Breaking Down Barriers of Success

I trust you will evaluate the thoughts I share and recognize the value in them. I’ve sat on these thoughts for a very long time, and for the first time, publicly shared some of these thoughts during my ‘Online Advertising And Marketing: A Powerful Tool’ workshop at the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Conference this recent July in Louisville, Kentucky. During my workshop, I mentioned the deaf community needed to reach out to the hearing community. An attendee of my workshop, Ted Holcomb, took note and mentioned this in his latest blog post, ‘Will Deaf Community Take Responsibility?

In wanting to respond to his thoughts, I decided this would be the appropriate outlet for me to continue the discussion initiated at the NAD Conference.

To borrow a line from Trudy Suggs, my goal is for you, the reader, to be open to “uncomfortable topics, uncomfortable truths, and uncomfortable analyses—whether they apply to you or not.”

I’m a firm believer the best way to advocate is to look within and analyze how the outside world perceives you as a being, collective group of individuals or culture, and then shape messages to respond accordingly.

I say this because upon reading Ted Holcomb’s post, I squirmed a bit. Not because I disagreed with what he had to say, but because he brought up valid questions that were thought provoking and encouraged a healthy discussion.

In replying to this post, I’d like to do so in the context of one of the areas I know best: marketing.

Small business owners have often asked me this question: what do I need to do to get over the hump? My answer has often been straightforward – you need to understand your market and market to them effectively and efficiently.

Yes, it’s that simple!

Unfortunately, businesses are often stuck in a rut and follow their business and marketing plans point for point. This is a double-edged sword as technology and the overall business landscape are continually evolving, making an already difficult venture even more difficult. As a result, regardless of whether one knows their business inside and out, the onus is on decision makers to review and adjust strategic initiatives accordingly.

This merely prefaces one of the main points of this article – to be successful, you as a business owner or marketer need to market your messages effectively to the masses, including people who may not necessarily serve as a customer, but as an influencer.

I’m not saying you should generalize your messages to resonate with every single individual – that’s merely impossible – instead, what I am saying is to make sure everyone has access to your messages.

So for example, if you are a deaf business owner serving primarily deaf customers, you should be making sure any videos (i.e. Vlogs) you make are captioned. You may be thinking… well my everyday customer is a deaf individual. So what?

While there is nothing wrong with a business serving a niche client base by selling products for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, there is something to be said if your marketing collateral is not accessible to all within this market segment. If you’re not captioning your videos, I would like to point out you probably just lost out on the 80-85 percent of the market segment you aimed to serve. This is because these individuals often are not culturally deaf and consequently do not know or are not fluent in ASL.

At the same time, you also possibly missed out on a great opportunity to educate the general masses about your products and services. These individuals may end up becoming customers and/or can serve as brand advocates/influencers. It’s very likely they may know someone who could use your products or services.

In essence, you cannot expect to successfully market your company if your messages are not equally accessible to all.

One can look at Russ and Melody Stein of Mozzeria in San Francisco, California. I personally had a chance to talk with the both of them when I was at their restaurant several months ago. The two of them reiterated the point of not only needing to understand the market they serve, but also not limiting themselves because of their deafness.

The two garnered positive PR from both deaf and mainstream media, a feat that doesn’t surprise me. While there is the bit to be said about the owners being deaf, there is much more to Mozzeria than the deaf owners. It’s the food, oven, ambiance, service and much more that make Mozzeria what it is. Russ and Melody Stein understood this and decided to capitalize on the unique dining experience they offer patrons.

Making business accessible to all individuals is a sensible, pragmatic approach to business. It is not impossible for businesses to do, but yet, many businesses often do not realize the wealth of opportunities they are presented with.

To see how easily one can make an influence on the general public, one can look at the impact Adam Jarashow and Megan Malzkuhn made when launching the #captionTHIS social media movement for online accessibility. One can also look at a much more recent example, Adrean Clark’s petition to President Obama to officially recognize American Sign Language as a community language and a language of instruction in schools. These are two prime examples of the deaf community banding together to push a social agenda.

Simply put, the words were heard, felt and understood through accessible communication that reached out to not only within the community, but also transcended beyond.

Now let’s think back to your business and think about how you can maximize your business’ return on investment (ROI).

The obvious solution is to maximize your marketing communications effectiveness and efficiency. One way to do this is to add captioning to all videos. In turn, you will attract a larger population of people. If everything else holds constant, you’ll be generating incremental income that you can in turn reinvest in the deaf community. With this said, I would like to challenge those who preach about needing to up the standards of deaf economics to step up to the plate and lead by example.

If a small company like DeafTechNews, one that was started and is currently run by an RIT student, can afford to outsource captioning services to CaptionASL, why don’t bigger companies and organizations caption their videos?

It shouldn’t be considered an expense of time and money, but rather an investment.

Anyways, back to the point of Mozzeria – not only has their business thrived, but they’ve also been able to give back to the deaf community in numerous ways, including employing deaf individuals. The #captionTHIS social media movement for online accessibility and ASL petition are proof of concepts that deaf people are capable of not only being heard, but understood.

They serve as the reason you should not be afraid to reach out of your comfort zone – you may have an ally who believes in you and wants to support your journey.

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