Susan McLennan: Okay. Great. So Tod Maffin, so great to have you here and thank you for joining me.
Tod Maffin: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Susan McLennan: You are a very highly sought after speaker. You travel the world, and here in Canada as well. One of the things you talk about, I know, is stakeholder engagement. What are the trends that you’re seeing in stakeholder engagement and what are some of the best practices that are emerging?
Tod Maffin: Wow. We could probably spend an hour just on that.
Susan McLennan: I know. It’s a great topic isn’t it?
Tod Maffin: It really is. And why don’t we back up and sort of define stakeholder because…
Susan McLennan: Sure.
Tod Maffin: …it means so many things to different people. My agency that I own is called Engage Q Digital. We work with medium to large size brands, lots of major shopping centers, the CBC, Ivano Cambridge and so on. And so for those retail type operations they have a number of stakeholders. They obviously have their shareholders at the public company level. They have their retail partners, so for a shopping center some of their stakeholders are going to be the actual stores in the mall. And then, of course, they have their customers. The guests as they’re usually called. So it’s really quite a strong variety of each one. And each audience group, each one of those sort of sub-stakeholder groups needs different messaging. And another group that’s very common in stakeholders, of course, are your own employees. So most organizations will have four or five different groups of stakeholders and each one requires a different strategy.
Susan McLennan: Do you work with personas?
Tod Maffin: We don’t really work with personas. You know, we work with an understanding of demographics and psychographics. I actually find personas to be a little limiting.
Susan McLennan: Hmm.
Tod Maffin: If you’re talking about, sort of, you know, saying the average is this person and so you create a name for the person. And I’ve been in board room meetings where they literally have gotten cardboard cutouts of people that look like the persona. You know the problem when you do that, here’s a really good example. One of our clients is called Oakridge Center in Vancouver. Major, major shopping center in the city. One of the largest. And they have a very specific demographic. Their largest demographic tends to be foreign born. So born outside of Canada. Usually from Asian countries. Women, in sort of middle age, to a little bit older. That’s one grouping. If there are, of course, three or four sub groupings, or not sub-grouping, but similar ones.
And if we were to just focus on one or two in a persona mindset, we’d lost all of the variations that are within that. Just because you are a Chinese-born Canadian-resident who is a woman, who is 50 years old doesn’t mean you’ll be into the same kind of things, let’s say high fashion or something, that someone else in the same demographic and psychographic group. So we tend to stay away from them. What we focus on instead are, we just call them audience segments, right? So what are the people in each audience segment, what are they trying to accomplish? And then what are we trying to get them to do? If you answer both questions you usually got a pretty good strategy. So one of our clients is the Grey Cup, for instance. So we’re managing all the social channels for the Gray Cup, all their digital marketing.
And so, one obvious major segment of the Gray Cup are Canadian football fans who are male in their 30s. Usually live in small cities, so we’re talking about, sort of Regina is very popular, Ottawa and so on. Ottawa has a new team this year. So we find out what kind of content that they want, what resonates with them, and then what do we want them to do. And where we can find an intersection is really the sweet spot.
Susan McLennan: Yeah, I would say, it might be a matter of semantics, because I would say that really effective personas do that. I think the really bad personas just kind of do bio-sketches that are kind of irrelevant.
Tod Maffin: Yeah.
Susan McLennan: But, I think, the really good ones concentrate on the problem that the audience is trying to solve by being engaged with your product or whatever, at least for a product. And then what you’re trying to accomplish and where the two roads meet. From listening to it I think the really good personas are not that dissimilar.
Tod Maffin: Sure.
Susan McLennan: One of the things you said something that really fascinated me, is employees and I love that. I think that this day in age your employees can be your best resource and so often organizations have completely forgotten about them. And if you don’t have your employees working with you, pulling alongside of you, then quite often they’re pulling against you.
Tod Maffin: Yeah, very true. You know, I mean, one of the great things is that your employees can be your best brand advocates, and often are more effective in spreading a message from PR marketing side than your marketing collateral materials would be or any advertising dollars. And you’re right a lot of organizations ignore those. There are some tools out there. I’ve got a book coming out with my friend and co-author Mark Levas, coming out in October called Touch. The URL for that is bit.ly/TouchTheBook.
Susan McLennan: Yeah.
