Author Archives: Jann

When words became content, I got worried. by Jann Sabin

I’ve always loved words. When I was six, I would cut them out and paste them together in odd ways. I’ve worked with words my whole life, as a teacher, editor, reader for a literary agent and marketing writer.I enjoy the challenge of 45 characters or a 1,000 words equally.

I’m a marketing writer. My worth is determined by the quality of the thinking and concepts that my writing represents.I approach words as the messenger of ideas and as a way to connect. I didn’t like the prospect of spending my life writing SEO optimized blog posts. I was starting to feel that the art of uncovering unique messages and communicating them  in memorable ways no longer mattered.

David Cancel, CEO of Drift, captures my feeling perfectly when he says: “I think marketing has kind of lost its way a little bit. We’ve lost the importance of a great story and truly connecting with people. We live in this world where it’s all about content, content and more content. And SEO.”

Cut to…recently.

I’m reading Contently’s Content Strategist Blog’s “150 Tips for Marketers.” It seems that marketing might not have changed as much as I thought. Here are their predictions followed by my observations:

  • Determine how content can move audience along in their journey from where they are to where they will most strongly contribute to ongoing business success.Marketing still starts with awareness and moves to retention and loyal commitment.
  • The goal is to engage consumers. Get them to associate with your brand; build lifetime value with them.” Basic marketing. Deliver on all promises and create great experiences.
  • Content is the best way to differentiate your business. But you have to have a clear voice.” Yep, corporate brand voice has always been important and something smart companies have always paid attention to including the voice of the customer.
  • Today, it’s about being in the right places with the right content at the right time.” Has it ever not been about that?

The tips above reflect the same marketing principles you might have read ten years ago, except that writing and stories are now called content. Things have changed dramatically though!


Now, people can talk back! Now, we can have an ongoing conversation, instead of a manipulative monologue where we had to do research to find out what people were thinking.

Today, they tell us immediately how they feel and what they’re thinking. What a gift!

And more exciting news…

According to Seattle-based SEO consulting company MOZ, keywords are “long gone,” with the new gold standard revolving around user experience, value, dwell time and design/readability with paid links and anchor text also losing their relevance. So, words do matter. And the longer you ponder and spend with them, the higher the ranking. Thank you Google!

Marketing is where creativity meets metrics, or more importantly where message meets conversations.

This values a set of skills that is unique. One must welcome technology as enabling real-time conversations between products and users. The best communicators will be able and willing to quickly adapt, be comfortable changing directions, and be able to think on their feet. Kind of like cocktail party conversation. The good conversationalist can respond to what they hear, not deliver the line they already came with.

In defense of words: Whether we call it content or stories or words, key or not… what we have are dynamic evolving conversations, and the companies that can keep them going will win. I can improve your content strategy: Book a free consult here

Amaze someone and they won’t forget you. by Jann Sabin

A few months ago, I went to a coding event at the Las Vegas Iron Yard. When I arrived, the presenter came over, shook my hand and said, “I’m Mike, and you are?” “Jann,” I replied, and took my seat with about fifteen others. This continued for about ten minutes until the room filled with 30 attendees more or less.


Then we started the overview of Java. But first, Mike said, “I just want to be sure I got all of your names,” and he proceeded to go around the room and name every single person! I couldn’t even remember his name at that point, but now I won’t forget it. It was like a magic trick!


How could he do this? I was truly amazed. I couldn’t stop being amazed throughout the entire event. I have no idea what particular skill that took, but I do know I don’t have it. I hoped it wasn’t a skill crucial to coding, but suspected in some ways it was. Mike was a truly superior being in my book.


The event was informative. I was happy to see that problem solving is a key aspect of coding. I went to understand the basics of programming and how programmers think because I frequently work with them in my capacity as a writer and creative project manager. Now I felt that this not only helped me better understand those things, but also opened up some ways I could contribute to these projects.


Gabe, who is in charge of this Iron Yard, gave us a very impressive tour after the event. The space was nice, the curriculum sounded very useful, and the networking contacts appeared invaluable. But nothing was as impressive as Mike reciting the names of at least 30 people he met briefly at the front of his presentation!


How can you amaze people? I can help you be amazing.  Book a free consultation here.

Getting storytelling right. by Jann Sabin

Most companies realize the importance of creating interactive customer relationships built around  stories. Frequently this takes the form of describing you to yourself. I’m guessing this is to show you that they understand you. These descriptions are probably based on research into who the customer is, or who the customer they hope to acquire is. Then they describe this and hope that you relate. “That’s me,” you say to yourself!

For example:  A1 Steak Sauce

“There are those who settle.  Who compromise.  Who set aside their dreams.”

