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Atonal Compositions

Posted May 2nd, 2017 in blog, copy, marketing, social media by Gary

With the rise of social media and the growing need for companies to have a coherent online personality, the importance of tone and voice cannot be overstated. The problem, such as it is, lies in the fact that establishing consistency is equally important no matter the size of the company.

In smaller companies, the problem is a lack of resources. The person  generally responsible for posting on the web, maintaining the blog, updating Facebook and keeping the Twitter account  going, is often the same person that oversees the creation of collateral materials like the PowerPoint presentations, the one-sheets and whatever else the company deems necessary for success.

In larger companies, the challenge is staying on top of all the activity that is relevant to the various outlets now available. This creates issues of internal communication, oversight and the control of copy.

In one case, there is too much to do. In the  other, too much to stay on top of.

How can one achieve success facing these difficulties?

For the smaller company, it is about establishing priorities and making sure that they are respected. This assumes, of course, that the company has executed it’s value proposition and values coherently so that those priorities make sense to everyone. The fact that one needs to have a solid foundation to establish a coherent strategy is a recurring theme on this blog and something that generally gets short shrift as fires keep popping up.

For the larger company, the challenge is to get the entire team to understand the importance of these new media. In many cases, the benefits are not tangible right away so different departments are apt to push the importance of these internal communications down the ladder. This is where leadership needs to step in and explain how important it is to maintain these avenues of communications consistently and over time so that the bond with the client or customer can be deepened as the opportunities present themselves.

This represents one of the biggest challenges marketers face right now as our profession adapts to the evolving technologies that keep bringing us all closer together. And communications occur at a faster and faster pace and can last forever.

Addressing these new challenges has ledme to the conclusion that these modern communications tools rely on talents that are harded and harder to quantify. Defining a good writer has never been easy.

And finding one is often hard to do in the first place.

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Promises, Promises

Posted April 18th, 2017 in blog, marketing, strategy, thoughts by Gary

I came across an article recently that focused on a study about check lists and the impact that they can have in hospitals. The study proved that the lists help prevent the transmission of diseases inside the hospital and reduce the number of infections caused by an overlooked step like neglecting to swab an area before inserting a needle. One example that struck me as counterintuitive but screamingly obvious after the fact: doctors should not wear ties because the article of clothing collects and transmits germs as doctors move from patient to patient during their rounds.

The most shocking detail in the article: there are doctors and nurses who don’t want to use these lists. In spite of overwhelming evidence that these lists make them better at their jobs, they felt that they aren’t necessary and would add another layer of bureaucracy to the onerous amount of paperwork that they are already required to do. When I thought about it, the detail didn’t shock me at all.

People, especially professionals, do not like to be told what to do. Much less how to do it.

Which brings me to the challenge of the brand promise.

How do we ensure that companies, and the people who work there, fulfill the expectations of the client and customer?

The first step, of course, is to identify what those expectations are. It is then a good idea, if you have the resources, to do a touch point analysis and determine how your company is interacting with the client at each stage. And then comes the hard part: how do you improve each of these interactions to ensure that the brand promise is fulfilled.

Creating a check list so that doctors and nurses focus on certain basic aspects of their jobs seems like something that would have been put together in the 1920s, if not earlier. It is a low tech, simple solution that helps people make sure that they don’t miss the little things. The customer expectation in a hospital – that institution’s brand promise – is that the patient will be made well again. These check lists help achieve that promise.

And still, there is resistance when the stakes are as high as human health. In some cases, life and death.

The fact of the matter is that when people are good at doing their job, as most doctors and nurses are, there is a tendency to take certain things for granted and the little things fall by the wayside. But the devil is in the details, as some like to say.

If something as simple as a check list can help your business, wouldn’t it make sense to create one? Are you thinking about ways to interact better with your clients? Has your company articulated its brand promise to the extent that you can follow either of the two previous suggestions?

Once you figure out what that promise is, it becomes possible to fulfill it better. But it isn’t easy, as the hospital example shows.

Professionals don’t like to be told what to do. Or that they can do their jobs better.

