The MadAveGroup Blog
The MadAve Blog (338)
“I’m just a bill."
“Three is a magic number.”
“Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?”
“Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here.”
If you remember those phrases, you’ve seen some of the most effective content ever created for a television audience.
They’re all lyrics from Schoolhouse Rock, the animated shorts that paired catchy tunes and memorable characters with valuable lessons about math, history, grammar, science and other school subjects.
The series debuted in 1973 and aired until 1984 during ABC’s Saturday morning programming. Since then, the complete series has been released on DVD (I bought it for my kids) and episodes are now available online. (Learn about nouns here and the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution here.)
The earliest Schoolhouse Rock content is fifty years old. Yet, even if you only saw it as a young child, I’d bet you still remember the lessons, as well as the infectious melodies.
That’s because Schoolhouse Rock is a perfect example of content designed to entertain first and inform second. The creators understood that pitching “homework” to kids during Saturday morning cartoons would be a tough sell, unless they made their three-minute films irresistibly fun to watch.
So, they invested their collective time, talent and heart to make something valuable that would live in the minds of their young audience long after the initial viewings.
And it worked. Beautifully.
A half century after its debut, Schoolhouse Rock is still entertaining, educating and endearing itself to a new generation.
How might the success of the iconic series inspire you to elevate your company’s marketing and advertising?
Whether it takes the form of TV or radio commercials, pre-roll videos on YouTube or over-the-top (OTT) ads in a streaming environment, your message often comes between your audience and what they want to see or hear, just as Schoolhouse Rock interrupted cartoons. The difference is that the Rock creators intentionally charmed and engaged their viewers. They focused on their audience’s needs. And they gave more than they took.
Are your prospects and customers worth that same type of effort? Is your brand worth that same type of commitment?
Do you want people to feel that spending time with your content was a good choice? Would you like them to come back for more and then share what you create with others?
It doesn’t take a huge network budget, original songwriting and a team of animators.
But it does take care, enthusiasm and respect for your audience. It takes the desire to leave people with something special, whether it’s thoughtfully presented information, a sincere smile or a warm feeling that - just maybe - lasts 50 years.
Each month, I have an opportunity to reply to marketing-related questions posed by the Forbes Agency Council. Here are some of their recent questions, followed by my thoughts.
Question: Businesses must make the most of accolades, but websites showing only positive reviews can seem suspicious to consumers. How can a company truthfully share both glowing reviews and less-than-stellar feedback from customers in a way that benefits its brand reputation?
Answer: No one expects your company to be perfect, but they do expect you to address the problems that they and others have pointed out. So, use your replies to negative reviews to show how you'll improve. Take that opportunity to prove you're listening to your customers' concerns, that you truly value their input and that you're willing to make changes to earn their loyalty.
Question: "Surprise and delight" is an effective formula for attracting and retaining loyal customers. What is your favorite way to surprise and delight prospects and customers?
Answer: We've had success creating humorous content for channels where it's typically not used, such as on hold, corporate videos and e-newsletters. In those cases, it's almost certainly a surprise, and based on the feedback of our clients and their customers, it's often regarded as delightful and a differentiator. Used deftly, humor can create memorable impressions, encourage sharing and humanize a brand.
Question: What’s your favorite trick to remove fluff and reduce marketing copy to only the most essential, compelling and actionable language?
Answer: Put your readers first! Edit your writing with their needs at the top of your mind. If any of your copy comes off as even remotely selfish, cut it. As a marketing writer your job is to serve your company or client by first serving their audience. Can't be brutal enough with your own work? Run it by a skilled editor who has no regard for your feelings and then learn from his/her editing.
Question: Considering the many ways a brand can falter in this space, what is your top tip to ensure a successful branded podcast?
Answer: Focus on delivering value to your listeners. So many podcast hosts approach their time in front of the mic selfishly, presiding over a loose format and engaging in mindless small talk. Respect your audience's time by getting to the point and presenting information that listeners can apply to their careers. Show prep, editing, rehearsal and continual evaluation will produce a better podcast.
The new year is an opportunity to take a fresh look at your marketing goals and activities. So, I asked several members of the MadAveGroup team this question:
"What should more companies do with their marketing in 2023 and beyond?"
Consider their advice.
Joe Hochgreve / Senior Web Developer
Adding a Live Chat feature to your website can provide many benefits. It creates conversion opportunities on every page of your site, increasing conversion rates by an average of 150%. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a live person standing by 24/7 to address incoming questions. And leads generated by live chat close at a much higher rate than those from online forms.
Gwen Hagen / Marketing Manager
A lot of companies underutilize their first-party data, especially as they grow. Look at what you’re doing with your customer and prospect phone numbers and email addresses. Are you using that data to its fullest potential? Or have you been applying the same predictable marketing tactics to reach those people for too long? If you have data, there may be a more creative and effective way to leverage it.
