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Surveys + Research
Boomer Entrepreneurs To Lead Recovery?
by Tony Wanless
A study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation points to an explosion of Boomer entrepreneurship in the coming years.
In fact this explosion is so prevalent that the foundation postulates that Boomer entrepreneurs will actually lead the US to economic recovery.
The foundation’s Dane Stangler writes that the US population is rapidly aging, which would normally point to a tentative and sluggish recovery because of the large
number of people expected to “retire” in the coming years.
But, says Stangler, mid-life workers have been changing for some time and have outpaced younger workers in business formation. Research has shown that in every single year from 1996 to 2007, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had a higher rate (about one-third more) of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20–34.
Combine that trend with increasing health among boomers, changing views of the “lifetime job” concept, recession-led layoffs of older, knowledgeable workers, new technology that makes it easier to get into business, and a larger appetite for risk among older entrepreneurs, and it’s likely that we will see increasing entrepreneurship among people well into their 70’s, the foundation says.
Countering this optimistic view are other economic opinions claiming that while entrepreneurship may increase generally, it is unlikely to lead a recovery because it will not result in much new hiring of workers. Entrepreneurial businesses rarely hire more than one or two people, they point out.
It seems to me, however, that these are not opposing views, but an example of the changing nature of the labor force from employment to self-employment, a reversion in a sense to the US employment picture at end of the 19th Century when most Americans were self-employed or operated businesses of some sort.
Under old scenarios, recovery was measured by how many people were “employed” by companies. But new measures might have to look at how many people are employed by themselves.
Under that measure, the millions of Boomer entrepreneurs who are moving into the marketplace, will likely rapidly boost “employment” numbers.
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To Reinvent, Recruit The Rebels
by Tony Wanless
History is rife with stories of how people bursting with creativity were forced to take traditional safe jobs in deadening organizations while they toiled at creative pursuits on the side.
Early American writer Nathanial Hawthorne was a customs agent. The ultra creative Franz Kafka worked for insurance companies. I had a relative who became one of Holland’s greatest regional writers, but spent his entire life working as an office manager. He would get up at 4 am each day to write before he went to work.
This imperative to take a safe but boring job popped into my head during a recent discussion with someone who was tasked with reinventing a business operation that has been running sleepily in well-grooved tracks for some time.
My friend knew his industry very well, and was a good analyst, so could see what was needed to put some life back into the organization, and revive the business.
But he couldn’t figure out how to make the conversion. The organization was operating in the creative field but had long ago lost its creativity. Working there had become an annuity job for most of the people in it, providing them with a very nice life, even though they knew the business wasn’t working.
They had made the choice: Shelve their innate creativity, keep their mouths shut, and let the place lumber along. This is not an unfamiliar situation. The rise of entrepreneurship aside, society generally encourages us to take the “safe” steady job that provides us with a good consumer-oriented life.
My friend correctly deduced that as an outsider, he had to find some champions from within the company to make change happen. But it was clear that those champions were not going to be among the central management who had a strong incentive to maintain the status quo. So where would he find them?
Find the secret rebels, I said. And let them do their thing.
All organizations have rebels, but the organizational imperative is to usually kill them, or at least neutralize them so they don’t harm the smooth running of the operational machinery. Over time organizations can form antibodies – conventional thinking, a unique language, a socially-imposed groupthink – with a sole purpose of destroying anything that upsets the system.
So the rebels usually hide, sometimes quietly nurturing their creativity in their outside world. I’m convinced this is one reason for the rise of social networking – it allows people to express their creativity. Online, everyone can reinvent themselves.
In the 21st century no organization can remain content to operate in familiar grooves that have become ruts. Change is the norm today, and if you don’t sieze it and work with it, you probably won’t survive.
So, since your organizational life may depend on it, you might want to make an extra effort to find those secret rebels. Then let them apply their creativity inside instead of outside where that creative power is lost to you.
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Reinventing? Get Me Rewrite!
Among my adventures, I once created, trained, and operated a Rewrite Desk for a major daily newspaper. The rewrite team massaged all copy that went into the newspaper into a common style, tone and, most important, purpose.
In the early days of the Web, I also operated a company called Get Me Rewrite! that improved website copy and content.
This wasn’t simply marketing or journalism – everybody was doing that. The idea of a Rewrite was that it would make the copy tell an engaging story, or the site better reflect the beliefs of the person or company who created it.
It answered the all-important “who are you” question that made the article or the site reflect living, breathing people. It gave life to the words and made them real.
And now, years later, I still believe that a strong rewrite is the key to successful reinvention.
All people, organizations and businesses operate according to a mental script that governs their daily actions. In their heads is a series of mantras that reflect how they see themselves.
* For individuals, it could be a life script that says “I am an ordinary person who will never be known for anything”
* For businesses, it could be a business plan that says “we are a company that provides X service in Y way”
* For organizations, it could be group-created mission statement that “we are an association that helps these people do this”
The problem is that each of these scripts is limiting, gated, or negative. They corral self-identity into a defined space and then put a fence around it so that nothing or no one can get in to disturb it.
Reinvention – whether to a better, value-driven life, to a different kind of business, or to an organization that really makes an impact – requires that you break down these boundaries, open the gates, and look at the world around you through different lenses.
So before reinvention can occur, it requires rewriting.
* Rewrite those mantras in your head that guide how you see the world and your place in it.
* Rewrite that life script that says “you can’t” to “you can”.
* Rewrite that business plan that says you can only to serve one market to say you can serve another one more to your liking.
And then keep rewriting continuously, because life is constantly changing. Every so often look at yourself and call out Get Me Rewrite!
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The Real Success Formula: Failure!
by Tony Wanless
A successful business builder I know has a great story about failure. Over a few years, he grew an enterprise from 0 to almost $100 million in sales, which strikes me as a pretty spectacular feat of entrepreneurship.
Then he made a mistake, a wrong call. He set out on a course of action and within a year, the business was dead, which strikes me as a pretty spectacular example of failure.
The best part of this story was that the entrepreneur didn’t sit around wallowing in self pity. He didn’t crawl into a safe hole and never, ever try anything again. He analyzed what happened and applied what he learned to his next venture.
There are many b-school and success formulas out there counseling
you that “failure is not an option” or that you can “avoid” failure if you just do this, or do that. After all, we all want to pursue success, not failure. Our society constantly divides everybody into winners and losers, and no one wants to be one of the losers.
But it’s all bull. The truth is that failure comes into all our lives continually. It’s part of the human condition and none of us can avoid it. Anyone who says differently is a liar, a fool, or both.
Innovation and Reinvention especially are about constant failure, because you’re trying something new and don’t know the territory that perfectly. Since I’ve reinvented often, I’ve also often been at a point where I’ve been monumentally depressed because I tried something different and failed. That dream I had in my mind of the future didn’t seem to be realized.
Something hadn’t worked, and I had to look deep into my soul and realize an elemental truth: I had screwed up. I had tried to do something and I had failed.
It might have been something as minor as pursuing a teenage love, or as major as trying a business that didn’t quite make it to where I wanted it to be. It might have been a project I wanted to succeed fabulously, and instead barely crawled across the finish line. It might have been an attempt to “fix” something (or someone), when the mechanisms of fixing were out of my control.
Whatever, they were failures. And I’m willing to bet that anyone who has every tried anything different has similar stories.
But it’s not by our failures that we should be measuring ourselves. Instead we should be measuring what we learn from them.
Every failure contains lessons, and if you analyse several of your own flameouts, you’ll probably see patterns of behavior or thinking that you can fix. Perhaps, you were too bold, perhaps too cautious, perhaps you didn’t do your homework, and perhaps you spent so much effort gathering data that you suffered from analysis paralysis.
It’s all valuable because you can apply those lessons to your next venture, project, or pursuit.
So, if you want to do anything new successfully, failure is not only an option, it’s a necessity.
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What’s our persona?
by Tony Wanless
A blog by Seth Godin
about what comes first, the story or the work, got me thinking again about the story and its uses in marketing and business planning.
Because everybody talks about the “story”, and they’re all using the word in different ways and conveying different meanings, I think it’s time for a new look at the term, especially within the construct of digital marketing such as websites, social media, online brochures, or email signatures.
