Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Communication

Avoid Zooming and frustrating your audience

We’ve all become Zoom pros, or have we?

Sure, we know what Zoom is, and we’ve probably used it dozens of times in the past few months, but are we really pros at it? Based on my recent experiences with Zoom presentations, I would say no.

Just yesterday, I was on two different online meetings. In the first meeting, one of the presenters was having audio difficulties (her talk was garbled). She went on for several minutes and the audience could not make out what she was saying. Then several minutes more were wasted in telling her to call in, etc. In the second meeting, somebody “forgot” to turn off his/her mic and we could hear cooking sounds in the background, and then chewing as this person settled down with the dinner he/she had prepared. It was immensely distracting and annoying.

Wasting time and making it hard to hear a speaker adds up to audience frustration.  So, if your organization uses online video conferencing to engage with your audience/conduct meetings/host events, it is time to lay out some ground rules so that you can avoid chaos and a have a smooth online experience.


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Select the correct online video conferencing provider and package

Although Zoom has become the most popular platform, there are other video conferencing providers, including GotoMeeting, Webex and others. Read more about the best alternatives to Zoom in ZDNet and Wired. 

To select the proper platform, you’ll need to determine what will suit your needs best. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • What will you be using the videoconferencing for? Staff meetings, presentations, online conferences
  • What functionality do you need? Recording capability, audience interaction, question and answer, breakout sessions, ability to share screens/videos/slides, etc.
  • What’s your budget?

Map out your online event.

Your meeting or presentation should be planned out, with time allocating to each participant/speaker, and with a written agenda if possible. Mapping out how an event will go, will make it easier to keep it on track.

But, build in time and plan for technical difficulties

There will be glitches. Your presenter may not have strong enough internet signal, or the provider could be experiencing problems. Know beforehand what you will do if a presenter can’t log on, or the video software is not working. Have a Plan B, which could include a reschedule date, alternative presenter, alternative software, etc.

Have a moderator and make sure he or she sets up ground rules

Do not start any meeting or presentation without making sure everybody is following some ground rules. Perhaps everybody’s mic is muted, or everybody’s video is on (or off).  Tell your audience who to contact if there are technical difficulties, and how. Make sure to let people know if you are recording, and when/whether the recording will be available.  If this event is public, you could sent participants an email explaining the ground rules, and also make sure your moderator repeats them at the beginning of the event.

Understand Zoom fatigue is real

Online video conferencing has been a godsend, but it is not the same as an in-person event. When we’ve convened people in person, we probably have given them comfy seats, or provided snacks and drinks, and time to schmooze. But when we present online, people are sitting where they always have,  in an environment that is probably the same day after day. Dispense with the long introductions, and the long lists of thank yous. Send those in an email. Get to the point. People have limited patience for you.

The bottom line

Cut down the distractions, and make the screen time worthwhile for your audience.

 

About Deborah Brody

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

Are you asking the right questions?

No doubt, you’ve heard that Congress is looking into  new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s handling of the USPS. In the last few weeks since DeJoy took his post, the mail has slowed down, sorting machines have been removed and the post office has told the states to be aware of these issues in planning for mail-in ballots. DeJoy was asked to appear before the Senate on Friday, and the House on Monday.

Representative Katie Porter is very good at asking questions

On Monday, Representative Katie Porter (D-CA), used her questioning skills to establish just how little DeJoy knows about the agency that he is leading.  Rep. Porter asked DeJoy if he knew the cost of postcard stamp (he didn’t) or how many people vote by mail (he didn’t). You can read more about it in this Rolling Stone article or  this one in Vox.

Rep. Porter knew what information she wanted to obtain from DeJoy to expose how unqualified he is to lead this agency, let alone reform it, and she asked the right questions to get what she wanted.

Asking the right questions is crucial to getting what you want.

If you ask the wrong questions or not enough questions, you are not going to get the information you need.

Over the weekend, I reviewed a promotional  article for a small nonprofit. The article was long and did not get to the point until the last paragraph. I re-organized the paragraphs, and added some crucial information. The nonprofit hadn’t known enough to ask the right questions.

