You know the importance of content in marketing, but have you examined your company’s voice – the way you come across to your audience?
I think this topic falls under the scope of whether you create communications that are company-centered or audience-centered. The goal is the latter, but it’s difficult. You devote countless hours and dollars to developing marketing messages – for print, online, events, webinars, presentations at networking meetings, the works. You want to court and win over your audience. Frequently, though, marketers focus on what they deem vital to pass along. They want to make sure their buyers, supporters, volunteers, etc. understand how their organization stands out from competitors, what makes their organization excel. I’ve often heard, “Our audience needs to know all that we’ve accomplished. Right?”
In our experience, the “voice” that generates the best results is the one that focuses on the audience – be it readers, listeners, or attendees.
Much of the time, prospective buyers first need to like you. To be drawn to your organization’s personality. Only then will they consider whether you possess what they need to succeed, whether you’re a suitable partner, a solid match. Their decision may only be half-conscious.
So while you’re brainstorming, strategizing, planning, and executing all those marketing messages, give some thought to your style and tone. It plays a big role in the getting-through-to-people process.
Here are a few examples:
Get Personal. A manufacturer’s rep in the furniture/design industry wanted help launching an email program. The business owner was surprised when I pushed him to share what led him to design his own line of furniture. We were going to announce this new endeavor; it seemed logical to me to share the story behind it in a personal way. One other point of interest is that the products are made in Chicago, where the company is located. This choice says a lot about the business owner. The response to the first email? Very high open and click rates, along with calls from a bunch of architects and interior designers who wanted to learn more about the company’s custom furniture.
Give Ideas Freely. The newsletter template for a consultant who specializes in the household, industrial and institutional market needed a bit of a facelift. In addition, I suggested we add an introductory message to the content. In this short space we include some item of substance. It might be a recommendation on a leadership/management book or an idea the consultant typically charges for. This mindset stems from what my 9 th grade English teacher taught us: “Show, don’t tell.” Shortly after release of the January newsletter, the consultant forwarded an email to me. His note read, “This newsletter works!” Beneath his note was an email from a contact he met several years ago, who reached out in response to his January newsletter to re-connect and invite the consultant to speak at an upcoming industry event.
If you’re open to taking a close look at how your company comes across in its messaging, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
How would you describe your voice? Formal and corporate? Playful? Informal? Personal? Is it a style and tone you want to convey?
Is your voice inviting? Does it encourage your audience to call, write, engage online and, ultimately, say yes to your offerings?
Granted, there are certain industries where it’s difficult to have a strong personality in your communications. We work with a few of these industries; I understand the limitations. But there are many opportunities to liven up your voice -- in an impactful, maybe at times even heartfelt or humorous way. This will often start or accelerate the process of getting your audience to buy in to the possibility of working with you.
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I attended private school from 4 th -12 th grade. Our grading system didn’t follow the traditional A, B, C model. We received grades on a similar scale – i.e., E for Excellent, H for High, C for Creditable – but every teacher assigned two grades: one for Attitude and Effort, one for Achievement. They also prepared written reports to accompany the grades.
There were undoubtedly students and parents who appreciated this method of being evaluated but I hated it. Academically, I excelled. In certain classes, however, I was bored and acted out. My Attitude and Effort grades in those classes reflected this behavior. On a few occasions, one teacher wrote, “Easily distracted and distracts others.” (Come to think of it, maybe two teachers wrote this on my report cards.)
As a kid I didn’t give a hoot. But if I received anything below an H in Attitude and Effort, it bothered my dad a lot. Results matter, he used to say, but so does the process. We went back and forth about this issue for a few years. Eventually, I came to share his opinion.
About 10 years ago, I went to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to fly to Philadelphia. Typically I check my bags curbside (it’s faster) but because I had changed my flight and was traveling standby, I needed to speak to an agent. Shortly after I got in line, I became aware of a lot of noise coming from behind the ticket counter. The reason: An employee of the airline was hoisting suitcases up in the air and slamming them on the conveyer belt to send them to the handlers who would then load the bags onto the planes. I watched in amazement for several minutes. Hoist, slam. Hoist, slam. This employee appeared to slam the bags down as hard as he could. It was strange. The ticket agents didn’t say a word about his actions.
