The MadAveGroup Blog
The MadAve Blog (313)
I have an opportunity each month to answer marketing-related questions for the Forbes Agency Council. Thoughts from council members are then published at Forbes.com. This blog post is the fifth in a series featuring a few of my responses to those Forbes questions. The theme: Content Creation.
Question: It's one of the top goals of any company's marketing campaign - a strong, unique voice that unmistakably belongs to and reflects their brand and puts them top of mind with consumers. What's one way companies can create and cultivate a strong voice for their brand?
Answer: A brand's message can get watered down with marketing-speak or when trying to appeal to everyone or offend no one. If there's a leader in your company who talks in a bold, no-nonsense way about your mission and your customers, pattern your marketing content after his or her communication style. It'll likely be perceived as unique because it's so personal. It'll also ring true with your audience.
Question: Whether it's topic, venue, voice or other factors, what's your best tip for writing content that will have a long shelf life?
Answer: Yes, hot topics can attract lots of eyeballs immediately, but they can also quickly fade in relevance. If you've been doing what you do for many years, you've likely learned many valuable lessons along the way. They may be simple, foundational truths that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. As blog posts, those truths can serve both your current audience and future readers.
Question: User-generated content in the form of reviews can be one of the most powerful and effective marketing tools, but it can be hard to get happy customers to take the time to write it. What's one clever method a business can use to persuade customers to post a review?
Answer: We've worked with clients who seem almost embarrassed to ask for reviews. But when consumers are excited about a buying experience, they often want to share their opinions. So, encourage that. When someone is happy at the point of sale, ask them to share their feelings on social, a review site or with an email. Everyone wants to feel like their thoughts matter. Let your customers know theirs do.
Question: A blog can position a company or brand as an industry leader and attractive potential business partner. What's one piece of advice your client should adhere to when launching a blog to highlight their brand?
Answer: Your blog doesn't have to be about your brand directly in order to benefit your brand. If your posts are just thinly veiled ads for your company, no one will read them. So, tell stories about your customers and industry, your personal experiences, even odd topics that support your brand story. The goal of your blog should be to provide your readers with valuable insight and a unique perspective.
I’m not a runner. Never have been. But for the hour that I watched last weekend’s 2019 Chicago Marathon from the streets of my daughter’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was completely drawn into the event.
I’d never seen anything like it: an endless stream of determined people running through a chilly Sunday morning. And most seemed in remarkably good spirits at mile 10. (I'm drained and cranky after driving ten miles.)
Later, I learned that more than 45,000 people ran the race and that 1.7 million spectators lined the route to cheer them on.
It was truly inspiring. The marathoners. Their friends and family who turned out in support. The planning and cooperation and logistics of it all. I was in awe.
And yet, I had to laugh when I saw several young women holding signs that ran counter to the many messages of encouragement. One of the signs simply asked, “Why?”
“Why?” is a funny question when posed to long-distance runners, but it also made me wonder: why would a person - let alone 45,000 people - put themselves through the tremendous struggle of running a marathon?
As a non-runner, I may be going out on a limb, but I’ll suggest the “why” is at least partly about a story. Or maybe several stories.
It might be a story about other people: I’m running for my sick mom. I do it to feel closer to my late friend who was a lifelong runner. I run to raise money for people who can’t run.
It might be the story the runners tell themselves: I can do this. I can beat this. I am strong enough.
Or running marathons may be one way they define themselves: I am an athlete. I conquer obstacles. I don’t stop until the race - literal or figurative - is won.
Whether you run or not, you can likely identify with some of those feelings. Your career or your business has had to endure challenges and uphill battles, or times when you wanted to quit or thought you couldn’t make it. Maybe you even wondered “why am I doing this?”
How did you get through?
The answer to that question is a story you can tell.
In your marketing content, share what you learned about yourself or your company during those tough times. How did adversity make you lean or hone your team’s skills or help you evolve into a better partner?
