Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Which Comes First: Happiness Or Success?

We all know the paradox of the chicken and the egg—historically, one must have preceded the other. Drawing on Darwin’s theory of evolution, we can surmise that the familiar chicken must have evolved in phases, first from reptile to bird through natural selection, and then from wild pheasant to domesticated fowl through artificial selection. So the first “chicken” probably hatched from an egg laid by a pheasant-like animal that wasn’t quite a chicken. But then, what distinguishes a chicken from a not-quite-chicken? It’s all very complicated.

Happiness and success are also strongly correlated, and at first glance, the question of which occurs first would seem to pose a similar intellectual challenge. In fact, much academic literature supports the presence of a causal relationship that may seem counter-intuitive: happiness promotes success, but success doesn’t necessarily promote happiness.

Why is this? And what are the implications of this relationship for the way we organize our personal and professional lives?

The evidence
In his bestseller The Happiness Advantage and in his popular 2011 TED Talk, positive psychology expert Shawn Achor draws on his own extensive research—including case studies at Harvard University and in the private sector—to argue that happiness is a catalyst for success in both academic and professional endeavours. He also alludes to a growing body of knowledge in the fields of neuroscience and positive psychology that buttress this conclusion.

An explanation Achor offers for the failure of measurable success to consistently induce happiness, is the problem of moving goalposts. Once we reach a particular goal, we tend to immediately adopt a more ambitious one. While goal-setting and ambition are generally desirable traits, aspirations can become unhealthy if we view them from a glass-half-empty perspective, don’t take time to acknowledge our achievements, and constantly berate ourselves over a perceived failure to attain “real” success. To paraphrase Achor, by framing happiness as a product of success, we indefinitely push both happiness and success beyond our cognitive horizon. And in turn, the absence of life satisfaction here and now can actually hamper our future prospects.

Tips for boosting your day-to-day positivity

  Show gratitude to the people who contribute meaningfully to your life, including colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Reflect on your accomplishments with pride, and  take time (3-5 minutes) to actively appreciate the positives. Try making a daily journal entry of three things for which you are grateful. Over time, this exercise will train your mind to seek out opportunities rather than dwell on hazards.

  Keep calm and manage your schedule so as to mitigate stress. Chip away at long-term projects incrementally to avoid procrastination-induced deadline anxiety. Focus on conserving energy throughout the workday, so that you keep some in reserve for recreational activities, quality time with friends and family, and hobbies while you’re away from the office. When stress shows up (and it occasionally will), embrace the challenge and think about how great you’ll feel once you’ve conquered it.

  Be kind to others. This is a win-win: agents and recipients of compassion both tend to experience higher levels of life satisfaction. Random acts of kindness, which could be as simple as sending a brief e-mail to show appreciation for the efforts of an employee or co-worker, can make an enduring beneficial impact on the culture of your workplace.

  Clear your head. Sometimes in order to refocus, we need to temporarily un-focus. If you experience a feeling of stagnation at work, try stepping away for a while and enjoying a pleasurable activity. Upon your return, you may be pleasantly surprised by the ease with which your work flows, and by the new insights and creativity your mind generates.

  Eat healthy, balanced meals and allocate enough time for them that you avoid constantly “eating on the run”. Feelings of burnout, irritability, and energy lapses are often at least partly attributable to inadequate nutrition.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Five Business and Economic Trends To Watch In 2016

Challenges and changes will be the hallmarks of 2016, but this year will also present great opportunities to far-sighted, innovative individuals and organizations.

1.  Economic headwinds intensify

Canada has been hit hard by the continued fall in the price of oil and other commodities, on which our economy depends heavily for investment and revenue. Not surprisingly, the province of Alberta has suffered disproportionately, with tens of thousands of jobs lost; the provincial government has also seen its tax and royalty revenues drop, inducing a large fiscal deficit. A lower loonie is the inevitable consequence of a fall in foreign investment to Canada’s extractive industries.

