Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

How to be better at event marketing

Some event marketers are killing it. I have been impressed with Boston University Alumni Association’s efforts. They are doing everything right: well-timed, well-designed event invitations,  pre-event reminders, and always a post-event thank you email.

Not everyone is doing so well. Some event marketing, especially by small nonprofits, seems haphazard, with little planning and even smaller attention paid to details. And really, better event marketing pays attention to the details, the logistics, and the user experience.

First, plan good events

Marketing an event successfully starts with the event itself. Is it interesting or relevant to your audience? Is the date good, with few conflicts?

Photo by Karolina Grawbowska on Kaboompics.com

Entice and inform your audience

Once you have chosen the event, the date and the venue you are ready to market it to your audience. You will have to develop a description of the event that entices but also informs. Why would your audience want to come to this event? Who is speaking? Why are you hosting the event? What makes this event special or important? And you must provide all the important logistical information, such as: date, time, venue name and address, cost (including if free to attend), and ways to sign up.

Time the invitation properly

Think about how much time your audience needs to make a decision. If it is an event that requires travel and hotel reservations (e.g., annual conference, wedding), you will need to send it with a few months lead time. If the event is local, then you can market closer to the event time. However, don’t send out an invitation too far in advance because it will be forgotten, but don’t do it too close to the event because your audience may already have made other commitments.

What to include in the actual invitation

Emails must have text and a link to sign up. Do not ever have an image/graphic-only email, since some email programs do not automatically open images and require them to be downloaded.

Again, make sure to include all the details your audience needs to decide whether to attend or not (look at the list above).

Signing up should be easy

You should have an easy way to sign up—do not make me jump through hoops such as making me scroll through multiple screens, and having to create accounts and passwords. You are not selling tickets for an international flight. Think about what information you absolutely need (e.g., name, contact info such as address and email, credit card information), and start with that. Other information (e.g., phone number, demographics, etc.) that might be good to have should be weighed carefully. Asking for too much information can be a huge turn-off.

Always acknowledge sign-ups

This should go without a saying, but once people sign up for your event, they should get an email confirmation.

Calendar links!

Be sure that the software you are using has a universal calendar link both in the sign up screen and in the acknowledgment/confirmation email.  Attendees should be able to download the event info to any major calendar (i.e., Apple, Outlook, Google).

Friendly reminders are welcome

Always send a reminder at least one day ahead. Include all important logistical information (i.e., start time, address, directions, public transportation/parking information, and any requirements (e.g., picture ID, cash on hand, laptop, etc.).

After the fact

Always send something after the event—it can be a simple “thank you for attending,” or a survey/request for feedback, or sharing of information relevant to the event (e.g., contact information for speakers, handouts, bibliographies, etc.)

Would be nice if…

The software you use would be smart enough not to send event invites to people who have already registered. When I get another invitation to an event I have signed up for, I always think that I forgot to register or that my payment didn’t go through.


Bottom line

Make your event marketing better: Always think about your audience and what they need in order to make a decision and attend your event.

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How to make your event go well, and why it is important

Have you ever attended a professional development/learning event that didn’t meet your expectations or deliver on its promise? I have, and I bet you have too.

Via Pexels.com

Good events lead to good things

Many organizations put on these events as a benefit to their members, or to provide an interesting take on a hot topic, or simply, to provide a learning opportunity. And events are often a great way to build interest in your organization, and to help increase membership.

But the positive aspects of holding an event disappear if the event is bad. Bad events are events that don’t go as planned and don’t offer what they promise.

Bad events lead to bad things

Attending an event that doesn’t live up to its billing is incredibly frustrating. You’ve given up your time, and many times your money, to attend what seems like a waste. You’ve learned nothing and achieved nothing.

Don’t let your event harm your organization

Event organizers, whether professional or volunteer, need to be aware of the negative consequences of having a bad event:

  • Loss of trust in your organization
  • Decreased attendance to future events
  • Reputation damage

Ultimately, organizations could see revenue loss. That should be incentive to prevent bad events from happening.

How to make sure your event goes well

Ensure your next event goes well with proper planning, organization, and communication.

Note that the following tips are not intended as an exhaustive list. Instead, this list reflects solutions to various issues I have experienced in the bad events I have attended.

Planning tips

Prepare your speakers: Explain what you expect them to present, how much time they will have, and who you expect to attend the event.

Review the presentations: Make sure that what the speaker is planning to present matches what you required. Review the slides.