In what ways did pushing through the pain give you unique insight or change your perspective?
And how can you present your story in a way that inspires your audience and allows them to appreciate you and your efforts on an entirely different level?
(Photo Credit: Top image from ChicagoMarathon.com)
I ordered the salad.
“That comes with soup,” Mike the waiter reminded me. “Which kind would you like?”
"No soup, thanks," I said.
But even though I was having only one course, Mike took it upon himself to make my lunch more convenient.
“I’ll bring you a large bowl of salad so you can help yourself to as much as you’d like.”
He also brought three cups of dressing. Then, as I was finishing up, he asked if he could bring me an iced tea refill in a to-go cup.
Those may seem like small gestures, but I can’t recall a restaurant server offering them before.
Oh, and he was friendly and energetic, too.
Mike’s primary job was to take my order and bring food to the table, but within that limited scope of opportunity, he got creative. He anticipated my needs, applied some empathy, used the tools he had - salad, bowls and a disposable cup - and created a memorable encounter.
When I complimented him on his great work, Mike thanked me and told me he believes in the Golden Rule and the power of Karma. But I already knew that about him.
Now, try to tell yourself you can’t make the same type of effort for the people who keep your company in business.
Try to buy into the idea you don’t have the time to make a better impression or add value, that you don’t have the resources, or the job title, or any good ideas.
Try to swallow the notion that extra effort and care don't matter, that they're not a defining difference between the brands people love and those that disappear.
Go ahead. Try.
As you browse online content, read ads, and listen to TV and radio commercials, you’ll see or hear lots of worthless words - advertising phrases and clichés that add no value, provide no clarity and, sometimes, don’t even make sense.
It’s fluff that steals the audience’s time and weakens the brand’s message.
Those worthless words are there for at least one of three reasons:
1) An inexperienced copywriter
2) The company’s lack of vision for their advertising, and/or
Your audience’s perception of your brand is too important to squander any opportunities to promote it. So, if you write or contribute ideas to your company’s advertising content, keep these basic ideas in mind.
Your audience’s time is valuable. When you waste it, they’ll be less likely to give it to you in the future. Say as much as you can in as few words as possible.
Use advertising content to guide your audience. People want help with making good buying decisions. Ideally, your ad copy will show them a logical, legitimate path from their need or problem to your solution.
Give your audience something in return for their attention. It might be useful facts or a serious question to ponder. Or maybe it’s just a good laugh. The bottom line: leave them glad they invested their time in your message.
Examples of Content to Avoid
I once heard a used car dealer wrap up his on-camera pitch by saying, “We accept cash.” Are there businesses that refuse cash? In other words, that line isn’t necessary. The following phrases aren’t either.
“We’re conveniently located.” Convenience is relative. A store that’s convenient for one audience member may be completely out of the way for others.
The takeaway: Don’t make blanket statements.
“Your call is important to us.” That’s a set-up to a now-common joke. The punchline: “If my call is so important, pick up the damn phone.”
The takeaway: Delete clichés and other “expected” phrases that only serve as filler. Replace them with information your audience can apply.
“Summer’s here, so it’s time to…” I promise that everyone who reads or hears your copy knows which season it is, or that Christmas is near, or that it’s back-to-school time.
The takeaway: Don’t waste time stating the obvious. It can be insulting to your audience and it draws focus away from your main points.
“We’re dedicated to your satisfaction.” At best, baseless platitudes do nothing to separate you from other brands that rely on the same tactic. At worst, you’ll be perceived as a company that exaggerates or even lies.
The takeaway: Unless you can prove your dedication or somehow guarantee you offer the best service, avoid those types of lofty claims.
Those are just a few examples of specific phrases that weaken advertising copy, but there are others. So, be diligent in your copy editing, filtering your content through these questions:
- Is this copy honest and accurate?
- Which words can I delete without watering down the message?
- Does this copy address a need my potential customers have or is it all self-serving?
- Is this writing clear enough to convey the unique value our company provides?
