From the monthly archives:

December 2010

Have you decided upon your New Year’s resolution(s) yet? If not, want to join in on mine?

365 days of WOW

365 days of WOW

It’s pretty simple: WOW one person. Every day.

That’s it. Give someone a sincere compliment out of the blue. Deliver a random act of kindness. Reach out to a friend or client you haven’t talked with in a while.

The only condition is that your means have to be original enough to genuinely make them say, “Wow!” I don’t think any more than once daily is necessary, because if I can create 365 “wows” in 2011, I will have significantly improved on 2010. And, to be honest, that’ll make for a pretty good year, regardless of what else happens.

So, what do you say? Are you in?

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It’s been a busy time lately for the members of the Incept Gives Board.

Between holiday parties, shopping for the children of the Angel Tree program and preparing for the new year to come, I don’t think I’ve had time to really slow down and be thankful for what I have. On top of everything, I’ve been running around trying to get ready for the holidays, buying presents and wrapping gifts, it’s just been one big blur.

But on Tuesday, December 21st, I was given a rare chance to clear my to-do list and give back to people who deserve my thanks. I joined the Incept Gives Board, members of the Incept family, the American Red Cross Stark County Chapter and the Blue Star Mothers of North Canton in welcoming home local members of our armed forces, as they flew into the Akron-Canton Airport to spend the holidays with their families.

Our “Welcome Wagon” set up camp in the lobby of the airport with signs, banners, balloons and gifts. Each time a member of the military walked down the terminal past us, the Blue Star Mothers sprang into action. There were hugs, handshakes, cards and balloons given to every last soldier who came home that night.

Incept was on hand to provide a small token of our appreciation to those brave men and women returning home.

http://www.vimeo.com/18281088

I gained a tremendous sense of appreciation for everything our troops do, from the soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan to the logistical troops here stateside, every one of you deserves a hug and a thank you. You are heroes in every sense of the word!

I’d like to extend an additional thank you to the fabulous people at the American Red Cross Stark County Chapter, the Volunteer and Military Family Manager there (Melissa Seibert), and the Blue Star Mothers of North Canton. Your compassion made a lasting impression on me! Thank you so much for inviting us. Of course, I’d also like to say thank you to all the members of the Incept family for making it possible for us to go participate in such a great event!

Most importantly, to all of our troops: Thank You! I hope you have a safe and happy new year!

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[This post was written by Cindy E. Rodriguez, Public Relations Event Coordinator, with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.]

Since the start of our Commit for Life program in 2003, Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center has established strategic partnerships with media groups, and even sports teams, to help us in our mission to save and sustain lives through blood donations.

We particularly sought out these partnerships around major holidays in an effort to maintain an adequate supply of blood and blood-related products when regular donors are on vacation, and businesses and schools are closed (not hosting blood drives). Just like “it takes a village” to raise a child, it takes many people and a variety of communication methods to spread the word about the need for blood donations.

As the saying goes: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We use a vast combination of communication methods to get our messages across, including everything from broadcast media to print media to social media. Broadcast media partners provide us with “on-air” time, either as public service announcements or news coverage. We design custom print media, such as postcard mailers and other promotional materials that are disseminated to sites to promote blood drives. Furthermore, we have electronic media, which includes customized e-mails (per campaign), as well as general e-mails to keep our audience informed and engaged. Through these methods, we are able to reach out to as many people as possible.

However, reaching a large number of people is not always our goal. Sometimes, because our supply is ruled by the need in a given region, the key is reaching the right audience with the right blood type. Although everyone has blood, our strict guidelines make timing crucial when reaching our target audience. We use telecommunications to reach out to only those donors who are eligible – that is where our friends at Incept come in. They help us reach the right donors at the right time to maximize the number of lives saved.

So when one of our donors gets a phone call asking them to schedule a donation, we hope they know that they truly are needed at that particular time. Someone is waiting specifically for their donation. By using the right communication avenues, we hope to compel them to come in and save a life.

Have you answered the call for blood donations?

[To find out more about the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center and everything it does, visit their website at www.giveblood.org.]

