Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications


How to show you really don’t care

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

“Your sport is reserved.”

That was the headline in an email I got from a marketing agency confirming my attendance at an event it was hosting. Obviously, it should have read “your spot is reserved.” Is this an egregious mistake? Not really, but it is careless. It shows nobody bothered to proofread this email. And remember, this is coming from a marketing agency, which presumably creates accurate copy for its clients.

More careless yet was a letter I received from my HOA’s management company regarding board elections. The letter stated that the elections would be held on February 7. The accompanying ballot said the elections would take place on February 28. Every homeowner was welcomed to attend (if only we knew which the correct date was).

Mistakes are everywhere

I’ve been noticing these types of mistakes more and more. Yesterday, a tweet from a leading women’s organization talked about principals instead of principles. Another letter from my HOA referenced the wrong community.

I am sure you’ve noticed it too because it has become rampant. I am not sure what’s causing this but I believe it has to do with the expectations of instant communication and the ongoing rush we are experiencing. We’ve seen news organizations that rush to be first instead of taking the time to ensure accuracy.

Avoiding mistakes takes a bit of effort

It takes time to proofread documents. It takes time to ensure all information (dates, times, locations) is accurate. It involves an extra step and perhaps another person.

And not making the effort communicates lack of care

Remember, not taking the appropriate steps to make sure your communications are clear and accurate shows that you don’t care about your reader.

What do you do to make sure your communications materials are accurate? Do you follow a checklist? Enlist a proofreader? Please let me know in the comments.

 

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5 Ways You Aren’t Showing Love for Your Customers

14 Feb
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Uncategorized   |  1 Comments

kaboompics.com_Padlock with heart shape on rope bridge

On this day in which we celebrate love and friendship (by buying overpriced roses and boxes of chocolate natch), I wish that more marketers would show love for their customers. Instead, we see many of the following behaviors :

1. Not delivering what you promise

Special discount? “Free” consultation? These are some of the promises that marketers make and then don’t deliver on. Another is the “bait and switch” blog post/article, in which the marketer tells you that you will learn something or get something, but instead it’s a sales pitch for a webinar or a product. And one that I have been seeing a lot is when you go to the “fees” tab on a website only to find some gobbledygook about value or some such, but nothing showing firm numbers.

When you don’t deliver what you promise you are not showing love for your customers, but rather the opposite.

2. Not providing essential information or making it very hard to find

I am talking about restaurant websites that don’t include hours or menus, businesses that don’t list customer service numbers or emails, brochures or business cards without addresses, telephones, website URLs or other essential contact information.

When you don’t provide information your customers need to do business with you, it shows you don’t value them at all.

3. Using small or otherwise hard to read fonts

Even if you have a wonderfully informative website or brochure, which includes all the right information, if  your customer can’t read it, it’s for naught. It’s a waste, and it shows that you haven’t taken your customers needs into consideration.

4. Sending too many emails

How many times are you going to tell your customers about your sale? I’d say twice a day every day is probably too much. So is sending ten emails urging potential donors to please give before some deadline (end of the year, your fiscal year, full moon). I’d add that too many asks in general are not good business (I am looking at you PBS with the constant pledge weeks that in reality are pledge months).

When you don’t consider that you overwhelming your customers with information, you are showing very little regard for them. That’s not loving.

5. Not remembering who already is a customer

Have you ever received an email, clicked on a link on that email which takes you to a website that has a form as a gatekeeper? The marketer who sent that email didn’t care that you were already a customer and had already signed up for emails. That’s lazy and uncaring. Also, it isn’t very effective because it doesn’t promote more signups, in fact, it could do the opposite.

This is by no means a complete list of ways in which marketers fail to show their love for customers. Which would you add?

With that,  I wish my dear readers a very happy Valentine’s Day. May it be full of all that makes you happy.

