Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications


How to run your organization into oblivion

11 May
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Email marketing, Nonprofit communications   |  No Comments

About a decade ago, I was on the board of a small nonprofit that provided educational programming. I lasted all of a few months since I was fighting a losing battle with the other board members and a spectacularly uninformed (and very young) executive director.

This nonprofit had very little money but insisted on a color brochure printed on heavy paper, listing their courses. The ED would then mail it first class (read, the expensive way) because it would take too long to prepare it for the cheaper, bulk/nonprofit rate.

Among the things I suggested was to print the brochure on cheaper paper (like newsprint), use the bulk rate, and to consider going all electronic instead. All these ideas were dismissed. One board member thought it was crucial to print the brochure on good paper because it made it seem more serious (?). The ED was balking at using the bulk rate because it meant pre-sorting the brochure. And another board member said that many people wanted the printed brochure and would never abide an electronic format.

Like I said, it was a losing battle and I believe that there’s no sense in discussing change with people who don’t want to change.

Here we are a good ten years later, and I just got their latest brochure. Yes, I am still on the mailing list even though I have not signed up for a class or donated any money or shown any interest whatsoever. It is still printed on heavy paper, and has full color (which adds to the expense). They are now using the nonprofit/bulk rate. When you use use the bulk rate, you have to be aware that delivery will take longer than using first class postage. Apparently, it is not something that this nonprofit understands. I got the brochure yesterday (May 10). The front cover has a banner telling me spring classes begin on April 26, 2017.

This nonprofit continues to print an expensive brochure. However, it doesn’t print it out with enough lead time to be able to overcome the slower bulk delivery rate. In effect, this is a complete waste. If you are using a brochure as your only means to communicate your offering, then it better be timely.

And, it seems this organization does not review its database. It continues sending out brochures to people that have not indicated any interest in years. Of course, this adds to the cost of the printing and mailing.

Can you imagine if they had provided this brochure electronically? They would be able to send it out at precisely the right time. They would be able to gauge interest from the open and click rates. They would be able to scrub their lists of any bad addresses. They would increase their reach through the ability to share online. But why change?

Here’s how you run your organization to the ground: you waste your precious resources and keep doing it until you have nothing left. You keep doing things the way you always have even though it has never been cost-effective.  You don’t adapt.

Sigh.

 

 

 

 

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Editing makes everything better!

02 May
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Copy Editing   |  No Comments

Over the weekend, I went on walking tour of Georgetown history. In case you don’t know it, Georgetown is a historic neighborhood in Washington, D.C. and home to Georgetown University. Georgetown has been around for a long time–it even predates the city of Washington–since it was founded as a port on the Potomac River in 1751. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of history there. A lot.

(Check out this photo tour from the Georgetown website)

Lots of stuff has happened in and around here

The tour started on the Georgetown Waterfront, right on the banks of the Potomac River, not far from the Key Bridge. The guide pointed out the Kennedy Center and the Watergate Hotel (both of which are NOT in Georgetown, but are also on the banks of the Potomac). And he started talking about the scandals associated with both those buildings. Then he gave an anecdote about John Quincy Adams and how he nearly drowned in the Potomac River. Then we walked on, and the tour guide told us a story about a family that had traveled to Georgetown on the C&O Canal in a barge, and how a fire broke out and killed three of their young children. He then showed pictures of the graves of these kids, graves which are located in Maryland. Then, we switched to 1985, and to discussing KGB spy Aldrich Ames and where he met his handlers (in a bar near the Waterfront). And to discussing the buildings along the Waterfront. And the construction of the C&O Canal. And the unsolved murder of a purported lover of John F. Kennedy, whose body was found near the C&O and who had lived in Ben Bradlee’s home in Georgetown. And we went to the oldest structure in Georgetown, the Old Stone House. And then to a bank that had been a hospital during the Civil War, and where Louisa May Alcott was a nurse.

(There was much, much more…)

And he kept going

After two and half hours we weren’t done. The guide said we had a good 45 minutes left. As interesting as it was, the heat (it was near 90 and very humid) and the hour (it was near 6:00 p.m.) convinced me it was time to go home.

When I got home, I was reflecting on the tour and decided it could have been much improved by some editing. The tour guide suffered from what many writers do–the desire to throw as much information as possible to show the breadth and depth of knowledge. But so much information can become amorphous–lacking in structure–to such an extent that it becomes irrelevant. He also had no overarching theme. There was little to connect the unresolved murder of a woman in the 1960s to the Old Stone House or to how divided Georgetown was during the Civil War. He also had too many asides–as important as the Watergate was to American politics, it does not belong in a Georgetown focused tour.

