BEC Story #2: The Password Problem

Legal pad with pen on wood background

Legal pad with pen on wood background

What, Breaking Even Communications has problems?!?

Of course we do. My goal is our problems over time 1) change or become different and 2) become smaller. This story is about a semi-recent problem we faced.

Problem: Our client passwords were precariously stored. They were mostly stored in Google Docs. And while this made my life easy (look up client name, find document, copy/paste/share as needed), I knew it wasn’t the best idea ever. “Hey, our Google accounts had two factor authentication, that’s pretty good,” I thought. Plus moving to anything else would require research and mind numbing data entry that would not make us more money. There is never a good time for doing this kind of thing but the worst time to do it is when something terrible happens, so I knew we had to do it before then.

Solution: While it was in the back of my mind, the whole “Um, client passwords need more secure storage” thing was brought up in our next company retreat.

Now when a staff member points something out to you, as a boss, your first gut reaction is to feel stupid and defensive. But that is also the reaction you feel when someone is right. And so the research began.

There is something called ‘analysis paralysis’ and it’s something I like to avoid. It’s when you research something to death and then end up having more questions than answers.

Newsflash: There is no perfect password management system. I spent a whole workday looking for one. But what I decided to do is look into the 2-3 that kept coming up in articles.

KeePass fit our criteria. It was multi-platformed, meaning it could work on Macs, PCS, and smartphones (all of which we have in our company). It was searchable. It seemed pretty secure.

So I spent two weekends moving passwords into this system. And as a company, we all learned how to use this thing together.

Most people don’t want to spend time learning new software. I get it. I barely wanted to do this move but we all gritted our teeth and moved forward, knowing how beneficial it would be for the company in the long run.

Fast forward 6 months. I have somehow accidentally made three different files that seem to each have most of the passwords but not all of them. So I paid someone to merge the databases, which in most cases gave us three copies of the same password… but hey, at least it was all in one file! I emailed John and Kassie, told them I was an idiot, and that I would work on deleting duplicates over time.

Realizing this and other tasks like it were falling to the wayside, Alilia came into our lives. I gave her the crappy, non-glamorous first task of meticulously go through all the folders  in the now singular password database and ensure not only we didn’t have duplicates but to get them arranged in some order (Did I mention this software does not automatically put password groups in alphabetical order? Yup, not perfect!).

Now we have one file that we can all access, and it’s now much more secure than what we had. It’s not perfect but it’s better. I would estimate it saves me about 5 minutes a day to be able to use the ‘search’ function to find the password information in KeePass, versus having to go find the client’s Google Doc, find the actual password in the document and copy and paste it in. All those minuted definitely add up, even if it felt like a real ‘journey’ to get here with the passwords.

Epilogue: The one part of our company retreat I’ve often thought of dropping is the part where everyone picks a topic and presents to the group about it for 10ish minutes. This time around, I assigned some topics (because there was some things we all needed refreshers in). I gave Alilia KeePass as a topic even though we made this move over a year ago… and she proceeded to blow our minds by showing us things about it we didn’t even know that’ll save us even more time using it.

Values demonstrated: Open to ideas of others, willing to learn, doing the right thing, hard work, flexibility, self improvement, delegation, goal setting.

How could this story be improved?

So this story is already better than my first story. Imperfect people are easier for us all to relate to (and let’s face it, the part in the fairy tales where everything starts going wrong is the more interesting parts of them.)

We all want things to work out in the end (or at least for things to be neatly wrapped up) and this story does that. So what could make it better?

Adding quotes/other voices. Putting in quotes from Kassie, John, and Alilia would make this better. It would also take longer to write of course but it anything that has multiple points of view makes stories better.

Be ready for ‘feedback’. Several IT friends had very strong opinions about my software selection. (One was literally horrified.) Please note though I asked all three of them what they would recommend and not one of them agreed on something else. Sometimes in putting a story out there, you have to expect feedback, but not necessarily base your life or business on it. In telling your stories, you may rub some people the wrong way and, so long as you aren’t mean to them, it’s ok.

