What’s Your Marketing Approach?

July 29, 2009

An interesting post by Steve Johnson talks about marketing not being a list, but rather an approach to solving customers problems and helping buyers to buy.

As marketers, we sometimes fall victims of the routine day-to-day tactical activities and forget why we are doing them. Create this email here, prepare a webinar there, and send the artwork for publication in that magazine. Do you ever stop at some point during the week to rethink your actions, rethink your role, rethink your strategy?

Being tuned to the market and being able to notice patterns is only possible if you do your job with eyes wide open. You don’t necessarily have to keep looking for this with everything you do at every minute (it would drive you crazy and slow you down considerably) but just recognizing the need for it does help.

Here are some actions you can take that might help:

  • After you create a presentation, review it thinking not only on who you will be presenting it to, but now thinking about whether more people in your market (customers and prospects) would find it interesting/educational
  • When you wrap up things for the day, think back at everything you created (collateral, presentations, copy, etc.) and make a note to revise it and expand it to become a piece you can repurpose for another audience
  • Make a point to touchbase with the sales reps every month and ask them what they are seeing in the market and what questions they are being asked
  • Schedule a couple hours per week (Friday afternoons are usually great) to review the week that passed and to plan for the week ahead, with the idea that what you will be working on, producing, and publishing should be solving a customer problem

How are YOU tackling the challenge of noticing patterns and solving customers problems?


Why Social Media Is Not For Everyone

July 21, 2009

While many are in love with the whole concept of Social Media as being the next big thing in marketing, the holy grail that will lift sales and enhance your brand, I have seen some detractors that insist in calling out the faults and dangers or adopting Social Media as part of your marketing strategy.

Taking the plunge into social media may not be the right thing for you

Taking the plunge into social media may not be the right thing for you

Social media is just another media

Experts, personalities and false prophets are all clamoring that social media is king. We’re told that if you have a good plan , if you follow a proven framework for rolling out your social media activities and integrate them with your sales efforts , then the ROI will be clear . That is, if you can translate all those additional site visits, downloads, and re-tweets into sales. Otherwise it’s just buzz.

Some blasphemous professionals on the other hand, caution us to be careful in our efforts, telling us we should really focus on those customers that love our product and not use social media targeting everyone. They caution us saying it could be dangerous to our business if incorrectly used and it’s only helpful to build relationships and goodwill .  Sales? Maybe not so much.

I don’t know about you, but so far it seems like Social Media is nothing more than just another media, another tool in the marketer’s arsenal. It’s like saying everyone should do email marketing, everyone should do podcasts, print ads and TV spots.

Choosing the right social media strategy

While some may say that since your employees are already using social media (facebook pages, tweeter accounts, linkedin posts, etc.) you should also jump on the bandwagon , I say there are several reasons for companies to be reluctant to embrace it wholeheartedly. The same questions you would ask before using any marketing tool available you should also ask of the Social Media tools. What is it for? Who is our target? What is our goal? What are our objectives? What resources will it require? Will we do it ourselves or will we outsource to someone with more experience?  Do we need to create rules or procedures for using it? How will we measure success?

At the company I work for we recently had an informal discussion about Facebook and Twitter, with people raising questions such as “why don’t we have a Tweeter page” or “let’s create a Facebook account and start inviting customers”. That is all nice and good, I said, but let’s first decide on why we are going to do it. Get people to buy our products! Tell them about a new release! And similar comments ensued. Yeah, but HOW do you do that? Just making sure you are Tweeting five times per day is not guarantee for success especially if you have nothing more to say that hasn’t been said already. As with any new tool or concept, it always seems easier said than done. Probably because it’s “free” (yes, you don’t have to pay for it but you do need to invest time), it is immediately implied that if you are not using it you are behind the times  and putting your company at risk.

Let’s put aside the fact that the press and the Internet in general are full of stories about how social media is transforming businesses and think in terms of marketing strategy. Why would you use a tool without first deciding how it will impact your brand, how it will impact your resources and how it will help you achieve your goals? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use it but I am simply cautioning you to use it as part of your overall strategy. If you want to create a corporate blog that focuses only on your 10 most profitable customers and you have good reasons to do it, then don’t think for a minute that you are doing something wrong. If you need to Tweet about what you had for lunch because somehow this creates affinity with your prospects and will eventually translate into sales, then knock yourself out.  Nothing is purely good or bad

Social Media In Three Easy Steps

Step 1: Learn how to use it

Before judging whether something works and the best way to use it, first attend a course, read a book, talk to people that are using it. There are several free online courses and resources on the web you can use to learn more about it. Only then will you be able to really make a good decision.

