Archive for the ‘internal communications’ category

Mental Taglines

May 20, 2008

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

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.

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.

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”.

Influence The One You’re With

January 25, 2008

I love a British blog called PsyBlog for its continual information about the workings of the mind, which is the real last great frontier.

A post caught my eye recently because it directly speaks to marketers and communicators who attempt to persuade. The post discusses a study into which persuasion method works better: face to face or email.

Gender has an effect

Apparently an earlier study approached this question from a social role point of view via gender stereotypes. This is based on the conventional thinking that face-to-face communication is the most persuasive, and therefore women are better at it, because they’re more “relationship-minded”. Men, it seems, are more competitive and so aren’t very good at face-to-face persuasion.

A newer study examines the effect of relationships in general on persuasion. The authors, Guadagno and Cialdini, came up with the concept of “oneness” to describe how men interact with men and women interact with women. Apparently the closer two people feel, the more they see each other as sympatico, and so can persuade each other. So, yes, the study concluded, men prefer email because it sidesteps their natural competitive tendencies; women on the other hand are better at one to one.

So the new study merely backed up the old one.

But it’s really about relationships

As PsyBlog pointed out, it’s not really about gender, it’s about whether a relationship is competitive or co-operative, which to me is probably more relevant in this 21st century collaborative world.

If you want to persuade someone with whom you have a competitive relationship — whatever their gender — then you probably want to try email, because it’s more logical. If you want to pursuade someone with whom you have a co-operative relationship, then face to face is a better choice.

This conclusion has meaning for marketers and communicators. In the old days, they rarely had co-operative relationships with their customers or clients; instead it was a kind of competition in that they were trying to “sell” them on an idea. Hence the old dominance of advertising, which was a version of propaganda, which in turn was really an assault on a target’s mental defenses.

But in the new Web 2.0 world with all its user-generated content, collaboration with customers and clients, transparency and one-to-one interchange style of marketing, perhaps we have a new version of face-to-face marketing.

Could that be why some forward thinking companies and/or social networks encourage the use of avatars or pictures in their discussion forums? Because they intuitively understand that influence comes from a sense of “oneness” with someone else?

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.

B2B Marketing: Venturing Beyond the Trade Press

January 7, 2008

Most marketers for technology vendors and other B2B operations are quite familiar with the trade press that covers their industry. Most are also quite successful at placing their messages in these specific media outlets.

But almost all are also under pressure from senior management CEOs to get their product or service written up in the broader business press.

It’s the get me in USA Today/New York Times/Entrepreneur magazine/local business magazine/television syndrome.

So off goes our marketer, trying to apply consumer marketing to the business to business sphere. And usually failing miserably.

This doesn’t work because these kind of demands are just as often aimed at boosting egos, or impressing colleagues as they are at accomplishing marketing objectives.

There may be some peripheral marketing kick in including a story in the straight press in your press kit. But it’s often not worth the time and effort.

So here’s some ammo for the next time your client/CEO/Marketing VP muses about getting some straight press coverage.

1. Our product or service is too boring. You may have a great service or product that’s registering with your target business market, but that doesn’t mean the straight business press will be interested. Because it sells advertising, the straight press is usually consumer oriented. So it tends to cover business from a consumer point of view, which means excitement (and yes, that often is shallow). Don’t forget, there’s a lot of competition for space so a reporter has to sell the story up the line, usually to people who don’t know anything about business. And B2B is rarely exciting.

2. We don’t have what they want. The straight press invariably looks for articles containing one or more of the standard news values — novelty, celebrity, harm or threat, trendiness, tragedy or triumph. You probably don’t want to be involved in a story that’s tragic, probably aren’t very trendy, aren’t that unique, and don’t have an army of paparazzi chronicling your every move. So what do you have that they want?

3. We’re too complicated. This can be a problem with your own customers, who are supposed to know what you’re talking about. What do you think is going to happen if you drone on for 10 minutes to a straight press reporter about how your product or service works. Eyes Glaze Over time. If they can’t understand it instantly, they don’t want to know.

