Archive for the ‘psychology’ 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.
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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.

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.

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?