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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?
This morning - December 28th - I went to the shop of a service provider I use several times each year.
I walked right by the sign that said they’d be closed for the holidays until January 2nd and then tried to open the locked door.
Lucky for me, the owner happened to be in the building. She unlocked the door, welcomed me in, and graciously took care of me, despite the even bigger lobby sign that clearly listed the shop’s holiday schedule.
I didn’t see that sign either - until she made a joke about it.
I felt like a dope for missing the signs and for inconveniencing her, but the experience served as a reminder of two important points:
1) The world is not actively looking for your message on a sign, on a website, or in any other marketing channel. That seems to be doubly true when your message is (even temporarily) different from what your audience expects.
2) Consumer habit runs deep and, as marketers, we all need to work consistently and creatively if we wish to change or side-step certain behaviors.
When developing a strategy and deciding how your message will be presented, think like a consumer whose top priority is his or her own needs. That should be easy because that’s what you are. That’s what we all are! But when we’re crafting content for our own businesses, we tend to forget that. Suddenly, we believe that everyone actively thinks about our company or store.
They don’t. Not even your best customers.
Consider These Points
- Always make your message as simple to see and digest as possible. Use concise copy. And choose logical images that support that copy, not draw attention from it.
- Consider where you place your message. Will it be easy for your intended audience to see or hear when they need to see or hear it? Different people prefer to consume information in different ways, so use several channels to distribute your announcement.
- Does your message attract attention? Remember, your potential audience is probably not actively looking for the information you’re sharing, so design your message to interrupt the habit in which they’re currently engaged, whether that's buying a competitor’s product, making assumptions about what you do or don’t sell, or, yes, even trying to walk into your shop when it’s closed for the holidays.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
In other words, when you absolutely require an idea or a solution, you’ll work with what you have to come up with what you need.
You likely face limits with your work, maybe even several times per day: a small budget, older technology, an inexperienced team, not nearly enough time.
But the good news is that embracing those negatives can lead you down a creative path you may not have considered and, possibly, to better, more interesting results.
During my teen years, I was a skilled letterer. I could draw block letters by hand, properly kerned, straight across the page, all within the allotted horizontal space. But, as I got older, I was no longer satisfied with my level of precision. I couldn’t make the letters “perfect enough.” So, I started drawing them inconsistently on purpose, in different sizes, each with their own twists. The work became much less predictable and far more interesting. I still use that freeform style today.
In my spare time, I run a website and Facebook page for a friend who owns an antique store. I shoot all the pictures that I post. But there’s not a lot of elbow room in the shop, and sunshine doesn’t fall into every corner. So, I’ve adapted my photo style to accommodate the tight spaces and lower light. In the shop, I’m forced to stay closer to the piece I’m shooting, and often need to present it at a 45-degree angle or from above. But, the proximity lets me capture the object’s subtle features, the texture and patina, even a sense of its age - details I might not communicate if I weren’t forced into that different shooting style.
In both cases, I've harnessed negatives - whether it’s my own limitation or how my environment limits me. And in both cases, I believe the work is better because of that adaptation.
Ironically, too many options or too much freedom can be crippling, while working with fewer resources can kickstart your creativity by forcing you to think in different ways.
So, the next time you don’t have all the elements you think you need, use the fact that something is missing to take your work in a new direction. Or, when you DO have all the pieces but there’s still no magic happening, start taking pieces away to encourage yourself to think differently.
Over the years, Santa has set a pretty high standard. Consider a few of the things the big guy does and you’ll discover some takeaways that you can apply to your company.
1) Communicate the way your customers prefer - Reading letters hand-written in crayon may not appeal to many people over age 9, but Santa does it because he knows it’s important to his customers. How can you make it easier and more enjoyable for potential buyers to reach you?
• Add a live chat feature to your website?
• Increase call center staff to assist customers quicker or permit deeper conversations?
• Provide callers in queue with a call-back option?
• Make texting available to your customers?
2) Be predictably reliable - Santa delivers right on time. In fact, that’s what blows everyone’s mind about the guy. Despite an ever-growing customer base and the skyrocketing cost of reindeer chow, he comes through like clockwork every December 25th. Could you wow your clients by shortening turnaround times?
• Which production and delivery-related processes can you re-evaluate and tighten up?
• Would new partnerships allow you to provide quicker or more consistent delivery?
3) Embrace your weirdness - A red suit? That floppy lid? The belt on steroids? I mean, Santa wears some crazy threads, no doubt, but he makes ‘em work. The look is so his that no one can even think about swiping it. Have faith in what makes you unique, whether it’s your culture, your marketing philosophies or your branding. When those ideas are genuine and deeply held, they can distinguish you in the marketplace and as an employer.
4) Explore new distribution channels - Santa’s got the chimney thing cornered, but you know that when he first started sliding into fireplaces his friends were like, “You get into houses how?” Don’t be afraid to look into new or unconventional ways you can get your product to market.
• Can you partner with a complementary company, just as Wendy’s teamed with DoorDash and Uber Eats to get their food into more mouths?
• Are there less obvious connections you can make, such as when an animal rescue shelter placed their doggies in the lobby of an Asheville, North Carolina hotel? (Read the story.)
5) Do one thing and kill it - Nobody’s better at the gift game than Santa. The dude’s in a league of his own. Yet, he hasn’t over-extended his brand to jump on that Easter action or move into the birthday market. Yes, he works just one slice of the present pie, but he owns that slice.
• Are you providing so many services that you haven’t been able to master any of them? If so, consider how that may affect your brand and your ability to justifiably charge the higher price of an expert.
• How might you customize your product in a way that can be legally protected and allow you to claim its unique property as exclusive?
As 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.
Our 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.
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.
This 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?
I 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.