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posted by Teresa Coles Feb 01,2016 @ 04:38PM

Long live the communicating arts

I can’t recall the exact date this little gem popped up in conversation, but it stopped me in the proverbial tracks.

“She’s not a writer; she’s a content developer.

It was all very innocent, a casual didn’t-you-know-that’s-what-it’s-all-about-now comment made to me by a colleague several years ago. Nevertheless, it cut to the core. Not because someone corrected me in my assumption over the proclivities of a potential hire. Rather, it was a moment that threw my head, heart and gut into a tailspin over the potential demise of the communicating arts.

If I sound overly dramatic here, know that is my objective. As one who has been in marketing and communications since the hot-waxed type, proportion wheels and rubylith days, I bring a longstanding appreciation to the craftsmanship that is the hallmark of effective communications.

Since the day the MacSE entered the marketplace, followed closely by online stock photography, we as marketers have been lulled into the belief that technology is the new currency of our profession. And that if we use it to make more and more marketing stuff, people will immediately notice us, hire us or buy our wares.

It’s a well-meaning, yet dangerous notion.

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The enemy here is not technology, but the lack of intentional thinking behind it. The way we’ve allowed the beast and its mouse to marginalize the essential ingredients of effective communications: A well-turned phrase that can ignite action. Intuitive design that captures eyes, ears and hearts. Imagery that belongs to one brand, only.

What are we to do to protect ourselves from this slippery slope? I urge you to consider three truths that separate making marketing content from mastering the communicating arts.

The right words, in the right order, matter.

Don’t confuse this with an argument for flowery prose or corporate narrative. The technology that drives modern communications forces us to be more selective with our language than ever. Gifted writers are adept at articulating a brand’s truth with relevance and brevity. And it’s not because they have a big vocabulary or well-worn thesaurus. It’s because they have the imagination to transport themselves to the consumer’s point of view, and to speak with honesty and clarity.

This skill is increasingly important as we’re faced with the need to engage audiences within content marketing programs. Effective writers know how to shape artful conversations that are centered on consumers’ needs and interests, as opposed to producing an endless stream of it’s-all-about-me content from an organization.

Design controls the eye and moves the heart.

Brands are fighting for their share of attention in a world of stimuli that runs roughshod over a consumer’s brain. Each of us is paralyzed to some degree by an overabundance of news feeds, emails, texts, digital and mobile ads.

Thoughtful and intuitive design is not worthwhile merely because beautiful is better. As the palette gets smaller and smaller every day — from television to desktop, tablet and mobile — the designer’s understanding of visual flow, typography and color becomes more critical than ever. It demands more — not less — judiciousness from trained and talented designers.

No one person can do it all, well.

While the appetite for content developers — those who can seemingly write, design and command marketing technology at the same time — is at an all-time high, marketing managers will be wise to align their expectations with these combined skilled sets. To believe one person can command all three skill sets equally well is to short-change the power of effective brand communications.

So what’s the answer for a marketing leader seeking to balance the scales of content volume with well-honed communications? Consider the resources you have available to support your marketing program and determine where you can make the highest and best use of distinctive marketing talent. Then give your team the time and space to approach their work as purveyors of the communicating arts.

posted by Alexandra Frazier Jan 14,2016 @ 07:36PM

On brands that take their sweet time

A large stone fireplace dominates my aunt's keeping room. During family visits, there is no better way to greet the morning than to curl up on her leather loveseat and read one of the half-dozen cookbooks that tend to pile the end tables. Fire blazing, a steaming mug of coffee in hand and her furry smudge of a dachshund in lap, the space invites savory journeys of the imagination. 

It was here, a few months ago, that I began flipping through a Napa bakery's guide to recreating its most popular pastry and desserts. From the sundrenched photos of layer cakes and lemon squares to the author's description of her shop's temperamental brick ovens, it was easy to envision the bakery's perfect treats coming from my own less-than-perfect kitchen. 

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And yet, despite the book's many calls for ungodly amounts of European butter, there was nary a greasy thumbprint among its blush-colored pages. I asked my aunt about this—no cookbook worth its literal and figurative salt should be so pristine—to which she replied that the recipes, though lovely, were too long and labor-intensive. Too much effort, she said. I asked to take the book home anyway.  

As a maker of both baked goods and branded content, I can't help but connect the prep work and precision required of baking to the process-driven means by which we bring brand strategy to life. In the office and the kitchen, we plan, mix, wait and bake until we've created a product worthy of consumers' attentions and appetites. It's not easy, exactly. It takes effort.