In writing, editing means deciding what to leave in and what to take out. Editing means tightening up concepts and getting rid of wordiness. Editing means finding focus.

For the Georgetown walking tour, we could start editing by deciding to stick to a time period (Civil War or the 1800s), or to a specific type of event (murders, spying, politics) or to a specific area (Waterfront, N Street). This would give it a tighter focus and  more meaning. And in this case, it would’ve also have shortened the tour.

Editing does make everything better!

 

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Successful companies are customer-focused

27 Apr
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Design   |  No Comments

United learns the hard way what’s important

As you no doubt have seen by now, United Airlines has been forced to make several changes in the wake of the customer abuse incident seen around the world (where a passenger was forcibly removed from a plane and injured in the process). United has now released a report that concludes it let company policies trump customer’s rights, and is now making changes to focus on the customer. You can read more details in this Washington Post article: United dragging report: ‘Our review shows that many things went wrong that day.’  Also, today, United placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post (and I assume other large dailies) apologizing for its actions and outlining the policy changes.

It took very negative publicity and its consequences to make United realize that customers are the reason for being of any company. Without customers, a company simply does not exist. We know that companies that are more customer focused are also better regarded and therefore more successful. Southwest Airlines comes to mind.

UX is about your customers

All this brings me to UX (user experience) and how important it is. UX is being customer- focused when it comes to designing your website/app. If you don’t consider UX when you design, you are not being customer-friendly. It’s that simple.

Verizon FIOS On Demand versus Fandango Movies on Roku

Take the example of Verizon FIOS’ On Demand screen versus  Roku’s Fandango Movies  screen.

Verizon re-designed their On Demand screen a couple of months ago. They made fonts and images smaller, they crowded the images together and they changed the categories. Adding to that, the background is dark, making it hard to see the writing. To find out whether a movie is available for purchase or rental, you have to click on the title and only then will you be able to see what it costs.

Fandango has several categories on the left hand side of the screen, starting with “New movies to buy” and New movies to rent.” The background is a light color, the images are slightly bigger than Verizon’s, and easy to read. Just by scrolling through the titles you can see the price of the movie, its Rotten Tomatoes rating, its MPAA rating, and its length.

Fandango most definitely considered UX when designing its movie screen. It’s clear they thought about how customers search for movies, and what information (cost, time commitment, ratings) they need to make a decision. In contrast, the Verizon On Demand screen UX is plain horrible. It’s hard to search, hard to find the information you need, and in my opinion, it’s just ugly. Oh, and Fandango movie rentals cost less than Verizon’s.

Think about your customers, and it will pay off

In my case, I have been renting movies from Fandango and not from Verizon. I definitely find the Fandango interface easier to deal with. Additionally, I voiced my concerns to Verizon, and so far, they’ve made no changes. I don’t know if the redesign has affected sales, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Your customers and their experience with your company/brand/organization has to be your first concern. If customers are mistreated, they simply will not come back. And in this age of social media, any negative publicity is amplified. Your customer’s bad experience can be shared over and over.

Being customer-focused and thinking about their user experience will go a long a way in making any organization successful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to be better at communication than Sean Spicer

21 Apr
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED.

What is good communication? In essence, it’s getting your point across to the people who need to hear it. It’s having those people (your audience) understand what you are saying, and be able to act on that information if necessary. Also, the information you pass on must be credible. Good communication, therefore, is built on clarity and trust.

If anything, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has shown us that some people are better communicators than others. Spicer is not example of how to do communications well, but rather, of what not to do. Thankfully, we can draw lessons from his ineptitude. Following are five points to being a better communicator.

Understand your subject matter very well

If you don’t understand something yourself, you have zero chance of explaining it (well) to someone else. Yes, this means you have to do some studying (or cramming). It means you have to ask people who know more about the subject to explain it to you. It may even mean looking at charts and graphs.

If you don’t know what you are talking about, someone will be quick to point it out to you. Recently, this happened to Sean Spicer. During a press conference last week, Spicer showcased his ignorance about Hitler and the Holocaust by saying that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons (he did), and then when questioned, corrected himself by saying Hitler only used gas at “holocaust centers” but not against his own people (they are called concentration camps and many Germans were killed there). When his errors were pointed out, Spicer had to apologize often and profusely. The Anti-Defamation League even sent him a letter offering to conduct a private Holocaust education training for him and his staff. I don’t know if Spicer took the ADL up on its offer, but I think he would greatly benefit from it and/or a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Use only words that you completely understand and can define

Spicer regularly uses the wrong words. He recently said something couldn’t be quantified, when he meant that it couldn’t be qualified. In his defense, this is a  common mistake, especially in speaking. When you write, you have a bit more time to figure out the words you are using.  The bottom line is this: If you think you know what a word means, but you can’t define it, don’t use it.  Also, remember that using big words, especially incorrectly, will make you appear to be trying too hard, and being ignorant too boot.

