Ten Tips for Content Clarity

PWB Ann Arbor Marketing Agency blogClarity. A simple word. An elusive goal for many marketers. As we all scramble to provide quality content that engages our readers, this is a struggle for many. But time invested in improving clarity of your content is time well-spent. Your audience will understand and value your content. Your team will appreciate your focus. And, search engines will love you as a bonus.

While clarity is a core issue with technology products, I see issues in everything from enterprise software, down to baked goods. Many marketers without formal writing training fall victim to gobbledygookspeak. Hell, even many WITH formal training do it.

But my mom taught me that if I can’t say something constructive, best keep my mouth shut. So, here are a few ideas for achieving clarity.

  1. AAAA – Avoid Acronyms Almost Always. Tech people might remember the term PCMCIA. Some industry analysts said that stood for People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms. If you must use them, spell it out first with the acronym in parentheses. Then try to keep re-use to a minimum.
  2. Buzzword Bingo – You don’t “socialize” things, you review them with others. Human beings don’t have “bandwidth”. They have time available or they don’t. Strunk and White had it right in 1920 – “write like you talk”.
  3. Shorter is Better – Brevity is a virtue. In the words of Mark Twain, “If I’d had more time, I’d have written you a shorter letter.” Always be looking for the briefest way to communicate your key point(s).
  4. Think About Your Mom – Would your Mom understand this content? No way? Well, then re-write it until you think she could at least get the gist.
  5. Have a Purpose – Don’t develop content just to develop content. Before a single keystroke, you should have clear objectives for what you’re trying to convey.
  6. One Picture = 1,000 Words – Is there a visual way to explain the concept? Do that.
  7. Don’t Complexify the Simple – Some folks have a gift for this. An innate ability to take something relatively simple and then overthink it until no one has a clue. If you’re one of those people, be vigilant to prevent it.
  8. Tell ‘em Three Times – I taught public speaking in a former life. One of the key points I made to students was that you need to tell your audience what you’re about to tell them, then tell them, then review what you told them to check for understanding.
  9. Be Bright, Be Brief, Be Gone – I will admit that I stole this from a presentation coach. Be insightful. Be quick. And, then leave them wanting more.
  10. Editing – Your best friend. Write it well. Then take out at least 10%. Then 10% more. You’re almost there.

Hope these help you as you consider developing quality content for your marketing campaigns. If you just can’t do it, call us. We’ll help you out.

Sean

Big Stories, Little Stories

While developing a recent presentation to an industry group, I had a revelatory thought about storytelling strategy. Much like the “house of brands/branded house” analogy, there are Macro Stories and Micro Stories. Viewing storytelling through this lens made immediate sense to me as I worked on a client’s strategic plan over the past few days.

Macro Stories

These are what you typically think of in storytelling. The big story that makes sense of the brand or product family. Some excellent examples include Dyson, IBM, Airbnb, Warby Parker, and more. They tell a story of a brand – the problem it was created to solve, it’s quirky founder, or how much its users love it.

A brand I’m currently working on offers an extremely high-quality manufacturing product that’s truly not for everyone. While explaining it to a media partner during a brainstorming session he commented, “Wow, that’s a big story to tell…”.  I took this as a very solid clue that I need to sharpen the point of the spear. This type of dialogue will ultimately lead me to a clear, concise story that helps prospect quickly grasp why sometimes paying 5-10x the price you’re used to is money well-spent.

Micro Stories

During the development of this presentation, I thought about some brands I like who tell a different sort of story. In these cases, the brand is really comprised of a collection smaller of Micro Stories.

An excellent example of this is grocery retailer Trader Joe’s. The company’s printed “Fearless Flyer” is full of stories about a unique Canadian bacon they discovered in Saskatoon, or unique dates from Arkansas, or other oddities. All these stories deliver the brand promise of a unique, special product, but also contribute to the brand footprint of Trader Joe’s. Brilliant.

