Category Archives: Social Media

Bowling for Business: Instead of slashing prices, add value

Advertising Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth

(This column first appeared on June 19, 2011.)

For the past two years, we have bitten the financial bullet in order to buy annual passes to Disneyland for family Christmas gifts. Selecting the handy dandy interest-free monthly installment option, we don’t buy the passes because they are cheap. In fact, our installment payments are probably higher than my parents’ monthly payments on their first house.

Also, we typically squander an additional hundred dollars or so on food and souvenirs with every trip. But we have counted the cost and decided it’s worth the investment to spend quality time with our daughters and granddaughter at the Happiest Place on Earth.

At a time when most business owners are slashing budgets and services in a mad scramble to survive, Disney thrives. Instead of drastically reducing prices and cutting back on their offerings, they continue to invest millions to improve and enhance their products. We would all do well to take a few cues from the entertainment giant:

Diversify.

Disney holdings are too numerous to list. But here are is a sampling:

  • Parks and resorts
  • Consumer products
  • Cruise line
  • Lodging
  • Television stations
  • Television programs
  • Radio stations
  • Magazines
  • Music
  • Books
  • Production and distribution
  • Broadband channels, subscription-based Internet services, websites and cellular services

Although he was a visionary, Walt Disney couldn’t possibly have foreseen the number of related industries his empire would one day include. But, early on, he took steps to ensure his company would never stagnate. In fact, 53 years ago in Anaheim, when he first opened the doors to Disneyland, Walt turned to a TV news reporter and announced:

Disneyland will never be complete. As long as there is creativity in the world, it will continue to grow.

When you sense a shift in consumer demand, don’t waste your time lamenting the good old days. Instead, mix it up. Take a class or hire someone “in the know” so you will be prepared to offer what customers want. For example, if your bakery profits take a hit when health concerns reduce doughnut consumption, add low fat choices to your menu.

Reinvent yourself

I remember the day my industry changed forever. I was at an international public relations conference in 2007 when someone asked me whether or not I tweeted. In my 28 years experience as a marketing professional, I had never heard the term. Naturally, I assumed he was insane. Ironically, I now tweet several times a day.

Due to shifting consumer demand, we have completely changed our service line at Mountain Marketing Group to feature dynamic websites and comprehensive social media campaigns. We could have resisted the shift, like some of our fallen advertising comrades. But embracing the change has invigorated business and keeps things interesting.

Add value

My family and I stood in line for three hours last weekend to see the new Star Tours: The Adventure Continues 3-D Attraction. Disney spent millions of dollars to retool the ride, which features trips to six fictional planets told via 50 different “story adventures.” The fervor proves that people are still willing and able to spend time and money if they believe the investment worthwhile.

Resist the urge to strip your products and services to bare bones; instead, amp things up. The saying still holds true, “You get what you pay for.” Make sure your customers understand the value they get by paying you.

Build client loyalty

During the soft launch of the reinvigorated Star Tours’ attraction, Disney emailed season pass holders early invitations to ride. This type of exclusive offer does more than control traffic. When we weigh our renewal decision in December, rewards like this will definitely factor in.

Advertise

Few brands are as recognizable as Mickey’s iconic ears. This is the result of billions of dollars in advertising. And while most of us have considerably less to spend, when it comes to garnering publicity, we can still learn much from Disney—for free, on a limited budget or when the sky’s the limit.

  1. Have fun. Regardless of the campaign, Disney maintains a sense of humor.
  2. Don’t put all of your advertising eggs in one basket. Positive publicity is often more effective than advertising. Invest in both.
  3. Stick with what works. Downplay what doesn’t. Case in point? I was hard-pressed to find anything online about the history of ineffective Disney advertising campaigns. Instead, I kept unwittingly clicking on ways to pay even more to upgrade my experience as a happy season pass-holder.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: Lighten Up

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on May 24, 2011.)