Reframing it more positively. A problem I personally have is self deprecation. I always mean it as funny and, if you could read my mind, you’d know I have a pretty positive view of myself. But sometimes in writing, I come off as not confident. To me, a good ‘boss’ is one that shares praise and shoulders blame. “We did a great job.” and “I really should have done X better.” are things you will hear me regularly say. To me, that’s what a leader does and believes. But I need to balance that with making clients, potential clients, and the world at large understand that I am a very capable person. Kassie and I have started reading each other’s blog posts before publication, in part to catch this tendency.

Next time, I’ll write a story about Breaking Even ‘big picture’ problem.

Previous Stories:
BEC Story #1
Original post about why we’re doing these stories.

BEC Story #1: The Haunted Page From 2013

This month, we’ve decided to go through and tell a series of stories related to Breaking Even Communications. The theme this month is ‘brand story’ and nothing helps you make a cohesive interesting story like telling several smaller ones and looking for a pattern.

Running a business is not just providing customers with a product or service. It’s how we work with each other (the employees) and how we see the bigger vision for the company. So it’s important to look at problems/solutions/values from not just our customers’ perspective but from an internal perspective.

We tell a lot of these stories in our ‘case studies’ section of our website and also in the occasional blog entry.

There are a couple reasons I don’t obsessively talk about our customers:

  1. I never want people to feel like we’ll only like them and learn from them if they are our customers.
  2. A lot of our work demands we be somewhat invisible. It’s about the business succeeding, not us doing the work.

Today’s story is a client story.

Legal pad with pen on wood background

Problem: Client needed help improving his website. It was his first six figure year and he came back to us for more suggestions for improvement.

Solution: We looked at his website from the user point of view. We saw a few things (some non-obvious purchase links that could be made into buttons, some text that could be moved onto a different page, etc.) We even crawled all the links on the website (which took almost 24 hours with our internet connection and all the links the website had!) to find any dead links leading nowhere. Nothing seemed like a big deal.

I think most companies would have stopped there, thinking finding a few things was as good as finding one big thing… but I had a feeling something else was up.

I found it, buried in the ‘User Flow’ in Google Analytics. 30% of traffic to the website was going to a defunct page that hadn’t been touched in three years that had old, no longer true information on it. How many of those thousands of people could be redirected to buy something, or even to more useful information?

Values demonstrated: Going on our gut, hard work, thorough work, multifaceted approach.

How could this story be improved? I will be the first to say, this story is not interesting. But often, you start with the skeleton of something that isn’t interesting.

Add details. What kind of business is this? Who owns it and what sort of awesome, self improvement-centric person hires a company to look at his site every year to see what he could do better? I should probably get his permission and really dig in. In reading this story, you should be able to say to yourself, “I know this person and this business and I really relate to Mr. X’s amazing drive to self improvement and hitting that big six figure goal he had for his business” (which he does part time by the way while doing a full time other job – how many can relate to that?) The more details, the more relatable.

Following up. Wouldn’t it be awesome if, say, at the end of this story, he was even more successful than he was before? If we found out people clicked on those sweet fat buttons that were now so much easier to see and make purchases from? If 25% of the people who hit that three year old page were redirected and made a purchase? Here’s the thing, this only happened a couple months ago. This will be a much better story when we know Part 2.

Adding something memorable. Gut and Google may be a good title for this. It may not only make people click (if that was a link of course) but it may help people remember that it’s one thing to use a tool like Google Analytics and it’s another to work with someone who has (and goes on) their gut feelings. A title is not the only thing that can be memorable in a story but thinking of a couple of details to make a story memorable is never a wasted effort.

Next round: an internal problem. A lot of businesses opt for silence when it comes to sharing internal problems (which we can’t say we argue with necessarily), but it’s a part of the story, too. Stay tuned for next week’s story!


Ten Stories: What Would You Say?

When I was 25, I read ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ As a huge fan of the self help genre, and I was in a bit of a career crossroads, so it was the perfect read.

But when I saw how many exercises there were, I only did some of them.

One of the ones I did was writing ten stories about challenges/problems I solved. The criteria were that it didn’t have to be at all work related, just situations that happened and how you solved them. The big idea was within these stories, you’d identify transferable skills and things you not only could do but probably liked to do.