 

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5 Email Marketing Mistakes You Need To Fix Right Now

26 Jan
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Email marketing   |  No Comments

Email marketing is still an incredibly effective marketing tool, if you are doing it correctly. Sadly, that’s a big if. Often, marketers make the following five mistakes. Are you?

Here are five email marketing mistakes that may be affecting your campaign’s performance.

1. Not getting permission

Are you sending out your email marketing that haven’t signed up for it? Then not only are you making a crucial mistake, you are also running afoul of the CAN-SPAM law.  This is huge mistake that you must stop right away.

2. Sending image-only emails

Did you know that Outlook and many other email programs do not show mages until the use authorizes their download? This means that if your email is all images, and no plain text, your recipients will not see anything except a bunch of red xes. Don’t make your recipients work so hard! Send both text and images.

3. Sending too frequently or too many emails

When people sign up for your email marketing, they are indicating interest in getting information from you. However, they are not indicating they want their email box to be flooded with your stuff. And yet, some marketing feel that reach is not enough to cut through the clutter, and frequency is needed. Excessive frequency will not cut through the clutter, instead it may get you cut off entirely.

 4. Not checking your analytics

How many people open your emails? How many click on links? How many bounces are you getting? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you aren’t checking your analytics. You are missing out on valuable information that can help guide your future email marketing efforts.

5. Not cleaning up your list

Periodically, you should go through your list. You should pay special attention to recipients that are not opening your email. If they’ve been on your list for a long time, keeping them on does not improve your email marketing. You could try sending them an email asking them if they wish to remain on your list or whether there is information that they need from you and aren’t getting. If you get no response, then delete them from your list. Getting rid of these users will actually help increase your open rate.

How many of these email marketing mistakes are you committing? Which mistakes would you add?

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If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

11 Jan
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Communication   |  No Comments

The Washington Post runs an advertising campaign with the slogan “if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” And on Monday, I did not get my print copy of the Post. I called the re-delivery number and left a message. Five hours later, I had not yet received a replacement copy so I called again, and left another message, asking for a call back. Then I went to the online complaints, and left two messages–one about the missed delivery and one about another delivery issue I had during my end-of-year vacation.

I didn’t get it

I heard nothing from the Post. Not one word. No call back and no redelivered paper. No apology. No credit. No nothing.

Subscriptions matter

The Washington Post has seen an increase in digital subscribers and a decrease in print subscribers. This isn’t surprising since most people seem to prefer to read their news online. However, in terms of advertising sales, which is what pays the bills at the Post and most every other newspaper, circulation numbers are what sets advertising rates. Fewer print subscribers means smaller circulation numbers, which means lower advertising rates. Obviously, the less the Post charges Macy’s and the various other advertisers, the less revenue it generates.

Disregard is disrespect

So subscriptions matter. And yet the Post continues to treat its subscribers with, if not outright disdain, complete disregard. Prices are increased every few months, credits are no longer given even though the print subscription charges for delivery costs, and customer service has been outsourced to Asia, where the agents barely speak English and don’t know K Street from Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Washington Post would prefer if you never called them, so they’ve created an online account/customer service portal. Except it sucks. Every time you want to do something, you  have to sign in, and then somehow, you are signed out of your digital subscription. And not everything works. I tried to change my vacation hold dates, and was not able to. I had to call an unhelpful customer service agent.

When I got home from vacation, I discovered that of the six days I was gone, four days of newspapers were delivered. My vacation stop was not honored. I complained online and nothing. Again, no apology, no credit, no acknowledgment of a mix-up.

Here’s the bottom line: The Washington Post can advertise for new subscribers all it wants, but until it fixes its broken customer service, it will continue to lose print subscribers (and by extension advertising revenue).

Customer service matters more than marketing in retaining customers. Marketing is about acquisition and customer service is about retention. If you acquire customers just to lose them because of poor service, you are wasting money marketing and you are threatening your bottom line.