First of all, the story is not the message, although the message is certainly part of storytelling. It’s also not simply your branding or your marketing material, although they are also part of it. And, for all you writers out there, it’s also not your “voice”, although, again, that contributes to your story.
And then, of course, there is your “brand”. Millions goes into branding these days and at the end of it we often see nothing more than continuing impersonal positioning, albeit much prettier. After all that effort, we still see an advertising model that’s really nothing more than a construct to hint at how you’d like to be perceived, not communicate who or what you are.
These are all tactics, or methods of telling your story. But a story is more about strategy. I think the best way to describe it is that your story reflects your market positioning. To put that in more strategic terms, your actual story, personal or corporate, is a description of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Why do I highlight those two from the standard storytelling formula of who, what, when, where, why and how? Because I think they are the most important, the most personal and emotionally resonant. Most story managers, especially those who are data-driven — technology anyone? — go immediately to the what. What happened, what’s news, what’s going on? Then marketers impose an overlay of branding to that to try to sum up all those what’s.
But those are still all impersonal. Who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing is personal, and therefore emotional. It’s what puts a human face on your facade, making it more emotionally connective.
It’s what’s needed in a world where customers and potential customers increasingly want to do business with “someone they know” or with someone who has been referred by “someone they know” — i.e. peer-to-peer recommendation.
So to bring home this concept of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, I propose to borrow the term “persona” from the social media world and apply it to general marketing. There, a persona — often expressed as an avatar — is a short visual message that tells all your friends or connections who you are.
I’m not suggesting you use smiley faces as the basis of marketing, of course. But I do think we could learn something from this kind of shorthand because it forces you to strip away all the overlays and go right to your core or your being.
So, next time you’re sitting around planning a branding strategy, and someone says, yeah, but what’s our story, ask instead, what’s our persona.
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PR 2.0: Bringing the press release back from the dead
by Tony Wanless
It’s pretty common today for people to believe the press release, newsletter, or press kit is dead. But my friend Phoebe Yong and I don’t think so. Instead we think they’re calcified and mostly ignored because they’ve become so templated, boring and useless.
So recently, Phoebe, of Magnolia Marketing
Communications, and I launched Digital Pressroom PR 2.0, a new service that uses social media tools to update the press release, press kit and newsletter formats so that they actually accomplish what they’re supposed to — point out a good story, offer useful information, gain attention, and, we hope, generate some business for our clients.
Basically, we’ve jazzed up the formats to make them more interactive, useful, and even entertaining. The heart of the release or newsletter, is still the story, but underlying it is the thinking that this is a collaborative effort at creating knowledge instead of a one-way system of delivering information.
So around the elemental story we put links to pictures, videos, funny or entertaining content that touches on the subject, and links to everything ever written about the organizations — good or bad.
It’s the latter point that really encompasses social media thinking, which is all about openness and sharing. So we’re encouraging that. It’s a good bet that any reporter or reader is probably going to perform research on a company anyway, so you might as well offer it up to him or her ahead of time.
This creates the perception that you’re a transparent company or organization because you have nothing to hide. It also creates the perception of integrity and authority: That you’re willing to to be honest with customers, investors, the press and everybody else because they’re your partners in this, not your enemies or prey.
This point is also where we’ve found some resistance to the concept. Many marketers and communicators still believe that you have to control all information about your organization, that you must deliver contrived “messages” that sell, only put you in a good light, and suppress any semblance of reality. It’s top down advertising thinking and delivery.
And it’s dead. No one believes it any more. That kind of thinking is what has created the belief that marketing and communications is all just spin doctoring and bullshit. By being transparent, honest, and a little entertaining, you’re engaging in a conversation with someone, not at them.
Another bonus is that the PR 2.0 concept works equally well for both traditional press and new online publishers such as bloggers (although the two are rapidly converging today).
For the traditional press, beset by shrinking staffs and increasing demands on their time, you’re performing much of their research and background work for them. Ergo, you have a better chance of being noticed.
For social media, you’re offering up what they need — a compelling story, with pictures and video — to increase traffic to their sites. Nothing like a catchy video to market the blog or website (and your product or service) virally.
BTW: if you think the latter are just a bunch of kids writing about their hot date last night, look at some of these stats from WordPress.com for just the month of February:
* 245,329 blogs were created.
* 432,478 new users joined.
* 1,920,593 file uploads.
* 2,814,893 posts and 996,000 new pages.
* 4,961,330 comments.
* 3,813,432 logins.
* 540,799,534 pageviews on WordPress.com, and another 304,499,648 on self-hosted blogs.
* 726,789 active blogs in February, where “active” means they got a human visitor.
Take advantage of media change
by Tony Wanless
I shared a lunch recently with some old newspaper cronies who were bemoaning the state of the media industry. Change was sweeping the business, and they were completely confused as to how to deal with it.
The fate of traditional media in the digital age is well-known. Circulations are dropping; their business models are under attack by dozens of information sources and advertising vehicles, and young people find them completely irrelevant, preferring information from peers to the kind of top-down authoritative information they have always provided.
As an example, recent numbers for publicly traded newspaper companies are extremely revelatory. The Washington Post, for example, recently posted horrible numbers: print ad revenue declined 22% in the second quarter, following an 11% decline in the first. Like most newspapers today, the Post has gone online in an attempt to stem the tide, but online growth increased only 4% in the same period. The stock prices of several newspaper chains are down over 80%.
Television stations are often suffering the same fate, although their entertainment quotient probably keeps them better afloat.
In both cases, however, these media outlets are typically trying to respond to these forces with the same old methods — in essence putting the newspaper or television news online, complete with intrusive ads that slow down the systems and drive users mad.
The result is as probably expected: Both locally, nationally, and internationally, readers go to the news web sites when something exciting happens, but generally ignore them. They can get a quick rundown of events from online news services.
Now, newspapers and most media aren’t exactly beehives of innovative thinking: In fact, I’d suggest that they’re among the most conservative of institutions, firmly believing in the old adage that what worked yesterday is good enough for today.
So, in terms of operations, most are falling back to old industrial methods. Staffers are being shed in droves; production is being cut back, outsourcing is on the upswing; everybody is being forced to do more with less. As a result journalists are fleeing the business.
All this was conveyed to me in various forms by my buddies, who were also mostly trying to find a way through the morass. But what tweaked my interest was what it’s done to typical newsroom operations and what that means for marketers.
Basically, those who are left have been turned into production line workers. They’re even busier than before, and have very little time to do their jobs in the traditional way.
So here are some tips for marketers in this new world of media:
* 1. More relevant info needed, please. “We only have time to rewrite press releases,” one friend lamented. So, this means the more relevant information a marketer or communicator can supply, the better the chances of being picked up.
* 2. They may be busier, but they still recognize bullshit. Marketers or communicators should be helpful, in that they supply all information — both favourable and critical — the journalist needs. If journalists perceive that you’re baring your soul, they’ll trust you more.
* 3. Info at the speed of light. The old client-or-boss pleasing format best described as “Acme Industries CEO Elmer Bloggs is pleased to announce…” that then drones on about some useless event, is dead, dead, dead. Before, no one cared about CEO Bloggs, but might have waded through this kind of self-serving verbiage to look for nuggets. Not any more. Say it in the first line or don’t say it at all.
* 4. You need to have a good story, well told. It was tough enough to get trash in before, but now it’s nearly impossible. So there better be more to your story than a bunch of chest-thumping homilies and barely hidden agendas to get “free publicity”. And it better be written in plain language. Lose the jargon.
* 5. The digital/interactive press release is going to rule. An interactive press release or digital media kit that puts all required information, including interviews, dissenting opinions, analysis, and other relevant material, at a journo’s fingertips — literally, via the internet — is going to be used. Something that forces the journo to call up or sit down with CEO Bloggs for an interview to please his ego won’t.
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Case Studies: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes
by Tony Wanless
and solution, storytelling
Case studies are becoming an increasingly popular B2B marketing method, especially online, because they feature the best of your product or service without looking like a blatant marketing ploy or brochure.
In a sense, they allow a prospective customer to put themselves in someone else’s shoes to see if there’s a fit. It’s a version of the try before you buy concept often used in consumer marketing.