Note: You can pick up a copy of this book but Page 8 in this Google Book version for teens explains it pretty well: (I just found the adult version from 2009 but I have apparently reached my viewing limit so if you find a better source for this, do link it in the comments!)

My first thought was: Ten stories, really!?! That’s so many.

But I’m pretty obedient, even to books, so I went along.

One story was about how, at a moment’s notice and almost nothing in the fridge, I produced an amazing meal.

Another was about how I got double booked for a meeting but made both parties happy.

I have to go in my files for the rest, but none of the stories were long but they started with a problem and ended with a solution and starred me.

Once the stories were written, I was supposed to look for transferrable skills in them. And in doing it for ten stories, you begin to see patterns.

(Note: I wrote three stories then got hung up. Once I realized they could be small, I somehow got unblocked and finished… so if you find yourself similarly annoyed after three, keep going.)

In making this month’s theme ‘storytelling’ at Breaking Even, I thought of how powerful this could be if we translated it to businesses. What ten stories about your business could transform your marketing or help you establish a mission statement or identify core values?

Small stories leading to big ideas? It’s definitely happened before… and it could happen for you.

Buy ‘What Color Is Your Parachute’ On Amazon (Note: This is an affiliate link)

Once Upon a Brand

One of my favorite parts of Mad Men was when they have their brainstorming sessions for a client. A group of people sit around trying to come up with an idea for a print ad, commercial, or tagline. Without being necessarily overt about it, they go through the questions that marketers today ask: who is this for? What problem do they have, and how does this product/service solve it? And, the big one: How do we show them rather than tell them? It all boils down to determining the best story to tell. Clearly this is a watered down summary of Mad Men and I really need to learn how to separate how real life stuff works vs how they happen in the movies, but it’s what comes to mind whenever I think about brand storytelling.

People love stories, and are more likely to remember a story they’ve heard than a statistic (unless it’s really crazy). Exchanging experiences with others is one of the ways we express empathy, which creates a bond among people.

In marketing, it’s a useful way for brands to connect with customers (past, present, and future). It doesn’t always come in the form of selling a specific product- it’s typically much more subtle than that. In fact, storytelling from brands does something a bit more subtle by carving out a place for themselves in our hearts. With storytelling, it’s important that we show rather than tell, so here are 4 brands that know how to spin a decent yarn:

Cheerios. The all-time best example I can think of as part of Cheerios’ story is the one where the Grandmother is talking to the baby in the high chair who has a bunch of Cheerios in front of her. This story shows a few different things in fell swoop. First, you see the cross-generation component- an elderly woman and a very young child, enjoying the same food. Then there’s the family element, when Gram is mapping out where all the different family members live in relation to each other via Cheerio. There’s also the use of an adorable child clearly getting frustrated that it isn’t actively consuming any of the cereal yet. It all ties in with the narrator at the end saying that Cheerios is “just part of the family.” Yeah, it’s pretty heartwarming.


GoPro. One of the interesting parts of GoPro’s story is it’s use of User Generated Content. Most of their marketing simply shares the cool things their users are doing with the product. In doing so, GoPro as a brand mimics what their products do- act as a vessel for people to share their own stories. This also makes their product accessible to a wider variety of people. When I think of people who would frequently use a GoPro, I think of skydivers and mountain climbers- generally adventurous people. Watching the various marketing material from the brand challenges this belief, since they show a high volume of normal, everyday people using the equipment for normal, everyday things. Below is a video from their YouTube Channel of a family enjoying some t-ball in a local park (no stunts or crazy air-born maneuvers):



Lego. Creating a story using video footage is great, but what about a feature length film? Some would argue that the Lego Movie is an example of brand storytelling (especially this article from The Sales Lion), and I’m inclined to agree. The movie is all in Lego form, but it isn’t an over the top “buy our product” movie. It’s a pretty genius move all around. The movie inspires adults and children alike to reconnect with that imaginative, creative part of ourselves. Legos are all about what we make of them, otherwise, they are just plastic blocks that really hurt when you step on them. Creating a movie that inspires this creation gives the customers an added affinity for the brand, and the product itself.


