Why Design in the Form of Greenery Really Does Matter to Your Employees and Your Bottom Line

Office.sample.We have all been told a million times that “first impressions are everything” and “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” and while these hold absolutely true for the impression you make on your clients the moment they walk into your space, it is actually doubly true that design matters and a pleasant environment makes a huge difference in the way your employees work and feel about their work.  

We know this for a couple of reasons.  The first is that at The Fat Plant Society, we are fortunate enough to work with plants and moss every day and we know that how that has improved our spirits.  (See the last post on how caring for plants can even aid reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression).  The second is the recent study (the first field study of its kind) in which researchers found enriching a ‘lean’ office with plants could increase productivity by 15%.

The University of Exeter team that examined the impact of ‘lean’ and ‘green’ offices on staff’s perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction, made a fascinating discovery by monitoring productivity levels over subsequent months in two large commercial offices in the UK and The Netherlands.

Productivity

Lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: “Our research suggests that investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.”

Productivity?  Really? This IS exciting and important news.  So not only do employees feel better and more positive about their “greened-up” workspaces, but their productivity improves and they take fewer sick days.  In fact, implementing desktop plants and other greenery such as moss walls, moss frames, can actually save employers up to $3,000 annually.  You read about those savings in a previous post but the major takeaway for us from this study was improved productivity.  Given that we spend nearly 2,000 of the 8,760 hours of a year at work, ensuring that time is as productive as possible is simply a “win-win.”

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The folks at Ambius know an awful lot about how plants and other greenery can improve environments and even they were surprised at the findings on productivity and employees sense of well being.  In fact, their Head of Innovation, Kenneth Freeman spells it out as a key priority for business owners as it affects their bottom line.

 “We know from previous studies that plants can lower physiological stress, increase attention span and improve well-being. But this is the first long-term experiment carried out in a real-life situation which shows that bringing plants into offices can improve well-being and make people feel happier at work. Businesses should rethink their lean processes, not only for the health of the employees but for the financial health of the organization.”

-Kenneth Freeman, Head of Innovation at Ambius

Cultivating the Brand

But there are also numerous benefits from a brand perspective as well. The lovely people at Thrive Global get it and they remind us that “We associate our identities with our work more than ever, which means that offices now also serve as a physical manifestation of the company and team ethos. There’s quite a bit of incentive for companies to make their employees feel valued — from levels of productivity and creativity during work hours, to employee retention overall.”

And since employees are brand ambassadors (often your very best brand ambassadors) creating an environment that they want to be in day-to-day is a vital component to cultivating company culture and brand.

Health

Thrive Global gets the health benefit as well.  They remind us that, “employees exposed to natural light and plants tend to be healthier, leading to a decreased number of sick days taken.”  And with all that light, introducing plants that produce oxygen is kind of a no-brainer.

Stress is, of course, a major factor of work-life and has incredibly detrimental effects on health.  Introducing plants to your working environment reduces stress. In a study conducted in 2010, significant reductions were recorded where plants were located in the office. Including;

  • Tension/Anxiety – 37% reduction
  • Depression/Dejection – 58% reduction
  • Anger/Hostility – 44% reduction
  • Fatigue – 38% reduction

Comfort, Morale, and Happiness

Listening to a recent Ted Talk on Design, one of the speakers reminded me of the importance of feeling comfortable, safe, and happy in a given space and how that affects thinking.  We are more creative as well as more open to new ideas when we are comfortable, safe and happy– not unlike the feeling you got lying and letting your imagination run wild in your favorite space in your childhood home, the workspace can actually facilitate better creativity, thought-processes, and relationships with others–I mean come on, who doesn’t want reduced hostility in the workplace or anywhere else?

We have the solutions and perhaps, more importantly, we offer solutions that are cost-effective, require little (or zero) maintenance but will yield a remarkable return on investment in the form of increased productivity and reduced sick days and stress.  But don’t take it from us, the writers at CIPHR, a people management software company recommend the following plants as ideal for the workplace based on their own experience:

  • Aloe
  • Cactus
  • Succulents
  • Ivy
  • Rubber plant

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All of the aforementioned plants thrive in an office environment and require minimal water.  For tips on succulent care, read our previous post on that topic or frankly, call us!  We are truly happy to provide all the free advice you need to keep your succulent planter looking its very best.

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget what a moss installation can do to welcome your employees to the workspace every morning.  We have noted that people cannot see our moss walls without smiling.  When we are working on an installation, many of our visitors walk right past the colorful mums as if they are drawn to the moss by a magnet! The depth and breadth of a moss wall is truly stunning and we can even customize the installation to feature patterns, other woodland elements, and (wait for it) a logo.  The second best part about the real moss walls (second only to their awe-inspiring beauty) is that they are zero maintenance.

