Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's the Right Reading Level for B-to-B Marketing Copy?

Marketing copy should be easy to read.  Business-to-business copy is no exception.

Who has time for fluffy, convoluted sales materials?

I cringe when I come across sentences like the following (which appear on a software provider's Web site):  

"The PanSoft Analytics Suite’s powerful visual reporting and ad-hoc query applications make it easy to understand and gain insight from operational data.  Operational Dashboards provide everyone—from executives to operations and business managers—with pre-defined interactive visual models and charts that give a point-in-time view of line-of-business activity."

With a little care, this could have been said more clearly:

"By presenting data in charts, PanSoft Analytics Suite makes it easy for managers at every level to understand business activities."

A critic might say my streamlined rewrite sacrificed the credibility of the original version. 

I wouldn't buy it.  

Expressions like "ad-hoc query applications," "interactive visual models" and "point-in-time view of line-of-business activity" are gobbledygook.

What's the right reading level for B-to-B copy?  I recommend 10th grade, the reading level of The New York Times

It can't hurt to aim lower, but you should never aim higher.  Unless, at your topline's expense, you want immortality or a prize for literature.

And aiming higher won't guarantee those things anyway. 

Yes, Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address at the 15th grade reading level.  But Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird at the 5th grade level.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Case Studies Rule

This week, Seth Godin wrote in his blog, "The market is not seduced by logic."

"People are moved by stories and drama and hints and clues and discovery.  Logic is a battering ram, one that might work if your case is overwhelming.  Wal-Mart won by logic (cheap!), but you probably won't."

A stick-in-the-mud B-to-B marketer would react to Godin by saying, "Sure, that's great advice for a B-to-C company, but it doesn't apply to us."

But B-to-B marketers who "get" the power of case studies would nod in agreement with Godin.  What else are well-crafted case studies but stories with drama, hints, clues and discovery?

Case studies woo customers for one simple reason.  People love stories.

Case studies work because customers empathize with fellow customers in plight.  They like hearing that others face predicaments comparable to their own.  And they like learning how others escaped those hair-raising (more likely blood-pressure raising) situations.

Case studies are also a lot more credible than 99 percent of the propaganda a company typically pumps out.

And when products or services are complex or arcane, case studies go a long way in clarifying what a company's actually selling, because they provide examples.   Think about it.  How often have you sought to understand someone by asking, "Can you give me an example?"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kafka, van Gogh and the Lonely Blogger

Franz Kafka published only seven short pieces in his lifetime. Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting.

Even the most prolific bloggers sometimes feel like they're wasting their time, writing for a world without readers, performing in an empty auditorium, painting pictures nobody wants.  The feeling's understandable.

Thank goodness Kafka and van Gogh didn't give up.  They had what it takes:

Passion.  Kafka wrote, "By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it."

Patience. van Gogh wrote, "Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

Perseverence.  Kafka also wrote, "From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached."

Do you have what it takes?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Is Your Brand Scary?

I've done a ton of branding work in my time and can tell you with some authority it's no wonder so many brands are a fright.

Sales guru Paul DiModoca offers a white paper, 3 Reasons Why B2B Branding Fails and Scares Prospects Away, that goes farther than anything I've read in explaining in simple terms why so much branding flops so hard, so often.

While he finds most branding fails to drive business performance or create inbound leads, DiModoco says CEOs continue to invest in branding efforts because they believe branding will grow revenue. 

But why does branding so frequently fail to do that?  DiModoca gives three reasons:

  1. A lot of branding is ego-driven and inwardly focused"This occurs," DiModaca writes, "when a group of senior executives gather together and create marketing messages that talk about how great they are and why the prospect should buy from them."
  2. A lot of branding is generic.  "When trying to build a brand message that communicates company value, frequently businesses use their offerings’ product or service category as a prime foundation of the brand description."
  3. A lot of branding is copy-cat.  "With the Internet providing easy access to view any company’s marketing and sales approach, brand effectiveness has decreased because so many companies just build their brand positions as an adaptation of their competitor’s messaging."
Branding efforts like these confuse and turn off customers.  What attracts them instead?  DiModica believes, "you need to deploy sales value propositions instead of branding messages."  

Sales value propositions, he says, describe the business results your product or service delivers.

"Branding costs money. Sales value propositions make you money."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Workingman's Dead

Pardon my sexist title, but if you're a hands-on marketer beavering in the trenches, by all means read David Scott Meerman and Brian Halligan's new book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

It's a fun read (in no small part due to the book's packaging) and well worth the effort because the teachings are practical and, for the most part, easy to apply.