Netflix. I love this commercial because it’s a display of self-awareness on the brand’s part. It flips the whole man running after a woman about to board a plan scene, and people are able to laugh a bit at themselves- Netflix knows that we all share passwords in weird, convoluted ways (like brother’s roommate’s ex-girlfriend stuff), and that we’ll go through great lengths to get a Netflix password but not much else. In other words, it’s a relationship worth fighting for.


Whether you sell products or services, or work for a mom and pop store or a giant corporation, there’s always a multitude of stories you can tell. Notice in Mad Men, no one is trying to tell the story of the whole company; they show small vignettes and over time. These messages contribute to the company’s overall story.

Rather than trying to tell a big story about your company, try telling 10 small stories and look for a unifying theme. Ideas:

  • Your most interesting ‘regular’
  • A conversation you overheard in the breakroom
  • An interesting item on the boss’ desk
  • An innovative way you’ve seen a customer use your product
  • The first customer your business ever had

In telling small stories, like all the examples above, you’ll see they actually help show bigger things, like values and ideas, in a more memorable format. 

This month, we’ll be talking a lot about storytelling. If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll get our posts about it.

What’s your story? Take some inspiration from some big brands to think about yours. And here’s hoping some of these blog posts can help along the way!

Marketing Monday: Acadia National Park

One of the best parts about living and working where we do is having Acadia National Park right in our backyard. Actually, it really is our backyard. There’s hiking for all skill levels, swimming opportunities, it’s dog friendly, and-this might be a bit surprising- but their social media marketing is pretty incredible. True, they have great source material in terms of being photogenic, but that’s not why it’s one of my favorite local pages to follow. They are one of the only pages that consistently and successfully uses humor in their marketing, and they’re up to date with current events and online trends. It’s pretty impressive how they go above and beyond the typical sort of marketing we’d expect from a national park. Here are a few of the ways ANP is making it happen on social media:

Use of hashtags… One reason that I love following ANP’s Facebook is that they’re pretty current when it comes to the latest memes and hashtags. If something is trending, you can bet that it’ll be incorporated in their marketing (if it hasn’t already). They’ve used #tbt to share educational tidbits about the park and it’s founders, a clever way to merge historical information with present-day methods. They also pay attention to holidays and events on a larger scale. For example, during the month of March, they had a series called #WomensWednesday to celebrate Women’s History Month. Each week, a new woman was featured along with her contributions to the park. Below, they used National Puppy Day and altered the “Find Your Park” slogan- in other words, double points!

Bonus points for using puppies in marketing.

Triple points for using puppies in marketing.

…and memes. I’ll admit, when these cartoons came out on Facebook, I was vaguely annoyed by them. But, as I mentioned before, when something starts trending, ANP picks it up and runs with it. And their adaptation utilizing George Dorr’s face was pretty clever, if you ask me.

Original post here:

Parodies. I’ve always been a sucker for a good parody. ANP alters the lyrics of popular songs to deliver occasional updates, like the conditions of trails. It’d probably be easier to just write “Be careful, the trails are slippery,” but it’s more fun to read the same message in the form of a Vanilla Ice parody. Not only did I receive valuable information, I got a few laughs as well. Part of me wonders how long it takes to write each one of these parodies. Is it a group effort? Do they pick a song first and then change the lyrics, or vice versa? Whatever their method- it’s definitely working.


Encouraging User Generated Content. As a page with a lot of seasonal followers, one of the unique challenges is maintaining year-round engagement for people who aren’t around. It’s a balance of keeping locals informed about park updates and conditions, while getting non-locals excited about returning for a summer trip. Every now and then, they ask questions or write posts that encourage followers to share their park stories/memories, or ask what they’re excited about doing in the upcoming season. Everyone has a story about a time they’ve spent in the park, it seems, and they’re willing to share. Below is an example from February, leading up to Valentines Day.