Step 2: Learn how to NOT use it

Now that you know what the social media tools are all about and how they are supposed to be used, check out the myriad of examples of companies that are doing it correctly and getting returns and also check out how companies are screwing it up so badly it is becoming a public embarrassment (recent United Airlines fiasco , IBM’s IT failure debacle , and Habitat’s tweet spam come to mind). Learn from others mistakes and then you will be ready to commit your own.

Step 3: Teach and listen

With all that good info you now gathered at hands, bring this knowledge to your company and spread it around. Educate the CEO, the sales manager, your staff and everyone else that you think can help you shape your company’s strategy towards social media. Then listen to what they have to say, you may be surprised. And don’t forget to give them the option of doing nothing. Whatever works for your business is what you should do.

How did YOU approach social media at your company? Please share!


Don’t Forget Your Company History

July 16, 2009

The recent advent of the lost NASA tapes (they lost the original tapes from the Apollo 11 mission, the first Moon landing, then found out that they had all been erased) got me thinking. At my company we do our best to keep “old” stuff like pictures, awards, magazine ads, even show signage. Sure, call us pack rats but we like going back in time and talking about the old days and how things changed. Not only that, we feel a certain pride when we look back in time and realize how much we have accomplished.

A project that has been on my list for some time now, is to get all of those pictures and select a few that we can use on our website as part of our company history page. Adobe and General Electric are just two examples that come to mind that make good use of their history to talk about their origins and how it relates to what they do today.

How can a company’s history be used effectively? Here’s a few additional options:

  • Sales can talk about the company’s past to reinforce the message that the prospect is dealing with an established, solid player
  • Human Resources can show new employees and interviewees what the company culture feels like by sharing photos of past events
  • Volunteer organizations, once they see information, pictures and nominations from past activities can get in touch and partner with the company for a future joint community event or non-profit activity
  • Putting up a timeline with pictures at the company’s lobby can not only entertain visitors but give them a quick lesson on the company’s origins
  • Managers can refer back to historic events and milestones to reinforce the message of the company’s mission and goals during staff meetings
  • Marketing can use the company’s history not only on the website (photos and videos) but also on collateral, either as part of a campaign or simply to reinforce a point about the industry, the company’s reputation, or to give the company a more human face

So how are you using your company’s history in your marketing efforts?


Presenting Effective Charts

July 12, 2009
Are your impressive charts effective?

Are your impressive charts effective?

Stop doing charts in Excel. At least don’t use the default options that give you 3D bar charts with dull colors and gray background. The fix? Go to Juice Analytics website and download their free add-on to Excel that cleans up charts for a professional look.

Ok, now that we have a tool to fix those ugly Excel charts, let’s see what we can do about the main goal of your chart: The message.

How to Ensure Your Message is Clear

Before creating a chart showing the latest web analytics, or the trends in email clickthrough rates explaining the recent results in webinar registrations, think about what exactly you are trying to say. Sounds simple but often times I see charts presented just because they ‘look nice’ or because they show data. Yeah, you’ve seen them too, right? After you stared them for two minutes you are still wondering “What the heck is he trying to say with this chart?”.

Here’s five simple rules I use when presenting data on a chart format:

1. What is the summary?
As I do my analysis, I think about what all the data means. Are we losing customers? Was the last trade show really effective? Did we generate quality leads? Then, I think about what is the summary of all the analysis and the conclusion. This is often the most important piece of information of the whole presentation.
2. What is the story?
Saying “we didn’t reach our sales goals” is OK, but after the initial shock, people will wonder exactly what happened. So the next best thing is to think about the story. More specifically, what story are the numbers telling you? You will find that some data points when put next to other data points will give you a clear explanation of what happened. If you need a few different charts to present it, that’s OK. They will become your storyline.
3. What can I remove?
Less is more, especially when presenting data and charts. Think about what you can remove from the chart that might be distracting or that is not adding to the overall story. It could be a data point, could be labels, legend, or colors.
4.What needs explanation?
Some charts are clear and have all the information necessary, while others only glimpse into a certain question or answer. You may have to add supporting information either before or after the chart. Don’t assume everyone will ‘get it’ when looking at it. Always go back to step 3 and ask yourself if the additional info is really necessary.
5. What action needs to happen?
If you are presenting something, you need something to happen. Sure, you may just be sharing information but still you have a goal with this information sharing and why would you present something if nothing will happen as a result? The story your slides are telling and your charts are emphasizing should lead to a certain climax that will ask for action or actions to be taken. That’s the “so what” question people often ask themselves after a presentation. Don’t let anything up to imagination, add to the presentation what the audience needs to do or what needs to happen based on the information just presented.

