Thanks to the most important invention of our day (the DVR), I don’t watch a lot of ads on TV anymore. Neither do most people, it seems. But the other night I found myself watching TV in real time (gasp!), and I caught this commercial:
The ad is for Mirrasou wine, but the narrator never tells viewers to buy any. She doesn’t tell viewers that Mirrasou wine tastes better or costs less than competitive wines. She doesn’t urge viewers to buy it because it’s made with California grapes or because it comes from a family-run winery. This ad hardly seems to be about Mirrasou wine at all.
Instead, it’s about me, the viewer, who might be interested in a little bit of advice on how to host a super fun wine party. Mirrasou used its ad buy to offer its expertise as a lifestyle mentor. Because the winery sought to teach rather than to sell, I thought about its message for much longer than I would have considered a buy-this-because-it’s-awesome pitch. It’s smart, and it’s a great example of how brands can move closer to customers through content-focused marketing.
I love a good story, which is why the stack of books on my nightstand is usually dominated by fiction. But when my aunt recommended the decidedly non-fiction “Winning the Story Wars: Why those who tell – and live – the best stories will rule the future,” I picked it up. The title reflects my own views about what successful marketing looks like, and the details in Jonah Sachs’ book kept me reading (and underlining and highlighting and taking notes).
Sachs’ company is behind viral video campaigns like “The Meatrix,” which promotes local and sustainable food production, and “The Story of Stuff,” which tells the tale of production and consumption. Sachs says that when brands invite customers to become characters or heroes in a plot or conflict, they are better able to “become vehicles for explanation, meaning, and story.” And that, he argues, is when organizations can compel their audiences to action – whether that action is taking a stand on a social issue or choosing to buy a specific laptop computer.
There is plenty of interesting stuff here about how to reshape your organization into a mentor for your customer-hero. Sachs refers back to our history as oral storytellers, as consumers of myth, and talks about how to identify your business with an archetype like the rebel (think Harley-Davidson), the muse (think Etsy) or the magician (think Pixar) to better shape your story around a familiar ideal. More valuable is the continual emphasis on focusing the narrative on your prospects. “What audiences really want is to see their own reality and values reflected in a message,” writes Sachs.
For those of you who love a good story but prefer the visual version, check out this video. It’s an entertaining overview of the book’s premise.
I was putting breakfast on the table, checking email on my smartphone and listening to NPR this morning when a story came on about how media – social and traditional – is reshaping the way we process information. Apparently, we’re not so skilled these days at focusing on one thing without interruption.
Jessica Helfand, author of “Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media and Visual Culture,” explained that the students in her classes at Yale are so devoted to multitasking via mobile devices that she fears they skim everything and assimilate less than they should. She calls it the “short attention span theater,” and said it points to a “culture of narrative deprivation.”
Helfand focuses on using visual elements to reach members of this culture, but marketers must also be concerned with the words they use to reach prospects who have grown accustomed to skimming more than reading. For those of us writing blogs, newsletters, articles, website copy, and other collateral to support marketing and sales efforts, there are a number of things we can do to reach people who may be engaged in other pursuits as they scan our words.
1. Keep it short. No, doubt, you love what you do, and you could talk about it all day. Unfortunately, a skimmer doesn’t have time for that. Edit ruthlessly, or find someone to do it for you.
2. Give readers multiple entry points. Skimmers aren’t start-at-the-beginning-and-keep-going-to-the-end kind of folks. Give targets a few different ways to consume your piece. Add a picture and a caption. Use short, interesting subheads. Break copy out into sidebars. Blow up an important quote or statement to stand out from the rest of the piece.
3. Use bold face type and bulleted lists. A list can be a gift to a skimmer, who might struggle to digest a long narrative on his iPhone while he walks to work, but who can easily read a list and determine whether it’s compelling enough for him to answer a call to action or share it with friends via social media.
4. Keep your copy useful, funny, controversial, or all three. Your marketing copy is competing with video, TV, mobile apps, social media, and more. Plain vanilla writing won’t grab anyone’s attention in this environment. Make sure whatever you’re putting out there serves a purpose for the reader – educate, entertain and engage.
Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you:
You venture into a shop for the first time. It’s small. You’re the only customer there. You realize quickly the place is not quite what you thought it was, but the owner is looking at you, and you don’t want to just turn around and walk out. You make a good show of it. You peruse the shelves, full of products you don’t want or need. Finally, you leave. It’s uncomfortable. You feel guilty. You vow that next time, you’ll do your homework before you walk in the door of a new place.
I’m trying to do my homework on a lot of little places I’ve noticed near my new home. We’ve just moved into town, and I’m eager to explore. However, I’d like to avoid the guilt-inducing scenario above. My new home base is also hot enough to remind me daily that if I can leave my car and its fossil fuels parked in the garage, the world will be better off. So, I want to know a bit about a business before I drive off to see it.
Like many consumers, these are the resources I count on to help me learn about a business:
*The company website
*Consumer review sites
*Local media coverage
*Whatever other options pop up in Google search results
Sadly, I’m finding that many of the places peaking my curiosity (Antiques? Organics? Kidswear?) have virtually no presence online. They’re relying on bare bones, phone-book style information to pull would-be customers in, and it’s not working (at least for me).
When your prospects can’t find anything about you online beyond your address and hours of operation, it sparks several questions that negatively affect your business, including:
*Are they really still open?
*Do they sell the products in which I’m interested?
*Who are these people? Do I want to do business with them?