My husband and I have a standing breakfast date on Saturday mornings. So I usually try to show a little effort by running a comb through my hair and dabbing on a bit of mascara. But, this weekend, we wanted to make sure we got to Belgian Waffle Works before they stopped serving biscuits. So I skipped the makeup and threw on some sweats, an old denim shirt, and a pair of fashion-forward Crocs; and off we went.

An hour later, when my good friend, Kelly, called to say that she was in town and wanted to introduce us to her fiance, I almost chocked on my multigrain waffle. I hung up the phone and stared at Brent.

“This will be the first time I’ve met Keith. And I didn’t even brush my teeth before we left the house. My shirt has paint all over it. And I’m not even wearing socks.”

His response put everything into perspective: “I am wearing white socks…with sandals!”

Brent and I have been happily married for nearly 25 years. And the secret to our success is laughter. We agree with Peter Ustinov’s philosophy:

“It is our responsibilities (not ourselves) that we should take seriously.”

I often wish I could train clients to embrace the idea. But since money is tied to success and success is linked to business, too many entrepreneurs have lost their sense of humor, especially in this economy. And that is anathema to effective advertising.

Leo Barnett once accurately summarized the field of marketing: “Great advertising can be boiled down to three simple messages: ‘Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.'”

But how do you capture the attention of your target market so you can tell them what you’ve got, what it will do for them and how to get it? Most of us are too busy to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. So how can you cut through the noise? Take a cue from the most memorable and successful marketing campaigns of all time. Make ’em laugh. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

The great thing about hilarity is that it’s free. You can incorporate humor into your ad campaigns on any and every marketing budget.

 

For Free—

In social media, pay attention to the types of posts that stimulate feedback. Currently appearing on my own Facebook wall is a video of a talking dog, a video of a stick figure trying to sell social media and a Baby Dancing to Beyonce…hardly fodder for members of Mensa. Even when your purposes for using platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are business-related, remember that your goal is to get your message in front of three-dimensional decision-makers—not pod people.

On a Limited Budget—

If your product is Tums, you can afford to hire writers, directors, actors, famous NASCAR drivers, a professional production crew and special effects editors to create comical videos about food fighting back. But most of us have to settle for a more modest approach.

If funds are tight, invest in a great, short video script and produce it yourself for free (or almost free) on the user-friendly comical movie-making website xtranormal. Then, post a link to it on all of your social media sites.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Experiment with levity. Hire someone with a sense of humor to come up with a trial campaign for your product or service. Once you’ve approved the angle, give it a fair shake by cross-promoting it on your website, social media sites, and in print ads and press releases. Then test and measure online metrics against more formal takes of the same campaign. Some tools I recommend for this include:

Any marketing professional worth his or her salt will show you the results of market research. You can also send a brief survey with a link to your campaign, asking recipients for their opinion. Sample question: When meeting someone for the first time, which is worse? To dress like an unemployed painter or to wear white socks with sandals?

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Running Woman

Although plagued by guilt, I learned a valuable business lesson from my third grade fun run.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on April 25, 2011.)

I can’t fathom there exists an exercise more torturous than running. I’ve always felt this way. In fact, the only time I ever cheated in school was because of the sport. When I was in third grade, my PE teacher stood at the corner, stopwatch in hand, to time us individually as we ran 743 miles around the perimeter of the entire white brick school building.

At first, I surprised myself by having a little bit of fun while the warm sun beat down on my back and a cool breeze brushed against my cheeks. Then, two minutes into the grueling physical fitness test, I hit the wall. My legs felt like logs. My heart raced. I struggled to breathe.

Panic set in as I struggled to determine how I could convince my body to cooperate. Miraculously, I rounded Tufts Ave and started up Sherman when it hit me: I might be able to make it if I cut across the grass on the back side of the school outside of Mr. Bowen’s line of sight. I didn’t even care that the kindergarten classroom windows faced the grassy yard. To this day, I don’t know if five-year-olds and their teachers watched me as I ran. All that mattered was survival.