 

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Not using my [name] pen to write you a check

15 Dec
2016
by Deborah Brody, posted in Promotional products/Ad Specialties   |  No Comments
Kaboompics.com

Kaboompics.com

Pens, t-shirts and apple butter?

Right now, I have a pen on my desk from a design studio in Washington, DC. I like the way it writes. But I don’t think I will be using that design studio for any work any time soon.

I have another pen that I picked up a conference a couple of weeks ago. I also like the way it writes, but I don’t like web hosting company whose name is on it. I used to host my website there and had nothing but problems. I would never take my business back there or recommend the company to anyone. But I do use that pen.

And then there’s the t-shirt I picked for a service I don’t even understand, but hey, this t-shirt is super soft and comfy. Or the magnetic calendar I got from the local realtor, who has also delivered apple butter (in a branded jar) to my door.

Is your promotional item really promoting you?

All of these are promotional items, sometimes called advertising specialties. Some cost pennies each and some cost much more. The question is, no matter how little or a lot you spend on these items, is it money well spent? I believe the answer lies on your expectations.

Sales?

If you expect to gain sales from a promotional item that you have given away without any type of qualification, then you are probably wasting your money. If instead, you ask people to provide an email address or fill a questionnaire, then you will at least have generated a potential lead. However, it’s also true most people are willing to give you some information in return for a good item (t-shirt, notebook, etc.) without having the slightest intention of buying from you.

Brand recognition?

If you expect to gain name/brand recognition, and nothing else, and that’s all you want, then you will have spent your money well. Promotional items are designed by nature to boost brand recognition. Generally, they are items that you use regularly, like pens or mugs, making the name on the item very familiar to you.

 

Bottom line

If you want to boost your name recognition, and you have money to spend, it may work in your favor to produce some promotional items. My advice is to choose useful items that people keep around for a while.

If you want to boost your sales, you have to do more than hand out stuff with your name on it. The decision to buy is not simply based on name recognition. It is based on need, trust and perception of value. There are better ways to accomplish that then spending money on pens and other items. Especially if that pen is never used to write you a check.

In order to allocate your marketing budget wisely, you must be clear on your goals and how much you are willing to spend to accomplish them.

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On writing: Ami Neiberger-Miller sticks to the tried and true

01 Dec
2016
by Deborah Brody, posted in On writing interviews, Writing   |  No Comments

We’ve arrived to the last On Writing interview of the year, and this month, I’ve turned to public relations maven (check out her Twitter handle below) Ami Neiberger-Miller. I met Ami at a PRSA conference a few years back where we both were presenting. Ami truly understands how PR works, and how important writing is to communicating effectively.

 

Pic of Ami Neiberger-Miller

Ami Neiberger-Miller

 

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist specializing in nonprofit organizations, associations and small businesses. She is the founder of Steppingstone, LLC, a communications and public relations agency. She has written educational curricula, a book, feature articles, press releases, infographics, training materials, websites, style guides, policy manuals, and much more.

Find her on Twitter at @AmazingPRMaven

 

 

 

1. What role does writing play in your work and how important a skill is it?

Writing is the lifeblood of my work in public relations and advocacy. I am constantly writing for news releases, feature articles, emails, strategic plans, social media and much more. Writing is an important skill because of the electronic age in which we operate. Even though people are reading content online, they are often reading written text when they view content online. And written text plays a role in shaping visual media now too – in the form of scripts, graphics and video.

2. Does writing well still matter in a digital/text/emoji world?

The craft of writing is very much alive and well today. Writing well matters even more in a digital world. Writing the right words has never been more important than it is today – because attention spans are shrinking. We have to share information much faster now and it’s even more challenging to get people to pay attention. There is still space for longer form writing, and with the internet, more opportunities to attract attention and be published. Digital options also offer writing opportunities – because scripts have to be created for videos, and copy has to be written for infographics, flipbooks, and all sorts of other materials.

