The MadAveGroup Blog
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I AM A MAN.
The phrase appeared on signs carried nearly 50 years ago by striking sanitation department employees in Memphis, Tennessee. The African-American workers were protesting low pay and poor job conditions following the deaths of two co-workers.
In my role as a blogger, I'm always looking for marketing and communication lessons to share. And I see an important point we can take away from the signs those striking workers carried.
I AM A MAN.
Just four simple words. An obvious statement. Yet, it’s one of the most jarring sentences I’ve ever read.
In a documentary about the event, James Douglas, a strike participant, said the protests were about claiming “the same dignity and the same courtesy any other citizen of Memphis has.”
The thought that, still, in 1968 - during my lifetime - these American citizens needed to remind their fellow countrymen of their equality - and even their humanity - was and is deeply disturbing.
The person who wrote or chose the phrase “I AM A MAN” as a rallying cry understood - and knew in his bones - what those words meant. As he, too, was likely denied the basic rights of manhood in his own society, he most certainly felt the empowerment in that declaration.
I'm not equating the struggle for human rights with selling soap. I'm encouraging you to mean what you say - or write - about your work or your mission. Feel it first before you express it.
As you craft your own message, keep this simple, compelling phrase in your heart:
I AM A MAN.
Then ask yourself: Do I believe what I've written? Would it change anything? Will it matter to people?
Will you create a memorable experience for your clients or customers today?
Will you listen a little more intently for unspoken needs or frustrations?
Will you offer an unexpected solution?
Will you push yourself a little bit harder to deliver an encounter they'll remember, come back again to enjoy, and even tell others about?
Will you find a way to add value and give more than is expected of you and your company? And will you do it willingly and cheerfully, recognizing the joy in that effort?
Not only is that how you earn loyal customers, it’s how - little by little - you make the world a better place.
It’s all up to you.
Our Creative Consultants write a lot of copy: On Hold Marketing, blog posts, website and social content, emails, video scripts, radio and TV commercials.
And we talk often about how to improve what we do.
So, we compiled a few thoughts on creating marketing content. If you write for your company, you might find these suggestions valuable. (Let us know if we can help.)
1) Your title is your promise to your reader. If someone starts reading your article or blog post, it's likely that your title drew him in. If he stops reading, it's probably because you didn't deliver on that title.
No one wants to feel like they've been suckered. And you don't want to earn a reputation for misleading your audience or wasting their time. So, a) don't use click bait-style headlines to hook readers, and b) make sure your content stays focused on the idea, information or solution promised in your title.
2) No one cares. When writing and editing, start with this assumption: “No one cares about what I have to say with this copy.” That helps you avoid the “if-I-write-it-they'll-read-it” fallacy.
Then, get to work on making your audience care! Deliver value to your readers. Surprise them with new information, original thought, or unique insight. Challenge them. Give them take-aways they can apply in their life or work. In other words, write to encourage your readers to come back for more.
3) Respect your readers' time. Long blocks of text can seem overwhelming, and for busy or slower readers, they represent more of a commitment. You owe it to your audience to do the work of honing and tightening your copy.
Especially in today's time-crunched world, effective writing is about communicating efficiently. Every word you leave on the page should count. So get to the point!
On June 13th, 2017, the 120-year-old Wachter Building next to our UpTown Toledo offices was destroyed by fire.
As news of the fire spread, people from neighboring buildings poured into an adjacent parking lot to watch firefighters attack the blaze.
And as many of those people pulled out their cell phones to capture images or video of the scene, I noticed something: they all stood in one spot - far from what was happening - and shot what had to be merely an “overview” of the action.
This was hardly an everyday occurrence: a three-alarm fire was engulfing an historic structure. There were a dozen fire trucks and 70 firefighters onsite; motion; intensity; the sound of sirens in the air; thick, black smoke everywhere; a collapsing building.
And all most people saw - and recorded - was one perspective.
As a contrast, take a look at the video above. It was shot from every side of the burning building. Long, cover shots mixed with tighter views. Pans and tilts, cuts and crossfades. Quick visual side stories of the people fighting the fire, their trucks and equipment.
Your company’s story is not one-sided. To tell a more interesting version of that story, you have to be willing to look at it from all possible angles. The big picture and the details. The obvious and the unexpected.
Separating your company or product begins with your curiosity about what else is possible. So poke around. Ask questions. And then, tell your brand’s story by compiling insightful “shots” one at a time, giving your customers a unique look into your world.