Tod Maffin: In that book we talk about a number of ways, not just tools, but number of ways that people are sort of getting their employees on board. And some of it can be tool-based systems, you know, web-based applications that give achievements if you won a game of [inaudible 00:07:21] or actual perks for people to sort of spread the word. But in many cases it can be something as simple as, you know, what we often recommend with our clients, if you’ve got a news release coming out that you want to get your employees on board to share, write that news release or write that information in three different formats. So the, excuse me, the first format is the full news release. Hopefully you put it out on a web page so they can link to it. You know, it’s the traditional inverted pyramid style news release that you’d send out to the media. The second version you do is about a three to four hundred word summary of it. And that you encourage them to paste on their Facebook profiles.
And then the third one you do is about a 100 character. Usually all you’ve got is room for a headline and a link back to that first full blog post or that full first news release. And that’s intended for Twitter. And if you provide them with photos and so on and send it out a day ahead of time of the news, or at the time the news breaks. And give them kind of, you know, a sense of pre-writing the stuff for their social channels but if it’s easy for them to do, to cut and for them to copy a tweet and paste it onto their social channels. You’d be amazed how many will do it.
Susan McLennan: And how many people want to do it? You know, they want to be engaged with the cause of where they work and the broader mission. And if you don’t treat your insiders like insiders they start to act like outsiders.
Tod Maffin: That’s right. Absolutely.
Susan McLennan: And your book and you’ve talked a little bit in other places about the experience of co-writing so what have you learned from co-writing a book?
Tod Maffin: Lots and lots of things. We had a great deal of fun actually writing. I don’t know that the book would have been written if I didn’t have someone… if we both didn’t have someone sort of, you know, pushing us along. As it turns out, Mark and I were accidentally, without knowing it, working on essentially the same book. Mark came out, he’s in Ottawa, I’m in Vancouver, Mark came out to a blogger conference we have out here called Northern Voice which is a great conference. And I said it’d be great to see you again, he was speaking actually with one of the keynotes. And I said, “I can’t be there on Saturday but I’m going to this book writing workshop.” So I was going to this workshop that was basically how to get your book started. So it was for people who procrastinate. And Mark said, “That sounds interesting, I’m working on a book too so I should come along.”
So we did, we went, it was a full-day session. We left at noon because the workshop was terrible. But as we had lunch afterwards, we’re sort of licking our wounds about the workshop, I said, “What kind of book are you working on?” He said, “What kind of book are you working on?” Turns out we were working on essentially the same book so we merged forces. The biggest challenge for us was the writing mechanics of it. We had a weekly call setup every Monday morning at 10, and we would kind of bounce ideas around, and we sort of carved out areas in the book we were most interested in. But the biggest problem was the technical challenge. And that’s how do we both work from the same document. Google Doc would be perfect but Google docs is not very non-linear. It’s like a word document, it’s one big file. And, you know, you could break it up into different chapters but there’s no organizational structure.
So we settled on a tool called Scrivner. Scrivner’s very well known among authors. Major novelists and non-fiction book writers use it. And it’s very non-linear, you can move sections around, drag it, it’s really phenomenal. The problem is it doesn’t play well with another person using the file. We had our master file in a drop box folder. And we tried having it open at the same time and saving changes and it completely corrupted the file. So we ended up having to assign days to ourselves. So I was Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And Mark was Friday, Saturday, Monday. And I wasn’t allowed to go into the file on his days. And he wasn’t allowed to go into the file on my days. So that there was no corruption and that ended up working.
Susan McLennan: Oh that’s good. But not everybody can be that disciplined. I know when I write, it writes me. I don’t always have the chance to be that structured about.
Tod Maffin: Right.
Susan McLennan: It’s good that you’re able to find somebody who could.
Tod Maffin: Yeah.
Susan McLennan: Yeah, writing, you know, you talked about procrastinating. I actually had a book that I wanted to write. Started it a few years ago and then it came out in somebody else’s name last year.
Tod Maffin: Wow, how did that happen?
Susan McLennan: No, no. It was just two minds thinking along the same way and it was all due to procrastination that my book was essentially written by somebody else. But it was great to find, it was wonderful to find somebody who was, it was vindication in some ways, and validation of a theory we’d been working on. So now I’m kind of looking and thinking, “Hmm. I need to do something with that and you know modify.” And you know. But, yeah. It is…
Tod Maffin: Yeah, sure.
Susan McLennan: … you have to get out there with your book when you’ve got it.