3. What’s the best advice you’ve received or would give on how to improve writing skills?

To me one of the best skills you can develop in writing is delivering quality copy quickly. I am typically the person who tries to muscle through to finish the job and reach my word count for the day (and then some). But I’ve found that I do better if I take breaks when I get stuck or reach a point where copy is just not flowing. Taking a break can be as simple as going for a walk, making some tea, or packing up and working in a new environment. Returning with fresh eyes to your work can make a big difference. Just a short break can refresh your spirit.

I also find that I tend to do better with longer writing projects if I focus on them in the morning. By the end of the day, my creative juices are spent. While I can do “sausage-grinding” types of writing fairly late in the day and into the evening, I find I am typically more focused and creative in the morning. One of my favorite time slots for writing is 4-6:00 a.m. (yes, I know that sounds insane) because it’s a time of day that’s quiet and distraction free. It’s also when my mind is freshest. If I wake up on a mission for a particular project – early morning is the time I want to use to write and pour out the words.

I also think it’s important to develop the ability to “free write.” Just getting what you want to say out is a triumph, even if it’s messy. Far too often, I see writers get paralyzed by wanting to be sure that what they write initially is correct or concise. I may be the kind of person who proofreads restaurant menus for typos, but I can’t apply that same eagle eye to newborn writing as it’s pouring out. Getting the initial “brain dump” done can be cathartic and help you organize. Editing can come later. Respect the process so you don’t lose a great thought or element because you got caught up in the details. Being able to just sit down and “free write” without judging yourself is a really helpful practice to develop.

4. What are your top three writing resources or references?

I am old-fashioned in that I still keep on the shelf near my desk a red Webster’s New World Dictionary (that I won for an essay I wrote in sixth grade so it is horribly out of date but beloved). Next to it are a thesaurus and a Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. To me, those are the big three. But I readily admit that I don’t take them out very often. I keep a lot of writing books nearby too. I have some favorite online resources, such as Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab and Grammar Girl. I also like Ann Wylie’s writing workshops (which I take as webinars through my PRSA membership). On Twitter, I search for #writing #quote when I need an inspirational pick me up. I also subscribe to Women on Writing.

5. Do you follow a style guide, and if so, which one?

I don’t really follow a style guide with my own writing. If I am doing a project for a client, I use whatever style guide they prefer. Increasingly, clients are issuing their own style guides and making variations from the major style guides, as style has become tightly linked to branding. I keep on my shelf the following: the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, the Elements of International English Style and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

6. What’s your top writing/grammar/usage pet peeve?

My most cringe-worthy writing gaffe is when I double up a sentence, as in “today we are going to announce that XYZ is today.” It’s an easy mistake that can be caught by proofreading. For some reason though, it’s one of my bad habits.

7. What’s your favorite word and what’s your least favorite?

Favorite word: partner
Least favorite word: innovate

It’s always good practice to keep tried and true resources at your fingertips. Like Ami, every writer should have a dictionary and thesaurus nearby. The various style guides are invaluable, and AP and Chicago both have very good online versions by subscription.

Coming up later in December will be a recap of the On Writing advice. Please keep an eye out for it here and/or on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Use email, don’t abuse it

29 Nov
2016
by Deborah Brody, posted in Email marketing   |  No Comments

If you’re like me, you’ve been bombarded by email for the past several days. First, it was all about Black Friday deals. Then it was the Cyber Monday deals. And today, it’s about Giving Tuesday.

Now, I am not against getting deals or giving to good causes. And I think using email marketing is very effective given that people generally opt-in, and are willing to receive your stuff.

But I am against email marketing abuse.

Because it’s an absolute abuse of your list to send too many emails in too short a time span. It overwhelms people.

 

Enough said.

The bottom line with abusing your email marketing privileges is that it will be counterproductive. Too much email (especially from the same sender) makes people hit delete. And some may even unsubscribe.

Use email wisely. Don’t abuse it or your list’s good faith.

