How Dad Influenced my Communication Style


My Dad spent decades in the US Air Force collecting and communicating US military intelligence. His communication style had a lot of influence over me. Now, before the oxymoron digs start flying, let me tell you, folks who deal in military intelligence have impressive communication skills. Which, to my eye, is evidence of impressive intelligence.

Here’s what my father’s communication style taught me.

The best communications are:

1. Brief

No chatter in cockpit,” I’ve heard Dad say (he flew B52s in the 60s).

When you’re at 30,000 feet and your starboard wingtip is 6 feet from Soviet airspace, or refueling in midair at 500 MPH by connecting with another aircraft flying 50 feet above you, (in wartime, in a storm, above the middle of the Pacific) the only thing that should ever come out of your mouth is relevant, useful information. I’ll talk more about relevance in a bit. The point here is to recognize the superfluous and kill it. Resist the temptation to speak in metaphors, add context or color, frame and re-frame and re-frame and then re-frame again (like we marketers just love to do).

Just the facts, Jack — that’s what Dad taught me. Who knew that one day I would grow up to write for this crazy thing called the Internet where every syllable — indeed every pixel counts? Dad’s minimalist style comes in handy when creating web content.

2. Strong

Here’s an example I like of brief, but strong. When the request came in (after it was decoded, of course): ENEMY AGENT COMING TO OUR SIDE. CAN YOU RETRIEVE @ 8°39′ N 16°51′ E OCT 2 13:00? Dad pulled out his charts and looked up the coordinates (somewhere in Africa — yes, the Cold War was fought on every grain of sand on this planet), made a flight plan, checked his watch, and responded with these two syllables: “CAN DO”.

What I like about this example is that while YES would have been fewer syllables, CAN DO is more affirmative. It gives the requester more confidence that his needs will be met. YES leaves a little room for interpretation … was that a YES with a heavy sigh? Was that a resentful YES? CAN DO just doesn’t have those problems.

3. Data Driven

We marketers don’t know from big data. The Military has the big data thing down. I would argue that militaries live, eat, and breathe little else. Can’t fight a war with out some serious big data. They certainly do not make decisions without first looking at data backwards and forward and upside down. Positions, velocities, ETAs, success probabilities, supply chain logistics, forecasting scenarios — and by the way, you have to have all of this data on your competi — I mean enemy, too, if you’re the military.

So when I was about 14 and asked Dad if he would buy me these awesome shoes I saw that afternoon at the mall and was going to positively die without, silently, Dad rose from his chair, walked into my room, opened the closet and began counting shoes. “One, two, three, four, five … eleven, twelve, thirteen. No, I will not buy you a new pair of shoes.”

Sort of leaves a poor girl without a leg to stand on, yes? Backing up your point of view with a bit of data is pretty compelling. Dad’s data was so good, he could even skip crafting a point of view altogether — he just let the data speak for itself. But then again, that was his brief style.

4. Relevant

Relevant communication means giving the right information at the right time. Here’s what happened one night at the dinner table after my sister discovered the Beatles. Seventeen at the time, she began to wax on about their pure genius, about how they elevated popular music and made it so supremely more sophisticated. As she satisfyingly chewed her pork chop with the full confidence that she’d delivered a brilliant argument for her point of view, Dad picked up his plate, walked into the kitchen and tunelessly began to sing “Why don’t we do-do it in the road?”

Over the sound of the water faucet, the clanking of dishes being loaded, “Why don’t we do-do it in the road… no one will be watching us, why-y don’t we do it in the road?”

Then, twisting the knife just a tad, In falsetto: “Why don’t we do it in the road?”

Brief, strong, data-driven and relevant, that’s Dad. Okay, also a flare for humor and dramatic impact. But isn’t it marvelous how he fit all that, too, into such pithy little sound bites? It was like I had someone training me how to communicate as a digital marketer all my life and didn’t know till they invented the Internet.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thanks for the stories!

The above first appeared in CMSWire as Lessons From Military Intelligence for Content Marketers.

On Content Strategy: My Interview with CMSWire


How do B2B marketers create the right content for their audience? What’s the best social channel mix to reach audiences? Which metrics should social media marketers be measuring rather than “likes”? We turned to Lithium’s Director of Content Strategy, Bonnie Thomas, for some answers.

Siobhan Fagan: What key factors go into developing a content marketing plan and where does that plan fit into an overall digital marketing strategy?

Bonnie Thomas: Especially in an emerging industry like social software, content marketing is critical. Our customers need to be not just educated, but so inspired that they’ll take disruptive action — to champion new and innovative business investments within their organization.