What questions do you need answers to?

When you are writing any communication materials, you need to ask the right questions. These include:

  • Who is the intended audience for this piece?
  • What do I want the audience to know?
  • What does the audience need to know in order to act?
  • What is the most relevant information that I need to communicate?

If you don’t ask these questions, you are not going to produce the right information or what you produce is not going to be effective.


Bottom line: To produce effective communications, you must start with asking yourself the right questions.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

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.

 

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 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.

 

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

The amateur effect

It seems to me that there are fewer experienced professionals working in day-to-day marketing. Instead, we’re seeing more and more amateurs, or inexperienced people, “managing” or running things, especially digital marketing efforts. There are consequences to a lack of experience: amateur mistakes.

The amateur effect can be seen in the explosion of typos, missing information, missing links, poorly designed websites, hard-to-understand copy, and a myriad other maladies that makes your marketing look unprofessional at best, and be ineffective at worst.

Did anyone double-check this?

This is part of full-page ad in the Washington Business Journal:

Can you spot the issue? It’s the extra space in the word finger. How could this happen? Probably because nobody proofread the laid-out copy.

And then there are typos

There are typos galore in newspapers, books, and magazines. This is partially due to cut-backs in editorial staff, but it is also due to having amateurs in charge.

And misused words

Affect and effect do not mean the same thing. Enough said.

And missing information, and missing links

A few weeks ago I got a promotional email from a day spa promoting the spa’s outdoor pool opening for the summer. There was a link to click for more information. The link didn’t work. I went to the website because I wanted to find out if you could get a day pass for the pool, and if so, how much it would cost. Well, there was no information about the pool. None. The website was a mess, and if the information was there, it was buried so deep you’d need to hire an archaeologist to find it.

Why all the problems?

Amateurs don’t believe in double-checking stuff, because they don’t know what they are checking for.

Amateurs don’t ask questions, because they don’t know what questions to ask or to whom.

The bottom line is that amateurs don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t know enough to ask.

The solution is experience

There is no substitute for experience. If you don’t want your marketing to be rife with mistakes, and just be plain ineffective, you need to hire experienced people to run your programs, and to mentor the less experienced staff.  People can learn to be great marketers, but they need guidance.


What do you think? Have you seen or experienced the amateur effect?

 

About Deborah Brody

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

You can have too much of a good thing

A visit to a good Indian restaurant goes bad

Last week, a friend and I headed out to a very good, local Indian restaurant to satisfy a craving for some naan and sag paneer. When we arrived, there were barely a couple of other people in the place, and so the hostess told us we had our choice of seats. After we sat down, a male server came by to take our order.

After the meal was served, a female server came by to see whether everything was satisfactory.

And then a different female server came by to see if “everything was OK.”

And then the male server came by to ask how everything was.

And then one of the female servers came by again to see how things were.

And then the other female server came by.

And before we were even done with the meal, one of the female servers asked if we needed a box for our food.

I lost count, but we were asked if everything was OK at least six or seven times by different servers and in fairly short intervals.

After all these unnecessary interruptions, my friend and I were annoyed, and left wondering if they needed the table (although a good half the restaurant was empty).

Photo by Chan Walrus from Pexels

Checking in is good…but doing it too often is not

After ordering, we should all expect two contacts in a restaurant: one to get asked if everything is to our liking, and a second one, closer to the end of the meal, to ask whether we want to have food boxed up, want to order dessert, or need our check.

But this restaurant took follow up and checking in to a level that was beyond annoying. They interrupted us too many times, seemingly without cause. Was it that the servers didn’t communicate with each other? Were they bored because they didn’t have enough customers?  Who knows what motivated these servers, but all that checking in was way too much of a good thing, turning it into a bad thing.

Too much contact or follow up is disruptive, intrusive, annoying,  and unnecessary.