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Advertising is a multi-million dollar industry.

Companies hire the best and brightest  minds to make their products stand out. From magazines to the Internet, and billboards to those signs that are flown behind airplanes, it’s nearly impossible to find a place where advertisements haven’t taken over. With all of the different ads we see every day, it’s easy for them to be ignored or overlooked as mere “white noise.”

What is it that grabs our attention, though? How can we give not just our ads but our blog posts and webpages the flare that makes our viewers take notice?

In my opinion, it takes two things to make a really good ads: color and humor. Here are five of my favorite ads and why I feel they almost command attention.

  • #5 – Cingular
    This ad uses an attention-getting color (orange) while simultaneously incorporating humor to great effect. It’s also good to note that by having the “calls” part of the billboard on the ground, it gets you to look up at the rest of the sign to see where it fell from and why.

  • #4 – Cadbury Chocolate
    Kudos to the Cadbury chocolate company for this ad! Not only is it colorful and humorous, but I think it has a clever design too. I love the little people tearing off the wrapper and carrying away the chocolate. Using this atypical means, they make their ad memorable. Now if only I could get some…

  • #3 – Church Billboard
    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a particularly religious person, but this billboard was very well done in my opinion. It doesn’t use bright colors to grab our attention, which actually helps to set it apart from other signs. Instead, it puts humor to good use. Nearly everyone has wished for some indicator of what to do, divine or otherwise, and this sign taps into that common experience rather nicely.

  • #2 – Nestle Chocolate
    Maybe it’s a sign of where my mind is today, but this billboard made me smile. Not only does it have bright colors to catch your attention, but it’s hilarious seeing the birds carrying away the candy. Maybe the birds first attempted getting chocolate from the Cadbury ad but got chased away? Either way, I love how clever this ad is!

  • And last but certainly not least: #1 – Beef!
    This sign cracks me up! We’ve all seen the old, terrible movies where the space aliens steal livestock for no good reason. Well, now we know why (and I can’t say I blame them)! After all, who doesn’t enjoy a nice, juicy steak? The plain background really makes the meat stand out, catching your eye. All in all, it’s a tasty attention-grabber.

Billboards are probably my favorite form of advertising. They’re larger than life and have no trouble catching our attention. By combining humor and eye-catching colors, these ad exemplify smart and creative ways to catch an audience’s attention and make them remember a product or message. So the next time you’re driving along and see a billboard, take a closer look and ponder just what made you look. You may be surprised by the cleverness around you!

[Picture credits:  60 of the Very Best Billboards You Will Ever See! By THE PRO DESIGNER.]

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On the Incept Blog, we have been talking a lot about Conversational Marketing, its definition and examples of it in action.

Something important that we haven’t talked much about yet is to make sure you understand what Conversational Marketing is not. Below are a few examples of how not to be conversational with your customers when talking with them:

If you are doing any of these things, you are not engaging in Conversational Marketing.

  • Reading through your script so fast that you are no longer understandable
  • Not acknowledging the customer when they ask you a question
  • Being rude or talking over your customer
  • Telling the customer you don’t know the answer to their question or telling them something that may not be true; if you don’t know, ask or direct the customer to where they can find the answer
  • Showing no emotion when speaking with your customer
  • Sounding like you are merely reading a script (it takes all of the sincerity out of the message)
  • Conveying obvious signs and tones of sarcasm
  • Being unprepared for the call and making the customer say “hello” multiple times
  • Not listening to the customer, and then responding incorrectly (basically, letting the customer know you are not paying attention to them)
  • Mispronouncing the customer’s name, being corrected by them and not apologizing
  • Laughing at the customer for any reason
  • Meeting aggression with aggression rather than compassion and empathy
  • Talking over the customer
  • Losing your patience with a customer, for any reason
  • Asking the customer how they are doing, but then not responding to what they say when they answer you
  • Ending the call before the customer has finished speaking

These may seem like simple tips, but they are all items that can get overlooked when dealing with customers. Each of them can also easily ruin the relationship. It is important to ask yourself, no matter the outcome, did the conversation end productively for both parties? If the answer is no, then the relationship with that customer was not strengthened.