Of course, the global economy is highly integrated, and difficulties in one nation are usually indicative of broader trends. The weakening of commodities owes largely to a slowdown in the Chinese economy, due in part to persistent soft demand for Chinese manufactures in the most lucrative consumer markets: the U.S., the European Union, and Japan. China has managed to sustain a relatively high growth rate since the 2008 Great Recession with the help of public expenditures and private credit. But this tactic seems to be nearing the end of its rope, and investors are nervous about the implications—hence the volatile stock market.

All in all, 2016 is likely to be another year of economic uncertainty, and recession is a distinct possibility for many industrialized countries, China included.

2.  Millennials move up; Gen-Zers enter the workforce

It’s hard to believe that fears over “Y2K” came and went more than 16 years ago, yet here we are. In 2016 and in the years to follow, we will witness a major demographic shift in the workforce: Baby-boomers will continue to retire or cut back on their hours; Millennials will scale the professional ladder into positions of greater authority and prominence; and members of Generation Z—also called Post-Millenials or iGens, born in the era of boy bands and Spice Girls—will increasingly fill entry-level posts.

The visibility of this shift toward youth in business and politics will grow, as will its influence on consumer-market dynamics. Businesses that cater effectively to the preferences of the under-35 cohort by embracing mobile technology, values like social justice and environmental sustainability, and somewhat non-traditional work environments, will prosper.

3.  Departures from “business as usual”

Infused with youthful vigour and an innovative mindset, many organizations are adopting new ways of working.

Some workplaces have introduced elements of fun and relaxation into their office environments—like ping pong tables, recreation areas, and even dedicated spaces for taking naps. Others offer flexible work schedules, including unlimited vacation, conditional on employees completing all of their assigned tasks within a set timeframe. And last year, CEO Dan Price of Gravity Payments made headlines when he announced a minimum annual salary of $70,000 for workers at his business, and cut his own compensation by 90 percent.

With more young, socially conscientious individuals in the workforce and greater diversity in the executive suites, the trend away from traditional corporate structures and workplace dynamics will continue.

4.  Growth of the “gig economy”, and friction with the old order

The phrase “gig economy” is largely a misnomer, since a lot of “gigs” are really short-term employment stints, often in the service sector. For example, a customer who commissions a driver through a ride-sharing service is effectively hiring both the motorist and the company to provide transportation. But because of the informality of “gigs”, the temporary employer typically needn’t pay a minimum wage, or cover expenses like health insurance, workers’ compensation, payroll taxes, or job training. As a result, “gig” workers’ labour costs can undersell those of their counterparts in established industries by a wide margin.

In many major cities, taxi companies and drivers are lobbying municipal governments to either nullify certain regulations on the taxi industry to enable taxis to “compete” with ride sharing, or outlaw ride sharing altogether. Either way, the consequences for customers could be significant. Last year, the California Labor Commission ruled that an Uber driver was an employee rather than a contractor, and thus was entitled to claim certain out-of-pocket expenses. If this ruling encompassed all such drivers, ride sharing could lose a big chunk of its cost-competitive edge.

The inherent conflict between traditional work and “gigs” is far from settled.

5.  Opportunities in mobile services

Mobile technology has both greatly improved and become ubiquitous over the past decade, and accordingly, a healthy bottom line awaits companies that ride this wave successfully. A mobile-friendly web presence is more important than ever before, and businesses should strongly consider developing their own apps to facilitate access for customers with smartphones and tablets.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Conquer the Fear of Saying No

If you ask a person on the street which word is likelier to contribute to personal and professional success—yes or no—that individual will probably choose the former. But as many leaders in the world of business and politics will tell you, learning to say no can be every bit as important as knowing how to say yes. The reasons for this are largely intuitive: by turning down some engagements, you free up time, energy, and mental focus for the endeavours you find most inspiring.

However, many of us feel distinctly uncomfortable with saying no, often because we worry that doing so may cause offence or otherwise lead to negative social consequences. Insofar as it compels us to take on more commitments than we can handle at any one time, this anxiety can hamper our pursuit of the professional and life goals that are most important to us.

