Moz’s 2014 Annual Report

Posted by SarahBird

Moz has a tradition of sharing its financials (check out 2012 and 2013 for funzies). It’s an important part of TAGFEE.

Why do we do it? Moz gets its strength from the community of marketers and entrepreneurs that support it. We celebrated 10 years of our community last October. In some ways, the purpose of this report is to give you an inside look into our company. It’s one of many lenses that tell the story of Moz.

Yep. I know. It’s April. I’m not proud. Better late than never, right?

I had a very long and extensive version of this post planned, something closer to last year’s extravaganza. I finally had to admit to myself that I was letting the perfect become the enemy of the good (or at least the done). There was no way I could capture an entire year’s worth of ups and downs—along with supporting data—in a single blog post.

Without further ado, here’s the meat-and-potatoes 2014 Year In Review (and here’s an infographic with more statistics for your viewing pleasure!):

Moz ended 2014 with $31.3 million in revenue. About $30 million was recurring revenue (mostly from subscriptions to Moz Pro and the API).

Here’s a breakdown of all our major revenue sources:

Compared to previous years, 2014 was a much slower growth year. We knew very early that it was going to be a tough year because we started Q1 with negative growth. We worked very hard and successfully shifted the momentum back to increasingly positive quarterly growth rates. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. We still have a long ways to go to meet our potential, but we’re on the path.

In subscription businesses, If you start the year with negative or even slow growth it is very hard to have meaningful annual growth. All things being equal, you’re better off having a bad quarter in Q4 than Q1. If you get a new customer in Q1, you usually earn revenue from that customer all year. If you get a new customer in Q4, it will barely make a dent in that year, although it should set you up nicely for the following year.

We exited 2014 on a good flight path, which bodes well for 2015. We slammed right into some nasty billing system challenges in Q1 2015, but still managed to grow revenue 6.5%. Mad props to the team for shifting momentum last year and for digging into the billing system challenges we’re experiencing now.

We were very successful in becoming more efficient and managing costs in 2014. Our Cost of Revenue (COR), the cost of producing what we sell, fell by 30% to $8.2 million. These savings drove our gross profit margin up from 63% in 2013 to 74%.

Our operating profit increased by 30%. Here’s a breakdown of our major expenses (both operating expenses and COR):

Total operating expenses (which don’t include COR) clocked in at about $29.9 million this year.

The efficiency gains positively impacted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) by pushing it up 50% year over year. In 2013, EBITDA was -$4.5 million. We improved it to -$2.1 million in 2014. We’re a VC-backed startup, so this was a planned loss.

One of the most dramatic indicators of our improved efficiency in 2014 is the substantial decline in our consumption of cash.

In 2014, we spent $1.5 million in cash. This was a planned burn, and is actually very impressive for a startup. In fact, we are intentionally increasing our burn, so we don’t expect EBITDA and cash burn to look as good in 2015! Hopefully, though, you will see that revenue growth rate increase.

Let’s check in on some other Moz KPIs:

At the end of 2014, we reported a little over 27,000 Pro users. When billing system issues hit in Q1 2015, we discovered some weird under- and over-reporting, so the number of subscribers was adjusted down by about ~450 after we scrubbed a bunch of inactive accounts out of the database. We expect accounts to stabilize and be more reliable now that we’ve fixed those issues.

We launched Moz Local about a year ago. I’m amazed and thrilled that we were able to end the year managing 27,000 locations for a range of customers. We just recently took our baby steps into the UK, and we’ve got a bunch of great additional features planned. What an incredible launch year!

We published over 300 posts combined on the Moz Blog and YouMoz. Nearly 20,000 people left comments. Well done, team!

Our content and social efforts are paying off with a 26% year-over-year increase in organic search traffic.

We continue to see good growth across many of our off-site communities, too:

The team grew to 149 people last year. We’re at ~37% women, which is nowhere near where I want it to be. We have a long way to go before the team reflects the diversity of the communities around us.

Our paid, paid vacation perk is very popular with Mozzers, and why wouldn’t it be? Everyone gets $3,000/year to use toward their vacations. In 2014, we spent over $420,000 to help our Mozzers take a break and get connected with matters most.

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Also, we’re hiring! You’ll have my undying gratitude if you send me your best software engineers. Help us, help you. 😉

Last, but certainly not least, Mozzers continue to be generous (the ‘G’ in TAGFEE) and donate to the charities of their choice. In 2014, Mozzers donated $48k, and Moz added another $72k to increase the impact of their gifts. Combining those two figures, we donated $120k to causes our team members are passionate about. That’s an average of $805 per employee!

Mozzers are optimists with initiative. I think that’s why they are so generous with their time and money to folks in need. They believe the world can be a better place if we act to change it.

That’s a wrap on 2014! A year with many ups and downs. Fortunately, Mozzers don’t quit when things get hard. They embrace TAGFEE and lean into the challenge.

Revenue is growing again. We’re still operating very efficiently, and TAGFEE is strong. We’re heads-down executing on some big projects that customers have been clamoring for. Thank you for sticking with us, and for inspiring us to make marketing better every day.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Thank You for 10 Incredible Years

Posted by randfish

Below are letters written to you all (yes, you!) from both Rand and Sarah.

The first is from Rand:

Dear Moz Community,

Wow. Ten years. It’s been an incredible ride. Through the ups and downs (and there have been 
plenty of both), there haven’t been many constants in my life—my wife, Seattle, and, strangely enough—you, the Moz community. From my first days on the blog and in the forums of the SEO world, when I was deeply in debt and had no idea how to dig my way out, to the incredible rush of 2007 and 2012 when we raised funding rounds and felt like the sky was the limit, you’ve been there. And in the darkest hours of the past decade, when I’ve felt the most alone, guilty, and insecure, you’ve been there, too.