“You are not those people. You’re not even a group of people. You’re one spectacular person.”

“You, sir, or madam, have always understood what it means to live…”

Actually, I think this is great copy! It establishes a conversational witty tone with lots of personality. I’m just not sure I like someone telling me who I am and congratulating me for being that person.

Today we are also being offered tons of inspiring advice:

coke cuervo levis go 4th

Levis:  GO FORTH 





This “we know you” approach lacks authenticity. It’s a tricky, transparent data-driven approach. But it’s on the right track in that it focuses on stories about you, not them.  

If you want to see good examples of stories that focus on the product,rappers are a good place to look. And not just for the stories they tell, but the ways they get those stories out and connect with their audience. They have accomplished amazing bottom line results being resourceful. Their hard work and creativity paid off big time making them huge stars with big loyal fan bases, not to mention incredible amounts of money.

images-2Consider Memphis rapper Juicy J. When he started out, he pressed his own mixtapes and sold them from his car. He convinced a car stereo store to carry them so people could buy them when they got a sound system. He released a song himself online promoting it with constant tweets and email blasts. It got over 37 million YouTube views and sold more than a million copies (Rolling Stone 9/12/13). That got Sony’s attention. He didn’t tell people he knew who they were, he showed them who he was. 

Whether you base your storytelling on your company or on your customers, make it true. For a free consult on maximizing your story, click here.






HERE you’ll find an overview of posts for clients and online platforms including Huffington Post


Why culture is your company’s single most important asset. by Jann Sabin

If you’re in business, you’ve probably come upon articles recently that talk about the importance of culture.

If you’re small, you might think it doesn’t apply to you. If you’re big, you might think you already “do” culture. No matter what your size, you might agree that culture is a nice concept, but today you have to worry about sales, or innovation, or just growth in general.

So, let’s table culture for a moment and address your immediate concerns starting with sales. You might have a weekly motivation meeting, or maybe the sales team attended a webcast, or even an off-site team-building event. Everyone was pumped. But that wore off by the following week. Same for encouraging people to use their imagination toward creative problem-solving and innovative thinking. Some short-term attention was paid, but then it was back to business as usual. The way to make business as usual a strong competitive asset, is a culture that enables actions customers care about. Truly, I think it’s the only way.

The single most  important thing about culture is, it never wears off.  It doesn’t go away. It’s there every day, and it has a huge impact on everything that matters to every business. Every business has a culture, even if they don’t know what it is, or nurture and promote it. Look at any business right now that’s dominating their space.  What’s unique about them?  I bet it’s their culture.

For a longer discussion of this concept and how to make it work as a competitive advantage, see this.

For a free consult,


Maximizing opportunities. by Jann Sabin

It’s not unusual in business to be so overwhelmed by what we have to do today, that potentially big opportunities go unnoticed. These spots to take advantage of opportunities are generally fleeting. If you did note a situation, developing a strategy, getting it approved and executing, isn’t a quick or easy process.

While remaining strategically competitive is a necessity, the opportunity to do so might not even be on your the radar during your last planning session (more about why you should not have planning sessions later). And when it does appear, if the opportunity is spotted, it will undoubtedly require quick action. Very few companies are ready to deal with this reality. Unless they’re a startup.

A big part of the reason for this is culture. Startups and tech companies are culturally suited for maximizing these spots. Their success depends on it.

  • they are  comfortable and used to acting quickly,
  • they operate in a chaotic atmosphere
  • they are willing (even embrace) taking risks including an acceptance of the possibility of failing.

When you detect an opportunity for your company, but don’t seriously consider it because you know acting quickly and definitely wouldn’t be possible, think about how a startup might react. What might you do if anything were possible? And what’s the worse thing that could happen if you did it?  Or better yet to consider, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you did nothing?

Growth hacking: yes, no or maybe? by Jann Sabin

I’ve been reading a lot about growth hacking recently. The concept came to my attention because I’m exploring options for teaming up with a technology partner and I wanted to be sure I knew enough to make an intelligent decision. The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking by Neil Patel & Bronson Taylor is a thorough overview  There were many things about the focus and devotion to creative tactics to accelerate growth that appeal to me although it also raised many questions and thoughts.

For example:

  • The term “hacker” has negative implications, especially outside of the technology world. To most of us, hackers suggest people who break in to things although I guess that’s not bad for an unorthodox growth specialist.
  • The descriptions of many of the tactics sounded a lot like what many years ago might be called guerilla marketing. This just reminded me that very few things are 100% new.
  • I thought of a thought-provoking article regarding scale written by Paul Graham  and wondered if this rushed unfettered  pursuit of growth way could get unmanageable and in some ways end op derailing growth.  To me, in my business at least, I’ve chosen quality over quantity.  I prefer a few big clients to lots of small ones.

