Creative convergence

I started a creative writing course in September and our first assignment was to write a 500-word story with only one primary character and one primary setting—not a heck of a lot of space to develop anything. Thankfully walking the dog (or more accurately standing around while she wanders slowly from sniff to sniff) gives me lots of time to mull over story ideas. That slow-paced dog walking was the genesis of the fictionalised episode I created for the assignment and have included below.

Imagine my surprise when my cousin Kelsey posted a similarly-themed photo on Instagram the day after the assignment was due. Eerily appropriate. And I’m delighted that Kelsey has given me permission to use that image to accompany the story here.

That creative convergence is just one of the wonderful things that has arisen from this creative writing course. The course is giving me confidence in my writing ability, making me think about the mechanics of storytelling, and encouraging me to push my creativity—I certainly wouldn’t have plotted out an Instagram influencer-inspired spin on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ otherwise! 😆Nor would I have actually read Kipling—I’m very much out of practice with the whole required reading part of schoolwork.

My plan is to post more of my creative writing here and to actively pursue publication in the year to come. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please send them along! And I hope you enjoy both the writing and imagery Kelsey and I have created.


Natural habitat

Heron standing in the mist
Into the Mist
Photo courtesy Kelsey Kushneryk © 2019

I stand watching the long-legged bird at the water’s edge, running through the possible names for it in English, German, French, Danish. Heron. Der Reiher. La grue. Crane. Kranen. I’m uncertain whether this sharply-pointed beak belongs to a heron or a crane, but the voice of my bird-watching mother in my brain pushes me to settle on ‘grey heron.’

Whatever its scientific classification or common name, I feel a kinship with this gangly silvery-toned bird. Ardea cinerea, or something very close to it, is common both in the dyke-bound suburb of Vancouver where I was born and in the outskirts of San Francisco where I first lived outside my home country. It waded into the boggy heath of a former tank training ground near my flat outside Munich, stalked the shores of lakes I hiked around on weekends in Southern Alberta, tromped through the snow of my local park during the sole winter I lived in Brussels, and paraded along the moat of a medieval fortress I passed by on my way to work in Copenhagen. Now it lands along the banks of the square-edged, man-made lake within a stone’s throw of the Swiss Alps, in this place I currently attempt to call home.

The grey heron has been a constant everywhere I’ve lived, whereas the feeling of belonging, the sense of being settled, has been far less reliable. There’s some intangible alchemy that made Calgary feel like home, but California not. A magical calibration that allowed life in Denmark to slot into place, but keeps Zürich unwieldy, unpleasant, unwelcoming. Maybe my migratory adaptation stops short of the 37th parallel.

To the right I catch a glimpse of movement through the low-lying morning fog. Barking a hello or perhaps a warning, a dog lopes towards the water, encroaching on the grey heron’s territory. With a screech, the stationary bird frees its massive wings and rises into the air. There is something prehistoric, primordial about its flight. The pterodactyl-like quality of its movement speaking to the timelessness of this bird, its elegant ability to adapt.

The heron’s movements are graceful, but its distinct “Frarnk” call leaves no doubt as to its displeasure at being moved on. Through that single, universal sound the bird conveys everything necessary. Would I possess that same eloquence in any of the languages that flit through my mind?

The heron will blithely move on to its next perch. It will not question whether it belongs in its new location, but rather fixate on practicalities—finding food, avoiding dogs, staying alive. My worries are vapid in comparison, decidedly human.

I have to believe that both the grey heron and I will comfortably resettle. That unfamiliarity and foreign languages do not create an insurmountable barrier. Both this ubiquitous feathered creature and I will find stillness and contentment—and a landing place near to the water.

An original story by Laura Matheson © 2019

A sense of savasana

“Hari om, tat sat. Hari om, tat sat. The practice of yoga nidra concludes.” 

Satisfied that the class has surrendered to the spell of my voice, I sink down to the bolster, knees out to the side, ankles crossed. From this so-called easy pose, I observe my prone students enjoying their supervised nap—but hopefully without the actual REM state. 

From the depths of the candlelit studio I hear, “Snork.” Ah. Who has succumbed? I scan shadowed faces, looking for the tell-tale droop of slumber. There! The parent who earlier complained of sleeplessness, lips moving with each noisy exhale. 

Up I creep, deliberately placing each step, skirting around arms, legs, and squeaky floorboards. Holding my breath, I move through the kaleidoscope of yoga mats until I am next to the slumbering student. I crouch down and gently reach out a hand. With a touch, I bring the snorer back from dreamland. Eyes fly open in response and I nod reassuringly. A sheepish smile and the student’s eyelids descend once more.  

Another careful dance through the yoga mats and I am re-seated. Again I look out over the darkened room, hearing a few deep exhales, but no further clattering breaths. 

The silence of savasana continues.

Why I resolve to ask for help more

Writing can feel like a very solitary task – and it often doesn’t provide much opportunity to ask for help. But at both cylindr BBN, the Copenhagen content creation agency where I work, and in our larger community of BBN, people are always open to lending a hand – and there are tremendous resources to draw on.