I get to see many of you in person—at conferences and events around the world. But I get to see you right here on the web, too—on Twitter, in the comments, through my email. Your support, empathy, and unwavering belief that Moz could and would do great things has been a beacon of hope and a challenge that I constantly strive to meet.

A decade is a long time. Few things in our lives or in the world last that long—the average tech startup 
doesn’t quite make two years. I’m honored and humbled that you’ve stuck with us all that time, and I promise that in the decade ahead, Moz will deliver more and better work in the areas you need most. We believe in making data that others hide transparent and accessible. We believe in delivering remarkable education and software that everyone can afford. We believe that all of this can be done not just without evil, but with real generosity of spirit and action.

Thank you for the ten remarkable years of warmth, friendship, and support. We absolutely couldn’t have done it without you, nor can we take the next steps without your help. I hope you’ll keep holding us to high standards, and telling us when we’ve met your expectations and when we’ve let you down.

With deep appreciation,

Rand Fishkin

Co-founder & individual contributor

Moz

The second letter is from Moz’s CEO, and one of the company’s earliest employees, Sarah Bird:

Dear Moz Community,

Moz is the steward of this community, but it’s owned by everyone who contributes with posts, comments, shares, and visits. Many, many people have passed through the community, leaving an indelible mark. I get emotional remembering the humor and generosity of 
Goodnewscowboy. I’m grateful and relieved that Dana Lookadoo is still fighting the good fight. I’m STILL impressed with the solid that Rhea Drysdale did the SEO community when she fought a nasty trademark battle on the community’s behalf. I salute all of the folks, and there have been many, who’ve been a force for good in my life and helped us all to take our game to the next level.

Our community is dynamic, but always TAGFEE. In fact, I’ve come to believe it is the truest expression of TAGFEE. People share openly and without a promise of getting anything in return (TAG). It’s a positive and supportive environment to become your best professional self (FEE). I’m proud that the Moz community is one of the few places on the web I’m not afraid to read the comments; I seek them out because they are consistently insightful and stimulating.

Thank you to those who paused here for a bit before continuing on your journeys, and for those who have stuck with us. There are people out there RIGHT NOW who haven’t yet discovered the Moz community, and who are going to help us keep it amazing in the future. I can’t wait to meet them. Without all of you, there is nothing here.

It’s been 10 years, but there is still a lot to learn and a lot to teach. It still feels like day one. The pace of innovation has increased, and the stakes are higher. We strive to share, adapt, and become the most TAGFEE and impactful professionals we can be. Thank you for creating a space to do that every day. Together, we dig deeper and go farther than would be possible without each other. Let’s keep it going and growing for the next ten years.

Hugs and High Fives,

Sarah Bird

CEO

Moz

If you have any fun or interesting memories from the last 10 years, whether they’re related to Moz, SEO, or whatever you think we might like to hear about (we’re feeling awfully nostalgic), please share them in the comments below!

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Reblogged 4 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

A Content Strategy Template You Can Build On

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Picture it. A room full of executives from a company you never thought you could land as a client. They’re so engaged in what they are saying that they’re leaning forward in their chairs. The CEO looks poised to ask a question but you can tell she doesn’t want to interrupt your flow.

This is the moment content strategists dream of.

But if you’re like me, it’s easy to get caught up in how new the field is and wonder, “Am I even doing this right?” There are lots of posts to help you, such as 
How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy and Content Strategy: You’re Doing it Wrong. There are also comprehensive guides to creating content strategies. There’s even an epic list of content strategy resources. And there are books (my favorite is Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web).

Still, sometimes you just want to peek over someone else’s shoulder at a concrete example to see if there’s anything you can learn. This can be especially true if you’re working in-house and don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of.

So, I built a
template.

What a content strategy should look like

Content strategies take many forms, from a 50-page word document to an hour-long PowerPoint presentation. That means this template is not meant to be gospel. Instead, it introduces you to the many moving parts that make up a content strategy and gives you an example of how I, based on the years I spent consulting on content strategies for everything from stock photography to software as a service, would write it up.

Peek over my shoulder to get your next strategy started, or just to get a glimpse of how someone else approaches a strategy. Build on this template and make it your own. You’ll find that the template is written from an agency perspective (with lots of references to “the client”) but it works equally well if you are in-house and are writing for that one, all-important client—your boss.

What goes into a content strategy

The content strategy template walks you through researching and writing up the three key elements of a content strategy: what content looks like now, what it should look like, and the ecosystem in which content is created.

Content today

A strategy should provide an assessment of the client’s current content, as well as insight into their competitors’ content. That assessment may include any or all of the following:

  • Personas 
  • Stakeholder interviews 
  • Content inventory 
  • Content audit 
  • Gap analysis 
  • Competitive analysis

Content in the future

Then you want to show your client where the content should take them and how they can use various channels to get there. Some of
many places content resides are:

Onsite content 

  • Homepage
  • Landing pages 
  • Category pages 
  • Product descriptions 
  • Blog 
  • Error pages 
  • Etc.

Offsite content 

  • Emails 
  • Social media 
  • Brochures 
  • Packaging 
  • Invoices 
  • Voicemail messages 
  • Etc.

Governance (aka the content ecosystem)

Finally, you want to think about the environment in which the content gets created—the governance of content. This includes:

  • Brand, voice, and style guidelines 
  • Workflow analysis 
  • Best practices for writing on the web 
  • SEO tips 
  • Editorial calendar

See the template for more in-depth descriptions of all of these elements as well as some of my favorite tools to get them done.