In keeping with the band's "experimental" style, Meerman and Halligan urge readers to push beyond marketing best practices of a bygone era and embrace continuous trial and error. 

If that advice makes makes you nervous, you probably already feel out of sorts in the new age of marketing.  If so, Meerman and Halligan's book will help you get acclimated.

Here's just a sampling of the lessons you'll find (there are a couple hundred altogether in the 150-page book):

  • Organize your marketing team around three accountabilities: lead generation, lead conversion and lead analysis.
  • Abandon annual marketing plans in favor of monthly ones.  Each month, execute for 19 days; then spend a day assessing and planning activities for the next month.
  • Give graphic designers the freedom to play with your branding elements.
  • Involve all your employees in social marketing and teach them how to help your organization through "Lunch and Learn" meetings.
  • Delete all content from your Web site, blog posts, and emails that resembles your competitors'.
  • Communicate product news to your most loyal customers before you communicate it to anyone else.
  • Create an e-book or video about your industry's future and give it away.
  • Instead of lashing out at competitors, find ways to strike mutually beneficial deals with them.
  • Skip over middlemen (sorry, sexist again) of every sort.
  • Identify a cause-related nonprofit consistent with your brand and begin giving part of your profits to it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gotta Have the Want-to

Eighty-four-year-old cowboy Delmar Smith was asked on National Public Radio what it took, above all else, to succeed in the rodeo business.

He answered in three syllables: "The want-to."

The trouble with so many organizations today is easy to figure out. 

Most employees have no want-to. 

As hapless customers, we witness the results more than once every single day.

I'm not just playing the curmudgeon (although I enjoy the role immensely).  There's hard proof that most US employees have no want-to.

The vast majority of US employees, according to a survey by Gallup of 42,000 randomly selected adults, are want-to deficient.

To be precise, 49 percent of US employees are "disengaged" from their jobs and 18 percent are "actively disengaged" from their jobs, according to Gallup.

In case the difference eludes you, employees who are "disengaged" sleepwalk through the workday; employees who are "actively disengaged" labor hard to demonstrate discontent.

How can the majority of our workers recover their want-to?  I'd start by indexing all corporate officers' weekly compensation to measures of their subordinates' want-to.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to Boost Tradeshow Attendance

Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I'll speak next month at a terrific little conference in downtown Washington, DMAW's Association Marketing Day.

My topic will be tradeshow attendance promotion.

I'll share this year’s best practices for building attendance.  The guidance comes from new research among 40 of the nation’s largest event organizers, provided to me by the producer of the Large Show Roundtable.

But the reason you should be there is to learn from the three other panelists joining the one-hour session, Innovations in Increasing Your Meeting and Convention Attendance.

They're truly impressive.

Direct marketing agency authority Craig Blake, Senior Vice President, Nexus Direct, will explain how to counteract the macro-trends that are putting downward pressure on attendance.

And master marketers Margaret Core, Managing Director, Sales & Marketing, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and Christine Maple, Marketing Manager, Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI)will provide dozens of strategies and tactics designed to drive attendance.

Check out the conference Website, okay?

Grave News

Unless you're part of the Addams Family, obituaries aren't typically funny. 

But Washington, DC humorist Gene Weingarten managed to pen a cute one last Sunday in The Washington Post, "Goodbye, cruel words: English. It's dead to me."

English, "which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people," passed away on August 21st, according to Weingarten.  "Signs of its failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers."

The chief causes of death are listed as greed and indifference.

"It was not immediately clear to what degree the English language will be mourned, or if it will be mourned at all," notes Weingarten. 

"In the United States, English has become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government, and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Road to Rio

In her fetching blog, Musings on Marketing and Other Morsels, "Madman" Marjorie Clayman 
consoles social media marketing newbies who might be disappointed they're not yet famous that "there is a reason to keep on trying."

She describes the grisly feeling of being a digital Jonny-come-lately ("No matter how long I work on this, there will always be a crowd of people who have been working on it longer") and how the "pioneers" of social media marketing seem remote and awesome ("I am not in the crowd of people who are up in the highest room of the tallest tower").

Clayman then guesses the future road to fame for herself and others lies in some place other than the worlds of blogs and Twitter.  "I'm not sure folks coming up with me, now, can ever achieve the kind of pull and influence that the leaders in this space have now.  Or if we do, it will be through a very different pathway."

I understand well the feelings of futility social media marketers are prey to.  But I'm not sure the old road to fame is overcrowded, blocked or worn out.

In fact, I'm not sure there is an old road, except for the one to Rio. 

