No Paid Clients? Just Keep Working.

Living as I do in Boulder County, I meet coaches nearly every day; business coaches, marketing coaches, life coaches, success coaches. As a marketing coach myself for over 20 years, I find myself frequently writing various versions of this letter to them, in my head:

Dear Coach,

You love helping people to greater success in their lives and business, and you’ve entered on to the path of being in business for yourself. You know you have great products and services. But as you look around, where are your clients? How do you find them? And most importantly in today’s inbound/content marketing-driven world, how do they find you?

This is where conventional marketing wisdom gets turned on its head. Charge what you deserve. Don’t give your services away for free.

OK. But here’s another angle:

For most people, If you want clients, you need to be *busy*. You need to have the flow and rhythm of working with people, solving business problems on a daily basis. New clients should fit into your already full schedule.

Yet, most of the people and organizations I know who would really benefit from coaching – in fact, kind of direly need it in order to be able to function successfully – cannot afford it.

These are startups with brilliant ideas and little capital (yet). Nonprofits providing much-needed services to individuals who have little resources. Or they are individuals, from people who are either chronically ill, or single mothers with extremely limited funds, to people on the autism spectrum who have great skills but are too “high functioning” to merit any social services help at all, so they slide back and forth between bouts of being employed/employable, (85 percent of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed), frustrating relationships, and avoidable health issues.

These are businesses and individuals that without you help, could be headed for oblivion. or people who have slipped through the cracks. Businesses that have great ideas that who could be incredibly benefitted by having a skilled, encouraging person to help them to keep going. To not give up hope. To keep putting one foot in front of another. People who have often been given up on by friends and family who just don’t get it.

The power of marketing is in IDEAS. If you can get others enthusiastic about a great idea or product or truly inspiring person — you can get the money flowing. Which means that, whether you have paying clients or not, you need to just keep coaching, and fill up your content pipeline with your success stories and the inspiring and heart-warming successes of your clients. Start with 100 percent pro bono clients if that’s what you need to do, in order to have a full schedule. Do good work. Find the big stories that the media is hungry for or that you could turn into a viral content item. And follow them with all your heart.

In all the decades of my career, I have not found any coaches offering free/low cost coaching to these huge and needful populations of  bright, creative people who really, sincerely want to make the world a better place, introduce a new product, or improve their work and relationship and health skills – and who could, eventually pay for this service once they become more comfortably or fully capitalized.

When I think that 90 percent of all coaches end up leaving the profession after a couple years of trying and failing to generate clients, I feel very sad about all that wasted talent. And I think: I know the prevailing wisdom is to never offer your services “for free” – that people don’t value them without paying a pretty penny.

But how do you know for sure?

How about all those people who talk about how they just kept doing what they loved and eventually found a way to get paid to do it?

This is not necessarily the easiest thing to manifest. It takes commitment. Building your skills slowly. Perhaps founding a nonproft organization, or building relationships with foundations and social service agencies that may  see the use and need for this kind of service, and could add it to their offerings.

I just know in my bones that coaches who developed one of these areas of speciality would eventually have a thriving practice, between grants, contracts, and word of mouth that would reach paying clients.I guess I’m putting this out there because I’ve always been generous with my time in this way, and I’ve always been able to put food on the table, and had clients come to me.

I believe in doing well by doing good. What do you believe?

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What Coaches Don’t Know About Marketing Will Kill Your Business

So, here’s an actual (only slightly edited) email that I sent to a coach just yesterday.

“Hi (insert coach’s name here). Thanks for taking time to talk with me today. I understand that you feel that you need a virtual assistant at this time, not a marketing coach and strategist.

“After speaking with you on the phone, my sense is that you are a gifted and compassionate coach, and you are probably very helpful to many. You are safe to talk to, and a great listener.

“However, if I may be so direct, none of your personal wonderfulness and that Aha! inspiration comes through in your marketing materials, website, and so forth.

“I reached out because felt that perhaps I could be of service to you because there is a disconnect between your stated goal – of helping individuals find their passion and life purpose — and your marketing presentation.

“My experience with doing life-mission work is that, if it’s done well, the result is the highest quality of marketing and brand message, a brand that’s extremely distinct and instantly grok-able, if you’ll forgive the use of that sci-fi concept.