When I emerged at the end of the course, Mr. Bowen stopped the timer and told me that my score was good enough to save me a repeat run the following day. I smiled. But guilt plagued me. The next morning, I tearfully confessed to a teacher who was more surprised at my poor time than at my deception.

Taking pity on me, he said,

If that’s the best time you could run just half of the distance, I won’t make you redo the entire race. Just promise me you won’t join the track team.

Looking back, I wish Mr. Bowen had made me repeat the run because you can’t succeed if you cut corners…in PE or in marketing. Believe me—I meet business men and women every day who try.

At first, out of desperation, prospects say:

I don’t care how much it costs. Just help me build more business and then there will be plenty of money for advertising.

Then, after my agency’s efforts bear fruit and business is booming, customers ask if there is a way to “get the same results for less.” Unfortunately, however, when it comes to marketing, the adage applies: you get out what you put in.

The good news is that you can choose what it is you want to invest. If you are low on funds, opt for guerrilla marketing techniques which require sweat equity instead of cold, hard cash. Or, if you are short on time, use the capital you have on hand to hire someone else to do the dirty work. If you are like the rest of us—short on both time and money, read on:

For Free—

Guerrilla Marketing is an unconventional system of promotions that relies on time, energy and imagination rather than big bucks. Typically unexpected and unconventional, this type of campaign is often interactive and targets consumers in unexpected places.

The object of guerrilla marketing is to create a unique, engaging and thought-provoking concept to generate buzz. What’s not to love?

You are probably well aware of some popular guerrilla marketing techniques. But have you tried them?

  • Fliers on windshields
  • Dancers holding posters on street corners
  • Yellow Pages and classified ads
  • Billboards
  • Amateur videos
  • Street art
  • Bumper stickers
  • Tiny slips of perforated paper tacked to community bulletin boards

 

On a Limited Budget—

Guerrilla campaigns aren’t always free. In fact, advertisers make a living because of their ability to think outside the box. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, ask friends for unconventional ideas for promoting your business. Sure, some of their ideas might blow. But you get what you pay for. Besides, even advertising pros have off days.\

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you have the option, hire a team to come up with something that is truly inspired. Here are examples of some successful guerrilla marketing campaigns conceived by Madison Avenue giants:

  • The Hollywood Sign Who knew?
  • Product placement, which is said to date back to Thomas Edison, who, after he invented the motion-picture camera, shot movies of people on a train with advertisements for his own products on the side of the boxcars.
  • The Goodyear Blimp I’ve actually ridden this thing and it never occurred to me that I was sitting inside a flying billboard.
  • Nike’s Gone Running Campaign Though market research reports the campaign has been a rousing success, I remain skeptical. Not even Nike could convince me to run.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: I Advertise, Therefore I Am

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 28, 2011.)

I advertise, therefore I am.

Last week in the restroom at Costco, I managed to activate the automatic soap dispenser, which efficiently delivered one gallon of foam onto my waiting hands. But, as is typical, despite flailing my appendages wildly in front of the sensor at numerous angles, I failed to convince the faucet that I was an actual human being in desperate need of rinsed hands.

Since the paper towel dispenser was also an automated model which refused to cooperate, I kicked open one of the stall doors and grabbed 57 toilet seat covers, which popped out in one solid chunk, and tried, in vain, to wipe the liquid coating from my hands. Then, I watched in horror as a tiny five-year-old girl approached the sink and navigated all of the automated equipment entirely without incident.

Looking back, I remain convinced my troubles were not the result of any mental defect or motor skill-related disability but simply a matter of perspective. I failed to trigger the sensors so they were not aware of my presence. Are potential customers aware of yours?