1. What is the summary?

As I do my analysis, I think about what all the data means. Are we losing customers? Was the last trade show really effective? Did we generate quality leads? Then, I think about what is the summary of all the analysis and the conclusion. This is often the most important piece of information of the whole presentation.

2. What is the story?

Saying “we didn’t reach our sales goals” is OK, but after the initial shock, people will wonder exactly what happened. So the next best thing is to think about the story. More specifically, what story are the numbers telling you? You will find that some data points when put next to other data points will give you a clear explanation of what happened. If you need a few different charts to present it, that’s OK. They will become your storyline.

3. What can I remove?

Less is more, especially when presenting data and charts. Think about what you can remove from the chart that might be distracting or that is not adding to the overall story. It could be a data point, could be labels, legend, or colors.

4.What needs explanation?

Some charts are clear and have all the information necessary, while others only glimpse into a certain question or answer. You may have to add supporting information either before or after the chart. Don’t assume everyone will ‘get it’ when looking at it. Always go back to step 3 and ask yourself if the additional info is really necessary.

5. What action needs to happen?

If you are presenting something, you need something to happen. Sure, you may just be sharing information but still you have a goal with this information sharing and why would you present something if nothing will happen as a result? The story your slides are telling and your charts are emphasizing should lead to a certain climax that will ask for action or actions to be taken. That’s the “so what” question people often ask themselves after a presentation. Don’t let anything up to imagination, add to the presentation what the audience needs to do or what needs to happen based on the information just presented.

For some nice tips about how to prepare before you give a presentation, SlideMagnet has some pretty good advicethat drives home the key points while giving you some good laughs.

Charts That Tell a Story

Here is a compilation of great articles and sites I’ve read in the past that really helped me understand the importance of paying attention to data presentation and how to choose the right chart based on your data and message.

Images, Cliparts, and Stuff

Although another blog post should cover this in more detail, if you are using images (and you should) in your slides, make sure you get good ones. Cliff Atkinson has some great suggestions of places to get images from and the PresentationZen blog has a recent post that will help those trying to present technical information.

I hope the resources I listed will help you create better charts and presentations. If you know of other resources, please share!


Copywriting That Sells: Powerful Copy is Easier than You Think

July 5, 2009

Writing great copy is easy. Writing powerful, attention grabbing copy that will help you sell is another story. I usually

Copywriting that sells. This is your goal.

Copywriting that sells. This is your goal.

overcomplicate, think too much, duplicate sentences without realizing it and end up having to start from scratch. Now that I have attended a copywriting workshop I hope some of the lessons will stick long enough to help me improve.

Not all workshops are good, most of the ones I’ve been to are actually pretty bad but once in a while there’s one that stands out and this time was the copywriting workshop I attended a couple weeks ago. Far from exceptional (I am a very harsh critic) and very focused on basics, I nonetheless had some great insights and came out with great action-ready items I am putting to the test at work.

The Copywriting Wimp

The workshop instructor was Sandra Blum, a renowned copywriter, columnist for Dynamic Graphics magazine, and more recently one of the judges for DMA’s Echo Award. That in itself is a good indication that the material was above average. She not only customized the course the way she thought it should be delivered but was also able to get the group of 20 or so to interact and dictate the pace. Gotta love her for that.

Besides being a nice refresher of some basics, we all got some really good actionable items that we took back to our work and were able to put right into practice. Copywriting is easy, but writing powerful copy that sells is what separates the wimps from the champions. If you feel like a wimp sometimes, or need to get a good checklist of stuff that will help you during those difficult moments of “how do I make this sound more exciting?”, then read on.