But too many online case studies haven’t really made the jump to true case study. Instead they merely re-arrange the standard advertising/marketing language and add a “real-life” example. As a result they start to sound like those late night television ads that feature some happy customer spouting marketing speak:
“Acme’s gizmo sure helped my love life. Thanks, Acme!”
The case study goes back to the early 20th century when it was used in the study of medicine, but quickly spread to the business world, most notably used by the Harvard Business School as a way to educate its graduate students because there were few business books around at the time.
As a marketing method, it can be powerful way to demonstrate your value proposition and expertise. But only if it’s done correctly. And correct means it must follow the model devised by its originators — as an educational tool that is only peripherally marketing. It’s not an advertisement that screams “Buy! Buy!”.
So, here are some tricks to composing good cases.
* Case studies are not about you. Well, they are in a sense, but with much moderation. They’re about customers and how you helped them solve THEIR problems. People don’t care about your problems. Neither do they want to hear you brag about what geniuses you are.
* Case studies should follow a problem-solution format. Even back in the medical days, a case has always been about a problem, its repercussions, and how it was or was not solved. If your case is mostly about your “solution”, and very little about the customer’s problem … then you have a problem.
* Case studies are storytelling. Problems cause emotions, mostly negative; resolutions to problems cause positive emotions. Emotions create drama, which is the basis of all storytelling. You don’t have to get into “…it was a dark and stormy night” kind of storytelling, but there should be a logical dramatic flow to your case study that keeps the reader interested.
* Case studies involve lessons. The point of a case study is to educate — supposedly to educate prospective customers on how you think, and therefore how you can help them, which might lead them to consider hiring you or buying from you. So they always involve lessons, implied or overt.
* Case studies should be tight. There’s no room for pet causes, philosophical ramblings, or subtle asides in case studies. People want to hear the story so it can help them solve their own problems. Stick to your point.
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by Tony Wanless
A Venture Hacks post on how to pitch a startup with the kind of high-concept marketing common in the movie industry, reminds me of something I often advocate when undertaking marketing or business planning.
That’s the creation of a simple “mental tagline” that becomes a guiding light for ensuing operations.
The post points out that movie makers often use short high-concept descriptions to pitch their projects. “Jaws in Outer Space” to describe the movie Alien, for example. They work because they instantly tie the listener to something familiar, and therefore understandable.
The mental tagline and high concept pitch also have benefits for marketers and communicators struggling to get across their products or services to prospects. This is especially true if the product or service is complex and technical, as is so often the case today.
The mental tagline doesn’t have to be the organization’s actual tagline. Instead, it’s planted in the brain to help everyone stay on track as they’re developing or selling a product or service. If they start to wander off the path, which is not uncommon, they can always refer to the mental tagline to get back. It’s a guiding beacon, much like a lighthouse is for ships.
For example: “We make widgetry simple (or cheap, or useful)” for a widget maker. Or “Relieving that pain in the neck” for a drug. Or “High-powering the computer” for techology. Or “Making databases available to all” for software.
Whatever is your core business or your mission is the mental tagline, which I often compose after completing a W6 planning process (see previous post on the W6).
If you add high-concept thinking to it, the mental tagline starts to guide you to how to achieve the mission. For example, for the “High-powering the computer” tagline, the high concept might be “Apple meets the PC” or “Think supercomputing for dummies”.
So in a sense it’s a very high-level mini plan.
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Save Your Email From The Trashbox
by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, Technology, business, communications, communications tips, copywriting, creative thinking, information, internal communications, marketing, marketing techniques, media, psychology, public relations, story telling
Tags: design, email communication, headline, spam, speed delete, writing
Nick Usborne at Excess Voice has some advice for all those marketers and communicators who are having trouble getting their emails through to the people they’re intended for.
He suggests you make them more relevant — and therefore more attractive - by tying them closer to “now”.
An interesting point in his post, was his thinking on how people deal with emails today.
People are buried in spam and other useless email (multiple cover-your-ass copies to everyone) and so, says Usborne, have become very adept at speed-deleting emails. In fact, he says, 20% of people use the “spam” button instead of delete to dump unwanted emails — which means you won’t get through again, no matter how hard you try.
Marketers and communicators probably use email more than anyone, so this obviously has large implications. The main one is that you have to make your emails stand out:
Make the subject lines pop. You do this by personalizing. Don’t just put a generic “Re: our project” or “thought you might be interested in this” in the subject line. Be more creative. Be very specific about the subject and include a detail that only the receiver and you will understand. Humor helps considerably as well.
Write for the preview pane. Almost everyone today speed reviews all their emails in preview panes, those 3 inch by 5 inch glimpses at the opening few lines. And studies show that they spend an average of 3 seconds on the pane. So jazz it up to make them linger longer and hesitate over the delete button.
Design it. Obviously, plain old text in great huge paragraphs is not going to make their fingers linger. Neither is the standard business email top, where you list everything corporate about yourself. But a little design will. If you include a small picture or logo in one of the corners, you’ll double the time they spend on the preview pane.
Get to the point. The first thing the reader should see is a compelling headline, which makes them linger and — we hope — actually open the email before killing it. So it has to be arresting as well as relevant. If an in joke between you and Bob is that he has to lose a few pounds, headline an email about how he can trim his business costs with a reference to it.
Just be sure that Bob is a close friend and will get the joke. As we said, humor is a wonderful way to hold attention — if it is indeed humorous.
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How Google brought marketing back to its roots
Posted May 6, 2008 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, Search Engine Optimization, Technology, business, communications, creative thinking, information, innovation, marketing, marketing techniques, media, public relations
Tags: advertising, Branding, content, google, innovation, marketing material, online advertising, publicity
We all know Google and its amazing advertising power. About 30 per cent market share of online advertising revenue; annual revenues in double-figure billions; destructor of advertising models throughout the land; investor darling because it just keeps growing and growing.
But how many marketers really understand what Google has done to their business? Sure, Google’s an innovative advertising platform, but its innovation doesn’t stop there….it’s taken the basic tenets of marketing and turned them inside out. In a sense it’s brought advertising back to what it was originally. Its methods include:
Branding: From screaming to simple delivery
Google has the strength of much older and more established brands, but has only been around for 10 years. Why? Because it’s authentic. It has a clear, anti-corporate philosophy - “You can make money without doing evil” – and, amazingly, sticks to it. Brand confidence is inspired by the way Google treats its ads. No hidden agendas; no tricks, no intrusive banners. No shouting. Every advertisement is simple text and labeled as a “sponsored link”, so Google can assure its users that it’s not compromising the integrity of the results.
Content: From management to do it yourself
Google’s original business was search, which is another (and very innovative) way of delivering content, albeit one that’s very similar to original libraries. By continually improving its search capabilities, it delivers extremely relevant content that brings millions of users back again and again to view those ads. The lesson here for marketers is that if the content is useful, people will likely scan the neighbouring marketing material. In a sense, content is the marketing material.
Advertising: From push to permission
Google’s flagship advertising products are AdSense and AdWords . Instead of trying to guess what consumers want, its ads are tailored to searches, so the customer base is telling Google exactly what type of ads they might want to see. The Adsense ads on websites run on similar technology, and, they automatically target audiences with keywords in their content.. Google’s ads are remarkably unobtrusive and text-based. There are no screaming banners, no tricks to get you to buy; nothing you can be cynical about.
Marketing: From breast beating to usefulness
Ever seen an ad or other marketing material for Google? Perhaps something telling you how great they are and what a favor they’re doing by letting you use their service? Of course not. In a sense, Google doesn’t market. It delivers quality products that are easy to use, are very useful, and are free.. And because it does that so well, it gets tons of publicity — which is the best form of marketing.
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Enough with the social networking!
Posted April 6, 2008 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, Search Engine Optimization, Technology, blogging, business, communications, copywriting, critical thinking, idea formation, information, learning, marketing, marketing techniques, media, organizational information, planning, public relations, social networking
Tags: Add new tag, community, content, expertise marketing, Facebook, FAQs, Google profile, innovation, Job searching, LinkedIn, management, management consulting, marketing, Online reputation, Science, Search Engine Optimization, social networking, white paper, working a niche
This week I received invitations to two more social networking sites. In this case they were promising to help me manage my online reputation.