 

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Getting the Foundation Right

Posted April 4th, 2017 in blog, copy, design, marketing, thoughts by Gary

There is no greater intersecting point for marketing, copy and strategy than the value proposition. Articulating this effectively feels like a simple task: tell the consumer why your product or service is worth more than the competition and they will buy it. Once you have satisfied the buyer’s expectations, you earn their loyalty.

Marketing at it’s most basic, right? Easy stuff.

Not quite. Getting the value proposition right is very hard. As in most cases, it is easy to get something almost right. And almost right isn’t good enough. It is one of the reasons that there are so many small companies and so few new businesses actually succeed. When defining a value proposition, there is always a lot of clutter: egos, beliefs about human nature and different ideas about what is important make cutting to the core a lot more difficult than most people realize.

I was recently tasked with defining the brand values of a service company. In business for many years, the company was looking to expand and was embarking on a new corporate adventure. The specific industry and company itself are of no importance, but the challenges we faced I have encountered a number of times. Meeting those challenges and accepting them as opportunities unfolds generally the same way.

In a small company or a start up, it begins with the realization that no one in the company can actually define the business that they are in or what it is that they do. More precisely, everyone defines the business differently. I have learned over the years that this is a wonderful moment to explain the importance of consistent messaging. When a company believes that people, both consumers and employees, ‘get it’ – without ever having figured out precisely what ‘it’ is – the message changes from person to person and employee to employee. In this environment, creating a coherent messaging strategy, executing the right copy and developing the right marketing become secondary to building the foundation upon which all of this will rest.

The next step involves a discussion about features and pricing, with sales weighing in about the need for promotions and the fact that the only thing that people care about is money. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these are the low-hanging fruit. Getting to the essence of a value proposition is not about features or cost, it is about what you do at its most basic.

Getting the answers to those questions right in our day-to-day existence is extremely difficult. If it were easy, there would be neither a reason to seek the guidance of a priest nor the analysis of a psychiatrist. Getting to the truth involves brutal honesty tactfully delivered and an understanding of what it is that a company really does.

The last step usually involves a few simple expressions, the kind of statements that inspire a shrug of common understanding. “Save Money. Live Better.” is a great example of this. It’s so obvious anyone could have come up with it.

I guess that is why there are so many Walmarts.

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Strategy vs.Tactics

Posted February 21st, 2017 in blog, copy, marketing, strategy by Gary

One of the most common difficulties I have encountered in marketing is the confusion between strategy and tactics. It arises, I believe, from the fact that the words are used together: a successful strategy cannot be executed without tactics.

Tactics, however, can be executed without strategy.

The goal of every business is relatively simple: drive revenue. To do this, companies employ tactics like sales, promotions, sweepstakes, etc. When these tactics achieve their goal of bringing in more dollars, the strategy is declared successful. See the problem?

For the proverbial mom and pop local shop, tactics are all that they really require. A large part of the success of their business lies in their location and proximity to their customers. If there is a demographic shift – a factory going out of business, a big box store moving into the neighborhood – these businesses simply close up shop. Then someone comes to town and makes a documentary about the injustice of it all, the innocence of the past and the harsh realities of the present, but I digress.

The first challenge in developing a successful strategy lies in the fact that tactics work. This is a good thing, because the fact that tactics do actually work justifies using them as the building blocks in a strategy to achieve growth. This can also be a deterrent as it makes it more difficult to focus on the larger picture and figure out where one wants to be in six, twelve or eighteen months.

So this is where it starts to get more complicated. In business there are rarely clear starting and ending points. There are dates when things begin and end, such as campaigns, but these are established in a muddier framework. Does the strategy start when it is first conceived or when it is rolled out? While the campaign is being prepared, business is still being conducted. In a best case scenario, the tactics being employed during this period are effective and driving revenues. But this makes the whole process messy. Why change what works? Why am I worried about strategy and what might happen next year when things are working today?

Strategy gives tactics context. Context can be evaluated. And this context makes it possible to decide how best to improve on the tactics. Marketing is a grind. It is about successfully executing and evaluating the tactics involved in an overall strategy, day in and day out.