“However, your brand is nearly indistinguishable from that of many dozens of coaches – very focused on having the right certifications and having worked with the right people, of being a ‘good coach’. This is not a strong brand. It’s very generic.

“Another unfortunately generic aspect of your ‘brand’  would be, well, how do I say this. I felt a bit of that desperation in our call, that you’re someone who has spent a lot of money and ‘done the right steps and I really need to be bringing in money right now.’ Even your ‘find your mission’ freebie download was generic. I couldn’t tell it from the dozens I’ve seen in my lifetime.  This did not make me feel inspired, but rather, anxious.

“In short, your true genius and obvious gifts for inspiring others isn’t showing in your marketing approach.

“Please forgive me if I’m too direct. I’m not a soft and touchy feely person: I’m very analytical and effective at what I do, so I apologize if this seems affronting.  I don’t have many clients and don’t seek many, just a few who are interested in really working their genius.

“So, let me reiterate – you do seem like a person with the very best of intentions and a lot of good skills. I would like to see people like you learn what’s needed in order to be able to distinguish yourself.

“Kindest regards and warmest wishes,


I have not heard back from this person, and probably never will. However, I did post this letter in social media and the response was almost overwhelming. I heard right away from folks who wished they had this kind of perceptive, clear feedback from THEIR marketing team. Several offered to hire me and so forth. The most important piece of info (market research – ha!) I gleaned from the social re-post came from other coaches, who mentioned that the process of developing a clear brand, and the absolutely crucial step of market research, were almost never even brought up in the trainings hawked to fledgling coaches.

Which brings me to my point: I don’t think anyone should get their coaching cert until they’ve done a crash course/boot camp  in marketing. Certainly before you start your practice.

And here’s my strong statement of the day: If you’re not willing to learn marketing, you should not waste your money on training to be a coach. Even if you have all the money in the world, you’ll still burn out in boredom and frustration and cynicism after several years of hucksters luring into their snares with their shiny objects.

So, let’s discuss the Marketing Basics for Coaches in my next couple of posts.


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The Thriving Industry in Screwing Coaches With Shiny Marketing Objects

I first became aware of coaching in the early 90s, and immediately identified myself as a coach-type personality.  I’m a skill-acquiring, action-driven person, and I really enjoy getting things done, and even more, I love helping others to feel the thrill of self-sufficiency and confidence that comes from realizing their own competence in a new and formerly terrifying skill area.

Since that time in the 90s when I first came upon the notion of coaching, I’ve been offering coaching as an integral thread of my life work, and have helped many dozens of individuals to get up to speed in the various pieces of my own skill set – writing, editing, marketing management, social media, ad planning and buying, public relations strategy, campaign creation and management, business plan creation, even creating strategy for a mayoral campaign. (Not that I know how to do that out of the box, but it’s basically marketing and public relations, so we were able to figure it out. )

It wasn’t until the last five years or so, though, that it became obvious to me that personal and life coaches were exploding in popularity as career path, and women like me, in our 40s and 50s, were leaving their careers in droves to pursue this career path.

And then it started. An absolute avalanche of SMO. Shiny Marketing Objects. Slickly and aggressively-packaged and promoted campaigns that integrate email, webinar, social media, canned video, and live events that promise every possible manner of Great Expectation. Learn to Launch Any Product or Service! Triple Your Coaching Customer Base! Build Your Coaching Practice to $10,000 A Month!

And so on and so forth.

Many of these expensive, super-hyped products were focused on teaching the participants how to do exactly the marketing techniques that were being used to market it to the would-be participants, thus creating a credibility feedback loop. “If I’m wlling to pay for this, and there are 10,000 people in this same webinar, surely I, too can be a success!”

But here’s the problem.

Shiny Objects.

Very little if any of this incredibly expensive training, product, or prepackaged is applicable to any one person, and the average coach doesn’t have a prayer in hell of knowing this going in. Unless that person has studied marketing and knows Marketing Basics 101, which we’ll cover in the next post.


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How Successful Are Your Five Social Keys? Part I

Social media has finally come of age as a business practice.

