What’s our persona?

Posted August 9, 2008 by wanless
Categories: Uncategorized

A blog by Seth Godin about what comes first, the story or the work, got me thinking again about the story and its uses in marketing and business planning.

Because everybody talks about the “story”, and they’re all using the word in different ways and conveying different meanings, I think it’s time for a new look at the term, especially within the construct of digital marketing such as websites, social media, online brochures, or email signatures.

First of all, the story is not the message, although the message is certainly part of storytelling. It’s also not simply your branding or your marketing material, although they are also part of it. And, for all you writers out there, it’s also not your “voice”, although, again, that contributes to your story.

And then, of course, there is your “brand”. Millions goes into branding these days and at the end of it we often see nothing more than continuing impersonal positioning, albeit much prettier. After all that effort, we still see an advertising model that’s really nothing more than a construct to hint at how you’d like to be perceived, not communicate who or what you are.

These are all tactics, or methods of telling your story. But a story is more about strategy. I think the best way to describe it is that your story reflects your market positioning. To put that in more strategic terms, your actual story, personal or corporate, is a description of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Why do I highlight those two from the standard storytelling formula of who, what, when, where, why and how? Because I think they are the most important, the most personal and emotionally resonant. Most story managers, especially those who are data-driven — technology anyone? — go immediately to the what. What happened, what’s news, what’s going on? Then marketers impose an overlay of branding to that to try to sum up all those what’s.

But those are still all impersonal. Who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing is personal, and therefore emotional. It’s what puts a human face on your facade, making it more emotionally connective.

It’s what’s needed in a world where customers and potential customers increasingly want to do business with “someone they know” or with someone who has been referred by “someone they know” — i.e. peer-to-peer recommendation.

So to bring home this concept of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, I propose to borrow the term “persona” from the social media world and apply it to general marketing. There, a persona — often expressed as an avatar — is a short visual message that tells all your friends or connections who you are.

I’m not suggesting you use smiley faces as the basis of marketing, of course. But I do think we could learn something from this kind of shorthand because it forces you to strip away all the overlays and go right to your core or your being.

So, next time you’re sitting around planning a branding strategy, and someone says, yeah, but what’s our story, ask instead, what’s our persona.

Take advantage of media change

Posted August 3, 2008 by wanless
Categories: communications, copywriting, Influencing, information, innovation, journalism, marketing techniques, public relations, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , ,

I shared a lunch recently with some old newspaper cronies who were bemoaning the state of the media industry. Change was sweeping the business, and they were completely confused as to how to deal with it.

The fate of traditional media in the digital age is well-known. Circulations are dropping; their business models are under attack by dozens of information sources and advertising vehicles, and young people find them completely irrelevant, preferring information from peers to the kind of top-down authoritative information they have always provided.

As an example, recent numbers for publicly traded newspaper companies are extremely revelatory. The Washington Post, for example, recently posted horrible numbers: print ad revenue declined 22% in the second quarter, following an 11% decline in the first. Like most newspapers today, the Post has gone online in an attempt to stem the tide, but online growth increased only 4% in the same period. The stock prices of several newspaper chains are down over 80%.

Television stations are often suffering the same fate, although their entertainment quotient probably keeps them better afloat.

In both cases, however, these media outlets are typically trying to respond to these forces with the same old methods — in essence putting the newspaper or television news online, complete with intrusive ads that slow down the systems and drive users mad.

The result is as probably expected: Both locally, nationally, and internationally, readers go to the news web sites when something exciting happens, but generally ignore them. They can get a quick rundown of events from online news services.

Now, newspapers and most media aren’t exactly beehives of innovative thinking: In fact, I’d suggest that they’re among the most conservative of institutions, firmly believing in the old adage that what worked yesterday is good enough for today.

So, in terms of operations, most are falling back to old industrial methods. Staffers are being shed in droves; production is being cut back, outsourcing is on the upswing; everybody is being forced to do more with less. As a result journalists are fleeing the business.

All this was conveyed to me in various forms by my buddies, who were also mostly trying to find a way through the morass. But what tweaked my interest was what it’s done to typical newsroom operations and what that means for marketers.