Again, take these pieces and use them to create your own template. Each strategy you do will require its own tweaks, but this will give you the leg up to put your own stamp on this emerging field.

The storytelling of content strategy

My brand of content strategy, and you’ll see this reflected a little in the template, is that a content strategy is a story. For a deeper understanding of this, check out the Mozinar I gave a few weeks ago,
The Storytelling of Content Strategy.

Basically, I advocate for taking the elements of fiction and using them to get a fresh perspective on a brand’s journey toward a goal.

Here’s how the five elements of a story are also the basis of a content strategy:

1. Brands and customers are heroes

A content strategy can either be about a brand’s journey to land a customer (useful when a brand is new or has lost its way), or a content strategy can be about a customer’s journey and how the brand can help. See the webinar for an example of each.

2. Your current landscape is your ground situation

You can’t start a strategy until you know where your hero is coming from. Most of the initial research you do—from
stakeholder interviews to content inventories and audits—is to understand the starting point of your strategy. This is where the journey begins. You will be measuring all future success against the understanding you build of this landscape.

3. Goals articulate your central desire

You can’t plot a strategy if you don’t know what direction the brand wants to grow. Goals should come from the brand itself, but you might find that the brand needs a little coaching. It’s helpful if you distinguish overall business goals from content goals. They are related, but there are some goals (e.g. reducing employee turnover) that content plays a much smaller role in achieving. Setting specific goals for your content strategy also lets you get more granular about some goals in which content is the star player (e.g. increasing email open rate).

4. Competitors are antagonists

Even if you’re going to write the most TAGFEE content strategy ever, you still need to figure out where your competitors are and how you can learn from their example. And it’s important to remember that because of the way search engines work, your business competitors might be different than your SERP competitors. Ideally a content strategy will address both.

5. Plot is strategy

At this point in the story, you know who the players are, what’s working and what’s not, and have some ideas about how to move forward to achieve those goals.

When I write up a strategy, I think about them as though I were plotting a novel. Each tactic or channel is a way to move the brand closer to those goals. What obstacles might they encounter? Who are they competing with in the space? How can they master this tactic or channel? And how can content help them achieve their goals and ride happily off into the sunset?

Making a content strategy your own

Now it’s time to
download that template and see what story your content strategy is trying to tell. Once you’re confident in the strategy you’re presenting, you’ll have the complete attention of every executive in that conference room. And, with any luck, they’ll refer you to their friends. 

I want to learn from you, too. Is there anything you’d include in the template that I haven’t covered? Do you have any strategies for success in presenting content strategies or any lessons learned? Please share your ideas and stories in the comments.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 4 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

How to Be TAGFEE when You Disagree

Posted by Lisa-Mozstaff

On being TAGFEE


I’m a big advocate of the TAGFEE culture at Moz. It’s one of the big
reasons I joined the team and why I stay here. I also recognize that sometimes
it can be hard to practice it in “Real Life.” 

How, for instance, can I
be both authentic AND fun when I tell Anthony how angry I am that he
took the last two donuts? I can certainly be transparent and authentic,
but, anger and confrontation…where does that get fun?

But those times when you need to be authentic—those are the times when being generous and empathetic matter the most. It may seem more generous and empathetic to just withhold that difficult feedback, but it’s not. Giving that feedback can be scary, and most people imagine things going horribly wrong and leaving everything in ruins when you really just wanted to help.

Having a little bit of self-awareness and a whole lot of hold-on- there-a-minute can really help with this. I’ve been sharing with other Mozzers a way to be Transparent AND Authentic AND Generous AND Fun AND Empathetic AND Exceptional. And I thought I’d share a little bit of it with you too.

Conflict can be productive

Why it’s important to have productive conflict

Why it matters

If you read about the psychology and physiology of confrontations, you’ll realize that our brains aren’t at their best when we’re in a confrontation.

When threatened, our bodies respond by going back to our most basic, primal instincts, sometimes called the lizard brain or (cue scary music) “amygdala hijack.” Blood and oxygen pump away from your brain and into your muscles so you’re equipped to fight or run away.

However, having your higher-order thinking functions deprived of oxygen when confronted by an angry customer or coworker isn’t such a good thing. Your lizard brain isn’t well-equipped to deal with situations diplomatically, or look at ways to find common ground and a win-win solution. It’s looking to destroy or get the heck out of there (or both), and neither of those approaches work well in a business environment.

To really communicate,*everyone* has to feel safe. If you are calm and collected and using the collaborative parts of your brain, but the person you’re talking to is scared or uncertain, you can’t communicate.

Fighting the lizard

Control the physiological and psychological reactions of fear

When you’re in a confrontation, how do you control the physiological and psychological reactions of fear so you can choose to act rather than react?

To bring your brain back, you need to force your brain to use its higher-order thinking functions. Ask yourself questions that the lizard brain can’t answer, and it’ll have to send some of that oxygen and blood back up into the rest of your brain.

Once you’ve freed your brain from the lizard, you have access to your higher thinking functions – and the resources to have a productive confrontation.

Questions to fight the lizard:

  • Find benevolent intent. Ask yourself what you really want from this interaction. Find an intention that’s benevolent for both you and the other person. Draw on your Empathy and Generosity here. 
  • Get curious. Ask yourself why you or the other person is emotional and seek to understand. The lizard brain hates “why” questions. 

This lizard has no choice, but you do! (Image by Lisa Wildwood)

What does productive conflict look like?

Giving up “winning” to win

Give yourself permission to try something new. Even if you don’t do it perfectly, it’s better than the lizard.

