How to Break Through the Digital Noise

How to Break Through the Digital Noise


If you want to know how dramatically brand marketing has changed in the digital world, consider the humble Ziploc bag. It used to be that such mundane products were only the fodder of advertising inserts in the Sunday newspaper. But if you search for “Ziploc bags” on YouTube, you will find them there — or, more precisely, customers’ reviews of them — by the thousands.

That is because even mainstay companies such as SC Johnson are experiencing a huge shift in the way customers spread the word about their products, said Gopi Kallayil, chief evangelist for brand marketing at Google. Brands ignite, and customers amplify, he told a standing-room-only crowd at Stanford Graduate School of Business on Wednesday, February 19.

YouTube reviews amplify the household staple whether SC Johnson encourages it or not. “You don’t have a choice; they are going to do it anyway,” he said of customers speaking their minds digitally.

Gopi Kallayil
Companies are experiencing a huge shift in the way customers spread the word about their products, said Google’s Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing Gopi Kallayil. | Photo by Natalie White

“Brand marketing is becoming permission-based,” said Kallayil during his lunch-hour talk entitled “Building your Brand in the Digital Age,” sponsored by the Mastery in Communication Initiative and the Center for Social Innovation. Even as customers click past ads or ignore them, they do give some brands permission to market to them. They do so by liking the company’s Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and Google+ pages. “Accumulating permissions is the one thing savvy companies do,” he said. It sends companies the message “every day you can send me messages and I am willing to read them.”

Toyota has even started putting customers in the driver’s seat when it comes to buying a car. Knowing that many car shoppers dread going to the dealer and soon become overwhelmed by choices, Toyota wanted to find a way to make the shopping experience more pleasant and useful. And, who better to seek advice in buying a car than from your dad or big sister. Enter the Toyota Collaborator, which Kallayil helped the auto company develop. It allows users to hold a Google+ Hangout video chat with their friends and relatives, who can help them design their dream car by dragging and dropping various features into a model of the auto. Should you have a question, you can click to call a dealer into the Hangout to answer the inquiry.

Kallayil would not give exact user numbers for the Collaborator, which started three months ago, but said Toyota is happy about the results so far. This is a “branding event” that carries the message that Toyota is reinventing the car-buying experience.

To be successful, companies have always had to establish an emotional connection between their customers and their brand, and today there are so many different — and relatively low-cost — tools for doing so. The Indian government’s highly successful #incredibleindia tourism promotion is based on crowdsourced photos from travelers rather than those from professional photographers. The ongoing “Thank you, Mom” campaign that P&G has been broadcasting throughout NBC’s coverage of the Olympics in Sochi was built with video snippets of 12 athletes throughout their childhood.

The video Kallayil showed of the moms picking up after the falls of their budding Olympic athletes, left some in the audience wiping away tears afterwards, even as a few snickered over its sappiness.

The noise is deafening now across all sorts of media. The question is how to get your audience to listen. -Gopi Kallayil, Google’s chief evangelist for brand marketing.

Consumers will ignore brand advertising unless it engages, entertains or educates, he said. Consider Volvo’s video of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Epic Split Feat.”

Attracting more than 69 million views thus far, the video created by Volvo includes just a single sentence of promotional text: “This test was set up to demonstrate the stability and precision of Volvo Dynamic Steering.” One look at Van Damme stretching his legs between two Volvo semis driving in reverse and you will understand why it went viral.

Taking the “extremely boring” and turning it into entertainment is the brilliance of a Virgin America Safety Video, that depicts entertainers dressed as flight attendants and passengers dancing and singing about the plane’s safety features. Total views of the 5-minute YouTube video: more than 8 million and counting. Now that the FAA has allowed mobile devices on some flights, the big question on social media is whether the texting nun depicted in the video will stay or go if that section gets cut, he said. And even more amazing is the fact that passengers on Virgin America flights actually watch the video, Kallayil said.

“The noise is deafening now across all sorts of media,” he said. The question is how to “get your audience to listen.”


The Business Value Of Mindfulness

The Business Value Of Mindfulness


No reasonable person doubts that basic literacy is a fundamental business skill. After all, you won’t get far if you can’t read and write. So too with basic social and communication skills. But mindfulness? Is mindfulness—a practiced nonjudgmental in-the-moment awareness rooted in meditation, Buddhism and yoga—also becoming an important business tool?

Organizations like the Institute for Mindful Leadership and the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute say “yes,” as does the contemplation-centric Garrison Institute. They all assert a business value for mindfulness training while also providing such training. And they root the trainings they offer in traditional practices along with contemporary neuroscience and psychology. So too with business schools bringing mindfulness training into their curricula.

But not everyone is delighted by the prospect of mindfulness in the workplace. Some see it as “saffron-washing” and “abusing the Buddha,” well-intentioned efforts that sever mindfulness practice from the ethical frameworks in which such practice were developed and from which they derive meaning. Nevertheless, even the most ardent critics note mindfulness practices yield healthier, more productive employees. And emerging research backs up the value.