At the time I was too dumbfounded to speak up. I knew that what mattered was whether the luggage arrived without damage, on time, at the correct destination. Mine did. Still, I didn’t think this employee’s behavior was necessary, let alone appropriate. Maybe he was having a lousy day. Maybe he was working overtime and frustrated. But with scores of customers on hand to observe his behavior, I think someone should have pointed out that what he was doing wasn’t acceptable. Process matters.
On occasion a client or prospect needs us to jump through hoops with flames, has outlandish expectations of turnaround time, cost or results, or is impatient because of his or her own pressures. When this happens I try to keep a smile on my face, a spirit in my voice, and a friendly tone in our email exchanges. I'm certain this approach has helped keep our clients satisfied -- and loyal.
Maybe it’s time I tell my dad he was right – that attitude and effort matters.
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Recently I met with a prospective client that specializes in brand/product identification. They manufacture nameplates, badges, overlays and decals, serving industries ranging from automotive and sporting goods to aerospace, kitchen and bath, and power tools. We discussed how an email marketing/communications program can help them make headway with their audience of purchasing agents, product designers, engineers and point of purchase companies.
At some point during the meeting the president of the company asked if it would be appropriate to include "light" content – if the messages could include a cartoon, videos or other information that didn’t directly aim to push their services.
My answer was a resounding, enthusiastic, "You betcha!" We then talked about the challenge every e-marketer faces of enticing their contacts to open non-essential, non-transactional emails. I said that taking a lively, personal approach can make a big difference with opens and clicks.
Here's an example. In the spring of 2014, we sent an email that generated the highest open rate we've ever received. The subject line was intriguing – "FYI – just sharing some fun news." The message itself was also unlike any email we've ever sent. Some of the people who opened the email hadn't opened an email from us in two years. Several dozen people I don't typically hear from took the time to send me a note in return. (The details of the message don’t matter, but the news was fun.)
Many companies aren't comfortable taking a personal, or playful approach to their email messages. When I ask why, I get all kinds of reasons. They include, "We have to maintain our professionalism." "Buyers need frequent reminders of our products/services or they won't buy from us." "Clients are too busy to look at emails that don’t serve a purpose."
Consider this: When kids find reading boring or a challenge, their parents and teachers look for ways to make it fun. Why can't more e-marketers make their reading material appealing? We should keep in mind some of the principles that educators and parents follow:
Offer appropriate content. Children get frustrated and discouraged when books are beyond their reading level. Don't make the mistake of writing and sending messages so full of industry jargon that your audience gets turned off. It’s no fun if it's hard to follow.
Give choices. Children like choosing their own books. Why not let your audience sign up for the emails they want to receive – be it newsletters, white papers, or, if applicable, special offers? Let them look forward to receiving the "gifts" they request.
Go beyond the basics. Some children like listening to audiobooks and may absorb more of the story when it's presented in this format. Have you ever recorded podcasts for your audience? Created videos? Incorporate these types of messages into your emails. They easily allow for your company's personality to shine, and you'll quickly discover whether these platforms appeal to your audience.
Set the stage properly. You've probably seen colorful, comfortable reading rooms in libraries and bookstores where children love to visit. Make sure the "environment" where your emails are viewed is inviting. The graphics surrounding your email content should be warm and welcoming, too.
Break some rules. I was the kid who routinely read in bed under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep. I didn’t retain less of the book because I read it after hours. Studies show that people open emails based on who they are from, then the subject matter. Try releasing your emails on different days and times (avoid the wee hours of the night); you might find that you catch the attention of some readers you can’t reach during traditional hours.