Basically, those who are left have been turned into production line workers. They’re even busier than before, and have very little time to do their jobs in the traditional way.

So here are some tips for marketers in this new world of media:

  • 1. More relevant info needed, please. “We only have time to rewrite press releases,” one friend lamented. So, this means the more relevant information a marketer or communicator can supply, the better the chances of being picked up.
  • 2. They may be busier, but they still recognize bullshit. Marketers or communicators should be helpful, in that they supply all information — both favourable and critical — the journalist needs. If journalists perceive that you’re baring your soul, they’ll trust you more.
  • 3. Info at the speed of light. The old client-or-boss pleasing format best described as “Acme Industries CEO Elmer Bloggs is pleased to announce…” that then drones on about some useless event, is dead, dead, dead. Before, no one cared about CEO Bloggs, but might have waded through this kind of self-serving verbiage to look for nuggets. Not any more. Say it in the first line or don’t say it at all.
  • 4. You need to have a good story, well told. It was tough enough to get trash in before, but now it’s nearly impossible. So there better be more to your story than a bunch of chest-thumping homilies and barely hidden agendas to get “free publicity”. And it better be written in plain language. Lose the jargon.
  • 5. The digital/interactive press release is going to rule. An interactive press release or digital media kit that puts all required information, including interviews, dissenting opinions, analysis, and other relevant material, at a journo’s fingertips — literally, via the internet — is going to be used. Something that forces the journo to call up or sit down with CEO Bloggs for an interview to please his ego won’t.

Case Studies: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

Posted June 25, 2008 by wanless
Categories: business, communications, creative thinking, critical thinking, Influencing, information, learning, marketing, marketing techniques, organizational information, psychology, story telling, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , ,

Case studies are becoming an increasingly popular B2B marketing method, especially online, because they feature the best of your product or service without looking like a blatant marketing ploy or brochure.

In a sense, they allow a prospective customer to put themselves in someone else’s shoes to see if there’s a fit. It’s a version of the try before you buy concept often used in consumer marketing.

But too many online case studies haven’t really made the jump to true case study. Instead they merely re-arrange the standard advertising/marketing language and add a “real-life” example. As a result they start to sound like those late night television ads that feature some happy customer spouting marketing speak:

“Acme’s gizmo sure helped my love life. Thanks, Acme!”

The case study goes back to the early 20th century when it was used in the study of medicine, but quickly spread to the business world, most notably used by the Harvard Business School as a way to educate its graduate students because there were few business books around at the time.

As a marketing method, it can be powerful way to demonstrate your value proposition and expertise. But only if it’s done correctly. And correct means it must follow the model devised by its originators — as an educational tool that is only peripherally marketing. It’s not an advertisement that screams “Buy! Buy!”.

So, here are some tricks to composing good cases.

  • Case studies are not about you. Well, they are in a sense, but with much moderation. They’re about customers and how you helped them solve THEIR problems. People don’t care about your problems. Neither do they want to hear you brag about what geniuses you are.
  • Case studies should follow a problem-solution format. Even back in the medical days, a case has always been about a problem, its repercussions, and how it was or was not solved. If your case is mostly about your “solution”, and very little about the customer’s problem … then you have a problem.
  • Case studies are storytelling. Problems cause emotions, mostly negative; resolutions to problems cause positive emotions. Emotions create drama, which is the basis of all storytelling. You don’t have to get into “…it was a dark and stormy night” kind of storytelling, but there should be a logical dramatic flow to your case study that keeps the reader interested.
  • Case studies involve lessons. The point of a case study is to educate — supposedly to educate prospective customers on how you think, and therefore how you can help them, which might lead them to consider hiring you or buying from you. So they always involve lessons, implied or overt.
  • Case studies should be tight. There’s no room for pet causes, philosophical ramblings, or subtle asides in case studies. People want to hear the story so it can help them solve their own problems. Stick to your point.

Mental Taglines

Posted May 20, 2008 by wanless
Categories: Branding, business, communications, communications tips, creative thinking, critical thinking, Influencing, information, innovation, internal communications, marketing, marketing techniques, neuroscience, organizational information, planning, psychology, story telling, Technology, the brain

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A Venture Hacks post on how to pitch a startup with the kind of high-concept marketing common in the movie industry, reminds me of something I often advocate when undertaking marketing or business planning.

