What Makes a Great Creative Brief?

January 7, 2011

A similar question was posted on Quora and elicited a number of different but very interesting responses. It just goes to show that there is still a lot of controversy when it comes to creative briefs in marketing. If you come from the agency side, you are used to a certain format. Big companies and small companies have different needs, and so their briefs are also formatted differently.

From the discussion thread I liked two presentations that were shared, posted below. The first is an interesting research done by Jasmin Cheng (from Twist Image) about creative briefs in the industry, and the second is a presentation by Nick Emmel on how to properly write a creative brief. While they don’t settle the discussion, are good sources for inspiration nonetheless.

And, if you’re interested in looking at some different formats for creative briefs, check out this blog post on creative brief template review.


B2B Marketers Hold Off on Killing Traditional Media

October 22, 2010

And so from the looks of it, according to the latest chart from MarketingSherpa, traditional marketing venues such as trade shows and advertising are still in play today and will be for the next year. Their latest study points out that “The majority of B2B organizations are increasing marketing budgets for inbound marketing tactics, including social media, virtual events and webinars, SEO and PPC”.

But, more interesting is that the majority of B2B Marketers are not planning on changing their marketing budget allocation for traditional marketing tactics. Also interesting to note that telemarketing as a budget item will also remain a key part of the budget, which shows outbound lead generation is still a strong component of most marketing plans.


Email Design Review Gallery

March 9, 2010

Are you tired of what your marketing emails look like? Are you in search of inspiration? Or just want to see what’s out there? Well, this post may be the answer!

Whenever my team talks about changing the design of our email campaigns, we start off my talking about emails we received in the past and that we liked. We also spend some time talking about the emails we hated and those that could be improved. We come out with a list of things to think about and that we could be using in our own campaigns. Is always good to see what’s out there to give you some ideas.

After searching a bit on the web I couldn’t find any “email design gallery” or something like it that would show me different email designs. Sure, our email marketing software has some canned templates but they are very bland. I was looking for some real-life good looking HTML emails I could use as a reference. So I decided to create one and share with you.

This is the first post of a series that will show you some marketing emails (webinar invitations, whitepaper downloads, product announcements, etc.) so that you can take this back to your team for your very own email marketing brainstorming session.

Note: The emails are in no particular order and the senders were selected at random from a variety of emails I get. Click on the images for larger version.

Design #1

  • Email Sender: Marketo
  • Email Title: Social Best Practices for Marketing in the Cloud

  • What I Like: Clean design; date and time of the webinar on top easy to find; orange “Free Webinar” button calls attention to the important action (register now!)
  • What I Don’t Like: Purple graphic on top (Webinar) doesn’t seem to add much to the content; text-heavy email with little break between paragraphs may discourage people from reading it

Design #2

  • Email Sender: Profound Logic Software
  • Email Title: Integrate your modernization efforts on IBM i with Atrium

  • What I Like: Well, its colorful I ‘ll give them that. And there’s a big orange “Register Now” right on top so whatever this email is about I know they want me to register.
  • What I Don’t Like: Too busy, too many things happening in this email that makes it very distracting. I had to read it a couple times to understand what the title was because my eyes kept bouncing around. My eyes go straight to that screenshot before I read the copy and so I have no idea what that shot is about. You are really hoping people stop and read the text, which may not happen all the time.

Design #3

  • Email Sender: Sitecore
  • Email Title: 7 Habits for Maximizing Website Conversions

  • What I Like: Catchy header with interesting graphic, clear title and date/time of the webinar easy to find. Big “Register for our webinar” button at the bottom makes it easy to find where to click to sign up. Picture of speaker gives it a personal tone.
  • What I Don’t Like: Although the header graphic is good, it could be a bit cleaner (I’d remove the mention of 2 sessions and increase the title a bit); Grey text over grey background doesn’t make it ‘pop’.

