Published: Wednesday, 19 November 2014 03:03
Written by Sofia Perez
Social media, emails, texts, blogs, websites—never before have we had so much information at our fingertips coupled with the ability to share it in an instant. But these powerful tools come at a price, and that price is information overload. When it’s time to talk to your audience, what’s the best way to cut through the clutter?
Some businesses and nonprofits resort to marketing gimmicks—which, like shiny objects, do have a way of drawing the eye—but the organizations that maintain our interest over the long haul are those that follow the three C’s of communication.
Keep it CONCISE
The incessant demands on our attention have become a hallmark of modern life, and the result is that few of us have any time to waste. Don’t dilute the power of your message by going on and on forever. Think about the most boring person you’ve ever met at a cocktail party—the one who’s in love with the sound of his own voice, and embarks on the endless soliloquies to prove it. If you ramble, your audience may slip off to the punch bowl before you’ve gotten anywhere close to the punch line. Share your story, but don’t hold others hostage to it.
Make It CLEAR
Being concise, however, doesn’t mean that everything you write must be in sentence fragments or formatted as bullets. In the proper context—a blog entry or annual report, for example—it’s fine to delve deeper, but don’t inundate your reader with every single thought you’ve ever had.
Give your audience examples they’ll understand. Use metaphors and similes to which they can relate. Organize your information in a logical manner. If you make it easier for people to know where you want to take them, they’re much more likely to accompany you on the journey.
When it comes to socializing, you might enjoy hanging out with that flaky friend who’s into devotional chanting one week and death metal the next, but you’re probably not going to entrust her with your life savings. Certain things demand consistency, and your brand is one of them.
For your message to get through, you must always maintain both internal and external consistency. That means the tone you set should match the message you’re trying to send, AND you must deliver that tone over and over again so that your audience knows what to expect from you.
There’s a reason Nike uses the slogan “Just Do it!” instead of, “Hey, maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, you might—if you’re feeling up to it—consider the possibility of dragging your body to the gym. Perhaps.” As a brand that promotes forward motion, the company’s verbal m.o. is to use the active voice and lots of short, choppy phrases. For example: “Run, Don’t Hide. Nike Flash. Be Seen. Stay Dry.” Given the personality of the brand, this style of writing is the logical choice, and it’s also what we’ve come to expect.
To be effective, your writing must get to the point, respect your audience’s intelligence, make it easy for folks to figure out what you do and how you do it, and easier still to recognize you the next time they engage. Do all of those things, and you’ll ensure that there is a next time.
Published: Sunday, 02 November 2014 09:57
Written by Elizabeth Hulings
The other day I was talking with a friend who owns a gallery. He had decided several months earlier to pursue online marketing, and had hired a social-media company that was blogging for him. Now he was telling me that the gallery’s Facebook “likes” had tripled, and that the social-media company regularly sent him impressive-looking, undecipherable (to him) analytic reports that indicated they were having tremendous success. He had not seen any increase in sales, however, and none of the sales he had made had derived from those online efforts. So he “pulled the plug” and fired the company. When I asked him what he planned to do next, he said he had no idea.
Then he told me the gallery had just staged a wildly successful auction of small paintings. Everything sold, with multiple bidders, and everyone who attended was very excited about the event. Those who did not manage to purchase something were distraught and eager to acquire something else in the near future. But when I asked him how he planned to keep in touch with all of those people, he explained that he had been spending all day on the phone with them – individually. What a shame, I said, that he’d not found a way to maintain the level of engagement he had drummed up during the auction; wouldn’t it be terrific if he could get folks to interact in a virtual group as a way of keeping up the pressure to buy, and encourage these people to start collecting art? Yes, he said, wouldn’t that be great!
The gallery website has a blog page where the social-media company recorded its posts, but there was no place to sign up for updates, forcing website visitors to be proactive. The blog posts were not building the gallery’s contact list nor were they deepening relationships with customers or promoting sales; they were just increasing check-marks and making virtual noise. There was no call to action.
Pretend you have a dog (or don’t pretend, if you actually do have one). If you call that dog’s name – “Spot!” – he will look at you in expectation. Call his name again, and Spot will look at you again; he might even cock his head. He’s awaiting instructions, for you to say, “COME HERE!” If he’s well trained and in a good mood, he might come to you, but until you tell him what you’d like him to do, he’ll just wonder why you keep calling his name.
In my friend’s case, the social-media company he hired HAD done its job…sort of. They had garnered a lot of attention for the gallery. Trouble is, once they had everyone’s attention, they had no message to convey beyond, “Don’t you like us?” They were not asking the audience to do anything. They were just making noise. Please don’t do that in your business. Yes, it’s hard to communicate your vision to your team; it requires focus, energy, and time that you don’t have. But you MUST do it. Otherwise, your potential customers may look but not act.
