Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Marketing

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.

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.

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.

Simple reminders help market doctor’s offices

Doctors don’t seem to do much marketing. Most doctors’ offices have websites, but besides that, they don’t actively engage in marketing. The communications they have is generally one on one, although the more savvy medical offices send out health alerts (e.g., it’s flu season and you should get a flu shot) and maybe even health newsletters.

Since most people go to a doctor only when they are sick, it would be better for public and individual health for medical professionals to encourage annual visits. Annual visits would catch potential issues before they become critical. And of course, having a relationship with a doctor makes emergency situations easier to deal with.

Some doctor’s offices do encourage annual visits, and they do it by sending reminders. Some reminders are phone calls, some are emails, and I have even seen printed and mailed letters.

Bad (no contact at all, ever)

One doctor’s office I used to go to never sent any reminders at all. Even though they had my email address, I never once got an email from them regarding anything. No calls about annual appointments. No reminder to get an annual flu vaccine. Nothing. Ever. I no longer go to that doctor.

Better (well after the year passed)

An eye doctor I went to for several years called to remind me that I had not had my annual eye exam since November of 2016. It took them more than eight months to realize that I had not been there for more than a year. Of course they had no idea that I had changed eye doctors because of staffing issues.

Best (before the year is up)

The new eye doctor I went to called me in early September to remind that in October it would be a year since my last appointment, and did I want to schedule one now.

Reminders are an opportunity to touch base with patients. They can be a way to schedule an appointment right there and then. There is no down side to medical reminders. They also serve to show patients that doctors want to see them, and that they are not just one more person in a database.

If doctors are not going to do any other marketing, they should at the very least, have a process to remind patients about annual visits.

 

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 go on vacation and not lose customers

Vacation time!

Here we are in the last few days of August. Summer is waning, and perhaps you want to go to the beach or go visit your family or travel to Alaska to see the glaciers while we have them. And why not? You’ve worked hard the rest of the year, and you should be able to take time off.

But…

But before you take off, think about your customers. What do they need to know about your schedule and availability? If they need something, can it wait until you get back or is there somebody else who can help them?

You could lose business by failing to communicate

It seems fairly obvious to me, but some people just don’t think they need to communicate. For example, I was trying to make an appointment. I texted, and several days later, no answer. I left a message, and several hours later, no return phone call. I decided to look for a different provider, and I found one. I got a belated message from the first provider telling me she was in West Virginia with poor cellphone connectivity. Apparently, she has never heard of changing her outgoing message or updating her website.

It’s your responsibility to communicate your availability to your customers.

If you are an employee, you might email your contacts telling them you will be unavailable on certain dates, and tell them who to contact instead.  You may create an auto-responder on your email saying that you are not currently checking email.

If you are a business owner and have a website and/or online booking, you can update those to reflect your schedule. You can make note that your office is closed and you are not taking appointments. On your phone or answering service, you can update your outgoing message to reflect your situation.

Here’s a template:

Thanks for contacting [name]. If you need to [reach me/make an appointment/other business], please be advised that our office is closed from [insert date] to [insert date]. We look forward to [seeing/serving/talking to] you then. If you need immediate assistance, please contact [insert name and number].

So go on, take your vacation, relax and enjoy. Just make sure you’ve communicated with your customers.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

True marketing gold that guarantees results

What is the one thing in marketing that guarantees results?

Is it your website? Your social media marketing? Your strategic, forward-thinking marketing plan? Your market research? Your promotions?

While all of the above help you to generate leads and close sales, there is one thing that  you have that will guarantee those leads convert and make those sales happen.

It’s your credibility. 

If I can’t believe what you are selling, then I am not going to buy it. In other words, without credibility, you are nothing.

Credibility means trust. If you are credible, your product or service is trustworthy. It’s really that simple.

Let me illustrate with the tale of an unnecessary car repair:

A couple of months ago, I took my car in for a tire rotation and alignment to the tire shop where I had bought my tires. The rotation is free for the life of the vehicle, and the alignment costs $99. After a few minutes, one of the salespeople came out to tell me there was a problem. The shop could not do the alignment because the front end arms needed to be replaced. This repair would cost $600 (or six times what I had been planning on). The mechanic showed me what he was talking about, but my instinct (and pocketbook) said to decline this expensive repair.

When I walked out of the shop,  I felt highly uneasy about what had happened. I felt that the salesperson was trying to upsell me and I did not trust her or the mechanic’s assessment. Also, there had been a change in both the appearance and atmosphere of the shop. Previously, it had a homey (and more trustworthy) appearance. The people were friendly, and seemed honest. Now, things had been spiffed up, and the front desk was manned by two fairly surly people that barely had a smile for me. I got the sense the shop had been sold and was under new management, and that the management was looking to squeeze more profits from its customers. After all you are not going to make a lot of money off free rotations, are you?