My New Year’s resolution is to draw on those resources more often. To both ask people for help and to turn to the wealth of case studies, best practices and other guidance available through BBN. 

Getting lost in translation

Content creation is somewhat a solo activity, but it doesn’t need to be a lonely one.

For example, I’ve worked on several dozen Danish-to-English translations for a company with a stable of lifestyle brands. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what the Danish text means or if a turn of phrase is universally understood. (Local context can be everything!)

I could turn to Google and dive down the rabbit-hole of publicly-available opinions. Or I could simply ask for help from a real person.

I’m thankful to work with native-English speakers who can field the ‘Does this make sense?’ kind of requests for help – and even more grateful that a couple of them are Danish citizens and long-term residents. Getting their feedback saves me time, dramatically reduces confusion and delivers content that reflects the original Danish text – and makes sense to non-Danes around the globe.  

Check what tools are available

Seth Godin recently pointed out that rather than finding a ladder (or asking for help) we waste time and energy throwing ourselves at the wall, trying to find a solution on our own. Is re-inventing the wheel the best use of time and energy? Why not ask for help from others who have the tools you need?

For a recent pitch, one of my colleagues asked our BBN compatriots if any of them had experience with the same kind of branding quandary our potential client was experiencing. The quality of responses was impressive. Some of our partner agencies had worked with clients with almost precisely the same needs and they were happy to share their insights.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, we used our colleagues’s methodologies as inspiration – and put together a robust pitch that was filled with real-world examples.

The perks of not knowing it all

Asking for help might be a challenge. After all, who likes admitting that they don’t know something? But tapping into collective knowledge can speed up the process, provide an opportunity to incorporate varied perspectives – and create content that builds deeper connections with your customers.


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.

Five ways clear ‘opt-outs’ encourage subscribers to opt-in

Many companies are still reeling from the tightened requirements for subscriber consent in marketing. The turbulence that accompanied the full implementation of GDPR has prompted some less-than-ethical marketers to devise creative ways to prevent users from opting out or unsubscribing. The assumption being that un-willing subscribers are better than reduced list sizes.

But making it simple to leave is part of the equation for convincing people to stay.

Why bother?

Maybe your re-permissioning emails as part of GDPR compliance are still a work in progress. Perhaps you’re ready to re-build your email lists and attract interested subscribers. Or maybe you’re part of a new breed of marketers who are proactively asking customers who haven’t been active for a while if they actually want to hear from you.

Whatever the rationale for asking people to opt-in to your communications, you want to make sure that you’re getting the right message to the right audience – and ensure that only customers who want to stay in touch get your marketing messages.

Here’s why it’s advantageous to include a clear way to opt out or unsubscribe:

1.    Make your customer-focus clear

Companies that make it easy to unsubscribe or opt out of their mailings demonstrate transparency and respect for users. By indicating that you don’t want to make it difficult to stop receiving communications, you show that you value your customers’ desires – and customer centricity is key to better business performance.

2.    Show you’re worthy

Including an easy way to opt out or unsubscribe builds credibility with users. It reassures them that your company uses personal data appropriately – and is worthy of being entrusted with their own personal information.

3.    Keep the good vibes going

Any reader who opens a message from you has already demonstrated that they’re not hostile to your communications – otherwise that message would have been deleted, ignored or, even worse, marked as spam. Keep that likeability intact by behaving nicely.

4.    Avoid the spam sandwich

Having an easy unsubscribe or opt-out makes it less likely that recipients will mark your messages as spam. Garner enough clicks on ‘This message is spam’ and your email domain will be blocked by spam filters, lowering the likelihood that interested parties will actually receive your emails.

5.    Use opt-out to say ‘hello’

The landing page you send people to when they opt out is a great way to engage. Provide ways to re-join the conversation, perhaps pointing them to another of your other lists that may be more relevant or offering to deliver more targeting messaging. Giving users the option to change the frequency of messages is another common retention method. At the very least, give departing subscribers a fond farewell and direct them to your social media channels.

Opting out doesn’t have to mean saying good-bye

Instead of seeing an opt-out or unsubscribe as the end of a customer relationship, consider it a way to get to know your audience better and ensure you have clean subscription lists populated by people who are really interested in hearing from you.

There’s some evidence that companies who clearly offer opt-out and/or unsubscribe links actually retain more subscribers – now that’s a strong case for giving opt-out options right alongside any opt-in messaging!


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.

What is We the North? Why local matters in marketing

I doubt that anyone outside of Canada recognizes the slogan ‘We the North’ or thinks that it has any particular marketing magic. But for millions of Canadians it resonates deeply and spurs them to open their hearts and wallets – proof that local know-how matters in marketing.

