Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

What’s our persona?

August 9, 2008

A blog by Seth Godin about what comes first, the story or the work, got me thinking again about the story and its uses in marketing and business planning.

Because everybody talks about the “story”, and they’re all using the word in different ways and conveying different meanings, I think it’s time for a new look at the term, especially within the construct of digital marketing such as websites, social media, online brochures, or email signatures.

First of all, the story is not the message, although the message is certainly part of storytelling. It’s also not simply your branding or your marketing material, although they are also part of it. And, for all you writers out there, it’s also not your “voice”, although, again, that contributes to your story.

And then, of course, there is your “brand”. Millions goes into branding these days and at the end of it we often see nothing more than continuing impersonal positioning, albeit much prettier. After all that effort, we still see an advertising model that’s really nothing more than a construct to hint at how you’d like to be perceived, not communicate who or what you are.

These are all tactics, or methods of telling your story. But a story is more about strategy. I think the best way to describe it is that your story reflects your market positioning. To put that in more strategic terms, your actual story, personal or corporate, is a description of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Why do I highlight those two from the standard storytelling formula of who, what, when, where, why and how? Because I think they are the most important, the most personal and emotionally resonant. Most story managers, especially those who are data-driven — technology anyone? — go immediately to the what. What happened, what’s news, what’s going on? Then marketers impose an overlay of branding to that to try to sum up all those what’s.

But those are still all impersonal. Who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing is personal, and therefore emotional. It’s what puts a human face on your facade, making it more emotionally connective.

It’s what’s needed in a world where customers and potential customers increasingly want to do business with “someone they know” or with someone who has been referred by “someone they know” — i.e. peer-to-peer recommendation.

So to bring home this concept of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, I propose to borrow the term “persona” from the social media world and apply it to general marketing. There, a persona — often expressed as an avatar — is a short visual message that tells all your friends or connections who you are.

I’m not suggesting you use smiley faces as the basis of marketing, of course. But I do think we could learn something from this kind of shorthand because it forces you to strip away all the overlays and go right to your core or your being.

So, next time you’re sitting around planning a branding strategy, and someone says, yeah, but what’s our story, ask instead, what’s our persona.

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Take advantage of media change

August 3, 2008

I shared a lunch recently with some old newspaper cronies who were bemoaning the state of the media industry. Change was sweeping the business, and they were completely confused as to how to deal with it.

The fate of traditional media in the digital age is well-known. Circulations are dropping; their business models are under attack by dozens of information sources and advertising vehicles, and young people find them completely irrelevant, preferring information from peers to the kind of top-down authoritative information they have always provided.

As an example, recent numbers for publicly traded newspaper companies are extremely revelatory. The Washington Post, for example, recently posted horrible numbers: print ad revenue declined 22% in the second quarter, following an 11% decline in the first. Like most newspapers today, the Post has gone online in an attempt to stem the tide, but online growth increased only 4% in the same period. The stock prices of several newspaper chains are down over 80%.

Television stations are often suffering the same fate, although their entertainment quotient probably keeps them better afloat.

In both cases, however, these media outlets are typically trying to respond to these forces with the same old methods — in essence putting the newspaper or television news online, complete with intrusive ads that slow down the systems and drive users mad.

The result is as probably expected: Both locally, nationally, and internationally, readers go to the news web sites when something exciting happens, but generally ignore them. They can get a quick rundown of events from online news services.

Now, newspapers and most media aren’t exactly beehives of innovative thinking: In fact, I’d suggest that they’re among the most conservative of institutions, firmly believing in the old adage that what worked yesterday is good enough for today.

So, in terms of operations, most are falling back to old industrial methods. Staffers are being shed in droves; production is being cut back, outsourcing is on the upswing; everybody is being forced to do more with less. As a result journalists are fleeing the business.

All this was conveyed to me in various forms by my buddies, who were also mostly trying to find a way through the morass. But what tweaked my interest was what it’s done to typical newsroom operations and what that means for marketers.

Basically, those who are left have been turned into production line workers. They’re even busier than before, and have very little time to do their jobs in the traditional way.

So here are some tips for marketers in this new world of media:

  • 1. More relevant info needed, please. “We only have time to rewrite press releases,” one friend lamented. So, this means the more relevant information a marketer or communicator can supply, the better the chances of being picked up.
  • 2. They may be busier, but they still recognize bullshit. Marketers or communicators should be helpful, in that they supply all information — both favourable and critical — the journalist needs. If journalists perceive that you’re baring your soul, they’ll trust you more.
  • 3. Info at the speed of light. The old client-or-boss pleasing format best described as “Acme Industries CEO Elmer Bloggs is pleased to announce…” that then drones on about some useless event, is dead, dead, dead. Before, no one cared about CEO Bloggs, but might have waded through this kind of self-serving verbiage to look for nuggets. Not any more. Say it in the first line or don’t say it at all.
  • 4. You need to have a good story, well told. It was tough enough to get trash in before, but now it’s nearly impossible. So there better be more to your story than a bunch of chest-thumping homilies and barely hidden agendas to get “free publicity”. And it better be written in plain language. Lose the jargon.
  • 5. The digital/interactive press release is going to rule. An interactive press release or digital media kit that puts all required information, including interviews, dissenting opinions, analysis, and other relevant material, at a journo’s fingertips — literally, via the internet — is going to be used. Something that forces the journo to call up or sit down with CEO Bloggs for an interview to please his ego won’t.

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.

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.

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.