A Fun Game Between the Superbowl Ads (And I’m Not Talking About Football)

Ok. I admit it. When it comes to sports, I could frankly care less. I didn’t even know who was playing in the “Big Game” until this afternoon (sad, I know).

But I still get super jazzed around this time of year…for the commercials!

Last year, I created a survey (I know, I’m a dork…I get it) to poll the party I attended to find out what people thought of the ads. What started out as a tremendously nerdy exercise on my part ended up being the catalyst for some very interesting debates (Rodney, I’m not going to let you throw Frito’s at people you disagree with this year!)

If you’re like me, you may want to partake in the fun. Here’s the list I came up with last year. Take this list to your party and let me know what you and your friends think by posting a comment below. Additional categories welcome. 🙂

  • Best Use of a Celebrity
  • Most Controversial
  • Most Effective
  • Best New Product/Service/Idea
  • Funniest
  • Best Tagline
  • Biggest Waste of Money
  • Most Likely to Be Blogged About/Talked About Around the Water Cooler

Or, you can skip the whole “fooseball” thing all together and just attend an “Adbowl” like the one hosted by the Richmond Chapter of the American Marketing Association 

Either way, have a safe and fun Superbowl Sunday!

Humble Thoughts On Blogs, Social Networks, and other New Media Stuff

Last week Geoff Livingston and I participated in Smart Business Ideas(TM) Magazine’s Ready, Set, Grow event where the topic focused around blogs. Since our presentation I’ve been receiving e-mails from those in attendance regarding my opinion on social media. So here it is – humbly submitted, of course.

Who should blog?
Blogging is not for everyone. Keep in mind that although the operating costs are minimal, you still have to invest a significant amount of time to research, write and promote a blog. In my opinion, here are the three things you must have to start a blog:

1. Passion for a subject – I’m passionate about marketing. I could talk about this stuff all day long. To me, it’s easy to find stuff to write about because marketing is a topic to which I naturally gravitate. And you can tell just from reading my blog that this is really my life. My personality comes through because I’m passionate. Now, if I were to write a blog about, say, accounting (not a subject where I naturally gravitate) because someone said I “should” it wouldn’t have nearly the same effect because every time I would sit down to write a post I would hate it. Inevitably (if I had a blog about a subject I wasn’t passionate about) I would try to take shortcuts by reading and repeating what everyone else is saying without interjecting my own thoughts. At that point I would simply be regurgitating instead of contributing positively to a conversation.

2. Time – While the actual overhead expenses of maintaining a blog are (generally) low or no cost, you can’t forget about the time it takes to maintain a blog. Keep in mind there is more to blogging than simply sitting down to write.

A. Research – Reading related blogs so you know what’s going on around you takes time.

B. Writing – Hashing out your idea into a cohesive thought takes time.

C. Editing – Revising your cohesive thought so you don’t sound like a bumbling idiot takes time.

D. Analyzing – Checking your stats, referrals, and understanding what your readers like takes time.

E. Promoting – Registering at Technorati, putting widgets, continually adding to your blogroll, responding to comments and the thousands of other ways you can promote your blog takes time.

If you blog once a week, plan on investing at least 5 hours a week (especially in the beginning when you are getting everything set up) to produce a quality blog. For each additional post per week – add 2 hours. (Oh, and for those people who tell you they crank out a post in 10 minutes – I don’t buy it. Quality writing takes quality time.)

3. Dedication – I really liked how Geoff put it in his presentation last week – “Bloggers must be sharks. Not in the sense that they are aggressive – but in the sense that if they stop swimming, they die. Blogs where the author stops posting die.” With that in mind, you must commit to posting on a regular schedule. Yes, it’s tough – but it’s the way it is.

Facebook vs. Myspace vs. LinkedIn
Social networks are popping up everywhere. Yes, they can be amazing business tools. But they’re kind of like address books – they’re only as useful as the information in it. My advice? Don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick one and go deep. Don’t bother with other ones until you’ve mastered the first. If you’re new at all this, I personally think LinkedIn is designed to be the most effective in a business setting (and is the most intuitive to set up in my opinion). Myspace is more personal. Facebook is a little bit of both.

Widgets, Twitter, Second Life & Other Randoms
This July at the New Media Nouveaux Conference, speaker Brian Williams mentioned how learning about all this new Web 2.0 stuff is like “drinking from a fire hose.” And it’s an accurate description. It can be overwhelming, especially when you feel pressured to participate in every single type of tool available. Here’s how I see it – there are enough new tools out there to keep you busy for 27 lifetimes. So, if the premise of the strategy doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t feel like you “have to” participate. I don’t use Twitter or Second Life because at this point in time, it isn’t a good return on my time investment. As I said before – it’s more effective to go deep into one tool instead of spreading yourself thinly across many.