Establish and respect your own boundaries.

Your work is surely a high priority for you—but so are your health, quality time with friends and family, leisure time, and other hobbies or avocations. Think of your lifestyle as analogous to a meal: nearly everyone would prefer a flavourful medley of high-quality, healthy ingredients to a monochromatic, humdrum dish of little nutritional value. Likewise, if you devote all of your time to a single work-related project, you probably won’t enjoy a wholesome existence.

Once you set parameters like the number of hours you’re willing to devote to a new project, and commitment versus expected benefit, you’ll find it easier to distinguish the undertakings that really interest you from the also-rans.

Be honest with yourself.

Before you dive headfirst into any significant assignment, ask yourself the following questions:

1)  Am I genuinely passionate about this project?

2)  Five years from now, will I look back on my efforts with pride?

3)  Is it consistent with my values?

4)  Why is it important to me to take this on?

5)  Will I be able to dedicate sufficient time to this?

6)  Do I have the necessary technical expertise, and/or can I partner with someone who does?

Unless you can answer all or most of those questions, you’re better off saving your talents for something that’s more up your alley. Otherwise, you’ll likely either feel stretched too thin, or a sense of regret about the opportunity cost.

Know your strengths.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. The first step on the path to success in any field is to identify your own. Once you know where your own aptitudes and deficiencies lie, you can work to refine the former and improve the latter. You’ll also know which of your personal attributes you can rely on in high-pressure situations.

The willingness to venture outside one’s comfort zone is often an admirable quality. But if a project either isn’t your cup of tea from a technical standpoint, or you sense that your time would be better spent elsewhere, you should consider either turning it down or delegating it.

Strategies for politely declining:

“I’d like to know more. Can you send me more information?” This serves two purposes. First, it provides a test of the other individual’s commitment; if you never hear from h/er, you will know. Second, it gives you the opportunity to learn more about the endeavour itself before deciding whether to take it on.

“Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” This is not an explicit demurral, but it does enable you to buy time. It is possible that the person who pitched the idea to you will forget after a while. Alternatively, on further reflection you may decide that the project is right up your alley.

“This seems like an excellent, worthwhile idea, but unfortunately...” Shortage of time is an excuse that most people will accept, particularly if they’re not close friends of yours who happen to be conversant with your schedule.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to Keep (For Real) Your Professional New Year’s Resolutions

The standard tale of the unfulfilled new year’s resolution—an ambitious goal that one articulates, commits to, and promptly abandons—has become a cultural cliché in our society. In fact, many fitness professionals joke that January is the busiest month of the year at the gym, whereas February usually brings a normal volume of customers. Regardless of the area in which we see room for self-improvement, thinking of a new year’s resolution is one thing; actually following through is another.

What is true of personal goals is equally true of professional ones—setting a work-related resolution is easy, but actually fulfilling our ambitions requires commitment, perseverance, and consistency.

Friends and colleagues can hold you accountable.

“Will power” needn’t merely be a matter of individual steel and grit; you can enlist the help of others
to hold you accountable for your commitments. If your goal is to keep yourself in better physical shape this year, try joining a running group or scheduling exercise sessions with a friend. If you have particular professional ambitions—such as finishing a project ahead of a fixed deadline—announce them to your colleagues, staff, and anyone else who will listen. Although most people won’t go out of their way to remind you of your shortcomings, the desire to avoid the shame of breaking a public promise can be a powerful motivator.

Set manageable targets.

If you have an ambitious, long-term goal, you may find yourself daunted by the thought of what you need to do in order to reach the finish line, and the massive amount of effort and commitment involved. Instead of approaching a challenge this way, you may instead find it helpful to identify intermediate landmarks.

For instance, if your office is disorganized and you’d like to rectify that, don’t allow the scariness of tidying up an entire room to overwhelm you; aim to keep a corner of your desk clear of clutter, then another corner, etc.

Create a roadmap for yourself, including a clear understanding of the process involved in reaching your final goal, and reward yourself as you surpass each milestone. Of course, you can expect that some days will be easier than others, but remember that even slight progress toward your desired outcome is better than none.