My favorite example: using first-party mailing addresses to match with your customers' home IP addresses. Marketing to street addresses limits you to printed pieces, like postcards and brochures. But marketing via IP addresses opens a world of possibilities for digital marketing, such as serving display, video and OTT ads through a variety of platforms.
Michael Seay / Director
If you’ve been recruiting without much luck, re-evaluate your digital spending. If you're using LinkedIn, Indeed or other dedicated job platforms, shift money to more mainstream platforms with higher traffic, like Google or Facebook. Unemployment is low and the need for skilled labor has never been higher. So, job seekers on traditional job websites aren’t likely to be the cream of the crop. Your ideal candidates may not even be looking for a new job. That’s why you may need to interrupt and entice them while they’re on other sites.
Jessica Speweike / Content Developer
Since I’ve been monitoring our clients’ social media accounts, I’ve noticed that many companies put time, money and energy into platforms that don’t produce returns.
It’s a misconception that using every social media platform will increase your exposure and reach. If your Twitter account isn’t generating engagement now, doubling your number of tweets each month won’t attract more attention.
Take an honest look at your content to improve it, or you can focus on the social channels that are working better for you. Even though there’s no cost for the media, running successful social media programs is not free.
Jon Marker / Business Development
Before creating your marketing plan, it’s important to assess your high-priority pain points. Determine how much those pains are costing your company - in actual dollars and in other ways - and then craft your marketing plan and budget. Many businesses ignore the total cost of their pain points, even if that pain is “only” the toll it takes on their employees or the turbulence it generates in the workplace. Having a plan to offset those costs and eliminate that pain can be an absolute game-changer.
The last few mornings in our town have been foggy. And it’s been dense fog. Very low visibility.
Of course, when you can’t see much past your own windshield, it's tough to know where you are, even if you’ve driven the road you're on for years. It also means you can't tell if you're close to your destination or not.
If you run a business, you may feel like you go through foggy patches now and then. They can make it hard to see a clear path to success or may cause you to miss important turns and detours.
When driving in thick fog, it makes sense to use GPS, a tool that helps you stay on course and avoid potential danger.
A marketing plan is like GPS for your company.
It ensures that every member of your team is moving in the same direction by defining your marketing goals, strategies and tactics. It prevents you from merely hoping the marketing decisions you make will get you close to where you want to be.
April Rietzke is the Director of MadAve Marketing Management. Her team creates and executes marketing plans. "Our plans have allowed clients to streamline their processes, increase sales and improve retention, all while saving money on advertising," she said.
"We've also helped clients identify and seize marketing opportunities they never considered before. A solid marketing plan makes it easier to maintain consistent messaging, too."
And all that intention and focus can lead to a more engaged audience.
Working without a marketing plan is like driving through fog. With no clear vision of where you’re headed, it’s easy to lose your sense of direction and make costly blind turns.
Yep. The following reminders are, in fact, basic. But there’s a good reason to read the list - the “basics” are foundational.
Even the most accomplished musicians warm up by playing scales. Even the best hitters in the Major Leagues take batting practice before each game.
Likewise, reviewing and applying these basic thoughts can help you maintain your strong foundation.
Here we go…
1) On your business cards, résumé and email signature, use the name you want people to call you. If you prefer Bob, don’t refer to yourself as Robert on your LinkedIn page and other public profiles.
2) Make your emails easier to scan and read by using bullet points. Change important ideas from black to red. And highlight any requests that require action.
3) Include all your company’s contact information on your website. Don’t just make potential customers enter their personal info, submit it and then wait for your response.
4) Writing a blog post or a longer email? Start with an outline. Jot down the main points you’d like to make in a column. Add basic details under each point. Then, build your content around those points. Move your blocks of content as necessary to create the most logical flow for your audience.
Also, when writing website and email copy, apply this journalism principle: don’t bury the lede. Position the most important information near the top of your content.
5) In a meeting? Keep your phone or other device out of sight. Turning it over isn’t good enough. The presence of your phone or tablet suggests to others in the room that, at any second, you could be attending to an email or call that's “more important."
6) Never lie - or even exaggerate - with your marketing. Making outrageous claims about your product is an obvious type of lying, but there are more subtle misrepresentations, too. For example, the marketing emails that include this type of copy:
“I’ve been reviewing your website, MadAveGroup.com. I really like it, and I’ve been thinking about ways that we could help you generate even more traffic.”
The person who sent that email didn’t review our site. He didn’t form an opinion of our site. And, on a whim, he didn’t start pondering ways to improve our site. Lies have no place in any type of relationship. Make sure your marketing messages are accurate and honest.