Design #4

  • Email Sender: MarketingExperiments
  • Email Title: No idea

  • What I Like: The blue and orange colors go really well with the white background. The picture of the speaker gives it a personal feel. Side banner is a good way to try “sell” additional product and increase registrations.
  • What I Don’t Like: Being an email from MarketingExperiments I was expecting it to be much better. This email is cluttered, is very difficult to determine what exactly are they trying to get me to do. How many webinars are being advertised here? And what’s up with blog posts (side bar) in this email? Too confusing. I think the only good thing going for them is that their name is recognizable and so people may spend some time deciphering their email.

Design #5

  • Email Sender: MarketingProfs
  • Email Title: How Businesses are Marketing with Facebook and Twitter

  • What I Like: Really great color combination makes it easy in the eye. Clear header with big title and date/time of the event. Orange “Sign up” button on top left corner is the natural place for your eyes after reading the header and calls attention. Big but concise lead-in. Sponsor logo nicely placed helps give authority to the email.
  • What I Don’t Like: Bullet points could have been more concise; left side bar is grey on grey background which makes it difficult to read.

Design #6

  • Email Sender: SPSS
  • Email Title: What if you had the power to increase campaign response rates and ROI?

  • What I Like:Cathy header and good combination of graphic with text to get people interested. Not copy intensive and good use of bullet points. Big lead-in helps keep users reading.
  • What I Don’t Like: Lead-in copy “Explode six direct marketing myths” doesn’t tell me much, poor choice of words (although ‘myths’ tend to get people to read). Right side bar basically empty, not helping much. No image of the whitepaper that they are offering (images, or “hero shots”, tend to increase registrations rate).

Design #7

  • Email Sender: Omniture
  • Email Title: A Recipe for Relevance

  • What I Like:Clean, nice looking header containing image of the whitepaper and download button. Very light on copy but direct to the point and making good use of bullet points.
  • What I Don’t Like: The ‘download’ button with the Forrester logo on top and right next to the image looks a bit out-of-place, maybe it’s just me? The copy could have been more precise in explaining exactly what the whitepaper is about, looks to me a bit vague.

Design #8

  • Email Sender: CoreMetrics
  • Email Title: The Effect of Disconnect

  • What I Like: The header graphic is not some random image but rather helps drive the point the title is trying to make about “disconnect”. Whitepaper shot on right is the right size (you can read the title of the WP) and right below it is a big red “download the full report” button that you can’t miss.
  • What I Don’t Like: A lot of copy in this email in a space that makes it look cramped doesn’t help the reader. The only “download” link seems to be the red button to the right, I would have added a couple more ‘download’ options either within the text or right after it.

Design #9

  • Email Sender: Eloqua
  • Email Title: Using Social Channels

  • What I Like: This is a really nicely designed email. Red header with Eloqua name tells me right upfront who’s behind the email, there’s not too much copy, the right side with the book shot catches my eyes immediately and the orange “download now” button is hard to miss, you know right away where to click to get it.
  • What I Don’t Like: Although the email design is pleasant in the eyes, the message is confusing. The big shot of the book on the right makes me believe that when clicking the “download” now orange button I’ll get that book chapter they talk about, but then there’s that other red download link in the middle saying “Download: The Buyers New Toolkit”. So which one is it? The book chapter or this toolkit?

Design #10

  • Email Sender: BottomLine
  • Email Title: ePayment Networks

  • What I Like: Bit header with the title of the webinar also tells me when it will be held. Big unmistakable “Register Now” button right on top.  Small graphic image to the right helps balance the copy.
  • What I Don’t Like: The paragraph right below the register now button is huge (9 lines), it would have been better to chop it off and make it a bit smaller, especially because the image to the right reduces available space. The copy is good but lacks some emphasis on important points such as the fact that Aberdeen Group will be presenting and a Senior Cash Control Specialist (a customer, maybe?) will be presenting. If they had bolded some of those names it would have drawn attention to that part of the copy making it easier to read and more compelling.