Foster new habits.

As human beings, we all tend to be creatures of habit. This partly explains why committing to a new year’s resolution is so difficult; unless we continue a particular activity long enough to cultivate a new habit, we easily slip back into familiar, comfortable patterns of behaviour. Our habits are like molds that shape our personal characteristics and abilities, and it takes time and dedication to restructure those molds. But fortunately, it can be done.

In the quest to develop new habits, planning and intentionality are valuable allies. Establish your intentions, write them down, and commit them to memory. To help manage your time, set temporal boundaries for yourself—for instance, “I will check my e-mail inbox at 11:00 a.m., but no sooner, and I will finish with that task by 11:20.” Personally, I find it helpful to work in segments of 20-30 minutes, and time myself with a stopwatch.

Don’t let a slight shortfall deter you.

Even after an honest effort, you may find that you’ve fallen short of your new year’s resolution. But don’t let that disappointment dissuade you from setting ambitious goals and pursuing the professional success you desire. Even if you don’t quite attain your goals this time, you will learn valuable lessons that will help you in your next attempt.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Can Corporations Halt Climate Change?

In an article published in Harvard Business Review, science historian Naomi Oreskes and green business advocate Auden Schendler argue that we can’t count on large, for-profit corporations to undertake meaningful climate action on their own.

One take-away from Oreskes and Schendler’s piece is hard to dispute: in order to combat climate change, a binding and meaningful international climate accord is essential. But is the authors’ pessimistic assessment of major corporations vis-a-vis the climate also warranted? That depends.

The profit motive versus the climate?

By providing an incentive for business leaders to respond to the forces of supply and demand in the marketplace, the profit motive plays an integral role in all capitalist market economies.

In theory, robust demand for a given product or service causes its price to rise, which motivates businesses to supply more. Firms that respond nimbly to consumer demand are rewarded with increased profits. In the world of natural resources and commodities, scarcity drives prices higher, which encourages investment in research and development, and drives the search for alternative fuels and material inputs. In a competitive marketplace, consumers theoretically gain access to innovative, high-quality goods and services at the lowest feasible cost.

The idea that the pursuit of self-interest is conducive to the collective welfare of society has a long history, with famous exponents including Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and Milton Friedman. Large corporations of the present day generally adhere to a similar principle; in fact, courts in the U.S. and other countries have ruled that publicly traded businesses have a fiduciary responsibility to pursue profit on behalf of their shareholders. This framework saddles the state with enforcing laws and regulations, deterring and prosecuting crimes, dealing with externalities, and generally safeguarding the public interest.
Whither externalities?      

Externalities are costs or benefits that are not embodied in the market price of a good or service. Industrial belching of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere contributes to the negative externalities of pollution and climate change. Health care, by contrast, yields positive externalities by promoting a a more salubrious society. As long as they remain external to market prices, externalities can seriously undermine the ability of our economic system to advance human welfare.

Governments can partly redress climate externalities by taxing or regulating polluters, and providing incentives for non-polluters. But since there is only one atmosphere, and climate change is occurring at a global scale, policies of this kind must be internationally harmonized in order to be most effective.

Moreover, governments are never disinterested actors; they are subject to lobbying by various parties and interest groups (including major corporations with significant investment in the status quo). The appropriate price of carbon emissions, for example, is a contentious issue. No government is omniscient, and uncertainty invites differing perspectives, interpretations, and geopolitical tensions.

For instance, U.S. representatives might argue that meaningful progress can’t occur on the climate file without hefty emissions reduction commitments from China. China’s representatives might retort that relatively inexpensive Chinese manufactures benefit western corporations and consumers—so the developed world shares partial responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions in China. Both arguments contain a kernel of truth, and there is no simple way to ascertain which kernel deserves more weight.

The “free” market

Even the most elementary functions of government influence private market interactions. There is no such thing as a “free” market.