Published: Monday, 13 October 2014 14:06
Written by Paula Mele
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
There’s a reason this quote by Maya Angelou resonates with so many of us: feelings define our emotional state, and emotion heightens our ability to retain information and drives us to act. When transmitted effectively, emotion can convince people to commit to relationships—ideally, with your product or service.
That’s why you must consider emotion when designing—and not just in one or two places. If it’s going to deliver, emotional design needs to permeate every aspect of your brand’s look and feel. It needs to exist in every image, word, layout, and color choice you make. If your design is meant to evoke a feeling of calm, you shouldn’t use bold fonts or all caps. Nor should you opt for harsh visuals or strong colors. The design you create should reflect the brand's personality, and its sensibility should infiltrate all of your communications. By creating a serene effect through your choice of words and the visuals you apply, you can transform a lifeless product into a vibrant emotional bond with your audience.
Keep it simple, but pack a positive punch.
The most effective way to achieve this type of response is to concentrate on evoking one emotion instead of several. If you focus on simplicity, your message will reach your audience more quickly and convincingly.
Say, for instance, you’d like a friend to accompany you to an event even though you know she has other plans for the same night. You could bombard her with several reasons to skip her event and go with you, adding that you’ll pay for her ticket, drive her there, and lend her an outfit to wear. But actually, the most effective approach would be to remind her of another fun time you had together at a similar type of event. As you relive the experience and laugh about the memories of that evening, your friend will begin to wonder why she hasn’t already said yes. Before you know it, bingo, she’s changing her plans and going with you instead.
Emotion in design works the same way. By crafting a message that’s clear, concise, appealing, memorable, and consistent, you’ll forge a bond with your audience and establish trust and value. You’ve kept it simple, but loaded it with emotional depth.
Emotional design puts your audience first, and the product or service second.
In the example, above, you needed your friend to do YOU a favor and choose your event over her other plans, but you achieved your goal by evoking in her feelings of joy and belonging, and making the request all about HER needs. Emotional design works the same way. It transmits empathy for your audience and demonstrates that you can make their lives easier, happier, calmer, or (fill in the blank with the adjective that’s most appropriate to your work). It tells them that what you have to sell is valuable to them and exists to place them first, over and above your own goals. When your audience feels that they are a part of your brand, that they “belong,” they will feel that they’ve had their needs met. Ultimately, THAT will be the reason they commit to a relationship with you.
Published: Monday, 22 September 2014 13:01
Written by Sofia Perez
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a word nerd. It's an occupational hazard. But even if you don’t earn your living as a scribe, the quality of your promotional copy makes a difference. Sloppy writing says, “I’m unprofessional,” and reflects poorly on your brand.
I’m not talking only about flagrant abuses of the English language. Sometimes, it’s the little things that trip people up. Take, for example, this blog post’s headline. If you were to use it as it currently stands, your mother’s life would be in grave danger, but if you added a comma between “eat” and “Mom,” that punctuation mark would signal a pause that lets the reader know you are addressing your relative and inviting her to break bread with you, instead of accidentally (one hopes) rallying the troops to nosh on her limbs. (Imagine the years of guilt she could inflict on you for that misstep. “You never call. You never write. You encourage cannibals to consume your own mother.” Extensive therapy ensues.)
What’s the big deal, you ask? Only a stickler cares about such small mistakes.
Maybe. Maybe not. A lot depends on the audience and the context for the blunder. About five years ago, I attended a press event with several other food and beverage writers. Among them was an engaging young reporter who billed herself as a wine expert. Before saying goodbye, we exchanged business cards. The first part of her email address featured a play on the name of a well-known variety of wine grape. Clever, right? The only problem was that she’d spelled the word wrong.
Remember, this was her EMAIL ADDRESS, an account she used daily for professional purposes and one that she had printed on her business cards—the same cards she passed out to editors from whom she was seeking story assignments. If, in my former life as a magazine editor, I’d received a story idea from her that contained that same error in the body of the email, I might have overlooked it, assuming that the rest of her pitch was solid and well written. We’re all human, and we all make typos. But embedding the misspelling into her actual email address? If she couldn’t even master something so basic, I’d be asking myself how much of an “expert” she really was. What kind of reporting would she deliver were I to send her out on assignment?
In this age of instantaneous thumb-driven communication, filled with acronyms and serial-killer-like shorthand (“Ill look 4 u after work. LOL.”), many people have become complacent about proper use of the English language. Even the folks at Merriam-Webster have gone off the deep end, declaring last month that “literally” may now also be used to mean “figuratively,” its exact opposite (a decision I plan to ignore until I am literally without breath). But there are still potential clients and audiences who care about such things—people for whom attention to detail matters.
Good writing is about more than just choosing the right words and using them correctly.