Does this suggest the master band doesn’t have a story? Not at all. Rather that a collection of carefully crafted micro stories add up to an overall brand impression. Think Legos that comprise a complete structure.

How Do I Put this to Work?

Consider your brand strategy. And your product mix. For several years, I worked with a leading supplier of tooling solutions in the plastics industry. This company was founded on the premise of creating products that solved problems toolmakers faced. We worked together to create a unique story for each new product that helped buyers understand the problems it addressed, while keeping each story aligned to the overall company brand values. By contrast, when working with a technology solution to harness the power of an emerging technology platform, the product became the story – both as a solution and as an overall brand.

In short, storytelling (like other elements of the marketing mix) demands a clear, documented strategy to stay on-brand and impactful. I hope this framework gives you a new perspective to consider your stories.

Sean

What’s Your Position?

Recently during a meeting with a prospective client (who later hired us), I had an interesting run-in with my old friend Positioning. This company makes very high-end components for industrial machinery. When I asked the CEO about competitors, his response was, “We have none…”. As you might guess, this is a German company…

After further discussion, it turned out he was right. These folks had really done their homework on their competitive differentiators. They were tight, clear, and actionable. The result is going to help strengthen the marketing plan we’ll be crafting for them. This was a good reminder of the value of effective positioning. When you have effective positioning you benefit through:

  • Better leveraging your marketing budget by not chasing the wrong people and attracting more of the right people.
  • Improve the stickiness of your communications efforts – when you know who you are and you connect with the target audience, you generate more impact.
  • Enhanced memorability – clear, succinct positioning tends to find a home in people’s heads more readily.
  • Reduced agency fees – if we know who you are, we can execute more efficiently and save you money.
  • Better campaign metrics – with effective positioning, you will be better able to choose metrics that measure these qualities.

So, what’s your position? Is it clear? Brief? Focused? Truly unique? If not, maybe we should talk.

Sean

No One Gives a #@$%! About Your Blockchain

Blockchain

Blockchain is all the rage just now.

But your customers don’t care about it. Or your AI. Or your cloud. Or your Internet of Things. Or any of a myriad of other technobabble buzzwords your marketing team is likely to fall in love with (great article summarizing them here). They also didn’t care about last year’s buzzwords. Nor the year before.

This trend has been going on for as long as I’ve been in technology marketing. Tech marketers are suckers for a good buzzword. And they often start to craft their brands around these phrases. But in the end, this ultimately weakens your brand. Particularly if this becomes an annual event. Suddenly the face you present to your key audiences becomes the technology, not your brand value proposition.

Great – What DO They Care About?

What business decision makers do care about is what these technologies can do FOR THEM. An automotive manufacturer isn’t interested in Blockchain. What they want is a way to know where the parts are from ABC Supplier, and when they’ll arrive in the assembly plant in Tennessee. Or, maybe they’re a hospital who wants to ensure perishable medications are stored at the proper temperature and disposed of when needed. Perhaps an aircraft manufacturer wants to find a way to automate payment to a contractor once work is completed.

A Different Perspective on Technology Branding

So, what do I do? You want the brand lift of integrating the latest technologies. And the Google Juice from using a trending keyword. I would encourage you to use technology buzzwords much like spokes in a bicycle wheel. Spokes connect the hub (your brand’s value proposition) to the rim (your customer or prospect’s needs). A wheel with only one spoke (even if it is Blockchain), is a rather weak wheel. Better to have several spokes, including multiple enabling technologies, connecting hub and rim.

Taking this example of multiple connecting spokes further, consider ALL the elements of your solution that connect your value proposition to the customer’s challenges. These spokes might include current technologies like IoT and AI, but also other supporting technologies (like interfaces to legacy systems), along with your reputation, history, and track record. Now that wheel will roll. And, stay round. Throw a tire (let’s call this the benefits of an integrated solution in our analogy) on there and now you’re mowing down obstacles in your path!

