Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

4 key steps to get your blog back on track for 2019

If you, like me, have been neglecting your blog, you’ve probably got a few good reasons (or excuses). Maybe you took time off during the holidays. Maybe preparing for the holidays and the new year took over your life. Maybe you just haven’t been inspired to write. Whatever the case may be, your blog is calling out for attention and now, at the beginning of 2019, is the perfect time to get it back on track.

Here are four key steps you can take to get your blog back on track:

  1. Clarify your objective. Blogs flounder when you don’t know why you are writing them. Ask yourself what your blog is meant to do. Is it supposed to establish your expertise? Is it part of your content marketing strategy? Perhaps it’s meant to help in lead generation, email sign-ups or to encourage ebook downloads. Whatever you are trying to accomplish, that is your objective. Writing it down, and being clear about it will help motivate you going forward.
  2. Define your topic area (s). What are you writing about? What  topics does your blog deal with? Do these reflect your expertise, interests and specializations? Making a list of topics you may write about helps give you inspiration. Also, those could be the basis for research.
  3. Scope out the competition. Are there a lot of other blogs or websites that offer information on your topic areas? If so, are you offering any unique or different take on the topic? What would be a reason for someone to read something on the topic on your blog rather than going elsewhere? You want to stand out from your competition by providing specialized insights or unique takes that can’t be found elsewhere.
  4. Create an editorial guide and/or calendar for 2019. Create a framework for your blogging this year. Start with the calendar and write down any special dates or events you will be participating in. Those may be the basis for blog posts. If you are looking for something more formal, or if you collaborate with others, there are many free and paid resources on the web for creating a content calendar.

Bonus step: Now that you’ve been giving some serious thought to what you want your blog to do this year, brainstorm at least 10 blog post ideas.

Clarifying what you want to achieve, and defining your topic areas will help provide direction for your blog, and get you back on track.

Please let me know in the comments if there are other methods you’ve used to revive a blog.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Do you appreciate your customers?

I am sure you appreciate your customers (or supporters), especially when they pay you (or donate) for the goods/services you offer. But do your customers know you appreciate them? How are you communicating appreciation?

If you are trying to establish or maintain a long term relationship with your customers or supporters, you must demonstrate AND COMMUNICATE that you appreciate their business/donations, and that you are not taking the relationship for granted.

How can you do this? There are several ways.

Reward their loyalty

Big box stores, airlines, credit cards and any number of other service/good purveyors provide discounts/points/bonuses for frequent customers. Giving customers a discount or something else of value gives them a reason to continue to work with you, and lets you reward their support.

Thank them

It depends on the size of your business, but thanking customers can be done with a simple hand written card, an email, a pre-printed postcard, or even through a personalized email marketing campaign.

Accommodate them

My kitchen sink was leaking, so I contacted my go-to plumber. I sent him an email explaining the situation and asking when he could come to deal with it. He could only fit me in the following week. I wrote him back and said that I would be looking for someone who could come sooner. His response was this:

Wow, that sucks but ok

Really? It sucks that I have to look for someone else? You know what sucks? Having your kitchen sink leak. Imagine if instead he wrote this:

“Totally understand. You need to get the sink fixed ASAP. If you can’t find anyone, let me know.”

As it turns out, I found someone to come that day! And fix the leak for a lot less than my soon to be ex plumber, who clearly is taking my business for granted.

Notice them

I’ve been going to a yoga studio for the better part of the last year but around Thanksgiving, I went out of town and had a couple other obligations. Since I had not been in the studio for  several weeks, the studio manager sent me an email with the subject line “Just checking in.” It said this:

Has it been a few weeks since you’ve been to yoga? Just remember you carry your yoga practice with you wherever you go. In the meantime, here is a 7 minute practice you can do right now in your chair. Don’t stay away too long. 🙂

This included the instructions for the seven minute practice referenced.