Then, I came across this article:  Real Engines of Growth Have Nothing To Do With Growth Hacking by Dan Kaplan published in TechCrunch <>  This extremely well-presented piece covers a lot of what I was thinking when I read the initial descriptions of growth hacking, and more.  If you want to really think about the concept of how to market products in today’s environment, reading these two overviews will have you talking to yourself, and I mean that in a good way.

As someone who has focused on telling a product’s story to customers and employees, and who has never wavered on the importance of having the story be based on truth, I was really inspired by the Kaplan piece. He gives so many strong examples of why nothing takes the place of the right word, and the story.  For instance, Stan Chudnivsky, Pay Pal’s V.P. of Growth who says “…the foundation of real growth is the language you use to describe you product.” And Josh Elman who worked on Twitter says “If your product doesn’t have a compelling story that is easy for people who use it to explain to people who don’t, your growth will stall. As someone who has been working with companies on how to frame their story, this was good news. Story still matters, maybe more than ever.  Users of any product are smart, and to underestimate them is dumb and disrespectful.

Everything is interesting and has its takeaways even if you don’t find the whole theory useful. I loved the thought of zero-day exploits.  It applies to everything in my opinion, not just technology.  Short-term opportunities with huge pay-offs for those who 1) see them and 2) act on them NOW are huge advantages in any industry.

I’d love to know your thinking on what matters most in marketing today.







The moral of the story is, morals matter.

In the course of doing internal research for a client, we interviewed a high level executive at the company.  The next day, he called me from an airport.  I was not the person conducting the interview, but I was in charge of the project.  He was having second thoughts: the interviewer was very good he told me, and he said some things about management that he was regretting.  I gave him my word that his name would not be connected with specific information in the report we would deliver. And I promised to leave out certain things that were mentioned.

About a year later I received another phone call from this person, but now he was at the parent company of the one that was my client.  He was in charge of a big initiative and invited me to come to Minneapolis to talk about it.  He told me that he was very doubtful that time a year ago when I promised him anonymity, especially so because my relationship with the Director of Marketing on the former project spanned many years.  I went on to work with this parent company for over six years on many challenging mission-critical projects including that of marketing consultant on several other companies being incubated by them.

Promises kept are never forgotten.  Trust is an immensely valuable asset. You can have no agenda other than a moral one when keeping your word.  I guess a secondary moral to this story is, you never know.  A middle manager, or anyone for that matter, can someday be on the floor that requires a separate pass and special elevator. Do the right thing and you can join them.

The same applies to companies. Only make promises your company can keep. That’s why a strategy session I facilitate goes to such lengths to not only identify the important promises, but to make sure that the infrastructure is in place to keep them.

This story became part of our culture. Companies, just like families, have a way of enjoying the same story over and over again.  The content of those stories has an impact on the culture and influences future actions (and more stories).

For a free consult on maximizing your story, click here.

How to enable a big idea. by Jann Sabin

One thing I’ve noticed consistently is that outcomes hardly ever get better with big teams. As a matter of fact, I’d say the more people in the room, the worse the final product or idea. This is especially true when an innovative solution is required.

I think the reason is that it usually goes like this: someone has an idea, maybe someone else improves on it, but after that it starts to get diluted and worried to mediocrity.  There are “concerns”, so the thought is kicked back a little, and it goes down from there.

If you’re in charge of organizing a project that requires groundbreaking thinking, keep it small.  I work with many small teams (1 or 2 people) where the thinking gets better and better at each intersection.  These groups aren’t easy to assemble, but are the first step toward a winning outcome.



I’ve always thought naming was vastly over-priced.  Companies get paid a lot for this, and therefore make it more complicated than it is. A monkey could do it, and I think the best company name is a naming company called 100 Monkeys.

I’ve just renamed my company after 18 years.  I began as The Creative Department USA which was a descriptive term for what we did…..become your creative department, but also apply creativity to all endeavors. Creative Department was already taken, so I added the USA. Then I dropped the “The” in order to be ranked higher in alphabetical listings. So CreativeDepartmentUSA it was. This name seemed to be a hard one for people to remember. Then, after I developed a process I called BrandBooster, I noticed that people were using that more than the company name. I felt a new name was in order, and  BrandBooster seemed to already have some traction, so why over-complicate things. I decided to go with where I  already was in my current clients’ minds.

If you have something to name, pick some letters that are available, and that’s the hard part.  I bet “ersod”, letters I just blindly typed, is taken. Wait… I just checked and it’s available!  I offer you gratis this available name!  Or pick a word that “feels” like your company. That should do it. Save your $30,000.