I often meet entrepreneurs who wrongfully assume that their existing advertising campaign is working simply because they have an ad campaign. But where you are advertising is just as important as the method you are using. And, while my marketing columns don’t usually delve into metaphysics, this aspect of marketing begs the question of unperceived existence, first posed by philosopher George Berkeley, who is believed to have authored the now-famous riddle:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Don’t make the mistake of investing big bucks in a marketing plan that might never reach your target market. With a little research on the front end, you will be able to maximize your Return on Investment with any marketing budget.

For Free—

Trial and error is the best way to test advertising strategies when you are counting pennies. The method is so effective, in fact, that even corporate giants, who have access to millions of dollars, rely on it. Like casting a line and waiting to see if anything will bite, if you are using the right bait, you can try several different places to fish until you discover the perfect spot.

And, no matter your product or service, the best place to start testing your advertising is in Cyberspace. Why? Almost 78% of people who live in North America are online each day, according to the World Internet Usage Statistics website. Where else could your advertisements boast that reach?

  • According to Pew Research, only 39% of people read a newspaper each day.
  • The Association of Magazine Media say that while 85% of American adults read at least one magazine per month, most are opting for the electronic versions of their favorite publications.
  • MSNBC reports that teens and young adults spend more time online than watching TV.

On a Limited Budget—

A little market research can go a long way in helping you pinpoint your online audience. Where Neilsen was once unchallenged in the sophisticated collection and evaluation of television viewing information, Forrester is emerging as the gold standard for Internet market research.

You can pay either of these or lesser-known, less expensive firms on retainer or per project. Although spending money on research might not thrill you, the promise of discovering your target market’s habits so you can effectively communicate with them should.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you have the luxury of doing so, cover all of the bases like the big guys:

And, lucky for them, they manage to do it all without getting their hands dirty.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Marketing Lessons from Oscar

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2011.)

By the time you read this column, the 2011 Academy Awards will be history. And while the events that unfold at each Oscar ceremony don’t affect most of us personally, there is much we can learn about marketing by studying the annual affair:

Image is everything—more viewers tune in to see beautiful people modeling glamorous fashions than because they care about who wins the award for best sound editing in a documentary. This might not be true if the dress code was “Come as you are.” Celebrities dress up (or down…remember Bjork?) because they understand the importance of defining, projecting and protecting their brand.

Entrepreneurs who understand this concept are able to leverage it for increased brand name recognition, customer loyalty and, ultimately, higher sales. When we sign a new website client at Mountain Marketing Group, the first order of business is to create or refine the client’s logo and slogan since these steps are foundational to effective advertising and public relations.

Membership has its privileges— while all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences cast votes, only a small percentage receive invitations to attend the event. On the other hand, if you aren’t a member, your chances of attending are zip… unless you want to be a seat-filler.

This is also true for business owners and non-profit directors. If you don’t belong to the local chamber of commerce, you won’t be invited to mixers or educational seminars. And if you don’t attend business events, you won’t be able to hobnob. And if you don’t rub shoulders with people in the community where you do business, you won’t be able to build valuable relationships that might very well lead to business opportunities. Other memberships to consider include country clubs, professional associations and service organizations.

Networking is non-negotiable— in Hollywood, they call it “walking the red carpet.” In the real world, networking involves having actual conversations with real people who aren’t holding microphones or asking us who we are wearing.

Profitable business networking requires an investment of time and attention. When you attend a networking event, I challenge you to close your mouth and open your ears. Most of us prefer to spend time with good listeners than with people who never shut their mouths. American financier, stock-market speculator, statesman and political consultant Bernard M. Baruch summed it up well when he said,

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

Social Media matters—As soon as Justin Bieber gave a small clear box of his hair to Ellen DeGeneres, the Twittersphere went into overdrive, with nearly all of the 7,686,188 people who follow Bieber tweeting about the event as if it was the most important story in the world. The highest bid for the teen singer’s locks is currently at $12,000.