That’s it for this installment of Email Design Gallery. Let me know what you thought of these designs and if you have any to submit, please contact me!


The Dirty Side of Marketing

February 19, 2010

Marketing is Dirty

Recent grads and people from other fields usually have the wrong idea about marketing. After multiple years of interviewing people for marketing positions, working with marketing interns, and discussing marketing with non-marketers it seems that the non-practitioners form their ideas about marketing from:

  • Having watched Mad Men and thinking that  marketing is advertising and it involves coming up with a crazy creative, tough negotiation, and a lot of romance
  • Reading Seth Godin books and feeling like it’s about coming up with purple cows, telling stories, and something about forming a big tribe
  • Watching  the mistakes that SouthwestUAL, Baja Fresh and TGI Fridays, and others have made and then thinking they would  never do that because they are smarter than those big dumb brands
  • Using Twitter and Face book on a daily basis and thinking that just because they have 100+ followers/friends and have top scores on MafiaWars/Farmville/InsertYourAnnoyingAppHere they are experts in social media and think is the only useful marketing vehicle
  • Surfing the web for hours and wondering why don’t all those companies simply re-design their websites

I could go on, but you get the idea.

And then what happens? They get a job.  And with the job comes meetings. And in one of those meetings the  Sales Manager starts talking about quality of leads coming from Marketing, the CFO asks about  Return On Investment, and the CEO  discusses how marketing goals need to be aligned to the overall strategy and asks for comparison with what competitors are doing. Then some negotiation about budget goes on and when the marketing staff regroups there are a lot of spreadsheets being thrown together for metrics.

And those metrics take time. Metrics for email results (clickthroughs, open rates, deliverability, etc.), metrics for the website (visitors, pageviews, clickpaths, conversions, etc.) and for the pay-per-click campaigns (impressions, daily budgets, word rankings, conversions, etc.), and the list goes on. At the end of the day our brave new marketer starts wondering what happened to all the nice marketing creativity, brainstorming sessions, and cool toys he saw on movies and expected to be part of.

The harsh reality is that marketing, let me rephrase that, effective marketing is a dirty job. Sure there is creativity, there is coming up with new ads, a new website, brand discussions and user personas, but it is all backed by serious analytics. Results are what marketers are after. Everything else is a means to that end.

This bucket of cold water thrown at the newbies leave many upset. Our schools are partly to blame because very little practical marketing is taught (recent graduates know the four P’s but have no idea of how exactly to use them and what tools are available). Inevitably some will get disillusioned and leave the field of marketing. Others ‘get it’ and take the analytics side of marketing with gusto and become excellent at slicing data and putting it to work.

With time all that number crunching and metrics become second nature and while they are still important, the “fun” aspects of creative brainstorming, marketing positioning and message, filling walls with post-it notes, and even going to offsite meetings for some R&R before that big push towards a deadline are what you remember most.

To sum it up: Marketing is dirty. Numbers, statistics, and real grunt work is done behind the scenes. But we love it because our work is what makes or breaks a company. We love it!


The Fun Theory: How to Change Behavior

November 30, 2009

How do you change people’s behavior? Corporate America usually relies on some form of compensation system which basically uses a reward/punishment method that tries to coerce people into doing what the company wants. You have to fill out forms, get approvals, and meet goals otherwise there’s no pay raise or bonus. In other cases you try to get website visitors to navigate a certain path by placing links in strategically important places or enticing them with an offer. Books and theories exist on how to get people to perform their best or to change the way they behave (“Bringing Out The Best In People” comes to mind) but rarely we see those in action.

Volkswagen launched what became quickly a viral campaign with emails being forwarded, youtube videos with over 1 million hits and comments from all corners of the web. They call it The Fun Theory (www.thefuntheory.com) and the goal is simple: using fun to change people’s behavior for the better. The videos on their website (embedded below) are some great examples of what they mean.

How are you changing your customers and your prospects behavior? Can you make something fun that will entertain and educate them? And how about your staff or your company’s employees? Some food for thought.

