Friday, July 31, 2015

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Warning: 70% of your content contains grammatical errors that could be harmful to your brand.

Software provider Acrolinx analyzed content on the websites of 340 global companies and found that 7 in 10 sentences evidence faulty grammar.

Acrolinx scored the content against "best practices for standard grammar" and determined the percentage of boo-boos per 1,000 words, Amy Gesenhues reports in Marketing Land.

Marketers in the US received the lowest scores worldwide; and, while they may not, some people care.

A survey conducted in 2013 by UK-based Global Lingo reported that 74% of customers spot faulty grammar on company websites; and that 59% wouldn't buy from a company that uses faulty grammar.

Say it ain't so!

Well, it is—and it gets worse.

Search engines, according to Bing's webmaster, won't display pages of content riddled with grammatical errors.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lion One, Dentist Nothing

Will Minnesotans ever again want a torturer's hands in their mouths?

In an attempt at damage control, Big Bwana Walter Palmer, DDS, has emailed patients, crying for quarter.

In the three-paragraph email, Palmer confesses, "I don’t often talk about hunting with my patients because it can be a divisive and emotionally charged topic," but that "I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."

Palmer acknowledges that protests and media coverage have ruffled his practice and concludes, "I apologize profoundly for this inconvenience and promise you that we will do our best to resume normal operations as soon as possible."

At the same time, Palmer has darkened his practice's Website and Facebook page.

Judging from his email. I think Palmer believes the hoopla is short lived, that our present obsession with a dead lion will soon revert to our customary obsession with cute kittens.

My guess: Big Bwana's got another thing coming!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Go Slow

Patience is a virtue in B2B marketing, says agency owner Eric Fischgrund, writing for Huffington Post.

Winning the race for leads, revenue and leaps in share price demands not only that you form a content plan, but stick to it.

Repeat thyself

Don't scrap a reasonable plan because results don't materialize overnight, Fischgrund says.

"If a white paper fails to generate downloads and leads, or a blog post fails to drive visitors to the website, there is no need to panic. Go back and review the delivery—consider the time of day or day of the week the content was published, or review the ads you placed on LinkedIn to generate clicks. Perhaps you will find it had nothing to do with the content or landing page, but because you reached your audience via e-mail blast at a time normally spent away from the computer."

Be patient

Don't expect to rally prospects, customers, analysts and influencers in a month.

"In reality, it takes time to establish a platform, cultivate a following, and execute upon strategic objectives," Fischgrund says. "It's a far smarter practice to focus on quality, not quantity of the content and messaging published via social media."

Cultivate the media

Get to know the reporters for trade, regional and national publications.

"Form relationships with reporters and media outlets," Fischgrund says. "Reporters always seek value, and if you can position yourself or your client as an expert, or their news as being important, you will achieve exposure."

Remember: the hare's fast, but the tortoise wins.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The 120 Commandments

It took Moses four decades to write his laws, so we should be grateful it's taken only half that time for someone to codify the rules of email marketing.

And it was well worth the wait.

Writer, editor and e-mail marketer Chad White's extraordinary handbook, Email Marketing Rules: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Best Practices that Power Email Marketing Success, is by far the most intelligible, comprehensive and practical handbook yet written on the subject.

The 300-page book makes it unassailably clear—and not just from his bio on the back— that White is an accomplished "hands-on" email marketer; that he's not only been to the mountain, but around the block.

White walks you through 120 essential e-mail marketing rules-of-thumb, or in his words "the rules that separate great marketers from good marketers."

And the trip is eye-opening.

Encyclopedic in scope, Email Marketing Rules covers everything you ever wanted to know, and leaves out the hucksterism that normally pollutes books of this sort.

Rules aside, the glossaries larded throughout the book make it worth reading. So does the concluding chapter, "The Future."
My sole criticism of White's book: I couldn't read it 20 years ago.

Five stars for Email Marketing Rules. Buy it. Read it. Keep it handy.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Return of Mad Men?

