I recently had a late lunch / early dinner with my friend Rachel at Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern (and had an awesome margarita). During our lunch we were talking ideas and brainstorming in tornado fashion, as we do.
Communication is a science. I’m frankly tired of seeing it categorized as a soft skill as though it’s less important. Of course communication includes data. The trick with communication professionals is that we read and respond to data live.
Business people (marketing, sales, finance) are not inferior to software developers, engineers, and/or front-end designers. Every specialty has its training and technical side. Let’s respect expertise for what it is — expertise.
Thanks for commenting, Bridget. I did not create the Venn diagram, nor do I endorse it or its labels. It is used as a counterexample for classifying data science in an over-exclusive way.
Firstly, the fact that one didn’t create an image doesn’t remove one’s responsibility for it. What if it were hate speech? Why is it acceptable in the tech community to demean soft skills?
To be fair, this diagram and discussion brought something to the surface that I’ve been encountering since I began marketing as a career.
Data Requires Context
Sure. Pour over the data you have in Google Analytics. Make charts. Create ratios. Create forecasting models. That’s needed. I’m not against data.
But data alone isn’t the whole picture. Recently, a client noticed a drop in leads from Yelp. Is it because Yelp isn’t effective? That was the conclusion all too easy to jump to. Yet, what has changed? Quite a lot, actually. We began advertising on Facebook, we launched a new website with regular blog posts, and we started an Instagram account. Yelp isn’t less effective, it’s simply no longer the only star in the sky of data.
Context, a story, matters when interpreting data. That comes with soft skills. Anyone can collect data. But can you ask the right questions to interpret the data?
Brené Brown is now famous for saying, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul” in her TED talk. Stories give context to data. This is what makes data powerful. Otherwise any data can be manipulated for any purpose.
“Figures often beguile me particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'” Mark Twain
Are soft skills scientific?
They are. This is why behaviorism is a part of psychology. There are plenty of studies that look at inflection, tone, word choice, gestures, facial ticks, and body language. All of this is data. It’s being streamed through our senses and interpreted in real time by our brains.
Soft skills are scientific. We call them soft because it’s hard for us to define.
Those with business, marketing, sales, and communication skills read a different kind of data: it’s human data. It’s behavior and behavior patterns. We analyze body language, inflection, and tone. We decipher patterns and predict behavior in real time in order to adjust the conversation for affinity.
Whether online or in person affinity is key. Affinity leads to loyalty. Loyalty leads to sales. Of course, data is important, but it’s good to be reminded that data is a look at the past, not in the moment. Collected data is the autopsy. Soft skills are the preventive medicine.
“I’ve concluded that that data has the most impact when it’s wrapped in a story. …Data won’t get you standing ovation; stories will. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire. Tell more of them.” Carmine Gallo, Harvard Business Review
So, you’re a small agency or freelancer. How do you market your WordPress freelance or small agency? My recommendation is content marketing through creation and distribution.
What is Marketing?
Marketing is using resources to bring your product or service to the attention of your customer (the market). So you have to dedicate resources (time, personnel, and budget) to tell people about your business. What are the best ways to do that? Here are some of my ideas.
It’s great to be a strategist. Heck, it’s a higher paying job. But it’s dangerous to be too far away from tactics — especially since they change so often in tech. To be better at the work, you have to do the work.
A coder can’t understand overall strategy without an intimacy with the code he’s proficient in, or better yet, understanding trends in codebases. A mechanic would not be able to shape and evolve his business if he doesn’t understand how much time an oil change should take.
Most small businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs are also practitioners. It’s not degrading to your role to do the work. So why do I hear myself saying this so often?
Do the Work.
Jason Knill and I shape organic and paid advertising at Give along with my traditional content marketing goals like blog posts and email marketing. We look at trends, we talk about insights from in-person meetings, Meetups, Twitter, WordCamps, and other people’s news. We bring a “mental rigor and curiosity,” as he calls it, to our work with Give.
Lately, we’ve been having a conversation around craft. Why do so many people in our industry enjoy making craft beer? Why are people in tech turning to knitting, gardening, or even fishing?
It’s about short-term satisfaction and accomplishment.
So often our work has long term results. It’s no different with strategy. To craft a strategy and then wait for results takes faith — faith in the process, faith in the forecasting, faith in the tactics.
So why do so many people shy away from tactics and stick with strategy?
