is no easy feat for American companies, but going global opens a whole new realm of possibilities. While many large U.S. corporations have made it into the global market, it can be a challenge for smaller companies. Expanding and successfully maintaining a company overseas, while maintaining a positive reputation, can be tricky.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel abroad to Budapest, Hungary. While I was there, and when I wasn’t distracted by the breathtaking architecture, I noticed there were only a handful of U.S. companies in business there, all of which were major corporations. I began to wonder how American companies could build and maintain a positive reputation abroad. I did a bit of research and discovered the key is cultural pre-adjustment. This means a company needs to be well adjusted to the new culture before it even arrives. Here are a few general tips that can be utilized for your company’s cultural pre-adjustment.
Understand the culture inside and out. Take the time to study up on the country’s culture. Begin by spending an afternoon at your local library or surfing the web to gain insight into the culture. Once you have a basic understanding, consider hiring a cross-cultural training specialist who can assist you and your company in preparing to move abroad. Knowing the culture will provide you with a new understanding of and appreciation for your potential customers abroad. Be sure to learn the business specifics of the culture along with the commonplace behaviors, values, etc. Business laws and regulations need to be thoroughly examined and understood prior to your company’s expedition.
Study the language. Language barriers create unnecessary issues for companies attempting to establish themselves abroad. Simple misunderstandings due to language differences can cause a company to lose business partners, investors and customers. Online language programs are a fast and convenient way to learn a foreign tongue. Taking the time to learn another language will ensure clearer communication, resulting in a better reputation abroad.
Be knowledgeable about etiquette and protocol practices. Avoid culture shock and stereotyping by learning about how the country functions on a day-to-day basis. For example, some European countries take two-hour lunch breaks and do not discuss business during meals. Being prepared will make your business partners and clients feel more at ease, as well as demonstrate your company’s leadership and knowledge. It is also useful in avoiding embarrassing situations. For instance, in Western culture, the “thumbs up” sign is positive. In Latin America however, this sign is seen as a huge insult and should never be used. Check out these helpful international business customs tips.
A company’s decision to take the international plunge should be taken seriously. Learn the culture, language and general customs of the country before establishing your company abroad. Your preparedness will not go unnoticed and you will be pleased with the positive reputation that follows.Tagged Business tips, Laura Jung, Morningstar Communications, Travel
The modern business world is like a massive battlefield, in which the combatants are companies and brands constantly fighting for your attention. The greatest of the “gladiator” brands know how to win the crowd, and as a result, the majority of market shares. But the process of winning the crowd isn’t always about mass appeal.
In the modern business world, brands are able to connect on a personal level and attract individuals in a variety of ways. In order to do this, a strong brand must know its role in culture and the lives of its consumers, understand itself completely, and display a level of consistency that helps to maintain its image and message.
Watch and Learn from the Consumer
Brands cannot always rely on their followers to tell them exactly what they want. They must watch and learn from their behaviors in order to adjust and adapt to new trends and stay ahead of competition.
GoPro, now the best selling camera company in the world, adapts and evolves its product based on how its consumers use their cameras. After starting out with a simple camera inside of a waterproof casing that could be mounted to a surfboard, they realized that their newly discovered niche in entertainment was much more expansive than they originally thought. Users were creating home made straps and mounting their product on bike handlebars, helmets, and go carts. GoPro took this in stride and began mass-producing a variety of mounts for all activities.
Be Yourself and Others Will Follow
Just as important as understanding its followers, if not more important, a brand must have a thorough understanding of itself. A brand is not just a trademark or symbol that can be controlled and monitored, it is an idea that exists in the mind of the consumer as an imprint of what the brand represents.
The impression a brand makes on its consumers consists of multiple experiences all combined together to form an idea that not only represents the brand itself, but the desires and attitudes that the consumer associates with that brand.
A great example of solid brand that has found and established its identity is Nike. Over the years, Nike has become a symbol that transcends the sports equipment and clothing market it took root in, and has formed an identity that symbolizes action, ambition, excellence, and overcoming hardship. Their recent commercial illustrates this message perfectly:
For a brand, a sense of identity is crucial when connecting with its followers. Brands must be firm in what they represent and communicate a central idea and message that tells its story and forms its identity in the minds of its followers.
True brand loyalists take up a brand and make it a part of themselves. The brand becomes a representation of the values and attitudes a person wants to embody, and so a solid identity to which a person can relate and adopt as their own is essential.
Consistency is Key
Finally, because a brand is an idea and cannot be controlled in the mind of every consumer it must be consistent with the things it can control in order to create a consistent message and brand image.
Diet Coke is a perfect example of the use of consistent brand imaging resulting in high consumer recognition. Diet Coke has become such a recognizable product that the latest can design is a magnified version of the company’s typographic logo.
In addition to its image, a brand must also be consistent in its messaging. A brand that attempts to be everything at once is like a person that is always following the crowd. While they may be comfortable with just fitting in, their own sense of identity is lost.
Brands cannot be followers if they want to succeed, they must push the edge and find the specific things that they want to represent. This is where relationships are formed between brands and followers. Brands must be the object of desire and the image, not just of a product or service, but of the promise they will give to their followers and the identity they create.
Tagged Branding, Cocacola, GoPro, Korab Eland, Morningstar Communications, Nike, Success
This week Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines after banning any form of telecommuting or working from home, effective this June. As one of the world’s leading tech companies, employees and the public alike were surprised by this ban. In a confidential memo leaked by Yahoo employees, Yahoo Senior HR Executive Jackie Reses says, “speed and quality are often sacrificed” when employees work remotely. Communication and collaboration were additional reasons given for the new mandate.
I find this story particularly interesting, having worked from home quite a bit during snowstorms this past week. I’ve found that, depending on the type of work, I am equally (if not more) productive when working from home. For me, it provides both a comfortable and disruption free environment. I also gain time that is usually lost during the commute.
Don’t get me wrong, while working from home I miss seeing my colleagues, and there are certain things that work best in a face-to-face environment. But technology makes it easier than ever before for employees to work efficiently anytime, from anywhere, and there have been numerous studies on the benefits of telecommuting.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Yahoo has opened up a larger dialogue on telecommuting and working from home in today’s business world. With the tools and technology available, businesses need to be flexible with employees because they’ve come to expect it. Not only can employees be productive while working remotely, accommodating employees can help boost job satisfaction.
What do you think about Yahoo’s new policy?Tagged Michelle Boyd, Morningstar Communications, Telecommuting, Working from Home, Yahoo Controversy