One of the leading voices encouraging mindfulness in the workplace has been Gopi Kallayil, Google’s Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing. While they both hail from Google Gopi is not directly connected to the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. He did tell me “(t)hey are doing a great service in taking the SIY program developed at Google and bringing it to the rest of the world through a non-profit.”

He and I exchanged emails about the business value of mindfulness. Readers of “Managing Mental Wealth,” especially those who have not yet gotten curious about whether mindfulness training might help in business, just might find helpful the stories and thoughts he shared with me.

He recounted a story whose beginning will be familiar to anyone who has done any public speaking. It’s the ending that’s unique and relevant.  After getting on stage in front of about 200 people at a Wisdom 2.0 conference breakout session on “Wisdom and Aging,” he pressed the clicker for his first slide. Yup, you guessed it. Nothing happened.

After many minutes of tinkering he felt the collective audience snicker: Even the Google guy can’t make his technology work for him.

When this happens to me I tend to hide behind self-deprecating humor and using my hands for a shadow puppet show. Maybe I mix in a little Borsht-Belt humor. But he called it an “American Bison moment.” To explain what he meant he told a story within this story:

“Once, in a very challenging work situation, a colleague at Google pulled a coin out of his pocket, a family heirloom from his grandfather, embossed with an image of the American bison. The bison is a denizen of mountains and valleys where snowstorms are swift and brutal. My colleague told us it’s the only animal that will turn toward the storm, lean into it and walk to meet it, which is why Native Americans call it ‘Faces the Storm.’ It knows instinctively that if it does this, it will be out of the storm sooner.

“Standing on stage, I decided to do the same. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ I said, ‘I came here to talk about the amazing technologies we build at Google. But the most important technology we use in our lives is right here–our body, our breath, our brain. Let me show you how we can use this technology most effectively when challenged by life’s problems. Let me teach you a small breathing and mindfulness technique I am using right now to manage this situation up here on the stage.’”

Instead of shadow puppets and bad jokes, he turned his techno-glitch into an in vivo demonstration of how to manage what he calls “our inner technology.” It was stress management live for when familiar technologies fail to perform creating unexpected problems without immediate solution. He said he told the audience “to breathe a little more slowly and deeply; to notice whatever was arising in their body and mind with no judgment. If it was a feeling of panic as I had a few moments ago, that was okay. I told them to lean into the feeling and walk toward it just as the bison do.” He said the audience loved it.

But this is more than an amusing anecdote that humanizes a hyper-successful Google-ite. It really illustrates a business value for mindfulness. It shows why companies like Google, as well as General MillsTarget, and Nike to name just a few, not only encourage but teach mindfulness.

I’ve written previously about how Google uses an in-house seminar called Search Inside Yourself (SIY) to bring mindfulness into their organization. Kallayil said this “curriculum includes secular elements of meditation, yoga, attention training, self-awareness practices and other contemplative practices. It encourages the view that the most important network we connect with is the inner one — tapping one’s own wisdom, one’s innate emotional intelligence, and that of our colleagues, as our most powerful resources for working through difficulties.”

Especially among those with a purely quantitative mindset, this might seem just a tad bit too New Age. And even if you’re open to the possibilities, you probably won’t deploy resources and make business decisions on the basis of a charming story about recovering from a techno-glitch at a conference, or even several such stories. You want data. Well, when it comes to mindfulness, the data is steadily accumulating. In the health sciences we know that contemplative practices like mediation and yoga increase well-being, support healthy stress responses, and facilitate personal growth and healing. Data is accumulating showing mindfulness benefits creativity, problem solving and performance at work and in educational settings. From inside Google, Kallayil  tells us “we’ve offered SIY trainings to Google employees for over two years now, and they tell us it’s changed their lives. It’s certainly helped make Google a more dynamic, and I believe, a more successful company.”

I was impressed by Kallayil’s generosity in noting that Google is but one example of the organizational benefits of contemplation, and SIY one example of how to develop contemplative skills and a culture of emotional intelligence. He also told me that “Search Inside Yourself is taking on a life of its own beyond Google, as SIY trainings are being offered in other settings to the general public.” In fact, he and his colleague  Mirabai Bush will lead such an SIY training in New York at the Garrison Institute in August. It is open to anyone. In fact, he hopes to teach individuals and other organizations “how to cultivate emotional intelligence, how not to panic or succumb to stress, but to face up, lean in, and work through tough problems.”

I very much agree with the final thoughts he shared:

“No matter who we are or where we work, we live in uncertain, disruptive times, with all the opportunities and difficulties that implies.  The only certainty is that there is no certainty in your work, your finances, your relationships or any part of your life. You may come face to face with a small irritant, a large problem, or even a full-scale catastrophe. When that happens, you can choose to be the bison. Turn toward the storm. Walk toward it. Walk through it.  And as the workplace mindfulness trend and trainings like SIY catch on, you’ll find more and more of your colleagues walking with you.”

That leaves the rest of us with a choice. We can be the bison walking towards the storm, or we can walk in the other direction. Unfortunately, walking away from the storm means you’ll be butting heads with a heard of bison leaning in the other direction. My choice would be to face the storms, and hope yours will be as well.