It takes time and effort to write and re-write impactful advertising copy that’s also a pleasure to read or hear, but the trust and interest that quality content creates is worth the work; it will serve as the foundation of a powerful voice for your brand.
In baseball, one swing of the bat can keep an inning alive, which can provide one more chance to score.
And that one extra run can mean the difference between winning and losing a game.
And one more win during a 162-game season - just one - can earn a team a playoff berth, which can lead to a spot in the World Series, which can culminate in a championship.
And making history.
Of course, it's not merely a single swing of a bat that makes a winning baseball team. Nor is it one perfect pitch from your sales team that takes your company to the next level. It's the years of training and keeping your eye on the ball and, yes, even committing errors that teach you and your team how to win together. It's your daily effort and commitment that lead you to opportunities to grow into a clutch player.
And as much as baseball is a team sport, it also requires individual performance, as your work likely does - which takes us back to the idea of one more swing leading to one more run, one more win and one more chance to achieve something special; something lasting.
What does that swing equate to in your job? Throughout the 12-month-per-year season that is your career, how can you gut it out each day to produce uncommon results for yourself and your team?
In a country of 327 million people, there are only 750 Major League ball players. They're in the bigs because they're the best at what they do. And each day, they work to find a way to win.
But there's more than one game in town. Whether you repair cars or manage a marketing staff or run your own firm, define your industry's Major Leagues, your World Series. Then, step into the box each day and take your cuts as if something important is riding on it.
Because something important is riding on it.
Fifty years ago, a dedicated team of people made history, changing our perception of what was possible by landing two men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth.
If you weren’t alive in July of 1969 or you were too young to remember the Apollo 11 mission, it might be easy to minimize their accomplishment given all our technological advances in the decades since.
But at the core of their commitment to reach the moon was that human quality that’s so often present at the leading edge of innovation - courage.
In September 1962, when President Kennedy urged American citizens to support a lunar mission, NASA was not prepared to deliver a solution, yet they accepted the challenge.
Everyone involved understood that preparing for the expedition would be physically and mentally demanding, so they persevered.
The astronauts assumed they had only a 50/50 chance of surviving the flight, but still, they sat atop hundreds of thousands of gallons of explosive rocket fuel willingly.
And as a result of all that courageous focus, the work of the Apollo 11 team stands among the greatest achievements in human history.
In your work, can you summon the courage to chart new frontiers? They don’t need to be as daunting as space travel. But, whether you own a small shop, spend your nights developing new software, or lead a team of medical professionals each day, you can dare to dream.
Then, set to making it real.
Will it be hard? Probably.
Will it matter? Certainly.
Remember, walking on the moon began as nothing more than an idea, too.
As you look to the night sky on this important anniversary - and forevermore - let it inspire you to wonder what’s possible. And let it remind you that courage can make it so.
Michael, one of our agency directors, drove across town to pick up lunch for the 15 people in our office. (The rest of the staff were on a company-sponsored trip.)
When he got back, he realized that one of the large foil trays of food had been mislabeled. Instead of the peach cobbler he ordered he was given green beans.
Hardly a tragedy, but Michael called the restaurant to see how they might correct their mistake. “Just come back and pick up the cobbler,” the manager suggested. But the restaurant was 20 minutes away, so Michael would have to make another 40-minute roundtrip just to get what he ordered.
Michael asked if the manager could send a driver to our offices with the cobbler. “No,” came the reply.
“But you cater, and I saw two of your company vans in your parking lot,” Michael reasoned.
“Can’t do it,” said the manager.
Guess who will never make another $260 purchase at that restaurant.
Rather than seizing the opportunity to be a customer service hero - by correcting a mistake his team made, no less - the manager chose the easy, short-sighted approach. No suggestion of any options. No offer of a free meal or future discount. Not even an apology.
Imagine how quickly any bad feelings could have been prevented with a heartfelt “I’m so sorry about that” from the manager.