I seem to be getting these continuously these days. In the early days of LinkedIn, I used to think “cool, a great way to network and enhance my SEO efforts.” I even advised clients and everyone I knew to do the same. (and yes, I secretly smiled at the “luddites” who said they couldn’t see the point.)
Now, I just think “what a nuisance.”
There are the really big sites, of course, such as Facebook and Linkedin (sorry I could never get interested in MySpace — I don’t work in cartoons). They’re good for just general networking, socially or for business purposes.
But every pursuit in which I’m interested now seems to have at least one, and often several, community site dedicated to that pursuit alone. Marketing — many. Management — several. Consulting — a few. Science — a couple of good ones. Music — of course. Job searching — oh yeah. Online reputation — apparently at least three.
All of them are vying for my time constantly. I could literally spend my entire day on these sites, networking myself into poverty.
What I find particularly upsetting about this avalanche of social networking is that they all claim they’re “innovative”. Since I work in the innovation management field considerably, I beg to differ. Innovation is creating radical or near-radical change — in products or business models. These are not innovative: they’re just taking standard community building tools and slicing up the social networking field in ever more fine gradients for marketing purposes.
At best it’s called working a niche. More likely, it’s simply copycatting with a slight differentiation.
Let’s take the latest invitations I’ve had. They are part of a group that includes companies like Naymz.com ReputationDefender.com and DefendMyName.com. For a fee, they promise to scrub search engines of anything I don’t want to see about me out there, or to create a new online identity for me.
Isn’t this just search engine optimization, which I - and probably you — have been practising for years? It’s just a newer version of the Google Profile technique.
Also it presumes that social networking sites are where most of our content rests — which to me seems a pretty narrow view. Most MarCom people have (or should have) much more content on their sites than simple social networking profiles, or blog comments.
A well rounded search engine profile should have these, of course, as well as white papers, FAQs, articles, endorsements, and other expertise-marketing content.
To help in organic search, SEO should be a planned and consistent process, with new content added on a schedule. If social networks are to be part of this mix, fine, but it shouldn’t take it over.
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Complexity to Clarity: Translating geek and other business languages
Posted March 27, 2008 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, Technology, business, communications, copywriting, critical thinking, idea formation, information, marketing, marketing techniques, media, neuroscience, organizational information, psychology, public relations, story telling, the brain
Tags: business management, information flow, intelligence, jargon, language, marketing, needs segments, news, sales technique, simple communication, Technology, W6
This morning, I facilitated a discussion among technology marketers on the growing problem of language dichotomy. Specifically it was the problem of an overwhelming culture of geek speak and how it bleeds in to the marketing side of things.
Now, the problem of the genius manager who can’t seem to speak in anything under 10 paragraphs, isn’t new. But what does seem to be new is that it’s spreading beyond just tech speak. Jargon, or verbal shorthand for those in the know, is growing everywhere, and in many non-technology sectors.
I’m convinced it’s because of the growth in complexity of modern business: As business management becomes increasingly more process oriented, it becomes increasingly more complex. But at the same time the demand for simple communication — among customers, employees and other stakeholders — has never been higher.
There’s so much information washing around out there now, that people can’t process it all. And this amplifies when the information is difficult and time consuming to process. We’re in the age where information moves at light speed so as to convert to knowledge, and if you can’t convey something simply and quickly, no one listens further. There are just too many alternatives that can be added to their knowledge base.
So, we’re talking about an information flow problem, which seems to be most egregious in the technology space. This is probably because too much emphasis in IT is put on the T (technology) and not enough on the I (information) part.
What came out of our discussion was a recognized need to return to the basics of communication. This can be summed up in a few points.
* It’s not about the technology, it’s about the business. This can be expanded to mean it’s not about the product or service but about what the product or service does for the buyer. That’s all he or she cares about, and so that’s the information that should be delivered.
* Know thy customer. Or, in other terms, separate the information receiver into needs segments. Sounds pretty basic, but many business processes don’t think in these terms. They think in terms of what they do, not what they can do for someone.
* Be extremely clear about the benefit or threat (if ignored). This is an old sales technique, and is also the basis of the oldest information delivery system around — the news industry. It means you have to put your product or service into terms that are understandable emotionally — it helps because of this (i.e. saves time, saves money, or something else), or avoids a threat that might hurt you (i.e. less revenue, higher costs).
* Know yourself. There’s usually miscommunication in business because the information deliverer doesn’t really understand what its own business is, and so can’t convey that to the receiver. Use the W6 process I posted on previously to determine who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.
* Simplify, simplify, simplify. As a marketer, you have to act as the bridge between the geniuses in the labs who created the product or service, and the not-so-genius people who are going use it. The only way to do this is to put it into simple, understandable terms. Strip away all the add-ons and subtleties and say it in a few short words. Then put them back in when the prospect asks questions.
* Consider the differing intelligences. Intelligence is how you process information, and most information deliverers, i.e. the CEO or CTO, often have linear intelligences…. they think logically. But there are 7 different intelligence types and it’s a good bet that most receivers are of the six that are not linear. So it’s like someone sending out a signal on one radio channel while the radios are tuned to other channels. It’s just not going to register.
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Promoting the Service Business in the Media
Posted March 19, 2008 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, business, communications, creative thinking, idea formation, information, journalism, marketing, marketing techniques, media, organizational information, public relations, story telling
Tags: advertising, association marketing, business media, content, expertise marketing, media relations, news values, professional services marketing, promotion, public relations
I have been working in professional services and association marketing lately, and so have been asked often about how to promote service operations. Invariably, these organizations are at some growth stage and so want to gain attention on a wider scale in order to increase membership or gain business.
When it comes to promotion, which is a very important part of integrated marketing for service businesses, you’re kind of stuck. Generally, the promotion outlets available aren’t terribly interested in what you do. So you have to be creative and often find and access alternative channels.
We’ll get into those in a later post. In this post we’ll concentrate on what everybody thinks of first: The media.
First, let’s put forward some elementary concepts.
Promotion is not “free advertising” for your business or service. All media are in the advertising business, so they’re not going to give it away free just because you ask them to or attempt to browbeat them into it by your size, connections, or marketing budget. Do you give away your legal or consulting services? Of course not, and neither will they.
But most media do carry neutral content to attract readers so that advertisers can (they hope) reach them. This is usually in the form of news, but can also be more in depth feature articles, or columns aimed at analyzing some trend or providing advice.
And this is where you have your best shot. You can gain some peripheral promotion through expertise marketing, which is simply showing your expertise (the core of your business) through commentary or advice.
Before you go about it, consider some basic realities:
* If you’re a service business organization, the traditional press probably doesn’t care about you. Because they’re in the mass advertising business, they look for articles that fit the mass. And this usually means consumer thinking. News values for information in this area are generally some form or combination of novel or quirky, celebrity, threat or harm, or triumph over adversity.
* Since most service businesses are B2B, you’re probably too complicated and too focused on one specialty for them to write about directly. In a word, you’ll come across as kind of boring to the mass.
* Because the media generally thinks in consumer or social terms, anything to do with service businesses or groups is almost always handed to the business section, which cuts down your range considerably.
* Business sections, business media, and trade magazines have their own kind of consumer thinking. In this case it’s expressed primarily as coverage of business winners and losers, and the measurement of this in the form of money made or lost. So the coverage is usually about very big companies that move a lot of money around. Most service businesses don’t involve enough to be noticed. If they are of any interest at all, it’s generally for a media subset called “small business” which usually showcases plucky or quirky local business startups or successes.
Once you’ve assimilated these basics, it’s time to consider how you’re going to use expertise marketing to get your name in the media so it’s in front of potential clients or members. Some rules for expertise marketing:
* Forget about yourself. First rule is that it’s about your expertise, not about you. This means that the standard advertising-style messaging or value propositions aren’t going to work. The media doesn’t care about you or what you do, they care about what you know.
* Codify your expertise. What exactly do you specialize in that might be useful to readers? If you’re a lawyer, it’s not about that. But if you’re a tax lawyer, you have some special expertise that can be used either as commentary on another situation, or in the form of advice regarding taxes.