7) Edit your business writing so it’s as concise, yet as effective as possible. Cut the fluff and repetition to show respect for your audience’s time. Whether you’re crafting emails, reports or blog posts, it’s your job as the writer to make your content easy to navigate, digest and retain.
8) Always say “thank you.” For a client’s time or trust. For a customer’s purchase. For a colleague’s insight. Thank people when they hold the door, when they pick up the tab, when they do good work. Look people in the eyes, say thank you as often as you can and mean it. There’s neither an easier expression of gratitude nor one that’s more meaningful.
Thank you for reading.
Bob Fosse was one of the world’s best-known choreographers. Over his 40-year career, he designed memorable dance scenes for films and Broadway musicals, including All That Jazz, Cabaret, Pippin and Chicago. (Watch a salute to Fosse here.)
He earned an Oscar, three Emmys and nine Tony Awards, while creating a dark, sensual, instantly recognizable look and a unique physical vocabulary that still inspire dancers decades after his death.
Yet, much of his signature approach was born of his weaknesses.
In a 1984 BBC interview, Fosse said, “Truly, my style came from my own physical problems. I always had a slight hunch in my shoulders, so, as a dancer, I began hunching.”
He started losing his hair as a young man, “so I started wearing a lot of hats.”
“And I never had the ballet turn-out, so I said, ‘well, I can’t turn [my feet] out, so I’m going to do the opposite and turn them in.’ The whole style has come out of my defects.”
Fosse said, “I thank God I wasn’t born perfect.”
Of course, nobody is perfect. Nor is any brand. But, while you’re walking the endless path to improvement, consider how you could capitalize on your company's weaknesses.
Start by re-positioning what you perceive as negatives. Instead, think of them as quirks, unique qualities that could have value as differentiators. No one saw Bob Fosse’s hunched shoulders or thinning hair as impairments because he leaned into them. He looked right through the cons and saw the pros on the other side. Then, he put those features to work for his dancers.
So, for example, is your company smaller than you’d like it to be?
Instead of going into debt to grow your local inventory, focus on just one product and work to earn your status as a respected national expert on that item.
Instead of hiring more people, invest in training the staff you already have so that they come to exemplify a new pinnacle of customer service.
Instead of upgrading to technical systems you can’t afford, embrace old-school business practices: personal phone calls, face-to-face meetings, hand-written thank you notes.
Each of those is an example of looking at a perceived problem through Fosse-like eyes. And each could elevate you and your brand in the hearts and minds of customers.
I drove behind a pick-up truck for a few miles the other day. On the truck’s rear window was a hard-to-read, dated, ultra-fancy logo for a local florist. My immediate thought was, “I’d never call that place for flowers.”
Why? Because of how poorly they presented their information, even though they're in the presentation business.
Whether the florist designed or just approved the gaudy logo, I assumed they’d also do a bad job of designing tasteful floral arrangements or, at the very least, that their idea of what’s beautiful is not consistent with mine.
To me, that florist’s logo was an indicator. And often, indicators speak louder and more truthfully about a company’s abilities and commitment than its advertising and marketing content do. For instance…
- Is the restaurant’s front window filthy? If so, you don’t want to see their kitchen.
- Is the wireless provider’s website an endless maze? There’s a good chance their customer service feels like that, too.
- Is the physician’s office always short-staffed? That suggests that the doctor who cares for your health doesn’t know how to care for his employees.
Indicators are red flags that may provide insight into future encounters. A company’s commercials or online ads might allude to a great buying experience, but when its callers are kept on hold in silence or their store environments are old and tired or the staff isn’t trained and friendly, customers are sure to be disappointed with what they find in real life.
Distinctive, memorable advertising and marketing content is important, but it must also be an accurate representation of what you deliver. Exaggeration for the sake of bringing people through the virtual or actual door can quickly backfire in the form of bad reviews and angry customers.
On the other hand, you may be the best landscape architect in town, but if the lawn and bushes in front of your office are brown and crispy, potential clients might be suspicious of your good reputation.
As a consumer, it’s important to look for indicators before you buy. As a marketer, it’s even more important to recognize when your message or visual brand is misleading, inaccurate or potentially damaging in any other way.
As a marketer, what do you believe in?
What's the philosophy that guides or differentiates your work?
Those questions may seem challenging at first, but they're worth considering, since you could easily apply the answers to what you do every day going forward. Whether it’s one simple statement or a few basic rules you commit to, a personal marketing philosophy can be a handy tool.
As an example, these are my three philosophies:
1) Always ask the question “who cares?” about anything I write. (Is the target audience likely to find value in my copy or content?)
2) Express ideas as concisely as possible. (Respect the audience's time.)
3) When appropriate - and sometimes when it's not - use humor. (Work to give the audience the memorable gift of unexpected laughter.)
