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Communication

Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications


Small issues ==> bigger communications problems

23 Jun
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

In the past several weeks, I’ve noticed a bunch of small communications issues with different organizations. None of them is big enough to merit a blog post, but they do cause bigger communications problems.

Making it extra hard to reach you

I met a graphic designer at an event a couple of weeks ago. I sent her a follow up email, and got an automated reply back from her email service telling me it didn’t recognize me and I would have to reply to the reply, so that I could be whitelisted. I’ve never seen that before, and I get why she does it. We are all bombarded by spam and other unsolicited email. But when you add an extra step to contacting you, especially when you’ve given me your personal email on a card, you are creating an obstacle to communication and slowing down any potential business. You have to balance accessibility with the desire for less email. I think if you are a business, you must be accessible.

Not including crucial information

The other day I visited microsite for an upcoming conference. It did not list the venue where the conference would be taking place, just the city and state. I’ve seen some conference websites that don’t list the full date of the conference. And many don’t list the price, but force you to hit the register button to find out how much it costs. If you are considering attending any event, you need certain information–where, when, how much and why. If your event page or site does not include crucial information, you are just making it hard for people to decide to attend your event.

Email from unknown senders

The other day I got an email from someone named Orlando. My first instinct was to delete, but something about the headline made me open it. It turns out that Orlando is a new employee at an organization from which I get a newsletter. And it was an organizational newsletter. I will never understand why organizations think it’s a good idea to send email from individuals rather than the organization. Unless you’re well known already, most people will not recognize you as the new CEO or communications director of an organization.

If your organization recently rebranded or changed its name, you may have to send an initial email from your old name. Last year,  I received an email from an organization I had never heard of and I was on the brink of hitting delete. It was communications related, so I figured I must have met someone from that organization at some point, but I wasn’t sure. It turns out that it was a new name for an old organization.

Opening external links in the same window

For the life of me, I don’t understand why so many organizations want to lose visitors to their websites. And yet, it happens more often than not than when you click on a link, such as the Twitter feed or LinkedIn profile, you are transported out of the organization’s website to the other website. It doesn’t take too much coding knowledge to have links open in new windows. That way, visitors can still be on your site and view the outside site.

Remember user experience, always.

All of these issues point to one overarching theme: user experience. What do users (visitors to your website, potential customers, potential supporters) experience when they interact with your communications? Are you considering what users need in order to do business with you? As the small issues I described above show, many organizations are not considering their users at all. And that’s a big communications problem.

 

About Deborah Brody

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

The danger of letting junior staff handle your communications

31 May
2017
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Marketing   |  3 Comments

Holiday marketing goes wrong

This past weekend, I got an email from retailer Eddie Bauer with the subject line “Happy Memorial Day.” Now, last time I checked, Memorial Day is a holiday that commemorates and honors soldiers who have died in battle. It’s a solemn day, meant for reflection, gratitude, and mourning. It is not meant to be a happy occasion.

And Eddie Bauer was hardly alone. Grammarly, purportedly a website/app about proper word usage, also wished its readers a “happy Memorial Day.” And Walgreens, the drugstore, had a TV commercial that wished viewers a happy Memorial Day and sent regards and gratitude to the troops. Again, Memorial Day is not about those currently serving, it is about those who died while serving.

Ivanka Trump’s company got a bit of negative publicity because it tweeted how to make champagne popsicles to “celebrate” Memorial Day. You do not celebrate Memorial Day, you observe it.

These are mistakes and missteps that come from assuming you know something rather than actually knowing it.

These sad examples of holiday marketing show a deep lack of knowledge and understanding. They are mistakes that seem to come from people who have little breadth and depth.  That’s what I mean by junior staff. Junior staff members are not necessarily young, but they are inexperienced, have little knowledge, don’t always understand context, and may make poorly thought out decisions. Junior staff may be aces at the tactics, like posting to social media, but they aren’t versed on strategy and communications goals.

When grownups handle communications

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Budweiser was running a promotion in which a portion of beer sales proceeds would be given to Folds of Honor, a charity that provides educational scholarships to families of fallen service members. In all aspects, this is a smarter and much more appropriate marketing tactic than the Memorial Day greetings listed above. It shows an understanding of the meaning of the holiday, and does something to give back (and thus, honors).  Budweiser gets that people like to have cookouts and drink beer over the long holiday weekend, so it is taking advantage of a behavior and making it be worthwhile both for the bottom line and for what the holiday stands for.

Understand what it means and how it’s best acknowledged

Holidays make easy marketing markers. Every store in this country uses the different holidays to sell something. If it’s Fourth of July, get your flag themed whatever (t-shirts, cakes). If it’s Thanksgiving buy some Pilgrim/turkey themed stuff. There are pastel colors and rabbits to celebrate Easter.

Yet, not all holidays are the same. Some are religious, some are patriotic, some are celebratory and some are solemn. Understanding what the meaning of a holiday is, and how people celebrate or commemorate it, goes a long way in ensuring that you won’t be making a junior-level, major marketing mistake.

Did you notice any Memorial Day marketing missteps? How do you feel about using a solemn holiday like Memorial Day for marketing purposes? Let me know 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.

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.

 

 

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

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!

 

About Deborah Brody

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

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.

About Deborah Brody

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

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?

 

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 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.

 

About Deborah Brody

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

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.

 

About Deborah Brody

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