So consider the investment in greenery for your workspace an investment in your employees, your brand success, and concurrently, your bottom line. 

We are always happy to provide free consultations. 

Just give us a ring. 816. 933.9509.

http://www.thefatplantsociety.com 

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B2B Marketing CAN Be Creative, Compelling, and Share-Worthy: Key Lessons from Carla Johnson via a B2B Newbie

Fisheye.TruckAs a marketer who has recently found herself in B2B after many years of B2C marketing, not only did I take copious notes while watching Carla Johnson‘s talk at  the BMA KC on January 31, 2017, I started researching and digging around because for the life of me, I still cannot come up with the creative brand that I want to be more creative than…

Let me back up a little for those of you who have not watched her talk in its entirety (seriously, though, take the time to do so because it’s well worth the time investment)! Carla has coined an accurate term that many of us experience in real-life, every day: BRAND DETACHMENT DISORDER.  You know, that brand that you are so sick of hearing about that you turn off and tune out when you hear about them–even when it is second or third hand?  I can name three of those brands easily and without too much thought.  But the challenge that Carla Johnson issues is much tougher (for me anyway)–she challenges us to fill in the following sentence:

“I CAN be more creative than (Insert Favorite, Best, and Most Creative Company Here).”

And who doesn’t love a good challenge?  But how the heck do I get there?  Carla has a road map for that and I am going to provide you with my current experiences as a concrete example of how to suss out a highly creative and compelling campaign that will not only engage your current and potential customers but will also endear you to them.

We have to start with the premise that Carla Johnson starts us off with,

“Creativity is something everybody can do at any time.”

Okay, I believe that and while it may take work, it is highly likely that I can be creative in promoting this valuable business to the businesses who need our services.  But it gets even better than that because I have the excellent fortune of working for a B2B business that is incredibly interesting, fast-paced, and compelling.  Additionally, there are so many exciting and gripping stories that I can’t see how one wouldn’t’ find what we do compelling.

“Connect the dots” between our services and the people I need to reach.   

For the most part, the people I need to reach are television producers, many of whom have been in the game for many years and have seen, well, a heckuva a lot.   IMG_7062Again, I was taking copious notes during Carla Johnson’s talk so I know that after considering how to best connect the dots between our services (giant Ku Band and C Band satellite trucks and a guarantee that every live-shot and satellite media tour will come off without a hitch) and the television producers I need to reach, I must now consider what those television producers are worrying about how the services my company provides can solve that problem.

*Lightbulb comes on* Ratings!  Producers care about ratings.  We can help them increase their ratings.  Now I just need to engage them. *Gulp*

FEAR kills creativity. 

Carla Johnson expounds on that statement and provides fantastic examples but the gist is that I not only have to consider my own fear and how it may be crippling or stifling my creativity, I need to remember that a highly creative, “out-of-the-box” campaign may also be frightening to company leadership.  But Carla has an answer for that and one that I can back up with evidence,

“Small steps with creativity = Huge Outcomes.” 

Remember that even if the step you want to take is a giant leap (like a Red-Rover, Red-Rover leap), the organization and the audience might not be ready for that leap so start with a small step.  Execute a small creative leap (for free through your owned media) and track the results.  The data will speak for itself.  If the creative baby -step doesn’t work, re-work it and try again.  I can actually hear Bill Murray from “What About Bob?” talking to the camera during the Good Morning America interview, “I couldn’t be happier about ‘Baby-Steps.”

“Inspiration can come from anywhere.”

As Bob would say, “it’s the horse-sense of it all!”  Yes, creativity can come from anywhere and for many of us, thinking on those creative lines does not stop when you pack it in for the day.  Creativity needs to be nurtured and whether it’s watching the series Abstract on Netflix or reading the Wall Street Journal cover to cover, there are ways to seek out and further develop your creative sensibilities.  I would humbly add that being a good listener can also aid in honing creativity.  I find I learn and observe differently when I keep my mouth shut.

“Creativity is a muscle.” 

The creative muscle, like all muscles, gets stronger with use.  Many of us train our brains as we *ahem* get longer in the tooth with tools like Lumosity and the New York Times crossword puzzle, so why not exercise the creative muscle by visiting a museum, watching the best live shots on YouTube from the past three years, or flipping through an anthology of great American artists and their work?

“The content should pay for itself.” 

Having spent much of my career with a meager budget, that statement gave me so much pause that I rewound to make sure I heard it correctly.  Carla Johnson was talking about one of her clients who feels that content should be so compelling that it is shared by virtue of its intrinsic value.  In fact, he would prefer to not pay to get the content out in the world, he would rather the content stand on its own merits. I couldn’t agree more!  Earned publicity through owned channels is a brilliant goal and an excellent test of the creative mettle if you will.

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While I am still searching for the company that I want to be “more creative than…” I am optimistic, confident, and inspired that creativity within B2B is achievable!  Thanks Carla Johnson!