These steps assume you’ve got some time to prepare, but sometimes, you find yourself in a confrontation and have to do the best you can. Give yourself permission to try something new. Even if you don’t do it perfectly, it’s better than the lizard taking over. And the more you practice these, the easier and more natural they’ll feel, and the more confidence you’ll have in the power of productive confrontations.

Once I’ve walked you through all of these steps, I’ll talk about how to put it all together. Also note that these steps may be contrary to how you are used to behaving, particularly if you come from a culture that values personal success over teamwork. It may feel strange to do this at first, and it may feel like you’re giving up the chance to “win”… but it’s worth it.


Steps to productive conflict:

  1. Change your story.
  2. Talk about the right things. 
  3. Get curious.
  4. Inspire and be inspired
  5. Follow up.

1 - Change your story

Create a benevolent story and a positive intent

The first step to Productive Conflict is to change your story. And to do that, you first have to realize you’re telling stories in the first place…

We’re all amazing storytellers

We all make up stories every time we see something happen. It’s human nature.

Here’s my story:

This is Anthony, stealing my donut. He saw me coming and grabbed it
before I could.

He’s munching on my donut while I despair of ever
getting a donut.

I don’t get why he’s so selfish that he took two donuts. I mean, didn’t his mama raise him right?

Imaged cropped from an image courtesy of

Stéfan under Creative Commons license

My story is one we all make up sometimes. We paint ourselves as helpless victims thwarted by an evil villain. Sometimes we don’t see them as stories, however, but as reality, and that’s where we get into trouble.

The victim/villain story may get you sympathy, but it takes away your power. During a confrontation, it helps if you remember that it *is* a story, and it’s also:

  • Internal – Something you made up based on what you’ve seen, assumed, or experienced in the past in a similar situation
  • Of questionable validity. It could be true, partially true, or completely bogus 
  • Mutable!

“Mutable?” you ask. Why, yes, it is!

Changing the story you’re telling yourself is the key to having a productive (and powerful) conversation.

Make a happy story

You can read body language really well. And so can the person you’re talking to.

If you’re going to make up a story, make one up that helps you resolve an important issue and maintain your relationships.

Change your story to the most kind and generous one that fits the facts you’ve seen, and then believe it. Why? Because non-verbal cues, state of mind, fear or anger, and judgments and stories affect your reactions and approach to the conversation.

If you’ve planned your words out carefully but the intent doesn’t match, the other person can tell. If your intent isn’t good, the interaction won’t be good either. At best, you may appear to be trying to do the right thing but not really managing it. At worst, you appear insincere and manipulative.

Here’s your benevolent story, just waiting to hatch
(
Image by Pon Malar on Wikimedia under creative commons license)

How to change your story

To help change your story, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why might a reasonable, intelligent, courteous, kind person do that?
  • Could there be circumstances I’m not aware of that could be contributing?
  • What if it was me? How would I explain what happened from my perspective? Be as lenient/forgiving as you can to your imaginary self
Review the facts… what you’ve seen and what you’ve
chosen to pay attention to. They may all appear to support a nasty
story, but you don’t know for sure. Think of the Rorschach tests…
people see different things depending on how they’re feeling and their
unique view on life, so find a benevolent story.

My new story

So, let’s try this on my story.  I’ll start with the facts,
remove my emotional devastation at not getting a donut, and create a
benevolent story:

  • My facts are: I saw someone take the last two donuts.
  • My new benevolent story is: Anthony didn’t see me, and didn’t know how much I was craving a donut.

What do you see? (Image by Hermann Rorschach (died 1922), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

But my story is true!

Let’s assume for a moment, your not-so-nice story is completely, 100%, bonafide TRUE. This is hard, but consider this carefully… It Doesn’t Matter!

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is the best way to motivate them to change. By creating a benevolent story, you give the person a way to improve AND save face. It’s magic!

Assuming the worst can severely damage your relationships, even if it’s true! Getting caught it a mistake makes people immediately defensive, which will hinder the conversation. Give them a chance to just fix things and they’ll be grateful to you and more inspired to make the change stick.

And then there’s the flip side… what if your story is partly or all wrong? This situation, as you can imagine, is much worse.

You’ll probably never find out what truly happened, and may find yourself arguing about the parts you got wrong rather than the real issue. It also damages the relationship, and here’s the key point: even if the person can get past their anger and hear your message, they will likely not like you, trust you, or want to work with you. And I’ve heard crow tastes really bad.

The power of a benevolent story and positive intent

The last part of changing your story is figuring out what you want from the conversation.

Think about what you want to happen, but also what you want from the relationship. The power of a benevolent story and positive intent is that it fosters a better relationship based on trust . That is huge and I recommend that it be part of the intent of all conversations.

Judgment doublecheck!

When you’re done, go back through what you’ve got down and make sure a not-so-nice story hasn’t crept back in:

  • Remove judgment
  • Check that the issue matches your intent

Some examples

Here’s some examples where I take a nasty story, break it down to the facts, and then create a new, benevolent story and a positive intent for a discussion.

Judgment & Nasty Story

Fact

New Benevolent Story

Positive Intent

What a jerk, he just cut me off! Are you trying to kill me?

A car changed lanes in front of me in a way that I found uncomfortable.

Wow, he must not have seen me.

Let him know a head check was needed.

Sue doesn’t respect me enough to respond to my email. She thinks it’s a stupid idea.

Sue didn’t answer my email when I expected.

Sue’s busy and either hasn’t seen my email or hasn’t had time to respond.

Follow up with Sue on what she thinks

What an idiot! That report Bruce turned in didn’t even try to answer the questions I had. It’s useless!

