Archive | October, 2009

Plainly speaking, it is better

30 Oct

What is better is to speak and write plainly, a lesson that is being forced on the U.S. Government according to the Federal Diary columnby Joe Davidson  in the Washington Post. To make that happen (I could have written: In order to facilitate the transition), there will be a symposium on plain language this afternoon at the National Press Club, held by the Center for Plain Language.

There is no doubt that the government (and many in the legal community) loves to make things complicated. The more obtuse, the better. The more wordy the better. Passive voice? They love it. Big words when smaller words would do, check.

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But, more disturbing in my opinion (since I already expect government/legal communications to be convoluted), is that marketing folk are jumping on the complicated bandwagon.  This blog post, from the Branding Strategy Insider, claims that “Complex Language Weakens Brands.” As the post says:

A serious impediment to communications is this constant upgrading of the language. No aspect of life is left untouched by the upgrade police. Not only does a term have to be politically correct, it has to be as long and as complicated as possible.

A great example from the post is that UPS went from being in the parcel delivery business to being a logistics company. How many people on the street instinctively understand what logistics is???? Not many, my friends. The only people who understand logistics are in logistics.

In any case, if you want to be clear, speak and write plainly. Using big words when small ones would do does NOT make you look more intelligent (if anything, it makes you look less so). From the Center for Plain Language website:

A communication is in plain language if the people who are the audience for that communication can quickly and easily

  • find what they need
  • understand what they find
  • act appropriately on that understanding

I think the bullet points above are the point of ANY communications.

And you thought plain vanilla was the boring choice.


29 Oct

Last night, I was fortunate to visit a magnificent exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, entitled State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.


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As the curator explained, propaganda is inherently linked with advertising and public relations. In the beginning of modern advertising and PR, propaganda people were running the show. Edward Bernays, the “father of modern PR” was a propagandist. But propaganda is not inherently negative. Propaganda is simply the propagation of an idea, using various means.

Unfortunately, as with Hitler and the Nazis, propaganda has been used to propagate evil and incite violence and murder. It is a testament to the power of propaganda that the Holocaust was as widespread and supported as it was.

The Nazis understood the power of mass media, and they understood the power of symbolism and word choice. They understood that you had to dehumanize your enemy. They used words that had emotional appeal to the Germans of the day, like “freedom.”

The Nazis made radios cheaper and widely available, and then proceeded to use radio as a way to send out their propaganda within music shows. It became illegal in Nazi Germany to listen to foreign radio broadcasts, punishable by long imprisonment. So the way propaganda worked within Nazi Germany was to use all media possible and by the suppression of all opposing viewpoints.

In any case, the lesson to learn is that words are powerful.  We that work in the promotion business, be it advertising, PR or marketing have the power to persuade and that is not something to be taken lightly.

Numbers don’t lie

27 Oct

Newspapers are in decline. It’s a fact.

This is the first paragraph from a Washington Post article entitled “The accelerating decline of newspapers by Frank Ahrens:

“U.S. newspaper circulation has hit its lowest level in seven decades, as papers across the country lost 10.6 percent of their paying readers from April through September, compared with a year earlier.”

The numbers were released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), which measures circulation for print media across the United States.  Some interesting (and sad)  facts from the study:

  • 30.4 million Americans buy daily newspapers, 40 million on Sundays
  • Daily circulation has been declining since 1987
  • In 1940, 31 percent of Americans bought a newspaper. Today, it is 13%.
  • The top five newspapers are:  Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post (all except the Journal have lost readers)
  • USA Today suffered the highest reader loss, declining by 17.2%, due in part to a decline in the travel industry

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As fewer people buy print newspapers, fewer advertisers will pay fewer dollars for the chance to display their ads therein. What will happen to the industry? More cuts and less paper, that is for sure. The New York Times recently announced another round of layoffs from its newsroom. The Washington Post is desperate to reinvent itself and recently went through a complete redesign.

Is there a solution? Your thoughts?

Revenue is good, but not at the expense of profit

26 Oct

I came across an item in Reuters today that says that Verizon Communications had an increase in revenue (i.e more subscribers) but a decrease in profit in the third quarter of 2009.  What this means is that the company’s expenses are rising.  Expenses could be anything from salaries to office supplies to marketing. One area where I believe Verizon is probably bleeding expenses is in marketing. I wrote before that I have received nearly five pounds of direct mail from the company during the past year. Multiply five pounds by millions and you will get a sense of the amount of paper Verizon has generated just to market one product: FIOS. In my opinion, this is wasteful and useless.