My aunt was right in that the recipes I've tested so far are long, and they do take time. Lots of it. That said, the resulting confections have been decadent, intensely flavored, and frequently Instagrammable. More importantly, they've been worthy of sharing with the people I care about. Perhaps there's a lesson there. 

We live in a world that values convenience over quality, a place where food is fast and technology faster. The pressure to take whatever shortcuts necessary to keep pace is intense. But, just as your taste buds can tell the lovingly homemade from the pre-packaged, audiences can quickly discern original thought from canned content. Only one merits sharing. 

When what your brand says aligns with what it stands for, when it's purpose is the star ingredient of all your communications—that's when your audiences will take notice. The real stuff takes longer, obviously. But, if you're doing it right, consumers will always come back for second helpings.

posted by Cathy Monetti Dec 22,2015 @ 08:30AM

Is Your Post Worthy of A Click?

I am a television binge watcher.

There, I’ve said it.

My current obsession is Damages, a crime drama that features the magnificent (and stylistically perfect) Glenn Close. It’s an indulgence I share with my 22-year-old daughter, something we both look forward to at the end of long, productive workdays that deserve a good wind-down reward. Eliza queues up the next episode via Netflix, then we both pile on the sofa, the dog between us, and commence to watching one, two, sometimes three shows a night. (Binge-watching is so addictive.)

There’s something else we do, another obsession we share even if neither of us ever acknowledges it. When we are settled in front of the TV she pulls out her iPhone to scroll through Instagram, Facebook, or to click on late-breaking Snapchat photos and videos. I pop open my laptop and respond to email, check my blog roll, click to Facebook, pop over to Twitter to see what’s been going on. Then I check my email again.

It’s embarrassing, this admission. Because very often we both spend the next Damages hour(s) with these electronic devices active and in front of us. (Very, very often one of us will ask, “What’d he say? What just happened? Rewind, please.”)

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It’s an addiction, of course. That I know, because the thought of putting away my phone and laptop for the entire evening makes me very uncomfortable. How can that be, I wonder, with my daughter—my typical excuse for keeping communication at my fingertips—right there beside me?

The answer may lie in this commentary offered on NPR by Matt Riechtel, technology journalist for The New York Times: "When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline. Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're conditioned by a neurological response: 'Check me check me check me check me.’" 

So. Without the promise of my own little time-to-time dopamine squirt, simply watching an intense, high adrenaline television drama is not enough to keep me from feeling bored. So sad.

So true.

(Hang on for a minute. Got to check Facebook.)

All this hand-wringing got me to thinking about the steady stream of communications I’m addicted to and how often the payoff is worthy of the attention the monitoring requires. And as a marketing professional, that got me to thinking about the responsibility for producing content that has real value. 

Let’s start by acknowledging there’s a lot of work to be done up front. You must first articulate your business objectives and determine how content marketing can help achieve them. Then you need to identify your target audience and know how your product/service fits into their lives. What needs do they have that your brand meets? In what ways does it do this that are unique? Where is the powerful connection? Find this space and base your content strategy on it.

Once you have this outlined, here’s a good, simple gut-check for brands committed to providing well considered content that’s worthy of the click:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Speak only if it improves the silence.” Consider this to be the Golden Rule of digital communications, as well.
  2. Think of the “target audience” receiving the information as actual human beings. Better yet, develop your messaging as if you are speaking to an individual, someone you see in your imagination as you create it. It should be someone you like. More importantly, it should be someone you respect.
  3. Will he/she be pleased when they see your offering? Is the information meaningful? Is the content helpful? Is the commentary insightful?
  4. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Resist the urge to load up a social media feed just to get your brand out there.
  5. Remember the great gift of the digital world is the ability to form community without the constraint of geography. Be a valued member of that community. Be generous. Be kind. Be interesting. And always, always, be a good neighbor.

It’s not difficult to be mindful in creating your brand’s digital communications. In fact, it’s a great relief in a world that seems to feed on the command Do More Faster. You simply need to take a moment to be sure the content you are creating and sharing is actually worthy of someone’s valuable click.

posted by Teresa Coles Dec 09,2015 @ 09:00AM

Thoughtful communications essential in M&A environment

The ever-widening world of today’s business is driven by a quickening and erratic heartbeat. Markets call for warp-speed ROI. Technology dares us to master it. Customers expect us to solve tomorrow’s problems, yesterday. It’s an environment that often causes companies to consider a merger or acquisition as a means of building the scale needed to move forward at this pace.