It all requires keeping track

All these require you tracking your customers/donors. For the yoga studio, this is probably part of the Mindbody software they use. For smaller organizations it may be as simple as a Excel spreadsheet. For bigger businesses, there are many types of customer management (CRM) software  available. For nonprofits, their are specific donor databases.

Make them feel that you appreciate them

We all like to feel appreciated. And organizations of all types need to be sure to communicate their appreciation.

 

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Write fewer press releases and more pitches

For the past several years, there’s been a debate raging in the world of public relations: is the press release dead or not? Some unequivocally state that it is (or should be), and some still use it and see a value in it.

Press releases may not be dead, but they are not as effective

I think that the press release is not dead, but it is not living like it used to. Press releases no longer generate stories. Instead, press releases have become a way for organizations to write a story and distribute it to an audience, generally via their website. And, press releases put on “wire” services may help with SEO.

Move beyond press releases

If, however, you intend to generate publicity and coverage for an organization, you have to move beyond the press release. In fact, you need to work on your pitching skills, and on your data gathering and analysis. Why? Because the world of journalism and PR has changed dramatically in the past decade. News organizations have consolidated. Small/community/local newspapers are struggling, or are gone altogether. Most news is national news, and most national news is political news around very few issues that generate a high degree of controversy. And then social media has disrupted how people get news, and how they interact with news organizations.

Newspapers are still delivered?

(Aside: The community where I live was going to be repairing our street, and closing it to traffic for 48 hours. I expressed concern to the community manager that our newspapers would not be able to be delivered. She asked if these items were delivered every day, and whether I paid for this delivery.  In short, she did not have any concept or understanding of what it means to have a daily, print newspaper delivered to your door.)

There are new issues for communicators to deal with

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the National Press Club’s Communicator’s Summit, where the following four issues were addressed:

1) Artificial intelligence in news production/news gathering. The main take-away for PR from this presentation is that for news that is data-based (quarterly earnings reports, for example), newsrooms are creating templates and then using AI to fill out the data.

2)  Generational differences and how they affect communication. There are big differences in how Gen X, Gen Y and Baby Boomers deal with hierarchy and how they prefer to communicate. Millennials do not see hierarchy they same way as older generations, and will communicate directly with superiors. They also want to be kept more updated and want feedback. There’s also a marked shift from voice communications to text-based communications.

3) How media organizations are distributing content. Media organizations are using more content platforms (social media, etc) and formats (video, etc.) to distribute content.

4) Today’s challenges and opportunities in getting news out. Frank Sesno gave the luncheon talk, and he discussed many issues ranging from journalists who have forgotten how to provide objectivity, to the constant connection and “breaking news,” which make it harder for communicators to get their message through.

All of the above led me to conclude that we are indeed wasting our time writing press releases in order to generate publicity (earned media). In fact, a couple of the panelists (both were  journalists and/or news editors) said we should be providing thoughtful, short pitches and raw data. They said they do not read press releases, and often delete those emails.

We are overwhelmed with email and news

We’ve heard it before, but in our accelerated world, people have even less time to slog through countless emails (and definitely not attachments). Few people listen to voice mail. Communicators may have to find a way to communicate with journalists that does not involve email or phone calls. Some people have had success communicating on social media.

In conclusion

A thoughtful, well-written press release can still play a role in a communicator’s toolkit. But if communicators are seeking publicity, the best bet is to create solid, short, informative pitches backed up with data (when warranted).

Your thoughts are appreciated. Tell me what you think in the comments.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

The biggest email marketing mistake

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gotten an email that looks like this:

If you are getting poor response to your email marketing, emails that look like the above could be the reason.

As you can see, this email is mostly images. There’s very little text, and the text doesn’t give me any relevant information. The important information about the event I am being asked to RSVP to is embedded in an image. If I wanted to know more  (date, venue, type of event, all the relevant information) so that I know whether I want to click on the RSVP button, I’d have to download the images. This is an extra, and unnecessary, step that places the burden on me.

