Archive for the ‘copywriting’ category

Take advantage of media change

August 3, 2008

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.
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Save Your Email From The Trashbox

May 13, 2008

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.

Enough with the social networking!

April 6, 2008

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.

Complexity to Clarity: Translating geek and other business languages

March 27, 2008

This morning, I facilitated a discussion among technology marketers on the growing problem of language dichotomy. Specifically it was the problem of an overwhelming culture of geek speak and how it bleeds in to the marketing side of things.

Now, the problem of the genius manager who can’t seem to speak in anything under 10 paragraphs, isn’t new. But what does seem to be new is that it’s spreading beyond just tech speak. Jargon, or verbal shorthand for those in the know, is growing everywhere, and in many non-technology sectors.

I’m convinced it’s because of the growth in complexity of modern business: As business management becomes increasingly more process oriented, it becomes increasingly more complex. But at the same time the demand for simple communication — among customers, employees and other stakeholders — has never been higher.

There’s so much information washing around out there now, that people can’t process it all. And this amplifies when the information is difficult and time consuming to process. We’re in the age where information moves at light speed so as to convert to knowledge, and if you can’t convey something simply and quickly, no one listens further. There are just too many alternatives that can be added to their knowledge base.

So, we’re talking about an information flow problem, which seems to be most egregious in the technology space. This is probably because too much emphasis in IT is put on the T (technology) and not enough on the I (information) part.

What came out of our discussion was a recognized need to return to the basics of communication. This can be summed up in a few points.

  • It’s not about the technology, it’s about the business. This can be expanded to mean it’s not about the product or service but about what the product or service does for the buyer. That’s all he or she cares about, and so that’s the information that should be delivered.
  • Know thy customer. Or, in other terms, separate the information receiver into needs segments. Sounds pretty basic, but many business processes don’t think in these terms. They think in terms of what they do, not what they can do for someone.
  • Be extremely clear about the benefit or threat (if ignored). This is an old sales technique, and is also the basis of the oldest information delivery system around — the news industry. It means you have to put your product or service into terms that are understandable emotionally — it helps because of this (i.e. saves time, saves money, or something else), or avoids a threat that might hurt you (i.e. less revenue, higher costs).
  • Know yourself. There’s usually miscommunication in business because the information deliverer doesn’t really understand what its own business is, and so can’t convey that to the receiver. Use the W6 process I posted on previously to determine who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. As a marketer, you have to act as the bridge between the geniuses in the labs who created the product or service, and the not-so-genius people who are going use it. The only way to do this is to put it into simple, understandable terms. Strip away all the add-ons and subtleties and say it in a few short words. Then put them back in when the prospect asks questions.
  • Consider the differing intelligences. Intelligence is how you process information, and most information deliverers, i.e. the CEO or CTO, often have linear intelligences…. they think logically. But there are 7 different intelligence types and it’s a good bet that most receivers are of the six that are not linear. So it’s like someone sending out a signal on one radio channel while the radios are tuned to other channels. It’s just not going to register.

PR 2.0: Bringing the press release back from the dead

March 11, 2008

It’s pretty common today for people to believe the press release, newsletter, or press kit is dead. But my friend Phoebe Yong and I don’t think so. Instead we think they’re calcified and mostly ignored because they’ve become so templated, boring and useless.

So recently, Phoebe, of Magnolia Marketing Communications, and I launched Digital Pressroom PR 2.0, a new service that uses social media tools to update the press release, press kit and newsletter formats so that they actually accomplish what they’re supposed to — point out a good story, offer useful information, gain attention, and, we hope, generate some business for our clients.

Basically, we’ve jazzed up the formats to make them more interactive, useful, and even entertaining. The heart of the release or newsletter, is still the story, but underlying it is the thinking that this is a collaborative effort at creating knowledge instead of a one-way system of delivering information.

So around the elemental story we put links to pictures, videos, funny or entertaining content that touches on the subject, and links to everything ever written about the organizations — good or bad.

It’s the latter point that really encompasses social media thinking, which is all about openness and sharing. So we’re encouraging that. It’s a good bet that any reporter or reader is probably going to perform research on a company anyway, so you might as well offer it up to him or her ahead of time.