Finally, ask for help. If parents have concerns about their child’s ability to read at an age-appropriate level, they will typically turn to the teacher or a specialist for guidance. The same applies to your e-marketing. If you aren’t getting the results you want, hire a professional. Just make sure whoever you choose knows how to create compelling messages that your audience looks forward to receiving.
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My first trip to Las Vegas was in 1998 for a trade show. One night, while thousands of show attendees were eating, drinking, or catching up on emails, I begged off dinner with my co-workers so I could visit M&M World.
M&M World is a powerful branding experience. I highly recommend it if you’re on or near the Strip and have 30 or more minutes to spare. (I’ve now been to Las Vegas 12-14 times, always for business. Only if I’ve been under the gun have I managed to curtail my visit to under an hour.)
While it’s true I’m a candy junkie (read Candy Freak by Steve Almond and you’ll understand my nuttiness), that isn’t the primary appeal of the four-story brand-aganza for me. Here’s why I hold the brand in such high regard.
Instant recognition. Wherever those bright yellow* bags are sold -- in the grocery store, at the drugstore, at a mini-mart -- I spot them. (*I prefer peanut. Never cared for the plain variety in the chocolate-colored package so my radar doesn’t pick up on them.)
Consistency. Even though I try to succumb to the egg-shaped candies only a few times a year, I don’t ever recall being unpleasantly surprised or disappointed at the contents of a package. My expectations are always met.
Powerful persona. You probably have to visit M&M World to buy into this concept, but every time I’ve browsed through displays of their colorful, branded merchandise, from drinkware and bedding to stuffed toys, I feel like I am among friends. All those smiling, playful little characters! I lose track of time, wander happily through the store, finger the merchandise, and on several occasions even wondered if it would be weird to buy M&M-branded birthday and holiday gifts for family and friends. (Don’t comment – I know the answer.)
Cost is irrelevant. The first time I set foot in the place and saw the huge bins of peanut M&Ms, I was downright gleeful. Back then it was the only place the funky-colored treats were sold. Lime green. Turquoise. Hot pink. Royal blue. Lavender. Oh, did I fill those plastic bags quickly. I couldn’t wait to get home and share them (okay, that second part is a lie). While I almost choked at the check-out counter – at $8 a pound back then, who wouldn’t -- I couldn’t resist purchasing them.
It’s always evolving. Every time I’ve visited M&M World I’ve seen new merchandise. I remember when M&M Monopoly was introduced. The one-size-fits-all nightshirts. Flip flops. Boxer shorts. Placemats. The year employees in the store started wearing name badges featuring their home state or country I told them it was a nice touch. The guy from Guam smiled at me. The girl from Wisconsin said, “It’s a conversation piece. Where are you from?”
Even if you are allergic to chocolate (I am so sorry, truly), think candy is juvenile, or you possess the discipline to steer clear of the chocolate pieces, I think every small business owner would benefit from a visit to M&M World. Even a brief tour of the place provides an intense short course in branding principles.
P.S. I was in Las Vegas a few weeks ago for OneCon 2015, Constant Contact’s conference for Solution Providers, but we weren’t anywhere near the Strip. No M&M World visit for me. Still contemplating calling the store and having them drop-ship a few pounds.
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If you’re a parent, you probably remember an occasion or two when your child said to you, “Why not? Everybody’s doing it!” as justification for behavior you didn’t condone. Maybe you let it slide, maybe you grounded Charlie for a weekend.
In the business world, however, “everybody’s doing it” doesn’t fly when it comes to copyright infringement.
Recently one of our family’s companies received a letter from an attorney. It wasn’t a friendly letter. It stated that the company was using an image on its website without authorization of the owner of that intellectual property.
The company is a small furniture store in a small town in Ohio. When the company was setting up its website, the employee responsible for gathering content to give to their web developer did what the advertising sales rep at the local newspaper had taught him: to grab images from the internet. “It’s easy, and it’s free,” explained the sales rep.