Don’t send all image texts. Ever. That is the biggest email marketing mistake I see done time and again.

 

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

What writers, journalists, and PR/Comms people need to watch

Over the weekend, I finally got to see Obit. This documentary should be required viewing for anybody who writes for a living, and for anybody who work with or within the news media. It’s also for anybody who is thinking about what makes a life matter.

With print newspapers on the decline, it’s likely many people don’t even read the obituary section. I don’t have access to the statistics, but I’d bet there’s huge spike in readership of online versions of celebrity obituaries. Just in the few weeks, we’ve seen tremendous interest in the deaths of Senator John McCain and Aretha Franklin, and a likely increase in online reading of their obituaries.

Perhaps most people don’t think a lot about what goes into writing an obituary, but it takes a special skill. Writing about someone who has died takes sensitivity and a sense for what is newsworthy.  A good obituary is informative and interesting, while giving you an overview of the person’s life and achievements. Generally, long-form obituaries are only written for politicians, artists, inventors, celebrities and other notable people.  Just yesterday, I read an obituary in the Washington Post for Mel Elfin, who was the long time Washington editor for Newsweek Magazine. Elfin was not a celebrity per se, but his decades of  in Washington political and news circles probably touched lots of DC insiders (which is why this obituary appeared in the Washington Post and not the New York Times).

Among the many questions and issues that the featured obituary writers in Obit deal with are these

  • What and how much detail to include
  • What the lede (first paragraph of the article that includes the most important facts) should be
  • What questions to ask to the relatives, and how much to fact-check what they say
  • Importance of verifying facts
  • How to follow the arc of a life that has fits and starts
  • Importance of graphics, and of finding the best image to illustrate a life

There’s a lot in the documentary about the news process: editorial meetings, pitching, finding images, fact-checking, and working on deadline. This is why this should be required viewing for public relations practitioners, who need to understand news judgement, and how things make it into the news cycle.

Finally, what writing (and reading) obituaries does is make people think about mortality and how they want to live their lives. You think about what you will be remembered for, what you’ve done here that is “newsworthy.” So do yourself a favor–watch Obit. It’s available streaming on demand, and on Kanopy.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Simple reminders help market doctor’s offices

Doctors don’t seem to do much marketing. Most doctors’ offices have websites, but besides that, they don’t actively engage in marketing. The communications they have is generally one on one, although the more savvy medical offices send out health alerts (e.g., it’s flu season and you should get a flu shot) and maybe even health newsletters.

Since most people go to a doctor only when they are sick, it would be better for public and individual health for medical professionals to encourage annual visits. Annual visits would catch potential issues before they become critical. And of course, having a relationship with a doctor makes emergency situations easier to deal with.

Some doctor’s offices do encourage annual visits, and they do it by sending reminders. Some reminders are phone calls, some are emails, and I have even seen printed and mailed letters.

Bad (no contact at all, ever)

One doctor’s office I used to go to never sent any reminders at all. Even though they had my email address, I never once got an email from them regarding anything. No calls about annual appointments. No reminder to get an annual flu vaccine. Nothing. Ever. I no longer go to that doctor.

Better (well after the year passed)

An eye doctor I went to for several years called to remind me that I had not had my annual eye exam since November of 2016. It took them more than eight months to realize that I had not been there for more than a year. Of course they had no idea that I had changed eye doctors because of staffing issues.

Best (before the year is up)

The new eye doctor I went to called me in early September to remind that in October it would be a year since my last appointment, and did I want to schedule one now.

Reminders are an opportunity to touch base with patients. They can be a way to schedule an appointment right there and then. There is no down side to medical reminders. They also serve to show patients that doctors want to see them, and that they are not just one more person in a database.

If doctors are not going to do any other marketing, they should at the very least, have a process to remind patients about annual visits.