 


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?


Kindle Marketing Lessons

May 29, 2009

Amazon’s Kindle e-Book Reader Shows You What NOT To Do

I love my Kindle. The one I have is the first generation and I have been using it for almost one year now. An avid reader, I’m always reading two or three books at the same time and the Kindle’s simplicity and storage capacity (hundreds of books!) appealed to me.

What I hate about the Kindle has more to do with Amazon.com’s practices than the device itself. So here are a couple of important lessons we marketers can all learn from their mistakes: Kindle Lessons

Kindle Lesson Number 1: Integrate Your Sales Channels

For almost 10 years I’ve been a loyal Wall Street Journal subscriber. Initially I got the paper version of WSJ and later was an avid reader of WSJ.com. When I got the Kindle, one of the first things I wanted to do was to get the Wall Street Journal delivered to my e-Book, and Amazon was offering it. The problem, however, was that when I tried to switch my WSJ.com online subscription to the Kindle subscription I was told that they couldn’t do that. What?! I had to cancel my wsj.com subscription, then sign up for the Kindle subscription. Isn’t that unbelievable?

Why would you make it difficult for a loyal customer to continue using your product? And better, yet, why would you make it difficult for a customer to start using a more expensive product (the Kindle version was more expensive than the online journal)? When planning your sales channels, the more integrated they are, the better your chances of acquiring and keeping customers.

Kindle Lesson Number 2: Greed Will Kill You

Even with all the hassle of signing up to read the WSJ on my Kindle, I was a happy camper. Every morning I turned it on and read my electronic newspaper. Until that day when I got an email from Amazon.com announcing they were increasing the price of the WSJ Kindle subscription by 50%. FIFTY percent!

I simply cancelled my Kindle WSJ subscription, as apparently hundreds of others did. Not only that, but the Kindle forum at Amazon.com’s website has irate customers venting their frustrations with the price hike and talking about collateral damage as they cancel other Kindle subscriptions.

Why would Amazon increase the price substantially without giving customers any additional benefit is still a controversial subject, but the lesson is clear: Unless you have a good reason (i.e. additional features, more convenience, better value, etc.) to give your customer a huge price increase, you will not only risk losing him but will also get a very bad reputation, which could bankrupt you.

Granted, Amazon.com doesn’t care if hordes of Kindle users cancel their WSJ subscription as long as they keep purchasing books through the site, but if you are not so lucky as to be the size of Amazon.com, just remember these simple yet powerful lessons.

Thank you, Amazon, for teaching us a lesson. Now go f@%$! yourself.


Tools of the Trade: Webinars and Online Presentations

April 29, 2009

Webinars

Webinars or webcasts, as they are sometimes called, have increased in popularity and in effectiveness within the past 5 years or so. A common tool for today’s marketer they provide a great way to reach a large number of people with your message.

I believe in three simple rules for a successful webinar program:

  1. Understand and map your needs
  2. Choose the appropriate webinar platform
  3. Put in place a well documented webinar process

 1. Understand and map your needs

First and foremost, you should list out all the ways in which your company will be using webinars and the platform. For example, typical uses of webinar software often fall into one or more of these categories:

  • Online sales demos and presentations: a sales rep shares a PowerPoint presentation and his desktop screen while walking through a product demonstration.
  • Marketing presentations and educational sessions: usually involving a moderator and a speaker, sharing PowerPoint slides and often making use of polling questions and maybe annotations to engage the audience.
  • Online training: an instructor sharing PowerPoint slides, maybe sharing the desktop screen and using arrows, circles, and other annotation tools to illustrate a point.
  •  Technical support: a technical support representative with a customer on the phone where the customer shares control of his desktop and the rep troubleshoots.

OK, before you tell me that training and tech support are not part of the traditional definition of webinar, please bear with me for a moment and I’ll explain it in time.