Tod Maffin: Yeah, absolutely. You do, yeah. And we were pretty lucky we did a lot of research to see if anyone else was in the space. And the idea behind the book is that, as I’m sure you know, that every layer of business technology you add into your business, be it chat room support, or bet it automated hiring job applications. Every layer of business technology you add in certainly adds an element of productivity but it removes a layer of humanity.
Susan McLennan: Oh, boy. Does it ever.
Tod Maffin: It really does. And, you know, I mean, everyone’s had these experiences where you go to call your cell phone company and it says you know, the autobot says punch in your phone number, then you get, you punch in your phone number. You get to human being finally, what’s the first thing the human being asks you for?
Susan McLennan: What’s your phone number?
Tod Maffin: What’s your phone number? Right?
Susan McLennan: So frustrating.
Tod Maffin: So the humanity’s out. So the idea behind Touch, the book is that we’ve isolated five factors that will help you use business technology but maintain and, in fact, enhance the humanity in business.
Susan McLennan: Oh, my goodness. That is like the number one struggle you know, when you work with… we work with larger brands and also start-ups. We kind of have this funny dichotomy going but it keeps us fresh for both you know.
But with smaller brands, with the start-ups, especially when there’s a fast and accelerated growth period and there’s the need to get technology, it’s… I really try and keep them grounded in the human and the personality, and sticking to really understanding your values. And how all of your communication and your touch points refer back to that, and no technology can every strip that away from you. You can’t… if that that happens you have to abandon that technology.
Tod Maffin: Yeah, absolutely.
Susan McLennan: Because you will just lose it, and we see it with bigger brands who have set processes in motion and they forgotten that they actually have real people they’re dealing with.
Tod Maffin: Yup.
Susan McLennan: And then they send out messages on, “Your call is very important to us.” And all you’re screaming in your head is, “No! No it’s not!”
Tod Maffin: That’s right, yeah, it’s so true. So true.
Susan McLennan: Yeah, fascinating. The whole, I think whether you’re, if you’re a big company you have to learn to think small and if you’re a small company you have to remember to think small. Because it is about that individual touch point. I love this out of your book. I love your book.
Tod Maffin: Well, we had a lot of fun writing it and so far, I mean, the pre-sales on Amazon are doing really well. We were selected as the editor’s choice at our publisher for foreign rights distribution. So she’s going over to Frankfurt and has deals lined up so it’s… this is our first. Mark and I have written books before but we sort of self-published them. This is our first experience with “real publisher.” So it’ll be exciting to see it, you know, in airports and in bookstores and in the media.
Susan McLennan: Well, I’ll be buying it that’s for sure.
Tod Maffin: Great.
Susan McLennan: And you also do a fair bit of speaking, don’t you?
Tod Maffin: I do. Yeah, I do between about 30 and 45 conferences a year on average.
Susan McLennan: Yeah. And one of the things I love about you because this is an element that’s important to us as well given our background. But you use humor.
Tod Maffin: You have to use humor.
Susan McLennan: Yeah.
Tod Maffin: You know, I mean, I think how many of us have been to conferences where it’s incredibly dry and it’s tough getting stuff out. I mean the brain needs to be activated to learn.
Susan McLennan: Yeah.
Tod Maffin: If the brain is bored, if the brain doesn’t have anything to focus on, if it doesn’t have any… and you know, I actually sort of came to my… my original background was in radio. I started my career in radio, I spent many years at the CBC as a national host and producer. And one of the things, the sort of tricks of the trade in radio, and it’s used more in public radio, are these things that I ended up calling audio on ramps. And the idea is if you’re listening to a story, especially like a first-person narrated story like you might hear on This American Life or something like that in the U.S. After about a minute to a minute and a half your brain starts to lose track of things automatically.
It’s just the society we live in. So an audio on-ramp’s job, at least in radio, is to indicate the change of a scene. And that scene change can be a time change, it can be a location, it can be tone. Usually indicated by adding some music underneath or taking music out or adding an audio element. And that sort of triggers the brain when you’re listening to say, “Oh, this is a new…” You know, if I were reading this in a book I would have just started a new chapter or a new section. And I think you have to do the same thing when you’re speaking as well. You know, I think you need to provide these on-ramps for people to, you know, if their brain has sort of phased out, to phase back in again. And one of the most effective ways I’ve seen it done, and that’s why I use it, is humor. It’s to sort of stop, and do… you know, I don’t really tell jokes but there’s a lot of anecdotes. I mean I’ve had a lot of stuff go horribly wrong.
Susan McLennan: Yeah.