The Academy Awards’ ceremony is no longer simply broadcasted on television but streamed, celebri-tweeted, posted, blogged, checked in, stumbled upon, connected and fed to millions of eager viewers, followers, friends and fans. The reason any of this should matter to small business owners is that it’s all about buzz. If you want to take advantage of social media, don’t miss the groundswell. Create a Twitter account and set up a Facebook Fan Page for your organization. Today.

Everybody loves a party—more than the Academy Awards’ ceremony itself, I wish I could into the Governor’s Ball or one of the after-parties hosted by Elton John, James Franco or Madonna. It isn’t that I want to see movie stars up close and personal. It’s that I would love to dine on party fare prepared by the likes of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

If you want to generate interest in your product or services, host an event and serve great food. Then, once your prospects have eaten, wow them with your professional offerings. People are more likely to respond favorably to sales pitches when they have happy tummies.

Nobody likes a windbag—the best Oscar speeches have been brief:

Jack Nicholson

I guess this proves there are as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else.

Kim Basinger

I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Benicio Del Toro

I won and I get to scream and jump a little. But I got to go back to work tomorrow.

Steven Spielberg

Am I allowed to say I really wanted this? This is fantastic.

James Cameron

I am the king of the world!

If you are giving your Oscar acceptance speech and the music starts, you need to shut up. The best advertising campaigns have also been brief:

Brylcreem

A little dab’ll do ya.

De Beers’ diamonds

A diamond is forever.

Florida Citrus Commission

A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.

Rice a Roni

The San Francisco treat

Florida Citrus Commission

Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions.

Enough said. Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Pushing Past the Papaya

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 17, 2011.

I couldn’t have been better prepared for our stint on Supermarket Sweep than I was on the morning the cable game show taped in 1991. My teammate, Donna, and I had brushed up on trivia and even memorized the layout of the studio grocery store so we would be able to quickly fill our carts with high-ticket items so we would make it to the all important Big Sweep. Then, inexplicably, when the cameras started to roll, I choked. Like a deer in headlights, in the first round, I stared blankly at the host and then proceeded to do everything in my power to embarrass my unborn children.

Question: What fruit has a green rind, red flesh and black seeds?

I was the first to buzz in with my incorrect answer: Papaya.

Question: Which melon features orange flesh and tan seeds?

My Answer: Papaya.

Question: In what month do most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?

My Answer: Papaya.

To this day, I have no idea why I had papaya on the brain. I don’t even really care for papaya. I also have no idea how, despite my mistakes, Donna and I emerged victorious, taking home a grand total $1,103 for our efforts. But I appreciate the relevance of making sure Mountain Marketing Group clients push past this type of brain freeze when it comes to advertising.

For many, the ability to seize the potential of using social media for lead generation is stifled by one thing and one thing alone: an outdated mindset. Somehow, most of us still think that advertising is advertising and social media is something else. But, in truth, advertising and social media are the same thing. They are both content.

The moment we realize that all marketing equals content, we will finally be able to break through the brain freeze and find new ways to fuel powerful brand interactions so they will lead to sales transactions and charitable donations. And we can do this regardless of budget.

For Free—

The first step to creating valuable content is to understand the shared interests and motivations of your target market. Once you recognize what they need, you can start crafting content to fill those needs. And that content can be created for free. For instance, if your product is hairspray, the most obvious shared trait of your target market is that most people who use it have hair. And while your endgame is to get them to buy your product, first, you must provide them with interesting information.

Content for people with hair might include Facebook posts about healthy hair care tips or hair styling trends. Once you have proven yourself knowledgeable and helpful regarding everything hair, your client base will learn to associate your brand with their haircare-related needs. Just don’t make the mistake of using your voice to hard-sell from the start. In an age where people actively search for content instead of passively listening to whatever you have to say, share-of-voice has to be earned.