By levying taxes, the state encourages its citizens to change their behaviour in order to avoid those taxes. By commissioning the construction of roads and highways, it facilitates private automobile transport, and in turn, props up the automotive industry. With its police force and judiciary, it enforces private property and enables accumulation. Through public education, it contributes to the productivity of private enterprises. Unemployment insurance programs enable risk-taking and entrepreneurship by mitigating the costs of failure. Every successful capitalist economy has included significant government intervention, and public policy is thoroughly enmeshed in market dynamics and outcomes.

In a sense then, “Can corporations help solve climate change?” is the wrong question. Instead we should ask “Can the world’s governments structure market incentives so as to internalize externalities, and make fossil fuel combustion less profitable?” As long as cutting greenhouse gas emissions is more expensive than continuing to emit them, profit-seeking corporations will be unreliable partners (at best) in the campaign for a stable climate.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Managing Your Business’ Workload During The Holidays

The winter holidays offer a chance for employees and managers at your business to spend quality time with their families, decompress, and recharge their batteries. But for many businesses, December is the busiest time of year, and few can afford to shut down entirely for longer than a week. If you want to allow everyone at your company to enjoy a little time off, you’ll need a strategy to manage issues that may arise while you’re short-staffed.

Plan ahead.

If you can firm up details about the availability of your staff and co-workers well ahead of the
holiday season, you’ll be able to design your schedule with greater precision. This will help you avoid the stress of trying to fill in gaps at critical times, and allow you and your staff to set your holiday itineraries. This is especially important if you, or any of your employees or co-workers, hopes to travel.

Rotate on-call responsibility.

Work out a plan to share phone- and e-mail-answering duties, and allow for some flexibility. Draw straws or flip a coin for those occasions that are unlikely to entice many enthusiastic volunteers (like the morning of December 25, or the morning of January 1). Set up shifts, and make sure everyone is aware of when h/er shift begins and ends. To save time and energy on tasks that run across multiple shifts, the person who initiated the work should send an e-mail to the other staff describing the assignment, and what remains to be done. If you shut down your business for a few days, create answering machine messages and automated e-mails to let clients and customers know when they can expect you to return to work.

Share the load.

If there are assignments that need to get finished during the holiday season, try to divide the tasks so that no one feels overburdened. You can do this for both work-related and domestic chores—like decorating the house, cooking, and organizing for holiday parties and social events. Share and delegate!

Design an effective online contact/order form.

An online contact form, with fields that allow clients and customers to describe what they need in detail, can be a great asset during the holidays; it allows you to automate orders so that no one must respond in real time. While designing your form, keep economy of customer/client effort in mind. In other words, the form fields should provide space for essential information, with an optional field for notes. Overly wordy or complicated contact/order forms tend to dissuade prospective form-fillers, who may just prefer to wait—or take their business elsewhere.

Complete generic or non-time-sensitive tasks in advance.

Your holiday consists of precious moments, not surplus time. If your work involves weekly blog or social media posts, for example, prepare a few in advance so you can simply click “Publish” when you need to. Dedicate your spare time to completing assignments before you take a holiday, and you’ll free up additional time for family, friends, and valuable relaxation during that holiday.

Live in the moment and enjoy yourself.

If you’ve set aside a few hours for family and fun activities, don’t taint them by worrying about work. Leave your job behind and enjoy the holiday experience.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Negotiate From a Position Of Strength

In business, as in life, your skills as a negotiator will occasionally be tested. By concentrating on five fundamentals in particular—preparation, factual agreement, rapport, active listening, and common interests—you can greatly improve your prospects for success.

A negotiation strategy can’t succeed in advance, but it can fail in advance.

There is arguably no more important component of a negotiation strategy than preparation.

Start by envisioning the negotiated outcome to which you aspire, and understand why it is desirable for you. Identify your must-haves. This will enable you to distinguish areas where you are willing to compromise, from areas where you are determined to stand firm.

Your preparations for a negotiation should include research into the other party and h/er interests. Try to identify the outcome the other party desires, and issues on which you think s/he may be willing to compromise.