I like the advice of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

"Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Three Rules for Building Trust

I've written a special report, Path of Persuasion: Winning Customers in the Age of Suspicion.  

It sets out three cardinal rules for
communicating effectively:
  1. Harmonize your messages with your customers’ notions of “truth.”
  2. Speak only in the manner of an authentic organization.
  3. Achieve artless clarity in everything you publish.
By following these rules, you'll create a "comfort zone" in which customer engagement and conversation can occur.

Download your free copy now.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why Proofreading Matters

Murphy's Law tyrannizes communicators.

That's why proofreading matters. 

Sadly, too many people in marketing communications don't care to proof their own, much less others', work.

But in my experience, the errors that most frequently escape detection are, in fact, consequential.  URLs.  Phone numbers.  Dates.  Locations.  Part numbers.  Prices.  People's names.

Careful proofing isn't "common sense."  It isn't even an art.  It's more like a science.  

If you're willing to pay a little for it, the best guidance I've ever found lies in The Chicago Manual of Style.  If you're not, UK marketing consultancy Clear Thought offers 10 tips for proofreading marketing content free on its blog.

As far as the Village of Crestwood goes, Webster's Dictionary defines the word xenophobia as "an irrational fear of foreigners or strangers."

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A New New Rule of Marketing and PR

"Content is king" is one of the "new rules" of marketing and PR that's gone mainstream. 

Want proof?  Key the phrase into Google.  It will return no fewer than 327,000 results.

I'd like to propose a new new rule.

"Clarity is king."

If you want to differentiate your brand, you'll adopt this rule. 

Because, with apologies to the late adman David Ogilvy, any damn fool can dish up content; it takes a genius to serve content that's clear. 

If not a genius, then a thinker and stickler for style (in the Strunk and White sense).

How many millions of prospects are turned off (and marketing dollars wasted) as a result of bad writing?

It's ubiquitous.  It plagues even firms with deep expertise, because prospects can't see quality beneath the lousy "packaging."

And the root of the problem isn't poor grammar.  It’s lazy, muddled

As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly."

It just takes a little thoughtfulness.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hunting the Elusive Buyer

Ask any b-to-b salesperson: closing the so-called "complex" sale has never been harder.

One reason is that buyers now don heavy armor plating against outside salespeople each morning before they get to work.  Another is that there just aren't that many buyers any more.  Rather, there are committees.  Yuck.

It's no wonder 48 percent of sales reps missed their quota last year, according to research firm CSO Insights.

For marketers who have to support a frustrated
b-to-b salesforce, good news can be found in the 
pages of Ardath Albee's new book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale.

Albee, CEO of her own e-marketing firm, has written a compact users guide to attraction marketing that clearly shows she "knows her stuff." 

In a clear, stepwise manner she explains how companies can capture and nurture leads in a world where buyers are "staying elusive longer."

Included are hundreds of sound suggestions for deepening your understanding of prospective customers; creating "contagious" content; and fostering progressive sales conversations. 

The attraction techniques Albee presents are backed up in all cases by clear examples proving how they work and why.

Albee also manages to keep the book lively, despite the arid nature of most of her topics.  Consider, for example, how concisely she describes the starring role marketers now play in business:

"In the past, marketing created content that focused on making prospects aware of the company's products so they'd consider shifting their buying dollars.  Prospects who showed a bit of interest were then placed into the sales process.  This approach was successful prior to the Internet because prospects needed to talk to salespeople to get the information they needed to solve their problems.  We all know that this is no longer the case.  Buyers now can scour the Internet, attend Webinars from their offices, and even participate in virtual events without ever speaking directly to a salesperson.  Companies who are investing in customer-focused content are capturing the lion's share of prospect attention.  Marketing's responsibility expands beyond interest generation to building engagement throughout the buying process.  Yes, even after salespeople become involved."    
By all means read eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale.  And if you haven't read Jeff Thull's Mastering the Complex Sale, read both books in conjunction, because they both tackle the same challenges.

You'll think about b-to-b marketing in a whole new way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

DIY Video

David Meerman Scott blogged recently about "business casual video," a nifty term he admits to borrowing from a friend. 

"The concept is simple," he writes.  When you think of using video to communicate, don't automatically envision a "formal" (i.e., professionally produced) piece when you can now produce a "casual" video yourself.

"For decades," Scott continues, "corporate videos have been stiff and formal.  They cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months to produce.  When the subject of video is discussed at companies, people immediately think EXPENSIVE and DIFFICULT because they are thinking formal.  But if you think business casual, all of a sudden videos can be low or no cost and can be completed in a day or even an hour."