What other examples can you think of regarding what Conversational Marketing is not?

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Staring with a blank, deadpan expression at the pixels of my monitor, I’ve often caught myself trying to harness an idea or topic to write about, then simply being unable.

We’ve all been there. Oftentimes when dealing with a bout of writer’s block, I find the cause to be the absence of a basic outline of the ideas I want to convey. Everyone deals with writer’s block differently, but establishing – on paper – a basic brainstorm of relevant ideas is probably one of the easiest steps one can make towards finding a rhythm. I have found out that by organizing the ideas that I like best, I have a better sense of the order in which I want to write.

Don't stress about writer's block. (Photo credit:stopstudentstress.com)

As with any other instance of inspiration abandonment, writer’s block can take some time to work through naturally. A few intelligent individuals at Purdue University have shared an awesome, educational page for dealing with writer’s block.

Here are a few basic steps you can take to successfully manifest your ideas into words:

  1. Know what is expected of you with regard to your writing project or assignment.
  2. Who is your audience or reader? Gear the writing towards a certain demographic or field.
  3. Find your own outlook or stance on the topic you are writing about.
  4. Organize a written brainstorm or basic, preliminary outline.
  5. Write a first draft. It can always be reviewed and edited to meet your standards.
  6. Already know a part of what you want to write? Start in the middle or end. You don’t have to start at the beginning.
  7. Read another writer’s work for inspiration.
  8. Shut out other distractions. No television. No Facebook. No Twitter.  I’ve often found that music can help me focus, but only listen to it if it doesn’t distract you.
  9. Keep a list of any potential ideas that come to you.
  10. Do not procrastinate. As easy as it is to succumb to distractions, the sooner you start the sooner you will finish.

Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” This is just another testament of how simple, straightforward organization can come into play and make writer’s block a very approachable ailment.

Above are merely some of the ideas and strategies I use for writing at Incept. Keep in mind, however, that they can be used in any writing scenario – professionally, academically or personally.

Everyone deals with writer’s block differently, so I’m curious: What are some of your tips for overcoming writer’s block?

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Today, as I write this blog post, our latest Incept Employee Of the Month sits at her work booth making phone calls, like today is just another day at work.

Truthfully I think it’s that quality that makes Stephanie Smith one of my favorite people to spend time with at work. I’d like to give you a glimpse into why I think Steph is such a complete example of what we call “Living the Brand.”

Stephanie and I have had the pleasure of working closely (oftentimes referred to as Mr. & Mrs. Smith – there’s no relation) for a few years now. Over that time, I’ve had the chance to get to know her well, both professionally and personally. She is the proud mother of two brilliant daughters, Elizabeth and Samantha, who are just as much a part of the Incept family as Stephanie. In fact, they are so connected to our circle of friends that when the Incept Gives Foundation decided to take our Conversational Marketing Experts (CMEs) shopping for 38 children who were unlikely to have Christmas this year, the girls proudly came along.

The 38 kids we shopped for were part of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Children from less fortunate families write their names on cards, along with their wishlist, and selfless strangers (like the amazing people we have here at Incept) offer their time and money to purchase gifts for them, in order to brighten the holidays for these kids.

While we were waiting in a long line to check out, Stephanie and her daughters told me that they actually volunteered to do the “back-end” of the shopping we were doing. This meant that Stephanie and her daughters spent a fair amount of their time (8 hours per day for a full week) organizing, sorting and packing the gifts that came in to the Salvation Army location in Massillon, OH. They made sure that all children in multi-child homes received similar numbers of gifts, so as to prevent any negative feelings and ensure a fair and merry Christmas. After organizing the gifts for each of the families, they transported them by hand to the church across the street where they added boxes of food with the gifts. They did all of this for complete strangers.