 

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

How to go on vacation and not lose customers

Vacation time!

Here we are in the last few days of August. Summer is waning, and perhaps you want to go to the beach or go visit your family or travel to Alaska to see the glaciers while we have them. And why not? You’ve worked hard the rest of the year, and you should be able to take time off.

But…

But before you take off, think about your customers. What do they need to know about your schedule and availability? If they need something, can it wait until you get back or is there somebody else who can help them?

You could lose business by failing to communicate

It seems fairly obvious to me, but some people just don’t think they need to communicate. For example, I was trying to make an appointment. I texted, and several days later, no answer. I left a message, and several hours later, no return phone call. I decided to look for a different provider, and I found one. I got a belated message from the first provider telling me she was in West Virginia with poor cellphone connectivity. Apparently, she has never heard of changing her outgoing message or updating her website.

It’s your responsibility to communicate your availability to your customers.

If you are an employee, you might email your contacts telling them you will be unavailable on certain dates, and tell them who to contact instead.  You may create an auto-responder on your email saying that you are not currently checking email.

If you are a business owner and have a website and/or online booking, you can update those to reflect your schedule. You can make note that your office is closed and you are not taking appointments. On your phone or answering service, you can update your outgoing message to reflect your situation.

Here’s a template:

Thanks for contacting [name]. If you need to [reach me/make an appointment/other business], please be advised that our office is closed from [insert date] to [insert date]. We look forward to [seeing/serving/talking to] you then. If you need immediate assistance, please contact [insert name and number].

So go on, take your vacation, relax and enjoy. Just make sure you’ve communicated with your customers.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Is your website undermining your credibility?

We are long past the time where having a website is optional for any type of organization. If you want business or support, you need a website, full stop.

But having any old website won’t do. If you are a serious organization that is seriously looking to get donations, or to increase sales, or to advocate for a cause, or whatever your raison d’etre is, you have to have a credible website.

To make sure your website has credibility, there are three areas you must address:

Safety/security

Credible websites are first and foremost safe and secure to use. As I wrote before, you must have an SSL. You should also be hosted on a trustworthy web host. There are many shady (and many times, cheap) web hosts out there. If your site is hosted on a shady web host, you are in fact, guilty by association. This happened to me a few years ago, when my website was hosted on a large, inexpensive web host that also hosted spammers and other questionable organization. Because I was on a blacklisted server, my emails would not be accepted by Yahoo and who knows what other email services. I changed hosts, and the problem has been resolved.

Up-to-date

I just came across a Washington, DC public relations agency that supposedly hosts industry learning events on a regular basis. The website has a tab for these events, and when I clicked on it, it took me to an event that took place in March. I happen to know this agency is hosting an event in August, so it is very clear it has not updated the website in several months.

If you are wondering what you should be updating on a regular basis here’s a non-comprehensive list: your blog, your events calendar, your personnel pages, your address, your social media links.

There is no excuse for not keeping your website up to date. If you use something like WordPress, updating is fairly simple. If you use something complex, you should have an IT person or a website developer who can do these things for you.  And yes, it is worth the time or money investment because having an outdated website showcases many negative traits: disinterest, laziness, not prioritizing the website (and by extension your audience).

Design and UX

If you were around in the 1990s when websites first started getting launched, you know what an old-fashioned website looks like. It’s pretty ugly. If you have a 1990s design, you probably haven’t kept up with the times. It’s like sporting a feathered Farrah Fawcett hairdo from 1978, and it’s now 2018.

Design is important, but so is user experience (UX). How easy is it for people to use your website and find what they need? If people are having trouble finding what they need, then they will not use your website and go elsewhere.

Don’t undermine your organization’s credibility. Give your website some attention right now!

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Better safe than sorry (or why you need SSL)

Take a look at your browser right now. You should see that the web address starts with https, and that that there is an icon to the left of that that shows a closed lock (and in Chrome, it says “secure”). This means that my website has its SSL certificate in order, and that this website is safe.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, and it is basically an authentication protocol that establishes a secure connection for your website.