When developing our content strategy, we first consider the needs of the business — what outcomes we’re trying to drive in the way of SEO, lead generation and sales influence. Then we consider what business outcomes our prospective customers are trying to drive — typically one or more of the following: reduced cost, increased loyalty, greater awareness and revenue generation. Then we craft each whitepaper, case study, contributed article, webcast and blog post to meet both of those objectives — ours and our audience’s.

In the three years I’ve been with Lithium, the first half of that formula — our business goals — haven’t changed much. But the marketplace for our software and our product offering changes all the time. That means the second half of that formula — our prospective customers’ goals — are constantly evolving and we need to adapt our content strategies accordingly.

Moreover, as we’ve matured as a company, our content strategy has gotten far more targeted. While 24 months ago, a whitepaper on Social Media ROI may have fit the bill, today, we verticalize our content, producing whitepapers on Social Media ROI for Retailers, for CSPs, for FinServ, etc. We also target our content by use case –The ROI of Social Media Marketing, of Social Support and Social Commerce, for instance. I think of our content marketing program as a product of evolution: It gets more diversified and specialized as time goes by.

When it comes to digital marketing, of course, content plays a major role. Almost all digital marketing aims — boosting search results, driving web traffic, increasing site conversion — are content driven, or at the very least, highly influenced by content strategy. From landing page keyword density to intra- and inter-site links to publishing frequency, there is very little about digital marketing that is not deeply affected by content. At Lithium, our content and digital marketing strategies, programs and initiatives are hugely intertwined.

SF: Is there a right way (and a wrong) to incorporate social into a content marketing strategy?

BT: Social channels are excellent for content distribution, but it’s important to note that certain channels are better for certain content types. For instance, Twitter is an excellent channel for distributing B2B thought capital. We’ve typically gotten excellent engagement from our Twitter audience (as defined by clicks, sharing and retweeting). We’ve noted, however, that while Facebook is a great channel for spreading the word about our company, our culture, current job openings, etc., it’s not the best for thought capital.

LinkedIn is great for B2B thought capital distribution, but mostly by sharing content with relevant LinkedIn groups — a single post in the status update field doesn’t yield much. Slideshare is also great for B2B content distribution, but not so much for whitepapers as for slide decks (as measured by views, favorites and downloads).

It’s also very important to remember that social channels are all about developing a two-way conversation around your content — not just blasting broadcast messages. For Lithium, those two-way conversations happen mostly in LinkedIn Groups.

As with any digital marketing initiative, we recommend using social channels to test, learn what works, and adjust accordingly. We’ve evolved our social channel mix over time as we’ve learned which channels are best for which content.

SF: How can brands establish trust with customers?

BT: Especially in an emerging industry like social software, establishing trust and credibility around our content is key. Typically, when setting our content plan for the year, we include a number of 3rd party primary research projects. These both help support our point of view and lend the credibility of a respected analyst or research firm to what we publish.

We also try to bring customer evidence points into most of our whitepapers and customer speakers to our webcasting program. Although Lithium has top notch know-how and experience, we recognize that our prospective customers need to see that we’re part of a greater ecosystem of related thought capital in order to trust what we have to say.

I’ll also refer back to the previous point about “two-way conversations.” If you use content to start conversations across social media, you’d better show up when they spark. Nothing erodes trust faster than “social media silence” — when an engaged prospect or customer wants to converse publicly and the brand is nowhere to be found.

SF: How can companies best utilize user generated content in content marketing campaigns?

BT: UGC is some of the most valuable content there is because it’s trusted. Because customers influence each other far more than brands ever could, at Lithium, we advise our customers to leverage UGC as much as possible. As a B2B software brand, the UGC that is most meaningful to our content strategy comes in the form of dialog that happens around our thought capital. While most of the content we produce is for the purpose of lead gen and lives behind a form, it’s critical that we also make that content available in places where UGC can happen. For Lithium, the most important places are on our own, on-domain social hub, the Lithosphere and in LinkedIn groups.

SF: Should brands be on every social channel? If not, how can they choose which to be on?

BT: Every industry is different and every brand different still. As mentioned in the answer to question two above, we’ve gathered a lot of learnings about the proper social channel mix for our business because we’ve been distributing content across social media for some time. Our general observations have been that Slideshare, LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent for B2B. For consumer brands, though (like many Lithium customers), other social channels may be more important. Pinterest, for instance, is beginning to rise in importance for retailers as more and more social customers use it to create “user-generated-catalogs.”

I would reiterate the point once more that while social is great for content distribution, but it’s most effective when there is actually content engagement — people actually interacting around your content by either sharing it or engaging in conversation around it. For Lithium, those engaging conversations mostly happen within LinkedIn Groups with whom we’ve shared our content.

SF: You can’t plan to go viral, but how can brands measure impact of content marketing campaigns in social beyond counting “likes”?

BT: Great question! In fact, we ask this question of our own prospects and customers all the time: “What is the value of a ‘like’ when only 2% of fans return to Facebook brand pages after liking them?”

