Archive for the ‘learning’ category

Case Studies: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

June 25, 2008

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.
Advertisements

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.

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.

Meet the Media Types

January 17, 2008

Despite all the hoopla about user-generated content, citizen news and other new media, traditional media is still the main target for most marketers and communicators looking for a little promotion. Plus, they’ve now been joined by hundreds of other content publishers who are for all intents and purposes mini-news operations. Technology has changed formats –most traditional media operations are also new media now — but the underlying journalistic principles remain the same.

That’s probably why media training is still an essential part of marketing and communications, even though it has changed slightly. For example, as was highlighted in my previous post about Hacks and Flacks, the days of shotgunning messages — the blast and pray technique –to the media are over.

It’s even truer today that if you’re going to work with the media — in whatever form — you have to understand who you’re working with. That means you have to do a little more research on the particular media person you’re hoping to contact.

Following is a handy guide to some common media personality types. Not everyone fits each exactly, and often each denizen of every newsroom has touches of all of them. But one personality type usually dominates.

Also, with many newspeople, different types can dominate at different times in their careers. So, when dealing with a news person, it’s up to you to figure out which personality is dominant at the moment.

1. The Careerist. The careerist is climbing the journalism ladder and so is much more concerned with his or her career or business than your story. At their best, careerists unearth the nuggets that are hidden within your story; at their worst, they are pompous connivers who treat you as mere fodder for their career arc. The upside: They’re usually consummate professionals. The downside: Too often, they look for the most sensational elements that will get them — not you — noticed.

2. The Journo. Been there, done that, and all the t-shirts have faded. The journo has been kicking around for some time and long ago stopped worrying about his or her career. As sharp observers of societal trends (and of their superiors’ or advertisers’ quirky wants) journos tend to concentrate only on the story, finding, fixing, and filing it professionally and quickly before heading off to the next one. The upside: Journos’ loyalty is only to the tenets of journalism, so you’ll probably get a fair hearing. The downside: A lifetime of isolation from anyone but their media brethren means they can be very cynical and distant.

3. The Squirrel. All data is good data to squirrels, who are really closeted engineers or researchers, most commonly found in technology journalism. These information gatherers take great pride in knowing more details than anyone else and occasionally snowing you under with their knowledge. The squirrel will unearth obscure reports, 100-page studies, and interview 25 industry experts, all for a 300 word story. The upside: Boy, are they thorough. The downside: They often get lost in their own information; your story will too.

4. The Explorer: It’s the journey not the destination that is important to the explorer. Explorers are hunter-gatherers who want to understand what underlies everything. But since it’s the process of understanding that gives them the thrill, once they get there, they rapidly lose interest. Upside: They’re very collaborative if you can keep them stimulated. Downside: If you or your story aren’t interesting, they’re not interested.

5. The Rebel. Because journalism provides one of the few jobs in which they can continually give the finger to everyone, and at the same time subvert the system from within, rebels tend to move into the media when they’re young. Also, journalism creates a channel that allows them to cross social and class distinctions and connect with (and sometimes frighten) people with whom they wouldn’t normally mix. Upside: Rebels love the “afflict the comfortable” part of the old journalistic rule and so make great advocates. Downside: Too often, everything is fitted to a very narrow range of thinking, usually along the lines of Us vs Them. They don’t see a lot of gray.

6. The Project Manager. If there’s only one way to do things, project managers always know what it is, because they’re most comfortable in well grooved paths. If your story breaks one of the rules, i.e. government bad, little guy good, look out. They’ll also dismiss your press release or messaging in a second if it contains some obvious error, muddled thinking, over-the-top or obscure language, or mispellings. Upside: They make great editors and story assessors because journalism is essentially a rule-based business, and they know all the rules. Bow to their wisdom and you’re in. Downside. Make a mistake, lack logic, fail to back up your claims, or sell too hard, and they’ll brutalize you.

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.

Too Much Information!

November 15, 2007

If you’re involved in marketing technological or professional expertise, you’ve probably run into the client or boss who insists on delivering so much information that intended receivers are left hopelessly confused.

That’s generally because they have little understanding of cognition, which is a loose concept that describes the human faculty for processing information, applying knowledge and changing preferences. It is often simply called gaining knowledge.

Cognitive load theory suggests that an important factor in knowledge acquisition is human cognitive architecture, made up of short and long term memory. Short term memory, also called working memory, is limited in the number of elements it can contain simultaneously, while long term memory contains structures, or schemas, that allow people to perceive, think, and solve problems.

Its believed that receivers of information process it first in working memory, so for schema acquisition to occur, information delivery should be designed to reduce working memory load.

For marketers working in the professional services, technology, health and science fields cognitive load theory is important. Technically challenging or overly complex material puts a heavy load on working memory, and often the complexities are lost because the receiver can’t process all the information.

So expertise marketers must access the long-term memory’s schemas, where the receiver merely adds the information to existing understanding structures.

To do so, try to:

1. Change marketing/communications methods to avoid approaches that impose a heavy working memory load.

2. Eliminate the working memory load associated with having to mentally integrate several sources of information by physically integrating those sources of information.

3. Eliminate the working memory load associated with unnecessarily processing repetitive information.

4. Increase working memory capacity by using auditory as well as visual information.

So, in summary: Think before you load up your materials with text-based information. That load could be too much for your intended targets to process.