Archive for the ‘story telling’ 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.

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.

    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.