Remember – no one gives a #@$%! about your Blockchain. They care what it – and the rest of your brand’s technologies and attributes – can do to help them address current and future problems. Never fall for a buzzword. In the end, they’ll always let you down.

-Sean-

It’s Only Principle if it Costs You Money: Yeti Coolers

Somewhere during my career I picked up the line, “It’s only principle if it costs you money”. As a brand strategist, I have to give Yeti Coolers props for standing up to the NRA. After notifying the organization that Yeti was discontinuing some outdated discounting programs – that included not only the NRA, but several other groups.

Unfortunately, the NRA decided to use this opportunity to grandstand and take a cheap shot (pun NOT intended) at Yeti. Sadly, this is what that NRA seems to have become – a bully. Yeti didn’t single them out. Yeti didn’t “decline to continue helping America’s young people enjoy outdoor activities…”. They ended an old program and offered the NRA a new one.

Yeti posted this statement on its social media channels yesterday:

That took some serious stones. While the NRA has come under criticism, boycott, and other actions since the Parkland school shootings, few have the financial risk that Yeti faces. Unlike Delta Airlines, who dropped its NRA discount program (which according to USA Today only had 13 flyers use the discount), Yeti’s long-time core customers are largely made up of hunters and anglers – traditional NRA strongholds.

Today’s consumer wants an authentic brand. One that stands up to bullies. One that speaks its mind. And, one that uses clear, direct language – not inflammatory rhetoric – to communicate with key audiences. Congratulations, Yeti. You took a big risk here. One I think could just pay off in finding new customers.

-Sean-

Zuckerberg: A Marketers Take

It seemed the nation was glued to coverage of Mark Zuckerberg’s trip to Capitol Hill this week to testify on Facebook’s alleged privacy violations. I listened to some of the testimony, as well both out of personal curiosity, and as a marketing professional who uses Facebook (and other social media advertising). I was struck by one simple observation:

Our grandparents are running this country.

The complete and utter lack of understanding I heard from members of Congress was completely stunning. We have legislators suggesting policy changes who don’t have the slightest clue how social media works for marketers.

One example was questioning from Sen. Doris Matsui, representing the 6th District of California. When Zuckerberg explained that if you didn’t want your data out there, you simply don’t post it, Matsui went on the attack. Repeatedly, she asked questions centering around the theme, “Well, that’s fine, but once the data is out there, then it can be abused going forward…”. Umm, yeah, actually, not.

I can’t “buy” data from Facebook. What I can do is use current data in targeting my campaigns. If your data is currently out there, I can use this information to help focus my ad delivery. When I want to reach left-handed, cat lovers in Central Iowa, I can use Facebook targeting to look for people with those qualities in their profile, feeds, and engagement. AT THAT TIME. Facebook uses real-time data to help me target campaigns. I felt badly for Mr. Zuckerberg as he tried to explain this to a Senator who seemed lost in the era of the flip phone. Facebook does NOT hand me a data file. They understand that this would be a clear violation of privacy standards.

It’s a long-held truth in marketing media planning that eliminating waste is a key to campaign success. The best way to do this is to try to connect with prospects who have qualities that are likely to make them interested in your message. In short, we try to match needs to product attributes. That’s why social media advertising has been such a revolution. People will tell you what they like and value. And I can laser-focus my message to just those people. In all candor, as a consumer it helps ensure you get more of the information you’re interested in, and less of what you don’t care about. Yes, there are those who abuse this, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Also, we’ve been able to acquire information since well before Facebook. Since before Zuckerberg was born, actually. Ever buy an electric razor or other small appliance that came with a warranty card? Of course you did. Are you aware that the data you provided about your hobbies, interests, and income have absolutely zero to do with a warranty? For years, you sent these cards to the Denver address of a division of R.L. Polk called National Demographics and Lifestyles (NDL). The nice folks at NDL would then sell this information to marketers like me so I could append my database to enable me to locate the aforementioned lefty cat lovers in Ames. Remember those nice folks at R.L. Polk? Guess what we used to buy from them? Your driver’s license information. So, when we were marketing weight loss surgery, all we needed was your height and weight. Run a simple algorithm, and PRESTO, we know if you’re morbidly obese. Does Facebook take this to another level? Absolutely. But for Congress to pretend that we couldn’t already get to plenty of information is incredibly naïve. I’m quite certain many of them used this information to get elected. If you’re interested in a brief history of the rise of these lifestyle databases, check out this article.