 

 

 

Hey Marketers! Bet You Didn’t Know Satellite Uplink was an Option…

As a PR professional, I have spent many years organizing press conferences, company-wide meetings, and, of course, trying to get the word out about a given subject to local and national news outlets.  I have recently had an opportunity to see (up close and personal) the value of satellite communications including the satellite media tour.  In 2017, a world of wireless communications, HD television and global access to the Internet, there is another option that provides incredible advantages: satellite communications.

My friends at Telesat spell it out extremely well and answer two key questions:

Why does the satellite industry continue to grow? When is satellite the best solution?

  • Cost Effectiveness – Cost of satellite capacity does not increase with the number of users/receive sites, or with the distance between communication points. Whether crossing continents or staying local, satellite connection cost is distance insensitive.
  • Global Availability – Communications satellites cover all land masses and there is growing capacity to serve maritime and even aeronautical markets. Customers in rural and remote regions around the world who cannot obtain high-speed Internet access from a terrestrial provider are increasingly relying on satellite communications.
  • Superior Reliability – Satellite communications can operate independently from terrestrial infrastructure. When terrestrial outages occur from man-made and natural events, satellite connections remain operational.
  • Superior Performance – Satellite is unmatched for broadcast applications like television. For two-way IP networks, the speed, uniformity and end-to-end control of today’s advanced satellite solutions are resulting in greater use of satellite by corporations, governments, and consumers.
  • Immediacy and Scalability – Additional receive sites, or nodes on a network, can readily be added, sometimes within hours. All it takes is ground-based equipment. Satellite has proven its value as a provider of “instant infrastructure” for commercial, government and emergency relief communications.
  • Versatility and More – Satellites effectively support on a global basis all forms of communications ranging from simple point-of-sale validation to bandwidth-intensive multimedia applications. Satellite solutions are highly flexible and can operate independently or as part of a larger network.

The satellite media tour (SMT) fits neatly under the sub-heading of “Versatility and More” and when I came across this article by Alex Hinojosa, SVP at 4media Group Inc, I was thrilled to see that I am not the only one that sees the value and PR potential of the SMT.

 

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Freebird Communications Truck outside Applebee’s International Headquarters 

As Alex writes, “A satellite media tour (SMT) remains an effective public relations tactic that can often generate high-quality results that matter to your clients. However, an SMT in 2016 is very different from 10 years ago, back when we all had MySpace accounts. Today, across the PR services spectrum, it’s all about the PESO—the Paid-Earned-Shared-Owned model—and the same is true for an SMT.”

 

In my capacity as chief marketer for Freebird Communications Inc., I have recently had the chance to see the benefits our customers find in the SMT and in SNG (Satellite News Gathering) in that there is no more cost-effective option for reaching a vast audience be it your own staff and shareholders to your current and potential customers.  Plus, there is an authenticity to live communications that one just doesn’t find in recorded videos or even podcasts.  Don’t get me wrong, those formats have great value but from conferences to corporate news, the ability to communicate nation-wide or world-wide at such an affordable price can engender significant loyalty and move an organization leaps and bounds in one, fell, swoop.

 

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Freebird Communications live shot for Fox Business News

 

Take this example from Ernst and Young  who turned to News Generation for assistance in reaching corporate decision makers in advance of tax season:

News Generation targeted business and general news programs and networks with a goal of securing 20 high-quality interviews.  The satellite media tour setting was ideal for this topic, as it gave television anchors the ability to customize their questions.  “Given that taxes are one of the more complicated subjects, stations enjoyed the ability to ask follow up questions and delve deeper into particular topics of interest to their viewers.”

The satellite media tour reached more than one million viewers across twenty info-filled, consumer-friendly interviews.  Nationally, an interview aired on First Business which has 108 affiliates across the country, including WMGM, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia and KCRA, the NBC affiliate inSacramento.  Fox Affiliates in Los Angeles, Seattle-Tacoma and Minneapolis-St. Paul conducted interviews, as did NBC affiliates inDenver, Albuquerque-Santa Fe, andDaytonOhio.

We, marketers, know that purchasing that kind of exposure through an on-going campaign would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Coupled with the fact that we marketers (and PR) folk are all too aware that our current media contacts are ever-changing and keeping an updated media list is a daily challenge, reaching that many viewers through that many stations is not an insignificant feat!

SMT is not only for large, multi-national corporations like Ernst and Young, either--read about the remarkable work by Moldow Communications out of New Jersey.  They helped the Asthma and Allergy Foundation achieve their goals and won an award for the work to boot.  Having spent much of my career in non-profits, I can attest that budgets are never exorbitant.  So, Satellite Communication and Satellite Media Tours are much more affordable than you might think. Depending on your goals, the ROI can far exceed the expense.  