Remember - from the parking lot, everyone’s view of the fire was the same.
The photo on the left was taken in 1939 and appeared in Life Magazine.
I saw it in June of 2015, and it has stuck with me ever since.
The online caption read, "After realizing that poor women were using flour sacks to make clothing for their children, some flour mills started using flowered fabric for their sacks."
Man, I love that.
So simple, yet so powerful.
It’s an example of a company relating to their customers’ needs - needs, by the way, that had nothing to do with the flour mills’ actual product - and then making an adjustment to help.
It’s a sweet story of people getting creative to make life a little better for others.
We’ve covered that idea several times in this blog:
- The hotel that joined with a local animal shelter to encourage pet adoptions.
- The barber who gives away free haircuts to kids if they read a book while in his chair.
- The artist who turned weeds into sidewalk art.
- The high school track team that took shelter dogs for a run and set off a nice chain of events.
If you want to differentiate your brand, stop thinking about it as differentiating your brand - for at least the time being - and start doing something extra that matters to your customers, your community, you and your team.
Make it real. Make it human and heartfelt. Make that adjustment, and then make a difference.
I went to my son’s high school graduation yesterday. It was a ceremony filled with many moving moments, and, as I reflect on it today, a few marketing lessons.
1) Be an inspiration. Just like a great commencement speaker, your marketing and advertising should inspire your audience.
That might mean providing them with reasons to follow and engage with your brand, or showing how you’re leading by example to improve your corner of the world. Paint a vivid picture of what’s possible with your products, services, philosophy or team.
2) Share stories. Graduation season is a time for reflection. That often means revisiting memories and telling stories about teachers, friends and all the good times.
The stories you share in your marketing content will give your audience a better feel for your company’s personality and what it’s like to work with you. Stories are also easier to remember and relate to than cold, hard facts. Check out a few of our stories here, here and here.
3) Celebrate. Sure, give your team a big shout-out on your website or social media for their latest award or accomplishment. Just make sure to tie the message back to your audience.
Why should they care about your good news? How can they apply the details to their own needs? How does the information make the decision to buy from you easier?
4) Be yourself. Graduates wear long, shiny robes, along with oddly shaped hats, cords, sashes and medals. In other words, stuff they’d never be caught dead in normally.
That's all part of the pomp and tradition of graduation, but ask yourself if your marketing accurately presents your culture and who you are, or are you “dressing it up” for the public?
5) Dream. New graduates often dream about the future: their next steps, pursuing their goals and passions, making a difference.
When’s the last time you put your feet up on the desk and dreamed about what you could be doing with your marketing? How much more effective - and fun - could it be? What are some of the other metrics you’d like to pursue? What will your marketing legacy be?
Let us know if you’d like any help making those dreams come true.
Many years ago, my wife Amy began her own tradition: she started sending cards to her friends and relatives just before Thanksgiving.
These are not early Christmas cards. In fact, the cards she buys never depict any type of holiday image or include a pre-written message.
Instead, she uses blank cards and writes a personal note to each of her loved ones, reinforcing how much they mean to her and how thankful she is to have them in her life.
A few days after the cards are sent, the phone starts ringing. Friends and family from around the country call to thank her for her thoughts and kind words.
These are people with kids and jobs and big holiday dinners to prepare, and yet, they stop what they’re doing to reply to a simple card with a 30-minute phone call.
Neither Amy nor I can recall a single response to the hundreds of Christmas cards we’ve sent over the years, so why do so many people respond to her “Thanksgiving” cards?
First, the timing. The cards are unexpected. They’re sent a good couple of weeks before the Christmas season really kicks in, so the recipients aren’t actively looking for a card the way they might on December 20th. In other words, her card is a nice surprise.
Secondly, everyone sends cards for Christmas, but because hers arrive so much earlier, they’re not “competing” for the recipient’s attention; their timing helps them stand out and contributes to their special quality.
Finally, it’s the nature of her cards. They’re not stamped with her signature. They’re not mass produced. Each one is hand-written. Personal. Genuine. They’re the kind of cards people save. And in sending them, she’s not looking for something in return. She’s simply reaching out to strengthen her relationships with the people who are important to her. Not hundreds of people. Just a few dozen.
So, are your 25 or 50 best clients worth a little more personal attention?
Is their long-term loyalty to you worth the time it takes to dream up new and valuable ways you can impact their lives and jobs? And not for what that may mean to you, but what it can do for them?