On a Limited Budget—

Develop an email newsletter. You can either create the publication in-house using a free or low-cost service such as Constant Contact, RatePoint or MailChimp, or hire a professional to produce content-rich information to distribute on a regular basis. But beware of the most common pitfall to this practice—believing you will have time to do this chore yourself, in addition to running your business or nonprofit organization. The road to social media success is paved with good intentions.

Another budget-friendly, content-heavy idea is to blog. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of writing 300-500 word articles and then pointing to the posts via social media websites. If your tweets and status updates are content-rich and optimized, you will be well on your way to establishing yourself as a trusted leader in your field. And trust is the foundation for establishing lifetime relationships with customers, donors and friends.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t forget about the real world. As reliant on technology as we have become, most people still prefer the warmth of a handshake to the cool touch of a keyboard.

In fact, according to MSNBC New.com, “People prefer colonoscopies to computer upkeep.” So don’t relegate all of your marketing efforts to the Internet.

Here are some real world ideas:

  1. Sponsor a workshop, conference or industry event.
  2. Accept invitations to speak in public about your area of expertise.
  3. Produce an informational brochure. But resist the urge to use the piece to promote your product. Instead, simply provide content along with your logo, slogan and contact information.
  4. Papaya.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Top 11 Marketing Tips for 2011

How to Market Your Business in 2011

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 20, 2010.

I have to admit my personal New Year’s resolutions for 2011 are the same as they were in 2010—lose weight; save money; be a better wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, neighbor and friend. I long for the day when I achieve my nebulous goals so I can draft a fresh, new list.

When it comes to business, I find it easier to establish innovative objectives. So please allow me a departure from my usual column-format to share what I believe to be the top 11 marketing strategies for the New Year:

1. Public Relations

Admittedly, I might be prejudiced, since this is my field. But I maintain the single most important tool in any entrepreneurial chest is public relations. After all, PR is about projecting a positive image, so it is universally applicable.

But how should you approach PR in 2011? Perhaps counter-intuitively, to market in the modern era, you need to return to an old business stand-by: the press release. Retooled as a Social Media Release, this approach remains the single most effective way to boost Search Engine Optimization. Because you can select keywords for each release and post to an online newsroom, Social Media Releases are far superior to the standard press release model.

2. Email Marketing

Although some pundits predicted that social media marketing would replace the use of this time-tested tool, don’t expect email marketing to go away. It is still the best way to reach your target market. In 2011, make sure you’re using the new tools provided through most email marketing companies, such as surveys, bounce-reports and social media tie-ins.

3. Social Media

For those of you who were waiting for the demise of social media, it’s time to give up the ghost. We’re living in a brave new world where Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are as much a part of the landscape as business cards and email addresses. So, if you have somehow managed to avoid setting up a social media account for your business up til now, do so in 2011.

4. Videos

My family and I finally caved in and purchased the new TiVo Premiere. I am blown away by our newfound ability to watch YouTube videos on our living room television set. We no longer have to crowd around a PC to access music videos, podcasts and MP3 files. The drawback to this type of technology is that the inferior quality of amateur videos now stands in sharp contrast to professionally-produced commercials and short films. So hire a professional to write, direct and post videos that have the potential to go viral.

5. Promotional Marketing Items

Everyone loves gifts…even you. So don’t underestimate the value of providing people with nifty trinkets that show you care while promoting your brand. Unless you’re rolling in the dough, think simple and cheap. Favors can be very inexpensive—something as simple as pen with your logo on it, a pin or sticker, or an individually wrapped chocolate. For just a few pennies per item, you will make a great impression.

6. Branding

Don’t stop at giveaways. Use every available opportunity to build your brand online and in the real world. Make sure your logo and slogan appear on everything from your email signature to the sign outside of your shop.

7. Website Strategies

If you haven’t already done so, convert your website so it no longer functions merely as an electronic brochure. Shoot for an update that encourages website visitors to interact instead of passively peruse.

