Bowling for Business: The Write Stuff

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on and in the Biz Press on February 18, 2010.

Clearly convey your intended messag

No doubt you’re familiar with the game of telephone, where you whisper something to the first person in a line and then wait to hear how the message gets scrambled on the other end? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record-holding “telephone game” whisper is, “They inherited the earth and then the army came and scorched it.” The final words passed on were “Mayfield College.”

I’m confident the folks at Guinness would reevaluate the record if they came to my home, since we unintentionally play the game on a daily basis. My husband’s instructions to Kaitlin to “Clean your room” are heard as, “Watch television all day long.”

My requests to Lauren to “Take out the trash” are interpreted as, “Make brownies and destroy the kitchen in the process.”

As a family, we’re working on refining the communication model. Brent and I have recently discovered that while communication theories like repetition, parroting and paraphrasing do no good, threats yield results. Miraculously, the girls accurately discern messages like, “Vacuum the living room or hand over your cell phone.”

The reason our teenagers pay attention to this type of message is because we have made it relevant to their world. By engaging them on their terms, we make them an active part of the conversation. I’m embarrassed it took so long to adopt the practice at home since we do it all of the time when it comes to writing website copy for clients at Mountain Marketing Group.

In real life and Cyberspace, effective communication boils down to understanding and speaking to your audience from their point of view. When it comes to marketing, this relatively simple concept is revolutionary. Instead of designing and writing a website that looks like a billboard, remember that the reason people go online is to gather information. That’s why it’s called the Information Superhighway. Your site should provide help, not hype.

For Free–

If finances are tight, write website copy, yourself, using the following tips—

  1. Personalize your message and involve readers.
  2. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  3. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  4. Prominently feature testimonials.
  5. Be real. Avoid overly-technical explanations and corporate-speak. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write, “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.” 
  6. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  7. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  8. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  9. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  10. Proofread everything at least three times. Errors undermine credibility.

It’s exceedingly difficult to look at your own copy with objectivity. Left unchecked, your greatest asset, familiarity with your offering, can be a liability. So, after you’ve written the copy, run it by other people so they can give you their opinions. Be aware that friends and family will be biased. They already have at least a rudimentary understanding of what you do. So, try to get the verbiage in front of someone who has no preconceived ideas of your product or service.

On a Budget–

Hire a writer who specializes in creating direct response copy, which is designed to solicit a reaction that is both specific and quantifiable. An experienced writer will understand how to do all of the above and will be able to skillfully provide interesting information as well as a seamless call to action. And this is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great website if it fails to improve the bottom line?

The Sky’s the Limit–

Hire a professional website development team, which will make sure your copy is stellar and that the artwork matches the tone and feel you wish to convey. A web team will eliminate the potential for your message to get lost in translation. And, unless you want to challenge the current record in Guinness, that’s a very good thing. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Armchair Figure Skater

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 8, 2010, in the Biz Press on March 4, 2010 and in the Press Enterprise on March 6, 2010.

Social Media success is more a marathon than a sprint.

I’ve never been much of an athlete. In fact, in kindergarten, I had such a difficult time climbing the thick, giant rope that dangled from the ceiling in our gym that, when I finally achieved the goal, my PE teacher invited me to perform at Parents’ Night. The other invitee was a sickly girl named Lisa who didn’t have eyebrows, skin pigmentation, or stamina.

My lack of athletic prowess is probably the reason I’m such a die-hard fan of figure skating. The polar opposite of me, figure skaters demonstrate power, artistry and precision in everything they do. I’ve been watching every televised figure skating event since Dorothy Hamill won gold at the 1976 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. I was one of the few who didn’t tire of endless news reports about Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding in 1994. And I’ll probably see every Olympic figure skating event held this year in Vancouver.

But, along with other Olympic fans, thanks to advances in technology, the way I watch the games this time will be different.

  1. TiVo—instead of enduring countless commercials, I’ll be using our DVR to tape events. If I watch any advertisements this time around, it will be because they catch my attention as I fast-forward.
  2. Website—rather than relying on NBC producers to spoon-feed me the information they believe most relevant, the Olympic website offers information, ad infinitum, about every athlete, venue, competition and affiliated sponsor.
  3. Interactivity—if I’m so inclined, I will be able to connect with the athletes by reading their Tweets, perusing their blogs or watching videos on YouTube. And I won’t be hampered by location or previous commitments since I can access it all, 24/7, on my Smartphone.

So what does any of this have to do with marketing small businesses and non-profit organizations? Just this. Contrary to our cultural training as consumers in a society that expects on-demand entertainment and instant access to anything and everything, when it comes to advertising in 2010, we have to be willing to wait.

Instead of blasting our message to a passive audience, we must recognize that we are on the supply side of the equation. To learn what our target market demands, we have to be willing to listen, engage in relevant conversations, and earn a share of the voice. Social media success is less a sprint than a marathon because social media is all about relationship. And, in the real world as well as Cyberspace, it takes time to build relationships.
For Free—

Ironically, when it comes to social media, the most important step is the one most often overlooked. Unless you take time to listen to what people are saying about your organization, you won’t know what you can offer to the conversation. To do this, do a keyword search for terms relative to your field. Then, when you find the sites where folks gather, put away your keyboard and read. Once you understand the neighborhood, resist the urge to lecture. Instead, engage and contribute so that you become a trusted member of the community.