Do they deserve more face-to-face visits?
How are you letting them know that you're thinking about them and their needs throughout the year?
Are your sales and marketing efforts born of a genuine interest in helping your clients?
Just a few questions to ponder as you consider your company’s marketing efforts.
Usually, advertising takes.
Pre-roll videos, radio and TV spots, print ads: they all interrupt or delay what people want to see or hear. So, by their very nature, those types of advertising take.
They take the audience's time. They take their attention. They can even take the momentum and enjoyment out of the entertainment experience.
But what if advertising were used to give?
Here’s an example.
About 97% of people are not in the market for a new vehicle at any given time. And because Americans own their cars for an average of 6.5 years, most drivers won't be looking for new wheels anytime soon.
Yet, radio and TV commercial breaks are filled with car dealer spots, sometimes back-to-back. And so often, the “take-oriented” message in those commercials is about price or specific vehicles - information that will no longer apply when the majority of the audience is actively shopping for a new car.
So, what if a car dealer were to use his advertising to provide unbiased advice on purchasing a new vehicle?
Or tips on how to keep your current vehicle running its best?
Or the six steps to maintaining your car’s paint job?
Or a few facts that would help you choose the right engine oil?
Or suggestions for cool weekend road trips?
Or specific examples of how buying an American-made model benefits you and your community?
Or stories of how the dealership has gone above and beyond to care for their customers over the years?
Oh, and, by the way, “please think of us when you need a new car.”
What if that car dealer used his air time and ad space to focus on you, rather than himself and his products? To give you valuable information? To prove to you over and over again that his company is worthy of your trust? To build - in a way - a relationship with you?
Not only would you come away from that advertising a smarter consumer, you might develop a fondness for the company responsible for it.
As a marketer, you can't change the interruptive nature of certain channels, but you can change your content - from self-focused to audience-focused; from taking to giving, with the goal of creating a valuable, long-term role in the lives of your audience.
On April 9th, 2017, security officers representing United Airlines dragged a screaming 69-year-old passenger out of his seat and off a United plane, creating an indelible image of customer abuse and a public relations nightmare that could haunt the brand for years.
But four United employees needed those seats more than a few paying customers.
But the screaming passenger is a convicted felon.
But the fine print on the ticket gives the airline the right to remove anyone from the plane.
We live in a time in which everyone has instant access to a video camera and potentially a worldwide audience. Regardless of how those involved try to rationalize their actions, manhandling a customer should have never even been close to a solution.
On the United website, the company's Customer Commitment states that their goal “is to make every flight a positive experience” for their customers, that they provide “a high level of performance,” and that they're dedicated to delivering the type of service that makes them “a leader in the airline industry.”
United employs nearly 88,000 people around the world, so maybe it's unfair to expect that every one of their employees would live up to that portion of their brand promise. But how many people work for your company? Do they all know what you promise your customers, whether it's online or implied?
Are they empowered to make decisions that serve your customers and protect your brand image?
Do you remind them that the world is watching, even if your “world” is just a few hundred customers?
Make sure your employees know what your brand stands for, what's expected of them, and what will never be tolerated.
Probably 20 years ago, I was at our town’s art museum watching a friend play music in one of the galleries. About half way through the set, my friend’s four-year-old son emerged from the crowd and walked up to him on the improvised stage.
What happened next has stuck with me all the years since.
My friend - interrupted while doing his job, in front of an audience - stopped what he was doing and gave his full, genuine attention to his young son.
No anger. No frustration. No hurriedly rushing the little boy back to his seat. Just pure love on display.
My friend knew what was important. And still does.
Contrast that warm memory with what we saw from Professor Robert Kelly and his wife after their children innocently walked in on their father’s live BBC interview in March of 2017. (Watch the video here.)
The embarrassment. The apologies. His attempts to blindly push away his daughter. The mother’s frantic floor crawling.
Sure, an episode like that might throw anyone off his game a bit, especially if being interviewed on live TV. But because of the way both parents reacted, they kinda’ came off as jerks. And, purely from a marketing standpoint, how may that have affected Kelly’s personal brand and likability?
Goofy, unpredictable stuff like that happens now and then. About the only way you can prepare for it is by reminding yourself to be a human being, to roll with it, and to always look for the humor in unexpected situations. You should have heard the heartfelt “awwww” coming from the crowd when my friend reacted the way he did to his little boy.
For both you personally and your company, letting your human side show and embracing life’s wackier moments is likely only to endear you to your audience.