Facebook – like most other social media – is a for-profit enterprise. Anyone who thinks otherwise is foolhardy. Don’t want your information used? Don’t put it out there. But to try and convince the American people that Cambridge Analytica somehow bought a magic database only shows ignorance.

With all of this said, I do think this week’s testimony and surrounding uproar will bring some much-needed cleanup to the social media industry. Already Facebook and Instagram are locking down third-party developers via the API from being able to access information without your permission. Expect this trend to continue. And, expect the social media networks to make a greater effort to enable you to more transparently see which apps may be using your data. This is a good thing.

-Sean-

P.S. I also enjoyed the uproar over Mr. Zuckerberg’s untailored, ill-fitting suit. This is a guy whose trademark has been t-shirts and hoodies. He only put on the suit to appease a generation that’s lost touch with the current world of technology.

Manage your WordPress site

Manage your WordPress siteWordPress is an amazing and popular tool for web site creation. So popular in fact, that WordPress sites currently make up over 29% of ALL sites on the web. It’s a powerful tool in the hands of capable developers and has allowed us to create sites that have a rich and impactful online presence for our clients. Moreover, our clients get to manage, maintain, and update their own content after hand-off. There’s not a lot of downside to using WordPress honestly, but there are a couple of things to consider if you do decide to manage your WordPress site after we create it for you. These things are often over-looked, but they can prevent a lot of heartache if you integrate them into your site management routine.

Back up your WordPress site regularly. Specifically your database.

What will you do if your site crashes or is hacked? If you have a current backup, the answer is simple – restore it. But if you don’t have a current backup…
There are many free or low-cost plugins and tools to help you do this. You can set your database to be backed up automatically, or you can manually perform this task yourself. This is a very important part of managing your website. We all know what it is like to have the content flow rhythmically from your fingertips onto 50-page proposal document, only to lose most of it when your computer crashes before saving. Backing up your site and database is the equivalent to “save often”. Depending on how often you update your site, we recommend backing it up once a week, or at the very least once a month.

Keep your site current. Update your plugins and WordPress version.

Quite often WordPress will be updated to a newer version. Plugins tend to be updated fairly frequently as well. When you log in to your site you will see what needs to be updated and it’s easy to get your site up to date. Just remember to back your site up first. These updates are important as they eliminate bugs for ever-evolving browsers, fix compatibility issues with other templates and plugins, and make it harder for injection hacks and malware to find their way into your files. Hackers love an outdated WordPress site. Over 70% of the top WordPress sites have shown vulnerability that was due to running outdated versions of WordPress.

Remember to not overlook these simple, yet important items. Your site will continue serve you well and represent your brand in a powerful way on the web.

-Keith-

Your Brand is Everywhere

Your Brand is EverywhereI’ve seen a zillion different definitions of a brand but one of my favorites is:

“Your brand is everywhere you touch a customer, prospect, or influencer.”

Sadly, I don’t know who this quote came from. But it really aligns well with our philosophy here at PWB. It’s easy to think your brand is just your logo. Or, your advertising. Think about the world’s leading brands. Their brands have nuances that transcend traditional marketing considerations:

  • Sound: Harley Davidson has trademarked the unique rumble of their engines. Branding.
  • Color: UPS owns the color brown in not just transportation and shipping, but in society. Branding.
  • Smell: Abercrombie & Fitch and Tommy Bahama (along with a myriad of other retailers) have a trademark scent in every retail store. I swear you can even smell it on  clothing. Branding.
  • Sound: Intel’s classic “Intel inside” audio signature is unique, distinctive, and associated only with them. Branding.