* Be honest. I’m going to thank BNet blogger John Greer, who in Catching Flack, summarized some pretty good advice regarding media relations. He was talking about public figures, but it holds true for expertise marketing as well. Greer points out that media people “tend to judge individuals by who returns their calls and gives them honest answers and good quotes.”
* Be on call. Media needs you when they need you, not when you need them. So the best way to get a top spot on a media outlet’s list — the golden rolodex — of experts is to always be available. In fact, say many press people, it’s 80 per cent of the equation.
* Be concise. If you’re in a professional service business, you’re probably a complex thinker. But don’t bring that to a media interview. Learn how to summarize your thinking in a pithy quote. There’s no room to bring in all the subtleties. You’re being asked for a quotable comment, not a position paper.
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Information Architecture: The Key to Marketing
Posted March 6, 2008 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, blogging, business, communications, copywriting, creative thinking, idea formation, information, internal communications, journalism, learning, marketing, marketing techniques, media, planning, psychology, public relations, social networking, story telling, the brain
Tags: advertising, architecture, blogging, communicating, information, media release, persuasion, reading, website content, white paper
We can argue all night about methodology, but I’m pretty sure we’ll all agree that marketing is about providing information.
You might have differing ideas about what that information is, or the emotion-triggering words that you’re going to use to deliver it. But whether you’re creating an ad, a media release, a blog, website content, or a scientific white paper, the underlying purpose is always to deliver information that persuades. The only difference is in the complexity of that information.
And if you’ve every created any of these marketing materials, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes your work just didn’t seem to hit the mark
People didn’t read them, or if they did, didn’t fully comprehend them. If so, it could be how you organized that information. As we increasingly fight for attention today, all marketers have to pay special attention to information architecture.
Since the best way to form architecture is to study how whatever you’re building will be used, it might be illustrative to understand how people read today.
Increasingly, most people subscribe to a simple concept: Don’t make me work. Then they use versions of the SQ3R method, which stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review.
Here’s how it works:
Survey: Readers scan a document to pick up an overview of the text and form an opinion of what they need to know. Like reading a website, they scan the entire thing looking for a word that triggers their desire to delve in deeper. How to address this tendency? Summarize, either in a compelling headline, or with sub headlines (or visual boxes). Your goal here is to guide the scanner to important items.
Question: As they are scanning, readers often form questions. Writers should try to structure the entire document so that these questions are answered in some form later on. For example, if you’re offering a new product or service, one of the first questions a reader will ask is “is it for me?” Be sure you answer that somehow.
Read: Once they’ve scanned a document, readers usually return to sections they have deemed most relevant TO THEM for closer reading. So writers should concentrate on what they think readers will find most relevant, not what they personally think is most important. (i.e. their message)
Recall: Readers often run salient points or important sections through their mind to remember them. This might take a nanosecond or much longer depending on the complexity of the document — but it’s almost always done. Writers should help this recall by repeating key words or phrases to reinforce a concept.
Review: Readers review information through rereading or discussion. A summary provides a quick review of a relevant section to help them.
All communications is about persuading others of some point of view, or some action that you’d like to see taken. So, if you want to persuade readers , you might want to go farther than simply forming messages, and pushing them at people.
You have to architect your thoughts in a structure that will align with those of your readers.
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Who are you and who cares?– Media relations in a web 2.0 world
Posted February 27, 2008 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, Technology, blogging, business, communications, copywriting, critical thinking, information, journalism, literacy, marketing, marketing techniques, media, public relations, social networking, story telling
Tags: B2B, blogs, channels, communications, digital press kit, information, media, newspapers, positioning, press release, publishing, SEO, target, television, value
Old World: Simple. One story — AcmeTech is doing this. Prepare one press release, blast to newspapers and magazines. Take phone calls and connect with CEO. Bath in the glow of CEO’s praise. Spend the bonus on new shoes.
New World: Complicated. Multiple stories, depending on listener segments. Target proper media, prepare angles and pitches for each, write multiple press releases in traditional and new forms, deliver to specific targets, follow up. Try to find some ROI to please an increasingly grumpy CEO. Examine old shoes (and pocketbook), schedule repair.
That’s the lot in life for a marcom person today. It was once easy. Now it’s not. In the past five years, and especially in the past three, media has changed radically, shattering into hundreds of channels and outlets. This means it’s a lot more work.
Now, everything must be targeted, customized, and specific. It’s no longer a case of media blasting, following up (maybe) and hoping something will stick somewhere. You have to zone in completely on the best influencers.
Here’s the media world today:
Channels have multiplied
Traditional print and television news outlets have been joined by specific magazines; e-zines; blogs; content sites,; citizen journalism sites; social networking (Web 2.0); webinars, podcasts; newsletters; e-books, online forums, video games, etc. – the list grows daily. And each one approaches your story from a different viewpoint and requirement. But you can’t tell hundreds of stories, so determining your REAL story is now paramount. So no jargon, no biz speak, no geekspeak. Now, the most important concept is that it’s CLEAR. (And that it’s search engine optimized.)
Channel preferences have segmented
Generally, the older watch television and read newspapers and magazines, the younger tend more toward online and word-of-mouth (buzz) or peer information sources. Most people now juggle several segments, usually surfing general sources and then moving sequentially to more specific and useful (to them) information channels.
Channels must be graded for value to the campaign
More than ever you have to assess value today. This means you have to sift through and examine multiple options, and then zero in on the ones that will best achieve your objectives. Media today is almost as targeted as direct mail. So pick media targets in channels most appropriate to (and most used by) your target audience. And then understand how that target gathers and processes information.
Match material to outlet
With increasing movement to content niches comes the demand to make material extremely relevant to the niche and the target. One size does not fit all because everyone wants extremely relevant subject matter. This just about spells the death knell for the generic press release (except for isolated instances, such as use to support other campaigns). It also boosts SEO, because it has more likelihood of being used.
Position the story
First of all, What the heck is your story? The most important rule about story telling in a Web 2.0 world? You can’t control it by hiding, prevaricating, sleight of hand, jargonizing, buzzwording and bullshitting. You have to stand naked in front of everybody and take pride in your own body. Sure, you can adjust the lighting to highlight your best features, but you can’t change what you are by buying more clothes. Despite the emphasis on “messaging”, the basis of all communications is still story telling, complete with triumph-or-tragedy drama or problem-solution case studies.
Know Your Business
What space are you in? B2B or B2C? Think hard on this because many marcom people get it wrong by using B2C techniques in a B2B context. Many still use product-marketing techniques, which are different because the two types of marketing operate at different stages of the buying cycle. If you’re in B2B, you have to use B2B marketing techniques such as thought leadership and expertise marketing, case studies, and other problem solving material relevant to the unique nature of the audience. And it has to be delivered to media accessed by the target prospects that have different buying behaviors than product buyers.
Tell your story the right way.
The format must be appropriate to the channel. Each channel outlet has its own style and it’s almost instant death to send the wrong style to a channel. If you’ve targeted a few specific channels ensure that the material sent to them is similar to what they normally use. This means much prep work.
Tell your story in the right language
You have to use language that’s appropriate to the end user. If material is to speak to engineers, who are always seeking facts, there’s no point in presenting a flash video that’s all design wizardry. Make it very scientific and simple. CFO’s are concerned about a business case first, integration second, and technology third, so don’t deliver a list of tech specs. Today, committees often choose products or services (i.e. software), so you may have to speak to several users and find a hybrid style that answers all their individual concerns.
Hand it to them on a plate
Everybody’s busy today, and publishing people more than most. So they have no time. If you can’t tell them your story in one line, you’re dead. And once you do have their attention, you have to do all the work. If a writer has to do much today, he’ll bail, because he has too many other things to do. One way to do this is with a digital press kit, that is encompassed in a digital press release. The kit should include anything ever written about you – good or bad – which saves the writer work, and enables him or her to understand you warts and all (see naked above).
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B-to-B Content: Provide, don’t pitch
Posted February 13, 2008 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, blogging, communications, copywriting, critical thinking, information, marketing, marketing techniques, media, public relations, social networking, story telling
Tags: B-to-B marketing, content, data, information, jargon, knowledge, lead generation, marketing message, sales pitch, story, Technology
Looks like some B-to-B marketers may have lost touch with their customers regarding what kind of content works best for lead generation.