Organization tips

A/V, computer checks: Ensure that the A/V and computer/internet connection are working before the event. The time to check is not just as the event is starting. This wastes time, and doesn’t allow you to correct problems.

Agenda: Share an agenda, whether printed or digital.

Inform your audience:  Set ground rules for your audience, and address common issues (i.e., if and when there will be Q and A, if there are refreshments available, location of restrooms, etc.)

Communication tips

Before the event: Send a reminder to those who have registered. Be sure to include the location address, date and time of the event, and logistical information such as directions, parking availability, etc.

During the event: Properly introduce yourself, the host organization, the topic, and the speaker (s). Make sure the speakers share their title, affiliation and contact information.

After an event: Send an email thanking people for attending. This email can also include an event survey, request for feedback, and sharing of any relevant information (e.g., websites mentioned in the talk, the presentation deck, contacts, bibliography, etc.)


The bottom line is that events are a great marketing communications tool when done right. Done wrong, they can be a disaster for your organization.

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Don’t let your story go off the rails

A disjointed lecture

On Monday night, I attended a lecture put on by a local education nonprofit. The topic was interesting, and based on her biography, the speaker seemed knowledgeable. She started her talk by plunging the room into darkness and playing a video. Then, she got up and without preamble, started talking. She showed photographs of the subjects of her book, and talked about the people without context. She even brought up a guest who was related to one of the subjects in the book, and talked as if the room should know the person. The speaker barely talked about the subject of her lecture, making it the most disjointed and uninformative lecture I’ve been to in a long time.

Why so bad?

What went wrong? I am not sure what made the speaker give such a poor presentation. It could have been that she was having a bad night or that she hadn’t prepared enough or that she’s bad presenter.

Story time
Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels

Always seek best practices

One thing I know for sure: This presentation could have been much better if the speaker followed the following storytelling rules:

1) Have a beginning, middle and end

Avant-garde cinema often plays with these elements (starting at the end, etc.), but in traditional (and clear) story-telling you start at the beginning and conclude at the end. That’s a story arc that is easy to follow.

2) Don’t make assumptions

When you are the expert, you may assume that everybody knows what you know. But that is not so. You have to fill in details and information for those in your audience you may not know everything there is to know about your subject.

3) Focus

It’s easy to meander when telling a story. There are also sort of side stories and interesting details about your main topic.  But before you can go down a side path, you have to clear the main path. In other words, focus on the main story before you start telling tangential stories.


Bottom line:

Sure, there’s more to effective story telling than this. But before you embellish a story, start with the basics.

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Are you persuasive?

Have you ever argued passionately with a friend and neither of you changes the other’s mind even one little bit?   That difficulty in getting someone to change how they think is the central problem in marketing communications. Whether a company is trying to get you to buy a new brand of shampoo or a nonprofit is vying for your donation dollars, marketing communications is at work trying to persuade you of why you should do what they want.

I picked up (and read) Writing to Persuade by Trish Hall to see if I could learn how to make my work more effective.

Hall’s persuasion bona fides are that she was an editor of the New York Times op-ed page.  The New York Times op-ed page regularly attracts high-profile and controversial viewpoints, and due to its influence, receives a high volume of submissions. Those submissions needs to be culled and edited, and that was Hall’s job. Having to make decisions on what pieces to run made Hall more aware of what makes an interesting and readable piece.

In the book, Hall discusses both what makes a persuasive op-ed, and presents writing tips.

To be persuasive, Halls says a piece should:

  • Have a specific and strong point of view
  • Tell a story, and personalize it
  • Show knowledge of  your audience and really listen to what they say
  • Find common ground where possible
  • Play on feelings more than statistics and facts
  • Show empathy
  • Not be argumentative.

Hall suggests that your writing should:

  • Have proven/checked facts to bolster your viewpoint. Hall says you should always use reliable sources of information and have more than one source.
  • Be specific
  • Avoid jargon
  • Cut unnecessary words.

The book is quite repetitious and is really geared toward op-ed writers looking to have their pieces accepted for publishing. Hall’s writing tips are not really about being persuasive, but rather about being clear, something I endorse (I especially like her insistence on avoiding jargon).  Hall discusses the psychology of persuasion in the last part of the book, something that would have been better put up front.

Although I found that Hall presents some solid ideas about persuasion, she gears it very specifically to submitting op-eds, even discussing how to butter up editors. I thought this book could have easily been a long article. Instead, she pads the book with the story of her journey to becoming a journalist/editor.