Tod Maffin: You know and I owned a dot com company that I started back in 1999 which developed semantic analysis, syntactic analysis on, we would call it sentiment analysis today. And the company grew very fast. We went public in 18 months. We were, you know, wealthy on paper. And then the company exploded spectacularly. And I can use that as humor in a way because it’s, you know, everyone has had that cringe moment but it’s also, there’s some learning involved in that as well. So, you know, I don’t… I’m not a big fan of people who go on stage and tell jokes, but I think if you have a humorous anecdote that’s relevant. I think that works really well.
Susan McLennan: Comedy is pain plus time.
Tod Maffin: Yeah. Isn’t that true. And I mean you know a lot of the comedians that are out there, if you actually talk to them, I’m friends with a couple of them, they’re kind of dark individuals.
Susan McLennan: Yeah, a lot of them.
Tod Maffin: Like, you know, they have this well of richness of emotion and humanity that often kind of goes into the dark side, and that’s where they pull out a lot of that material from.
Susan McLennan: It’s true. My husband is a comedian, comes from that world, and wrote comedy and did on air humor commentary for CBC news and you know, still has shows on TBS, PBS, CBC, TV Ontario that are comedy based. But I would have to say, in all fairness to him, he is the exception to the rule.
Because his nickname is “the happy guy”. But every other comedian I know has a… and it does lend to a richness of material, that kind of darker side. But we were doing a workshop at a safety conference, I mean safety conferences are just renowned for being deeply boring because the material is so serious and you’re dealing people’s lives so we decided to shake it up a little bit. And we started with three safety experts and we had them start diving into the most boring subject and we coached them on using their most monotone voices. And then about a minute and half into it we had the inimitable Linda Kash, of course, from Second City, and she’s the Philadelphia Cream Cheese angel, and all of the great.
Tod Maffin: Oh. Cool.
Susan McLennan: Yeah. And we have Linda pop-up and just completely disrupt the workshop and take it off in this crazy, zany direction and to watch these safety engineers who were just kind of slumping in their seats. And you could see their eyes just close and then to watch them come alive and to giggle and to laugh and to applaud, it was just so much fun.
Tod Maffin: That’s neat.
Susan McLennan: Yeah, it’s amazing what humor can do. So when you speak what are you hearing in terms of emerging topics? What’re people looking for you to advise them on that maybe is relatively new?
Tod Maffin: Well there’s certainly technology topics that are sort of coming and go right now. Big data is very popular. Lots of people are talking about that, so. And the book’s topic itself, part of the reason that we wrote the book, frankly, was to capitalize on this trend of how do we put more humanity in the business. And that’s something that a lot of the organizers are looking at. And not just kind of the traditional way you would think, you know, HR conferences and so on. But really all businesses, how do we serve our customers as people…
Susan McLennan: Yeah.
Tod Maffin: …instead of as account numbers? You know, one of the things that I always can’t stand is the bureaucracy of tracking numbers. So, you know, like you get a… you’re at a… what would be a good example? My wife and I just moved into a new property in Vancouver and so we were on the phone with the city because we had some by-law enforcement issue that we’re inquiring about. And at the end of the call she says, “Okay I’m going to give you an issue number.” And it was 04629D74, this huge number and I said, “What do I need this for?” And she said, “Well, you know, in case you need to call back.” “Well, don’t you have my name in the file?” “Oh yeah, of course we have your name. We can look it up that way.” Or hotels, you know, cancellation codes. ”Well, I mean, that’s in my record.”
So it’s just stuff like that that we’re hearing a lot of and I think that’s why the pre-sales on our book have been so strong so far. The people are really clamoring to get that information is, how do we…? And it’s not about… there are so many books out there that are, “You need to be more human.” Our book is different. Our book is, “How do you do that without losing the benefits of the business technology.” Because every other book, every other program will say collapse your business technology, right? They’ll say go back to basics. Go back to picking up the phone. Well, that’s not scalable for a lot of organizations. If you’re Rogers, if you’re the government of Canada you can’t have 1,000 people on a phone line all the time or 10,000. So the reality of business, how do you actually go about using this business technology that does give you good things, but tempering it and in fact using it to enhance building humanity into your stakeholder relationships.
Susan McLennan: Well, Todd I’m going to wrap up here, I just have loved every second of this. And I’d love to have you back on. I think you’re just an awesome guest. So when your book is out I’d love to talk to you more about it.
Tod Maffin: We’d love that. Thank you.
Susan McLennan: Awesome. Thanks so much. So that was great.