On a Limited Budget—

If funds are tight, hire an intern or junior staff member to monitor social media conversations and report back to you. But save the heavy-hitting for the folks who understand your brand. To succeed in social media, you have to become an expert in sharing whatever interests your target market. So teach your employees how to take advantage of blogs, wikis, Facebook, or YouTube. A great resource for this is a social media book I’ve touted, before, Groundswell. In it, Forrester researchers Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff provide plenty of social media case studies, along with proof they work.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Instead of joining a social network community, start one yourself. One of the first high-profile companies to do this was Dell. In the early days of social media, Dell turned a deaf ear to complaints lobbed by a customer named Jeff Jarvis, who started blogging about “Dell Hell.” But Jarvis’ discontent struck a chord. Within months, the highest ranking Google search term for Dell was Dell Hell.

Eventually, Dell had no choice but to address the nightmare. Their solution was to create a social networking site called Idea Storm, where customers post ideas and vote on products. The transformation didn’t happen overnight. But, in time, Dell went from cautionary tale to the benchmark for successful business communication, proving that flexibility and persistence pay off for anyone trying to climb the corporate ladder (or a giant rope).

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Ignore the Voices in Your Head

Your Marketing Strategy Should Feature Social Media

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 25, 2010.

Social Media—You Know You Need To

I made a critical error in judgment last week. Despite reports from the National Weather Service that a nasty storm was on its way, I threw caution to the wind and headed down from Running Springs to Riverside for a professional development luncheon. Having once slid into a BMW on Kuffel Canyon (Yeah. That’s right. It had to be a BMW), I would normally err on the side of caution and stay home rather than risk a return ride on potentially icy roads. But since I’m on the board of directors, I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the group.

I made it down the mountain and to my meeting without incident. But, on my way home, two tiny harbingers of danger appeared on my dashboard in the form of flashing batteries and brake lights. So, instead of driving straight home, I stopped by my mechanic’s. Adhering to Murphy’s Law, the very minute I pulled my car into the bay, the idiot lights went out. Just to be safe, the repairman ran diagnostics and determined that everything was fine.

After I left, about a block from the repair shop, the warning lights reappeared, and remained lit until my car died just above the middle passing lane, right before a curve, away from all of the rest of the traffic in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard on Highway 330. Without cell phone service, and with a very full bladder, I reluctantly abandoned my vehicle and accepted a ride from a kind man who was, thankfully, a realtor from Big Bear instead of a serial killer. He drove me up to a clearing and I awkwardly loped home through 3 feet of fresh powder in soggy leather clogs.

By the time I stumbled home and called Auto Club, I discovered that my car was already en route to a storage facility in town. To retrieve it, I would have to wait for the storm to pass and cough up a $380 towing fee, as well $50/day for storage. As I write this, three days later, my husband is shoveling about 7,000 pounds of snow from our driveway so we can pick up my 4-wheel drive, chain-clad, very dead car.

All of the above could have been avoided if only I had listened to the still, small voice that prodded me to skip the meeting. Because I ignored it, my husband and I will be reaping it for some time to come. I share this story because business professionals so often silence the voice of reason when it comes to advertising. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this disclaimer, “I know I really need to advertise, but…”

One local entrepreneur, who shuttered her restaurant after three unprofitable years, wondered aloud, “Maybe things would have been different if only I had advertised.”

Indeed, I wish she had come to us for help. Marketing is as essential to business success as a working vehicle is to safe travel. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, business owners in America spent nearly $61 billion on advertising. They allocated resources to marketing because they understand the importance of advertising for—

  • Making your presence known to potential customers, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • Maintaining your relationship with current clients by reminding them about the value of your product or service.
  • Strengthening your call to action and message.
  • Introducing new products and services.

Although most business men and women intuitively understand the value of advertising, since budgets are tight, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they know they need to do. The result? At an alarming rate, Inland Empire businesses are failing to thrive. In fact, experts put the percentage of new businesses that fail, nationwide, within the first five years, somewhere between 50%-80%. The solution? Invest in the advertising strategy that offers the most bang for your buck. And, no matter the budget, in today’s technology-driven environment, that method is social media.

For Free—

The great thing about social media is that the only required investment is time. The top three social media platforms, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you focus on these, and post valuable content to each account multiple times each day, you can achieve virtually every advertising objective necessary for business success.

On a Limited Budget—

While social media can be done without access to tons of cash, to be competitive, you have to be willing to find valuable information relative to the interests of your target market and post it on a daily basis. The problem is that most business owners don’t have time to do research and post status updates and informational links up to 90 times each week. Some actually want to spend time running their businesses! So, if you can swing it, spending money on social media management is worthwhile. Most of our clients report an average tenfold return on their investment after just 12 weeks of service.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The nice thing about having cash in reserve is that you have the luxury of paying experts to manage all of your advertising efforts, which frees up a considerable amount of time. Even so, we recommend that every client maintains a connection with their social media friends and fans. Our most successful social media clients post personal messages and stay connected to their contacts to supplement our efforts on their behalf. For ideas about what to post, might I suggest listening to the voices in your head?

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