I know my opinions are more down-to-earth than most – but hey, it’s what I think. What about you?

5 Myths of Business Communications

Take a moment and think about all the words you send to your prospects and clients – all the content of your website, brochures, e-mails, letters, fliers, blogs, etc., etc., etc. Imagine all the vowels and consonants you’ve used to describe what you do piled high into an ever growing heap of words. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? In business, we communicate…a lot.

The ability to clearly describe what you do, how it is different from everyone else and why your prospects should buy from you is an essential part of the success of any business. From the smallest e-mail to the most expensive advertisement every piece of communication is an opportunity to form an impression in your customer’s mind (A.K.A. your “brand”).

But are we really clear when we write our business communications? Do we accurately convey the points we are trying to make so our prospects and clients can “get” our message? Take these 5 common myths of business communications and test your CQ (communication quotient).

Myth #1 – The more information I can cram in, the better.
Have you ever tried to find a needle in a haystack? It takes a lot of patience. Unfortunately, patience is not something readers of your business communications will have. Simply put, if your message is buried in mounds of text no one will take the time to search for it. Effective business communications focus on a singular message and eliminate everything else.

Do you pass the test?
Show your business communication piece to a stranger and give them only 5 seconds to look at it. Can they tell you the main message?

Myth #2 – If I use big words, people will think I’m smarter.
Prodigious colloquy induces an antipodal consequence. Using big words is like a guy with an expensive sports car – it can be perceived that you are trying to compensate for something. Instead, go for short, clear, easy-to-understand words that you would use in everyday conversation. Your tone will be friendlier and your readers will be more receptive to your message.

Do you pass the test?
Give your business communication piece to a 4th grader. Do they understand every word?

Myth #3 – By using buzzwords, jargon and acronyms I’ll prove my industry knowledge.
You might as well write in Ancient Greek because that’s about how many people will actually understand what you’re trying to say. Acronyms are especially deadly, so if they’re necessary – take the time to spell them out. As for buzzwords and jargon – save them for the water cooler.

Do you pass the test?
Have a friend from an opposite industry read your marketing material. Do they understand it?

Myth #4 – I’ll use adjectives like “best”, “excellent” or “outstanding” to set myself apart.
Have you ever been stuck at a party with a person who just won’t shut up about how great they are? Not only is it annoying – it actually turns you off. Instead of bragging about yourself, gather testimonials and allow your customers to boast on your behalf. You’ll find prospects intrigued and eager to learn more.

Do you pass the test?
Ask your best clients to give you a quote about their experience working with you. Did you replace your boastful comments with their testimonials?

Myth #5 – I’ll write in first person so it won’t be boring.
Most of your readers will have one question in their mind when reading your document – “What’s in it for ME?” That means, using the Y-O-U word – not the I (or W-E) word. Yes, there are times that a compelling narrative story can make an impact. But in general, business communications should be about the client – not about you.

Do you pass the test?
Take a piece of business communication and change “I” and “we” to “you” (also, change the tense of the verbs, etc.). Give both versions to a friend and ask them which is more compelling.

Hopefully by now your pile is a little lighter and your message a bit clearer. By taking the time to crystallize a clear and conversational message you engage your audience with your message. This can lead to longer loyalty, more referrals and ultimately increased revenue – and who couldn’t use that?

 

Reduce Social Media Burnout with a Communication Vacation

meditating-businessman.jpgThere’s a lot of buzz around the blogosphere about social media burnout. I blogged about this in April when I first started feeling the fatigue. Heck, if Steve Rubel is starting to see the strain – we know this is for real.

I feel like the pressure comes from several places:

1. So many tools, so little time. Let’s dissect the time it takes to effectively use just one channel of new media: blogs. To make a blog effective, you need quality content. That means time to: 1) come up with a creative & original topic 2) research it properly and 3) write and edit. And that’s just building the content of your blog. Then you compile marketing efforts – such as reading your daily feeds (I have 96 blogs in my reader) commenting on other blogs, tracking stats and reaching out to your readers. Now, add the 18,000 other social networking tools and gizmos we’re supposed to use at an equally engaging level and *poof* – burnout.

2. The need to please. Because social networking involves interaction with others, there is a need to meet their expectations. The best bloggers write for their readers, not for themselves – and knowing that people are depending on you to come up with profound and original content on a daily basis can wear you down.