Whether it’s a marriage between global corporations or local companies, thoughtful communications are essential in a successful merger or acquisition. I’ve yet to meet anyone who does not agree with this truth. The trick is in understanding that external brand communication is but a part of effective communications in this scenario.

 

Now before you put a wet washcloth on this brand marketer’s head, let me assure you I stake this claim from a very real place. It’s based on first-hand experiences I’ve had helping clients navigate the murky waters of merging organizations, cultures and brands.

With that, I’d like to offer six steps in support of successful M&A communications.

MA_Environment_Linkedin_Pulse.pngStep 1: Align with your vision

Sad, but true: All too often leaders fail to articulate why the M&A activity is important to their organization’s vision. If staff is engaged in the company’s vision and can understand exactly how the merger or acquisition impacts their role in that vision, good things are bound to happen. If employees can’t make this connection, the door to uncertainty is wide open.

Step 2: Align with your strategic plan

Leaders must effectively express how the M&A activity is tied to the company’s existing or evolving strategic plan. Allowing the plan to serve as a part of the communications framework lends context to the decisions that are being made around the merger or acquisition. For example, leaders must be very clear about setting new performance expectations for the combined organization, as per the strategic plan.

Step 3: Align with your culture

This is perhaps the most important consideration. Understanding the culture of both organizations and ensuring they have similar values is critical. That doesn't mean comparing the language on your mission, vision and values posters. It means taking very deliberate steps to study the psychological behaviors that drive each company, articulate real common ground and develop communications and engagement strategies that bring people together.

Step 4: Align your operational systems

Too often, companies focus on announcing the merger as quickly as possible, before taking the time to have internal conversations about how the evolved organization will operate. While it will never be possible to have all functional decisions in place before the announcement, it’s important that there be a baseline understanding of how and where operational shifts are going to take place. Chief among these concerns are the human systems that define the workplace, from reporting structures and compensation to changing job descriptions and performance expectations.

Step 5: Align your sales forces

This may be No. 2 behind culture if yours is a sales-driven organization. Bringing together different sales teams with different sales styles and philosophies is hard enough; motivating them to meet newly formed sales goals in a new environment is another thing altogether. Leadership must engage with the sales force in open, honest and consistent communications, reinforcing any newly formed corporate expectations and providing the resources needed for the combined sales force to succeed.

Step 6: Align your brand

When the impact of the merger or acquisition has been clearly shared throughout the organization — and a new sense of direction is in place — it is then time to look at refining the brand externally. The due diligence undertaken in steps 1–5 will directly inform that evolution, creating a surefooted path for a brand that is better positioned to connect customers and constituents to actions that support the organization’s strategic objectives.

The moral of this M&A story? Take the time to focus on communications that align internal systems between merging organizations before attempting to rebrand them externally. Your staff, customers and shareholders will thank you.

posted by Courtney Fleming Dec 02,2015 @ 02:20PM

If you wouldn't put it on a billboard, keep it out of your feeds

According to a recent Adweek article, “There is a glass door between social media and your company's culture. In this always-on, hyper-connected world, anyone can quickly see through a phony. But, by the same token, authentic actions are equally accessible. If it's real, people will feel it, and quickly.”

As digital marketers, it’s imperative that we truly understand a brand’s voice. Often times, businesses turn to social media to concoct a distinctive online personality—neglecting to realize that social media should amplify the brand they already have.

Your brand's voice isn’t something that can be forced or too carefully formulated to attract likes and shares—after all, human conversation isn't an exact science. Instead, your voice should reflect who you are, no matter the platform by which it's presented. Consumers want transparency. They want to feel like they know you, so let them.  

Brands and their employees should be telling the same story, living by the same motto. There’s nothing worse than seeing a brand grasping too hard to be relevant. Take one look at the Twitter account @brandssayingbae, and it's evident that trying too hard to be cool can backfire. I can assure you that millennials do not want your brand to use the current lingo. When an audience senses lack of authenticity, they take notice. And the last thing you want is for your brand to become a punchline.

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So how do you make sure your brand is being authentic and staying true to its core values? Go back to where your business started. Adweek says, “Getting back to the purity of that founding idea is where the magic lies; it should be what gives the business its purpose. Drag it out of history back into the present. Make it the focus of your culture. Share it and celebrate it with everyone.”

So, here’s a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t put your social media message on a billboard, then it’s probably the wrong message.

 

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