We the North in LEGO block - the perfect combo of Canadian and Danish
We the North in LEGO blocks – a perfect combination of Danish & Canadian influences

The phrase isn’t particularly evocative, and its grammatical accuracy is questionable, but for most of the 36 million inhabitants of the Great White North (aka Canada), ‘We the North’ is instantly recognizable as the slogan for the Toronto Raptors – and a patriotic rallying cry. Their minute-long hype video delivers a hard-hitting message that the Raptors are not like the others, clearly defining what differentiates them. The Raptors are the only NBA team not based in the USA and the ‘We the North’ campaign started in 2015 to bring excitement to Canada’s single top-tier professional basketball team.

It’s been hugely successful within Canada, even among non-sports fans. The slogan adorns sweatshirts and ball caps throughout the country and draws masses of fans to the NBA underdogs, but it holds no meaning beyond Canadian borders. Swedes, Norwegians, Danes and Finns are all equally from the north, but Nordic dwellers wouldn’t see this as a point of pride or distinction, nor would they brag about it.

Laura and Chloe and tag
Me with Chloe Lackman, BBN coordinator at tag agencies.

The success of ‘We the North’ is only possible within Canada – and it took an agency with deep local understanding to get that. As part of BBN, the world’s B2B agency, we have marketing specialists on five continents who really get their local cultures and understand the messaging that appeals within their markets. It’s true that B2B marketing is growing globally and keeps expanding through technology – but it’s still important to have a local touch.

Branding and marketing strategies are useless if they don’t resonate with buyers you want to reach. And there’s no more sure-fire way to ensure that connection than working with experienced, trusted advisers on the ground in your desired markets.

Where do you want to go today? Go North.


I recently visited tag agencies, our BBN partners in Toronto and the photo accompanying this post is proof of how prevalent the slogan is – it’s proudly displayed in their offices.


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.

Why ‘should’ can take a long walk off a short pier

A bright yellow pool deck with a chrome ladder that leads to turquoise water - you SHOULD dive in  Hot on the heels of an exceptionally hot European summer and CNN naming Copenhagen as the best city in the world for swimming, the nearby beaches and harbors are still teeming with people cooling off in the open water. When I complain about the heat, I’m often told, ‘You should go for a dip!’

The only valid reason I can see for swimming is to avoid death by drowning – but that ‘should’ stops me in my tracks. It carries a sense of obligation, judgement, pressure and, most of all, guilt.

I don’t like to swim, but I should.

Should is for things we don’t want to do. Should is based on the expectations of others. Should is inconsistent with our own values and how we want to behave.

So, what does my dislike of swimming have to do with marketing, branding or strategy? Honestly, not a thing – but my dislike of should is highly relevant.

It’s not uncommon for marketing managers and CMOs to feel as though they shouldhave a presence on every social media network, or they should be bright and splashy, or they should do what their competitors are doing.

But brand authenticity has never been more important and credibility can be a company’s strongest asset. Stay true to your corporate values and marketing strategy and don’t get pushed around by the shoulds. There will always be new trends and more marketing possibilities than any company could ever actually implement, but not all of them will fit your company. Keep your values, brand and strategy in mind throughout your marketing efforts – and don’t rush into something new just because you should. As HMV very publicly learned with Twitter years ago, sometimes the pitfalls of using a new technology vastly outweigh the benefits – particularly if you don’t have proper processes in place.

Of course, it’s healthy to step outside your comfort zone, to be creative and push the envelope – just make sure it’s authentic for your company’s brand. And don’t jump off the diving board unless you actually want to!


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.

Why storytelling matters

Kids raise their hands in excitement during a storytelling session at a libraryAs a librarian, I understand the importance and value of storytelling and, as a marketer, I know how convincing narrative can be – but it’s as a human, that I really get the power of a good story and its ability to inspire, educate and connect.

Despite the modern world growing increasingly frenetic, a well-told story is still the most engaging way to explore different perspectives and learn new things – particularly when there’s some emotional resonance. At libraries all over the world, kids sit on the floor in a circle for story time, listening earnestly to fairy tales, while learning how language works and developing an interest in the broader world. As adults we replicate that sense of shared entertainment and satisfy our need to be part of something bigger through books, sports, movies, TV – and particularly social media.

From Facebook to Instagram and beyond, there is an onslaught of communication tools (check out Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic for 5000+ of them!), but all that technology is useless without the stories that connect us. We crave to understand other people and to feel like we’re not alone in the world. In everything from reality TV to advertisements that tug on our heartstrings, storytelling touches the core of human experience.

We may no longer sit on a library floor for amusement and perhaps it’s been decades since we told ghost stories around a campfire, but storytelling is not dead. If anything, the strength of a good story is more important than ever. A side effect of having information constantly at our fingertips, is that we expect everything to have a backstory. Consumers are looking for reasons to pick one brand over another and credibility combined with emotional connection is strong motivation.

How does ‘Once upon a time…’ connect you, your business, your brand? What stories do you tell to tap into the age-old desire to be part of something bigger?

Storytelling is powerful. Don’t let the profound humanness of narrative pass you by.


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.