I prefer the term "do it yourself video" for these things.  And at the risk of seeming like a fussbudget I'll say that, like all "empowering technologies," DIY video can lead to some pretty scary outcomes.

What's next, business casual annual reports?

Disclosure: My spouse is a professional video producer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Social Media Marketing's Big Guns Hit Their Target

I just polished off Success Secrets of the Social Media Marketing Superstars, a new 300-page anthology edited by Mitch Meyerson, author of Guerrilla Marketing on the Internet and eight other books.

The book's good.  Really good.

Success Secrets gathers two dozen brief essays by today's darlings of the social media marketing circuit, including Chris Brogan, Brian Clark, Gary Vaynerchuk, Joel Comm, Mari Smith and Denise Wakeman.

The foreword (contributed by Chicken Soup for the Soul creator Mark Hansen) promises readers "will be spoon-fed insights and revelations" on every page.  But, being a soup fancier, Hansen doesn't do the book justice.  Its pages are so loaded with good stuff, you'll need a knife and fork.

Success Secrets opens with a beefy section devoted to social media marketing "Strategies and Principles."  Readers will learn why developing solid content is essential and how to develop it; why transparency is crucial; and how the superstars promote their content and build "mega-followings."

The case study provided by Michael Stelzner alone is worth the price of the book.  Stelzner, founder of the popular blog Social Media Examiner, recounts step by step the remarkable viral marketing campaign that launched his firm's high-flying Social Media Marketing Industry Report.

The second half of Success Secrets, "Applications and Websites," walks readers through all the major social media marketing tools: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Podcasting, Digg and the other social media bookmarking sites, mobile and video.  The how-to advice offered is uniformly clear, detailed, sensible and practical.

The book concludes with some smart time-management tips from Dave Evans, author of Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day.  Readers who hope to avoid "the dark hole of social banter" that invariably opens when social media marketing efforts aren't organized would do well to consider what Evans has to say.

Monday, September 13, 2010

FDR Got It

This September 11, my wife and I took an out-of-town guest sightseeing on the Mall. 

We began our tour at the FDR Memorial.  Inscribed on the memorial's walls are 21 quotations; some well known, some not.

This one caught our attention:

"We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization."

How a propos is that?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Age of Suspicion

Five years ago, marketing gurus cautioned us: customers’ worldviews had changed.

They no longer trusted institutions of any kind, whether business, government, nonprofit or media.

Arguably, the distrust was deserved.  Rascals and reprobates ruled the day’s headlines.  Kenneth Lay.  Bernie Ebbers.  Jack Abramoff.  Jayson Blair.  I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

But that wasn’t the whole story.

The gurus held out another warning at the time.  Trust—the bedrock of purchasing—had not merely ebbed.  It was in near-mortal danger.

As things turned out, the gurus were right.  The years of distrust have ended.

We've entered the Age of Suspicion.

Customers today aren’t just distrustful.  They’re downright suspicious.

They no longer give you a pass to treat them as lemming-like receptacles for marketing messages.  Instead, they discredit your messages before they’ve even taken them in.

Everyday objectivity has given way to habitual disbelief.  It’s as if your attempts to communicate were toxic or, worse, “candy from strangers.”

Old-fashioned curiosity, open-mindedness and the benefit of the doubt have vanished.  Ordinary trust is a dinosaur.

Social scientists teach that trust is a bond based on one party’s willingness to become vulnerable to another.

Sadly, that bond has been broken once too often in recent years.

As a result customers no longer feel safe enough to consider unfamiliar risks, even trivial ones.

And their refusal to lower their defenses makes customers virtually immune to most forms of persuasion.

PS: For insight, read Charles Green's article, "2010: The Summer of Trust."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's the Content, Stupid

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton's strategist hung a sign on the wall of his candidate's headquarters.

It was meant to constantly remind the campaign workers of their candidate's core message. 

sign read, "It's the economy, stupid."

Most marketers need a similar sign.

Here's a true story.  A few months ago, I contacted the head of a tres chic social media marketing boutique to offer my service.  I described what I do as "content development."  Her reply: "What, exactly, do you mean by 'content development?'"

The reason so many efforts to capitalize on social media marketing are failing is easy to spot.

Sorry all you technologists (and tech-focused marketers), social media marketing is not about the technology.

The cover story in this month's edition of Wired, "The Web is Dead," makes a compelling argument for that.

Content, in the end, is the only thing customers care about, the article claims.  

Because content, not technology, is what's truly "transformative."