This week, I took my car in for routine maintenance to my regular (trustworthy) repair shop. I asked them to check out this front end problem.  And, no surprise really, they said it did not need the repair. So either the mechanic at the tire shop did not know what he was talking about, or the salesperson was indeed upselling me something just to generate more money. Either way, the credibility of the tire shop has completely evaporated for me. I can’t think of taking my car there, because I don’t believe they will act in my best interest. I don’t believe anymore in what they are selling.

You can’t manufacture credibility.

You have it or you don’t. Credibility derives from your actions, from the substance of your product or service. However, you can promote your credibility. You can highlight what makes you credible. When you communicate with your audience, you show credibility by your honesty. You can use customer testimonials and ratings. If you’ve gotten third-party reviews (like a product review in magazine), these are earned media mentions that help promote credibility.

The bottom line is that you can only promote your credibility if you act credibly. Otherwise, all your marketing efforts will be for naught.

Thoughts? Drop me a line 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.

Deception is not a good marketing tactic

Have you ever bought something because it was on “special” promotion pricing? Have you bought a product to get a “free” gift? Have you rented a car because of  a “discount” rate? If so, you may have been a victim of deceptive marketing tactics designed to boost sales.

Some marketers seek to entice customers by offering what seem to be great deals. Usually, it’s a special “one-time only” price or a discount or a “bonus.” What they fail to mention is that you may have to pay extra for the bonus (many cosmetic brands do this) or that the special price doesn’t include something else that you are required to pay.

Recently, I fell for a “special rate” from Thrifty. I was planning a trip to Boston, and researching rental cars when I got an email from the car rental company offering a 30% discount. This made the base fare for a rental car in Boston much better than the competition. It seemed like a no-brainer.

Last Friday, after landing in Boston, I got to the counter at Thrifty to find out that in addition to my discounted rate, I would be forced to pay an $11.99 per day toll charge for each day I rented the car. Massachusetts has joined other states in getting rid of toll booths (and jobs for tollbooth collectors, but I digress) and instituting an all-electronic system. You need an E-Z Pass to pay, or else the toll authority will take a picture of your plates and send you a bill (with an extra fee to boot).

At no point in the reservation process, nor in any confirmation email, did Thrifty tell me that Boston was a place that has all electronic tolls and that I would be required to pay an additional toll pass fee. They also did not disclose the amount of the fee for the toll charge, which they add on for all Boston renters.  Had I known, I could have brought my own E-Z Pass and avoided the extra charge. And had I known that tolls would be an issue, I could have researched the toll charges at other car rental companies,  and may have chosen one of them instead.

This situation could and should be avoided. Thrifty has permanently damaged its reputation with me because it chose to be deceptive. It could have done the following:

Tell me the true cost of my rental–including all taxes and fees.

Thrifty used a special rate to entice me to use its services. The company never mentioned the additional toll pass charges, which effectively increased the total amount of my rental by $48. Thrifty also charges much higher toll pass rates than its competitors.

Provide enough information for me to make an informed decision.

Thrifty knew I was renting in Boston, and it knew that Boston requires electronic toll collection. But Thrifty did not include that information anywhere on its website when booking. The first I learned of it was after I was already at the rental counter.

In the end, deceptive marketing tactics will backfire.

Deceiving your customers just to get them to buy from you may generate a short-term increase in sales, but it will create a long-term decrease in your credibility and trustworthiness, which will mean a loss of future sales.

 

 

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 all about being informed

If you were canvassing for a political candidate, would you place a paper brochure or flyer promoting the candidate outside in the rain? I hope you wouldn’t, but that’s just what happened around here today.

The forecast called for lots of rain

This morning, when I opened my front door to get my morning paper, I found a soggy brochure on my doorstep. The brochure was for a guy running for county executive in Montgomery County where I live. I couldn’t tell you much about this candidate because the brochure was practically dissolving from all the rain we’ve been getting. I am not sure when the brochure was placed there, but I do know the forecast called for rain every single day this week, to the extent we are under a flash flood warning. And even if you didn’t hear the forecast, all you had to do is step outside, feel the rain drops and look at the gray skies and know that the weather didn’t look good.

But you have to care to know the forecast

A whole lot of effort and money was wasted here, seemingly because people didn’t know it was raining. Or perhaps they just didn’t care. I don’t know which it is but if you are doing marketing, it pays to be informed.

The solution is simple: Do your research

In this case, whoever was in charge of the canvassing, should’ve looked at the weather and scheduled it for a day when it wouldn’t be raining. Or perhaps, should have considered alternative means to get the brochure out.

If you were planning an event, you’d want to check the calendar to see if there was a holiday or other big event on the date you were considering.

If you were planning to launch a product, you’d want to make sure production is on schedule.

You have to ask the right questions

You always have to ask questions…but you have to know what to ask about. In order to do this, you may have to do some research, talk to experts, ask other people. In short, you need to gather information so that  you can ask the right questions.

For example, you may have heard  that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR is going into effect on May 25, 2018. Some questions you may have are these:

  • What exactly is GDPR and does it affect me?
  • What do I have to do (if anything) to be in compliance?
  • Why is this important?