3. The perpetuation (instead of distillation) of swill. Blogs gain popularity through “link love” which ultimately means people are consistently regurgitating other people’s original ideas. This regurgitation process tends to create a big fat game of telephone tag through the internet. The result is that then, in my research process, I am forced to backtrack through numerous links to track down the original source. These blogs that simply rely on supplying links without providing a thought provoking stance fall out quickly because readers see right through it. This relates back to reason #2 and importance of original and thought-provoking content.

So how do you battle this social networking fatigue? How do you stay plugged in while still creating original and thought provoking content? Why not allow yourself a daily vacation from all forms of media to allow your ideas to percolate?

Dictionary.com defines “vacation” as:

va·ca·tion [vey-key-shuhn, vuh] Pronunciation KeyShow IPA Pronunciation –noun

1. a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday:

I can say from personal experience that this has been my saving grace. Since April when I began to feel the burnout, I decided to invest at least an hour every day to suspend all forms of communication. This time allows my ideas to mature and the quality of my work has dramatically improved over the past few months.

So what does a communication vacation look like? Silence. That’s right – none of the following:

– cell phone
– radio
– television (I don’t own one anyway)
– internet
– computer
– gaming system
– e-mail

Instead, I do something like:

– sit in traffic with the radio off (I live in DC – so I do this a lot. Not my favorite activity, but it works)
– go for a run outside (without an mp3 player!)
– meditate
– sit at Founder’s Park right by the water and people/duck watch

As a recovering work-a-holic I can attest that as with any addiction, fighting the first urges were overwhelmingly difficult. Similar to when I quit smoking, I found myself having “communication fits” whenever I would try to sit still. But over time, I found that these times are critical to my creative process.

And I’m not alone. A recent article in Inc. Magazine highlighted several entrepreneurs who attribute their innovation to maintaining structured think time. “CEOs who curtail creativity may do so at a cost to their happiness and their businesses” author Allison Stein Wellner states. “Leaders can miss out on innovations as long as they view running a company as the hard stuff and coming up with new ideas as the fun stuff – and sacrifice the fun for the good of the business.”

Similarly, individuals can suffer from being too tied in to social media – feeling all that pressure. That can lead to health issues, family problems, and all the other icky stuff that we hate to talk about. So allow yourself a daily communication vacation. Be at peace in the silence. Allow your ideas to mature. And then come back armed with intelligent ammunition to make your work even better. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for a run. 🙂

Related Links

Steven Aitchison – Hypnogigia: The bridge to the unconscious

Shel Holtz – Social Media Burnout? Where Have I Heard This Before?

Future Lab – Facebook, Myspace & Social Burnout

Valeria Maltoni – Facebook Ain’t Face Time 

Adventures in Amazing Copywriting #5 – Top Copywriting Blogs

words-letters.gifLooking for inspiration?

Check out these fantastic blogs for tips and examples of how you can pump up your writing.

American Copywriter – My favorite section? Classics. See why doctors recommend Lysol as a douche to earn your husband’s love.

Copyblogger – an absolute must read for any blogger

Name Wire – the product naming blog

The Copywriting Maven – Roberta Rosenberg shares her expertise in direct response & SEO

On Copywriting – by Ryan Healy

Marcom Writer Blog – Dianna Huff specializes in B2B communications

Bad Language – Matthew Stibbe is on a “crusade against bullshit, jargon, waffle, cant, hype and meaninglessness.”

Copywriting.com – Practical tips & techniques to help you improve your writing

Adventures in Copywriting – Mike Sieber shares his adventures in the world of the written word.

Writing Thoughts – the thoughts and experiences of freelance writer

The Copywriter Underground – Tom Chandler goes “beyond the words”

Copywrite, Ink – Rich Becker shares his insights to the industry

Add them to your readers today – you’ll be glad you did. 🙂

Toby Bloomberg’s Kick-Ass Keynote (as presented at the New Media Nouveaux Conference)

diva_marketing1.jpg

Transparency, passion and lessons learned – all presented in a clear and entertaining fashion. How could you have a better keynote?

Toby Bloomberg is the author of the top-ranked blog Diva Marketing Blog (in the top 2,000 of Technorati), and is a self professed “Atlanta gal who is a Yankee from Boston.” She believes new media, “is a credible marketing strategy – even an industry. It can help you with branding, marketing research and public relations. But the most powerful part is building relationships with customers.” Diva Marketing Blog has literally changed her life.

It all began when she wanted a way to make marketing “not boring” so she began writing in a sassy and pithy style that maintained professional credibility while tossing in fun references to appletinis & pink boas.