Apple's Steve Jobs has proven that.  He enriched himself not by developing technology alone, but by marrying it with content.  His vast fortune derives not from Apple, but from Pixar and iTunes. 

"Jobs is a mogul straight out of the studio system," the article states.  "Since the dawn of the commercial Web, technology has eclipsed content. The new business model is to try to let the content—the product, as it were—eclipse the technology.  Jobs and [Facebook's Mark] Zuckerberg are trying to do this like old-media moguls, fine-tuning all aspects of their product, providing a more designed, directed, and polished experience. The rising breed of exciting Internet services... also pull us back from the Web.  We are returning to a world that already exists—one in which we chase the transformative effects of music and film instead of our brief (relatively speaking) flirtation with the transformative effects of the Web."

The late founder of Sony, Akio Morita, made the same argument 20 years ago, when the Web wasn't yet born. 

After his company lost a costly wager on consumers' willingness to adopt the Betamax video format (they chose the VHS format instead), Morita realized Sony's future lay not in "gadgets," but in content.  So Sony purchased CBS Records Group and Columbia Pictures Entertainment.

It's the content.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

George Orwell's Six Rules for Better Writing

In December 1945, just four months after completing Animal Farm, British novelist and journalist George Orwell wrote "Politics and the English Language," a cautionary essay on the hazards of bad writing.

Bad writing is dangerous, Orwell contends, because it's habit forming.

Like playing too many hours of video games or watching too much TV,
reading too much bad writing threatens 
our ability to think with care and precision. 

slovenliness of our language makes it easier to have foolish thoughts," Orwell writes.

But sloppy thinking isn't the cause of most bad writing, Orwell says.  Haste and laziness are.  "The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy."

Fortunately, all writers aren't rushed and lazy.  For the "scrupulous" ones among us, Orwell offers six simple rules to apply "when instinct fails."  They are: 
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If at all possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
"These rules sound elementary, and so they are," writes Orwell, "but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable."

Sixty-five years later things have hardly changed. 

Imagine how much more effective the majority of marketing communications would be, if all writers followed his advice.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

First Class: Chris Brogan's New Book on Social Media Marketing

Social media grand master Chris Brogan has written Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online.  It's the best book on the topic I've read.

Like many recent marketing books, Social Media 101 cobbles together blog posts (nearly 90) from the frightfully popular  

As a result, the book suffers somewhat.  Many parts are uneven and repetitious (although Brogan claims in the introduction that the repetition is intended).

But he more than makes up for those flaws by providing top-drawer technical advice.

And although the title implies the book is a survey for beginners, it's far more insightful than that.  Here are a just a few of the hundreds of gems in the book:

On technology.  "There really aren't many secrets about how things work in social media.  There are skills to learn, and then there are human traits to relearn."

On traffic.  "New communities grow by gently encouraging new immigrants."

On engagement.  "In social media, as in life, listening is twice as important as speaking."

On selling.  "Deliver great content and value, and then make your offer on the other side of it."

On authenticity. "Instead of going the route of old marketing, those who create content with the intent of building business relationships could try going the route of being honest, being genuine, being human. It's no more difficult than the alternative: crafting something that's dishonest, but perhaps shinier."

On strategy.  "Building icebergs that float away isn't the right way to implement social media in the company.  Instead, think about how to use the project as a pilot that might sway everything down the road; build it with an 'over there' flavor to start, and formulate a plan to make it the 'the main thing' and also plan for 'let's bury that mistake.'"

If you're at all reluctant to read Social Media 101, you can sample more of Brogan's writing by visiting his blog.

That should convince you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

New Book Advises Communicators: Watch Your Language

Michael Maslansky, head of a consulting firm founded by conservative pollster Frank Luntz, along with a trio of co-authors has written a handy and thought-provoking book for communicators, The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.

It's filled with tips for creating a "language of trust" by revising the words and phrases you use to inform and persuade today's "post-trust" audiences.

Maslansky's advice is research-based (which should comfort most business people) and anchored on the well-proven social theory that the emotional "frames" surrounding any subject ossify people's views on that subject.

Or as the author puts it, "The language of trust is based on a belief that your communication can change people's minds about an issue or product but rarely can you change that person's view of the world."

Maslansky neatly captures four principles communicators should follow if they hope to overcome an audience's skepticism: be personal, plainspoken, positive and plausible.

Of themselves, the four chapters devoted to these principles make the book worth reading.  But there's lots more good stuff inside the book, as well.

But don't trust me.

Read it and see for yourself.
Powered by Blogger.