Archive for the ‘idea formation’ category

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 It’s just a newer version of the Google Profile technique.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.

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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.

Promoting the Service Business in the Media

March 19, 2008

I have been working in professional services and association marketing lately, and so have been asked often about how to promote service operations. Invariably, these organizations are at some growth stage and so want to gain attention on a wider scale in order to increase membership or gain business.

When it comes to promotion, which is a very important part of integrated marketing for service businesses, you’re kind of stuck. Generally, the promotion outlets available aren’t terribly interested in what you do. So you have to be creative and often find and access alternative channels.

We’ll get into those in a later post. In this post we’ll concentrate on what everybody thinks of first: The media.

First, let’s put forward some elementary concepts.

Promotion is not “free advertising” for your business or service. All media are in the advertising business, so they’re not going to give it away free just because you ask them to or attempt to browbeat them into it by your size, connections, or marketing budget. Do you give away your legal or consulting services? Of course not, and neither will they.

But most media do carry neutral content to attract readers so that advertisers can (they hope) reach them. This is usually in the form of news, but can also be more in depth feature articles, or columns aimed at analyzing some trend or providing advice.

And this is where you have your best shot. You can gain some peripheral promotion through expertise marketing, which is simply showing your expertise (the core of your business) through commentary or advice.

Before you go about it, consider some basic realities:

  • If you’re a service business organization, the traditional press probably doesn’t care about you. Because they’re in the mass advertising business, they look for articles that fit the mass. And this usually means consumer thinking. News values for information in this area are generally some form or combination of novel or quirky, celebrity, threat or harm, or triumph over adversity.
  • Since most service businesses are B2B, you’re probably too complicated and too focused on one specialty for them to write about directly. In a word, you’ll come across as kind of boring to the mass.
    • Because the media generally thinks in consumer or social terms, anything to do with service businesses or groups is almost always handed to the business section, which cuts down your range considerably.
    • Business sections, business media, and trade magazines have their own kind of consumer thinking. In this case it’s expressed primarily as coverage of business winners and losers, and the measurement of this in the form of money made or lost. So the coverage is usually about very big companies that move a lot of money around. Most service businesses don’t involve enough to be noticed. If they are of any interest at all, it’s generally for a media subset called “small business” which usually showcases plucky or quirky local business startups or successes.

    Once you’ve assimilated these basics, it’s time to consider how you’re going to use expertise marketing to get your name in the media so it’s in front of potential clients or members. Some rules for expertise marketing:

    • Forget about yourself. First rule is that it’s about your expertise, not about you. This means that the standard advertising-style messaging or value propositions aren’t going to work. The media doesn’t care about you or what you do, they care about what you know.
    • Codify your expertise. What exactly do you specialize in that might be useful to readers? If you’re a lawyer, it’s not about that. But if you’re a tax lawyer, you have some special expertise that can be used either as commentary on another situation, or in the form of advice regarding taxes.
    • Be honest. I’m going to thank BNet blogger John Greer, who in Catching Flack, summarized some pretty good advice regarding media relations. He was talking about public figures, but it holds true for expertise marketing as well. Greer points out that media people “tend to judge individuals by who returns their calls and gives them honest answers and good quotes.”
    • Be on call. Media needs you when they need you, not when you need them. So the best way to get a top spot on a media outlet’s list — the golden rolodex — of experts is to always be available. In fact, say many press people, it’s 80 per cent of the equation.
    • Be concise. If you’re in a professional service business, you’re probably a complex thinker. But don’t bring that to a media interview. Learn how to summarize your thinking in a pithy quote. There’s no room to bring in all the subtleties. You’re being asked for a quotable comment, not a position paper.

    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.

    What’s A Word’s Worth?

    February 5, 2008

    Back, about what seems like a hundred years ago, I ran a newspaper rewrite desk that was charged with helping the paper make the transition from broadsheet to tabloid. Because this was a difficult switch for most reporters, the desk used to go through regular training exercises aimed at constantly finding the right word that would resonate with many meanings.

    Our model was what, to my mind, was the best sentence ever written — “Jesus wept”. Two simple words that carried immense meaning.

    This wasn’t because we were particularly religious — hey it was a newspaper — but because those nine letters resonated far beyond the actual words used.

    Using the word “Jesus” instantly brought dozens of concepts to mind: whether you were a close follower or not, you probably knew the story of Jesus, and so could bring many thoughts to the word. Jesus was a leader, a prophet, God, a wise man, a healer, a thinker, a preacher, a miracle worker, etc.

    The word “wept” conveyed almost as much. Why did Jesus weep? For us, because we were frailer than he was; because mankind didn’t understand his mission; because the Romans were taking him away to be crucified; because it succinctly summed up the theory of Christianity; or all of the above?

    Two simple words that told a powerful story and so were worth far more than their size. And that’s what every marketer and communicator has to keep in mind today.

    Back in the day of the transition from broadsheet to tabloid writing the concept of a short story was considered sacrilegious, but rapidly became the norm. And writing has progressed continually since.

    We’re now in an era where social networking style of writing is the most common style used. Acronyms, short forms, mobile messaging, flaming, punchy and to the point writing rule. Try using newspaper style in a PR 2.0 press release or a blog post today and you’ll quickly spill out all over the place. Worse, your message will probably disappear into the morass.

    Today, when you write (and think), you have to get to the essence all the time. There’s no room for vague and fuzzy; no time or space for bringing in vaguely interesting, albeit extraneous, concepts.