Check your facts and statistics

If you are going to use any numbers or other facts that can be easily looked up, make sure that they are accurate and correct. Sean Spicer famously trotted out some made up statistics about Trump’s inauguration crowds. Those things can be verified, and if you are using incorrect numbers, you are threatening your own credibility.

Don’t exaggerate

With a boss who is fond of hyperbole, Spicer also tends to exaggerate. Everything is the best or the worst, terrible or fantastic. As any communicator knows, exaggeration also threatens credibility.

Be likeable

Sean Spicer is a very combative person. This may have served him well when he was the spokesperson for the party out of power, but it is making him unlikeable. By constantly fighting with the White House press corps, or by belittling their questions, or by refusing to answer questions, or by mocking people, Spicer is ensuring that his attitude becomes the story.


 

It’s really important.

Trustworthy and reliable communications have become even more important and necessary in this world of fake news, where bots and fringe political groups are working hard to muck up the information that is available. Taking the time to study your subject and work on your credibility will go a long way to making you a better communicator than our current White House press secretary.

Is there anything you would add to the five points I have listed above? Please share in the comments.

UPDATE:

I am not the only one who thinks Spicer is bad at what he does. Today, New York Magazine had this post: By Being Bad at His Job, Sean Spicer Nearly Causes Market Panic. Because Spicer does not bother to learn his subject well, he says inaccurate things, and in his role, his statements have consequences.

 

 

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Are we seeing more media crises?

12 Apr
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Crisis communication, social media, Twitter   |  No Comments

This week featured two highly publicized and far-reaching media crises. One was the United Airlines situation, where a passenger was forcibly removed (and hurt in the process) from the plane, after he had been seated and had not agreed to “voluntarily” leave the aircraft. And the other involved White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who clumsily compared Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler, and then showed great ignorance about just what Hitler did during World War II.

Twitter outrage

I saw both these situations unfold on social media (specifically, Twitter), and was able to add my observations to many others, both using hashtags and Twitter handles. Social media outrage appears to have caused both United and Sean Spicer to apologize profusely for their mistakes. In today’s Washington Post, Kathleen Parker argues that in the United case, the Twitter outrage (or “mob” as she calls it) was able to bring the situation to light and make change happen.

It seems that we have more media crises these days than before–but like Parker argues, what has changed is the ability to get these situations in front of more people, more quickly, through social media. So, in fact, we may not be having more crises, but rather more exposure for and to these crises.

Changes…

It seems that United, and to some degree Sean Spicer, have still not adapted or recognized that the media landscape has changed dramatically. Anyone with internet access and a social media account can share their ideas, opinions, facts and more damning, their video. Also, anyone with a smartphone has the ability to create video on the spot, and then share it immediately.

Ten years ago, if a passenger had been dragged off a plane, there would have been no record of it outside of the memories of the other passengers on the plane. Similarly, Sean Spicer’s words would have received criticism later (if at all), not during his press briefing. Fewer people would’ve been exposed to these situations.

More “eyeballs” available

Today’s media crises are happening not because spokespeople and companies are screwing up more, but because more people are seeing it happen. It would behoove any public relations/communications practitioner to internalize that most everything can be publicized very quickly, and may even have incontrovertible visual proof with it.

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Doing too much marketing?

05 Apr
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Marketing   |  No Comments

There’s a real estate guy who specializes in selling homes in my neighborhood. He is very eager to work with me. I know this because I receive marketing stuff from him constantly. I get a jar of (branded) apple butter on my doorstep every fall. I get a property report, hung on my doorknob on a quarterly basis. I get a magnetic calendar every December. All told, I get at least six direct marketing pieces from this guy every year. As does everyone in my community.

As a communications consultant, I understand what his rationale and motivations may be:

  • Gain/retain name recognition
  • Stand out from the crowd
  • Appear neighborly
  • Show he is local and understands the community.

On a personal basis, I feel this guy is making way too much of an effort to get my business. And I feel his marketing efforts are intrusive.

But is this real estate guy doing too much marketing? The answer comes down to doing some calculations (yes, there’s math involved).

The true test of whether you are doing too much marketing has to do with the value of a customer and how much you are willing to spend to acquire said customer.