Good writing shows your reader that you’ve made the effort to explain yourself precisely, which in my book is a sign of respect. When your writing is clear and grammatically correct, you’re telling your audience, “I’ve spent time and energy on this because I want to make a good impression. Your opinion matters to me.” Who doesn’t want to hear that?
One last bit of advice: Have someone you trust proof your copy before it goes live. Even professionals err, which is why my business partners, Elizabeth and Paula, review my blogs before I post them here. The longer you stare at your own words, the harder it is to spot the mistakes. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to avoid simple gaffes, but you shouldn’t rely solely on spellcheck and auto-correct (which once suggested I change “not by a long shot” to “not by a longshoreman”). A computer won’t always detect incorrect usage—like writing “its” in place of “it’s”—if you’ve spelled the word correctly.
Take the time to get it right, because you’re (you are) way too smart to let your brand (the one that belongs to you) look foolish.
Published: Tuesday, 02 September 2014 15:33
Written by Elizabeth Hulings
OK, I know a lot of people write about this, but the tips haven’t taken. So here are my imperatives when setting up a booth and working a conference:
Make sure the banner behind you says something that will cause people to talk to you.
You must grab the attention of passersby and then rope them in. That’s why you’re there! Even if what you say makes no sense, that’s better than just having your name up there. Conference goers will walk past the best-known brand because they think they already know all about it. Those banners cost money, might as well put them to good use.
Unless you frequent many of these events throughout the year, or you're in the business of out-sized printing or conference booth creation (in which case yours had better be swell!), it’s just not worth pouring valuable resources into a box most people won’t remember and that does not by itself cause a potential customer to buy from you. Catchy and compelling are more important than swank or comprehensive.
Don’t hide behind your table at your booth.
Why go if not to engage as many people as possible and collect their contact information so you can pitch to them later? Get out into the flow of traffic and hand things out. Be aggressive. This isn’t the prom; it’s a sales conference!
Hand out branded swag or just give out your collateral.
Don’t hand out tiny beach balls with just your logo on them – the small children and dogs who may end up playing with them don’t read and probably aren’t your target customers. This year’s top item seems to be an electronics cleaning cloth folded into a clear plastic business card holder. Not bad, but how many does one need? And the cloth with your branding on it will probably get lost long before the cardholder without your branding on it, which is useless to you by itself. Please make sure what you give people reminds them about your business every time they use it, which they will do over and over again.
Standing all day is rough.Bring a chair…and another person.
Make sure there is more than one of you to man your booth, even if your counterpart is your cousin or an intern who knows nothing. At least you will have coverage while you sit down for a moment under your incredibly curious, confusing, fascinating backdrop.
Don’t leave your area unattended.
That is silliest thing I’ve ever seen! If you have must leave, and your extra body is AWOL, make sure to leave something compelling, fascinating and unforgettable in your stead. When I see an unattended booth, I think:
- These people don’t care about securing my business
- Maybe I should set up shop while they’re gone and sell my own stuff.
Don’t break the bank, be creative, get people’s attention any way you can – standing on your head is fine as long as your wardrobe can take it - and play the long game. That includes contacting EVERYONE you meet within a week. That’s why you went, right?
Published: Sunday, 17 August 2014 22:02
Written by Paula Mele
So, you’ve followed Sofia's advice from our last post, and have crafted the words that describe and distinguish your business. Now you want to get them out to the world. How do you execute a design that does justice to your message? Think of your message as a new piece of theater never before produced. How will you convey what the story is about and who the lead characters are?
Just like in the theater, not everyone gets to play Hamlet. One of the biggest mistakes communicators make is failing to distinguish the key message from among many secondary messages. Decide what your key messages are and put them out in front, center stage. Everyone can’t be on the stage at once. This wouldn’t work in a production, nor will it work in your piece of communication. The supporting cast members can support your key players in smaller roles, but they should never clutter the center stage or detract from it. You worked hard on that key message and it deserves not only its own space, but its rightful place in the spotlight.
Building the Set
Just like on stage, when larger sets are screened off to create more intimate spaces if the scene dictates, you must consider the size and complexity of your communication. Only 15 clowns will fit into a Volkswagen! If all the information you wish to convey doesn’t fit on the vehicle you have chosen, you will either need to opt for a larger vehicle or display less information. The Great Gatsby is too long for a calling card; Made in China fits on a label.
Setting the Scene
We react to shapes, colors, images and style long before we take in any words. So it’s critical to set the right tone. Imagery is critical, even if it's only designed text. With it, you direct your audience's focus. So be certain that whatever imagery you use supports the copy. Be sure it fits your underlying brand and does not distract from the message you want to convey. And, whenever possible, organize the text graphically (e.g., bullets, pull outs, headings, etc.). Copy design will serve to differentiate among the cast of characters and to communicate key and secondary messages in more direct and visual ways.
