Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Communication

3 steps to clear customer communications

Clear communications provide accurate and up-to-date information. Being clear will help your audience know what is going on and what to expect from you. This requires making sure that  you are not undermining your message by having different information in different places.

Pandemic challenges

The pandemic has created some macro communications challenges around vaccine hesitancy and public health measures and mandates. On a micro level, I’ve noticed issues for businesses and organizations in communications changes to their customers and patrons. One that keeps cropping up is mask wearing rules. In Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, mask mandates were dropped in the late spring/early summer and then brought back in early August in response to the Delta variant. These zig zag changes made it difficult for organizations to keep up. When the mask mandates went out, they changed certain webpages and email templates and when they came back, they may have not changed all their communications to reflect the new reality.

Take for example a yoga studio I go to which requires proof of vaccination for attendance. When you go to its website, it tells you that you can unmask because everyone will have shown their vaccine cards. But when you get your class enrollment confirmation email, you are instructed that you must mask up in class.

Is that your latest menu?

But it is not only around COVID and masks that we see different information from different sources from the same organization. It could be different hours of operation on a sign versus the website. Or a spring menu being listed on a restaurant’s website when it’s already fall.

Be accurate and consistent—here’s how

You can make sure that your communications are accurate and consistent across all your channels. Following are the three steps you’ll need to take.

Step 1: Create a trigger list

What kinds of things do you need to tell your audience about?

  • Changes (including updates) to:

    • Policies
    • Staff/personnel
    • Hours
    • Location
    • Dates
  • Additions
    •  For example, you’ve added new classes or staff members
  • Deletions
    •  Perhaps your pool is closed for the season, or you are no longer offering a product.

Step 2: Audit your communication platforms

You’ll have to do an in-depth assessment of all the places you communicate with your customers, patrons, or donors. You want to know everywhere that people get information about you. While you are doing this, take the opportunity to make sure the information is consistent and updated. This includes (and is not limited to):

  • Website (and remember to list ALL pages/areas of the website where information is listed). For example, you may have your hours listed on your homepage and then on your contact page.
  • Email communications
  • Signage
  • Advertising and other marketing materials
  • Staff (e.g., receptionist, information desk personnel, etc.)

Step 3: Create a checklist

Create a checklist that you follow whenever a trigger occurs. You may choose to make this very specific. If your organization changes board members every year, you would list it followed by the places you need to update, such as the website about us or leadership page, the organizational letterhead, signage in your office, and so forth. The checklist could be a Word or Excel document that is accessed each time one of your trigger list items occurs. You’ll then have a systematic way to make sure that each of your communication platforms is updated at the same time.


Bottom line is that  maintaining all your information updated, accurate and consistent keeps your customers and other patrons in the know.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

Storytelling versus writing

I am a huge Scandi-noir fiction fan. Recently, I was reading (yet again) a mystery by an Icelandic author (in translation, of course).  I noticed the writing was a bit stilted. Some of the phrases didn’t sound right, and I can only imagine this was a translation/translator issue. Translating is hard work. You need to understand the language, obviously. And you also need to understand author’s tone and intent so you can choose the best word or phrase when many will do. This is especially true with colloquial expressions that don’t translate directly. And I am sure these colloquialisms, and some peculiarities of Icelandic culture didn’t quite make it in the translation. And yet there was a blurb on the book jacket by an American crime author, praising the Icelandic author, saying she was a “magnificent writer.” I doubt that the American read the work in the original Icelandic, so she had no way to judge the writing. What she was judging, and rightly so, was the storytelling.

Storytelling versus writing

Good storytelling is not the same as good writing, and neither is good writing also good storytelling. Writing and storytelling are two different, albeit related, skills.

Good storytelling pulls you in. It makes you want to know more.

Good writing is about knowing how to use language and its mechanics to communicate ideas clearly.

Can you have one without the other? Yes, you can. And I would argue that the best stories are also the best written.


Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev from Pexels

Think about your favorite book

If you’ve ever read a book with an intriguing plot, but with utilitarian writing, you understand that storytelling is a skill separate from writing. Books written by good storytellers who are mediocre writers are readable because you are interested in the story and you want to know more.