Thanks Acadia National Park for continuing to keep me amused! If you aren’t already following them on Facebook, make sure you check them out here


Live Videos and Products

This post is a continuation of our live video series. Check out last week’s post on non-profits and live video

When it comes to live videos and branded content, video streaming for businesses that sell products seem like a no-brainer. There are many different ways to use live video for these businesses, the most popular being product demos and launches. In other words, it’s easy to create a live video around a physical product. The goal, of course, is not simply to do it but do it well. The point of live streaming is not to create an infomercial or a commercial- this is about marketing, not advertising. Here are some examples of companies that have used live streaming for their product based businesses without phoning it in:

Barkbox is a subscription service dedicated to dogs (they send accessories and treats). I suspect their success on Periscope has a lot to do with their primary material: puppies. Since they can’t talk and share their feedback on BarkBox products, the marketing team shows various dogs enjoying their goodies from the box. The target market is dog owners, preferably the type who can be moved into purchase by adorable puppy videos.

Doritos used Periscope to create excitement around their product  “Doritos Roulette.” They created a contest involving Periscope, Twitter, Vine, and YouTube. The contest itself seemed a bit complex to me, but maybe I’m just not that passionate about my snacks. Doritos has a pretty big following on social media, so the contest had high volumes of participation. Below is one of the tweets from Doritos announcing the contest:periscope_doritos

The rules for participation felt like a lot of hoops to jump through (again, not a dedicated Doritos fan) but it still had a lot of participation.

Adobe used Periscope for a 24-hour broadcast leading up to the release of Creative Cloud last year. The @CreativeCloud channel shared inside looks at the software and discussions with employees. Throughout the day, the Adobe Periscope channel followed various employees across the world while discussing/demonstrating the different components of the new product. Adobe took their product launch and made it into something more, something that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from them. The 24 hour broadcast was an interesting innovation, too. Most channels won’t have broadcasts that go for that long- although this was a bunch of smaller streaming events from the same channel rather than one continuous stream, it was still a unique use of the app.


BMW (and any car company, really) uses live streaming video to roll out new models (pun intended). Last October, BMW used Periscope to stream the live launch of the M2, and it was a huge success (they gained about 3,000 new followers). They already have plans to use this method for new model launches this spring. Rolls Royce was a slightly earlier adapter,  as spokesperson Gerry Spahn  explained: “Given how stunningly beautiful the car is we wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Today that means live streaming.” Bingo, Gerry.

You may ask yourself ‘If I’m a small business though, what am I supposed to do?’ Try taking some pointers from Miami Candy, showing how to make candy kabobs with their products.

(PS I can’t screenshot the broadcast and the name of the broadcast so I picked to screenshot the title while it was loading.)


How to do my own candy kabobs? Don’t mind if I do.

What can we learn from these examples?

1) Know what your customers want to see. Yes, it helps to have an amazing product that everyone wants to see, but if you can’t make it interesting, then what’s the point? Each of the companies mentioned above has a different formula for their live streaming stories. BarkBox uses puppies and puppies enjoying products, which makes sense considering their customers. Adobe recognized that it’s customers are probably interested in learning more about how they can use Creative Cloud and other products, so that’s what they delivered. Before you start streaming, think about what your audience is interested in.

2) Announce in advance. You’ll notice that most of the examples above use One of the keys to any event is to make sure you give people enough time to plan their attendance. Adobe used their blog and social media to get the word out about the event, and the Doritos post above was shared 5 days before the event. If you can, be as specific as possible about the date/time for followers to tune in.

3) Customer service on a new level. One of the more popular components of Google Hangouts on Air and Periscope is the ability for audience interaction in real time. People who are watching can send comments and questions, which is a great opportunity for a Q&A around a new product/use of a product. This article from Hubspot has some tips on responding to questions as they come in. For brands with lots of followers, broadcasts are likely a whirlwind of activity and might require an extra person to help facilitate the stream. Responding to questions and comments is a recommended best practice in live streaming content.

4) Have fun. Like Barkbox showing puppies, you can show people using your own product in a fun way. You can take people behind the scenes or give them tutorials like Miami Candy. The point of live videos is to make your business interactive in a way that people will want to buy from you- build trust, tell a story, and don’t be overly aggressive with the sales pitch.

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