Easy, yes. But according to the letter the company received three years after the site went live, the images – one, at least – was by no means free. For settlement purposes, the owner of the image in question, a photographer, was requesting $1,020. Along with this request, of course, the company needed to immediately take down the image from its website; delete all copies of it on their computers, servers and storage devices; and destroy any hard copies of the image.
From what I’ve read recently, the requested settlement is reasonable. The company can handle it, and learned a good lesson. They took down the image the day they were notified about the matter. And although they meant no harm, nor did the employee realize what he had done, the company will never, ever steal an image again. (Here’s a story of how using a Google image cost a company $8,000. Ouch!)
I can appreciate how the creator of an image, video or any other form of content feels when their work has been taken. When I first started my business we specialized in creating e-newsletters for promotional products distributors. We developed a password-protected library of articles (more accurately, we invested in a library of articles) to enable our clients to choose a relevant, industry-specific topic for every newsletter. Each newsletter was created as a custom HTML document, personalized with colors and graphics to match the client’s brand. We always added ourselves to our clients’ email distribution lists to ensure there weren’t any glitches when the emails were released.
One day I received an e-newsletter from a distributorship in Texas I didn’t know. I skim most of the emails I receive. Within a few lines of reading this email my jaw dropped. What the #&@!?, I thought to myself. This is one of our articles! At the moment I couldn’t fathom how some company I had never heard of had grabbed one of our articles.
After a little digging, I discovered that a client’s employee left the company to start her own business. Before she resigned, she logged into our article library to copy some of the articles. She loved our newsletter service, but as a new business owner it would be a while before she’d have the funds to pay for it. So, she figured this would give her a running start. The even bolder move she made? She copied our client’s contact database. That’s how I received her email, and uncovered what she was doing.
I’m not litigious by nature, but I contacted our attorney immediately. He quickly fired off a letter to explain why her actions were unacceptable. My client followed suit. As far as we knew, she immediately stopped using our material.
In her defense, maybe she lumped our content into the same category as the copyright-free image libraries she had access to through promotional products suppliers. They want distributors to show and share their product images. It helps sell the product.
For small businesses that can’t afford custom images/photography, but want professional quality photos for their websites, brochures, blog posts, you name it, the answer is simple: Purchase stock, copyright-free images. Our sources include iStock, 123rf.com, Dollar Photo Club, ThinkStock, PunchStock, and Fotolia.
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Over the years, I’ve made some big changes in my life without so much as a doodle on a napkin. When I was 24, bored with my admin job, I found myself pacing around my apartment one night, mumbling, “What do I want to do? What do I want to do?” Then it hit me: Camp. I had spent 10 summers at an overnight camp in New Hampshire, starting at age 6. Loved every minute of it, and the idea of working in that field full-time. The next day I called the American Camping Association and requested a copy of their trade magazine. When it arrived I sent off letters of interest to three companies advertising for year-round help. The interviews – and offers – happened quickly. Within two months, I moved to Philadelphia to manage the office of a three-camp organization that also operated as a conference center. It was a treat to spend my summers in the Poconos, wearing t-shirts and shorts. I loved the people and treasured the lifestyle. But two years later, tired of the limitations of a small family business, I decided to call it quits. A few days before I moved north for the summer, I gave up my apartment in the city, put my belongings in storage, and “planned” to find a new job by the end of August. This “plan” also included buying a car. I didn’t know where I’d end up, but I could no longer bank on access to public transportation. Surely the new job I’d find – while working 7 days a week, hours from a metropolitan area – would enable me to make monthly car payments? (The one practical move I made was purchasing a stick-shift car. It was cheaper than the automatic. The fact that I didn’t know how to drive it was a separate challenge.) “Gutsy” is how my husband describes those moves. I disagree. They were impetuous. What if I hadn’t found a higher-paying job that led to new experiences, opportunities, and, ultimately, the launch of two businesses? But I did. I was lucky. And I bet that’s why 26 years later there are still times where I stupidly operate without a plan. A few weeks ago I was the guest presenter for a client’s weekly online sales/marketing meeting. There are three sessions, each 1.5 hours long. I offered to run the presentation using our