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Content Creation 2As a member of the Forbes Agency Council, I provide answers to several of the group’s marketing-related questions each month. That input is then considered for publication at Forbes.com. Our MadAveGroup blog series based on the Forbes questions continues with part 2 of my thoughts on content creation.

Question: Content is a great way to position yourself and your brand as a thought leader in your space. What’s your best tip for creating content ideas that differentiate your company website from your competitors’?

Answer: Trying to conceive all your brand's online content yourself can be stressful and may prove ineffective. So, tap into your staff's knowledge. Your frontline employees will provide a unique perspective on your buyers' concerns. And those in sales or production face challenges that may lead to valuable insight. Look at what your company does from many angles to create rich, authentic content.

Question: Podcasts have become a popular medium for both publishers and brands. What's your best tip for business professionals who are thinking about starting a podcast?

Answer: If your podcast purports to teach or provide some type of insight, get to the point quickly. Dispense with the "how was your weekend?" chit-chat and deliver on your promise. As with so many other cases, it's about respecting your audience's time and giving them what they came for. Once you earn a reputation for crafting concise content of great value, your podcast is more likely to succeed.

Question: My company is planning to launch a blog. What's one best practice you could offer me?

Answer: Yes, blog posts typically consist of one person's thoughts, but if writing isn't your strength, run your words past a skilled copy editor before publishing. If the blog is an extension of your brand, you don't want potential customers disregarding your product or service because of what your muddy content or careless mistakes may say about your attention to detail.

Question: When done right, press releases can be extremely beneficial for a business. On the flip side, what’s one glaring mistake you see time and again with press releases?

Answer: Your new product or event is a big deal to you, but it likely doesn't qualify as worthy of a media outlet's time or space - unless you can highlight its broader appeal or importance to the newspaper or TV station's audience. Editors and news directors need to be able to justify what they publish as valuable to their audiences. Prove your story's value and it'll stand a better chance of being seen.

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Content Creation 1Our series of blog posts featuring my answers to questions from the Forbes Agency Council continues. The focus this time is content creation.

Question: Two of content marketers’ biggest concerns are a lack of resources and fear they’re not creating enough content. What is one tip for overcoming limited time and resources to produce enough valuable content?

Answer: If you take a high-quality photo of an interesting scene, you can then create dozens of separate photos from it by cropping the image to highlight specific points of interest: the puffy cloud, the old building's texture, a close-up of the face. If you write an article that's rich with information, you can also "crop" it, repurposing bits and pieces for short-form videos, social and other channels.

Question: What is one valuable storytelling lesson you've learned that you can apply to content marketing?

Answer: I've learned to look into my own heart to develop content that resonates with people. Whether I'm working on behalf of a hospital, a tire retailer or any other company, I'm searching for the human and emotional side of the story. To consumers, the products in a category often seem identical, but a company's culture, values, and the buying experience it provides can be real differentiators.

Question: What is one feature of an effective explainer video?

Answer: Get that script down to the bone! Simple words. Short sentences. Put it all in an order that makes sense to the viewer. And, if possible, sprinkle in the audible equivalent of white space: silence. That gives your audience time to process what they just heard.

Question: From ad copy to emails, the ability to write well is an important skill for agency professionals. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Answer: There are two tips I figured out a long time ago and share all the time. 1) Get to the point! Respect your audience's time and deliver value and the promise of your title quickly. 2) Just because you say it, doesn't make it so. Support your claims with facts, testimonials and other information that gives readers reason to trust and invest in your words.

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Thank YouWe’ve promoted the value of delivering a sincere ‘thank you’ to customers in this blog before (here, here and here, for example).

Now, an article at Time.com reveals why you should make a habit of writing and sending thank you cards to people.

“Saying thanks can improve somebody’s own happiness, and it can improve the well-being of another person as well - even more than we anticipate,” said Amit Kumar, the co-author of a study on the subject that was published in Psychological Science

Over the years, we’ve suggested to a few of our clients that they send a thank you card to a customer each day - just one card; just one customer - and that they view it as part of their ongoing marketing efforts.