Finally, it is important that you clarify the terms and process of a negotiation at the outset. Who will be present at the meetings? How long are the negotiations anticipated to last? What does the other party’s chain of command look like, and who will sign off on the final decision? Are there key dates upcoming, deadlines, or other technical details that need to be established?

Make sure the other party is willing to agree, in writing, to the terms of the negotiated outcome. You want to avoid a situation where the other party unilaterally re-opens negotiations that you thought had concluded.

Establish consensus on key facts.

Negotiations tend to be deliberate and can be mentally taxing, so it’s helpful to reach agreement on the facts, and thereby avoid unnecessary discord and delays.

Over the course of the negotiations, information may come to light that is new to you. Should this occur, make a note of it and try to verify it. Call for a pause in the negotiations if necessary. Don’t accept a consequential “fact” that you don’t know is true, or an interpretation of reality you can’t endorse.

Just as importantly, both parties to a negotiation must have realistic expectations—including an understanding of the conditions that each party faces.

If, for example, a manufacturing subcontractor cannot fill an order because h/er factory has sustained significant damage in an earthquake, a well-informed manager of the retail firm that placed the order won’t attribute the shortfall to the subcontractor’s incompetence or negligence. A shared understanding of facts on the ground, including risks and potential causes of delay, is often essential to maintaining positive professional relationships.

Build rapport.

This involves getting to know one another personally, ensuring that all parties are on the same page, and managing or de-escalating conflicts. Rapport has verbal and non-verbal components; body language plays a central role.

Progress in negotiations tends to be especially difficult when there is hostility between the parties. Small talk can help to break the ice, but in some cases, this approach simply won’t be adequate. Some basic conflict management techniques can help you move forward in negotiations, even if you aren’t particularly fond of your counterpart.

  Avoid making provocative statements that may cause your counterpart to shut down or become defensive.

  If your counterpart makes such a provocative statement, express your lack of appreciation therefor, but suppress the temptation to retaliate in kind.

  Maintain non-threatening physical posture and body language. Speak calmly and slowly, and de-personalize the source of conflict—for example, “This situation makes me uncomfortable.” rather than “You are making me uncomfortable.”

  If necessary, take a break, and return to the topic of contention once you and your counterpart have both had an opportunity to regain composure.

Listen actively.

Active, attentive listening enables you to ascertain your counterpart’s wants, needs, goals, and any other relevant information s/he may have to offer. It also allows you to hold h/er accountable for any changes in h/er position that you haven’t acknowledged or agreed to. Your priority in negotiations should not be to catch your counterpart off-guard, to exert control, or even to “win”. Rather, your main aim should be to safeguard your own interests with an approach that emphasizes listening, critical thinking, and strategic dialogue.

Seek out common interests.

Ultimately, the goal of all parties to a negotiation is the same: to obtain something they desire, while sacrificing as little as possible. Because desirability is partly subjective, successful negotiations among equal partners can often result in a “win-win”.

A sure way to achieve real, substantive progress in a negotiation is by focusing on shared interests and ambitions. Once you know where your common interests lie, you will find it easier to iron out the details of any compromises that may be necessary.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Website Translation Advice

There’s a lot of truth the to statement that we live in a global village. Technologies like the internet, social media, large-scale shipping, and commercial airliners have dramatically reduced the effective distance between countries and continents—facilitating communication, trade, and travel to an unprecedented degree. For businesses, this offers a world of opportunity to engage with prospective clients and customers all around the globe.

Nonetheless, entrepreneurs and businesses who hope to outfox their rivals need to ensure they’ve got the right tools in place. And one of the most crucial must-haves for enterprises looking to expand overseas is a website that offers comparable content and functionality in various languages.

Hire a professional translator and/or reputable translation firm.

If you’ve ever attempted to translate lengthy passages with Google Translate, you may have noticed that flaws tend to crop up in the English version. There are many reasons for this: certain idioms don’t work well in English, cultural concepts expressed in other languages are difficult to convey in English, the software fails to correctly distinguish one homonym from another or misinterprets the context of the sentence, etc.