Bruce turned in a report that didn’t have the information I expected and needed.

Bruce wasn’t aware or misunderstood what information I needed.

Let Bruce know what I need in the reports.

Remember that stories spread…all storytellers love an audience. So make sure your story is spreading positivity

2 - Talk about the right things

Get clear on what the conversation needs to be about

What do you want from the conversation?

The next step is to think about what the real issue is. What exactly needs to happen? Who is involved? Who is impacted? Which facts are known? What information is available?

In TAGFEE terms, this is where transparency and being exceptional come in. Make sure that you’re talking about the right issue.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the impact to you and others?
  • What are the facts?
  • Scope – is this the first time? The second? The umpteenth?

Can you spot the judgment?

I just broke my own rules… can you see it?

I’ll give you a hint…it’s that last word in the Scope point… it sneaks in, so check!

Are you talking about apples when the issue is really oranges?

Scope is important:

  • If it’s the first time something has happened, you talk about what happened.
  • If it’s the second or third, talk about how it keeps happening.
  • If you can’t remember how many times it’s happened, talk about how the behavior is affecting your relationship.

Orange

Ask questions to understand and get to the root causes

Be an information maniac

Find out how the other person sees the situation.

Before you trip too far down that happy path, get more information. Seek to understand. Use Empathy and Generosity, and be Authentic. Ask neutral questions to create safety, and give the other person a chance to respond – you might find out something you didn’t know.

Asking neutral questions can create a space of collaboration, where you are both on the same side trying to figure out how to solve an issue you both agree needs to be resolved. It’s not always possible to turn a conflict into a collaboration, but you’d be surprised how many times it does work that way.

Another benefit of asking neutral questions is that it puts off conclusions and judgments until you have talked to the person involved and heard what they have to say. This is critical to keeping the conversation safe and collaborative.

Questions to ask:

  • What is your perspective? What do you see going on?
  • What’s important to you? Tell me more about that.
  • Here’s what I notice… What do you notice?

State conclusions tentatively

You can state a conclusion tentatively, making it clear you’re looking for their input on whether that conclusion is valid or if they have more information.

Listen carefully and continue to put off judgment until you’ve heard what they have to say.

Putting off judgment makes it easier for *you* to admit that you’ve been wrong. You may find what you thought was going to be a difficult conversation instead opens up a new level of authenticity and collaboration in your relationships.

Make sure anything you state definitively are only facts, devoid of judgment.

Be open to being wrong!

Or being surprised by more information that turns your story on its head.

Just maybe it wasn’t Anthony I saw “stealing” donuts in the stormtrooper outfit…

4 - Inspire and be inspiredCreate a mutual purpose or common goal that inspires everyone to move forward

It’s all upside

Why inspire others? Well, why not? There is no downside to inspiring people: it benefits everyone.

The earlier steps talk about getting clear of the negative. This is where the good stuff happens. The Fun in TAGFEE! If you start from what felt like a conflict and end up with a mutual understanding with someone about what an issue is and how to resolve it, all things are possible. It can feel like magic! You move from confrontation to collaboration and win-win thinking that can help you both step outside the box.

Here’s a chart that’s totally made up, but it communicates a key point in communication. Collaboration happens when you both trust and respect the people you’re talking to!

True collaboration

You need both a willingness and freedom to disagree, and mutual trust and respect to get into the “Collaboration Zone.”

The key to inspiring others is to seek to understand their point of view and their goals, and work together with them to find common ground.

Start the collaboration engine by asking some powerful questions and seeing what you can agree on and brainstorm solutions.

Collaboration engine questions:

  • What’s working?
  • What do you think?
  • What can we agree on?
  • What are we both interested in achieving?
  • What’s important about resolving this?
  • What can we try?

A rainbow of solutions

Solutions often go from the black and white “my” vs. “your”
choice to a synergistic combination of mine and yours and other ideas we
brainstormed along the way.

You may disagree on how to do something, but if
you can agree on a common goal, you’re one step closer to a win-win
solution.

Instead
of accusing Anthony of taking the last donut and demanding that he
promise to never do it again, or be reported to Team Happy for a
happiness “adjustment,” my conversation is now about fair access to
donuts at Moz. The entire conversation’s focus has shifted from “I want
Anthony to know how angry I am he stole my donut” to “how can we make
sure no-one at Moz is donut-deprived?” Magic!

Fair Access to Donuts at Moz – Possible solutions:

  • Work with Team Happy to make sure there’s enough donuts for everyone who wants them
  • Ask everyone at the company to only take one
  • Get a fresh donut machine where we can all make our own donuts on demand

5 - Follow up

Agree on what to do next and circle back around
This is a little step with a big impact.  Make sure you’ve captured your conversation and everyone is on board to take action to make your solutions a reality.

Being Exceptional and Authentic come into play here. You’re collaborating on a solution and then making it happen.

Once you’ve established a shared understanding of an issue that needs to be resolved, it’s time to figure out how. Solicit ideas for how to solve the problem. Listen, acknowledge feedback and discuss pros and cons on the solutions until you both agree the solution is a good approach.

Make sure everyone is in agreement on:

  • Goals. How will you measure success?
  • Due dates. Who will do what by when?
  • When to check in: What time will we check to see how we’re doing?

Wrapping it up

Have productive, inspiring conversations, whether you agree or disagree

Before you talk to someone

At first, it may help to write down what you’re planning on saying.

I’ve broken this down into discrete before and during steps, but it doesn’t always end up being that way in practice. Use these steps to plan and practice until it comes naturally.