Stephanie shared this story with me, about how the experience touched her daughter Elizabeth:

“One of the kids in Elizabeth’s class at school had said to her that Santa wasn’t coming to their house that year. Instead, they were going to go get gifts from the Salvation Army. She was so touched after volunteering at the Salvation Army that she took presents she and her sister had received at a Christmas party, delivered them to the captain at the Salvation Army and asked that they be donated to kids who were less fortunate.

I was very proud of her… It wasn’t something I told her to do. She took it on all on her own. She has a very big heart.”

Stephanie also asked that I include this short message from her:

“If anyone gets the chance to volunteer down there (at the Salvation Army), it’s a great opportunity! They do so many great things for the community.”

At first, the compassion demonstrated by Stephanie and her daughters left me at a loss for words to describe how I felt. However, after watching the video of our Incept family shopping for the Angel Tree children a few times, I think I found the proper word to describe them: angels.

I’d like to share with you one more example of how our employees (like Stephanie) “Live the Brand.” While waiting to check out at that night, Stephanie and her daughters encouraged me to ask Billie Johnson, one of my fellow members on the Incept Gives board, if it would be permissible for them to purchase some additional items (with their own money) and add them to the gifts for the child for whom they were shopping. Billie’s response still rings clearly in my mind, “Tell them to put the items in the cart and to not worry about it. Then tell them there is a special place in heaven for them.”

The holidays at Incept are unlike the holidays at any other company, because we understand that in giving we receive.

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There is no more universal icon of Christmas than Santa Claus. This time of the year, you can’t go anywhere without seeing his picture, hearing a song on the radio about him or dodging the line of eager children waiting to sit on his lap to ask for gifts.

But where exactly did this symbol of good will and generosity come from?

The Santa Claus we know today was actually based on a real person, Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was born in the village of Patara (in what’s southern Turkey today). He was born into a wealthy family, but when he was still young, his parents passed away when an epidemic swept through their town. Rather than live comfortably off of the money he inherited, Nicholas gave all of his money to the poor and joined the church. He became a bishop at a young age and traveled the countryside, doing many good deeds.

There are numerous stories of his generosity in life. One story tells of a poor man who had three daughters. During this period in history, a father had to offer a dowry or payment to the family of the man who was to marry his daughter. Since the father had no money and three daughters, it was almost impossible for them to get married. If not for Saint Nicholas, the daughters would have been sold into slavery. They say that on three separate occasions bags of gold appeared in the poor man’s house, saving his daughters from lives in captivity.

Some stories even say that the bags of gold flew into the window, landing in the stockings or shoes the daughters had left by the fireplace to dry. This is where the tradition of hanging stockings from the mantle and filling them with presents comes from.

A picture from Knickerbocker's History of New York.

Throughout his life (and even after), Saint Nicholas went on to perform many selfless deeds and came to be known as the protector of children. Another story is told about a boy, named Basilios, who was kidnapped by pirates who raided his village on the feast day for Saint Nicholas (December 6th, in case you were wondering). Basilios was sold into slavery and became the cup-bearer of the king, serving his wine is a golden chalice. Then, a year after his capture, it is said that Saint Nicholas appeared to Basilios and stole him away from the king, bringing him back to his family safe and sound with the golden cup in hand.

There are countless other stories about Saint Nicholas and his deeds. This patron saint of children was well-loved in Germany and traveled west with them when they moved to America. It wasn’t until 1809 that he began

Alexander Anderson's St. Nickolas.

the transformation into the gift-giving elf we all know and love. In his book Knickerbocker’s History of New York, Washington Irving makes numerous mentions of a Dutch elf who gave out presents. Later, the artist Alexander Anderson was commissioned to paint a picture of Saint Nicholas for the New York Historical Society when it had its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner in 1810.

From then on, Saint Nicholas continued gathering momentum. In 1821, the book Children’s Friend was anonymously published, providing the first visual reference of Nicholas not as a saint, but as “Santa Claus.” Two years later, Clement Clarke Moore wrote the most famous poem about Santa Claus – one that is still told today - The Night Before Christmas.