What Makes a Great Post: When You’re Writing for More than “Cuz You Should”

During the first 10 minutes of Jeff Julian’s interview with Ardath Albee, I literally started to sweat. Then Ardath Albee asked a question that gave me great pause   “What makes it different and more compelling?”  By it, she means content and I started to sweat because I do not have an answer for that at present.  What I do have, are a few major takeaways from this interview and a map for what I need to do.

I have three major “takeaways” from this interview:

  1. You better have compelling, well-written content
  2. Your content better be nurturing the customer every step of the purchase cycle
  3. You better be timing that content so that it is clear you know where they are in the purchase cycle as well.

Well, dang, Ms. Albee!  “What if I am a one-woman marketing department or have limited resources to data?” I ask aloud trying to apply these brilliant insights into my own endeavors.  It was then Ardath Albee asked another really important question,

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“What about all the content you already have?”  

It was at this point that I stopped panicking and the sweating abated a bit.

So it was with great pleasure that I took to task writing this post about Jeff Julian’s interview with Ardath Albee for Enterprise Marketer because it’s great content that has plenty of life left to live.

But what makes the content compelling?  Lots of data?  Nope.  That’s not what captures me and I am pretty sure it isn’t what captures the average bear or the key decision maker.  Dont’ get me wrong, I am a “dataphile” like most marketers, but data is great for making a strong case during a meeting, not engendering interest and loyalty from customers.

So I did a little digging and came across the timely presentation by Geoff Colvin, Editor at Large for Fortune magazine.  On November 30, Mr. Colvin delivered IPR’s 55th Distinguished Lecture on November 30 in NYC. In Colvin’s presentation “Lessons for Communicators in an Unpredictable World,” he explains how communicators can still make an impact through face-to-face interactions and storytelling in a world overrun with technology.

I have now completely stopped sweating and am holding Aradth Albee’s phrase “more compelling content” close to my heart.  Near the end of his presentation, Geoff  Colvin says, “People rarely change their minds based on data.  It’s stories that move them.”  That got me thinking about a story that tracks the customer all the way through the purchase cycle.  The visual that came to mind was actually the Marcus Mumford cut, “When I Get My Hands on You” from The New Basement Tapes that features a female figure walking through a city and through gorgeous imagery, tells a sweet and heartfelt story.   If you haven’t seen it, check it out not only because it’s beautiful but because it is makes for a wonderful visual of tracking the customer through the entire purchase cycle.  Apologies to Marcus Mumford as I know he did not intend to reflect the consumer purchase cycle with this video.

This visual is helpful to me because now I have a visual that I am comfortable with and moved by rather than a stock photo of a “persona.”  I realize that’s quirky of me but whatever gets you through the night, right?

I am now imbuing said walking girl with all of the characteristics of my primary target persona and I can now see her all the way through the purchase cycle.  Now, all I have to do is tell the story of her journey at strategic points along the way.  As a creative writer when I have the time and inclination, I found the challenge of developing a compelling story for walking girl at strategic points not only an achievable task but an exciting task as well.  I realize I have to be in the story or awfully close to it (perhaps third person, omniscient narrator) to be able to tell it well.

Ardath Albee tells Jeff Julian during the interview that, “If we stop thinking about what we want first, we can think about what our customers want.”  I can liken this concept to great storytelling!  The art is in the unfolding of the story that keeps the reader in mind first and foremost.  A little foreshadowing here, a little alliteration there, some killer personification, and you have the reader hooked.

While storytelling is clearly by no means a new notion for marketers, I think compelling is.  Let’s look at the formal definition of this word:

com·pel·ling
kəmˈpeliNG/
adjective
 
evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.
“his eyes were strangely compelling”
synonyms: enthralling, captivating, gripping, riveting, spellbinding, mesmerizing, absorbing, irresistible

My favorite synonyms (per Google) are riveting, spellbinding, and irresistible. While I am still working on the story, I am doing so with a handful of new rules that I learned from Albee and Julian:
1.Know your persona and personify the dickens out of them so you know them almost (or better) than you know yourself.

2. Do not patronize this persona by telling weak, uncompelling stories that are clearly motivated by “storytelling” more than a true and thoughtful understanding of the consumer as a human being with a soul.

3. Once you get it right, replicate it and use this content over and over as you acquire new customers.  While the story may get a little old for you (like the Little Mermaid does for me because I lived in Copenhagen and took WAY too many tourists to see that less than mammoth statue of her in the harbor) and remember that they are hearing the story for the first time.