While we’re not discounting the impact of your logo, or your advertising, we would encourage you to take a broader view. What do your invoices look like? How about your packaging? Now think deeper – where else to key audiences experience you? Years ago we rebranded a local transit authority. While the business cards weren’t unimportant, most customers interface with this brand by seeing their buses. A commercial developer asked us to first design their job site trailers and signage.

So, push harder. You’re interacting with important audiences every day, probably in ways you’ve never thought of. For example, we recently saw this vehicle parked outside a client’s office. Yup, your offices say something about your brand. What plants you have. The art on the walls. The water cooler (ours has a cover that alternates between the Packers and the Patriots – nod to a couple of hardcore fans on our team).

Now, most importantly pull it all together. In total, your brand needs to present a consistent image, aligned with your core brand values. You do have core brand values, right? Collect all of the elements you can think of, put them up on a wall and see if you look like one company, or like “fruit-striped gum” to borrow a phrase from a former client. Need help getting this all aligned? Let’s talk. We’d be happy to buy you lunch or a drink and discuss it.

Help! I Bought the Wrong Web Site!

In recent months, we’ve run into multiple clients who bought poor web sites. Most weren’t very web site savvy (and, really, how many people are?) were approached by a “specialist” who focuses on their industry. These firms promise expertise in and prices that seem too good to be true. Unfortunately, in most cases many of these folks are delivering inferior web sites that are slow to load, questionably responsive, hard to update, or more. Many promise that they’re using WordPress as a development platform, but that’s a nearly meaningless distinction. Even a WordPress web site can be a poor site. One recent site we saw used a multitude of widgets to deliver the home page and had over two dozen plug-ins installed. The site loaded VERY slowly, frustrated users, and made changes and updates nearly impossible.

Fortunately, we’ve got a relatively affordable solution. We’re currently porting two WordPress sites into full responsive, user-friendly, search optimized use of a widely accepted WordPress theme. One site went very smoothly – it would appear that the developer was competent enough, but preferred to do things on a proprietary platform. The second was a complete mess. It had a home page built up of widgets, so Google couldn’t index anything, and had dozens of unnecessary plug-ins installed. It was clearly poorly constructed.
But, the bottom line is that we were able to get both clients into great new web sites that were:

  1.  Fully mobile responsive;
  2. Search engine friendly; and
  3. Easy to update and maintain.

This experience got me thinking, “What questions SHOULD you ask when considering a WordPress web developer?”. Here are our key questions you should ask a potential web developer:

  1. What theme are you using? If the answer is “custom” or anything other than something specific you can go look up on www.themeforest.net, walk away. With WordPress, there’s no reason for custom or proprietary code.
  2. Who owns what? Often developers will either use their development licenses for themes, plug-ins and widgets. If you leave that developer, then you’ll have to buy them again. Some developers even retain ownership of code they developed for you. If you won’t own all of your assets outright, this isn’t the partner for you.
  3. Can I see some of your sites? Then find a web-savvy friend and have them take a look. A lot of sites pass the Google Mobile-Friendly test, but don’t truly behave well on a smartphone or tablet. This should be your first test.
  4. Can you show me the user interface for updates? True WordPress is super-easy and intuitive. If they show you something that doesn’t look a lot like the image below, there may be an issue.web site
  5. Will you install and ensure Google Analytics? We’re shocked by the number of web developers who don’t do this. For most clients, it’s not obvious and they don’t find out that they have no usage data until 6 months or a year has passed.
  1. Can I talk to some customers? Then, make those calls. Ask about ease of updating. About the development process. If they’d use the developer again.

Bought the wrong web site and need a fix? Talk to us. Looking for a web developer who will deliver a top-notch site? Talk to us.