This can be evidenced by the growing number of business analysts and strategists who are thinking strategically and in grounded,  business terms about the activities and outcomes of social media.

No longer should job descriptions include a list of social media sites that an employee is “responsible” for. Check this list of business tasks or activities and consider how successfully you’re using these  keys to unlocking great social media strategy:   Listening, Relationship Management, Content Development, Sharing, and Tracking.

In this first of a two-part discussion we’ll cover Listening, Relationship Management, and Content Development.


How do you listen to see what’s being said about your brand/products/services, both on your own site(s) and in social media in general?

More importantly, how well do you listen?

If you’re not using one of the free or paid services that track what’s being said, and make it easy for your to respond (that’s relationship management), you’re probably doing an ad hoc and — I have to say it — fairly sloppy job of tapping this important marketing resource. It used to be that collecting marketing data was cumbersome, expensive, and slow. Now you can collect marketing data every day – and you should. This is one of the key areas in which your firm should have a firm strategy in place. It’s also crucial to customer service. More and more customers expect to post and have their product and service questions addressed in social media — and not just social media designed for that purpose. Regardless of where such things are *supposed* to be taken care of, it’s in your best interest to deal with them wherever the customer may choose.

Relationship Management

Any place where individuals can post and respond to one another, or to company-generated content, is a community, and should be approached and managed with that understanding in mind.

Whether the community is a dedicated user forum on your website, a blog, a Facebook page, or LinkedIn group, it should be treated as a rolling special event to which you’ve invited your customers and potential customers to.

Which means you need a host or hostess whose job it is to greet and engage, make visitors comfortable, ply them with whatever the virtual equivalent of punch is, to make them feel at home and get them to open up and share about themselves and why they came here.

Good relationship management necessitates specially trained professionals with a clear idea of the goals for each type of relationship.

A customer service or crowd-sourcing support page will need to be patrolled and managed by product and customer service professionals. A page dedicated to contests for “funniest user-generated ad for our product” will need to be managed by marketing and sales folk.

Individual relationship management, and especially prospect generation and cultivation, will necessitate great closed loop tracking and systems, like those offered by HubSpot and other inbound tools. You’ll want to be able to not only tag individual visitors with a customer number, you’ll want to be able to track which content and pages they visit and engage with, and the conversion factors that move them down the recruitment funnel.

But before you can track the success of any relationship management, be it individual or for a group, you’ll need to set out some Key Performance Indicators for the success of your social media strategy as a whole. More on that later.

Content Development

There’s a mountain of pontification out there already on how to generate content, and why (and even some on this blog). Suffice it to say that even if you have an infinitely clever team of bloggers, guest bloggers, writers, videographers, and content creators of all types, and the most exciting editorial calendars, gamification tools and stategies, conversation starters, photo albums, videos, and online events, without clear objectives and KPIs you’ll be wasting precious resources.

You only have to throw random content spaghetti at the refrigerator once to see if it sticks. After that, you can perform A/B tests every single day, if you’re adequately resourced, tweaking content for maximal stickiness and learning how to shape future content.

-End of Part I-

Part II will cover Sharing and Tracking

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Marketing: Rocket Fuel for Sales?

Marketing and sales synergy can produce stellar results

Every time there’s a successful space mission like the recent Mars landing, the media draws our attention to the mind-boggling backstage synchronization of efforts by the scientists that make these grand achievements possible.

Great marketing is a bit like the room full of NASA scientists, watching from behind the scenes as their careful planning pans out, and each rocket of the sales team lands successfully on the planet of a target client.

Like space science, marketing and sales are advancing rapidly, fueled by new technologies.

In old-school sales-marketing collaboration, marketing places ads, runs promotional events, and creates collateral materials (hand outs). Websites act as online brochures and catalogs, an extension of hard-copy “brochure-ware” .

In new-school sales-marketing partnerships, those based on inbound strategy, the buzzword is content — the new rocket fuel that drives sales.

How does it work? Exciting content acts as a tractor beam, luring potential customers into the orbit of your website, right to shiny landing pages, and into your sales funnel. Or, it’s the magnet in a thought-provoking, personal email sent directly by a sales person that attracts the would-be client to a one-on-one meeting.