That methodical approach can produce as many as 365 unique, personal impressions each year; impressions that the card recipients will likely remember and maybe even share with others. Would that effect be worth just a couple of minutes of your time every day?

And now, we know that there’s an added benefit: you or the team member who writes and sends the cards gets to feel great about expressing gratitude, and that can help your employees derive more satisfaction from their work. (Imagine if EACH of your team members sent one thank you card per day!)

Keep it Simple

To make the thank you card writing process as easy and efficient as possible, consider these tips.

1) Purchase all your cards (or have them printed) in advance so you don’t have to search for new cards every few days. Buy the stamps up front, too. And keep all your supplies in one area so they’re easy to find. 

2) If it helps, write five or six template messages based on different circumstances, and then use them in your cards. You might write a template for welcoming new customers, or a thank you for a positive review. Write an “I loved getting to meet you” note or a “thank you for buying a certain product” message. Then, personalize them as necessary.

3) Don’t put off a week’s worth of card writing ‘til Sunday night. Write and send one card every day to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the process, to provide a timely response to your interaction with the customer, and so you can put your best effort into each card.

Let us know if you need help writing your templates or designing and printing your thank you cards. And please tell us about the response you get, whether it’s from customers or the people you work with.

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Forbes Forum Brand Part 2This post is the second in a series of articles that features my responses to questions put to members of the Forbes Agency Council. The theme again is brand.

Question: What is one thing brands should know when planning this year’s holiday campaigns?

Answer: Along with the benefits of your product, let your audience know what's convenient about ordering it, returning it, assembling it, even paying for it. Your holiday campaign will have to compete with a lot of other messages, and it'll run during a hectic time of year. Make purchasing your product more attractive to busy, distracted consumers by showcasing your quick and easy buying process.

Question: With so much noise in the marketing space, brand loyalty is paramount. What’s one way companies can increase brand loyalty?

Answer: You could be adding to the marketing noise if you're trying to be everything to everybody. By giving your audience too much to think about, you may be confusing them and preventing them from retaining a strong image of your brand. Determine what your core value is to consumers and find more ways to reinforce that specific value, rather than always introducing new topics into the conversation.

Question: If a company is considering a rebrand, what is one of the most important questions its executives should ask themselves before rebranding? 

Answer: Will a re-brand endanger the brand equity you've built up over the years? If the changes you make are drastic, will your current customers embrace them? If not, then what? Is the potential lure of new customers strong enough to risk alienating or confusing your current base? Is it possible that polishing up your current brand elements would give you the best of old and new?

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Thursday, 06 September 2018 09:55

Specificity and Trust

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Specificity and TrustI heard a radio spot for an area hospital this afternoon. One of the lines mentioned the center’s “brilliant” oncology care.

I was struck by that word - “brilliant” - because it’s not one I hear too often in an advertising context, and it’s a description I don’t immediately associate with medical care. It also felt very specific. And it was that specificity that put confidence behind the word, as though the chief cancer doc at the hospital would know how to define what’s brilliant about what they do, if asked.

The hospital could have said “we provide great oncology care,” and I might not have even noticed it or I could have accepted it as typical marketing hyperbole, because the word “great” is so overused and rarely defined or supported with proof.

But the word “brilliant” felt intentional and pointed. I felt a sense of trust. And, as a writer myself, I appreciated the other writer’s effort to differentiate the hospital’s level of care.

Strong verbs and adjectives slice through noise and demand your audience's attention. They draw people into your writing, rather than making it easy to ignore.

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ForbesAs a member of the Forbes Agency Council, I participate in a monthly forum that allows me to offer insight on a number of marketing topics. Forbes provides a series of questions and the other members and I submit our thoughts for publication on Forbes.com.

This blog post is the first in a short series that will feature my responses to a few of those Forbes questions. The theme: Brand.