If you're a writer or another type of creative, your philosophy can hone your creation and editing processes. Let it serve as your standard or a “filter” through which you run marketing content. And when it’s well-reasoned and time-tested, you can share your philosophy with clients or members of your team to support the choices you make.
If this is a new or strange concept for you, identifying your core principles may be tough, but don't feel like you need to adopt someone else's viewpoint. Your marketing philosophy should matter deeply to you. You should be able to defend it. Ideally, it'll come to you organically, after you've had enough first-hand exposure to both the good and bad practices of the industry or your specific craft. But you still may need to ask yourself the hard question, "What do I believe in?"
Write down your marketing philosophy. Then, share this blog post with the rest of your team and ask them to do the same type of thinking. Once they have, look for any commonalities in your philosophies. Where do you align? Can your company actively focus on those mutual principles to maximize their impact?
Then, how might harnessing the power of your shared beliefs affect your company culture and morale, your hiring practices, even the customer experience you deliver?
These wonderful animals live in the Pemberville, Ohio Public Library. They're the work of Laurel Rakas, the Coordinator of Children's Services there since 1996.
"We get boxes of books that are padded with this wrinkly, brown paper," she wrote. "We used to throw the paper out, which drove me crazy. I always wanted to do something with it."
So, she did.
"In 2020, our summer reading program theme was 'Imagine Your Story.' I thought, I can look at this packing paper and imagine it as something else. Then, we asked other libraries in our system for their paper and, boy, did we get a response! We were inundated with paper!"
As the raw material came in, her menagerie grew. And the reaction from visitors was immediately positive. "People have been very complimentary. I love to hear the response from children who have never been in before. They're full of wonder. It's been very gratifying."
Laurel is not paid to create art, but she seized an opportunity to make something out of nothing because it was important to her.
As a result, she's made her workspace a more interesting place to be.
Her paper creatures have surprised and delighted countless Library visitors.
She's led by example, quietly encouraging kids to stretch their imaginations and look for possibilities, even when they might not be readily obvious.
Laurel may have even inspired her co-workers to undertake their own art projects or learn new skills.
And down the road, who knows? Her creations may attract more good P.R. from area newspapers and via social media. She might even be able to auction off her animals for the benefit of the Library.
What if your company followed Laurel's lead?
How might the freedom to create or take on passion projects impact your culture? Your employees' engagement? Their loyalty?
What if they could experience the pride Laurel takes in her paper sculptures? What if they could generate that same type of positivity? In other words, what if you prioritized finding different ways to help your people shine?
By the way, Laurel's project is ongoing. "This year's reading program theme is 'Oceans of Possibilities.' I'll be building some sea creatures and I'm planning a kelp forest that will hang from the lights."
Prospective buyers might be drawn to your company through your advertising, a random encounter with your social media post, an online search or for many other reasons. And they may even purchase a product from you.
But then what?
How do you encourage those customers to come back?
One answer: by providing an exceptional customer experience. According to many studies, people are more loyal to brands that prioritize positive customer encounters. They’re often willing to spend more money with those brands, too.
The opportunities to create memorable experiences are endless - from providing friendly service at the point of sale, to building an intuitive online ordering process, to producing quality products - but this post will focus on just three efforts, all of which you can write into your marketing plan.
1) Present Your Brand Consistently
Creating a memorable brand is tough enough when every campaign and all the elements are executed perfectly, but when your exterior signage varies from store to store and the brand voice changes from week to week, you make it even harder for potential customers to pick your brand out of a crowd and recall your unique value.
People WANT to encounter brands they like. They WANT to discover companies they can identify with. So, make it easier for them to find and remember you.
Maintaining consistency across all touchpoints also sends the message that your brand cares about details, that you’re reliable and, yes, even trustworthy.
2) Craft Your Messaging with Customers in Mind
Is your copy and content self-focused? If so, there’s a good chance your audience is ignoring it. But when you use your marketing and advertising to tell interesting stories, provide valuable information and even help people live and work easier, you’ll create loyal consumers of the articles, videos and ads you publish.
When the marketing channel allows, tailor your message to each customer’s position in the buying cycle. Email is especially flexible that way. CRM systems can track that position and create workflows that allow you to send messages to customers based on their readiness to buy. That personalized outreach can also prevent the burnout that comes with repetitive or irrelevant ads.
3) Act on Feedback
Do you encourage customer input via your website, social channels, surveys, review sites or comment cards? And once you receive it, how do you react?
People want to know their thoughts are taken seriously. When you acknowledge and respond to their feedback you reinforce that their time and opinions matter and that they’re important to your company. You'll help customers feel included and remind them that they play a role in your mission or culture. And that can strengthen their connection to your company.