This creates the perception that you’re a transparent company or organization because you have nothing to hide. It also creates the perception of integrity and authority: That you’re willing to to be honest with customers, investors, the press and everybody else because they’re your partners in this, not your enemies or prey.

This point is also where we’ve found some resistance to the concept. Many marketers and communicators still believe that you have to control all information about your organization, that you must deliver contrived “messages” that sell, only put you in a good light, and suppress any semblance of reality. It’s top down advertising thinking and delivery.

And it’s dead. No one believes it any more. That kind of thinking is what has created the belief that marketing and communications is all just spin doctoring and bullshit. By being transparent, honest, and a little entertaining, you’re engaging in a conversation with someone, not at them.

Another bonus is that the PR 2.0 concept works equally well for both traditional press and new online publishers such as bloggers (although the two are rapidly converging today).

For the traditional press, beset by shrinking staffs and increasing demands on their time, you’re performing much of their research and background work for them. Ergo, you have a better chance of being noticed.

For social media, you’re offering up what they need — a compelling story, with pictures and video — to increase traffic to their sites. Nothing like a catchy video to market the blog or website (and your product or service) virally.

BTW: if you think the latter are just a bunch of kids writing about their hot date last night, look at some of these stats from WordPress.com for just the month of February:

  • 245,329 blogs were created.
  • 432,478 new users joined.
  • 1,920,593 file uploads.
  • 2,814,893 posts and 996,000 new pages.
  • 4,961,330 comments.
  • 3,813,432 logins.
  • 540,799,534 pageviews on WordPress.com, and another 304,499,648 on self-hosted blogs.
  • 726,789 active blogs in February, where “active” means they got a human visitor.

Information Architecture: The Key to Marketing

March 6, 2008

We can argue all night about methodology, but I’m pretty sure we’ll all agree that marketing is about providing information.

You might have differing ideas about what that information is, or the emotion-triggering words that you’re going to use to deliver it. But whether you’re creating an ad, a media release, a blog, website content, or a scientific white paper, the underlying purpose is always to deliver information that persuades. The only difference is in the complexity of that information.

And if you’ve every created any of these marketing materials, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes your work just didn’t seem to hit the mark

People didn’t read them, or if they did, didn’t fully comprehend them. If so, it could be how you organized that information. As we increasingly fight for attention today, all marketers have to pay special attention to information architecture.

Since the best way to form architecture is to study how whatever you’re building will be used, it might be illustrative to understand how people read today.

Increasingly, most people subscribe to a simple concept: Don’t make me work. Then they use versions of the SQ3R method, which stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review.

Here’s how it works:

Survey: Readers scan a document to pick up an overview of the text and form an opinion of what they need to know. Like reading a website, they scan the entire thing looking for a word that triggers their desire to delve in deeper. How to address this tendency? Summarize, either in a compelling headline, or with sub headlines (or visual boxes). Your goal here is to guide the scanner to important items.

Question: As they are scanning, readers often form questions. Writers should try to structure the entire document so that these questions are answered in some form later on. For example, if you’re offering a new product or service, one of the first questions a reader will ask is “is it for me?” Be sure you answer that somehow.

Read: Once they’ve scanned a document, readers usually return to sections they have deemed most relevant TO THEM for closer reading. So writers should concentrate on what they think readers will find most relevant, not what they personally think is most important. (i.e. their message)

Recall: Readers often run salient points or important sections through their mind to remember them. This might take a nanosecond or much longer depending on the complexity of the document — but it’s almost always done. Writers should help this recall by repeating key words or phrases to reinforce a concept.

Review: Readers review information through rereading or discussion. A summary provides a quick review of a relevant section to help them.

All communications is about persuading others of some point of view, or some action that you’d like to see taken. So, if you want to persuade readers , you might want to go farther than simply forming messages, and pushing them at people.

You have to architect your thoughts in a structure that will align with those of your readers.

Who are you and who cares?– Media relations in a web 2.0 world

February 27, 2008

Old World: Simple. One story — AcmeTech is doing this. Prepare one press release, blast to newspapers and magazines. Take phone calls and connect with CEO. Bath in the glow of CEO’s praise. Spend the bonus on new shoes.