Steps to prepare:

  • Calm down! Lizard brain begone!
  • Create a happy story
  • Make sure you’re talking about the right thing
  • Write out what you want to say and check for your old story & judgments
  • Remember your benevolent intent

Have the conversation

Steps:

  1. Ask if the person has time to talk
  2. State your benevolent intent
  3. Keep to the facts
  4. State conclusions tentatively
  5. Get curious – seek to understand their point of view
  6. Be open to being wrong. Change your mind if needed.
  7. Aim toward collaboration.
  8. Finish with summarizing what you’ve discussed, and who will do what, when.

Remember the conversation may dictate you take a different path.

If the conversation starts to get heated, re-establish safety:

  • Restate your intent
  • Explicitly state what you’re not trying to do. For example, “I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m trying to help us come to a solution that works for both of us.”

When conflict finds you

If you find yourself in a conversation unexpectedly, these steps can still help. Get curious, find out what they want, how they’re feeling, and tentatively state your perspective and ask for feedback. Some other ideas:

  • Accept the input and acknowledge the emotions but don’t reciprocate. Ask yourself “what do I want from this interaction” to rescue your brain from the lizard.
  • Do your best to establish safety for you and the other person by establishing a positive intent. It can be as simple as “Wow, Lisa, I can see you’re really upset about not getting a donut. I’d like to figure out how I can fix this – can I ask you a few questions?”

Don’t hesitate to take a break

If the conversation is heated, it may be better to step away and take the conversation up later. You might say:

“I can see this is an subject we both care deeply about. I’d like to take some time to prepare for a productive conversation, can we take a break and meet back here in an hour.”

An example conversation

So, my side of the conversation with Anthony about the donuts might go like this:

“Anthony, do you have time to talk?”

“I’d like to talk to you about making sure everyone at Moz has the opportunity to get a donut. ”

“I saw someone taking the last two donuts this morning, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get one.”

“I thought it might be you, so I wanted to talk to you to see what happened.”

“I’m
not accusing you of taking the last two donuts. I’m trying to figure
out what happened and then work on how to make sure the donuts are
evenly distributed at Moz”

“Oh, so you were grabbing a donut for Crystal too! Wow, I totally misinterpreted what I saw!”

“Can you think of ways we can ensure everyone gets a donut?”

“Great, so I’ll contact Team Happy about getting a donut machine tomorrow, and you’ll approve the expense report on Friday.”

Image from Nostalgia Electrics

Perfection not required

Not everything will always turn out wonderful, but at least you’ve approached the problem and given feedback in a way that has the best chance for a positive outcome for everyone involved.

Maybe you’re a little closer to what the real issues are, or you’ve agreed to disagree; even those outcomes will keep miscommunication or confusion from being a source of problems.

If I really feel that donut was mine, and Anthony really thinks that donut was promised to Crystal, we may not agree, but at least everything is on the table where we have the chance to deal with it. And, we’re not telling our nasty stories to everyone but the person we need to talk to.

Feedback is a gift

Annette Promes, our CMO, said to me, “Feedback is a gift,” and it is.

Most folks want to know, and are truly interested in being better… better coworkers, friends, and humans. So let’s all resolve to give that gift in the best way we can. And receive it gratefully when it comes to us.

Oh, and that donut conflict… totally made up. I’m gluten-intolerant girl, so you can always have my share, Anthony! 🙂

Give me feedback

I experimented with converting a training class into a blog post, and would love to have your feedback on what works for you and what could be better.

You can also download this blog post in slidedoc format. It’s a communication technique that’s halfway between presentation and documentation. I learned about it at
Write the Docs this year. You can read more and get the free slidedoc ebook at their site. What do you think?

Other resources

You may find these resources helpful too:

5 Rules for Productive Conflict (TED talk)

6 ways to make conflict productive

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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How To Tap Into Social Norms to Build a Strong Brand

Posted by bridget.randolph

In recent years there has been a necessary shift in the way businesses advertise themselves to consumers, thanks to the increasingly common information overload experienced by the average person.

In 1945, just after WWII, the
annual total ad spend in the United States was about $2.8 billion (that’s around $36.8 million before the adjustment for inflation). In 2013, it was around $140 billion.

Don’t forget that this is just paid media advertising; it doesn’t include the many types of earned coverage like search, social, email, supermarket displays, direct mail and so on. Alongside the growth in media spends is a growth in the sheer volume of products available, which is made possible by increasingly sophisticated technologies for sales, inventory, delivery and so on.

What does this mean? Well, simply that the strategy of ‘just buy some ads and sell the benefits’ isn’t enough anymore: you’ll be lost in the noise. How can a brand retain customers and create loyalty in an atmosphere where everyone else has a better offer? Through tapping into the psychology of social relationships.


Imagine that you are at home for Thanksgiving, and your mother has pulled out all the stops to lovingly craft the most delicious, intricate dinner ever known to man. You and your family have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of socializing and snacking on leftovers and watching football, and now it’s time to leave. As you hug your parents goodbye, you take out your wallet. “How much do I owe you for all the love and time you put into this wonderful afternoon?” you ask. “$100 for the food? here, have $50 more as a thank you for the great hospitality!” How would your mother respond to such an offer? I don’t know about your mother, but my mom would be deeply offended.

New scenario: You’ve gone to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the most delicious dinner you’ve ever had, the atmosphere is great with the football playing in the background, and best of all, your server is attentive, warm, and maternal. You feel right at home. At the end of the meal, you give her a hug and thank her for the delicious meal before leaving. She calls the cops and has you arrested for a dine-and-dash.

And herein lies the difference between social norms and market norms.

