The Hired Hand – Not just another blah-blah-blog

March 27, 2012

Speed dating for brands?

Originally posted in November 2011

BrandsConf

Some people talk the talk. And some walk the walk. And some, like entrepreneur Jeff Pulver, do both.

Pulver organized the recent BrandsConf – “Exploring the Humanization of Brands” – in New York. As emcee for the daylong event, Pulver certainly put a human face on the conference. He gave each presenter a big hug as he or she walked onstage, and another hug after the presentation. You could say he Pulver-ized the participants by embracing their ideas – and embracing them literally.

The BrandsConf was part of the #140Conf series, with individual presentations limited to 10 minutes and panels from 10 to 20 minutes. These events are based on the Twitter concept of brevity, where posts are limited to 140 characters. It was like speed dating on steroids for branding; the day featured more than 50 presenters.

Successful brands must know their audience, and Pulver’s format was perfect for this attention-deficit group. A glance around the darkened audience revealed the eerie glow of laptop, tablet and smart phone screens. But were these audience members really engaged?

I can think of several times during the day when the audience was riveted to the stage. As if reinforcing the day’s themes of community and storytelling, all eyes where on the big screen (not laptops, tablets or smart phones) when Tony Heffernan showed a video tribute to his young daughter, who died of Battens Disease. The father from Ireland, whose son also was diagnosed with disease, launched beeforbattens.org to provide support and information. His story made an emotional connection with others, compelling them to engage.

Greg Corbin also managed to grab the audience’s attention. Corbin, executive director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, is passionate about what he does. It shows. And it’s contagious. He shared a poem with the audience, and they listened. There’s a lesson here as well. Sometimes, if we change the manner in which we present our message, it’s more likely to be heard. I’m not saying all our ads need to rhyme like Dr. Seuss, but we need to make our message stand out from all the clutter.

It’s no surprise that Mallika Chopra, CEO of Intent.com and daughter of physician/spiritual healer Deepak Chopra, asked the audience members to close their eyes for a moment of meditation. It was a brilliant exercise, for it forced the digital addicts to turn their attention inward – away from their devices – if only for a short time.

Gideon Gidori and Leah Albert also managed to capture the attention of the audience. So who are they? The masterminds behind Fortune 500 companies? The next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? They’re more likely to be the next Neil Armstrong or Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (she’s the president of Libya, BTW, and the only elected female head of state in Africa). You see, Leah and Gideon are 7th-grade students at the Shepherds Junior School in Tanzania. So what where they doing at a brands conference in New York, you ask? Their moving stories illustrated how personal experiences can be used to help garner support for a cause and help shed light on social justice issues. Their tiny yet confident voices resonated with the audience, proving that you don’t have to shout your message in order to be heard.

In a brands conference that focused mainly on social media and online communication, it’s not unusual to hear the term bytes or to discuss cookies and their impact on marketing. However, it was the edible kind of cookie that was mentioned on more than one occasion.

DoubleTree Hotels celebrated the 25th anniversary of its popular chocolate chip cookie last summer with a cross-country Cookie CAREavan. A hotel-sponsored food truck visited major cities, giving out free cookies at every stop. The event was considered a huge success, resulting in more than 2 million media impressions and 35,000 Facebook friends.

Jonathan Kay, ambassador of buzz for Grasshopper.com, used cookies to thank a blogger. Grasshopper provides virtual phone systems for small businesses. A blogger with a modest following wrote about the Grasshopper service, and Kay said Grasshopper sent him three homemade cookies as a thank-you. It’s another example of how a brand can connect one-on-one with its customers.

If you were to ask organizer Pulver, he’d probably say social media is one big group hug. It’s about reaching out to your audience, listening, and responding in a caring and informative matter.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a group hug.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

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