New World: Complicated. Multiple stories, depending on listener segments. Target proper media, prepare angles and pitches for each, write multiple press releases in traditional and new forms, deliver to specific targets, follow up. Try to find some ROI to please an increasingly grumpy CEO. Examine old shoes (and pocketbook), schedule repair.

That’s the lot in life for a marcom person today. It was once easy. Now it’s not. In the past five years, and especially in the past three, media has changed radically, shattering into hundreds of channels and outlets. This means it’s a lot more work.

Now, everything must be targeted, customized, and specific. It’s no longer a case of media blasting, following up (maybe) and hoping something will stick somewhere. You have to zone in completely on the best influencers.

Here’s the media world today:

Channels have multiplied
Traditional print and television news outlets have been joined by specific magazines; e-zines; blogs; content sites,; citizen journalism sites; social networking (Web 2.0); webinars, podcasts; newsletters; e-books, online forums, video games, etc. – the list grows daily. And each one approaches your story from a different viewpoint and requirement. But you can’t tell hundreds of stories, so determining your REAL story is now paramount. So no jargon, no biz speak, no geekspeak. Now, the most important concept is that it’s CLEAR. (And that it’s search engine optimized.)

Channel preferences have segmented
Generally, the older watch television and read newspapers and magazines, the younger tend more toward online and word-of-mouth (buzz) or peer information sources. Most people now juggle several segments, usually surfing general sources and then moving sequentially to more specific and useful (to them) information channels.

Channels must be graded for value to the campaign
More than ever you have to assess value today. This means you have to sift through and examine multiple options, and then zero in on the ones that will best achieve your objectives. Media today is almost as targeted as direct mail. So pick media targets in channels most appropriate to (and most used by) your target audience. And then understand how that target gathers and processes information.

Match material to outlet
With increasing movement to content niches comes the demand to make material extremely relevant to the niche and the target. One size does not fit all because everyone wants extremely relevant subject matter. This just about spells the death knell for the generic press release (except for isolated instances, such as use to support other campaigns). It also boosts SEO, because it has more likelihood of being used.

Position the story
First of all, What the heck is your story? The most important rule about story telling in a Web 2.0 world? You can’t control it by hiding, prevaricating, sleight of hand, jargonizing, buzzwording and bullshitting. You have to stand naked in front of everybody and take pride in your own body. Sure, you can adjust the lighting to highlight your best features, but you can’t change what you are by buying more clothes. Despite the emphasis on “messaging”, the basis of all communications is still story telling, complete with triumph-or-tragedy drama or problem-solution case studies.

Know Your Business
What space are you in? B2B or B2C? Think hard on this because many marcom people get it wrong by using B2C techniques in a B2B context. Many still use product-marketing techniques, which are different because the two types of marketing operate at different stages of the buying cycle. If you’re in B2B, you have to use B2B marketing techniques such as thought leadership and expertise marketing, case studies, and other problem solving material relevant to the unique nature of the audience. And it has to be delivered to media accessed by the target prospects that have different buying behaviors than product buyers.

Tell your story the right way.
The format must be appropriate to the channel. Each channel outlet has its own style and it’s almost instant death to send the wrong style to a channel. If you’ve targeted a few specific channels ensure that the material sent to them is similar to what they normally use. This means much prep work.

Tell your story in the right language
You have to use language that’s appropriate to the end user. If material is to speak to engineers, who are always seeking facts, there’s no point in presenting a flash video that’s all design wizardry. Make it very scientific and simple. CFO’s are concerned about a business case first, integration second, and technology third, so don’t deliver a list of tech specs. Today, committees often choose products or services (i.e. software), so you may have to speak to several users and find a hybrid style that answers all their individual concerns.

Hand it to them on a plate
Everybody’s busy today, and publishing people more than most. So they have no time. If you can’t tell them your story in one line, you’re dead. And once you do have their attention, you have to do all the work. If a writer has to do much today, he’ll bail, because he has too many other things to do. One way to do this is with a digital press kit, that is encompassed in a digital press release. The kit should include anything ever written about you – good or bad – which saves the writer work, and enables him or her to understand you warts and all (see naked above).