Sean

Have You Hugged Your Salesperson Today?

Sales and Marketing: The Buyer's JourneyIn my first “real” job, my boss (head of sales and marketing) once said, “If you go on a sales call and they buy something, it’s sales. If they don’t, it’s marketing.” I’ve spent much of the balance of my career trying to counter that perception.

Once upon a time, sales and marketing were more discrete disciplines. Now, with marketing automation, demand generation, lead nurturing, and other strategies, the line is blurring. Marketing is now taking on the role that used to be handled by inside sales teams. We’re bringing leads to sales that are further along in the decision-making cycle, generally more qualified, and we can offer more knowledge when sales engages. In fact, we’ve represented this in the model shown below:

As you can see, in the New World Order, marketing engages prospects more fully early on, and then becomes less involved as the sales team ramps up.

Now you’re thinking, “That’s great; so what?”. A valid question indeed. Here are six actions we recommend:

  1.  If you haven’t been a salesperson, talk to some. Living with a number, and having your professional existence hinge on that number changes your perspective. If you haven’t seen the parody “A Few Good Expenses”, I highly recommend it. Cultivate relationships with the top performers in your sales organization. You’ll quickly learn the objections they face, the sales cycle they work in, and more about the subtle nuances that can make or break a deal. I can guarantee that you will learn valuable information for use in your marketing programs.
  2. A marketing-savvy sales force is your best ally. Many sales people I’ve encountered don’t fully grasp what we in marketing do, and how we do it. Make time to educate the sales force on your upcoming campaigns and the strategies that are driving it. Show them how your strategies tie to their objectives. If you have branding campaigns, give them the long-term vision so they understand that while this won’t give them leads tomorrow, it will make their next 3-5 years much more lucrative.
  3. Understand how the sales cycle differs from the marketing cycle. The sales cycle is a common topic. We all spend a lot of time talking about it. But, if you think about it from a sales perspective it starts when that prospect first enters into a sales dialogue. In reality, we should have started a marketing dialogue with them through branding and demand generation efforts months, or even years earlier. As a rule of thumb, I would recommend a marketing cycle that is 2-3x whatever you consider your sales cycle.
  4. Have a good filter. A lot of mediocre sales people become vocal when they’re not hitting their numbers. “The lead quality is poor.” Or, “I need a brochure.” Perhaps, “Google leads are lousy.”. While the top performers are investing that time into exceeding their sales goals. Also, remember that due to its more immediate nature and shorter cycle, sales is inherently more in the moment. Often, a salesperson’s biggest problem is the one they faced today. You don’t have to react to EVERY bit of feedback you receive.
  5. Align your planning. Marketing exists to fuel the selling process. Period. But that doesn’t mean you’re a slave to sales. It means working together. Finding out what sales objectives are, and finding ways to align marketing objectives. But don’t give up complete control and become sales’ lackey. This can quickly lead to a 3,245 fragmented campaigns. And, no marketing organization has the resources to support this effectively. Remember – you’re the Air Force, softening up the beachhead for the invading ground infantry.
  6. Don’t forget enablement. This seems SO simple, but it’s astounding how often it’s overlooked. When you’re planning a marketing campaign, be sure to review it with sales. Generating qualified leads when the sales force is unprepared to deal with them is wasted effort. Several years ago, we built a comprehensive integrated campaign for an industrial processing equipment manufacturer targeting a specific vertical market. Advertising. Direct mail. E-mail. Trade shows. AdWords. A dedicated web landing page. Then we launched it. And, the call center started getting inquiries. Unfortunately, no one on the marketing team had presented the campaign to sales, so they were totally caught unaware. Fortunately, within six months, the company had seen significant growth in this vertical, so there was clear evidence of marketing effectiveness.

All too often, sales and marketing are enemies. Fighting for scarce resources and management attention. The reality is that if we can work as a team, while respecting the inherent differences in our roles, success will almost inevitably follow.

-Sean-