To her surprise, days after launching the blog e-mails started coming in from people saying people liked what she had to say. Her website never got comments, but her blog did – this was the first sign that something was different. Weeks after launching the blog, search engines began indexing Diva Marketing Blog where it took seemingly months for Google to find her traditional website – obviously this “blog thing” was a powerful marketing tool.

Toby’s keynote was delightful because she expertly weaved in personal stories and shared her lessons learned. It was simply awe-inspiring to sit back and listen to her experience.

While I was furiously taking notes, typing as fast as my little fingers could, I was unable to capture all of the details of the stories, which are the real juice to her keynote. I was however, able to jot down a few of her lessons learned:

  • Social media can be used as a credible marketing strategy that supports branding, public relations, customer service, research and other marketing and business initiatives.
  • The heart of social media marketing, and the real power is in establishing relationships. Successful blogging does not occur in a vacuum.
  • If the passion about a topic doesn’t exist – the blog will die on the vine.
  • People interact with you. You can carry on a conversation on a blog and then take that conversation off-line if you want to pursue it further.
  • Search engines and blogs go together.
  • Check your blog stats. Create an ego search using key words that include: your blog title, your name, your company name. Consider adding competitors and industry trends.
  • Bloggers care. Bloggers are people.
  • With the ease of using blogs, podcasts, vlogs, you can’t contraol the message, but you can manage the conversation.
  • You can manage user generated media conversations by listening, participating, engaging and caring.
  • Social media is built on culture.
  • The voice of one turns into the voices of many and changes how a company conducts business.
  • Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to ensure your posts are accurate. Credibility builds trust, builds readership which can lead to relationships and community.
  • It wasn’t the voice of one blogger who influenced a major research company to change their business practices – it was the community.
  • Bloggers take blogger relations very seriously and believe they have a role to play in communication and information dissemination
  • Mainstream media is looking at blogs and they may just look at yours.
  • Blogging is not a silver bullet.
  • Social Media is not like any other marketing strategy
  • Do something great and you’ll be cheered.
  • The culture is very demanding. Break the trust by being disingenuous and you might harm you brand…and your reputations.
  • Social Media Mantra: transparency, authenticity, honesty and passion.
  • You have to put something of yourself in this game.
  • The rules are still being defined. No one has all the answers or all the questions.
  • There is no going back – social media is here to stay.

I can’t wait to see her live in action again soon!

How to Get Your Name in Print

market-square-in-alexandria.jpgEver wondered how people are chosen for feature articles in the newspaper? Here’s how it worked for me.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my “satellite office” at Market Square in Alexandria, VA. I go here on warm summer days because the granite benches surrounding the water fountain have power outlets right next to them. With my Sprint Broadband service and my power outlet, I have everything I need to work productively. And, might I add, the scenery calms me down and makes me appreciate my life as an entrepreneur.

During the lunch-hour, this place gets pretty packed, and strangers pass by, look at me and remark, “You look like you’re actually working – wow, I wish I had your job!” On this particular afternoon, a gentleman sat down on the bench next to me. He inquired as to the nature of my job and I replied that I was a “freelance writer and marketing consultant and I focused on Online writing like websites and blogs.”

Turns out this gentleman was a reporter with the Alexandria Times. We carried on for a bit with a conversation about the difference between “old media” and “new media”, I mentioned my involvement with the New Media Nouveaux Conference and we casually exchanged business cards.

Fast forward two weeks and I see in my inbox the following e-mail:

Hi Andrea, it was nice meeting you the other day. I want to write an article about you and blogging – what do you think? Let me know when is a good time to sit down and interview you – maybe at Starbucks or out on the market square like when we met the first time.”

So, if you want to get your name in print, be prepared to:

1. Do something different. Reporters need an angle – something actually worth reading about. If you’re doing the same-ol-thing as everyone else your chances for an interview are slim.

2. Have a tight elevator pitch. Be prepared to explain exactly what you do, how it is different from everyone else, in bulleted benefits and in less than 15 seconds.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. You never know who you are going to meet. Networking is not reserved for places with nametags and an open bar.

4. Be yourself. Reporters (make that most people) can tell when you’re being authentic vs. when you’re being a flack. People like to work with people who are genuine.

5. Follow up immediately. If the media calls to ask you for an interview, drop everything you’re doing and reply right away. Otherwise, they will move on to somebody else.

Related Links:

Execupundit.com – Make it Pithy

Modern Magellans – Elevator Pitching

Scott Ginsberg – 10 Different approaches for your 10 second commercial

PR Squared – Pitching in Public

Toby Bloomberg – Relationships are the New Currency

Conversation Agent – Media as Connectors of Ideas and People