What is true about overzealous restaurant servers is the same with email marketing. As I said in my last blog post, your email marketing should aim to be “just right.” Just right means sending not too much, nor too little email, and sending relevant, useful information too. In the Indian restaurant experience above, not only were these serves constantly interrupting, they weren’t doing it with any real purpose.

So the next time you want to send one more email to “make sure people got the message,” think about your last restaurant meal. Was it enjoyable and peaceful? Or were you annoyed because the servers kept asking you if everything was OK or you wanted another drink before you even finished the one you  had in front of you.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

Your website is your business’ front door

We use Google today just like we used the phone book years ago. In fact, anybody born from the late 1990s on only knows to use Google when looking up stuff (not that we even have phone books anymore).

Search on Google and you find websites!

Google pulls up two sources of information in response to your query—websites and different Google products, including Google My Business listings, and Google Maps.  In other words, if you want your business to be found on Google, you need one or both of these (and you can’t have a good Google My Business listing without a website).

It follows that if you want your business to succeed, you will have a findable, updated, easy-to-navigate website. If you want to really have success, you will also claim your Google My Business listing, and keep it up to date.

The information that absolutely must be current

It’s absolutely essential that you keep your website and Google My Business listing current and up to date. If not, you might as well hope people still have that phone book handy so they can find your number.

There’s no big mystery about what you need to keep tabs on: anything that impacts your customer’s interaction with your business, including:

  • Hours
  • Location
  • Contact information
  • Team members/staff/leadership
  • Services/products
  • Pricing

If any of the above change, you must update your website. It really is that simple. If not, you risk alienating your customers.

Not keeping up with your website is….not good

Just in the past couple of months, I’ve had two instances where websites were not updated with important information. When I looked up the massage therapist that I’d gone to a couple of years ago, her website appeared the same, as did her pricing. I went ahead and made an appointment, and it was only after I was ready to pay that I learned that her pricing had gone up by 10%.  Yesterday,  I looked up my hair salon’s website to find the number to make an appointment. The website says that the salon is open seven days a week,  but when I called yesterday (Monday), I got a recording informing me that the salon is closed on Mondays. Both of these experiences were annoying, but also avoidable had the business owners taken the time to update their websites.

Bottom line:

Keeping your website updated is a best practice for business. Not doing it can alienate customers.

About Deborah Brody

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

It’s not all about you, nor should it be

As I was driving in today’s heavy rain, I noticed whether cars had headlights on. Most did, but there were several that didn’t. What reasoning would possess anyone to not turn on their headlights in the pouring rain (and I think it may actually be a driving rule here in Maryland)? Sure, some people forget. But when you look around and everyone else has theirs on, does that not remind you to do it too?  I mentioned this to a friend, and she said she believes it’s because the drivers think they only need lights on when they themselves can’t see. They fail to think about the fact that the lights help others to see them.

headlights

Photo by Louis from Pexels

The marketing communications angle here is that whenever you produce any marketing materials, you can’t just think about yourself (your company or organization) but about the people who will be using/reading/accessing those materials. When you fail to think about what they need, like the cars without headlights in the pouring rain, you are making it harder for them to see you.

Events happening sometime during St. Patrick’s weekend

Take for example the Facebook event posting from a local Irish pub for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It listed the following information, verbatim:

Saturday and Sunday Outdoor Festival. Live Music, Pipes & Drums, Irish Dancers, Bouncy Castle Face Painting and so much more!

Do you notice anything missing (other than the comma between castle and face painting)? How about times? Is it all day? When and where is the live music? What bands will be performing? Where does this all take place? In the pub? On the street outside the pub? Is this free? Or is there a fee?

Since I was interested in attending (come on, they had a bouncy castle!), I had to message the pub and ask. They responded telling me they were opening early for brunch at 10 a.m., and that the outdoor activities would also start then, and the live music would go on at 2 p.m. I thanked them and suggested they include that information in their event page, you know, to make it clearer for anyone interested in possibly attending.