The bottom line is that I am not persuaded that this book should be your guide to better or more persuasive writing. You will pick up some good tidbits though. If I were recommending whether you should buy or borrow this book, I say definitely borrow it. That’s what I did!

 

 

 

 

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All the marketing in the world won’t save your brand from bad customer service

Marketing helps people to know brands, but it doesn’t make people like brands. People like brands that provide quality, value, and a good experience. That good experience comes down to customer service. If the brand’s customer service is bad, the experience is bad, and the brand is tainted. It is really that simple.

Why I will never shop at Ulta again

A couple of years ago, I bought some nail polish at Ulta, and I asked before I paid if it was returnable. I was told yes. It turns out I had a similar color at home, so I returned to the store, original receipt in hand, and was asked for my phone number. I said I wasn’t in their system, I had the receipt and I wasn’t giving them my number. The clerk was unable to do the return. I went home and called Ulta customer service and was told I should be able to do a return with just the receipt, no problem. I ended up going to an Ulta in another county and doing the return there. I vowed never to shop at my local Ulta again. And then last week, I was in the shopping center where the Ulta is, so I decided to go in. I bought some makeup. When I got home, I realized the makeup was not what I wanted. I went back to Ulta, again with original receipt in hand, and makeup in its box, untouched, and got the exact same answer that I had gotten two years prior. They needed a phone number. Again, why? I am not in their system and a phone number will not bring up my account. I got a manager, who somehow managed to get around this “phone requirement.”

What a difference

Contrast that with my experience at Sephora, another cosmetics store, a few months ago. I had a faulty mechanical eyeliner pencil but no receipt (I was hoping they would fix the issue not take back the item). The clerk was able to look up the transaction using my credit card, and gave me a credit, no further questions asked.

Making it difficult to make a return is a huge customer service problem

Most stores will do returns quite easily if you have a receipt. Some stores will give you a store credit if you don’t have a receipt. The only stores that seem to make it hard to do returns are small, local boutiques, and Ulta. Customers want to be able to like what they buy and return it if they don’t. Most businesses see the benefit in customer satisfaction.

When you have to market to overcome your failings

Ulta advertises discounts all the time. Sephora never does. Perhaps Ulta needs to get people in the door with incentives because it knows that the experience is less than ideal. This is not to say Sephora is perfect (far from) but it seems geared toward a better customer experience than Ulta.

You will choose to do business where you feel less friction

Many people shop at stores like Nordstrom because its policy is to accept almost all returns without exceptions.  This makes for a more relaxed shopping experience. If you know you can buy whatever it is and then return it if it doesn’t suit for whatever reason, you will buy. If, however, you think there will be a problem, you will not buy because you don’t want to deal with the friction.


Here’s the bottom line: If your customer service is bad it doesn’t matter how good your marketing is.

 

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Stupid on repeat=marketing fail

Repeat phone calls from different numbers, same message

Around 11 a.m. my cell phone rings and the caller ID shows an 1-800 number. I don’t answer. Seconds later there’s a voicemail message. It is a recording of a robotic woman warning of some account suspension. I delete the message without listening to all of it. About five or ten minutes later, another call from another 1-800 number. Again, I don’t answer. And again, there’s the exact same voicemail message. This has happened for the past three days. That’s six calls from six different 1-800 numbers and six identical robotic voicemail messages.

Perhaps the spammer’s “strategy”  is this:

  • Use an 1-800 number since it looks official
  • Use different 1-800 numbers for each call, so target won’t figure out it’s the same entity calling
  • Scare the target with an official sounding message about “immediate account suspension” to create fear/anxiety. This fear will lead to target answering the phone five minutes after the original message and/or calling back.
  • Call at the same time every day because this will make a target answer or pick up

Stupid “marketing”

What’s behind this “marketing” strategy is the assumption that the target won’t see that the 1-800 calls are not official, and that they will pick up. In other words, the “strategy” is based on the idea that the target is too stupid to see that this is a scam.

Sending the same email, over and over and over and over…

There’s a guy named Steve Marriot who really wants to speak to me about my credit. He wants it so much that he sends me the same email day after day. His subject line says “Let’s grow together in 2019.” He just wants to set up me to call him to discuss my credit needs. Or better yet, just apply since his company has analyzed my company and determined I am eligible for a quarter million dollar loan at a low rate! Okay then. Oh, and there is absolutely no information about Steve’s “company” in the email. No website address, no description, no nothing but there is a link for an application. As if I am going to click that.