GoToMeeting account. I emailed participants the information on how to join the meeting online and by phone. I had presented to the groups the previous month, so I wasn’t expecting any challenges. Twenty-five minutes before the third session was scheduled to begin, I launched the meeting from my desktop computer. If any participants logged on early, they’d see the “green room” screen. I resumed working. Five minutes later, my computer screen went dark. Before I realized what had happened, the power was back on. Assuming it was a temporary glitch, I ignored it. A few minutes later it happened again. Now I thought, “What the #$%@ – I’ve got a problem!” This time I tried to prepare for more challenges. I sent a copy of my PowerPoint to the consultant who runs the meetings; if need be, she could forward the presentation to participants to follow on their own. We were using the organization’s conference line, so if we went dark I could call back in from my cell phone. I also scrambled to set up my fully-charged laptop and hotspot as backup, figuring I could switch gears and re-launch the meeting from my laptop if necessary. We launched on time. But when the power went out again 30 minutes into my presentation, we lost several minutes while I fiddled around to get us back up. Considering that I’m in a technology-based business, I felt like an idiot. Ultimately, attendees of all three sessions found my presentation well worth their time, but I was still mad at myself. For many years I’ve been dependent upon electricity to run my business. Until recently, I never experienced a loss of it during a key moment. Is that why after my backup power supply died in the spring I forgot to replace it? Or was I once again operating without a plan? Fortunately, I have the capacity to learn from my mistakes. I replaced my backup power supply a few days later. Now I’m wondering what else I’m not prepared to handle. Are there other important business activities I’m at risk of jeopardizing? Any thoughts?
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Even if you don’t know the term Autoresponder, chances are you know the technology. If you’ve ever visited a company’s website, completed a brief form to sign up for their email list, and shortly thereafter received an email that said “Thank You for Signing Up”, you’ve been the recipient of an Autoresponder. In simple terms, an Autoresponder is an email that is set up to release automatically after you add a contact to a designated contact list in your email account. You can add new contacts every few minutes, every day, once a month, whatever works for you. A “Thank You for Signing Up” Introductory Email Autoresponder sent to website visitors is a smart way to kick off your relationship with a new contact. This process enables you to professionally introduce your company and email program. But with a little planning, you can probably devise even better ways to make use of this technology. Before you start brainstorming, here’s what you should know about Autoresponders: You can create a series of Autoresponders for different audiences (e.g., one series for customers, one series for prospects). You control the release of your Autoresponders – by day and time. You can send new customers a weekly email for the first month, then monthly for the next three months. You can send inactive buyers a message every month for three months in an effort to entice some of them to start working with you again. And so on. Here are a few reasons you should consider using Autoresponders*: If you don’t have a good system for introducing your company to new customers If you don’t have a good system for sharing ideas with customers after you’ve established ties If you continue to add prospects to your database but don’t keep in touch with these potential customers If you have other audiences you need to be in front of regularly but you don’t have a system for doing this Another way in which Autoresponders can be used: if someone in your organization is personally creating and sending the same emails on a recurring basis. Here’s an example. One of our clients provides therapeutic services to children. They receive resumes from 80-90 job applicants each week. The process of seeking a position with this company typically takes several months due to the certification applicants must obtain before they are even invited for an interview. To eliminate the excessive volume of personal email exchanges between the company and applicants, we created an Autoresponder series to guide applicants through the various stages of applying for a position. An important component of this series is educating prospective employees about why this employer is worth the lengthy application process. This helps ensure that the company doesn’t lose qualified applicants during the several month process. (Click on the image above to see one of the Autoresponders we created for this client.) Properly developed, Autoresponders are a beautiful thing! They will make you and your business look totally on the ball. Does this give you any ideas on how to put some of your marketing/communications on autopilot? If you’re using Autoresponders, how are you using them, and how are they helping you? *Remember, you can only send Autoresponders to the customers, prospects, and other audiences who have signed up for your mailing list.
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