10 Nuggets of Copywriting Wisdom

Here are some of the key insights I got from the workshop and I hope these few key lessons can help you improve your copywriting too.

1. “People don’t want more information, they want better information”. Before you start scribbling away, think about the two most important things about what you are writing, namely your objective and the action you want the reader to take.

Examples of objectives for your copy:

  • Sell
  • Lead generation
  • Public Relations
  • Generate Interest
  • Promote
  • Create anticipation
  • Arouse Curiosity
  • Provide information

Examples of actions you may want your readers to take:

  • Call
  • Return a response card
  • Visit a store
  • Place an order
  • Join up
  • Ask for an estimate
  • Give feedback / fill out a survey
  • Tweet or blog about it

2. “It’s not how long you make it, is how you make it long”. Sometimes you just have to write that extra paragraph and cutting more words won’t make your copy flow better. As long as your copy is engaging, your readers won’t mind. MarketingExperiments has an interesting test on short copy versus long copy that is worth checking out  and Sonia Simone from CopyBlogger has a great blog post on the same subject.

3. The goal is to write persuasive copy. It’s what Joe Sugarman calls the “Slippery Slide”, in his book “The Adweek Copywriting Handbook”, explaining that “The headline must be so powerful and compelling that you must read the subheadline, and the subheadline must be so powerful that you are compelled to read and so compelling that you must read the next sentence, and so on, straight through the entire copy to the end”. He also calls it “Reading Gravity” because it’s like a force pulling you through the copy. The ultimate test is whether the reader acted on your call to action.

4. Headlines and subheadlines are key to making your copy flow. Some people will only read those, while others will be compelled to keep reading. When used effectively, headlines will help you:

  • Grab the reader’s attention
  • Qualify the audience
  • Deliver a message
  • Draw the reader into the copy

5. Make working with copywriters work for you by using a creative brief. Sandra told us some interesting stories about having to use creative briefs to manage outsourced copywriters. Great idea! Why keep creative briefs a tool for only your marketing department to use? Make sure that copywriter you are hiring really gets it and ask him or her to fill out a creative brief, then use it to manage the project.

6. Decide on a style guide. Seems easy enough but if you are a freelance writer or if your company is using one, that is one of the first things you should do. Whatever the guide you use or that you created along the years based on your industry, product, or service make sure everyone is on the same page as to what are the standards. Avoid confusion later by spending some time deciding it now.

7. Work on your opening lines. Seriously. Opening lines can make or break your email, landing page, website, blog, or any other type of writing you do. Here’s a brief list of styles you can choose from:

  • Tell a story
  • Sell a benefit
  • Share news
  • Evoke curiosity
  • Present a problem
  • Present a solution
  • Flatter

8. Simplify your writing. Tailor your writing style towards your audience and be aware of how difficult your copy might be for someone to read and comprehend. There are several indexes out there for this kind of thing, like the Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog, and one of my favorites (because of its name) the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook . The simplest way to use the readability test is by configuring it in your MS Word program.

9. Design and copy should be worked together. This is a key point for me because often times I write or edit copy then send it to the graphic designer who will insert it into some kind of layout he created. And often times the design needs to be changed because it doesn’t work with the copy. Make sure your designer understands the purpose of the piece you are writing, the benefits, and the desired outcome. Only then will you be able to have the design strengthen the copy.

10. Understand the benefit of your benefit. This was an aha! Moment for most people at the workshop. We all know about features and benefits but how about the benefits of the benefits? That means going a step further and really understanding the “so what” of what you are writing about. The lesson for me here is whenever I think I’m done with my copy, I go back and try to read it asking at every point “so what” and see if it still makes sense. For a nice article about features and benefits, check out Michael Fortin.

Copywriting Resources

Here are some great resources for those interested in learning more and fine tuning their copy making skills:

Books:

Websites:

Blogs:

The Gran Finale

Books, blogs and websites abound on copywriting and how to write killer copy, so I know a single post will not change your life. I do hope that some of the points I make above will help you in some way to get better or at least to try harder. Remember, copywriting is easy. The difficult part is to get people to read… and buy!

If you attended the workshop, what are some of the key lessons you learned? If you are an experienced copywriter, what resources do you use that you recommend others?


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