The value of a customer

Your first calculation will be to determine the value of a customer. To do this, you, will have to calculate how much money a customer’s business generates for you, in terms of current transaction, future transactions, and also including the potential value of any referred business.

Your marketing costs

The second calculation you will have to do is to figure out how much you are spending on marketing. To do this tally up all marketing related costs such as printing, advertising spending, distribution, consulting/design fees, website, memberships, and so forth. You may also want to include your time.

Cost per acquisition

Your final calculation is to figure out your acquisition cost per customer. So say you spent $10,000 on marketing in a year. You obtained five customers from that marketing effort. That means  you spent $2,000 per customer acquired.

Which means

If the spending to acquire each customer exceeds the value of the customer to your business, you acquisition cost may be too high.

I don’t know how much the real estate guy spends on his marketing, nor do I know what value his customers generate, but I sure hope he has done this calculation. If not, he may be doing too much marketing.

 

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A tale of two organizations and five best practices

28 Mar
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Event marketing, Nonprofit communications   |  No Comments

To paraphrase the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities, it was the best of practices and the worst of practices. Let me explain.

In the past few weeks, I’ve attended two remarkably similar events put on by two different organizations. Both organizations are membership-based, advocacy/non-profits, and are local affiliates of a national organization. One organization clearly followed best practices, while the other appeared to have no idea how to make the most of a successful event.

Organization A

Event description: Luncheon featuring a Washington Post reporter discussing the challenges of covering the Trump Administration. Cost was $35.

Sign up: On the organization’s website, taken to an outside website (PayPal) for payment. Receipt sent from PayPal but no acknowledgment from organization. No information or email list sign up captured.

Reminder for the event: None.

Follow up after the event: None.

Organization B

Event: Cocktail reception followed by panel discussion, featuring three White House correspondents, about the challenges of covering the Trump Administration. Cost was $36.

Sign up: Through Eventbrite, which allows for email capture, branding, and payment on one page. (There are other benefits to using Eventbrite, including ability to sign in people, print labels, be listed on an events page, and others.) Tickets with event information sent from Eventbrite.

Reminder: Eventbrite sends a reminder two days ahead of the event.

Follow up: Personalized thank you email from the organization’s development director, including a program survey, and encouraging involvement in the organization and attendance at future events.

Five best practices

1. Have a hook

Kudos to both these organizations for their choice of speakers. Both events were very informative, lively and interesting. Hosting an interesting, topical event is a big draw for members and is attractive to non-members.

2. Use the right online tools

There are lots of online tools available to organizations, at all different prices, for various functions (event management, surveys, time management). They offer functionality such as being able to generate reports, charge credit cards, build email lists, communicate with attendees, and so forth. Using the right online tool will let you increase your organization’s efficiency through automation and increased functionality.

3. Build your email list

If you are a membership or donor-based organization it becomes extremely important to build and expand your email list. Having an event is a great way to attract new people, so it makes sense to get their email address so you can keep in touch. Automatically adding people that have signed up for an event to your email list is easy and smart.

4. Follow up after the event

Presumably, by hosting an event, you have a goal for it. This goal could be to increase awareness, or increase your membership, or attract donations, etc. Following up after the event, reminding people of what you do and how they can be involved will go a long way to achieving your goal.

5. Survey your audience

If you want to continue to have successful programs, you’ll need to know what attendees liked and didn’t like. Asking attendees to rate your program and give suggestions is a great way to improve your future events.

It really was the best of times and the worst of times

Organization B was much more sophisticated and tech-savvy than Organization A. It used online tools to make things easier, and it seemed to be clearer on the outcomes it wanted. Even though both organizations advocate, only Organization B had the foresight to build their email list to make advocacy happen.

Organization A, in effect, has put the onus on me if I want to be more involved in the future. If I want to see what programs are coming up, I will have to visit their website. Organization B is making my involvement and support easier. Since I will be getting B’s emails about advocacy and events, I will be able to involved if I choose, without having to take an extra step to do it.

 

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Can they read it?

21 Mar
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Marketing   |  No Comments

Perhaps you have a great tagline or you have a fantastic, limited time offer, and yet you are getting no response. It could be that few people are enticed by your offer, or that there is little demand for your product, or, maybe, just maybe, it is that that they (quite literally) can’t see it.

What is it that you do?

Yesterday,  I was in my car driving behind a commercial SUV, which had the name of the company written in green letters on the back of the truck. But for the life of me, I couldn’t, make out what this company did because I could not read the line below the company name. I kept trying to figure out as I was driving a car length or so behind the truck. I finally came to a stop right behind this SUV, and it was only then that I was able to read the line saying it did plumbing. This company probably spent some money to have their company name, telephone and website painted on the back of their company SUV, and yet, it was done with such small letters that it was practically useless. Unless you were stopped right behind it, you would not know what it was.

