The MadAveGroup Blog
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 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.
I received a testimonial yesterday.
That's not unusual. We're fortunate to receive hundreds each year.
But this testimonial was special.
It wasn’t from a client, partner, prospect or vendor. In fact, it wasn’t from someone we’ve ever worked with.
It was from a man who called us by mistake. That’s right: a wrong number.
But, it turns out, he had such a positive experience with the person who answered our phone that he was compelled to let me know about it. He wrote the following.
“I actually called by accident. Your number is one digit different from another company I was reaching out to. But, when I got off the line with Courtney, I went to your website and read the intro about the importance of making a positive impact during EVERY interaction. It very much hit home because I’d just had that experience with Courtney. It’s been three hours and I still feel the positive vibe she puts out. I want to commend your organization and her sincerely. Nice, genuine people seem to be in short supply these days.”
His email made me smile with gratitude.
As CEO of MadAveGroup, one of my primary responsibilities is to “protect our culture.” And nothing has a greater effect on that culture than the people we employ and our commitment to creating positive customer experiences.
Building that type of environment doesn't happen by accident. Ideally, it's organic and begins with an authentic desire to serve people, but it must always be encouraged and nurtured.
It can be grown, too. For instance, you can use ongoing training to teach employees how to actively create positive experiences for your customers.
Do you provide the tools or incentives to create great interactions? Do your team members know they have the power to make things right with angry customers on the spot? Do you talk about proactively looking for opportunities to wow your clients?
And most importantly, do you follow specific hiring procedures that improve the chances of your new recruits fitting into your positive experience culture?
How would your customers describe their experiences with your organization?
The success of your company depends on their answers.
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.