Once upon a time, people believed corporations weren't crooks.

The Great Recession changed that.

It was Corporate America's Watergate.

In today's Post-Recession period, corporations look no longer to Mad Men to tell their stories, but to brand journalists, who pride themselves on eschewing '60s-style corporate hokum.

"I've been a reporter, and I've also been a marcom writer," says David B. Thomas, posting on LinkedIn. "There's a big difference."

The marcom writer, according to Thomas, produces only "buzzwords and grandiose claims."

The brand journalist tells a story. 

"The people who read [the story] appreciate it because it gives a straightforward, unbiased analysis of the situation," he says.

Above all, the brand journalist strives to be informative. 

"Before she starts writing, she asks, 'What's important here for my audience? How will this help them solve their business problems? How can I make this interesting, informative and fun so that people will remember it and share it?'"

A practitioner myself, I appreciate the difference between a marcom writer and a brand journalist, too.

But then I remember how the Original Mad Man, David Ogilvy, once insisted, "The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be."

Ogilvy also scolded contemporaries who relied too heavily on buzzwords. 

"Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon," Ogilvy wrote.

What's old, it seems, is new again.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Picture This!

Emerson once wrote in his Journals, "In good writing, words become one with things."

It turns out to be true of all writing.

Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center have discovered that, when you read, a tiny portion of your brain behind your left ear sees the words not as strings of letters or symbols, but as pictures.

The neurons in that part of your brain store words in their entirety, as if there were a little dictionary inside your skull.

When you look at a word you know, your brain instantly sees a picture.

Your spongy little dictionary (called the "visual word form area") works precisely like the miniature photo album located in the opposite side of your brain, behind your right ear. 

In that part of your brain (called the "fusiform face area"), pictures of people's faces are stored.

The researchers also discovered that students with reading disabilities can improve their skill by learning words as visual objects, instead of struggling with phonics and spelling.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Shoddy Content Can Only Fail

Introduced in 1813, shoddy is a cheap woolen cloth made from recycled rags. Victorian-era manufacturers used it to make low-end clothing.

Civil War soldiers—whose shoddy uniforms would disintegrate after only days—are responsible for our use of the word to mean cheap workmanship.

By flocking to shoddy content, today's marketers are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

But it won't work, says Jeff Rosenblum, a columnist for Ad Age.

A marketing movement is underway to deluge customers with shoddy content—a movement that gives Rosenblum deja vu.

"I'm getting nasty flashbacks to the early days of banner ads," he writes. 

"When banner ads first came out, the marketing industry treated them like rebranded laundry detergent'new and improved!' So, we shifted a bunch of dollars online and used half-baked data to prove it worked. Until, of course, we realized it didn't."

Banner ads bombed because marketers didn't grasp their value.

"The same will be true of content if we don't apply the lessons we learned. If we simply develop content because we think it's new, improved, quicker and easier than previous tactics, we're doomed to get the same disappointing results that we got from banner ads."

Content works, Rosenblum says, when it's understood:

  • Content improves brand perceptions. "Great content shows customers why a brand is different and better than the competition. It creates evangelists that carry the brand message more effectively than paid media ever could," Rosenblum says.
  • Content empowers customers. The premise is straightforward: customers give you their time; you give them useful information. "It's easy to create a social post with a cute kitten and generate a bunch of social shares, but that doesn't do anything for the brand in the long run."
  • Content is more than clicks. Marketers need to measure more than likes and shares. "You need to understand how well the audience understands what makes the brand different and better. You need to understand what, specifically, shifts them down the sales funnel and generates revenue."
  • Content isn't cheap. "Too often, brands spend countless hours talking about the power of social media, but spend an infinitesimal amount of their overall budget creating content."
"Unlike banner ads, content marketing can fundamentally alter the future of a brand. But it won't be quick and it won't be easy," Rosenblum concludes.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once told a would-be writer, "Nothing any good isn't hard."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Spotlighting the Skeptics

Can you be trusted with customers' data?