This feels authentic.  This feels right.  Walk on walking girl, walk on…

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Bold Move: Tell Your CEO She Needs to Listen to her Customers

In addition to being the author of a truly killer resource,  The Content Formula, Michael Brenner is a leader.  How do I know?  Because I listened to the interview Jeff Julian conducted with him and I could hear the calm, deliberate, and assured tone with which he spoke about content marketing, our role as digital marketers, and how to approach the bold move of telling your CEO that she needs to listen to her customers more and in a different way than she has been.

summer-2011-097Let me get more specific: the subtext of what Mr. Brenner proposes is the phrase, “Um hey, I get that you’re really excited about your latest brainchild, product, and/or service but it’s actually not about you.”  Yikes.  That’s a tough and bold statement but it’s also extremely important to say for these reasons:

  1. There is a dynamic tension between what CEOs want to communicate and the results they expect from content marketing.
  2. If that dynamic tension is not addressed, it leaves the CMO and her team in a position to fall short of the CEO’s expectations or even fail.
  3. Unless the realities of the respective (and different) roles the CEO and the CMO play are addressed and shared goals are established, objectives will not be met.

Heck, I get it and it actually makes sense that the CEO would focus on new and shiny things that she herself is excited about but that is precisely why she needs a sharp, honest, authentic CMO who will tell her that there will be time for the shiny new thing just as soon as the customers tell us it’s time.  Meanwhile, we need to be walking in the same direction on customer-focused content.

Natalia Angulo notes in her article, “10 Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2016 and Beyond“, that “smart marketers will focus on the consumer experience.” Well, yes and of course everyone at the table will agree with that statement but ensuring shared understanding and shared goals requires a deep dive, an intensive conversation, hopefully, conducted regularly and not just during the monthly report meeting.  Of course CEOs know that focus on the customer is important but what they may not understand is that the customer not only now has a voice, the voice of the customer is actually more important and can say more about a brand than the brand itself.

Perhaps it’s helpful to “tee-up” this conversation by offering up a couple proposed talking points:

“We need to keep our finger on the pulse of what the customers want from us.” 

“We need to actively address them and interact with them and that means letting the customer dictate the conversation.” 

Neil Patel nails it in his article,“8 Brilliant Content Marketing Innovations from the Worlds Best Brands,” by commending Whole Foods who “has worked hard to establish itself not just as a grocery store, but as a lifestyle choice. The brand embraces healthy living and earth-conscious eating.” They have done so by putting the customer first in their content.  And while one might think that encouraging shoppers to save money on groceries is counter-intuitive, Whole Foods does just that.  Patel tells us, “Whole Foods does a great job of living those brand principles in its content marketing. Articles about how to save money but still eat healthy or tips to change your diet for the better make Whole Foods’ products and lifestyle more inclusive. On top of that, it uses a lot of proactive language (“I want to learn/do/both” as a search option in its navigation bar) which makes the audience feel like they have an active role in the experience.”
It’s funny how much difference the use of a customer-centric pronoun can make!  There are numerous studies that support the use of “My” over “Your” and “I” over “You” and it’s basic psychology at work.  Use of the more customer-centric pronoun signals to the customer that they really are understood.  It’s a basic and time-tested use of language but it absolutely works.

So if Ann Handley is accurate in her prediction (and I believe she is), that “content marketing will truly “grow up” in 2016, as content strategists tell “bigger stories with a braver focus and a bolder voice” then all the more vital that leadership and marketing are aligned about what that precisely means and how customer-centric it really needs to be.

Michael Brenner is also a man of his word, having just launched his own enterprise of which he is the leader.  He is also getting started on his next book.  But don’t trust me about that, listen to the full podcast to hear about his new book as well as his tips for becoming a better writer.

Etiquette: Why It’s Vital for Communicating with Customers

I have now listened to the podcast interview that Jeff Julian conducted with Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager for Textron Aviaton twice and watched it once (incidentally, I want the t-shirt that Jeff wore for the interview: “I Plan Therefore I Am” because it’s brilliant) and each time I have a new takeaway.  But if I had to summarize the gist of their conversation, it’s about etiquette.

I have often told clients I work with as well as colleagues that all forms of communication, from social media to emails (internal and customer-targeted) should be treated like face-to-face communication.  I have also noted that the people that I trust and like the most electronically, are invariably wonderful people in person as well.  While I have not personally met Mike Turner, I can tell he’s wonderful and here’s why…

Mike recommends considering the whole team when developing communication and working through the sales cycle.  He wisely points out that in the aviation industry, the mechanic also has a “dog in the fight” so to speak because they will be the people working on the plane long term.  Makes sense, right?  I feel the same applies to being considerate of front line staff in retail settings.  One cannot fully understand how (or more importantly if) a product is the right fit for a retailer without communicating with the front line staff who actually do the selling.  Those mechanics or front line staff will likely be able to provide great insight into the challenges they face as well as what kind of feedback they get from customers on a day to day basis.  As Mike says, “content marketing cannot be one-dimensional,” meaning that strong content marketing should reflect that the author has taken the whole of the business into account and truly understands the whole of it, not just the sale.