To develop a coherent strategy involves determining the goals for the company. This is where it gets even more complicated, and we haven’t even gotten to managing all of the moving parts. Obviously, you want to make money. What else do you want to achieve through your marketing efforts? What do you want people to associate with your product or service? Are you going to attract people with discounts? Wow them with the quality of your goods? How do you want to tell your story?

You see, there are a number of different directions your strategy can take and decisions need to be made about what will lead to the greatest success. This is one of the reasons that understanding one’s business and defining the value that your product or service brings to the table is so important (see Getting the Foundation Right, last week’s post). If you cannot really define what you are doing, how can you articulate what you want to be doing in a year?

All of these questions need to be answered while one is doing business, unless you happen to be going after investor dollars, which poses a whole slew of strategic questions that I plan to address in a later post.

All of this and we haven’t even started to discuss the tactics themselves and how each one advances the different goals articulated in the strategy. Sounds complicated, I know, but it simply requires hard work, insight, and organization.

Did you notice that we haven’t even started to address media, voice, or messaging?

So many options, so many decisions, so many moving parts.

So much fun. All you need to do is enjoy thinking in time.

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Ideas

Posted February 7th, 2017 in blog, marketing, social media, strategy, thoughts by Gary

Another meeting comes to an end and I am awestruck by the number of brilliant ideas that have been suggested. The VP of sales kicked things off by mentioning a competitor’s event that he had recently attended.

“It was packed. They had a whole slew of sponsors, a vodka company, an interactive agency that had set up a bunch of screens, a music label, a vodka company. The place was rocking. They had these hostesses who were giving out free passes. We should do something like that.”

While everyone else was nodding, I was noting a possible time frame to execute this kind of project, the budget required, the assigning of responsibilities. Then someone from HR mentioned a charity drive that was done at her last company. Loads of fun. Great press. The clients ate it up.

Everyone around the table thought it was a great idea. But which charity? The sales reps, the HR department, accounting, all had their favorites and the number of charities shot down in under five minutes was amazing: Too controversial. Doesn’t make sense with our brand. Too obscure. Then somebody, I think it was a customer service rep, said “And we could use social media to promote everything. Have people tweeting, put announcements on Facebook about the amount of money raised. It’s going to be awesome.”

Note: we still hadn’t decided on a charity. Or a date. Or exactly what kind of drive. Believe me when I say there are many different kinds.

The meeting continued, only now everyone was adding something new. A giveaway. A loyalty program. I thought to myself life is a beautiful thing when ideas are all that matters. And I smiled at how far I’d come since I got into this business, remembering the words of an old pro at which I had scoffed just a few years ago: “A good marketing executive has four good ideas a year, a great one, eight. What they have in common is flawless implementation.”

Have you ever sat through a meeting that resembles the one described above? How many times?

They always adjourn without anything actually being done. Or, more precisely, without anything being decided in a way that would enable things to get done. No one is assigned any responsibilities. No deadlines are set. Nothing is broken down into executables. Messaging is almost never mentioned. Neither is media, other than the now ubiquitous social. I won’t even start discussing how these different tactics are supposed to fit in with the overall strategy (see last week’s post). And, when it’s all over, everyone is always thrilled at how well the meeting went. At all the great ideas that marketing should be working on.

I hate to say this, but ideas are easy.

They’re out there for all of us to see. Taste tests. Giveaways. Strategic partnerships. Promotions. Discounts. Raffles. Coupons. Ads. Commercials. And a lot of them are fantastic. Cool. Edgy. I wish that I’d thought of some of them. And then I wonder if they came out of meetings like this one.

Maybe.

But I am certain that someone was asking the real questions: What will it take to get this done? How much money will it cost? How does it benefit the company or product now and in the future?

I am not registering this as a complaint, nor as a criticism. I LOVE getting ideas from all over the place. I am acutely aware, as every marketing exec should be, that I cannot know everything nor be the source of every idea, and that good ideas originate in the strangest places. I just think it is important to remind everyone from time to time that there’s much more involved.

I have worked as a freelancer, for a start-up, in a small company, as well as in a corporate environment. The evidence is overwhelming: the most important quality of a marketing professional is the ability to recognize which ideas are both great and executable given the resources at one’s disposal.

The rest is just talk. Fun. But just talk.