4. We’re making them work too hard. Business reporters, like most straight press writers, are very, very busy trying to juggle multiple demands. They have quotas (mental, if not actual), and if you want to be noticed, you better hand them the story on a plate — meaning you’ve lined up everything for them. If you make them work too hard, they’ll give it a pass and find something easier. Web 2.0 press releases, which include links to all articles about you, your web site, clients who will speak for you, independent analysts/consultants, and any other information about you, can help considerably with this.

5. We’re no different than the last 10 companies that talked to them. Every CEO thinks his or her business is unique. It may be, but it’s unlikely. The truth is, almost all of them are some variation on a common theme. Since most reporters have heard all these stories before, they tend to dismiss them unless it’s immediately obvious that there is something different.

6. We can’t explain ourselves very well. What works for B2B customers or clients probably won’t for the straight press. If your description of yourself is full of jargon, cliches, and insider language (“paradigm shift”, “outcome-based processes”, “software architecture”, etc. etc. ) you’re going to 1. make them feel very stupid and 2. really piss them off. Result: dismissal.

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.

Next-Year Planning: The W6 Process

December 23, 2007

Probably because we’re at the end of the year, I’ve recently had a spate of calls from companies that suddenly realized they need to form marketing plans and/or business plans for the next year.

Often these cases involve simple facilitation: they feel they can write them in house, but would like some outside guidance as they move through the thinking process that goes into it.

Usually in these cases, I begin by going through a W6. This is a one-page plan that ask questions to elicit answers that sum up a business or personal life. This could describe a life plan, a project plan, a marketing plan, or a plan for an entire business.

It’s not simply a goals list, which are so popular at this time of year. It’s your story, encapsulated so as to burn itself into your brain and always be in the forefront of your thinking as you go about daily work.

Because so many people want to jump right into tasks or take shortcuts, it’s important to remember one thing about the W6: The process is not a replacement for a real plan. It is, however, a summary — preliminary and final — of all aspects of a plan that forces planners to be extremely precise in their thinking. You compose a W6 by thinking on a much larger scale and then reducing that thinking to its essence.

A W6 is both a beginning and an end. Initially, it acts as a kind of map for the planning. You go through a W6 at the start, expand in a real plan, and then later go back and do another W6 to ensure you’ve eliminated all fuzzy thinking and imprecisions.

Once you have completed a W6, print it and stick it on a wall where you will constantly see it. If it helps, put it into a visual form such as a mind map. The point it to always be aware of its aspects and how your daily life can cling to it and advance it.
Here are the basics of a W6:

  1. Who are you? For businesses and individuals, this is how you’re perceived by whatever community is important to you. This is a self-identity that answers questions such as what’s your character and how would you like your business or yourself to be judged? (For example: As the lowest price provider, or as a skilled high-end provider? As a deliverer or a collaborator?)
  2. What do you do? This is a summation of your core business or yourself, a kind of very small elevator pitch that acts as a guide to all our business or personal functions. It’s your passion. (For example: “we make software that does X”, or “we provide X services to the Y industry”. )
  3. Why do you do it? This is your mission in a sense. I believe it’s the most important part of the plan, because all endeavors should have a purpose, and this describes it. In planning terms, this is equivalent to outlining the business opportunity that you’re pursuing. (For example: There is an unfilled need for X among the Y consumers or businesses). In personal planning, it’s simply a description of where you what you want to be.
  4. Who do you do it for? This is the heart of your marketing planning. Who you do it for should precisely describe your target market. Again it’s useful to put this in very personal terms. (Example: A too busy working mother with X problems.)
  5. What way do you do it? This describes your business operation. Are you a web-based company; bricks and mortar, combination of both? How do you make and deliver your product and service?
  6. Where do you do it? Nationally, regionally, or internationally? In what verticals? In what locations? (Example: In a store; in the customer’s location; by mail order?) Each is going to require a different understanding of markets.

As an extra to the Where, I’ll add When? This simply means when do you do it — 24/7/ regular hours/part time, etc.? (Example: on-demand software, which would mean 24/7)

A W6 is a very useful tool for charting a course. Much discussion and brainstorming might be required to complete it, but if you really focus on it, you’ll have a very good road map to guide your business in the coming year.