The only reason I can come up with is job protection.
Protecting The Boundaries of Your Job Title
Being a Marketing Manager means thinking strategically. That’s a closely-guarded job title. I’ve had friends say they won’t do “x, y, or z” because it devalues their job title. I’ve also been told that I’m acting like a “Social Media Manager” as if it’s more degrading than a “Marketing Manager.”
Hey, I get it. In this world, regardless of how far we’ve come, a woman usually only gains salary increases by switching jobs. It’s sad from the point of diversity, feminism, and, I hate to say it, company culture.
“If two people with the same experience and education are hired as peers, are their titles and pay equal? Because people of color and women are often underpaid, even when moving companies or switching roles, they lose out of money based on salary history. Assuring that rank and pay are fair helps keep people of color and women from being under-leveled and underpaid.” Bärí A. Williams
Consequences of Status Protection
Before I digress too far away from my point of “doing the work,” there is something we should think about in this vein.
If “it’s not my job” prevails any company culture, what you’ll have is an employee who is looking to transition to any good offer that presents itself. This will happen either consciously or subconsciously.
What you’ve lost is bigger than the time you’ve invested in said employee.
You’ve lost loyalty.
A loss in loyalty affects the entire company culture. People watch how Employee X is treated. They will pick up on cognitive dissonance. They will come to the conclusion that if Employee X isn’t valued, maybe they’re not either.
But I digress. The point is that no matter the reason you think you should protect the boundaries of your job title, being too far away from tactics affects strategy.
What is the difference between strategy and tactics?
Strategy is tied to goals. Where do you want to be? What would you like to achieve in a certain timeframe.
Strategy is the plan — 30 days, 120 days, 1 year.
Think of it in terms we may be more familiar with: war. Strategy is about winning the war. Tactics are how you do it. The great generals of time understand the landscape, their enemy, their enemy’s tactics, and the strengths and weaknesses of their own army.
Don’t like war? How about sports? No football team goes against another team without spending time on the field in practice. The strategy of the game never changes: outscore the opposing team by running the ball in the end zone.
The tactics to achieve that strategy vary depending upon the team you’re playing. Coaches and leadership — maybe even the team — will spend hours watching tape of the opposing team — studying their every move. The strategy of studying the opposition helps you find their strengths and weaknesses. It helps shape the tactics used in order to accomplish the overall goals.
Coaches and generals apply strategy to achieve their goals, but in war and football, the tactics and tools don’t evolve as quickly as the digital world. This is why it’s important to do the work.
If you’ve ever listened to Gary Vaynerchuk, then you’ve heard him say, “be a practitioner.” He talks about having his head in the clouds and his feet in the dirt.
For him, clouds represent strategy and tactics the dirt.
In this video he says,
“I believe that engagement on Twitter makes sense. I also then do it.”
Do the Work.
Once you write your strategy and start implementing it, you may see results that surprise you — in any direction. Do you stop to ask yourself why?
Why are those ads converting? What is your time on site? What are the voids your brand can fill in your industry? Where can you show your value? How can you increase loyalty? Why is your open rate so low? Is it just your company or is it the service?
Questions are important. Questions drive you to answers.
Doing the work gives you familiarity. Sure, Vayner Media has over 800 employees. But what’s amazing about Gary Vaynerchuk is that he always does the work. That’s why his agency has won in so many areas.
“Here’s the thing: if you’re not constantly working on your craft—if you get too romantic about doing things how they’ve “always been done”—you’re going to lose. You need to be a practitioner.” Gary Vaynerchuk
Tactical shifts — especially in media — can alter the effectiveness of your strategy. If you distance yourself too far from implementation, you will not be able to create or alter a strategy that creates results.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Just kidding!
In the competing kingdoms in the world of the internet, social media platforms are springing up like mushrooms in a dark and damp forest. Who will save ye fair maiden? Who will slay the dreaded dragon?
Seriously, the resentment toward the Biggest of the Land from its serfs is directed toward Lord Facebook. We love it for convenience (friends and family, looking at photos, secret groups, login key) but we hate its grandiosity, its advertising, and its intelligence. Like a Lord in the age of Robin Hood, we are served by the Master but we are not free.
There is another kingdom that we’ve all scoffed at and, since the wave debacle, we have lost our faith in. He is one of the most lovable and noble big brothers of them all — Google.