In  new-wave sales strategy, post-customer-centric approaches (lets call them PCC) focus on making it super easy for prospective customers to come in contact with valuable content that educates them in how to solve business problems and achieve their goals.

This great content can live in many places; the company website, in external blogs and other social media, and in mainstream media. Wherever it is, it acts to magnetize potential customers into your gravitational field and eventually to that one-on-one relationship with your sales team, the direct selling relationship, that most business-to-business sales still relies on.

Great content strategy is a cycle that relies on a synergy and collaboration between sales and the marketing teams — a synergy and strategy that all starts with the first step of research.

Let’s start on the sales side. Sales professionals begin the cycle by identifying companies that would benefit from your product or service. The sales person (you) then does some research on that company, ferreting out news and social media posts on recent events, concerns, crises, needs, and opportunities affecting the would-be client company, and hopefully, pains that can be eased by products or services you’re offering.

Next, sales can take advantage of a business intelligence service to develop profiles of individual potential buyers within the target company.

The sales person then drafts a personal email that addresses the personality of the buyer and the company; notes the relevant current event/news item about the target company or the executive the email is addressed to; and offers an opportunity to meet for further conversation to find out how your firm can meet the would-be client’s needs.

But the conversation doesn’t stop there. During the in-person meeting, the salesperson continues to be a valuable source of information for the potential client; a listener and troubleshooter, a potential business partner.

Here, the personality of the sales person can emerge, as well. The underlying message: they’re an interesting individual who represents a firm with that has a business need, right now, that our company can fill. I am an interesting, real, person, who happens to be able to help my company fill client needs.

It’s a simple reach-out, a connection between interesting people, around a client point of pain.

No Powerpoints needed.  No deluge of brochures, flyers and one-sheets about the vendor. In fact, you don’t talk about you or the firm you represent until the client asks about you, or is done speaking about their needs. Content-based sales is the start of a conversation.

Here’s where marketing can really help tighten the sales cycle. At this point, sales should forward emails that are successful in gaining new client meetings to marketing, so  marketing can monitor the topics that rise to the surface.

Marketing then creates content (white papers, blog posts, FAQs, articles, video, slide shows) around these topics, offering helpful approaches to dealing with the recurring issues and themes. Marketing strategically places said content on the  vendor website, other places around the web, deploys it in public relations, and links to it in social media where other prospects with these same issues hang out.

When deployed using good SEO, social media, public relations, and advertising strategy, the content does the work of hundreds of individually researched emails. Over time, the sales team will find themselves working more efficiently, as the clients who want what you have to offer, find YOU.

See? it really isn’t rocket science; it’s just an extension of the first rule of customer service; find out what your customers need, and give it to them.

Do this consistently enough, and you’ll find yourself sending and making fewer cold calls, and spending more time responding to their interest, when they find you.

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Big Mistake: Is your Personality Bigger than Your Brand?

I recently enjoyed an entertaining early-morning hour chatting via Facebook with a friend and former colleague in Denmark (evening hours, his time).

“Dennis (not his real name) is so charming and funny,” I thought to myself. “Every comment blazing with personality, perceptive wit, political and professional passion …  he makes points, drops in a provocative link, and peppers in clever quips almost quicker than I can keep up. And he’s so darned knowledgeable in his field.

“I wonder why he can’t get a job.”

As soon as the words formed in my mind, I realized precisely why Dennis was not currently employed: he’s a marketing professional whose online brand doesn’t match the size of his in-person personality.

In fact, his online brand is virtually nonexistent. Not only does he have almost zero public provenance that he is up to date on marketing – content marketing being more or less all that’s left in terms of marketing strategy – a Google search using his full name and longtail keyword string of terms relevant to the industry brought up one forlorn, highly formal article he’d written in 1999. While the writing style was respectable enough, the material polished, it was so out of sync with the Dennis I know that I had to check twice to make sure he had authored it.

Whether they realize it consciously or not, such a dissonance in online and in-person realities must surely be jarring for the persons seeking to find the individuals who will have the flair, confidence, and skill to tell the story of a company or product.

I could imagine such a team thinking, “here is someone who MIGHT be able to do the job … certainly engaging and able to tell a story, convince and persuade … but what if that big personality is just a hindrance to getting work done? Perhaps this person might be better off in sales …” I can see the Dennis being pushed into the not-quite box in the minds of the hiring team as the resume sails to the virtual recycling bin.