Depending on the category, or type, of webinar usage you will be able to list out all the features you need. Each webinar platform has a set of features that can be useful or useless and why pay a premium if you don’t care whether circles can be drawn on the screen? An interesting way of looking at it is by making a grid on a sheet of paper or using a spreadsheet comparing your needs versus the features required.

 

 

Sample requirements grid for webinar platform selection

Sample requirements grid for webinar platform selection

 

 

 

Why list technical support and online training? Although often outside the marketing/sales spectrum, there are tools out there that may not only help with webinars but can also help with the needs of the tech support and professional services departments. Why not kill three birds with one stone? So don’t discard them completely until you have spoken to these departments and determined whether they should be included in the requirements grid or not.

2. Choose the appropriate webinar platform

Now that you have listed how you will be using webinars, you’re ready to investigate and fend off vendors. In your first conversation with a vendor, you should list all the uses (maybe even share the grid with them) for the tool you want to buy and ask for a demo showcasing the specific requirements you have. This way you make sure you control the sales process and don’t waste time with a tool that does not have a feature you consider critical.

Some of the most used webinar providers are:

          Microsoft LiveMeeting

          Adobe Connect

          WebEx

          GoToMeeting / GoToWebinar

          On24

          Lotus Sametime

If you do a quick Google search many others will show up, including free ones like:

          Yugma

          Dimdim

The Web Conferencing Council has some good information on webinars and has recently released a whitepaper comparing some of them.

One other thing to consider is the teleconference provider, especially for your marketing webinars that are likely to have dozens of attendees. Some webinar providers have their own conferencing service (GoToMeeting / GoToWebinar offers one for free and Adobe Connect users needs to use Premiere Global for an extra fee), so you should ask the question during your evaluation. The price for phone conferencing will increase the overall costs for your webinars.

3. Put together a well documented webinar process

Now that you have the tools in place, you should think carefully about the procedure to be followed for webinars, especially for the marketing webinars where multiple attendees are involved. Online lead generation events are more effective when there’s a formal procedure that is followed every time, preventing occasional glitches from happening. Thing of the following:

          When should a new session / room / webinar (the terminology varies according to the platform) be reserved?

          How will registrants get login information? Some webinar providers handle this process for you.

          Do polling questions need to be prepared in advance and uploaded?

          Do slides need to be prepared in advance and uploaded?

          Will registrants be contacted by email or phone prior to the webinar to ensure attendance?

          Will the online event be recorded? Should any special steps be taken in this case?

          Should a moderator make opening remarks and help with Questions and Answers?

 

These are only some of the questions that you should ask yourself as you are setting up your company’s webinar program.

Webinars, webcasts, online events, and whatever other name you have for this can be expertly handled once you know your requirements, have done vendor due diligence, and setup a process that can be followed and standardized.

I hope these simple tips will help you with your webinar initiative!


How to Use Social Media – Lessons from AMA Digital Conference

March 7, 2009

This past Friday (March 6) the AMA Tampa Bay chapter hosted an incredible full day event called the Digital Marketing Conference. The room was packet (the number I heard was 80 attendees) and a lot of information was flowing to and from the audience back to the presenters. Talking of which, all deserve credit here:

