The MadAveGroup Blog
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.
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?
The window in this picture is next to the door of a county government office.
The staff's hope must be that customers will read each sign and learn the do's and don'ts of conducting business with this department before even walking through that door.
But the signs ain't workin'.
Over the years, I've seen literally thousands of people enter that office, and not one has even slowed down to glance at that collection of paper taped to the glass.
It's too much to take in. Never mind the inconsistent look and the negative tone of the messages that “welcome” you to this office. It's the sheer amount of information that's overwhelming and off-putting.
So, ask yourself if customers might be ignoring or even turned off by an over-abundance of your messaging.
- Does your website copy need to be simplified or better organized?
- Do you try to force too many details into your radio spots?
- Could your social content be more concise?
- Are you sending emails too frequently?
People are distracted. They're in a hurry, and their attention spans are shrinking. That means that too much of even the best content may be disregarded because it takes too long to read and process.
In the new year ahead, work to focus your message, wherever it may be. Make it as easy as possible for your audience to see, understand and remember your main point.
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.
I was working with a copywriter a few months back, helping him develop some P-O-P content for a grocery store chain.
We were looking for a different angle on the store's produce department when an image of corn on the cob popped into my head.
Corn is a miracle, I remembered.
About eight years prior, I planted corn for the first time. With great anticipation, I pushed each seed about an inch below the dirt, covered them all with more dirt, and then watered my rows.
Within a week, the first signs of new life sprouted from the ground.
By the end of the summer, I was walking through stalks taller than me. And each one had real corn attached! It was thrilling.
All the beauty of my humble corn patch and all the corn it produced came from a little brown bag of dry seed dropped into dry dirt.
That's when I realized that corn is a miracle. A common, everyday miracle.
That understanding led to content that was different than “Hey, come buy our corn!” The message was about the abundance that we enjoy in this nation, and a reminder of just how lucky we are to have what we have.
And maybe, I thought, my words could help a few people enjoy their own moment of awe and appreciation.
From a marketing standpoint, that story always reminds me that there's more than one way to present a product or service to an audience.
As a human being, it reminds me that corn is far from the only miracle that we've been gifted with in this life.
In this season of miracles, I wish for you that realization every day.