Social norms vs. market norms

The Thanksgiving dinner example is one which I’ve borrowed from a book by Dan Ariely,
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Ariely discusses two ways in which humans interact: social norms and market norms.


Social norms
, as Ariely explains, “are wrapped up in our social nature and our need for community. They are usually warm and fuzzy. Instant paybacks are not required.” Examples would be: helping a friend move house, babysitting your grandchild, having your parents over for dinner. There is an implied reciprocity on some level but it is not instantaneous nor is it expected that the action will be repaid on a financial level. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with friends and family.


Market norms
, on the other hand, are about the exchange of resources and in particular, money. Examples of this type of interaction would be any type of business transaction where goods or services are exchanged for money: wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefit. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with businesses.

I’ve drawn you a very rough illustration – it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing visual, but it gets the point across:

Market norms come into play any time money enters into the equation, sometimes counter-intuitively! Ariely gives the example of a group of lawyers who were approached by the AARP and asked whether they would provide legal services to needy retirees at a drastically discounted rate of $30/hour. The lawyers said no. From a market norms perspective, the exchange didn’t make sense. Later the same lawyers were asked whether they would consider donating their time free of charge to needy retirees. The vast majority of the lawyers said yes. The difference is that, when no money changes hands, the exchange shifts from a poor-value market exchange to an altruistic and therefore high-value social exchange. It is a strange psychological quirk that ‘once market norms enter our considerations, the social norms depart.’

Mixed signals: when social and market norms collide

In a book called
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (originally published in 1981), the authors describe the 1950s as the ‘product era’ of advertising, when ‘advertising people focused their attention on product features and customer benefits.’ It was all about the unique selling proposition (USP).


In this case, the USP is mildness: “not one single case of throat irritation!” (image source)

However, as the sheer volume of products on the market increased, it became more difficult to sell a product simply by pointing out the benefits. As Ries and Trout put it, ‘Your “better mousetrap” was quickly followed by two more just like it. Both claiming to be better than the first one.’

They describe the next phase of advertising (which hit its peak in the 1960s and 70s and which we can probably all relate to if we watch Mad Men) as the ‘image era’, pioneered by David Ogilvy. In this period, successful campaigns sold the reputation, or ‘image’ of a brand and a product rather than its features. Ries and Trout quote Ogilvy as saying that ‘Every advertisement is a long-term investment in the image of a brand’. Examples include Hathaway shirts and Rolls-Royce.

Rather than the product benefits, this ad focuses on the ‘image’ of the man who smokes Viceroys: “Viceroy has a thinking man’s filter and a smoking man’s taste. (image source)

But yet again, as more and more brands imitate the strategy of these successful campaigns, the space gets more crowded and the consumer becomes more jaded and these techniques become less effective.

According to Ries and Trout, this brought the world of advertising into the ‘positioning era’ of the 80s, which is where they positioned (hehe) themselves. As they described this, “To succeed in our overcommunicated society, a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.”

This one’s all about positioning Winston’s in opposition to competitors: as the brand with real taste, as opposed to other brands which ‘promise taste’ but fail to deliver. (image source)

And yet, despite this evolution of advertising strategy over the course of the 20th century, all of these different approaches are ultimately based on market norms. The ‘product era’ sells you features and benefits in exchange for money; the ‘image era’ sells you on an image and a lifestyle in exchange for money, and the ‘positioning era’ sells you on why a particular company is the right one to supply your needs in exchange for money.

Social norms and loyalty


When does cheap not win?
When it comes to social norms. Social norms are about relationships, community and loyalty. If your sister is getting married, you don’t do a cost benefit analysis to decide whether or not you should go to her wedding or whether the food will be better and the travel cheaper if you go to your next door neighbor’s BBQ instead. If anything, it’s the opposite: some people take it to such an extreme that they will go into massive debt to attend friends’ weddings and bring lavish gifts. That is certainly not a decision based on monetary considerations.

Therefore, if the average brand wants to get out of the vicious cycle of undercutting competitors in order to gain business, they need to start focusing on relationships and community building instead of ‘SUPER CHEAP BEST LOW LOW PRICES!!®’ and sneaky upsells at the point of sale. This is something my colleague
Tim Allen spoke about in a presentation called “Make Me Love Your Brand, Not Just Tolerate It”. And this is what a large number of recent ‘advertising success stories’ are based on and it’s the whole premise behind many of the more recent trends in marketing: email marketing, personalization, SMS marketing, good social media marketing, and so on.

Some of the most popular brands are the ones which are able to find the perfect balance between:

  • a friendly, warm relationship with customers and potential customers, which also often includes a fun, personal tone of voice (the ‘brand personality’) – in these interactions there is often an offering of something to the customer without an expectation of instant payback, and
  • a strong product which they offer at a good price with good ‘market’ benefits like free returns and so on.

One example of this is John Lewis, who have good customer service policies around returns etc but also offer free perks to their shoppers, like the maternity room where breastfeeding mothers can relax. One of my colleagues mentioned that, as a new mother, his girlfriend always prefers to shop at John Lewis over other competitor stores for that very reason. Now if this is purely a convenience factor for her, and after her child is older she stops shopping at John Lewis in favor of a cheaper option, you could argue that this is less of a social interaction and more market influenced (in some sense it serves as a service differentiator between JL and their customers). However, if after she no longer requires the service, she continues to shop there because she wants to reciprocate their past support of her as a breastfeeding mother, that pushes it more firmly into the realm of the social.

Another thing John Lewis do for their fans is the annual Christmas ad, which (much like the 
Coca-Cola Santa truck in the UK) has become something which people look forward to each year because it’s a heartwarming little story more than just an ad for a home and garden store. Their 2012 ad was my favorite (and a lot of other people’s too, with over 4.5 million Youtube views).