  • Deana Goldasich, from Magnetic, gave a thought-provoking presentation on web usability that took us for a ride on the evolution of websites since the early 90’s until today. I got a couple pages worth of notes from her presentation.
  • Ron Adelman, from WSI Marketing, discussed Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in a down-to-earth manner that was refreshing at the same time very entertaining. The guy really knows his stuff.
  • Lisa Cardarelli, from Bayshore Solutions, had a more standard powerpoint and although some of the slides were tough to read (10 point font and 15 bullet points per slide), they were packed with good stuff based on a recent client they worked with and how they improved their pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. Some good discussion about the integration between online and print advertising got everyone talking.
  • Brenda Young, from Marbay Group, shared her expertise on the solical media space by talking about what can be considered one of the top rules for any marketer around: Listen First! 
  • Albert Chen, from Google, flew directly from Boston to our cozzy Florida weather to grace us with his presence and gave a thoroughly entertaining presentation discussing what Google Can Do for You. I was prepared for a sales pitch but Albert delivered one of the best presentations of the day while at the same time informing us of all the great tools available for Marketers from Google.
  • Peter Contardo and Shaun Pope, from Endavo Media, gave us a great primer on monetizing online video, clarifying that although easy to create (anyone with a webcam can upload to Youtube), need some thinking before you can actually make money with video.
  • Peter Radizeski, from Rad-Info also known as the Marketing Idea Guy, and Shawna Vercher from the Society of Successful Women and the Huffington Post, delivered the most engaging presentation of the day. Forgoing powerpoint, they showed why they make the big bucks by doing a presentation in an interview style that provided a good respite from powerpiont and was also very educational and full of great tips and tricks on Integrating Blogging Into Your Marketing Strategy.
  • Chuck Palm, from Internet Podcasting Network, closed the day with “Social Media Mania – what should my business do about it?”. He reinforced some key messages we heard throughout the day and added some great stories about Twitter, blogs, and podcasting. The Zappos story about blue suede shoes stuck in my mind as a great example of social media, six degrees of separation, and pure luck 😉

The best of these events for me is actually the networking portion. Is great to be able to discuss your own challenges with other marketers and realize that you’re not alone out there… I met some great people and learned some stuff I can start using right now in my own company.

Just as a sidenote, I thought ironic the fact that for a “digital marketing conference” that focused on social media (blogs, wikis, twitter, facebook, etc.) the AMA Tampa Bay chapter didn’t have a blog, a wiki, or a discussion forum on their website where attendees could continue the conversation. Hopefully the board members also learned how to use social media and we’ll see it being adopted by the chapter.


If you’re gonna copy, make it right

February 15, 2009

An interesting blog post by Jason Cohen at OnStartups.com  discussed why you shouldn’t copy other companies just because they were successful at what they do. He uses examples like 37Signals, Copyblogger, FogCreek Software, Zappos, and make a good case for trying to think for yourself instead of just following what others are saying.

His controversial post caused quite a stir whith some people taking it personal, others agreeing with him and even others that were lost completely as to what the message he was trying to say was. Why do I care? Well, for one I’m interested in controversy and believe that dissident voices can often give us great insight into what we thought was a certainty. How often have you presented an idea to your team or to the company’s senior management only to get asked questions you never yourself considered before? My second reason for liking that post is that I agree with what Jason said.

Let me explain. Although I admire Joel Spolsky and think he’s right on the mark 99% of times, I wouldn’t simply copy his business model or his ideas and try to use them in my own company. The simple fact that it worked for him doesn’t prove that it will work for everyone. Another person I admire is Jack Welsh (former CEO of GE) but I also wouldn’t be as ruthless as he was during his tenure simply because that is not my style. Can you be as successful as someone else without using the same methods? The myriad of companies out there that are successful and yet operate completely different (Southwest and JetBlue, Yahoo and Google, GM and Toyota, etc.) are the proof.

Did Jason take some stuff out of context? Maybe. But the overall idea was interesting and valid, especially for us mere mortals that look in awe at others that have been more successful (however you define the term) and have to be brought back down to earth and go back to work.

The lesson here translated into the marketing realm is that you should always keep an eye out for the competition, for your partners, for other similar companies, for what is said to be working and why. What is the best ad campaign you’ve seen recently? Which is the best website? Who in your industry is the king of PPC and SEO? This is all good food for thought but beware of simply copying what others are doing. You competitor may have a very good reason why he decided to create a blog on his website and why he spent thousands on that slick direct mail piece but it doesn’t mean you should follow suit. Watch, learn, absorb all the good and bad then translate it into your own context. 

Effectiveness doesn’t come from copying, it comes from making it right for your organization. Do what works for you, not what have worked for others.


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