Standing Ovation vs Booing and Hissing
The fact is, you may only have a few seconds to capture your audience's attention. Your main point and the reason for your communication must engage them right away or you will lose them. You’ll want to achieve this by effective design that tells a story and visually leads your audience to your point and then by supporting that information with secondary elements that flesh out the story. At every step in the design process, you’ll want to ask these questions:
- Does the design live up to your expectations and objectives for your message?
- Is it clear to your audience?
- Will it grab and keep their attention?
- Will it cause them to act?
Answer "yes" to these four questions and you will ensure the success of your production.
Published: Monday, 04 August 2014 18:23
Written by Sofia Perez
The biggest mistake that people make when it comes to creating and designing publications—be it a webpage, video, or printed brochure—is that they haven’t asked the right questions. As a food writer, I liken it to putting on an apron, stepping into the kitchen and turning on the oven before you’ve even checked to see whether or not you have all the necessary tools and ingredients. Sure, you might get lucky, but more than likely you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Before you march over to your copywriter and creative team and ask them to produce a full-color brochure filled with only haiku, images of mimes, and a center spread that features a pop-up boat diorama playing the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, there are a few questions you should ask.
Who Is My Audience?
If you were having a dinner party for vegetarians, would you plan to serve burgers and steaks? Not if you ever wanted those people to speak to you again. Well, the same basic principle applies here. Your first question should always be, “Who is my audience?” Who are you trying to reach with this new tool? The answer will have a huge impact on the form and content of whatever it is you end up creating. A webpage aimed at B2B clients will contain markedly different language than one that was designed for consumers. You don’t want your peers to think that you’re talking down to them or seem unqualified because you haven’t displayed your understanding of the subject matter, nor do you want the general public to lose interest because you’ve bombarded them with too much insider jargon.
What Do I Want Them to Do?
No matter what kind of material you’re creating, you have a goal in mind. (If not, step away from the design table right now, and figure out your goal first.) Are you trying to drive ticket sales to your theatre company’s latest play? Do you want to let potential retailers know that your product exists and convince them that they’d be fools for not featuring it prominently on their shelves? Is your fundraising team trying to generate money to help save a colony of endangered penguins? Whatever your ultimate aim, it must guide the process of developing new materials.
What Is The Most Effective Way to Disseminate My Message?
The way you spread your message is just as important as the message itself. If you’re trying to reach potential clients at a huge tradeshow, you probably want to avoid handing out a five-pound tome on your company’s origin story that the recipient will then have to lug around the exhibition hall for the rest of the afternoon (or, more likely, drop in the nearest garbage can). Instead, the solution might be to design a humorous or attractive postcard that folks can hang on their cubicle walls so that your contact information is front and center when the time comes for them to require your services.
While it’s great to go into this process with specific ideas about the tools you want to create, consider all of the options first before you spend any significant amount of time or energy on content and form. Asking the right questions now will get you the best responses later.
Published: Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:34
Written by Elizabeth Hulings
So business is good! You’re busy, and you need some help. Well, what kind of help? Ohh, all kinds of help... Front office, back office or factory or what-have-you, marketing, sales, record keeping and etc. You just can’t do all of the above anymore. You need an assistant; someone who can who can pick up the slack and give you some breathing room. You want a “mini me.” Just one person, maybe not even full time. It’s not like you’ll really have to manage a whole staff of people or anything. It won’t be that expensive and with a mini me you’ll be able to concentrate on the important things.
Please do yourself a favor and DO NOT DO THIS! Instead, take the time to sort out what is overwhelming you and where exactly you need help. Here’s how:
- Make a list of everything that must get done in a day, or a week, and then put all of those activities into a few functional buckets. Don’t over-complicate it, just group like things together.
- Cross out all the things that only you can do. Be honest here, this isn’t about your ego.
- Underline the things that someone else could do but that you enjoy doing or are trained to do and do well. Don’t restrict yourself to items that a low-level administrative support person can do, include everything that does not require YOUR talents.
- Put a check mark next to the things that someone else can do and that you do not like to do or aren’t good at.
- Revisit the things you underlined in step 3. Do any of those go hand in hand with things you checked in step 4? If so, consider checking them as well.
- Divide the check-marked activities into functional buckets.
Now you can see where exactly you need some help, and you can begin to see who you need to hire. Maybe a book keeper 5 hours a week, a social media consultant whom you pay a flat fee per month, and a sales person who works on commission would be the best combination. Or maybe a part-time office manager and a part-time order fulfillment person would be the dream combo for you.
Most likely, what you do not need is a MINI ME! If you are struggling with too many things to do, then simply handing the overflow over to an underling who is not you, with your experience, passion and skills, is just setting that poor slob up to fail. Why would you do that?