A survey of marketers and content users distributed by MarketingSherpa shows that many marketers picked case studies as the most attractive content.
But nearly as many content users also cited as most interesting industry research, how-to guides and top-10 lists for improving their business.
“Some B-to-B marketers focused on generating leads don’t fully realize the impact of content when it comes to engaging their audience and reinforcing their marketing message,” says Matt Lohman, Director, Business Development, KnowledgeStorm Inc., which conducted the study.
“The quality of the leads has everything to do with how the message, positioning and format of the content resonates with their target audience, in addition to when and where marketers engage them.”
Obviously, the most attractive content provides lessons and information that can be used. Case studies present a useful problem-solution format to customers, and are extremely attractive if presented in story form. People like a good story that they can learn from — it’s been a dominant format since Aesop began educating people through his fables.
But the operative word for case studies and all other content is form. While everyone loves a story, most people don’t like sales pitches. And too many case studies are simply bad sales pitches hidden in data or technical jargon. Mostly, they extol the features of some particular product or service but impart few lessons that receivers can apply to their own situations.
So, let’s say it one more time: Content should not be data or simple information. It should provide knowledge that can be used in learning.
Maybe that’s why end-users (a technical term, by the way, as if content was just another piece of software) are out of sinc with the marketers
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Just Say No
Posted December 30, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Influencing, business, communications, creative thinking, critical thinking, idea formation, internal communications, learning, marketing, marketing techniques, neuroscience, organizational information, psychology, resolutions
Tags: behaviour, benefits, client handling, emotions, interruptions, negotiation, problem solving, purpose, talking
You finished the year frustrated by all those various forces that stopped you from getting your marketing job done. So now at the beginning of a new year you’re determined to be more productive by dealing with it in a professional way.
Better learn to negotiate. Specifically, learn to say no says Jim Camp, an expert on negotiating and author of No: The Only Negotiating system You Need for Work and Home. To get what you want when negotiating with people or tackling a difficult situation say “no” early and often, Camp insists. Some of his suggestions are:
1. Start with “No.” Resist the urge to compromise. Remember that “no” is not an absolute rejection, but a decision that can be changed. Try inviting that person to explain his or her vision; it may open the door to an honest discussion that can eventually turn out in your favour.
2. Be in control. Do not dwell on gratuitous things you may want; focus instead on what you can control — your actions and behaviours.
3. Face problems head-on. Identify the issues and bring them out into the open. Whether they are your own problems or somebody else’s, acknowledging them gives you an edge.
4. Check your emotions. Practise self-control and let go of any expectations or judgments. Whatever you do, don’t be needy.
5. Get them talking. Ask open-ended questions that begin with “what” and how.” Find out what the other person wants or needs, and how you may benefit him.
6. Have a purpose and a vision to reflect it. Learn to present your ideas as solutions. By helping others see exactly what they will gain from your plan, you spark decision-making and action.
Now, obviously, you can’t say no to everything your boss or client throws at you. After all, they are paying you to do a job for them. But you can negotiate with the interruptions.
For example, you can be more discerning by sorting through the various interruptions or requests. As with most things, most of those requests are just talk and/or random thoughts. We’re all familiar with the client or supervisor who throws out ideas in the hopes that some will stick.
So pick the ones that are doable, and just say no to the others.
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Next-Year Planning: The W6 Process
Posted December 23, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, Technology, business, communications, copywriting, creative thinking, critical thinking, idea formation, information, internal communications, life planning, marketing, marketing techniques, neuroscience, organizational information, planning, psychology, resolutions, story telling
Tags: business opportunity, business plans, facilitation, marketing plans, planning, precision, road map, thinking, visualization, W6
Probably because we’re at the end of the year, I’ve recently had a spate of calls from companies that suddenly realized they need to form marketing plans and/or business plans for the next year.
Often these cases involve simple facilitation: they feel they can write them in house, but would like some outside guidance as they move through the thinking process that goes into it.
Usually in these cases, I begin by going through a W6. This is a one-page plan that ask questions to elicit answers that sum up a business or personal life. This could describe a life plan, a project plan, a marketing plan, or a plan for an entire business.
It’s not simply a goals list, which are so popular at this time of year. It’s your story, encapsulated so as to burn itself into your brain and always be in the forefront of your thinking as you go about daily work.
Because so many people want to jump right into tasks or take shortcuts, it’s important to remember one thing about the W6: The process is not a replacement for a real plan. It is, however, a summary — preliminary and final — of all aspects of a plan that forces planners to be extremely precise in their thinking. You compose a W6 by thinking on a much larger scale and then reducing that thinking to its essence.
A W6 is both a beginning and an end. Initially, it acts as a kind of map for the planning. You go through a W6 at the start, expand in a real plan, and then later go back and do another W6 to ensure you’ve eliminated all fuzzy thinking and imprecisions.
Once you have completed a W6, print it and stick it on a wall where you will constantly see it. If it helps, put it into a visual form such as a mind map. The point it to always be aware of its aspects and how your daily life can cling to it and advance it.
Here are the basics of a W6:
1. Who are you? For businesses and individuals, this is how you’re perceived by whatever community is important to you. This is a self-identity that answers questions such as what’s your character and how would you like your business or yourself to be judged? (For example: As the lowest price provider, or as a skilled high-end provider? As a deliverer or a collaborator?)
2. What do you do? This is a summation of your core business or yourself, a kind of very small elevator pitch that acts as a guide to all our business or personal functions. It’s your passion. (For example: “we make software that does X”, or “we provide X services to the Y industry”. )
3. Why do you do it? This is your mission in a sense. I believe it’s the most important part of the plan, because all endeavors should have a purpose, and this describes it. In planning terms, this is equivalent to outlining the business opportunity that you’re pursuing. (For example: There is an unfilled need for X among the Y consumers or businesses). In personal planning, it’s simply a description of where you what you want to be.
4. Who do you do it for? This is the heart of your marketing planning. Who you do it for should precisely describe your target market. Again it’s useful to put this in very personal terms. (Example: A too busy working mother with X problems.)
5. What way do you do it? This describes your business operation. Are you a web-based company; bricks and mortar, combination of both? How do you make and deliver your product and service?
6. Where do you do it? Nationally, regionally, or internationally? In what verticals? In what locations? (Example: In a store; in the customer’s location; by mail order?) Each is going to require a different understanding of markets.
As an extra to the Where, I’ll add When? This simply means when do you do it — 24/7/ regular hours/part time, etc.? (Example: on-demand software, which would mean 24/7)
A W6 is a very useful tool for charting a course. Much discussion and brainstorming might be required to complete it, but if you really focus on it, you’ll have a very good road map to guide your business in the coming year.
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Posted November 29, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Branding, Influencing, Technology,
business, communications, creative thinking, critical thinking,
information, marketing, marketing techniques, media, psychology, public
relations, social networking, story telling
Tags: advertising, Branding, conversation,
copywriting, image, information, internet marketing, marketers and
communicators, participative web, personality, story
An article on Marketingprofs.com on the New Rules of
Internet Marketing got me thinking about the widespread reverence for
branding in marketing today.
All you hear today is brand, brand, brand. Every
company has one, or thinks it does.
Marketers and communicators are all about branding.
It’s their language and if they can get through an hour without using
the word it’s a miracle.
But most of this branding is simply image creation.
It’s the manipulation of visual and textual information to create a
mental picture of what you want somebody to believe about your company.
It’s a one-way conversation, the delivery of a carefully crafted,
impersonal story to a wide audience.
And, as the article suggests, the day of branding
dominance may be coming to an end. Why? Because on the Internet,
branding as we know it doesn’t work as well.
It used to, because until recently the Internet was
just another broadcasting vehicle for most companies — put up ads,
write copy to deliver the messages, insert forms to capture leads, etc.
But the rise of Web 2.0, often also called the participative web, has
changed all that.
No longer can you simply deliver a story to customers
or clients. Now it’s all about creating and being part of communities.