If you know me (or have been following this blog) you can imagine what I did next. I lit into Dennis, reading him the riot act for not performing due diligence in making his own case. We spent half an hour or so brainstorming *the* perfect online venue and vehicles for his wisdom and opinionation. In Dennis’ case, he’s so engaging in person I recommend vlogging with transcript, interspersed with photo essays featuring himself, with engaging if silly graphics and captions. (His industry’s not the most riveting; humor is almost always welcome, especially if you’ve a booming voice, commanding presence, and your shirt is pressed.)

He agreed that if he didn’t have a job within two weeks he’d get on it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In short: your online brand should not only demonstrate knowledge and competence, it helps to prepare folks for who you might really be, in person.

In fact, I bet you have a VERY good idea of what I might be like in person, after reading my blog. I’m curious to know what you think.

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You want to hire a Marketing Director? But, Why?

So why, exactly, do you think you need a marketing director?

If you’ve even breathed on the notion of adding dedicated marketing staff, I recommend you create a half-dozen – nay, two dozen – sticky notes bearing the above question, and stick them everywhere.

For a week. Okay, a month.

Every day, try to answer this question, and see if you come up with something new, better, or different. Write down your answers.

If you’re not willing to engage in a deep, soul-searching examination of the need for dedicated staff, don’t even bother with hiring any.

More often than not, marketing hires find themselves stuck in double-bind situations where they’re expected to produce results without having those expectations clearly articulated at the outset — or even, ever. This is often because top brass doesn’t understand marketing and conflates various  marketing functions with sales and public relations.

Before any hire can be made, the C Suite needs to spell out in detail what it *really* thinks marketing success looks like – then run that past other departments like sales, PR, and other marketing professionals, to determine if the definition of marketing is accurate, and if the expected results are realistic or measurable.

Yes, measurable. Every step of development of a marketing program, be it top of funnel, visibility, or branding-focused, is characterized by KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – that can and should be measured. Great free and inexpensive tools exist for measuring: website performance; social media impact; and traditional media hits. Tools and tactics for tracking and assessing effectiveness of content and conversion paths on and off one’s website, are increasingly commonplace, and may already be in place in your organization. Same for digital advertising, events, and promotions.

You’ll need to hire someone who understands the roadmap and can offer some ideas about what the KPIs might be for your business and objectives at this time. But, without C-Suite understanding of the basics of some of these tools, and without understanding which marketing KPIs are relevant at each stage in business/sales/recruitment/marketing cycles, it’s hard to hire properly or assess results.

I recommend that firms that find themselves under-informed contract with a Marketing Strategist on a short-term basis to help with making the hire. This person can lay out a quick road map of what to expect and ask of a potential hire, based on an informed assessment of company goals and stage of business development.

You’ll save yourself time and money in the long run.

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Social Media is Insane, and So Are You.

If you’re a marketing person in this day and age, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know: trying to use and keep up with the out-of-control evolution of social media tools, tactics, and strategy is a downright crazy-making proposition.

Check out this graphic from a recent Business Insider blog post:


Overwhelmed? Sure you are. This graphic begs the question: who can possibly keep up? 

And a second question: how on earth explain THIS to the C-suite? 

At the risk of sounding glib, I’d like to offer this thought:

No worries.

Why?  Because as the world of services and tools designed to help you manage your marketing and (let’s be honest) beat the Google algorithm evolves, so does the algorithm.

With the latest Penguin update, Google has made it clear that it’s even more important for you to focus on the ONE thing you can and will always do better than your competitors; create meaningful content about your brand, targeted to your particular would-be clients.

Marketing is an ecosystem. Think of your business as a species in this system. As such you need to speciate and to specialize, to find and occupy a niche, even as you generalize your skills and expertise to deal with the new and bewildering predators and food species and tools we’re expected to use to compete successfully.

But if you as a marketer just focus on your one best talent, telling your story, sooner than later many or most of those tools won’t be necessary.

