Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does Blogging Work for Small and Medium Size Businesses?

Aside from its value as a mental exercise and outlet for creativity, does writing a regular blog provide any value for a small or medium size business? The answer is yes.

A recent study by inbound marketing agency Hubspot (www.hubspot.com) reports that "companies that blog have far better marketing results." The study found that companies that blogged had 55% more visitors to their websites, accumulated 97% more inbound links, and had 434% more indexed web pages.

Are these important figures? Absolutely.

More visitors to a website is obviously vital, as it gives a company more opportunity to tell its story and sell its products or services.

More inbound links increases a website's visibility with search engines, helping the website move up the in the results for keyword searches.

More indexed pages also increase the chance a search engine will find and report a website.

What the Hubspot study tells us is clear: if you want your website to be a more active and contributing part of your overall marketing program, you should be blogging on a regular and consistent basis.

It does not take much to get a blog started. The first post is easy. It is the second and all subsequent blog posts that are difficult! Yet, if you think about it for just a short time, there is plenty about your business to talk about and share.

Take "Start a blog" off your "to do" list and put it onto your list of regular duties. If you need help starting or maintaining a blog, I'd be glad to help. Shoot me an email to bill@scribendi.net and we can work together to make you a blogger.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why We Hate Political Ads

With less than a week to go until election day, it is impossible to avoid the barrage of political advertising. It assaults us through our television sets and radio speakers, in our mailboxes, on our computer screens and over the telephone. And most of the messages we get are blatant “attack ads” that are misleading at best and can be downright vicious.

I hate them. You hate them. The politicians claim to hate them.

So why do attack ads continue to be the core of political advertising? I have several theories.

First, they work. Those voters who are savvy enough and involved enough in the political process can usually see right through the rhetoric and bombast. But, at the risk of sounding elitist, a large number of voters are not sophisticated enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. They register as “fact” the slams and slanders that pass for messaging. The polls reflect this, as numbers rise and fall with the waves of vile advertising.

(Don’t get me started on the pimping of the pollsters. Suffice it to say that Mark Twain was right when he said that “figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”)

Another reason attack ads remain important to candidates is that they are an easy way to avoid taking a real stand on issues. Instead of telling voters what they believe in and what they will do if elected, candidates can get away with focusing on how much worse it would be if their opponents were to win.

Attack ads are also easy to develop. Instead of crafting content that inspires the electorate, all the copywriter has to do is carefully cut and paste snippets of the opponent’s previous speeches until they paint a portrait that is sure to frighten voters to choose the “safe” candidate.

The political process, spurred by the media, has devolved into an ugly, mud-spattered wrestling match in which almost all candidates come out sullied. Don’t be taken in by this hucksterism. Take the time to dig deep and try to discover the core beliefs of the candidates on your ballot. Remember you’ll be stuck with the person you elect, at least until the next round of name calling and character assassination begins in a few years.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ad Terms We Could Do Without

Advertising, like any industry, has its own unique lingo. Since advertising is a business based on creativity, it only stands to reason that our terms are sometimes quite imaginative. Here then, is a collection of the most common advertising phraseology, with a brief translation of each.

“Can you make the logo bigger?”
Roughly translated, this means “We have nothing of any importance or value to say in this ad.”

“They buried my ad.” This means “I know I spend barely enough on advertising to get a few drops of ink on the newsprint, but does that mean I can't expect to be on the front page?”

“We're the oldest/biggest/best. . .” In other words, “Our products are outdated, our pricing archaic and our customer base is rapidly being depleted by the grim reaper.”

“Service is our specialty.” What they're saying is, “You'll need our service because our products are totally unreliable.”

“It doesn't do anything for me.” Usually means, “I'm spending a fortune on this ad and I'm going to get my money's worth. Give me the Mona Lisa.”

“What we really need is some publicity.” This means “I don’t want to pay for my advertising.”

“Its just not us.”
Translated: “Where's the picture of me, my family and my factory?”

“Advertising just doesn’t work for us.” This indicates that the company once ran a two-inch classified ad in a free circulation supermarket newspaper on a Friday in 1993, before leaving for a three-week vacation.

Listen to yourself carefully the next time you are working with your ad agency. If you hear any of these phrases, stop and back away. Before the agency turns and runs.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Want people to be interested? Be interesting!

My clients pay me to communicate their messages in such a way as to cause individuals to respond. The first step in that process is to get people to take notice, an increasingly difficult task in our media-rich world.

Breaking through the clutter has been the marketer's assignment since the beginning of the profession. How we go about it continues to evolve.

The best advice I can give my clients is this: If you want people to be interested, you'd better be interesting.