And all communities live through conversations, exchange of opinions,
shared knowledge, and sometimes criticism. This means that personality
— not a sanitized brand — is more important.
Unlike with the brand, which can easily be faked,
your real personality will show through.
Today, because of the Internet many companies are
going to have to rethink their concept of branding. It can’t be the
picture you want it to be, it will be a picture of what you are.
If you’re distant and unresponsive, you’ll be
perceived as arrogant; if your style of communicating is top down, you’ll
be perceived as pompous; if you’re open and willing to listen, you’ll
be perceived as worth knowing.
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Making Messages Memorable
Posted November 18, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Influencing, Technology, business,
communications, creative thinking, critical thinking, idea formation,
information, internal communications, marketing, marketing techniques,
media, neuroscience, organizational information, psychology, public
relations, story telling
Tags: big ideas, credibility, emotions, expertise,
headline, ideas, marketers and communicators, messages, slogan, tagline,
In its latest newsletter, the consulting firm
McKinsey has an interview with Stanford organizational professor Chip
Heath regarding his new book Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and
Heath asserts that in an increasingly complex world,
company leaders have to sum up their businesses in messages that “stick”
in the minds of employees, investors, and customers. Since it’s
usually marketers and communicators who are charged with creating these
messages, Made To Stick is probably a worthwhile read.
One thing that interested me in the interview was
Heath’s point about organizational expertise often getting in the way
of making messages memorable.
Chiefs are so immersed in what they do, they forget
that the rest of the world isn’t: So they’re incapable of
translating that information into simple — not simplistic — messages
that can be grasped by outsiders.
I’m sure that every marketer and communicator,
especially those working in technology and related sectors, has
encountered this problem.
The Leader wants a tagline, headline, or other simple
message that explains the company’s vision or values. But all he can
do is come up with an abstract slogan like the meaningless phrase “Maximize
Shareholder Value”. (Does any organization actually want to minimize
I’m convinced that part of this problem is the
business organizational imperative itself. Because they’re arranged in
industrial structures that emphasize execution, organizations reward
precise thinking. After all, you succeed in the MBA program by providing
precise, detailed, answers.
But there are times when you don’t want precision
or detail: You need to think in big sweeping ideas, at the 50,000 foot
level, and encompass what you do in a concrete, memorable message.
Chip Heath’s research suggests that sticky ideas
share six basic traits.
1. Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they
are short and deep. Glib sound bites are short, but they don’t last.
Proverbs such as the golden rule are short but also deep enough to guide
the behavior of people over generations.
2. Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common
sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are
uncommon sense. Such messages generate interest and curiosity.
3. Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t
leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an
American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the
space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced
4. Credibility. Will the audience buy the message?
Can a case be made for the message or is it a confabulation of spin?
Very often, a person trying to convey a message cites outside experts
when the most credible source is the person listening to the message.
Questions—“Have you experienced this?”—are often more credible
than outside experts.
5. Emotions. Case studies that involve people also
move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for
people, not abstractions.”
6. Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research
shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when
we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind
of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and
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Too Much Information!
Posted November 15, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Influencing, Technology, business,
communications, creative thinking, critical thinking, idea formation,
information, learning, marketing, marketing techniques, neuroscience,
organizational information, psychology, public relations, story telling
Tags: auditory, cognition, cognitive load theory,
information, marketing, memory, Technology, text, visual
If you’re involved in marketing technological or
professional expertise, you’ve probably run into the client or boss
who insists on delivering so much information that intended receivers
are left hopelessly confused.
That’s generally because they have little
understanding of cognition, which is a loose concept that describes the
human faculty for processing information, applying knowledge and
changing preferences. It is often simply called gaining knowledge.
Cognitive load theory suggests that an important
factor in knowledge acquisition is human cognitive architecture, made up
of short and long term memory. Short term memory, also called working
memory, is limited in the number of elements it can contain
simultaneously, while long term memory contains structures, or schemas,
that allow people to perceive, think, and solve problems.
Its believed that receivers of information process it
first in working memory, so for schema acquisition to occur, information
delivery should be designed to reduce working memory load.
For marketers working in the professional services,
technology, health and science fields cognitive load theory is
important. Technically challenging or overly complex material puts a
heavy load on working memory, and often the complexities are lost
because the receiver can’t process all the information.
So expertise marketers must access the long-term
memory’s schemas, where the receiver merely adds the information to
existing understanding structures.
To do so, try to:
1. Change marketing/communications methods to avoid
approaches that impose a heavy working memory load.
2. Eliminate the working memory load associated with
having to mentally integrate several sources of information by
physically integrating those sources of information.
3. Eliminate the working memory load associated with
unnecessarily processing repetitive information.
4. Increase working memory capacity by using auditory
as well as visual information.
So, in summary: Think before you load up your
materials with text-based information. That load could be too much for
your intended targets to process.
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Been There, Done That Marketing
Posted November 12, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Influencing, business, communications,
creative thinking, critical thinking, idea formation, information,
learning, marketing, marketing techniques, neuroscience, organizational
information, psychology, public relations
Tags: art, cross-discipline, efficiency, expertise,
knowledge, management, neuroscience, pattern matching, psychology,
A fascinating article in Wired regarding the
discovery that an ancient coded book that has confounded scientists for
years is actually a hoax highlights a problem in academia that could
also probably be applied to any discipline, including marketing and
A UK researcher called Gordon Rugg identified
something called the “expertise gap” common among experts in any
field — an expert being identified as someone with 10 years experience
— that causes them to shortcut their thinking. As these people become
more experienced in a field of knowledge, they become farther and
farther removed from core problems, and more and more focused on their
own particular methodology to arrive at a solution.
But psychological and neuroscience studies suggest
that these experts aren’t any smarter than anyone else. Instead, they
have lots of experience, which they employ in an analysis shortcut
When they see a problem or situation that requires a
solution, they call upon the patterns with which they’re familiar, and
noticing similarities, form a conclusion. For example, if a doctor
notices you have most of the symptoms of mumps, he or she will likely
conclude you have the mumps.
Pattern matching is much more efficient than rigorous
testing and wide, cross-discipline thinking. Most of the time it’s
right. Problem is that’s most of the time, but not all the time. So
pattern matching methodology can also often lead to false conclusions.
How does this apply to marketers and communicators?
Well, since marketing is an essential management function, many
organizations today look for marketers who are expert in a particular
field (just like they look for a specialist in financing, IT, and other
areas). The reasoning is that this been there, done that kind of
marketer won’t be fazed by the new kinds of marketing problems that
are showing up with increasing rapidity today.
But perhaps these organizations should also determine
whether these marketers are also too reliant on pattern matching. Is
there too narrow a focus, or does this marketer explore other areas of
expertise to acquire cross-discipline knowledge?
And if you’re a marketer or communicator, are you
continually adding to your knowledge base in other, unrelated, areas? We’re
not talking about looking at other areas of marketing — a B2B marketer
studying consumer marketing techniques, or entertainment marketing, for
example — but true other disciplines. Scientific methodology. Or Art.
Or even sports and finance, both of which rely heavily on statistical
It’s all part of rounding out the expertise base.
It’s also using both your left and your right brain so as to beef up
both your intuitive type of thinking (often favoured by marketers and
communicators) and your logical, scientific-style of thinking.
We used to call these people renaissance people —
they have wide ranging minds that are interested in many things. Today,
unfortunately, the renaissance person is too often dismissed as an
unfocused dabbler while the narrow-focused expert is revered.
But if you’re simply a been there, done that
marketer, your lack of bandwidth might be shortchanging your clients,
your organization — and yourself.
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Lessons From The Hacks and Flacks War
Posted November 5, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: business, communications, information,
internal communications, journalism, learning, marketing, marketing
techniques, media, public relations, story telling
Tags: customers, editor, industrialization,
interviewing, journalism, journalists, lessons, marketers, marketers and
communicators, media, news releases, public relations, spambots, story
A media argument that should have remained internal
has become very public lately because of the vehemence displayed by both
sides. And it holds lessons for all marketers and communicators about
some very elementary parts of their craft.
The argument over story flow between media outlets
(the Hacks) and PR companies (the Flacks) broke open last week when
Chris Anderson, the executive editor of Wired magazine, chided “lazy
flacks” who deluge him with news releases that should be more targeted
to relevant staff members.