Question: How can you encourage employees and consumers to be advocates for your brand?

Answer: I prefer to believe that few people will surrender their integrity or risk their reputation to serve as a mouthpiece for a company or product they don't believe in. But no one needs to be "encouraged" to talk about a brand that's truly excellent or uniquely valuable. So, focus on nailing what you do! Once you've got it right, the fans will come, and the advocates will speak for you willingly.

Question: Case studies and surveys continually show that authenticity helps brands succeed. How can brands remain and come across as authentic even when customers are unhappy, a PR crisis is unraveling, or the business is struggling?

Answer: It's a fact of life: things are going to go wrong now and then. If you ignore that fact, you may end up paying in the form of clumsy, delayed or unfocused responses to customers or the media. Arm your staff with the knowledge and tools to "make it right" before a service mole hill turns into a mountain. Then, learn from the problem. The world can be very forgiving when you 'fess up and fix it.

Question: Re-brands require a lot of time and money, and getting existing customers on board can be a difficult process. What’s one way a company can refresh its image across platforms without a full re-brand?

Answer: Showing up more often in front of your audience - or a sub-set of your audience - may give your brand the kick it needs. Experiment with placement. If you've never tried radio, for instance, consider how you might take advantage of the medium's unique characteristics and its ability to introduce what you sell to more consumers.

Internal Communication TipsWhen you want to encourage customers to buy, you spend time and effort crafting marketing and advertising messages that will be meaningful to that audience.

But what about when you need to motivate your staff members to learn a new skill or make an improvement to your workflow? Do you just send a quick email and hope they’ll make the desired change?

In both cases, the goal is the same: you’re trying to promote specific behavior. And in both cases, the audience is basically the same. It’s people. Yes, one group buys from you and the other group works with you, but members of both audiences receive hundreds of requests for their attention each day. If you want the message for your employees to resonate, it needs to be crafted with as much care as your marketing copy.

Let’s say you want your team to adopt a new process. Consider sharing the interesting backstory behind that new process with them. How will it help people? How will it reinforce your company’s mission or core values? When your team understands why the change has been made - and even what’s in it for them - they’re more likely to line up behind that new process.

3 Tips on Treating Your Internal Team Like an Audience

1) Keep your content as concise as possible. That will make it easier for your staff to consume and remember it.

2) A single memo is not likely to do the job. Repeat the main idea, but in different ways and through different channels. Most people need to be exposed to a message several times before it takes hold, but not everyone learns and retains information the same way.

On day one, for instance, you might send an email about the new process. For day two, record a company-wide voicemail answering a common question about the process. On day three, talk about the benefits of the new process at the company meeting. Day four: create and share a quick video to relate a success story about the process.

3) Just as you wouldn’t spend all your time with an audience of customers talking about yourself, be sure to focus on the needs of your internal audience. Help your team cope with the new process. Answer their questions. Give them tips. Remind them how the change makes things better. In other words, deliver value in exchange for their attention.

Find more thoughts on internal communication in an article I contributed to for the Louisiana Technology Park blog. Check it out here.

Customer Experience

I’ll bet you’re great at something. Maybe a lot of things.

Even if one of those things is owning or managing a business, though, it’s likely that your strengths and interests aren’t broad enough to cover every customer touchpoint.

For instance, let’s say you run an auto repair facility. You and your team are wizards under the hood - mechanically and technically excellent. And, yes, that excellence is ultimately what your customers pay you for. But it may not be enough to attract and keep new customers.

If the exterior of your building could use a serious power wash, if navigating your parking lot is a nightmare, if the guys at your counter aren’t proactively helpful, if your website is cluttered, if your restrooms aren’t clean, plenty of people won’t even consider coming in or coming back.

It’s the rare person or team that can deliver a consistently great service AND nail all the expected extras. It can be even tougher to think outside yourself and recognize opportunities to delight customers. But going to that next level can mean the difference between merely doing business and providing an experience that customers return for and willingly promote for you.