    You have to know the worth of every word.

    There are so many messages, so much information transferred visually or aurally, so many demands on attention, that there is no room for the big, sweeping style of communication that was once so common. Neither is there room for the kind of fuzziness so favored by corporate communicators whose objective was to obscure more than inform.

    In a sense, today, you have to think in headlines and taglines all the time. Or at least in bullet points. Whatever has multiple meanings and psychological triggers.

    So, whenever you sit down at the keyboard, slow down and think “Jesus Wept”.

    Dreamtime: You Need It To Work Best

    January 14, 2008

    You’re a marketer for an agency or in a corporate setting; or you’re a small business trying to handle your own marketing and communication.

    I bet I can describe your day: Rush in, fire up the computer, check your schedule for the day’s tasks; have a meeting; get rolling on the stuff that’s piled up since you last left. Grab a quick lunch. Maybe read some back stuff that’s been untouched for a while. Back to work.

    Suddenly it’s over and you’re joining the commute back home.

    Any dream time in there? Not likely.

    But here’s a business secret I was given by a business exec a long time ago before people talked about such things: Take some time each day and spend it dreaming.

    Every day he (in those days, they were always a he), would close the door, tell his secretary to refuse all calls, lay down on a couch and just dream for an hour. Nothing else. Just random thinking. This guy was at the top of his game, and said that was why.

    I’ve tried to follow his advice ever since, with mixed success. I’m not perfect and there were too many times when I let tasks take over from my real work, which was creating ideas. But I always went back to it.

    You should too. Unless you’re performing some physical labor, ideation, problem solving, thinking, mulling — dreaming — is what your job is really all about. The rest is all just implementation and follow through.

    Here are several ways to build dream time into your daily life:

    Self hypnosis: This is extreme relaxation that allows the subconscious mind to go to work, usually in a very visual way that’s almost like a movie running in your head. The beauty of it is it can be directed to a specific problem or subject. In self hypnosis, you create a special place in your mind, and pose a problem to yourself. Usually, someone or some thing, a kind of mental avatar, comes along to your place and starts telling you a story that helps you work it out. If you do this, it’s best to be hypnotized first by a professional so you can get into a hypnotic state quickly.

    Meditation: Lots of people like this, especially now that yoga’s popular again. Meditation is in a sense the opposite of self-hypnosis in that it lets you “empty your mind” so that thoughts can just bubble up to the surface. You’ll never completely empty your mind, of course, because the mind doesn’t like to be empty: it’s wired to solve problems, so will immediately work on anything that’s bothering you. Just let the thoughts come.

    Exercise: Lots of people do this, picking a time during the day when they can run, walk, work out, or whatever they do for exercise. But not many convert it to dream time. It’s suited to it though, because in most exercise you are going through repetitive actions that don’t require thought, which frees up your mind for other things. I’ve known several poets, writers, and others who do their best work when they’re exercising: all have shared one thing. They direct their mind to a specific task. So stop watching others while you’re working out, and start dreaming.

    Creativity techniques. I’ve referred to these in a previous post. There are many creative thinking techniques that can be employed if you simply let yourself use them. To do so, you have to put yourself in a creative state: calm, uninterrupted, and open minded. This is what the athletes call in the zone, or what cognition experts call a state of flow.

    The main thing with any of these methods is consistency. It’s difficult to dream at first because you’re not used to it, but like any muscle, the brain responds much faster if it’s used regularly. So, yes you’re probably busy, but you have to keep using your dreaming muscles if they’re going to work.

    You’ll find after a while that it responds quite rapidly when you’re ready for your dream time.

    Just Say No

    December 30, 2007

    You finished the year frustrated by all those various forces that stopped you from getting your marketing job done. So now at the beginning of a new year you’re determined to be more productive by dealing with it in a professional way.

    Better learn to negotiate. Specifically, learn to say no says Jim Camp, an expert on negotiating and author of No: The Only Negotiating system You Need for Work and Home. To get what you want when negotiating with people or tackling a difficult situation say “no” early and often, Camp insists. Some of his suggestions are:

    1. Start with “No.” Resist the urge to compromise. Remember that “no” is not an absolute rejection, but a decision that can be changed. Try inviting that person to explain his or her vision; it may open the door to an honest discussion that can eventually turn out in your favour.
    2. Be in control. Do not dwell on gratuitous things you may want; focus instead on what you can control — your actions and behaviours.
    3. Face problems head-on. Identify the issues and bring them out into the open. Whether they are your own problems or somebody else’s, acknowledging them gives you an edge.
    4. Check your emotions. Practise self-control and let go of any expectations or judgments. Whatever you do, don’t be needy.
    5. Get them talking. Ask open-ended questions that begin with “what” and how.” Find out what the other person wants or needs, and how you may benefit him.
    6. Have a purpose and a vision to reflect it. Learn to present your ideas as solutions. By helping others see exactly what they will gain from your plan, you spark decision-making and action.

    Now, obviously, you can’t say no to everything your boss or client throws at you. After all, they are paying you to do a job for them. But you can negotiate with the interruptions.

    For example, you can be more discerning by sorting through the various interruptions or requests. As with most things, most of those requests are just talk and/or random thoughts. We’re all familiar with the client or supervisor who throws out ideas in the hopes that some will stick.

    So pick the ones that are doable, and just say no to the others.