The answer depends on who you ask, according to a new study by Royal Mail MarketReach.

The firm asked 7,000 consumers in the UK whether they trusted marketers to use their data ethically, and protect it from thieves and hackers. 

Its findings show:

  • Older people worry about potential data abuse more than younger people;
  • Women are more reluctant to give marketers data, and want greater reassurance that their data will be safe, than men; and
  • High-wage earners trust marketers with their data more than low-wage earners do.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Embracing Swag

Mimicking their B2C cousins, savvy B2B marketers are plying swag to secure customers' loyalty, says a new white paper from Forrester Research.

B2B Loyalty, The B2C Way offers dozens of examples:
  • On Super Bowl Sundays, a marketing automation provider—knowing its customers are at work—ships them "war room care packages."
  • A B2B phone company sends customers a catalog of general merchandise they can buy for loyalty points.
  • Another B2B phone company lets customers use their loyalty points to bid in an auction for tickets to sports events.
"Loyalty programs may be a B2C construct, but the concepts apply in B2B marketing," the white paper says. 

"As B2B marketers get serious about loyalty, they can jumpstart their efforts by embracing some B2C approaches. In some cases, it may be a matter of reframing, organizing, and scaling what’s already in place."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Un Words

Before you unfriend that geek you unearthed at the unconference on unmarketing last week, pause for a moment of gratitude.

You can thank two IBM researchers, Lance Miller and John Thomas, for our love of "un" words.

Musing over computer commands, they wrote in a 1976 report, “It would be quite useful to permit users to ‘take back’ at least the immediately preceding command (by issuing some special ‘undo’ command).”

The Bard is responsible for no fewer than 314 of the ones that appear in The Oxford English Dictionary, including unsex, unshout, unspeak and unswear.

Charlotte Brontë, in Jane Eyre, has her character say, “I had learned to love Mr. Rochester; I could not unlove him now.”

And contemporary songsters like "un" words, too.

Among Bob Dylan lyrics, one of my favorites goes:

"You taught me how to love you, baby
You taught me, oh, so well.
Now, I can’t go back to what was, baby
I can’t unring the bell."

Monday, July 13, 2015

Seeing Differently

I've been taking a basic drawing class every Saturday for the past two years.

The art school's catalog promises the course will teach you to "see things like an artist."

After many repeat classes (I'm a slow learner) I can vouch that the catalog doesn't overpromise.

Learning to draw, in fact, rewires you to see differently.

You begin to focus on details and relationships that were once invisible to you.

In an essay, the Victorian art critic John Ruskin (himself an artist) contrasts the experiences of two people strolling in the woods. One is "a good sketcher;" the other with "no taste of the kind."

The latter sees only trees. "He will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect, but that the trees make the lane shady and cool," Ruskin writes.

But the sketcher sees more: dancing motes of sunlight; emerald-bright mosses and surreally shaped lichens; gnarled and ancient trees awash in light and shadow; and a canopy of leaves of "a hundred varied colors."

"The enjoyment of the sketcher from the contemplation of nature is a thing which to another is almost incomprehensible," Ruskin writes.

"If a person who had no taste for drawing were at once to be endowed with both the taste and power, he would feel, on looking out upon nature, almost like a blind man who had just received his sight."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Brevity. Before It was Cool.

A recent study by Microsoft reveals that 67% of heavy social media users struggle to concentrate.

Ultrathin attention spans make brevity—or, more accurately, concisenessmore important to marketers than ever.

In his introduction to the 1979 edition of The Elements of Style, E.B. White praised his teacher and coauthor William Strunk for writing, fifty years earlier, "fifty-nine words that could change the world." 

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

It's little wonder Strunk revered brevity. 

He was an English professor at Cornell; forced to read undergraduates' papers, he understood well there are limits to the patience of every reader—even an academic.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Snaky Story of Hashtag

The word "hashtag" has roots in the US military. 

Sort of.

It all starts in 1907...

Enlisted men and women begin to nickname the service stripes worn on dress uniforms "hash marks."