Purchases are mission related.  Especially major purchases.

-Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager. Textron Aviation

And consumers are getting smarter!  That is a very good thing.  One of the primary goals of content marketing is to provide valuable information and knowledge and as a result, consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before.  We ought to be respectful of them and communicate with consumers in a way that engages them and enhances their knowledge.  We have all opened a targeted email or post, read the opening paragraph and quickly determined that it is too low level so we quickly delete the email, close the link and move on to content that is valuable to us.  I love that Mike Turner mentions mission–the emails and links I am most likely to open and read are those that, in their headline, entice me with a mission or value related statement that aligns with my own mission and values.

Most, if not all of us, do not like to receive unsolicited emails simply because the sender was lucky enough to happen upon our contact information but did not take the time to consider whether we wanted to hear from them.  Further, when we do hear from them, it’s awfully nice when the content is not only relevant but offers value in the form of knowledge or connection.  I liken receiving these unsolicited emails to being at a party, having a great conversation with a group of people that is easy, natural and comfortable, only to have the conversation interrupted by someone who butts in with off-topic comments and then asks you to pay him for the drink he’s peddling.  That is usually when I am heard to say, “pardon me, I need to excuse myself” and then I beat feet to the bathroom or the door to leave.  Of course, I also avoid that guy like the plague the next time I see him.  Point being: don’t spam them just because you can.

How well we communicate with customers and what value we offer them affects customer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.

However, the folks in the C-Suite do not always see things as we content marketers see them.  Often focused on quarterly sales numbers first and foremost, it is a challenge to educate executive leaders on the value of long term, well-handled, relationship development with clients.  How we communicate affects consumer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.  What cracks me up about this is that there are now so many ways to analyze customer opinion (including analyzing social media data) and doing so can provide incredible insight into what a content marketer can do to improve that opinion.

For example, Dominoes Pizza recently started running a television ad that cops to the fact that they had been misleading customers with a “pizza deal” by only offering it on weekdays.  Clearly, they had heard from many a customer who ordered a pizza on a Friday night and felt duped by a misleading ad.  What was cool was that they copped to it!  And apologized! This is a clear example of the importance of customer experience and how it can translate to customer loyalty or customer loss.

Perhaps the best way to reach C-Suite on the importance of well-constructed, well-timed, relevant content and it’s role in the purchase cycle is to call upon them to examine their own purchase practices–i.e. empathize with the customer.  In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Charlie Brown advocates “assigning metrics that measure relationship activity.”  What he means by this is that for many of us, the purchase cycle is longer than it used to be (especially for major purchases, like a jet, right Mike Turner?). Measuring than relationship activity over time can provide incredibly valuable insight into where and when the customer may “fall away” and then making the necessary adjustments to fix it.

And a good rule of thumb is to remember that spam is the electronic equivalent to interrupting someone in the midst of a conversation with totally off-topic remarks.  It’s just poor etiquette.

Writing for the Audience Rather Than at Them

Every time I drive past this gas station in the Ozarks (yup, weezums in Missoura like people to say what they mean ana mean what they say) I smile–not only because it’s funny as heck but because clearly, the proprietor knows her audience.  She  does an excellent job of speaking their language and relating to them which is what is at the core of good copywriting.

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Listening to Jeff Julian and Jonathan Kranz discuss copywriting at CM World 2016 in Cleveland was a huge treat and a pretty much made my day because they confirmed what my instincts have been telling me: it’s good to be empathetic.  Jonathan Kranz (author of Writing Copy for Dummies) does a fantastic job of walking us through his learning curve and poses a series of hard questions that prompted me to re-frame how I think of copywriting.  Many of us start a project with the end goal in mind (if we’re going about it strategically, anyway) and oftentimes in copywriting, that goal is to sell.  But what if we conceive of the end goal not by asking the question, “did you sell?” but rather, as Jonathan asks, “are you real?” and “will you tell the truth?”  Of course, selling matters but the whole point of any communication with our customers ought to be relationship development.  Long term relationship development.  Would you want to be in a long term relationship with someone who was always and only trying to “sell” you or would you prefer to spend your time and energy on someone who offers intrinsic value by being authentic, compassionate, and in the end, helpful in solving problems?  Kind of a “no brainer,” right?

The approach Jonathan Kranz advises for copywriting, applies to consulting as well (incidentally, you should Google Jonathan Kranz and click on the second link that you see).  As Jonathan and Jeff note, we are far more likely to place trust in someone who admits they are not perfect, have made mistakes along the way, and most importantly, learned from those mistakes than we are likely to trust someone who is blustery and claims to be infallible.  The takeaway from this for me is that copywriting as well as client meetings need to be real conversations, meaning we are actively listen and empathize to understand as well as converse openly about mistakes and learning experiences.