 

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Please, don’t tell me more about you

18 Nov
2016
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

Of books and how people just want to talk about themselves

Last night I attended my first meeting of a book group. Around the table were a dozen women. One lady, who had also never attended the group, decided she would take the reins and introduce herself. And so she did–telling us her story, her children’s stories and her grand kid’s stories.

As we went around the table, some women shared their name, occupation and where they live, while some women went into great autobiographical detail, even into the TMI (too much information) territory. We heard about what high school they attended, family secrets, divorce, how their ancestors got to America, angst about the kids (there was a lot of emphasis on their children), and very little about their reading or book interests.

But, let’s get back to me

When we finally got around to discussing the book, one (self-absorbed) woman kept bringing it back to her experiences, her life, her likes, her dislikes. Everything someone else said made her want to share something irrelevant to the book and only relevant to herself. At one point, she digressed into discussing whether her second son (who is probably in his early 30s) had attachment issues because he spent a few weeks in the NICU after being born prematurely. (Yes, this really happened.)

I began to think I had mistakenly attended a group therapy session.

Are you being social?

Imagine that instead of a book group, this was Twitter or Facebook. Among the stuff in your feed is a bunch of self-promoting, self-analyzing, self-absorbed stuff. Do you pay attention? I bet you don’t. Because when you are in a social setting, like a book group or social media, you are there to share and discuss and interact. It is a multi-sided conversation–not a one-sided discourse.

Now, take a look at your marketing materials. How much is about how great you are, and how many awards you’ve won? How much shows you understand and empathize with your readers (customers, donors, etc.)? If the balance is tipped in your favor instead of your reader, then you are talking way too much about yourself.

Who cares?

To be a more successful communicator (or book group participant), start listening more and talking less. And when you do talk, make sure you aren’t being self-absorbed.

Here’s the thing: Nobody cares as much about you as you do.

 

 

 

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Always start with the reader in mind

10 Nov
2016
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Email marketing, Event marketing   |  2 Comments

 

Photo by Kaboompics.com

Photo by Kaboompics.com

It seems obvious that you should always write your marketing and communications materials with your readers in mind. After all, if you are trying to communicate with them, you have to understand what they need to know.

And yet, how many times have you received a letter that doesn’t say anything? Or an email that lacks crucial information? How many times have you had to call up a company because you didn’t understand something it sent you? I bet you’ve had many a moment like this, which left you frustrated.

Missing information

I had such a moment last week. I had signed up for an editing workshop from the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) being given on November 5 in Washington, DC.  Here’s the email I received a few days before the event (note that I blocked out the names of presenters and a phone number for privacy):

This message is to confirm that you are registered for the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) Boot Camp from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 5, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The workshop will take place in the Funger Hall auditorium, room 103, located on the Foggy Bottom campus.

Lunch will be provided by the local chapter of ACES.

Presenters XX, XX and XX look forward to welcoming you on Saturday.

If you have any questions or find yourself lost on Nov. 5, please feel free to call 571-xxx-xxxx for assistance.

Notice anything missing from this email? How about the address for the building? Or how about directions and parking information (or links to those)? How about an agenda and/or schedule for the day? Is there any information about what you need to bring with you?

Trying again

The next day, ACES sent another email, regarding parking information. It is basically the same email as before, except for the addition of parking and Metro information, which I bolded for you to see more clearly.

We look forward to seeing you at the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) Boot Camp from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The workshop will take place in the Funger Hall auditorium, room 103, located on the Foggy Bottom campus.

Lunch will be provided by the local chapter of ACES.

Parking

The closest garage to Funger Hall is the University Parking Garage/G Street Garage, located at 2028 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20052. There is access from both 20th Street and 21st Street between F and G Streets. The self-service garage is open 24/7, accepting MasterCard, Visa and American Express for payments (no cash). The full day rate is $12.

The closest Metro stop is Foggy Bottom-GWU, with service on the  Blue, Orange and Silver lines.