If you’ve ever read a book that’s so well written, where the words sing, but there is no discernible plot or the story being told is boring, chances are you stopped reading or read the book super slowly. Beautiful writing alone does not make a readable book.

And I would bet that your favorite books, the ones you recommend or perhaps even re-read, are the ones that have a great story and are well written.

Here’s the bottom line for content writers

For those of us who write any sort of content, focusing on what we are trying to say should come first. Then, we should think about how to say it. If we get both these elements—storytelling and writing— done right, we’ll create content worth reading.

About Deborah Brody

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

Success starts with being targeted

When you’re left shaking your head

The other day I got an email from someone who wanted to write a guest blog post (presumably for this website) about how to get better sleep. Do you know what I did with that email? I deleted it. Why? Because if you take even a cursory look at this blog/website, you will note that it is not about sleeping, or health, or wellness, or anything related to getting better sleep. Also of note is that I write all posts on the blog. I don’t have guest bloggers or any information on how to submit a guest blog.

A friend was telling me just the other day how she got a call about her expired car warranty. Except she doesn’t even have a car.

And then there’s the gas company that calls about your gas bill, and you don’t even have gas at your house.

It probably is spam

Yes, these are all examples of spam. We know spammers don’t have time to research and target a message that is specific to you. That is why they are spammers. They send out the same message to everyone and hope that one hits the right target.

Effective marketing is not spam. It is targeted.

The opposite of spamming is targeting. If you target your message to the right audience, you have a much better chance of success.

How do you target?

To be targeted,  you have to start with definition. You must understand exactly who needs or wants your product or service, and be able to describe those people or organizations. Once you know who you are selling to, you know your target audience. For example, if you are selling extended car warranties,  your audience is people who own cars that are out of warranty. Perhaps you can further narrow it down by how old the car is and where these people are located.

Once you’ve defined your target audience, you have to figure out where you can find this group. Where does this group go to find information?

Bottom line

Send your message to the right audience and you will be much more effective.

 

About Deborah Brody

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

Wishing for better communications in 2021

Count me in as one of the many who are glad that 2020 is over. I am optimistic about the year ahead, in spite of the horrendous and deadly insurrection last week at the U.S. Capitol.

There’s a lot to look forward to this year: a new administration, worldwide COVID vaccinations, and the subsequent return to normalcy. Maybe by the end of 2021 we’ll be back to attending in-person events!

As a communicator, I thought the biggest lesson of 2020 was the need to adapt and quickly. Events went from in-person to virtual. Many workers were no longer commuting to their offices (I wonder what happened to drive time radio costs!). There was (and continues to be) a lot of stress and anxiety. Those realities impacted marketing efforts.  We saw an increase in email marketing,  on-line presentations and events, and a general toning down of advertising.

Now that we are in a new year, I have five wishes to make 2021 the year for more effective, high-impact communications.

  1. Use email marketing more effectively

At the end of the year I got bombarded with donation pleas from many nonprofits—and I  mean several in just one day. On December 31, 2020 it was particularly bad, as I got emails from each and every organization I have supported, and one organization sent me four or five emails!  And then there’s Overstock.com, which sends at least an email every single day—one day offering me 12% off and the next 15%. The lesson here is: Don’t overwhelm your customer or donors. Be strategic and think of your recipient. And then there’s the many small groups who are still sending all-image emails. The problem here is that unless the received downloads the images, your email appears blank.  Follow some guidelines before you send out that next email. Jill Kurtz wrote a great Email Marketing Checklist, which is worth a read.

  1. Leverage your website

Your website is your reception desk to the world. If people have questions, chances are they will check your website before they call.  It follows your website should have all the information they need. Keep it updated, especially with any COVID protocols you are following. For many, the idea of spending money to update a website in these times may be anathema. However, an outdated website will result in customer frustration and maybe even lost business.