Here’s an analogy from ecology (really population biology, but that’s another blog post) that highlights how it works. Think of marketing in terms of finches and seeds. There’s a finch out there, a client, whose beak is designed just for the size and shape and type of seed your business offers. It’s your job to create the messaging signals, the visuals, the scent, the sound of that seed hitting the ground, that will attract that particular species of finch, your target customer, in all the the noisy forest of marketing messages.

If you do this well, I believe that eventually Google will do a lot of the rest. It is getting better and better at sniffing out quality, relevant content that includes organically (heh) chosen and integrated keywords that serve the content rather than the SEO monster.

Recently Seth Godin underscored this point when he said something I’ve been saying for three years now:

Content marketing is the only marketing that’s left.”

He’s right. From now on, you need to focus on doing that one, most important thing:

 Create and update interesting, useful content about your programs, services, products, targeted to your clients. This is your most important task. Once you’ve done that, you can do these secondary steps:

  • Identify and test ways to use it strategically on your website, in special targeted offers, and in social media.
  • Utilize listening and tracking tools to optimize the performance of your content.
  • Integrate your content with your PR efforts.
  • Supplement and support with paid search, direct mail and email, traditional advertising and promotions, print-on-demand collaterals

In short, if you create honest, authentic, useful content, and trust evolution, you and your kind will survive and thrive, and so will your clients.

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Content Curators, the Librarians of the Future. Or is that Virtual Gardeners?

I was asked recently to define content curation and to articulate how it can be distinguished from terms like editing, cataloging. etc.

It’s always tempting connect new ideas with old by examining and sorting against existing definitions – editing vs. curating, etc.  But from my vantage point, the truth is that content collectors/sorters/

distributors/editors carry out a host of tasks from across different disciplines and we may eventually have a new word altogether to describe what we do.

We’re librarians, in that we know the card catalog and the stacks – how to find things, and where to find them.

We also know how to put content items where they belong- the books back on the shelves.

Sometimes we find a way to monetize our content-curating savvy – like a bookstore. Or better yet, we get paid for our talents in professional curating, serving as a content concierge.

We create new content with our lists and commentaries about lists, like editors writing the op ed of the day, commenting on the collection of news items in our publication.

We prune, pick and refine from the granular to the general, moving like proofreaders, copy editors, and managing editors throughout the content under our purview.

We even act like publishers, creating sites where others can curate, contribute, and experience the fruits of our labors.

Me, I like the term “content concierge”. Better check to see if anyone’s branding with that yet …

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To Play or Not to Play: Gamification and the New Rules for Content

I get it: you’re barely getting a handle on content as the ground of your marketing strategy, “and now you want me to make it FUN?”

Relax. With gamification, as with content-based marketing before that, we’re really not looking at anything new; we’ve been down these roads before.

My initial hit was that gamification is a fancy term for, “use contests and competitions in marketing strategy” — just as content-based marketing seems at first to be a reiteration of the tried-and-true, narrative-based or story-based marketing strategy.

(As a journalist and features writer, the ability to craft and pitch a story to target audiences has long been long the secret weapon in my marketing quiver).

The more one probes and contemplates gamification, however, the more one realizes that, like the desire to hear a good tale, it’s more than strategy or tactic. Gamification reflects deeper truths about the way our brains/psyches are constructed, and what gives us satisfaction as human beings.

This blog post at gamasutra nicely synopsizes “The Psychology Behind Games” by Anders Hejdenberg. In short, games allow us to become absorbed and concentrate deeply, experiencing the much sought-after experience of “Flow” and other pursuits that give us great satisfaction as human beings.

Competition allows us to experience the pleasure of gaining new skills and besting opponents. Chance offers the pleasure of learning ways to outwit the game,and the illusion that one can see the or control the future. Vertigo and other non-ordinary states of mind facilitated by games disrupt our normal perceptions, offering novelty and escape. Fantasy, or Make-Believe, bring us back to content-based marketing.

The pleasure of fantasy and stories comes from the exercise of the imagination as we try on the pleasures, pains, and powers of another character or being. Our brains react as if we actually have the powers and qualities of these characters, allowing opportunities for growth and stimulation.

As a playwright, opera composer/producer and performer in my “other” life, I’m excited about the creativity that gamification offers in development of marketing strategy. I’m working on blending my two worlds.

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