If you find yourself lost on Nov. 5, please feel free to call 571-XXX-XXXX for assistance.

This attempt was a better than the prior email, but still, no address for Funger Hall. It’s as if ACES thinks that everyone is intimately familiar with GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus. For those of you who aren’t in the DC area, GW’s campus is a city campus. Buildings have street addresses–they are not in quads as in traditional colleges.

I looked up Funger Hall on Google, but  I forgot to note the address, and when I got to the parking garage on Saturday, I didn’t know where to go. I looked it up on my phone and the address I got did not correspond to the building. I called the number on the email, but there was no response.  I was able to get directions from a student I saw on the street, and I then got to the workshop several minutes late.

How helpful are you being to your reader?

If ACES had started with the reader’s needs in mind when writing this email, it would have realized that providing an address and links to maps and directions would have helped recipients of this email.

It’s about the 5 Ws

When you write a press release, you should think like a journalist and answer the five Ws: what, why, where, who and when. You should also answer the how.  This advice is also applicable to most any communications material you create.

If you need help creating effective communications materials, contact me!

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Why you are failing to communicate on social media

03 Nov
2016
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, LinkedIn, social media, Twitter   |  No Comments

A few weeks ago an acquaintance was coming to town from the West Coast. She posted on Facebook (along with about another five posts the same day) that she was free on a given afternoon and if people wanted to see her, to please message her. Now, I hadn’t seen this person in a couple of years, and since I was free on the afternoon she mentioned, I would have liked to get together. But, I hadn’t seen her post until it was too late.  By the time I messaged her, she had already made other plans since she said that nobody responded to her post.

In my opinion, she failed to communicate effectively. There are several potential reasons why.

Why #1: Not understanding how social media works.

Chances are good that only a few people in your network will see what you post.  First, social media is a continual flow of information from many sources. Nowhere is this more obvious than on Twitter, which shows you everything from everybody in real time. If you missed it, you missed it (unless someone re-tweeted it and it gained traction). And to make that more complicated, the different networks use algorithms to show you what the network thinks you want to see. On Facebook, the default algorithm is set to show “top posts,” which are the posts that more people have “liked.” LinkedIn has a similar algorithm, also showing what it deems are “top” posts.

Additionally, social media provides controls for people to “hide” or “mute” certain users. It’s quite possible you’ve been hidden and thus your posts won’t be seen at all.

In order to work around social media’s constraints, you have to provide relevant content that gets liked and shared, and therefore becomes “top” content.

Why# 2: Not using the right channel for your message and audience.

In this case, this woman was trying to communicate with a handful of her Facebook friends (the ones who live in this area). She may have had better luck by using a more targeted approach. For example, she could have used Facebook messenger to talk directly to those people. Or she could have (gasp) emailed or texted the people she wanted to see.

Different channels and media have different audiences. You probably wouldn’t put an announcement that you are giving away your kittens on LinkedIn, but you might post on Facebook. LinkedIn is about business opportunities, and Facebook is more personal. You could also try sharing a picture on Instagram of those cute kitties looking for a home.

You have to choose the right channel to make sure you message reaches the right (more receptive) audience.

Why #3: Forgetting that social media is only one communications channel.

If you were trying to, say, promote a new product, chances are good you would use a mix of channels to reach different target audiences. You would also adjust your messaging accordingly. You might choose use an email campaign. Or you could do media outreach. Or you could run some advertising, including Google Ads. Or you could try promotional give-aways. Or sponsorships. You get my drift.

For social media to work, it can’t be your only communication channel. It has to be part of a larger communication plan. Social media is just that–a medium that has social aspects that help amplify your message. It is not a substitute for other media.

You want to get your message to the right people at the right time.

For any communication plan to be effective in this way, you have to use a mix of media depending on who you are trying to reach and when. You need to understand each medium, and what type of audience responds best to that channel. And you will need to adjust your messaging (e.g., length, complexity, benefits you highlight, etc.) for each medium.

 

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