When I was teaching, I often utilized a neat feature of McGraw Hill Textbooks: case studies.  I found carefully examining the case study to understand what happened behind the scenes of some of the biggest PR events in my lifetime was incredibly illuminating.  We got to examine how and why Johnson and Johnson took immediate action during the Tylenol scare of 1982 and what the creative process was for the “Got Milk?” campaign.  These case studies (because they were written for textbooks) always included a lesson–what the professionals learned along the way and better still, how they learned from their mistakes.  I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Kranz and Jeff Julian on the statement that being honest and forthright about one’s fallibility and the lessons learned from being fallible is far more endearing than the pretense of perfection.

I got further confirmation on the power of listening and being empathetic from  Marketing Prof Ann Handley, who points out in her article, Why “targeting” customers is the wrong approach, that use of the word “targeting” is an indicator that we may be going about it all wrong.  img_0934Ann asks, “What if we didn’t target customers, but instead sought to serve them?” Oh yeah!  The customer is always right, even when it comes to what words we use to communicate with them.  That means we need to be pathologically empathetic with the customer.  Along with that empathy, there also ought to be, as Jonathan Kranz puts it, “something of intrinsic value for the customer,” meaning we need to literally put the customer first and by doing so we find the copy becomes more real, more authentic, and hopefully, a lot like talking to a friend.  As someone who possesses what could arguably be too much empathy at times, I was delighted to read that empathy is a great asset to the copywriter and concurrently to the marketer as she talks to clients.  Turns out wearing my heart on my sleeve isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

 

Trial and Error Even in the Big Leagues: This is How We Learn

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Note that my friend “Accident Andy” here is smiling.  Sure, he has a couple of cuts and a splint but he’s smiling because he’s proud of his of trial and error.  Andy sits on my desk and encourages me as I develop the site for my budding small business(es).  I put Andy on my desk after listening to Jeff Julian interview Nicole Smith on Getting Scrappy at Dell.

Nicole Smith blew my mind when she told me that there were only eight people on the team that launched Tech Page One at Dell.  Incidentally, I have spent some time on Tech Page One and it is truly a wealth of information from education to entrepreneurship and, obviously, tech.  Here I sit, day after day, developing sites for various purposes, beating myself up, thinking (at times) that I have no idea what I am doing and then I hear Nicole tell me that she and the team developed Tech Page One on WordPress!  Holy cow!  They did so because they could test more effectively in that environment and essentially earned their way to success (and budget) through trial and error when they developed the highly customer-focused Tech Page One.

That was my other big takeaway from listening to Nicole–always be customer-focused.  I need Accident Andy on my desk (no reference to super-dude Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media here, I just like alliteration) to “feel heartened,” as Nicole Smith puts it, regarding my trials, tribulations and errors.  

More importantly, Accident Andy helps me to remember to focus on the customer and not my ego.  I liken the problem of being overly focused on my own business objectives and not putting the customer first to a server, who upon coming to the table to take the order, turns sideways and asks the customer, “Does my butt look big?” rather than taking their order.  A silly analogy sure, but I think it makes clear how easy it is to get myopic when developing a site and site content.

For example, I am getting really hung up on UI patterns.  My knee-jerk response is to develop something unique and user-friendly all at the same time.  I am beginning to see that really isn’t realistic for someone at my skill level (which is quite honestly, a tetch lower than basic).  Heck, the reason that certain UI patterns have become so commonly used is that they are user-friendly.  It is here that I have an opportunity to stop thinking about how special and unique I think my business is and start thinking about the customer and how they will be able to find what they need as quickly as possible.  It is likely that customer really doesn’t even think about the UI pattern at all.  What the customer does think about is getting the information they need and/or the product they want as quickly as possible.  As Jerry Cao puts it, “…we’ve changed the way we consume the web, which has resulted in a lot of common UI design patterns. Design patterns have matured and as such, there’s little in the way of innovation when it comes to UI patterns…There’s no real reason to reinvent the wheel. UI patterns must guide users through a smooth experience.”

Clearly, the time I devote to trial and error should not be wasted on UI patterns that others have determined work and work well, but what type of design is going to best feature my business and enable customers to navigate quickly and easily.  The other thing Accident Andy reminds me to think about is the path to purchase (for retail sites) and the path to donations (for non-profits) because if there are too many clicks or (ugh) dead ends that take the user in a loop, they’re going to leave.  Jerry Cao provides a great overview of 6 Web Design Trends and I used his article to spur some additional thinking on micro-interactions and what the best, most customer-focused micro-interaction will look like on my site.

Micro-interactions open up a world of questions from, “When should there be a pop-up to sign up for the newsletter?” to “What is the best language to use when allowing a customer to opt-out?”  Thanks to Google Analytics  the the genius of Nicole Smith’s advice, I get to try, test, determine error, and try again.  And silly me if I get too complacent and think that I can do that only once a year!  Website improvements need to be ongoing so as to effectively keep up with the demands and expectations of our customers and how lucky we are to have that kind of instantaneous feedback as well as the ability to make adjustments and changes based on our customer’s needs.