Assuming you want the content of your business website to convey a comparable level of meaning and impact in multiple languages—including some that you don’t happen to speak at an advanced level—you should strongly consider hiring reputable, professional translators to assist you.

Before choosing a translation firm, do some research and try to find testimonials from past clients. Seek firms that either specialize in or have native proficiency in your target language. Ideally, the translators you hire will also possess specific cultural expertise, and have the ability to operate on a 24-hour cycle for time-sensitive assignments.

An anecdote: I have a friend who works at an organization that opted to switch from the translation company it had traditionally worked with, to an outfit that offered a lower price for (ostensibly) the same work. As a native speaker of the target language, my friend noticed that the lower-priced enterprise’s content was replete with mistranslations and other errors. Unfortunately, by that time it was too late; my friend’s organization had already ordered thousands of copies of their newly translated brochures. Although the errors were eventually corrected (with my friend’s help), her organization ended up wasting significant amounts of money, time, and paper.

The moral of the story is, be vigilant, and make sure you’re not sacrificing quality at the altar of a seemingly attractive price.

Cultural appropriateness.

There’s more to effective translation than simply altering the words on your web page. Depending on the scale and importance of the target market, you’ll also want to consider ways to make your website’s content culturally relevant and appropriate for your new customers.

If certain imagery doesn’t work, messages in your original content are culturally specific and don’t transfer well to other countries, or for any reason your English-language material doesn’t address the needs and priorities of your target market, then the translation firm should be able to alert you to the problem and offer a viable solution.

As your dealings with international markets become more sophisticated, you may also want to select stock photos and symbols that are likelier to resonate with customers overseas. Furthermore, customers may feel more comfortable with your brand if they see a resemblance to themselves in some of the people whose likenesses appear on your website.

Watch out for possible issues with site architecture and navigation.

As you translate from one language to several others, you will inevitably find that the same content in different languages will occupy different amounts of physical space on the website. This can introduce problems with the layout of the pages, and the ability of visitors to navigate smoothly and efficiently.

This is one of several reasons why it’s important to run reasonably thorough quality assurance tests before you launch new content on a foreign-language version of your website.

Technical glitches are a fact of modern life, and problems will almost certainly arise with any major online translation project. But if you succeed at making inroads into lucrative foreign markets, you’ll be rewarded for your patience and perseverance.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Marketing to Customers’ Emotions

Consider television advertisements that you’ve seen for fragrance products, such as Axe deodorants and body sprays, Calvin Klein colognes, or Chanel perfumes. Some of these commercials entice would-be buyers with the promise of an exciting and glamorous lifestyle, others portray an image of coolness, stylishness, manliness, gracefulness, attractiveness. Almost universally, they seek to appeal to the emotional desires and ambitions of the target audience.

Of course, the power of emotion extends far beyond the world of fragrances; branding experts regularly employ emotional techniques to plug items ranging from soft drinks, to jeans, to automobiles. By connecting your brand identity to the emotional aspirations of consumers, you too can convey a potent message. But you’ll need to begin with a solid understanding of your customers’ emotional drivers.

What motivates your customers?

Every one of your customers is a unique individual, and each may have h/er own reasons for seeking out what you offer. Nonetheless, you’ll often be able to identify emotional drivers that many share.

As part of their research into customer emotional connectedness, published this month in Harvard Business Review, analysts Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, and Daniel Leemon compiled a list of High-Impact Motivators that includes the following:

  A desire to stand out from the crowd, which businesses can leverage by emphasizing the uniqueness of their brand.

  Confidence in the future, and a feeling that the best in life is yet to come.

  Well-being, including relief from stress.

  Freedom and independence, and sovereignty over one’s own decisions.

  Success, defined by the sense that one’s life and endeavours have meaning.

  Belonging, as in being part of the “in” crowd, and/or perceiving oneself to belong to something greater.

  Thrill/excitement, and the associated pleasure or buzz.

