Make Your Message Bounce With a Game of Verbal Tennis

tennis_racket.jpgI’m currently reading Geoff Livingston’s New Media Primer Now Is Gone (a great read for anyone seeking practical advice on how to use new media in a marketing strategy). In the introduction, Brian Solis makes a point that really got me thinking.

“Conversations are driving the new social economy…Messages are not conversations. This is where most companies and PR people fall down. People just don’t communicate that way…Markets are not comprised of audiences…This is about speaking with, not “to” or “at” people.”

I couldn’t agree more and it got me thinking – what’s the difference between a message and a conversation?

Obviously, a message is one-way communication and a conversation is not. Rather, a conversation is like verbal tennis where words and ideas bounce back and forth between both parties.

Think of it this way…

A “message” is like playing shotput. You put all your effort into forcing information forward. It’s not about having the ball returned, instead it’s about pushing as hard and far as you can. The problem with verbal shot put is that there’s little room for feedback or interaction with your customers, which increases the risk of a missed message.

Shotput is not about being accurate, it’s about using your energy to blast your message far and long. While this strategy used to work when the landscape was less competitive, the goal of communication in this new paradigm is to make your message bounce.

How to do this?

1. Statements vs. Questions – A simple way to encourage conversation is by asking a question instead of a making a statement.

Example:
Shotput: You’ll save money and time with Product X
Tennis: What would you do with an extra 30 minutes a day? Use Product X, find out, and then tell us about it!

2. Yes/No vs. Open-Ended – The type of question also determines the game you’re playing. Yes/No questions solicit short and boring responses. While traditional sales training encourages the use of questions that “will always result in a yes,” I believe consumers are smart enough to pick up on this sales tactic and quickly pack up their attention and leave when they sense its use. Opting for honest and conversational open-ended questions is a successful strategy.

Example:
Shotput: Are you looking to save money and time? Then buy Product X.
Tennis: What would you do with an extra 30 minutes a day? Use Product X, find out, and then tell us what you did! (Imagine coupling this with a prize to entice customers to submit stories)

3. Go beyond WWWWW&H – Questions aren’t the only way to get the ball bouncing. Using “feeling” verbs is a great way to encourage your customer’s imagination. Try peppering your copy with words like “imagine” or “discover” and allow your reader’s mind to soar.

Example:
Shotput: Product X will make you feel 10 years younger.
Tennis: Remember how you felt when you were 10 years younger? Imagine feeling that way again. Product X can help.

Ready to return the serve? Just write a comment below. 🙂

Related Links

Why Great Copy Is a Conversation, Not a Soliloquy – Dan O’Sullivan

Beware of Self Congratulatory Web Copy – Laura Bergells

Ad Copy That Attempts to Say Everything – Sometimes Says Nothing – Marc Davison

A Potential Adieu

cat-out-of-the-bag-2.jpgWell, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. I’ve accepted a position as a Senior Copywriter for a large Fortune  500 company and I’m super stoked about this opportunity.

See, landing a job as a full-time copywriter is sort of like a singer who makes it to Broadway. There are simply too few organizations who can afford a full-time position that most of us end up freelancing to make the best of it. I’ve certainly enjoyed freelancing and I’m looking forward to working with and learning from a team of top talent.

So….the question remains. What am I to do with my blog? I won’t have the time to dedicate like I did when I was freelancing. Yet, my readership is decent and I don’t want to disappoint. I’m considering continuing to post once a week or so as long as I have people who are getting value out of what I have to say. Like I said in my bio – I don’t want to be blogging just to hear myself type.

So, please, let me know your thoughts. What do you enjoy reading the most and how can I continue to serve you through this blog? Leave your answer in the comments below.  🙂

To your success,

Andrea

Build Your Own Credit Card – Captial One’s Card Lab

stuffed-mailbox.jpgWhen’s the last time you received a direct mail letter from a credit card company? If you’re like me, chances are you can’t remember the last time your mailbox contained only one.

Direct mail has traditionally been the cornerstone of credit card marketing and as we enter the era of customization, keeping up with the number of different offers means a mailbox full of direct mail letters.

Capital One is looking to change all that with their latest product – the Capital One Card Lab.

According to a Capital One press release, company spokesperson Pam Girardo commented how, “Consumers today want control and expect the ability to customize products to meet their needs. Instead of buying music albums in the store, people are compiling their own online – and rather than buying a car off the lot, people can now design and purchase the precise automobile they desire online. Capital One is pleased to empower our customers to build their own credit card online.”

The site is easy to navigate and intuitively designed. No doubt, we will still see a steady flow of promotional material in regards to this product, however at least now we can understand what we’re getting in plain English.

Related Links

Paymentnews.com

Mycardblog.com

Colloquy.com

The Empathetic Marketer

Here’s a riddle for you – what is the most important character trait a successful marketer must possess? Analytical skills? Shrewdness? Communication? While all of these are important, I believe empathy trumps them all.

Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy, which is simply feeling compassion or sorrow for another person’s misfortune. Instead, empathy is the unique ability to take the facts of a person’s situation and translate them into an understanding of their feelings and motives. In other words, stepping into someone’s shoes.

Empathy is the key to successful marketing.

1) Empathy will encourage you to listen to customer feedback so you can improve your product or service. Take for example Proctor and Gamble, who realizes the benefits of having customers give ideas instantly. Products such as the Swiffer and Crest Pro-Care Mouthwash were all inspired by real problems customers faced. P&G took this information, created a better product (a Purple Cow according to Seth Godin) and was able to better compete in a crowded marketplace.

2) Empathy will help you create a message that connects with customers. Are you struggling to move past the bland and generic world of messages so diluted and generic that they loose all impact? Then sit down and work on your empathy. Close your eyes and ask yourself the following questions:

If I were this person how would I….