Putting the stupid in marketing

First, sending the same email multiple times does not make me want to open a line of credit with you. Credit and finance are trust-based transactions. I don’t know Steve, but I do know he is running a con. He knows nothing about my company or me and nobody but nobody pre-approves you for a loan without knowing anything about your finances. Second, are you really that stupid to think that I am so stupid as to respond to an email from an unknown “financial” company?


Do you assume your customers are stupid? If you do, please stop.  The only marketers that bet on stupidity are spammers. And that is the bottom line.

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Be a more effective writer: Think BLUF

What is BLUF?

I only recently learned about BLUF, which stands for “bottom line up front,” from a woman who works in project management at a computer/software company. In her line of work, she says, she has little time to  wade through a morass of details, and needs to know the bottom line first (i.e., what is the project is going to cost).

TL, DR

It’s not much different in any type of writing. I am sure you’ve seen people post articles with the disclaimer “TL, DR,” which stands for “too long, didn’t read.” People don’t have time to read long, detailed articles or emails, especially if they are reading them on a mobile device. People want to know what it’s about, and then read it slowly when they have time. This is why subject lines and headlines are so crucial—that’s your BLUF for emails and articles. Say what it’s about.

Don’t bury the lede!

With news releases, it is imperative that the first paragraph carry the important information. The rest of the release is filled with the details and quotes. The same holds for news articles. In journalism, when you don’t provide the crucial information up front, it’s called “burying the lede.”

Take this article from Eater DC: “HipCityVeg Brings its Vegan Versions of Fast Food Favorites to Dupont Circle.” It’s about the opening of the restaurant’s second location in Washington, DC, and yet, I have to read through NINE paragraphs about how and why HipCityVeg does what it does before I find out the exact address of the new location. The address should have been in the first paragraph, so that somebody who want to actually visit the restaurant, knows where to find it.

What does the reader need to know?

When writing a marketing piece, a blog post, an email, do yourself a favor and think BLUF: What is the most important thing your reader has to know? Being bottom line-oriented and putting the important stuff up front, will make you a better, more effective writer.

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What’s in it for me?

It’s Copywriting 101

If you ever looked at any basic copywriting advice, you’d probably have seen the bit where they tell you to talk about the benefits of whatever it is you are writing about. Benefits is what is in it for the audience. Perhaps they get a good price, or look younger, or help save the world. You are always supposed to highlight what the audience gets from the good or service or organization you are promoting. It’s Copywriting 101.

But spammers don’t take copywriting classes

The other day I got a spam email (meaning it was from someone I don’t know, who probably harvested my name from the internet, and is trying to sell me something). I got the same email again yesterday. Here’s what the email said:

Hi Deborah,

I just came across your blog madmimi.com and wanted to reach out to you. I am reaching out because I was wondering if you would post a 500 word article that contains 2-3 links that would be relevant to the article topic. The article would also need to be written .

Please advise on the cost for this service and if you offer a bulk pricing package.

Have an awesome Thursday,

Thanks,

[name withheld]

So many questions

Okay. Let’s start with the blindingly obvious problem. I don’t have a blog called madmimi.com (I do, however, used Mad Mimi for my sadly neglected newsletter).

Let’s go on to the next part of the email:  I’m being asked to post an article, presumably on my blog, about a non-disclosed topic, and include two or three links, but to where exactly? The article “would have to be written,” presumably by me.  Then the writer wants to know the cost for this service.

But really there is nothing in it for me

I’m supposed to conclude, only guessing here, that this email’s writer is willing to pay me to write an article about whatever I want to post on my own blog.  But of course, that makes no sense. The email writer must have a subject in mind. And really, why would I post an article about any random subject on my blog, and charge someone for it if there is nothing in it for them, and it is not clear what is in it for me? I already have an established blog (you are reading it right now), where I have been posting articles written by me for the past 10+ years.

It seems that what the email writer is really trying to do, quite in-artfully, is to get me to respond asking for more information or perhaps check out the website associated with the writer’s email address.  That’s why this is spam.

Answer “what’s it in it for me?”

If you want anything you write to succeed, start with how your audience benefits. What will they get from it? Imagine if this spammer would have said exactly what he/she meant (i.e., we’ll pay you to promote our  product/service on your blog), I may have been more interested. Instead, I wrote a blog post about how bad these spammers are at selling. Perhaps it was a win after all.