8. Direct Marketing- Knock on More Doors in the New Year

The shine is off the penny for teleconferencing and Go-to-Meetings. Since, by now, most businessmen and women understand how to navigate the world of the webinar, to stand out in 2011, you will need to abandon all things electronic and at least offer to give your clients some face-time.

9. Support your Community

This topic is so important that it actually merits its own column. So we’ll cover it more in detail in time. But suffice to say it is imperative you support the businesses located adjacent to your own. Buy local and encourage others to do so. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Volunteer to serve in leadership positions wherever you are able.

10. Do Pro-Bono Work

Again, this is critical. So we’ll discuss the topic more in future posts. Demonstrate your personal commitment to support causes that matter. Pro-bono work shows that you care about more than your own bottom line.

11. Have Fun

Try not to take yourself too seriously. Try to remember why you went into business for yourself in the first place. If you aren’t having any fun, it will show in your product or service. And if you take steps to make changes in 2011, you might be able to come up with a new list of business resolutions for 2012. Happy New Year!

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Forget the Fine Print

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 22, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 24, 2010.

When writing promotional copy for your product or service, less is more.

When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Khouri called my parents for a conference because, although I was excelling in Honors’ English, I was failing math. Since he wrote math problems on the chalkboard, he and my mother and father decided the solution was a giant pair of gold-rimmed aviator eyeglasses that made me look like John Denver. Not a fan of that particular fashion statement, I often “forgot” to wear my glasses or “accidentally” dropped them behind the back tires of our Pinto or “absentmindedly” flushed them down the toilet.

Unfortunately, there was a seemingly endless supply of hideous replacement frames at LensCrafters, which arrived in rapid succession…each pair unbelievably more hideous than its predecessor. This pattern continued until I finally earned enough baby-sitting money to buy contact lenses.

The horror of it all is probably why I refuse to acknowledge my increasing need for reading glasses. For months, I have been complaining to my family that every food manufacturer, magazine publisher and pharmaceutical company has recently, inexplicably reduced the size of the printing on their products.

Unwilling to consider that the problem might lie with me, I decided the logical thing to do was to start ignoring instructions. After all, at my age, I already know how to lather, rinse and repeat without having to read it on the bottle. Turns out, I am not alone.

With so many things competing for our time and attention, most of us are too busy to breathe. Rather than enjoying the luxury of leisurely pouring over every detail in each article that lands in our email inbox, we are lucky if we have time to skim headlines.

But, ironically, when it comes to creating content for others to read, most business professionals write website content and brochure copy as if their readers have nothing but time. So, if you have something you want to say to current and prospective clients, customers, guests, diners or donors, eliminate the fine print.

For Free—

When money is tight, you might be forced to do your own marketing. If this is the case, be brief. Without benefit of a professional writer or editor, and since you’ll be writing about something with which you are intimately acquainted, you will probably be prone to ramble. So here are a few words of advice:

  • Write whatever you want in a stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t even worry about adding punctuation or breaking your thoughts into paragraphs. Just get it all on paper.
  • Tear up what you wrote. That’s right. Toss it. Don’t worry. You know the material. Creating a disposable first draft will help you stay on track with your second.
  • After you finish writing your second draft, reduce it by at least 50%.
  • Then, get a second opinion from someone outside of your industry, who can alert you if you unwittingly used insider terminology.
  • Use plenty of headlines, sub-headings and bold print to divide copy. Nothing turns off readers more than an endless sea of words.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelance writer. If you are preparing a newspaper advertisement, find someone who specializes in writing punchy ad copy. If you are producing a corporate brochure, commission a professional who specializes in formal business writing. Few writers excel at all styles. And the benefit of using contracted professionals is your ability to hand-pick the right people for every project.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire someone to create a campaign centered on a very clear message. The more you try to say, the more you will dilute your message. Take a cue from these successful ad campaigns, and associated short-slogans:

  • Nike: Just do it.
  • Mountain Dew: Do the Dew.
  • Kay Jewelers: Every kiss begins with Kay.
  • Burger King: Have it your way.
  • KFC: Finger-lickin’ good
  • Taco Bell: Think outside the bun.
  • Bounty: The quicker thicker picker-upper
  • Subway: Eat fresh
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine
  • Avis: We try harder
  • AT&T: Reach out and touch someone
  • Visa: It’s everywhere you want to be
  • Skittles: Taste the rainbow
  • Yellow Pages: Let your fingers do the walking
  • Miller Beer: It’s Miller time.
  • Home Depot: You can do it. We can help.

And, my personal favorite—LensCrafters: Eyes love LensCrafters. (Hey, I never said a slogan had to be true in order to succeed.)

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: How Not to Suck at Social Media

Take steps so you won't be a social media spoil-sport.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 27, 2010 and in the Biz Press on September 30, 2010.

For reasons I will never be able to explain, in seventh grade, I joined the girls’ basketball team. I was just 5′ 2″ and about as athletic as an armchair. But, all the same, I woke up every morning while it was still dark and walked to Goddard Junior High School to stumble through drills and miss free throws. Although I sat on his bench the entire season, the head coach never learned my name. In fact, he even called me Jackie at our end-of-the-year banquet. Looking back, I wonder why my parents didn’t tell me I sucked. Didn’t they realize it is sometimes necessary to be Cruel to be Kind?

The same is true of social media. So please allow a departure from my regular column format this week. At risk of offending, I would like to share tips intended to keep you from missing the mark in your efforts to engage in social media.

Top Five Mistakes to Avoid in Social Media

1. Don’t ask connections to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn.

Sure, the option is there: “Can you endorse me?” But there is also a poke button on Facebook. That doesn’t mean you should use it. Instead of fishing for referrals, why not proactively write unsolicited recommendations for your own connections, thereby guilting the recipients into returning the favor? Once they see your glowing review, they will likely respond in kind.

2. Don’t tweet about what you’re eating.

If you aspire to leverage social media for business, eliminate the mundane. When it comes to your meals, unless you’re dining with Anthony Bourdain or ARE Anthony Bourdain and you’re trying deep fried monkey toes (eaten off the bone), your menu probably isn’t worthy of a post. That’s not to say it isn’t relevant to tweet or post about a good restaurant, an interesting dish or a great recipe. But, “had meatloaf again” doesn’t cut the mustard.

3. Don’t complain about your job, your boss or your relationships.

You might have had a rough day. But unless you want to be Debbie Downer, get over yourself. Using social media websites to complain is not only in poor taste but it can actually cost you your job. The now infamous Cisco Fatty incident is a cautionary tale about loose online lips sinking ships. A 22-year-old at UC, Berkeley, tweeted:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

A Cisco employee saw the post and responded with his own tweet:

Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web.

To keep yourself in check, assume everyone you know is parked in front of their computers reading your status updates and Tweets in real time. They probably are.

4. Don’t use your social media accounts to SPAM.

Does anyone really think that a constant stream of impersonal tweets that address half a dozen Twitterati saying, “Hey, you, check out this product,” will really attract anyone who cares? Have you ever read such an ad and clicked through to buy the product?

Abusing social media channels is as offensive as spamming email inboxes. At the risk of being redundant, let me remind you that social media is about engagement. You need to interact and react instead of blasting your message. Pay attention to what others in your network are saying. Be part of the community that cares enough to share. The most important thing to remember is that social media engagement takes time, just like building relationships in the real world.

5. Don’t be a lurker. Vote for your social media pet peeve.

This column was never meant to be a one-way conversation. So I would love to take the opportunity to invite you to participate in the discussion by suggesting point number five for this article. Please comment with your own social media horror stories. I would love to hear from you. What irritates you the most about social media?

Come on. You can do it. How else will we figure out how not to suck?

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.