– feel about the situation?
– attempt to resolve it given what is currently in the marketplace?
– react to a given message?
– search for information?
– tell my friends about something that is good or bad?
– want to be treated?
– be motivated to make a purchase (i.e. do I shop because something is inexpensive or because it’s high quality?)

Once you’ve stepped into the shoes of your target market, you’ll find the right message stands out bright and clear.

3) Empathy turns marketing into a field of service. For years marketing has been perceived as an industry that manipulates public opinion and as a result marketers have a pretty bad rep. I believe that marketers have the capacity to truly make a difference in the world by bringing consumers real solutions to their problems. When marketers adopt a stance of empathy, their approach turns from “how can I convince everyone that I have a better product or service when I really don’t.” (which doesn’t work anymore – again, read Purple Cow) to “how can I create a better world by identifying, developing and informing people of solutions to their problems.”

So how do you feel?

Attention All Real Estate Agents…

stopsign.jpgStop, I repeat STOP putting me on your weekly or monthly newsletter when I haven’t asked you to. Just because I sat next to you at a networking event and gave you my card does not mean that we have a relationship. Do you even know that….

1. I am currently receiving more than twenty newsletters that are just like yours?

2. I’m not even in the market for buying or selling a house?

3. My brother is a real estate agent so there’s little chance that I would even use you in the first place.

When you send me unsolicited e-mail it is not an effective marketing campaign – in fact – it’s the opposite. It irritates me and I don’t trust you from the start. It’s one thing if I’ve requested to receive your newsletter, but it’s quite another for you to go to events simply to compile a list of names for spamming. (Yep – you’re spamming.)

Do you have the guts (and the quality info) to make your newsletter opt-in only?

The Power of Being Concise

alcohol-distiller.jpgSome people distill alcohol – copywriters distill words. It’s our job to weed through the muddy and unnecessary and craft a crystal clear message. More often than not, this means paring down (usually WAY down) the message into just a few words so people “get it.” And that’s where the magic happens.

Case in point. Last week I noshed at an event where most of the attendees were technology companies. When asked what I “do” I tested two different variations:

#1

Joe-Schmo: Hi, Andrea. What do you do?

Andrea: I’m a writer.

Joe: What do you write?

Andrea: Web content, brochures, ads – all of the words that would go on your marketing materials.

Joe: Oh, that’s nice.

#2

Joe: Hi, Andrea. What do you do?

Andrea: I translate “Geek” into plain English.

Joe: REALLY?! I need to hire you!!

See the difference? Now, one thing you may notice is that the words “writing”, “marketing” and “websites” are no where to be found in this simple tagline. But that’s okay because it accurately conveys the message so the light bulb goes off.

Looking to create your own tagline? Here are some questions you may ask yourself:

  • Who am I talking to? Can I modify my message to fit various niches? Ex: “I translate _____________ (corporate babble, legalese, financial nonsense, etc.) into plain English.”
  • What do I really do? Is there one verb that can convey that message? Note – overused verbs include: help, educate, teach, show, etc. Stretch your vocabulary and you’ll be rewarded.
  • What’s the biggest benefit I provide? Now is not the time to blab on about everything you do. Showcase your biggest benefit and get people wanting more.

Run Circles Around Your Competition: How to Build a Loyal Fan Base

running-shoe.jpgAt first glance, you might consider Pacer’s, a running store in Alexandria, VA to be about the same as, say, the Foot Locker in the mall. After all, they carry similar products, market to a similar audience, and have a similar pricing structure. But Pacer’s does something truly remarkable. They have fans. Evangelists. People like me who just can’t wait to tell the world how wonderful this store is. And that is brilliant marketing.

So how is Pacer’s different? Upon purchasing a pair of running shoes, here are some of my observations:

  1. A passionate (and therefore knowledgeable) staff. Every employee of Pacers is a runner – not a minimum wage high-school kid. Why is this important? Knowledge. When I asked questions (like should I stretch before or after a run) the staff responded quickly and with authority (both). These guys know what they’re talking about. And because they love it so much, they’re happy to chat with customers about ways to shave a minute off your mile or how to train for your next big race.
  2. Overwhelmingly exceeding expectations. When I purchase shoes, I expect friendly customer service, and someone to go to the back of the store to get the shoes for me to try on. But if you want to really impress me you’ll measure my feet, watch me walk, analyze the fact that I have high arches and roll slightly inward in my stride and then pull several pairs of shoes that I can “test drive” before making a purchase (seriously, these guys are awesome). This goes back to the whole knowledgeable employees thing. When I’m impressed, I want to tell all of my friends about my amazing experience so my friend can experience the same thing.
  3. Creating a community. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the Pacer’s fun run. 30 or so people will gather in front of the store, run several miles and then go out for a tasty beverage. There’s no charge, you simply show up. This event gets Pacer’s loyal fans interacting with the brand on a whole new level. (Plus, if you attend regularly there’s a discount which further solidifies the devotion to your brand).

It works because it’s genuine – it’s not a hackneyed “we offer outstanding customer service” slogan when really they don’t. That doesn’t work. Instead, Pacer’s has invested in their training, people and community which leads to lots of word of mouth. The funny thing is, Pacer’s does minimal advertising. Why would they need to? They’ve created a better retail experience and therefore people are talking – that’s their marketing. So how can you be outstanding? Are you and your people completely passionate about your product or service?

Related Links

Personal Attention = Great Word of Mouth by Andy Sernovitz

What Makes Good For Marketing? The Experience! by Jeff Kallay

The Art of Evangelism Web Conference by Guy Kawasaki (if you missed it, keep your eyes peeled to see if he does another one)