Perhaps the greatest influence on the modern-day Santa was Thomas Nast. Every year from 1863 to 1886, Nast submitted black-and-white drawings of Santa Claus to Harper’s Weekly. From him, we have the Santa with the long, white beard and round belly, giving children gifts for Christmas.

The images of both Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas have undergone some amazing changes over the years, but the significant messages they send has stayed the same: generosity, caring for others and selflessness. So while you’re gathered around your Christmas tree, take a second to think about how lucky you are to have a warm home and loving family around you, and be sure to pass the happiness on to someone else.

Happy Holidays!

Some of Thomas Nast's pictures of Santa Claus.

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Surveys are great when it comes to developing a content strategy for improving results to better serve your customers.

Polls, like the ones we develop and publish weekly on Incept’s Facebook page, give our employees (and our customers) the ability to have their voices heard and their votes counted. These polls also allow them to see the progress made while helping to drive more traffic to the page to support their cause.

Why do you think American Idol is so popular? Some people believe it’s because it gives aspiring stars in America a chance to finally see the spotlight and generates the next, newest music sensation. I, on the other hand, believe it’s because American Idol was one of the first major shows that incorporated viewer votes – votes that ultimately determine the fate of the same show capturing their hearts - into on-show decisions.

How much more can you involve your customers, fans or employees than when you allow them to determine the final decision made within your organization?

Mountain Dew did it when they asked America to develop their newest flavor, as well as the new can design and limited edition bottle. Reality TV has also capitalized on it. YouTube can turn regular Americans into top-story superstars literally overnight. Consumers now have the ability to shape their pop culture and economy through politics without all the, well, politics. Is there any better way to deliver exactly what your customers want than by letting them grab the wheel and turn your organization in the direction they’d like to head? This allows your organization to not only maintain its identity – its still the vehicle, regardless of who’s driving – but also avoid any pit stops (or getting lost) as you travel towards where your customers truly want you to be.

You can drive this message home as many times as you want, but the fact remains that it’s smart to include your customers in all of your future business decisions. That’s normal. With the boom of reality TV, company’s were encouraged to allow customers to make the changes they’d like to see. Nowadays, with the advancement and proliferation of social media, you are able to (and, again, encouraged to) have real-time, personal conversations with your customers to not only find out what they would like to change about your organization but why.

The closer you can get to your customers, the greater and more beneficial the relationship will be (and the easier it will be to strengthen). The smallest instance of customer service excellence has the ability to create a lifelong customer, contributor or even blood donor. This is the age of sharing your life and stories with the world. What better way to market to your customers than by allowing them to help with the legwork, marketing your brand for you to their closest, most trusted contacts (i.e., their fans and followers).

How much do you consider your customers when making your business decisions?

[Photo credit: Lisa Mason Lee, Jarvis Holliday, Beth Walburg]

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Even though I studied psychology and writing in college, I know that if you’re part of a business, you have to have customers.

Whether it’s nonprofit or for-profit, whether you’re in conversational marketing (like Incept) or selling Girl Scout cookies, that’s the bottom line. But after speaking with Billie Johnson, Vice President of New Client Results, I learned that when Incept acquires clients, they don’t just knock on doors, shove the product in your face and ask you to buy. Many businesses recruit clients like Girl Scouts sell cookies, but Incept sets itself apart.

When organizations come to Incept looking for an outsourcing partner, they’re searching for what they think they need. As best explained by Billie,”Our clients depend on us to stop them when they ask for something and really drill down to get to the root of their business issue. THEN we help them decide what they need to do to solve that problem.”

When Incept acquires a client, they start by asking questions and listening. They go beyond what the customer wants to what the customer needs. When Billie sits down with representatives of a blood center, she reviews their goals, strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas of growth and concern. This way, the customer receives more than they originally asked for. And they’re typically grateful for it.

Imagine that when you bought that one box of Girl Scout cookies, you received another dozen boxes for free. Wouldn’t you go back to that same Girl Scout for your other needs?

Do you run your business like Incept or like a Girl Scout?

[Photo Credits: The Incept Wheel from Incept's homepage; Thin Mints, from Business Insider]

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