*Are they knowledgeable about what they’re selling?
*Is this place run by friendly, helpful proprietors?
*Will I be sorry I spent time checking this place out when I could have been unpacking? (Okay, maybe that last one is specific to me, alone.)
Online content is the small business’ best friend – an affordable, effective means of marketing upon which consumers now rely. For even the smallest small business, it should be on the must-do list.
It’s possible I have a small Pinterest addiction.
I check in once per day to see which new pins might catch my eye and give me a new idea to use in my writing, in the kitchen, or with my kids. Today, I spotted this:
The source is Honest to Nod, a blog kept by The Land of Nod, which makes furniture, bedding and toys for kids. A friend had pinned The Land of Nod’s image onto a board she keeps full of ideas to do with her daughters.
This is smart content marketing.
It’s not a sales pitch. It doesn’t even have a product on it. But that easy list, which probably took someone 15 minutes to create, is making its way onto the Pinterest boards of many parents out there who feel panic at the number of hours left to fill this summer. The Land of Nod showed those moms and dads that the company understands their needs and it can help.
Click through the pinned image, and you’ll get to a corporate blog that is heavy on the do-it-yourself ideas and very, very light on traditional marketing and sales. The message: we can help you make summer fun. We can help you plan a party for your kids. We can help you make fabric lamps from scraps you have in your closet. And, oh yeah, if you need help decorating the nursery, we can help you with that too.
You might not sell products geared toward kids, but you do have an expertise and a clientele that could benefit from it. Educate, don’t sell, and those customers will come to you to learn and to buy.
I’m guest blogging today at The Urban Muse, where I make the argument that SEO writing starts with quality content, not keyword tricks or search engine baiting.
When I sent my post to Urban Muse owner Susan Johnston, she said it brought to mind a recent tweet from Roy Peter Clark, who teaches writing at the Poynter Institute, where I was a fellow in the College Graduate Newswriting and Editing program a few (more than a few) years back.
When it comes to the relationship between SEO and writers, here’s what Roy Peter Clark has to say in fewer than 140 characters:
SEO is not the whole party. Without a strong SVO strategy, businesses waste their time, effort and money.
Want to read more? Please click here.
I’m a low-maintenance kind of gal. I don’t spend a lot of money on beauty products, nor do I use many. However, I do like The Body Shop, and I think it has everything to do with the company’s brand identity.
Here’s how The Body Shop describes itself:
We’ve believed this for years and still do. We constantly seek out wonderful natural ingredients from all four corners of the globe, and we bring you products bursting with effectiveness to enhance your natural beauty. While we’re doing this we always strive to protect this beautiful planet and the people who depend on it. We don’t do it this way because it’s fashionable. We do it because, to us, it’s the only way.
I’m not sure what “bursting with effectiveness” means, but the whole nature’s-way schtick makes me want to pop in there and buy some lip gloss.
As I walked by my neighborhood Body Shop this afternoon, though, I was disturbed by the list of values I noticed posted in the window. If you can’t make out the text in the photo up there, here’s how it reads:
Protect the planet Defend human rights Activate self esteem Support community fair trade Against animal testing
I’m pro-planet. I’m pro-human rights. I’m pro-self esteem. All of the content was on target for me as a potential buyer. But the disconnect in this series of value statements was almost as bothersome as pink-frosted lipstick made from whale blubber and tested on baby monkeys.
Here’s why: If you have a series of five statements and four of them start with verbs, the fifth one should also start with a verb. Action items are good. They make writing alive, and they position the associated brand as one that is decisive and assertive (in a good way). Also, eighth-grade grammar says you have to keep items in a series parallel. The Body Shop can support, activate, defend and protect, but it can’t against. Against is not something one can do. Plus, all of those verb statements are positive actions, and “against” just throws off all that good karma with negative positioning. Why not say the company “defends animals” or “advocates safe testing”?
So. I had my word-choice fit on the sidewalk in front of The Body Shop, snapped a picture, and walked away. And I saved myself 10 bucks I might otherwise have dropped on makeup I don’t need.
I sat next to a professional bullshit detector at a seminar last week. He had his notebook out and ready to jot down whatever interesting things the speaker might have said. I peered over his shoulder every time he picked up his pen, and here’s what I learned: if you pepper your messages with marketing-speak, BS is all your audience will hear.
The man at the podium that day was no slouch. An accomplished Silicon Valley-type, he had an insider’s view on trends that were relevant to his audience. This presenter had charts and facts to back up his points, and he had a couple of suggestions that might have been helpful to those who were tuned in.
Sadly, though, this speaker packed his talk with jargon. When you lean too hard on buzzwords, it’s hard for audiences to hear you. Or like you. Or believe you.
Throughout the seminar, I stole glances at what my neighbor was writing down in his notebook. It was full of one-word quotes: “ecosystem,” “surfacing,” “impactful,” “revolutionary.” The BS detector was turned on full blast, and no real information seemed to be getting past it.
The language you use to communicate with prospects, potential partners and anyone with an interest in your business or industry should read as if humans wrote it. It should be crafted so other humans will want to read it. It shouldn’t set off any BS detectors.
What are the overused words and phrases in your market? Identify them, and then eradicate them from your marketing copy. Test your messages out on your friends and family. Do they know what you’re trying to say? Are they laughing at the way you say it? Is the text on your website heavy with vague language? Is it focused on your target customer and what he or she needs to know?
These are all questions small businesses need to consider, especially if they want to evade BS detectors and win customer trust.