It is better to be safe than sorry

By having that “secure” label, you are creating a safe experience for your readers/users. This helps build trust. But more importantly, starting this year, Google will penalize websites that don’t have the SSL certificate by labeling them as unsafe or “not secure.” Would you want to visit a site that is flagged as “not secure?” Probably not.

SSL certicates may be free with your hosting package

Getting SSL on your website should be a number one priority. If you (like me) manage your own website, check with your host. Most hosts provide free SSL certificates, and can deploy them on your site in a matter of minutes. Just give your website host a call, and follow instructions. If your host does not provide a free SSL certificate, there are plenty of places that will sell you one. Here’s a how-to guide on setting up SSL: https://sucuri.net/guides/how-to-install-ssl-certificate

There may be a few more steps that you need to take to make sure your site is secure. In my case, the browser was telling me some images on my site were not secure. Thankfully, there was an easy and free fix in the form of a WordPress plugin. If  you are using a site that is not WordPress based, you may have to check with a website developer to get some technical help.

Bottom line

In a world that has become rife with cybercrime, it is important to have provide a safe browsing experience. It is free to very low cost to deploy basic SSL on your website. And if you care about Google rankings, you need to do this now.

 

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

True marketing gold that guarantees results

What is the one thing in marketing that guarantees results?

Is it your website? Your social media marketing? Your strategic, forward-thinking marketing plan? Your market research? Your promotions?

While all of the above help you to generate leads and close sales, there is one thing that  you have that will guarantee those leads convert and make those sales happen.

It’s your credibility. 

If I can’t believe what you are selling, then I am not going to buy it. In other words, without credibility, you are nothing.

Credibility means trust. If you are credible, your product or service is trustworthy. It’s really that simple.

Let me illustrate with the tale of an unnecessary car repair:

A couple of months ago, I took my car in for a tire rotation and alignment to the tire shop where I had bought my tires. The rotation is free for the life of the vehicle, and the alignment costs $99. After a few minutes, one of the salespeople came out to tell me there was a problem. The shop could not do the alignment because the front end arms needed to be replaced. This repair would cost $600 (or six times what I had been planning on). The mechanic showed me what he was talking about, but my instinct (and pocketbook) said to decline this expensive repair.

When I walked out of the shop,  I felt highly uneasy about what had happened. I felt that the salesperson was trying to upsell me and I did not trust her or the mechanic’s assessment. Also, there had been a change in both the appearance and atmosphere of the shop. Previously, it had a homey (and more trustworthy) appearance. The people were friendly, and seemed honest. Now, things had been spiffed up, and the front desk was manned by two fairly surly people that barely had a smile for me. I got the sense the shop had been sold and was under new management, and that the management was looking to squeeze more profits from its customers. After all you are not going to make a lot of money off free rotations, are you?

This week, I took my car in for routine maintenance to my regular (trustworthy) repair shop. I asked them to check out this front end problem.  And, no surprise really, they said it did not need the repair. So either the mechanic at the tire shop did not know what he was talking about, or the salesperson was indeed upselling me something just to generate more money. Either way, the credibility of the tire shop has completely evaporated for me. I can’t think of taking my car there, because I don’t believe they will act in my best interest. I don’t believe anymore in what they are selling.

You can’t manufacture credibility.

You have it or you don’t. Credibility derives from your actions, from the substance of your product or service. However, you can promote your credibility. You can highlight what makes you credible. When you communicate with your audience, you show credibility by your honesty. You can use customer testimonials and ratings. If you’ve gotten third-party reviews (like a product review in magazine), these are earned media mentions that help promote credibility.

The bottom line is that you can only promote your credibility if you act credibly. Otherwise, all your marketing efforts will be for naught.

Thoughts? Drop me a line in the comments.

 

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

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