JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

Great weather, fine hotel, lots of good food, record number of attendees, and a terrific program. What more could we want?

Monday morning began with Chris Malone, author of The Human Brand. Chris explained that we judge brands and companies by the same criteria we use to judge people. Warmth and Competence lead to trust. He opened with a story of an encounter Marylou Dinallo had one night walking from work back to her car along a dark street. Two young men approached her, clearly with a robbery in mind. Fortunately, Marylou recognized one of the men and greeted him by name, mentioning her acquaintance with his family. The threat evaporated as the personal connection took over. The young men moved away and Marylou got home safely.

Chris asked participants to evaluate four well known personalities on the basis of a four-quadrant view of high and low warmth and high and low competence. We all evaluated Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and Miguel Castro correctly.

His story of Panera Bread demonstrated that business is about making personal connections, not just good clam chowder. Panera responded warmly and competently to the last request of a dying mother who only wanted clam chowder.

Unfortunately, as Chris pointed out, most of the personal connection disappeared with brands and the people who make things in the 20th century. Modern commerce has become faceless. But mobile devices and social media promise to make the social connections we need to trust the companies we deal with.

Chris sees a relationship renaissance that allows us to know that there are real people behind the products we deal with. He points out that many of the companies we work for and with have a huge blind spot. They fail to demonstrate genuine concern with both customers and employees. As a result, we don’t trust them to treat us fairly or well.

The recommendation from Chris—become more self-aware of how you are perceived by the customer. He urges us to embrace significant change in the information we develop for customers. Putting a human voice and face on the content will make an enormous difference.

If you’re interested in pursuing Chris’s recommendation, go to and take the Loyalty Test. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t include high tech, but if we ask others to respond to a Loyalty Test of one of our products, we might get interesting results.

If it were my choice, I would invite Chris Malone to speak to corporate executives, especially those who don’t think developing excellent (warm and competent) information for customers is worth the investment.

Byron Ricks followed Chris’s lead in his presentation about the Microsoft Curah! Website. It is designed to help anyone share content directly. Search engines, Byron points out, are not precise enough to point us to the most valuable information on a topic. They curate by algorithms. Personal curation means that real people have found information to answer a question or respond to a need. They are acting as curators, highlighting the most valuable in the sea of information.

Visit Curah! to see just what personal curation looks like. Each page is managed by a real person with a short bio, intended to provide human warmth and connection. The voice is informal. The manager of the curated page has chosen what he or she hopes is the best content available and offers that content to you as a reader. The expert advice is, we hope, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and credible.

Byron explains that the community becomes the experts on a product after it is released. The new Curah! website is intended to create a bridge between the customers’ knowledge and the knowledge of the product developers. Any one of us can become part of the conversation.

I also enjoyed Ben Whitesell’s presentation about using Twitter as an amplification platform to enhance other social media platforms. He develops tweets for the UPS airline and views Twitter as primarily a visual platform. He provides more images than text on the UPS airline site (@UPSLaunch), noting that the most popular websites today are primarily image platforms because people want to share images online.

His two-person team discovered that they could get twice the engagement from viewers with images than without. Using a native image uploaded to a Tweet has a 94% possibility of getting retweeted and extending its reach.

Ben also points out that you can include video on Twitter or even stop-motion animation. YouTube plays directly in a Tweet.

The key message, however, is that the content is only half of the equation. What we are really looking for in Twitter is a conversation with customers. Ben finds that the most effective Twitter brands are Starbucks, Nike, and Target.

Ben’s recommendation is to add a visual presence to Tweets and use it to guide customers to other sources of online information. You can count numbers of followers and retweets to judge your reach. The product, gives you a reach number.

Marta Rauch introduced us to the reach of Google Glass. It is being used to train medical students, get second opinions, all in real time. It helps the vision impaired to identify objects. Mercedes and Tesla now have vehicles that send messages to Google Glass. Repair and installation manuals provide instructions as a task is being performed.

Marta recommends developing a content strategy for wearable technology. The content must be useful, timely, unobtrusive, relevant, concise, straightforward, visual, adaptable, and accessible. Doesn’t that list apply to all of our content development too?

I’ve included only a small number of highlights from the conference. With four tracks and 60 plus presenters, no person can cover everything. I hope, however, that you will add your highlights from the conference. Look forward to the post-conference website for attendees to update your slide sets. We hope to make the video of Chris Malone’s presentation available as well. See you all next year in Chicago.