We’ve said it before in this blog: no one expects perfection from your company. Screw-ups are going to happen now and then. But not owning up to those mistakes and making them right will cost you brand damage and buyers.
Can’t fix the problem right away? Then offer a sincere apology on the spot and let your customer know you’ll contact her within a specific amount of time with a few options. Then, let her choose which make-good she wants.
Even the best advertising can’t compensate for a lack of customer care or a staff that’s not empowered to make things right when they go wrong. Every encounter - EVERY encounter - is a chance to wow people and create a business that's worthy of customer loyalty.
If you think you can’t draw inspiration from younger people, I urge you to reconsider that notion.
I spent a recent Saturday morning with several graphic design students from Bowling Green State University. The occasion was the Graphic Design Department’s Portfolio Review, a chance for juniors and seniors to network with advertising professionals and get feedback on their work.
I met several talented designers, but two stood out. One showcased work that was born of her personal passion - the protection of coral reefs around the world; the other created from his personal pain - the loss of his parents earlier in the year.
Both projects were thoughtful and beautifully executed, but it was the inspiration and the story behind each one that allowed the messages to resonate. Each designer followed his or her heart and worked sincerely with the goal of helping others. I was truly moved by the obvious care they had invested.
What about you?
Are you doing work that matters to you? Are you leading your team, your department or your entire company to change the world - or your small corner of it - for the better?
If your workplace isn’t fertile ground for that sort of thought, how can you invest your personal time in a way that feeds your need to serve others?
It’s easy to slip into auto-pilot. It’s easy to lose sight of the professional vision you had long ago. But it’s just as easy to re-commit to making a difference with your life and your work.
So, what matters to you?
In early April, my family and I spent a week in Charleston, South Carolina.
We love the city. And we’re not alone. Charleston welcomes about 7 million visitors each year. Tourism supports nearly 50,000 jobs and is worth about $7.5 billion annually to the “lowcountry” town. Travelers have even voted it America’s number one city for many consecutive years.
And what’s at least one reason for that?
Founded in 1670, Charleston is still filled with a stunning array of historical homes, churches and other magnificent buildings, including The Old Exchange, where President George Washington was once honored with a lavish ball.
That history is palpable throughout the city. And even if you aren’t aware of any of the specific historical details, the architecture alone serves as a constant reminder of how special and significant the town is.
In other words, Charleston is proof that people are drawn to a good story.
Your company may not be able to boast that America’s first president danced in your conference room, or that the initial shots of the Civil War were fired from your lobby, but it’s likely that you have a compelling story of your own to tell. Maybe it’s developed as your business has grown, or maybe it’s been part of you all along.
Your story could be about what motivates you to do what you do.
It could center around the care and attention to detail you invest while making your product.
Maybe your story is about the people you choose to hire, your unusual culture, or how you direct profits to serve the less fortunate.
Or, like Charleston’s, your story might be rooted in your unique heritage.
If you’re not already telling that story, think about what it could be and all the channels you can use to share it with your audience.
The other day I heard a lightning-quick disclaimer at the end of a radio spot. The voiceover was so fast and mixed at such a low volume that I couldn’t begin to understand it.
And that’s the point.
That advertiser didn’t want me - or anyone else - to hear those details.
My immediate response to that tactic is “what are they trying to hide?” And, just as quickly, any trust I may have had in the advertiser evaporates.
Even if you don’t use radio or TV to advertise, are you purposely hiding valuable or even necessary information from consumers in other channels?
Maybe it’s that fine print on a sales form. Or contact information that’s buried deep within your website. Or details about the restrictions on a warranty.
Ask yourself if discovering that information after the sale would anger your customers, or cause them to lose faith in you, or lessen their willingness to buy from you again.
Then ask, “As a consumer, would I want easy access to that information?”
If your buyers knew about that hidden information, might it jeopardize sales? Maybe. But are you willing to exchange a quick sale for disappointed customers who’ve lost trust in your brand?