That’s the creation of a simple “mental tagline” that becomes a guiding light for ensuing operations.

The post points out that movie makers often use short high-concept descriptions to pitch their projects. “Jaws in Outer Space” to describe the movie Alien, for example. They work because they instantly tie the listener to something familiar, and therefore understandable.

The mental tagline and high concept pitch also have benefits for marketers and communicators struggling to get across their products or services to prospects. This is especially true if the product or service is complex and technical, as is so often the case today.

The mental tagline doesn’t have to be the organization’s actual tagline. Instead, it’s planted in the brain to help everyone stay on track as they’re developing or selling a product or service. If they start to wander off the path, which is not uncommon, they can always refer to the mental tagline to get back. It’s a guiding beacon, much like a lighthouse is for ships.

For example: “We make widgetry simple (or cheap, or useful)” for a widget maker. Or “Relieving that pain in the neck” for a drug. Or “High-powering the computer” for techology. Or “Making databases available to all” for software.

Whatever is your core business or your mission is the mental tagline, which I often compose after completing a W6 planning process (see previous post on the W6).

If you add high-concept thinking to it, the mental tagline starts to guide you to how to achieve the mission. For example, for the “High-powering the computer” tagline, the high concept might be “Apple meets the PC” or “Think supercomputing for dummies”.

So in a sense it’s a very high-level mini plan.

Save Your Email From The Trashbox

Posted May 13, 2008 by wanless
Categories: Branding, business, communications, communications tips, copywriting, creative thinking, Influencing, information, internal communications, marketing, marketing techniques, media, psychology, public relations, story telling, Technology

Tags: , , , , ,

Nick Usborne at Excess Voice has some advice for all those marketers and communicators who are having trouble getting their emails through to the people they’re intended for.

He suggests you make them more relevant — and therefore more attractive – by tying them closer to “now”.

An interesting point in his post, was his thinking on how people deal with emails today.

People are buried in spam and other useless email (multiple cover-your-ass copies to everyone) and so, says Usborne, have become very adept at speed-deleting emails. In fact, he says, 20% of people use the “spam” button instead of delete to dump unwanted emails — which means you won’t get through again, no matter how hard you try.

Marketers and communicators probably use email more than anyone, so this obviously has large implications. The main one is that you have to make your emails stand out:

Make the subject lines pop. You do this by personalizing. Don’t just put a generic “Re: our project” or “thought you might be interested in this” in the subject line. Be more creative. Be very specific about the subject and include a detail that only the receiver and you will understand. Humor helps considerably as well.

Write for the preview pane. Almost everyone today speed reviews all their emails in preview panes, those 3 inch by 5 inch glimpses at the opening few lines. And studies show that they spend an average of 3 seconds on the pane. So jazz it up to make them linger longer and hesitate over the delete button.

Design it. Obviously, plain old text in great huge paragraphs is not going to make their fingers linger. Neither is the standard business email top, where you list everything corporate about yourself. But a little design will. If you include a small picture or logo in one of the corners, you’ll double the time they spend on the preview pane.

Get to the point. The first thing the reader should see is a compelling headline, which makes them linger and — we hope — actually open the email before killing it. So it has to be arresting as well as relevant. If an in joke between you and Bob is that he has to lose a few pounds, headline an email about how he can trim his business costs with a reference to it.

Just be sure that Bob is a close friend and will get the joke. As we said, humor is a wonderful way to hold attention — if it is indeed humorous.

How Google brought marketing back to its roots

Posted May 6, 2008 by wanless
Categories: Branding, business, communications, creative thinking, Influencing, information, innovation, marketing, marketing techniques, media, public relations, Search Engine Optimization, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , ,

We all know Google and its amazing advertising power. About 30 per cent market share of online advertising revenue; annual revenues in double-figure billions; destructor of advertising models throughout the land; investor darling because it just keeps growing and growing.