Worse, he posted the email addresses of the offending
flacks on the internet which meant that the spambots found them and
started deluging them with those lovely offers of penis enlargers, etc.
that we’ve all grown so weary of.
I was a journalist for a long time, and I can testify
that most are prickly at the best of times. Journalists are like musk
oxen — at the hint of outside pressure, they form a protective circle
that keeps everybody else out. Hoist a few drinks with some media people
at any time and you’ll see this kind of dynamic at work — it’s all
about themselves, their employers, and how everybody is always after
them. Work in the business for a while and you’ll understand why they
become cynical. Everybody’s always trying to pitch you.
But there’s another aspect of this that they don’t
talk about much, although they all practise it. Hacks and Flacks have a
symbiotic relationship — they desperately need each other.
For the journo, who these days is extremely
underesourced and overworked, PR people and marketers are an essential
part of the story supply chain. They provide the information that leads
to stories. Sure, they put a spin on the information, but they do the
initial legwork and therefore save the journo time.
For the marketer or PR person, the journo is a
possible outlet for valuable promotion for a product or service. Trusted
public relations people are a journo’s best friend because they
arrange everything, including interviews, pictures, background, even
(when they’re good) the theme.
This is where the problem has emerged, I think. This
trust relationship has been broken too often. Many public relations
operations don’t bother establishing relationships with journos any
more. The Internet has given them much wider reach, and so they have
industrialized public relations.
Big agencies put young pr people into cattle pens,
give them a list of journalist emails, and tell them to bombard away. It’s
very machine like, and frankly uses the same concept as spam — if you
say it often enough, maybe it will get through.
At the same time, the journalism world has also
become industrialized. Journalists are on the production line these days
and don’t appreciate wasting valuable time wading through dozens and
dozens of irrelevant emails that make them do even more work becuase
their pitches are so generic as to be useless.
So instead of a supplier-customer relationship, it
has become a selling free-for-all, a kind of medieval bazaar where
everybody is shouting to be heard.
But there are rules to this symbiotic relationship,
and I think breaking them as just outlined has caused this latest
friction. Here’s my take on how marketers and communicators can ease
1. As with any supplier situation, the supplier (PR
people) should stop looking for the lowest cost way, and take some time
to target. Mass marketing is dead, folks. Do a little research and start
2. Customize. Journos are your customers. And every
business today should be trying to customize pitches to attract
customers, not repel them. Would you tell your customers “here, take
it or leave it”?
3. Illustrate a benefit. If you realize media outlets
are your customers, treat them that way. Explain the benefits that will
acrue to them. Stop with the details and get to the point. Exactly what
does this thing do and why should they care.
4. Try some CRM. The operative word in customer
relationship management is relationship. Try getting to know these
journos, even a little bit. You might find they’re actually human.
5. Cull the crap. Part of the problem is that pr
companies are under pressure from clients to push garbage information.
Most want the money and so just become execution monkeys. There’s more
financial return in actually getting a media mention than just pushing
oceans of crap into the pipeline.
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MarCom 2.O: The Story Remains The Same
Posted October 28, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: Influencing, business, communications,
creative thinking, critical thinking, information, internal
communications, marketing, marketing techniques, public relations,
social networking, story telling
Tags: communications, communications formats,
dramatic elements, influencing thinking, language, MarCom 2.0,
messaging, positioning, social networking, storytelling, tactics
Let’s wade into the great debate going on about
traditional marketing and communications vs new techniques, which we’ll
call MarCom 2.0.
Traditionalists dismiss all that new stuff as just a
fad, particularly if their clients or corporate chiefs operate in more
traditional areas of business. Advocates of social networking techniques
are evangelists: they’ve discovered something new and believe it’s
the only thing worthwhile.
Both are right. And both are wrong.
This is arguing over tactics and methodology, not
over what you’re really doing — communicating, delivering a message
and especially telling a story.
From the time when people first developed language
beyond a series of grunts and descriptive words, storytelling has been
the basis of all communication. Certainly the style of storytelling has
changed — sometimes, such as in Elizabethan times, it was flowery and
imagistic, other times, such as the age of scientific discovery in the
late 1800s, it was functional and direct — but the underlying purpose
has always remained. You tell a story to convince someone else, or
influence their thinking.
All stories have basic dramatic elements: There’s
an introduction to the “characters”, the presentation of a
challenge, the ways in which that challenge is met, and the triumph or
tragedy that results from these endeavors. It doesn’t matter whether
the story is Tristan and Isolde, caveman Kruk relating how he killed a
mastodon to feed the tribe, or about how your product or service was
tweaked to meet a buyer’s need.
To paraphrase Led Zeppelin, the story remains the
But the greatest problem today with most marketing
and communications is that we’ve abandoned the storytelling format.
Too often we think basic information is all that’s needed — look at
many software sites — or that the more technobabble we throw at people
the smarter they’ll think we are. Or sometimes we go the other way,
thinking that we have to somehow “trick” targets with fancy
graphics, video, or breathless, multiple-exclamation-mark descriptions..
Forget all that. The hard work comes before you even
begin the tactical stuff. You have to determine your client’s
particular story for this product or service. This means clearly
understanding such things as purpose, problems, and positioning.
After that, it’s a matter of putting things
together in the right format to best tell the story. This could be a
plan or project charter, a presentation, a press release, an
advertisement, an article or white paper, or any of the other marketing
and lead generation techniques out there.
I’m not downgrading the technical aspects of
marketing and communications. Some people are brilliant at putting
things together; others not so much. But I do know that without an
underlying story, technical virtuosity is meaningless.
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Solve Marcom Problems The Managerial Way
Posted October 22, 2007 by Tony Wanless
Categories: business, communications, creative
thinking, critical thinking, idea formation, information, marketing,
marketing techniques, organizational information
Tags: alternative solutions, critical thinking,
functional areas of management, management consulting, marketing
problems, organizational problems, problem solving, risk management
As a management consultant I see organizational
problems all the time. And I always approach them from a consulting
viewpoint that’s based on the understanding that all organizations,
whether for profit or not-for-profit, feature six functional areas of
management: Strategy, IT, Finance, Human Resources, Operations, and
Note the last one. Marketing isn’t some junior
department that’s at the beck and call of people like the VP of
operations. It is integrated with the other functional areas of
management and so has an important role on the management team.
Marketers and communicators may have specialized
knowledge, but they have to think like others on the team, the people in
finance, operations and other management areas. This means that
management of marketing and its subset, communications, should be
approached from a business operation point of view.
And one of the first roles of any manager is to solve
problems. Marketers and communicators face problems all the time:
Sometimes it seems that’s all they do. But they often approach them in
a reactive way, applying some familiar methodology in order to deal with
the problem quickly.
In some cases, that suffices. But other problems are
sometimes larger, so knowing the methodology of managerial problem
solving can be very useful in the every day lives of most marketers and
With that in mind, here’s a template to approaching
problem solving. It can be as detailed as you want, or reduced to a very
simple exercise, depending on the severity and impact of the problem:
1. Define the problem — this can be harder than it
seems. Most problem solvers founder because they attack symptoms instead
of identifying the real problem.
2. Identify requirements of a solution — You have
to know what exactly constitutes solving the problem. So you have to
list the requirements that a solution should satisfy.
3. Generate alternative solutions — Don’t get
hung up on one solution. Shoot for several, even if they’re a little
crazy. This is where the real work is done, and so some methods demand
that you score each alternative solution against the solution
4. Identify risks, hidden assumptions, and unexpected
impacts — We all have a tendency to fall in love with our own ideas
and be blinded to unexpected results and risks. So this risk analysis
process is very useful. Again you can use a scoring system if it helps.
5. Select the best solution. This would be the one
that directly speaks to the problem, satisfies the most requirements,
and poses the least risk.
6. Plan how to implement the solution. Too costly,
not enough capacity, no one knows how to do it — solutions aren’t
worth much if they can’t be used. So you have to plan out how you can
actually use the solution you’ve identified. Sometimes this might mean
changing the solution somewhat: For example, you may have to combine
some aspects of two different solutions to arrive at one that works.
End - blog text section