If you don’t ask these questions, you may not be in compliance with GDPR when it goes into effect next week.

For any marketer or communicator, information is the key. So do your research and ask the right questions before you undertake any action.

About Deborah Brody

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

No response = no business

Last week, I had an urgent need to get my roof repaired. We’d had a severe windstorm in the Washington area that blew off several shingles off my roof, and rain was in the forecast. In order to prevent further damage, I knew I had to get someone to fix this right away.

First, I contacted several friends to ask for their recommendations. This way, I got three names. Then, I went on Consumer Checkbook to check ratings and get more names. I wrote down a few names, and noticed that a couple of the names my friends had provided were on the Checkbook site, and had good ratings. First thing on Monday (I noticed the damage over the weekend), I called all the names I gathered. This is how it went:

1. Call to roofer listed as good value/good quality in Consumer Checkbook. I spoke to an office person, who added me to a list, with no guarantee or timeline for when I would get someone to fix it. She told me that there were several other calls ahead of me, so she could not tell me when someone would be available, but she did provide me with pricing.

2. Call to another qualified roofer listed in Consumer Checkbook.  I left a detailed message, which was never answered.

3. Call to roofer (who was highly rated in Consumer Checkbook), referred to by a close friend. There was no answer and the voice mailbox was full, so I had no way to contact this contractor or leave a message.

4. Call to roofer referred to by my neighbor who recently had her roof replaced. When I called, I got a message saying that they were overwhelmed with calls, to either leave a message or send an email. I sent an email, to which I received an answer more than a week later, explaining pricing, etc.

5. Call to handyman referred by a friend. He referred me to a contractor friend of his, a jack of many trades, who answered immediately. This contractor offered to come by to give me an estimate, and then was able to complete the repair the same day.

Now, this was an unusual situation. Many, many people had damage to their roofs from a strong and unusually long-lasting windstorm. Roofers were slammed.  Yet, their responses showed a lot about how their businesses are run and how they deal with customers.

I am sure I will have a need for a roofer in the future. Based on my interactions here, I would contact the first and the fourth roofers because they were responsive and I got the sense of professionalism. As to the contractor who actually fixed my roof, I know I have found someone who is punctual and reliable, but he is not primarily a roofer and I would not ask him to do more than repair shingles.

Not being responsive and not even having a mechanism to leave messages is the sign of a business that is overwhelmed and incapable of dealing with emergencies and not very professional and customer-centric. It’s better to get a late reply than no reply at all.

No response leads to no business.

What can a small, one-person business do to be more responsive? There are several options.

  • Have a website that explains how you respond in emergencies, and which also provides a phone number, email, and contact form to get in touch (in other words, many ways to get in touch).
  • Have an online booking system. There are several paid and non paid options out there that allow your customers to book time with you, either for a consultation or a full-fledged appointment.
  • Consider having an answering service, virtual assistant, or in-house administrative person so that customers can talk to a person in real time.
  • Make time to answer every email, contact request or phone call that you receive, even if it is to say we can’t help you at this time.

No amount of marketing or beautiful website design is going to overcome a lack of responsiveness. If you want business, you have to respond to inquiries. If you don’t respond, you will not get that business now or in the future.

 

About Deborah Brody

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

When your customers don’t know who you are

This morning, I came across an article on EaterDC about the new Isabella Eatery food hall at Tyson’s Galleria in McLean, Virginia: Gargantuan Isabella Eatery is Confusing Customers.  It seems  that although some of the elements of the food hall get good reviews for quality and design, customers don’t know what to make of  the whole thing.  It seems that Isabella Eatery is offering so much that its customers no longer know what Isabella stands for.  (Some background: Mike Isabella was a contestant on Top Chef. Later he went on to open up Graffiato, an Italian restaurant in Washington, DC and later a Italian sandwich shop called G by Mike Isabella. He then expanded into Greek food with three Kapnos restaurants, and then into Spanish food with Arroz. He heads up a company called Mike Isabella Concepts, which also operates a French restaurant, a Mexican restaurant and the aforementioned food hall.)

Something for every one?

And then there’s the local pizza chain  with the catchy jingle that says it offers “something for every one.” The place is called [name] Pizza, and its current TV commercials show pictures of a burger and fries. Because, of course, if you want a burger and fries you’d call a pizza delivery place, right?

Jack of all trades, master (brander) of none

When you seek to please everyone by offering tons of choices, you end up pleasing no one.

In terms of branding and marketing, when you offer so many choices (and in Isabella’s case, cuisines and restaurants) you are violating the first two of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries and Laura Ries. The first law says that your brand loses its power when you expand your scope, and the second, which really is the inverse of the first, is that having more focus strengthens your brand.

A strong brand is focused, a weak brand is not. It seems to me that Mike Isabella is expanding at the expense of his brand. And the pizza place? Well I don’t think it would be anyone’s first choice for pizza or for burgers.


 

Your brand is your mark of distinction. How well are you communicating it? If you need help with your branding, check out my new Brand Identity Kit.

 

 

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.