Each stripe represents three years of dutyand untold plates of hash eaten.

Now, flash forward to 1962...

Scientists at Bell Labs add a key to the new "touch-tone" phone: the # key.

It lets callers send instructions to the phone's operating system.

They pirate a word used by mapmakers, and proudly dub the # key the "octothorpe."

An octothorpe is the mapmaker's symbol for "village" (eight fields surrounding a town square). 

"Octo," of course, means "eight;" "thorpe" means "field" in Old Norse.

But Americans already know the # key as the "pound key" from typewriters (where # means "number").

"Pound" sticks when touch-tone phones hit the market.

All along, our cousins in the UK—where "pound" refers to the symbol £—are calling # "hash."

As are computer programmers, many of whom are ex-military, and familiar with those hash marks on uniforms.

Now, flash forward to 2007...

A Silicon Valley marketer named Chris Messina sends a Tweet.

He urges everyone to use # to denote Twitter chats. 

Messina names # the “channel tag."

But Twitter's early adopters insist on calling # the "hashtag."

Finally, flash forward to 2013...

The American Dialect Society assembles in Boston to announce its prestigious "Word of the Year."

Can you guess the word?

Hint: It isn't "octothorpe."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Paper Cuts

Ad spending fell 4% in the first quarter versus last the year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Outsized cuts came to print vehicles.

Newspapers suffered a 15% falloff, while magazine advertising was trimmed more than 8%.

The absence of special events like 2014′s Sochi Olympics worsened the decline. 

Nonetheless, cuts by the 10 biggest spenders—companies like Procter & Gamble, General Motors and AT&T—exceeded 10%.

Those advertisers trimmed spending "to cut costs and navigate the complexities of the digital ad market," the newspapers says.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ideas Once Spreading

One hundred and fifty years before TED revitalized the chalk talk, lecture halls known as "lyceums" flourished across the U.S.

At their peak in the 1850s, the halls drew more than a million people a week—nearly 5% of the country's population.

Attendees brought their 19th century attention spans to hear itinerant speakers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Daniel Webster and Theodore Parker.

Unlike other public gathering spots of the day, lyceums welcomed women and, north of the Mason Dixon Line, African Americans. 

Tickets, sold by subscription, were cheap (about 25 cents).

Most speakers delivered "instructive" talks about science, travel, and the arts; but lyceums also hosted proponents of hot political ideas, especially early feminists, prohibitionists and abolitionists.

The latter aroused so much animosity as the decade progressed that audiences, afraid of violent outbreaks, eventually stopped going to lyceums, and the phenomenon lost much of its steam.

Following the Civil War, many of the once-heady halls were converted to venues for vaudeville acts.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hitting Delete

It appears, suddenly, we have some expunging to do.

The word expunge was first used in English around 1600.

Originally meaning "to delete," it was usually applied to words in a court record.

Expunge stems from expungere, a Latin word meaning to prick, as with a pin.

When an Ancient Roman soldier retired from service, a row of pin pricks was made below his name in the army records.

Today, we use expunge to mean “to remove completely; to obliterate; to destroy.” 

The Ancient Romans also liked to condemn traitors by pronouncing damnatio memorial, literally "damnation of memory." 

By pronouncing damnatio memorial, the Roman Senate would order that every trace of a traitor be deleted.

His property would be seized; his name erased from all documents; and his statues destroyed or reworked.

The traitor, in effect, never existed.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jumping the Shark

Well aware that most customers are "deletists," email marketers will swim any length to catch you.

Sometimes, too far.

A marketing automation provider recently sent me an email with the following subject line:

Don't open this message unless…

The "payoff" (a fairly insipid one) appeared in the body of the email:

You want to automate your marketing woes away!

Obviously, I took the bait.

But I ask: Why would a company that sells, of all things, email marketing services sink to such lows?

So be warned.

Avoid clickbait subject lines

Even if they increase opens, they'll take a bite out of your brand.
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