Like we advise our customers to do, Lithium measures programmatic success (including content strategies and social media initiatives) the same way we measure business success. One of my key business goals is to drive SEO, for instance, so part of my content success metrics include how much referral traffic sites like Slideshare and Twitter bring to our website.

In general, we measure our content success by:

  • Reach — how many people are aware of the content availability (often measured by views).
  • Conversion — how many actually filled out the form to download the whitepaper.
  • Engagement — has the content piece been shared? Commented on?
  • Influence — how many who downloaded a particular whitepaper go on to consume more content and how many make it into sales conversations.

SF: What are the advantages/challenges in going to where the customers are vs. bringing them to your own site?

BT: We advise our customers to “show up at the party.” If you have customers on Facebook, you should also be there. But it’s also important to remember public social media channels weren’t designed to help you meet your business goals. They have major limitations, first and most notably in the area of engagement. It’s impossible to get a two-way conversation going on Facebook when the content stream disappears after a short while.

In order to make a real impact with your prospects and customers, you need to get them to a social hub (preferably on your own domain) where you can engage them in two-way conversation, where they can engage with each other, and where you own all the UGC that comes out of it. Only then can you make real use of it, organize it into a valuable self-service resource, analyze the data it delivers and adapt your strategy accordingly.

The above first appeared in CMS Wire as Talking Content Strategy with Lithium’s Bonnie Thomas

Just Veem It!

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I’d like to tell you about a client of mine, Veem. Veem is a global payments solution that helps small to medium-sized global businesses send and receive payments around the world. Who knew that would be so interesting? But it is. Here’s what I’m finding so interesting about this engagement:

  1. I’m learning about yet another revolutionary technology

My specialty is in marketing technology. Global payments technology is new to me and it really is fascinating. Veem is based partly on blockchain technology, which is truly revolutionizing financial systems on a global scale. Here are a few of the articles I’ve had the opportunity to write for Veem on this revolutionary technology:

  1. Globalization is a key theme for Veem

Because Veem customers are US importers and exporters, current administration policies—particularly with regard to trade—are relevant. Here are a few of the topical articles I’ve had the opportunity to write for Veem:

  1. I’m writing about small business

I’ve been focused on enterprise B2B most of my career. It’s a fun change to take a look at the SMB market. Here are a few SMB-focused articles I’ve enjoyed writing for Veem:


Feeding the Internet Content Beast


Honey, it’s time!

I remember the night a friend came home from bar hopping and said all she could hear in the background was “”, “”. That was the late 90s. I remember the number of cars on the streets of San Francisco tripling overnight. 

Oops … false alarm

I looked into digital jobs, but didn’t understand the value of affiliate marketing or getting “web hits”. I didn’t understand where the money was supposed to come from. I sat out the internet’s shall we say, false labor and started a small business. When tech crashed, the streets of San Francisco positively dried up. The tech workers left, businesses shuttered, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting an unemployed investment banker.


But the baby survived to term and was finally born for real. The internet came back in a big way in the early 2000s and I jumped on. I love emerging tech, I love having been in on the early days of web experiences, web analytics, email marketing, marketing optimization technology, social media, big data, content marketing and now content strategy.

What a growth spurt!

To my eyes, the internet is now an adolescent. We’re still not sure what it’s going to be when it grows up. What we do know, is that right now the internet is growing by leaps and bounds every day and it’s always hungry. The internet has an insatiable appetite for content. Content marketers must radically scale their efforts in order to remain relevant to customers—and to the search engines.

But there are terrific tools and resources to help us to do just that. Here are a few I’ve been using and have been super happy with.

What’s in my content marketing toolkit

SEMrush – keyword research, competitive ranking research. I use this tool to vet keywords on my list, decide whether to go after them and how much content I’ll need to start ranking on that keyword.

Google Analytics – tracking and analysis of organic, referral, and paid traffic volume and onsite behavior. I mostly work for startups that depend on this free tool. It’s always been fine for my needs.

CoSchedule – help with optimizing content titles and headlines

WritingBunny – outsourced writing. This resource has affordable articles, blog posts and white papers with a quick turn around time. I’ve been pleased with their work.

WordPress – my favorite CMS. I’ve used it across many clients and use it for my own site.

HubSpot – email marketing. Seems like most of my clients in the past used Marketo. Now, most of my clients use HubSpot. I like it better than Marketo for email marketing and reporting.

Facebook Advertising – building awareness, driving demand. Facebook advertising is inexpensive and their tool is very easy to use. I like the ability to micro-target by location, age and interests.

Google AdWords – pay-per-click advertising. Great for driving traffic to the site, testing messaging and keyword strategies, but have to pay attention to ROI to ensure you’re really getting the traffic you want.