The devil really is in the details

Having seen many marketing pieces, whether it be websites, brochures or press releases, with a similar lack of salient detail, I know it is common to forget that your audience does not know everything you do about whatever you are promoting. There are the restaurant websites that fail to list their location or their operating hours. Or the product sales sheet that doesn’t list the size of the product or its cost.  And on and on.

In order to produce effective, useful marketing materials, you must consider your audience. What details does the audience need to know? What information is relevant and is it included in your marketing piece?

It’s all about the Ws

A way to gauge whether you are including the information your audience needs is to follow the journalist’s guideline of asking the “5 Ws + H”: who, what, where, when, why, and how. If your marketing piece answers those questions, you will have provided the most relevant information. For events, the what, where, and when are crucial. Clearly, the pub’s marketing folks do not have a journalistic or events planning background. I will chalk up their poorly thought out event invitation to it being produced by an amateur. One would hope no professional marketing person would fail to include the when and where information on an event listing.

Don’t be so centered on your own needs that you forget what your audience needs to know. In other words:

Turn on your headlights so others can see you.

About Deborah Brody

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

Do you follow best practices?

What are best practices?

Best practices are the ones that are the most effective in providing results you want.  And every industry has its own best practices.  Additionally, your organization might have its own best practices, which include administrative and managerial tasks (e.g., how to invoice, how to handle hiring and firing, how to establish budget priorities, etc.). Best practices are guidelines. They serve as a map in getting things done the right way.

If you don’t have  best practices, you may not have best results

Take an administrative task like invoicing, for example. Do you follow a rule about invoicing? Perhaps you invoice every time a project is completed, or you invoice every two weeks, or once a month. You probably understand that unless  you invoice regularly, you may not get paid regularly. I once worked at a communications agency where the invoicing was handled by the very disorganized president (who was a horrible micro-manager and could/would not delegate these types of tasks). She invoiced clients whenever she got around to it. And guess what? That affected cash flow for the agency, and even angered clients who were getting billed for work done months earlier.  This agency president was not following invoicing best practices, and it was making her agency suffer financially.

An effective communications strategy incorporates your industry/organizational best practices. 

Say you are building a brand new website. You will need to consult with or engage a website developer. That will ensure you are following best practices for user experience (UX), design, the admin of the website and other website issues. But you will also need to know what should be included from a communications perspective, and may need to consult with someone for that (some website developers have this capacity). And lastly, but certainly not least, you have to understand and incorporate your industry and organizational best practices. Perhaps in your industry it is a best practice to quote firm pricing upfront. Then, you would show prices on your website.

What happens when you don’t follow best practices in communications?

There are examples galore of organizations that don’t follow communications best practices. There are plenty  of restaurants whose websites don’t include menus or have menus that need to be downloaded as PDFs (which is a real pain on your smartphone, where most people are looking this stuff up).  The best practice is to include menus that are easily accessible and readable on mobile. Another best practice is to make sure to include important information such as hours and location (and yet, many restaurant websites don’t). What happens here is that potential diners may not choose to check out your restaurant.

There are many organizations that send email marketing pieces that are made up of all images and not text (I’ve written about this before).  The industry best practice is to include the important information in a text format. The result of not following the practice is that recipients will not be able to see the information, and your email is a waste.

Experts know and use best practices

Here’s the thing: You are an expert at your organization’s priorities and inner workings. You know your best practices. You may also know your industry’s best practices. But chances are, you are not an expert at writing, design, website development, crisis communication , SEO, public relations or any specialized communications field. That is why hiring and working with experts in those fields makes for a better result.


The bottom line here is that if you want to achieve the best results from your communications efforts you have to follow communications best practices. Experts will know those best practices. Winging it or worse, thinking you know the best way when you don’t, will result in poor performance from your communications.

 

 

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

Do you appreciate your customers?

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

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

How can you do this? There are several ways.

Reward their loyalty

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

Thank them

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

Accommodate them

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

Wow, that sucks but ok

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

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

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

Notice them

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

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

This included the instructions for the seven minute practice referenced.

It all requires keeping track

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

Make them feel that you appreciate them

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

 

About Deborah Brody

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

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