A marketing message, no matter what the delivery method, must spark your interest, catch your eye and demand your attention. Boring does not cut it. Safe is a snooze. "Tried and true" equals "old and tired."

Turn the tables for a moment. What captures your attention? Which TV commercials do you like? What does it take to get you to turn up the radio volume in the car? How do you decide which items in the pile of today's mail get read and which get tossed? What is it about a website that gets you to go deeper than the home page?

Today you must engage the prospect immediately or lose him or her forever. Your message must be smart, memorable and resonate with something that is already "on the radar screen" of the potential customer. You can't force an idea into a closed mind, so you must find an opening that already exists.

The message must zero in on the self-interest of the individual or it will be ignored. Yet too many companies are too self-absorbed to do anything more than spout off about themselves and their own interests, which are seldom aligned with the customer's.

To be successful at attracting interest, you must succeed at being interesting. That means crafting a message that connects with the right prospects, delivered through the right channels, at the right time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saying More By Saying Less (continued)

(Yes, I recognize the irony in "continuing" to say less! Deal with it.)

A colleague responded to my last post promoting spareness of language. He reminded me that even Ernest Hemingway struggled with editing his prose, noting, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket."

Papa was being modest. He used the language well. Hemingway is also responsible for what some consider to be the greatest ad copy ever written, one that conveys a novel's worth of information and emotion in just six words: "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn."

Can you condense your marketing message into six words? Not always possible, but always a good goal.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Say More by Saying Less

Thomas Jefferson was a prolific author and correspondent. His words continue to inspire us today. But he was also well aware of the power of brevity. Jefferson closed one three-page letter to a friend with an apology: "Forgive me for writing such a long letter, but I did not have time to write a shorter one."

Unfortunately, many writers today cannot keep themselves from rambling, unable or unwilling to pare their thoughts down to the essentials. Jefferson launched the world's greatest nation with a single page, the Declaration of Independence. But your local personal injury attorney needs to blast out a 3,000 word blog every week. Sad.

We should all follow the example of William Mulholland, the man responsible for developing the remarkable waterworks for the City of Los Angeles early in the last century. Mulholland was asked to speak at the dedication ceremony for a 233-mile aqueduct that brought water from the Colorado River across the desert to the city. When the first stream started to flow out from the aqueduct, Mulholland stepped up to the microphone and commemorated the momentous occasion by saying, "There it is. Take it."

Fewer and truer words were never spoken.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Futile Gestures Waste Time and Credibility

In the wake of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a minor league baseball team in Florida has announced it will no longer conduct "BP" (a common name for batting practice) before its games. Instead the team will have "batting rehearsal," so that they won't be forced to utter the now-shunned "BP" name.

Ridiculous. Almost as silly as renaming french fries as "freedom fries" following September 11th. Or calling illegal aliens "undocumented workers."

Everybody with half a brain knows the truth behind these transparent covers. Trying to foist these whitewash jobs on the public is a waste of valuable credibility. The PR geniuses who thought up these stunts should be fired. Or at least sentenced to reading their own press releases for a month.

If you want to take advantage of a public crisis or highly visible event, take the time to do something with meaning. The Florida baseball team might have organized a community effort (in advance) to clean up local beaches that become contaminated. Such a move would certainly have more value and credibility.

Don't succumb to the temptation to cash in on public sentiment with a cheap stunt or meaningless gesture. It will only damage your public image in the long run.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dealing with SCATs (Still Clueless About Technology)

My father refused to buy our family a color television “until they get the bugs worked out.” It was the mid-1970s before I saw Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” in color.

For a year after I got my first answering machine my mother would not leave a message. She did not want to talk to “some machine.” She wanted to talk to me.

Some (not many) of my clients did not invest in a website until well after Y2K. They wanted to see if the “fad” would pass before spending the money.

These are examples of people who I call SCATs – “Still Clueless About Technology.” Some are genuine Luddites who stoically resist all attempts to modernize their lives. But most are simply overly cautious about adapting anything new and difficult to understand.

You know at least one SCAT. Still on dial-up access with an AOL email address. Grabs the Yellow Pages when he needs to look up a phone number. Doesn’t need an iPod because her Sony Walkman is still working just fine, thank you.

With more and more of our marketing being built around using technology to reach potential customers, SCATs present a problem. The more “traditional” methods of marketing are being replaced by email campaigns, Facebook and Twitter, and web-based promotion. But how do we reach someone who does not check email, live on Bluetooth or surf the web on a regular basis?

One solution is to ignore them. SCATs are a shrinking audience as technology becomes simpler and more accessible to more people. Spend the money where it will do the most good and reach those prospects who are more likely to see and respond to a “modern” pitch.