If Verizon spent as much on customer service as on their repetitious direct mail campaign, they might have a more satisfied customer base. That would strengthen their revenue and profit streams.

This is just my opinion. I do not work for Verizon or any Verizon affiliated business or with any of Verizon’s competitors.  My only affiliation with Verizon is as a customer.

Whatever do you mean?

23 Oct

Have you seen signs/logos/headlines that make you stop, and not because you are intrigued, but rather because you are confused? If you have, you know what I mean.

I just say a delivery truck with the following sign:

Sanford Foods

Poultry Distributor

Pork Beef Supplies

The “Poultry Distributor” part was highlighted. So I thought to myself, what is it?  Poultry or pork? Yes, I know they distribute all of it, but why highlight poultry? My point is that there is too much contradictory information in a few words. It is not clear. They could have said: Sanford Foods: Distributors of Fine Poultry and Meats. And that would have been fine.

My advice is to have one overarching message in your logo or slogan. Too much is confusing.

Thoughts? Or better yet, examples?

Don’t try the same trick over and over

19 Oct

Here’s a tip: if something does not work the first 50 times, don’t do it again.  Seriously. Stop. Re-evalauate. Don’t waste your efforts.

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Sure, practice makes perfect, if you are headed to Carnegie Hall. With marketing, practice (repetition) can lead to annoyance and disconnect.

Last November, I started collecting all the marketing mail that relates to FIOS, Verizon’s fiber-optic service.  To date, I have received nearly five pounds of direct mail and many robo-calls (although I finally got them to stop the robo-calls). Here’s the clincher though: I have not signed up for FIOS. Verizon keeps sending me the same marketing pieces, over and over and over and over. Most egregious is the one that is marked: Important Information About Your Verizon Service. Really, how many times do you think I am going to fall for this? Once, maybe twice, but not dozens.

I am not sure what Verizon’s strategy is here, but in my case, they are wasting tons of money and not to mention, killing many trees (yeah, I know you want me to switch to paperless billing, but I bet if you just cut out excessive direct mail you would save a ton).

My other example is from a online listing service I used to pay for.  It changed, without informing me, and suddenly, I was getting no inquiries or  even visits to my website from it. I stopped paying for the premium service. I tried to inform them why. No feedback form or even email address was available. And the guy who runs the service sends me emails at least twice a week asking me to sign up again. The same exact email, twice a week. I am not exaggerating. Again, why would you continue to do something again and again if you are getting no results from it? Do you think I missed the email the first 25 times?

In any case, marketing communications is about strategy and tactics. You use certain tactics to implement your overall strategy. The thing is, you have many tactics at your disposal and you should fine tune your tactics so that you are achieving the result you want. If a tactic does not seem to work, shelve it. Put it away.

Your adaptability will help set you apart. Trust me on this. Don’t waste your resources with tired tactics that don’t work.

Who is helping you to help others?

16 Oct

Organizations that deal with the public typically have one or more frontline people. These people deal directly with the public, perhaps by giving directions, meeting and greeting or assisting in some way. Many times, these frontline people are also some of the least well compensated in the organization. But they are crucial in shaping how the public perceives the organization.

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Have you ever walked into an office where the receptionist didn’t even bother to greet you? Have you stood waiting for help at a “customer service” booth? Then you know that your interaction with people that are supposed to assist you can color how you perceive the organization that they represent.  However, many organizations don’t seem to grasp this simple concept and continue to deploy people in “helping” positions that are unwilling or unable to help, therefore damaging the credibility and perception of the organization.

Here’s a tip: if you are hiring someone to help you to deal with the public make sure that persons LIKES helping people.

On my last trip, I had trouble checking in on the kiosk. So, a very unhelpful, surly guy came over, growled at me and told me to go wait in line. He was absolutely rude and unpleasant. Do you think that makes me feel positive toward the airline in question?

Yesterday, I was in downtown DC to meet with a client. She had her laptop with her and we needed to go somewhere with WiFi. I couldn’t think where the nearest Cosi was, but DC has deployed Downtown DC people in the Gallery Place area. I went up a woman with the Downtown DC jacket and asked her if she knew where the nearest Cosi was. She did. She gave us specific, perfect directions. She was helpful (and right). Contrast that with an exchange I had witnessed earlier inside a Metro station. A gentleman had approached the booth to ask a question, and the  lady in the booth was BERATING him for tapping on her window. Does that make Metro look helpful? (BTW, I have had similar experiences with people in the booths…they just don’t want to be bothered to do their jobs, that is, assisting people.)