  1. Focus your social media efforts.

This is they year to choose your social media platforms and embrace them. The truth is that you can’t effectively manage too many platforms. You won’t be able to have meaningful engagement if you have to monitor too many streams. Choose the platforms that perform best for you, where you have the most traction and/or where the majority of your audience is. Do you really need to be on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc? I am not saying that you can’t try out a new outlet, but if you do, and it works well, perhaps you replace instead of adding.  And if you are using multiple platforms, create content with each platform in mind. The post you use on LinkedIn should not be the same as the one you use on Twitter.

  1. Use Zoom or Livestream more effectively.

Check out my post about this. I’ve spent too much time having to hear people explain how to use Zoom, muting/unmuting, and just plain wasting time reading lengthy presenter bios.  People are spending much more time in front of computer screens, and want you to get to the point. I can read the bio myself if you send it in an email or provide a link to it during the presentation.

  1. Copy edit and proofread all your marketing materials, including (perhaps especially) social media posts.

The other day, my local police department posted about how a driver ended up with her car on the train tracks because she used the gas pedal instead of the “breaks.” And the local weather Twitter feed told me there would be “peaks” of sun. These are very small examples, but when you make these type of mistakes, you are showing a lack of care. So, proof everything before it goes live. And say what you mean clearly and concisely, and if you need help doing so, use a copy editor!


Happy New Year 2021! Let’s work on making it better for our communications. If you have a 2021 communications wishes, share them with me 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.

What helps businesses thrive during COVID-19?

While many businesses, especially restaurants and small retailers, have seen their revenue drop because of COVID-19, others have thrived.

Some business failures are due to circumstance and public health regulations, such as lock down orders and capacity restrictions.  But in some cases, businesses failed because they were unable to respond to the new situation.

Not adapting to the situation:

I know  a small, local gift store carries an item I was shopping for. I went to Google and found the store has no website. According to the Google business information, this store opens weekdays at 10:00 a.m. I headed out to the store on a Wednesday around 2 p.m.  I found a handwritten note on the door listing the shop’s (reduced) hours, which said the store opens Monday through Thursday noon to 4:00 p.m. However,  the lights were off and the store was closed, and I was not able to buy what I needed.

To recap, this store has:

  • No website (and thus no way to shop online)
  • No updated Google business information
  • No social media

Making the best of the situation:

Then, because I still needed this item, I checked out a larger gift store within 10 miles of the small store. This other store does have a website, with online ordering, so I was able to determine  whether they carry what I am looking for. It also has updated its Google information, which reflects that it provides curbside pickup. I explore the website, and I find out exactly what COVID measures the store is taking (i.e., requiring masks, providing sanitizer, restricting the number of people in store, widening the aisles to allow for social distancing, and increasing the air circulation).

This second store has:

  • Updated website that includes COVID-specific information and the ability to order online
  • Updated Google business information
  • Social media, with a robust Facebook presence that includes videos and special deals.

How do businesses thrive during COVID? Here are three must-dos:

Embrace digital more than ever. Restaurants and small retailers embraced online ordering (just as the big box stores have done for years). My local library switched to an online ordering and appointments-based way to get books. Successful organizations use all types of digital presence:—social media,  websites,  Google profiles, e-newsletters, etc.—to communicate with customers, clients, or donors.  With many people choosing to stay home or working from home, the internet has become even more important.

Be aware of the situation and explain how you are responding. Do you understand how your customers feel? Are they anxious about getting the virus? Do they want to shop safely? Do they want to save money? COVID has changed the reality for everyone. You have to make changes, and more importantly, you have to make sure your customers know what you are doing to respond to the situation.

Go virtual and like it. Many organizations and businesses use events to drum up support and sales. In 2020, events went from being in person to being virtual. Using a virtual format is not the same as being in person, but to succeed, organizations need to embrace this reality and adapt to it. Churches and synagogues started using Zoom and other livestreaming software to provide religious services to their congregants. Associations moved their annual meetings to be virtual. Some stores, such as the second example above, switched their product demonstrations to platforms such as Facebook Live.


The bottom line is that to thrive during COVID, businesses have to adapt. Failure to adapt will also mean failure to thrive.

Have you seen good examples of adaptation? Please share 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.

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.

image_pdfimage_print

Contact us today to learn how to improve your marketing and communications.