If you’ve driven around during the day, you will have seen any number of commercial trucks and cars, each with the name of the company painted on the side of the vehicle. If the name and service are prominent, and easy to read from a distance, there can be big benefits. It  creates brand recognition. It can also be free advertising. Say your heating system is on the fritz, and you see a truck for a heating company, you may make note of the name, and even the website and/or telephone number.

Crammed with content, harder to read

Verizon FIOS recently redesigned its On Demand screen. Everything is now more compact (about half of the previous iteration), and all sorts of information is crammed on the screen. To be able to fit all this stuff on the screen, the font size was reduced. The result is that it is hard to read the titles of the movies. And they also added the extra step of making you click on each title to see more information, including cost. It has become very frustrating for me to deal with this new On Demand screen, and as a result, I am no longer going there to see what movies are available.

I am pretty certain that Verizon embarked on this redesign without consulting its users. I wonder if the company has seen any change in the amount of On Demand content users rent/buy now. Based on my experience, I would bet fewer people are getting stuff On Demand.

Can your audience see it? Can they read it?

You must keep readability and visibility top of mind when you design or redesign any marketing material. If your audience cannot read your material, or cannot see it properly, then they cannot interact with it.

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The death of copy editing?

16 Mar
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Copy Editing, Writing   |  No Comments

Yesterday, Bill Walsh, a copy editor for the Washington Post and author of three books on language, died. He was far too young–only 55–and a victim of cancer. He was liked and respected by his colleagues, copy editors everywhere, and by people who appreciate clean, readable copy (myself included).  His obituary in the Post is a worthwhile read.

A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a copy editing workshop that Mr. Walsh was leading. He talked about his pet peeves (“armed gunmen” for example) and talked extensively about comma and hyphen use, among other topics. After the session, somebody asked him why there were so many copy errors in the Washington Post. He lamented that the shear quantity of copy (all that digital stuff) made it impossible to keep up. And of course, his department had suffered cuts.

More and more, news outlets have fewer copy editors or even none at all. Writers/reporters are expected to edit their own work, which, as anybody who has written anything, is damn near impossible to do successfully.

Copy editing is not proofreading. Proofreading is about making sure that words are spelled correctly and/or are in the right place. Copy editing is far more than that. Copy editing is about making sure that the work makes sense and that it is accurate. It strives to improve readability and accessibility.

Bill Walsh was a celebrity copy editor (he had a following!). His insight and wit are irreplaceable. I hope that his main skill–copy editing–does not die along with him. He certainly transmitted his knowledge through his books and his workshops. But he couldn’t stop the powers that be from making cuts to copy editing staff.

Without copy editors, readers are shortchanged with text that can be mistake-ridden and inaccurate. Copy editors are valuable and perform necessary work inside news organizations and indeed, any organization that puts out “content.”

Rest in peace, Bill Walsh. You and your skills will be be sorely missed.

P.S. I don’t have a copy editor, so any mistakes (and I am sure there are a few) are mine and mine alone.

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A website mantra to help you achieve marketing nirvana

07 Mar
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Websites   |  No Comments

A mantra is defined by Merriam-Webster as a mystical formula of invocation or incantation. In Sanskrit, a mantra is a phrase, word, or sound that is repeated during meditation to help practitioners focus.

If you want to increase your website’s performance and focus, I have come up with a mantra for you:

Make it easier to find.

If you concentrate on this mantra, you will have a website where people have an easier time finding the information they want.

If you don’t, you will make your website users so frustrated that they will leave your website and will end up not doing business with you.

Searching and searching

This morning, I decided to research CD rates at a local bank. First, I had to put in my zip code “to get localized results.” Then, I had to navigate to a “Savings and CDs” page. Then, I had to click on “Savings Accounts and CD Options.” Then, I had to click on “Certificates of Deposit,” and then scroll down to find the link for “Interest Rates.” To sum it up, I had to go through five different steps/clicks to find the information I was seeking.

What do most people need and want to know?

I think  going through five steps to find simple information is too many steps. It can be discouraging to have to keep clicking through various pages to get what you need. In the case of the bank, I assume the one thing most people research are rates. Every industry and business has to answer some questions more frequently than others. Restaurants, for example, may need to provide their menu, hours and location. Banks need to provide a list of services, current rates, hours and locations.

The information your website visitors request the most, and need the most, needs to be easiest to find. It’s that simple.

So repeat after me: make it easier to find. There, are you feeling a bit more zen?

 

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