But how many marketers really understand what Google has done to their business? Sure, Google’s an innovative advertising platform, but its innovation doesn’t stop there….it’s taken the basic tenets of marketing and turned them inside out. In a sense it’s brought advertising back to what it was originally. Its methods include:

Branding: From screaming to simple delivery

Google has the strength of much older and more established brands, but has only been around for 10 years. Why? Because it’s authentic. It has a clear, anti-corporate philosophy – “You can make money without doing evil” – and, amazingly, sticks to it. Brand confidence is inspired by the way Google treats its ads. No hidden agendas; no tricks, no intrusive banners. No shouting. Every advertisement is simple text and labeled as a “sponsored link”, so Google can assure its users that it’s not compromising the integrity of the results.

Content: From management to do it yourself

Google’s original business was search, which is another (and very innovative) way of delivering content, albeit one that’s very similar to original libraries. By continually improving its search capabilities, it delivers extremely relevant content that brings millions of users back again and again to view those ads. The lesson here for marketers is that if the content is useful, people will likely scan the neighbouring marketing material. In a sense, content is the marketing material.

Advertising: From push to permission

Google’s flagship advertising products are AdSense and AdWords . Instead of trying to guess what consumers want, its ads are tailored to searches, so the customer base is telling Google exactly what type of ads they might want to see. The Adsense ads on websites run on similar technology, and, they automatically target audiences with keywords in their content.. Google’s ads are remarkably unobtrusive and text-based. There are no screaming banners, no tricks to get you to buy; nothing you can be cynical about.

Marketing: From breast beating to usefulness

Ever seen an ad or other marketing material for Google? Perhaps something telling you how great they are and what a favor they’re doing by letting you use their service? Of course not. In a sense, Google doesn’t market. It delivers quality products that are easy to use, are very useful, and are free.. And because it does that so well, it gets tons of publicity — which is the best form of marketing.

Enough with the social networking!

Posted April 6, 2008 by wanless
Categories: blogging, Branding, business, communications, copywriting, critical thinking, idea formation, Influencing, information, learning, marketing, marketing techniques, media, organizational information, planning, public relations, Search Engine Optimization, social networking, Technology, Uncategorized

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This week I received invitations to two more social networking sites. In this case they were promising to help me manage my online reputation.

I seem to be getting these continuously these days. In the early days of LinkedIn, I used to think “cool, a great way to network and enhance my SEO efforts.” I even advised clients and everyone I knew to do the same. (and yes, I secretly smiled at the “luddites” who said they couldn’t see the point.)

Now, I just think “what a nuisance.”

There are the really big sites, of course, such as Facebook and Linkedin (sorry I could never get interested in MySpace — I don’t work in cartoons). They’re good for just general networking, socially or for business purposes.

But every pursuit in which I’m interested now seems to have at least one, and often several, community site dedicated to that pursuit alone. Marketing — many. Management — several. Consulting — a few. Science — a couple of good ones. Music — of course. Job searching — oh yeah. Online reputation — apparently at least three.

All of them are vying for my time constantly. I could literally spend my entire day on these sites, networking myself into poverty.

What I find particularly upsetting about this avalanche of social networking is that they all claim they’re “innovative”. Since I work in the innovation management field considerably, I beg to differ. Innovation is creating radical or near-radical change — in products or business models. These are not innovative: they’re just taking standard community building tools and slicing up the social networking field in ever more fine gradients for marketing purposes.

At best it’s called working a niche. More likely, it’s simply copycatting with a slight differentiation.

Let’s take the latest invitations I’ve had. They are part of a group that includes companies like Naymz.com ReputationDefender.com and DefendMyName.com. For a fee, they promise to scrub search engines of anything I don’t want to see about me out there, or to create a new online identity for me.

Isn’t this just search engine optimization, which I – and probably you — have been practising for years? It’s just a newer version of the Google Profile technique.

Also it presumes that social networking sites are where most of our content rests — which to me seems a pretty narrow view. Most MarCom people have (or should have) much more content on their sites than simple social networking profiles, or blog comments.

A well rounded search engine profile should have these, of course, as well as white papers, FAQs, articles, endorsements, and other expertise-marketing content.

To help in organic search, SEO should be a planned and consistent process, with new content added on a schedule. If social networks are to be part of this mix, fine, but it shouldn’t take it over.