As a marketing consultant, I can advise you to take a good look at who is dealing with public in your organization. These people are crucial because they create the first (and maybe the only) impression the public will have of your organization.

A bit of advice

12 Oct

HGTV (one of my favorite channels) has a show called Real Estate Intervention. It features a truth-telling real estate agent Mike Aubrey who brings a dose of reality to homeowners who are having a hard time selling their house.  While we could discuss the fact that HGTV has had to adjust to the reality of a hard housing market (as this blogdiscusses) what I want to talk about is giving advice.

As a marketing consultant, I am required to give advice. I deal with questions like should you do a brochure, update your website or what your tag line should be. You would think that clients, who are paying for my opinion, would listen to it, but often, this is not the case. Many times, people want an outsider to bolster their ideas. For instance, if you think your website is fine as is, you want me to agree. If I don’t agree, you dismiss me.

In the Real Estate Intervention show, people seem  reluctant to listen to Mike because they often do not like what he has to say. His advice (usually, lower your asking price) is not what they want to hear. In spite of the fact that Mike shows comparable houses that sold for much less, the homeowners seem to believe that their houses are better and that people would pay much more money for it (even though they have not been able to sell their house at the asking price). The show really illustrates how hard it is to give advice.

Advice is tricky because people have preconceived notions. Most people think that they know as much or more than you know and if your advice does not match up to their ideas, then you must be wrong. Even when all evidence points to the contrary.  We’ve seen lots of businesses pushing back against social media, for instance. Business owners don’t believe it can help. Even though it does. But because it is not their reality they push back.

What can you do if you are in the business of giving advice? Well, the best is to be like Mike Aubrey. Make your case in the most concrete way possible. Facts and figures are very helpful. Never say “because I think so.” That won’t cut it. In the end, advice will only be received well by someone who is receptive. Accept this.

Elements of a successful event

8 Oct

Do you attend many networking events? I have gone to my fair share. Some are better than others. Here’s what I think makes a good event:

1) A topic. I appreciate that happy hour events draw people interested in getting a drink after work, but they don’t inform or give you anything to talk about. Having a topic and a speaker gives events an edge.

2) Allocating time to networking. Many times there is a speaker and/or a meal and no time to meet and mingle.  Specifically allocated meet and mingle time is very important.

3) Easy access. If you are asking people to drive to your event, make sure there is plenty of parking (preferably free). If you want people to take public transport, then be close to the bus/subway stop.

4)The right price. Too expensive can be a real turnoff to people. The price should reflect the value, but it should also be within the range of other similar events. This morning I saw an event about social media that was comparable to other events I have been to/seen advertised, but was priced twice as much. Would I go? No.

5) Organizational ambassadors. Some people are shy. If you are hosting an event, have members of your organization or group be hosts: greet people, tell them about your group and introduce them to others.

6) Choosing  day and time carefully. Your event can be derailed by competing events. If possible, try to avoid conflicts.

Update: How could I forget this one?

7) Food and drink. There is nothing worse than going to an event that offers nothing. I once went to a wine and cheese that had neither wine nor cheese. Instead, we got leftover SoyJoy bars from another event and water. I kid you not.

What would you add?

What does the folding of Gourmet and Modern Bride mean?

6 Oct

Yesterday came the news that Conde Nast will be folding its long running and popular publications Gourmet and Modern Bride. A few other magazines are also ceasing publication, resulting in more people being laid off at Conde Nast. The reason? Decline in both ad sales and circulation.

What does it mean?

It means that print is on its last legs. With advertising down across the board, and people abandoning print for various reasons (cost, environmental concerns, can get content online), I see a not-so-distant future where there will be no print magazines at all. The costs to print will outweigh the revenue generated, as was the case with Gourmet and Modern Bride.

Even with loyal readers, quality content and a weighty history, Gourmet will print its last issue in November. For now, C-N plans to keep printing Bon Apetit. Modern Bride’s last issue is the current one. Brides will up its printing to monthly. Mergers in the print world mean less choice for advertisers.  We may see ad prices jump.  And then, will advertisers stick with print? Doubtful.

What are your thoughts?