Maybe you’ll never be the kind of person who thinks to spruce up the landscaping around your shop, or send a hand-written card to your new customers, or continually reinforce your employees’ telephone skills. That’s okay, as long as you partner with people who can evaluate the experience you provide, look for missed opportunities to connect with customers, and then put a plan or process into place that helps you move from being great at one thing to being great at a lot of things.

This recorded webinar is about delivering better caller experiences. Take a listen.

Resume TipsWe’re growing, so we’re always on the lookout for top talent. That means we see a lot of résumés - and a lot of résumé problems.

So, I called on a few of our agency leaders for their best résumé tips. First, a few of my own.

What Are You Selling? 

When I’m writing marketing copy, I put myself in the audience’s shoes, and consider what they might want in exchange for the time they spend with my content. With your résumé, you’re marketing yourself to employers. So, think about what those people want from an employee.

Study their help wanted ad. Read their website and social pages. What do they value? Can you deliver that? If so, do your résumé and other self-promotional materials make that apparent? Do they make hiring you an easy "buying" decision?

If you include an objective on your résumé, take the time to customize it for the job you’re applying for. I automatically rule out applicants whose objective has nothing to do with our type of work or the position we’re offering.

And sprinkle testimonials about your work and skills throughout your résumé and website. Let your biggest fans speak for you.

It’s All About Presentation

Our Director of Marketing Management April Cochran offers three tips.

“If you’re applying for a marketing job, be creative with your résumé. It should appeal to a hiring team like good marketing would.

“In today’s world, you have to keep your LinkedIn page updated. Include the URL on your résumé and a link to the page on your personal website. If you’re a creative, your website should feature examples of your work.

“And I can’t believe I have to suggest this, but always proof your résumé. It’s amazing how many errors I’ve found over the years.”

Is it Relevant?

“I don’t care that you worked at a car wash or a fast food restaurant while you were in college, unless you can show how those types of jobs relate to the position you’re applying for now. What’s on your résumé should have relevance to where you want to be professionally.” - Nikki Kellers / Director, MadAve Collective

Know What You Want

MadAveGroup CEO Jerry Brown has been hiring for 30 years. He suggests “defining your career goals very specifically, and then going for that type of job. It’s important to be able to show upward movement with each job change. When interviewing with a company, show that you know that company very well, and use your cover letter to explain why they should hire you.”

Show Your Successes

“It’s okay to list your past responsibilities broadly,” said Director of BusinessVoice, Steve Evert. “That information helps me understand what you did in those roles. But, if you want to be noticed, show the objectively measurable successes and accomplishments you’ve had in each of those roles.

“Also, if you held three different positions at one company, make sure the layout of your résumé doesn’t suggest at a quick glance that you worked at three different companies during that time. Employers are often leery of someone who leaves a company every couple of years.”

Tuesday, 26 December 2017 09:12

Would You Read This?

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Simplifying Your MessageThe window in this picture is next to the door of a county government office.

The staff's hope must be that customers will read each sign and learn the do's and don'ts of conducting business with this department before even walking through that door.

But the signs ain't workin'.

Over the years, I've seen literally thousands of people enter that office, and not one has even slowed down to glance at that collection of paper taped to the glass.

Why? 

It's too much to take in. Never mind the inconsistent look and the negative tone of the messages that “welcome” you to this office. It's the sheer amount of information that's overwhelming and off-putting.

So, ask yourself if customers might be ignoring or even turned off by an over-abundance of your messaging.

  • Does your website copy need to be simplified or better organized?
  • Do you try to force too many details into your radio spots?
  • Could your social content be more concise?
  • Are you sending emails too frequently?

People are distracted. They're in a hurry, and their attention spans are shrinking. That means that too much of even the best content may be disregarded because it takes too long to read and process. 

In the new year ahead, work to focus your message, wherever it may be. Make it as easy as possible for your audience to see, understand and remember your main point.

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