But usually anytime a brand ‘do something nice’ for no immediate monetary benefit, it counts as a ‘social’ interaction – a classic example is
Sainsbury’s response to the little girl who wrote to them about ‘tiger bread’.

Some of my other favorite examples of social norm interactions by brands are:

The catch is, you have to be careful and keep the ‘mix’ of social and market norms consistent.

Ariely uses the example of a bank when describing the danger of bringing social norms into a business relationship:

“What happens if a customer’s check bounces? If the relationship is based on market norms, the bank charges a fee, and the customer shakes it off. Business is business. While the fee is annoying, it’s nonetheless acceptable. In a social relationship, however, a hefty late fee–rather than a friendly call from the manager or an automatic fee waiver–is not only a relationship-killer; it’s a stab in the back. Consumers will take personal offense. They’ll leave the bank angry and spend hours complaining to their friends about this awful bank.”

Richard Fergie also summed this issue up nicely in this G+ post about the recent outrage over Facebook manipulating users’ emotions; in this case, the back-stab effect was due to the fact that the implicit agreement between the users and the company about what was being ‘sold’ and therefore ‘valued’ in the exchange changed without warning.


The basic rule of thumb is that whether you choose to emphasize market norms or social norms, you can’t arbitrarily change the rules.

A side note about social media and brands: Act like a normal person

In a time when
the average American aged 18-64 spends 2-3 hours a day on social media, it is only logical that we would start to see brands and the advertising industry follow suit. But if this is your only strategy for building relationships and interacting with your customers socially, it’s not good enough. Instead, in this new ‘relationship era’ of advertising (as I’ve just pretentiously dubbed it, in true Ries-and-Trout fashion), the brands who will successfully merge market and social norms in their advertising will be the brands which are able to develop the sort of reciprocal relationships that we see with our friends and family. I wrote a post over on the Distilled blog about what social media marketers can learn from weddings. That was just one example, but the TL;DR is: as a brand, you still need to use social media the way that normal people do. Otherwise you risk becoming a Condescending Corporate Brand on Facebook. On Twitter too.

Social norms and authenticity: Why you actually do need to care

Another way in which brands tap into social norms are through their brand values. My colleague
Hannah Smith talked about this in her post on The Future of Marketing. Moz themselves are a great example of a brand with strong values: for them it’s TAGFEE. Hannah also gives the examples of Innocent Drinks (sustainability), Patagonia (environmentalism) and Nike (whose strapline ‘Find Your Greatness’ is about their brand values of everyone being able to ‘achieve their own defining moment of greatness’).

Havas Media have been doing some interesting work around trying to ‘measure’ brand sentiment with something call the
‘Meaningful Brands Index’ (MBi), based on how much a brand is perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, both for personal wellbeing and collective wellbeing. Whether or not you like their approach, they have some interesting stats: apparently only 20% of brands worldwide are seen to ‘meaningfully positively impact peoples’ lives’, but the brands that rank high on the MBi also tend to outperform other brands significantly (120%).

Now there may be a ‘correlation vs causation’ argument here, and I don’t have space to explore it. But regardless of whether you like the MBi as a metric or not, countless case studies demonstrate that it’s valuable for a brand to have strong brand values.

There are two basic rules of thumb when it comes to choosing brand values:

1) I
t has to be relevant to what you do. If a bingo site is running an environmentalism campaign, it might seem a bit weird and it won’t resonate well with your audience. You also need to watch out for accidental irony. For example, McDonalds and Coca-Cola came in for some flak when they sponsored the Olympics, due to their reputation as purveyors of unhealthy food/drink products.

Nike’s #FindYourGreatness campaign, on the other hand, is a great example of how to tie in your values with your product. Another example is one of our clients at Distilled, SimplyBusiness, a business insurance company whose brand values include being ‘the small business champion’. This has informed their content strategy, leading them to develop in-depth resources for small businesses, and it has served them very well.

2) I
t can’t be so closely connected to what you do that it comes across as self-serving. For example, NatWest’s NatYes campaign claims to be about enabling people to become homeowners, but ultimately (in no small part thanks to the scary legal compliance small print about foreclosure) the authenticity of the message is undermined.

The most important thing when it comes to brand values: it’s very easy for people to be cynical about brands and whether they ‘care’. Havas did a survey that found that
only 32% of people feel that brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises. So choose values that you do feel strongly about and follow through even if it means potentially alienating some people. The recent OKCupid vs Mozilla Firefox episode is an illustration of standing up for brand values (regardless of where you stand on this particular example, it got them a lot of positive publicity).

Key takeaways

So what can we take away from these basic principles of social norms and market norms? If you want to build a brand based on social relationships, here’s 3 things to remember.

1)
Your brand needs to provide something besides just a low price. In order to have a social relationship with your customers, your brand needs a personality, a tone of voice, and you need to do nice things for your customers without the expectation of immediate payback.

2)
You need to keep your mix of social and market norms consistent at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Don’t pull the rug out from under your loyal fans by hitting them with surprise costs after they checkout or other tricks. And don’t give new customers significantly better benefits. What you gain in the short term you will lose in the long term resentment they will feel about having been fooled. Instead, treat them with transparency and fairness and be responsive to customer service issues.

3)
You need brand values that make sense for your brand and that you (personally and as a company) really believe in. Don’t have values that don’t relate to your core business. Don’t have values which are obviously self-serving. Don’t be accidentally ironic like McDonalds.

Have you seen examples of brands building customer relationships based on social norms? Did it work? Do you do this type of relationship-building for your brand?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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