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Not just what you say, but how you say it

Recently, I came across this article on ThriveGlobal: “3 Communication Mistakes that Lead to a Toxic-feeling Workplace.” The article addresses  interpersonal communications, but I think the first mistake, not paying attention to how your message is being received, applies to all communications. This is what the article says:

Not being mindful of how your words land

A large portion of what we say stems from how we read the present situation, and our sense of self-awareness plays a vital role in our everyday conversations. According to a recent study conducted by a group of psychologists at the University of California, Davis, many people don’t realize they’re being rude when they’re perceived as such, suggesting blind spots in our self-insight that can prompt miscommunications at work. The study’s findings highlight the importance of listening to yourself when you’re talking to others. If you hear what you’re saying and think you might be offended if someone said the same to you, it’s worth rephrasing and communicating your point differently.

 

Because it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

I am sure we all have experienced people saying things to us in an awkward or rude way that made us feel not so great. We may have gotten angry or offended.  And I think that what these people say is not the problem so much as how they say it. Yes, it comes down to how you present something.

This applies to all communication

When writing marketing materials, you are concerned with the words you choose, the messages you deliver. But you should also be concerned with tone and presentation. How is your message coming across? What kind of emotions are you engendering?

How is your messaging “landing?”

If you want your message to resonate with your audience, you must assess how  you are coming across, and be careful in how you are saying what you are communicating.

4 items to consider before you write your next marketing piece:

1) Humor needs context and sometimes, tone of voice: Avoid inside jokes or weird humor unless you know the audience will absolutely get it. Remember that humor is hard to express in a written format.

2) Mind your sarcasm: Ask yourself if you are being flippant or sarcastic, and remember that tone of voice is not easily conveyed in written materials. Also, some people don’t understand sarcasm, and may take it literally.

3) Mind your manners: I heard somewhere that having manners is about putting others at ease. When you follow conventions, people know what to expect. So ask yourself if your communication is being rude or abrupt.

4) Be empathetic: Ask yourself if how and what you are saying could be causing negative emotions (anger, frustration, embarrassment) in your audience. For example, perhaps you are trying to berate your audience for missing a deadline. Most likely, berating your audience will cause embarrassment or even anger.


Thinking carefully about how you say and present your message will lead to better communications.

 

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How to make your communications more effective

Merriam-Webster defines effective as “producing a decided, decisive or desired effect.” Effective communication, therefore, leads its target audience to a planned or desired outcome.  Conversely, ineffective communications do not produce the desired effect, they don’t hit the target.

How do you make sure your communications efforts hit the target?

Not with signs that point the wrong way

This morning I attended a business networking event at a local hotel. I haven’t attended any events in this location before, and I have only been in the hotel’s lobby once before. I walked in, and asked at the check-in desk where the event was being held. I was told to go around the corner to the elevators and down to G2.  When I turned around, behind me, was a sign for the event. The sign was facing the check-in desk, not the main entrance, so it would not be seen at all by someone entering the hotel.

This sign was ineffective because it did not address the needs of people entering the lobby from the main entrance. Had the event organizers considered that some people would be entering the hotel through the main entrance, they would have known where to place the sign.

Not with a mismatched presentation and audience

Last week, I attended an event  entitled “Communication and Marketing Strategies that Will Grow Your Business.” It was held under the auspices of a networking group, in a business accelerator space. Most of the audience members were very small businesses, freelancers or solopreneurs (companies of one). The presenters were from a large, multinational communications firm that services large clients. They decided to give a presentation on how to develop a marketing plan (a four-step process according to them).

It was clear that the presentation was completely mismatched to the audience when the presenters  got to the part about generating different tactics.  Among the tactics they advised was holding a press conference. In my career in public relations, I saw my clients hold press conferences very rarely. The fact is that press conferences need to be about big news to get any kind of coverage, especially in this age where media attention is so fractured. A small accounting firm owner or a career coach,  two people who were in the audience that day, would never hold a press conference.

This presentation was not as advertised, that is, to share marketing strategies to grow your small business. It was geared toward large enterprises rather than the small businesses that were in the audience. The presenters either did not know who they were addressing or were not thinking if the information they were sharing was  appropriate to the needs of the audience. In short, the presentation was ineffective.

Effective communication only happens when you consider the audience

Effective communicators consider the needs of the target audience. Without considering what those recipients  need to know, or how they need to know it, the communications will fail, or miss its target.

Bottom line:

You will hit the target more often if you consider what your audience needs.

 

 

 

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