The problem with this approach is that SCATs tend to be older and (bless their Baby Boomer hearts!) more affluent. Just because someone does not run out and purchase and iPad does not mean they can’t afford one. Or two. So leaving SCATs out of the mix risks leaving a lot of money on the table.

A better approach is to incorporate some of those “old fashioned” marketing techniques into your planning. Carve out a portion of the next email campaign and devote it toward a print mail effort targeted at the older end of your demographic. Give customers an option of receiving your company newsletter via email or in paper format. Keep spending money on AdWords, but throw some (carefully, of course) into newspaper and radio ads.

Eventually everybody will be comfortable communicating electronically, and the on-line marketing infrastructure you are building today will reach a full and receptive audience. But until that time, find space in your effort and budget to accommodate the SCATs among us.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Giving Away Knowledge Can Pay Off

You know stuff. And I think you should give it away.

Knowing stuff is how you got where you are, by possessing knowledge and skills that are valuable to your company and your customers. The information you posses and how you use it is your "inventory." This is especially true if you are in a service business like law or accounting, but also applies to trades and retail.

So why give it away?

Because that is the only way potential customers will come to believe that you know what you are talking about. By "showing what you know" your customers will have the opportunity to sell themselves on your value. When they do pick up the phone to call you they will already be ready to do business with you. Half the sales job will be done in advance.

How can you give away your knowledge? It is easier than ever. Publish a blog and add content regularly. Write articles for trade journals. Publish a newsletter for clients and send it to prospects, too. Look for speaking engagements. Any chance you can find to demonstrate how good you are at what you do.

Giving away information that normally costs money may seem counterintuitive. Many people fear they will share too much and thereby negate the need for a customer to call. Trust me. Those who will contact you are the ones who recognize talent and skill and are willing to pay for it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Website" is Officially One Word

For years I have written "web site" out as two words. Grammatically it makes sense. But it appears I am on the losing end of this battle.

The latest edition of the Associated Press Style Book -- the "bible" of spelling and grammar for journalists -- has decreed that "website" should be written as a single word. Harrumph!

Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

Now if AP can only guide us on the usage of "e-mail" vs. "email."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are You in a Big Hurry to Market?

Depending on the nature of your business, your approach to marketing may be long term, gradually building brand awareness and securing customers who will generate revenue over many months or years. Or, if your business is more transactional, you may be in a hurry to generate immediate leads that you can convert into short term sales.

How you market your products or services will depend on which situation you find yourself in. But you should be aware that "speed costs money." A need to develop sales leads in the short term will require a bigger investment and different mix of marketing techniques than a more measured approach. Speed costs money.

For example, an attorney who wants to build a base of clients who will use his or her services again and again should take the time and effort to position himself/herself as an expert, and the "preferred" lawyer. This can be done with a "show what you know" approach that includes a blog, articles, speaking engagements and other relationship-building marketing techniques. In this way, the attorney becomes a known and trusted advisor even before a client engages his/her services!

But if that same attorney wants to attract clients immediately, the marketing approach must be different. He/she needs to impact a much wider group of prospects in order to attract those who have an immediate need for legal advice. An investment in advertising (billboards, fliers, television and radio spots, web-based ads) will deliver the attorney's marketing message faster, to more people. But at a higher cost.

Which is the right approach for your business? It depends on your needs, budget and tolerance for spending. Some companies succeed on both counts, investing heavily to generate short term sales and then converting those into long term customers. Others are perfectly happy with quick sales that may or may not turn into repeat customers. Still more businesses are content to patiently build relationships that will generate a financial return over the long haul.

The only wrong approach is to do no marketing at all. Simply unlocking the doors in the morning and hoping that customers stumble in is no way to grow a business. Tell a lot of people about your business all at once, or let a few people at a time gain an appreciation of your services; but make sure you are out there and visible.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Facebook Explained

Confused about what Facebook is and is not? Wondering if Facebook is a good place for your business? Here is a link to an excellent explanation of how Facebook can work for business: http://www.box.net/shared/v114cwzk00

Monday, February 22, 2010

Does Branding Still Have a Place at the Marketing Table?

Many years ago, burnishing the image of a company or product was one of the most important functions of marketing. Everybody wanted their customers and prospects to think favorably of their business. And rightfully so! Being seen as a solid company or even a market leader went hand-in-hand with improved sales and stronger profits over the long term

But then came the age of promotion. Every ad, every message had to create an instant return on investment. Even if it meant diminishing or demeaning the image of the company or product being promoted. Slowly but surely, "branding" lost favor.

Need an example? Automobile manufacturers and dealers have conditioned the American public to purchase a car only when there is a "special event" in progress. They convinced us that, if we waited for a "sale" (real or fabricated) we would save big bucks. It worked so well that the occasional sales events had to be extended and expanded so that practically every day is a "special" day at your local dealer.