Here’s the thing: I certainly haven’t figured it all out yet.  My site is far from perfect right now.  But like one of my friends in Web Development once told me. “That’s what the undo button is for.  There’s nothing you can’t undo.”

 

 

 

When They’re Nearby: The Right Time to Contact Your Customer

img_2635Inspired  by the interview of Jeffrey Rohrs (Chief Marketing Office at Yext) by Jeff Julian (founder of Aji Software and Enterprise Marketer titled Location Based Services for Content Marketers I got to thinking about the right time to contact a customer (without being annoying) to offer value adds and engender customer loyalty and repeat sales. The most important takeaway from their conversation for me was the importance of location and ensuring that the location data that your smartphone or tablet pull up is the same as it appears on your Website.  This is more vital than many marketers are aware.

Take music venues as an example.  Given the number of apps that promote live music in your city (or region), a venue has a remarkable opportunity to increase ticket sales by ensuring the app not only provides up to date and accurate information but that the venue is also working with the app to ensure the customer has access to “official tickets” as well as accurate location information and even parking information which can be crucial in a busy, downtown neighborhood.

But what about those spur of the moment activities and how does a content marketer cut through all of the clutter and noise so that they are serving up the best and most relevant content to their customers and potential customers in the moment?  For example, Kansas City hosts numerous conferences each year and bring in millions of visitors to the city who, after five or six in the evening are likely looking for something to do.  Where do they look?  Their phones of course!

In this micro-moment, every food and entertainment business in downtown Kansas City has an opportunity to connect with a customer.  Jeffrey Rohrs talks about “micro-moments” and I pilfered these stats from Google’s own article about micro-moments to drive the point home:

1. Of leisure travelers who are smartphone users, 69% search for travel ideas during spare moments, like when they’re standing in line or waiting for the subway. Nearly half of those travelers go on to book their choices through an entirely separate channel.1

2. Of smartphone users, 91% look up information on their smartphones while in the middle of a task. 2

3. Of smartphone users, 82% consult their phones while they’re standing in a store deciding which product to buy. One in 10 of those end up buying a different product than they had planned. 2

•4. Of online consumers, 69% agree that the quality, timing, or relevance of a company’s message influences their perception of a brand. 2

These stats make it clear that context is just as important as content.  i.e. serve up the content customers want when they want it.  There are a few ways to do this and do it well and as “the Jeffs” point out, many marketers, even the CMOs of large organizations, do not focus on location-based marketing. I would argue that the reason location focused marketing isn’t a given for all organizations is that it seems to complicated and perhaps marketers are over-thinking the content they need to serve up in that place and time.  As it turns out, it’s really not that complicated.  If I can figure it out (and I can barely write HTML code) then trust me folks, it is quite possible to integrate location-based marketing into your overall marketing strategy right now.   Why?  Because users expect it that’s why.  I am repeatedly shocked by the reluctance on the part of organizations to communicate more and more often with their customers and am still trying to determine if that reluctance is real or if it is really based on being intimidated by data, geofencing and location based marketing.

What adds to the confusion is that most of the books and articles on location based marketing are woefully outdated (from 2011 and 2012) so the challenge is two-fold: not only is location based marketing intimidating (due to lack of knowledge) it’s challenging due to bad location data.  The fix for this is simple:

Become your own customer and try to find your own business through the exact same channels your customers use.  Secondly, know that your customers are already using location based sources and it’s your job to make sure they are correct.  

So when is the right time to contact your customer to let them know you are there? When they use key words in their search and, just as importantly, when they are close!  Message them and let them know they are just three miles away and even better, offer them a motivator to come and see you.

Moosejaw did this for me over the weekend while I was searching for a gift.  Moosejaw not only let me know they had a location on the Plaza, within walking distance from my house, they also offered me $10 off my first purchase just for coming into the store.  The code was sent directly to me within seconds and I put on my shoes and headed out the door.  I was able to do this for a number of reasons:

  1. Moosejaw knew I was a new customer and offered me an incentive to come into the store.
  2. Moosejaw’s location data was accurate and I quickly learned I could walk there in minutes (for me this was a huge motivator because I could shop and get my exercise)
  3. The staff in the store also knew that I had the promo code because I was a new customer and made mention of it.

I was able to learn all of this using the search term, “Best Gift for a 12-Year Old Boy.”  Pretty neat.  Great job Moosejaw.  Not only did they provide me with what I wanted using GPS automation, they complemented that automation with the human touch and made me feel welcome when I entered the store and made a purchase.

“There’s something here relevant for your business,” Jeffrey Rohrs states in his interview with Jeff Julian and I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

 

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