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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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How vs. What

Posted March 21st, 2017 in blog by Gary

Discussions on what needs to be accomplished to achieve certain goals are always interesting, especially when you happen to be participating on both sides of the aisle. As the marketing director of the company where I work, it is easy to enumerate the number of executables that we need to finish, assign them to specific people and set a reasonable deadline. The irony, is that I am generally the person executing those deliverables. This intriguing situation can create a certain irony, where the “marketing” is the work and the collateral – for whatever media we have chosen – is supposed to be the “fun.”

Or at least that is how it seems to go in meetings. Creative is generally considered easy, which is how it is supposed to look once it is finished. Take it from me: it isn’t.

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Work Life Imbalance

Posted March 7th, 2017 in blog, thoughts by Gary

One forgets how work can become all consuming. The number of moving parts when you work with a smaller company can make it feel like you are juggling seven pins while riding a unicycle through a sandstorm.

This is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Extremely collaborative and by nature a creative, I find this kind of environment enthralling: too much to do, not enough resources, continuous deadlines. For the marketing department, the tasks can feel particularly daunting, especially when products are still being beta tested and the messaging strategy is little more than an idea. If you enjoy what you do and thrive in an environment where it’s about getting things done, this kind of situation can wreak havoc in your work life balance.

I’ve been working with a company for a little more than a year, and haven’t done much else.

Walking the tightrope between work and life is something that affects us all to different degrees and often for different reasons. Some are pursuing fame and fortune, others want more responsibility. I relish solving complex problems and watching things come to fruition, so the situation I am in represents a particularly good work environment for me.

Does it represent a good life environment? I am not so sure.

So what is one to do?

The subconscious works 24/7 and there will be may nights when I wake up around two or three with the solution to one of the day’s conundrums. It is simply how I am wired. The important thing is to keep things in perspective. Whether it is meditation, the gym, a good book, or simply cooking a great dinner, doing the things that have nothing to do with work and that we enjoy actually make us better and more producutive in the long run.

Even if work is something that we really enjoy.

A blog can help too, I hope.