  Environmental protection: the belief that one’s purchasing decisions are either helping to prevent (or at least, not further exacerbating) the degradation of the ecosystem.

            Other common emotional drivers are the desire for love, financial security, the admiration of one’s peers, and the wellbeing of one’s family.

Identify emotional connections.

Existing customer and market data, surveys, and social media can all offer valuable insights here.

If your customers have liked or favourited your business or its products on social media, there is a good chance that these individuals would welcome updates, including information on special deals and limited-time offers. Surveys provide a means for you to learn about the emotions associated with particular customers and their shopping behaviour. (Questions like “Do you place greater value on individuality, or social acceptance?” or “Do you consider (X) a good brand?” can yield enlightening insights.) By aggregating basic customer data points—such as age, profession, gender, and transactional records—you can develop a profile of the kinds of customers who most value what you have to offer.

Emotionally connected customers tend to be lucrative ones.

Typically, your data will reveal that a minority of your clientele consists of regulars and comparatively big spenders. The research of Magids, Zorfas, and Leemon suggests that there is substantial overlap between your most frequent or lucrative customers, and those who feel emotionally connected to your business.

By reaching out to your most emotionally connected customers first, and striving to forge stronger connections with your borderline-emotionally connected customers, you can give your business greater staying power and a competitive edge over those that overlook this factor.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What to Look For In a Social Media Manager

Social media has become an integral component of the marketing strategy of many businesses. There is good reason for this: social media platforms bring millions of prospective clients, customers, and business professionals together, offering a dynamic, interactive commercial opportunity with few precedents in human history.

That said, to make effective and profitable use of social media, one needs both a specialized skill set and a knack for conveying the desired message.

If you plan on hiring a social media specialist to preside over your business’s online interactions, keep the following criteria in mind.

The right kind of experience and knowledge

Applicants for the position of social media manager won’t have decades of in-kind experience to fall back on, for the obvious reason that social media is a relatively novel tool. So don’t concern yourself principally with the total duration of a candidate’s experience. Instead, seek individuals whose skills, accomplishments, and outlook are compatible with your organizational culture and goals.

Ask candidates to provide descriptions and links to their past social media work, their social media accounts, and (if possible) testimonials from previous employers. You can also elicit their responses to skill-testing problems, such as “We’re hoping to design a multi-platform social media marketing campaign to promote (X), with the following messaging requirements. Show me how you would approach this assignment.”

Millennials tend to be digital natives.

We’ve all heard the standard received wisdom about millennials: they feel entitled, they have lofty ambitions but aren’t willing to work hard to achieve them, etc. However, empirical research indicates that such stereotypes are not new; rather, elders have been griping about “the younger generation” for centuries. By the same token, every generation invariably features both underachievers and high achievers.
Social media is one area in which millennials, on average, tend to be more comfortable than their elders. Many young professionals entering the labour force today may have got their start on social media before they learned to ride a bicycle. When it comes to hiring a social media strategist, you’ll need to dispel any lingering, overgeneralized misgivings you feel toward millennials. The most qualified candidates for the job are likely to be members of this youthful cohort.

Search for potential candidates on social media.

Candidates for a social media manager position will often have searchable profiles on various platforms, and an established online presence. As soon as you field a job application from someone, run a search for that person on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social media platform your business currently uses. If you can’t easily locate the individual you’re looking for, that may be cause for concern.

Proficiency in spelling, grammar, syntax, and a conversational writing style

Your business’s social media accounts are the face of your online presence, and errors that appear in these spaces reflect poorly on your organization.

Often, a social media manager’s job description includes the curation of content for a newsletter or Storify article. Depending on the specifics of the position, a social media manager may also be required to create original content for a blog or website. A high degree of language proficiency, a strong grasp of basics like spelling and grammar, and an engaging and conversational writing style, all are valuable assets.

A background in sales, marketing, or customer service

While a long history of experience in social media management shouldn’t necessarily be a top priority, social media strategy is largely a question of communicating and disseminating your company’s message effectively. Look for candidates who have a history of solid performance in this area, bo