By relying so heavily on promotion and pricing, the automobile industry turned its products into commodities, and lost the ability to differentiate vehicles based on quality and service. The almighty "monthly lease payment" rules.

(Toyota certainly wishes they had paid more attention to branding today. It will take more than another round of "Toyotathons" to repair the damage done to the corporate image.)

There is hope. The prolonged recession has shown that promotional marketing has its limits. With discretionary money tight, consumers have been less inclined to jump at the first offer they see. Instead, we have returned to the practice of deliberation and consideration before parting with our dollars.

When buyers stop to think, the image of a company enters the equation. Instead of being dazzled by a "once in a lifetime offer," the buyer needs to be convinced that he or she is making an intelligent purchasing decision. And an important part of that decision is having confidence in the business from which we are buying.

A return to branding fits in well with the expansion of media that has come about in recent years. Instead of trying to tell a company's story in 30 seconds, the internet allows plenty of time and space to delve more deeply into the who, what, when and where of a product or service. Picky consumers can satisfy themselves that they are making a good decision before plunking down their hard-earned cash or clicking the "buy now" button on their web browser.

What about your business? Have you been paying attention to your company's image among customers and prospects? Or have you come to rely on price cutting and special deals that have reduced your value in their eyes?

Long live branding.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tweet? Blog? E-Mail? It's Still the Message That Motivates!

We are blessed with (beset by?) an amazing array of communications media in today’s modern world. You can deliver a message in traditional ways (newspaper, magazine, radio, television, billboard, direct mail), or through an assortment of web-based channels (web sites, e-mail, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).

But beware! It is easy to get caught up in how to make contact and lose sight of what you are saying. No matter how you deliver it, the content of your message is what makes things happen.

I recently met with a prospect about starting a social media program for his company. He was skeptical, saying that he had young people on staff who could easily set up Twitter and Facebook accounts without having to pay an outside agency. Perfectly true, as most social media is free and open to all.

“But what,” I asked, “will you say?” As adept as his young staffers are with web-based media, they do not have the experience or insight into what the message should be. Nor do they have the discipline to consistently develop and deliver compelling information to fans and followers who sign up.

If you are going to use social media for marketing purposes — and I think most businesses should — you must make sure your tweets, e-mails, posts and blog entries are:

1. Consistent with your brand image,
2. Contain information of value and interest,
3. Include a call to action,
4. Are compelling enough to elicit a measurable response.

Otherwise, you’ll be just another noisemaker on the web. Remember, just because the media is free does not mean you can afford to take it lightly. Rushing into a social media program without a plan and purpose-driven message is a waste of everybody’s time, and could actually backfire with web-savvy customers.

Go back to basics and remember my “Four I’s” of advertising. Every message should have impact in the form of a strong headline, subject line or tag. It should burnish your company’s image by being well-written and (when appropriate) having an attractive layout. The message must contain information that is interesting and not self-serving. And the message should be written so as to generate inquiries, which can be easily measured.

Keep these rules in mind every time you log on to tweet or post a blog entry. They will help you make the most of the amazing power of social media.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Have You Earned the Right to Speak to Customers and Prospects?

You may have heard that we recently held a special election to elect a new U.S. Senator here in my home state of Massachusetts. Because the race between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley was so tight, both sides unleashed a torrent of advertising over the final few weeks leading up to election day.

Among the most annoying of the ads (and there were plenty to be annoyed with) were the seemingly endless series of “robo-dial” automated phone calls. Over the final five days of the campaign I received at least 100 phone calls from the candidates, famous supporters, not-so-famous supporters and political action groups.

As someone who had already taken the time to become an informed voter, I did not want to waste my time with these calls. I hung up quickly on 99 of the calls.

But I patiently listened to one.

That call came from my state representative. His message was not surprising, offering his support for one of the candidates. But, why, you might wonder, did I take the time to listen to this single call out of the hundred I received?

Because it came from a source that I knew and trusted. Because my local representative had been in communication with me on a regular basis over the past several years, keeping me informed of issues that were important to my town, my business and my family.

By his accumulated efforts, he had earned the right to be heard.

Have you earned that right with customers and prospects? Have you put forth the effort to start a relationship? To establish your authority and expertise? To allow the customer or prospect to become familiar and comfortable with you?

It is foolish to believe that a single communication, no matter how powerful a blast it may be, will be sufficient to motivate people to action. It takes time and consistent effort to reach a point of understanding and acceptance. And the effort must continue to maintain that tenuous relationship.

If such an effort is required in an important arena like politics, you can imagine the necessity of regular communications in the world of commerce. What have you done today to earn the right to be heard?