Communications Articles

Busy, overwhelmed, complicated

speak-bubble-960Every client I work with wants to be assured that their content and message is being found, heard, understood and acted upon.  I do too!

The challenge is to get customers attention at the right time, in the right place with an engaging message.  That is often a tall order.

As we look at the marketplace,  let’s start with the 3 basic points that all organizations need to understand and deal with when developing a content strategy.

1) There is an overwhelming wave of readily available information about anything and everything. With more technology advances, our access to information has become increasingly easier and almost limitless. Search “communication” and there are 290,000,000 results or “content strategy” with 563,000,000 or “spoon” 32,600,000 results. These numbers are only going to increase. I am sure we would all agree and recognize the depth of information and how that affects our content strategy.

2) Time is limited. All of us have only 24 hours a day or 1,440 minutes a day. And, all of us are prioritizing our time as best we can to include the basics of eating, sleeping, taking care of ourselves and keeping relationships with loved ones, colleagues and friends.   No one can add to their time.

3) The marketing environment is complicated. There are many communications vehicles and marketing messages are around us all the time.

So, we are all busy, inundated with information and overwhelmed by the complicated options and information available to us.

What does that mean and what can we do?

Start by developing a deeper understanding of your audience.  This is definitely not easy but worth the time and effort.  In the past, companies have relied on demographics (age, race, gender, annual income) and geographic (where they live) to segment their audience sometimes psychographic elements were added but since psychographics is more difficult to define it has been a smaller part of the mix.  However, psychographics is really important to a more thorough and in depth knowledge of the audience.  Psychographics is also more effective at getting to the real motivators–it includes a study of how your target audience thinks, feels, acts and what they believe.

This requires that we acquire a deeper (much deeper) knowledge of our audience and that the communications message not only be delivered when, how and where our audience is but also be compelling and engaging to get the little time and attention that is currently being filled with vast amounts of information.

8 Steps to Identifying Relevant Marketing Content

people-target-fullsize-960What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is an ongoing process that involves creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience.

The primary objective is to attract current and potential consumers to engage, take action and support your product or service by sales and positive referrals and reviews.

Content marketing is not only an art but a creative process that provides relevant communication to your customers and prospects without overtly selling and potentially driving the consumer away. Instead of talking only about your products or services, you deliver information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, consumers ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.

To identify relevant content, I recommend using an 8 step content mapping approach that defines a process to gather appropriate, relevant information for the purposes of identifying and implementing the right content.

8 step content mapping process

Step 1.  Identify key personas.

In a previous post, I identified key identifiers for your target persona.  These identifiers include title, time in job, works with, daily tasks, responsibilities, likes as well as dislikes, frustrations, pressures, needs, activities, emotional mindset and role in buying process. For more information regarding identifiers refer to my previous blog post on building personas.

Step 2. Information/questions

What information or questions is the persona or personas, identified in step 1,  asking at each stage of the buying process?  The buying process includes 6 steps–awareness, interest, research, desire, user and finally evangelism.

Step 3.  What are the answers to their questions?

What answers can you provide for each of the questions identified?  Answer specifically and in depth those questions you anticipate your persona to be asking.

Step 4.  Review

Carefully look at your answers and identify what value added information you can provide that would be beneficial to your persona.   How are the products or services you provide able to tie into this process?

Step 5.  Map

Now take the time to mind map this information and see what content you have available or could research that would help your persona answer their questions and learn more in the process.  Take this time to identify steps to answering the questions-if the questions have multiple parts to the answer.

Step 6.  Research and Analyze

Look for places where more information is needed. Look at areas where you might be missing content.  Research and find answers to the holes in the content.

Step 7.  Create

Start creating content to fill the holes, answer the questions and add value to your customers with your product or service.

Step 8.  Evaluate

Keep track of the content you provide and evaluate analytically what benefit this information provided your company.

As with anything, this process takes time, effort and work but is well worth doing.

Building Personas– Part 1

people-network-blue-960x300What information should be included in developing a complete ideal persona?

 

Recently a client asked me to create a persona of their company’s key buyers.  He wanted to focus on the small percentage of consumers that spend the most and prove to be great advocates when talking about and working with his company.

Because this practice was new to the company, I started with a profile template that is familiar to me.  There are a number of persona templates available online and any would provide information needed.  However, some are more complex then others and can be a deterrent to getting the persona done and functional.

The first step included outlining the types of information that are helpful in the persona.  The second step was taking the template and talking to key buyers and advocates for this company.  In our exercise, we were able to fill in much of the information and only asked  customers about information not readily available or we weren’t sure about.

Information to include in a persona.

•    Title–If your major buyers work in small companies you may find that titles are a thing of the past.  So while identifying a specific title may be difficult, you can specify function which is still a valid selection.
•    Time in the job–How long have they been at their present job and how long have they been in the field?  This is a good indication of the group to target.
•    Who do they work with directly?  Who do they work with indirectly?
•    Responsibilities and daily tasks.  What are the daily job tasks and what are their key responsibilities?
•    Likes/dislikes include items relating to their job as well as personal likes/dislikes.  Review things this audience might appreciate during the sales process and things that they will definitely dislike if included in the sales process.
•    Frustrations and Concerns include both personal and job frustrations and concerns.
•    Pressures.  Again include both job and personal pressures.
•    Needs.  What needs is this person looking to fill both tangible and intangible.
•    Role in buying process and at what stage does the persona get involved.–The buying process consists of 6 stages.  Those stages are awareness, interest, research, desire, user and evangelist.  Which stage or stages is your persona involved in?
•    Key Drivers–What drives this persona to make the buying decision for your company’s products or services?  Include both tangible and intangible.

Once you have this information it helps to come up with a name and image.  Having a name and image of the persona helps all team members to think of this buyer as a real person.  I like to have the image available for meetings.  Or, as Steve Jobs did, designate an empty chair where the key persona joins in during meetings.

Remember that in the buyer persona, we are trying to learn who this person is both at a rational and emotional level.  We often make buying decisions by rationalizing our decisions but the emotional component is a strong influencer of behavior and should be studied.

Creating a name, image and persona is a bit like getting to know a friend so you can really understand your key customers.

Lifelong Learner

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”     Will Rogers

One of the keys to success, in both your professional and personal life, is making a commitment to be a lifelong learner.

LQThumb_116587314483430413Once you’ve internalized this mindset, you’ll find that you’re willing to invest time in yourself and your development. This goal doesn’t take away from what you are doing in your organization; it makes that time more valuable by making you more valuable as you increase your skill set and knowledge level.

Start by setting goals for your professional and personal development during your personal goal setting planning. Decide how often you’ll be meeting with your mentor, make a commitment to engage in a professional association, set a goal for the number of applicable books that you’ll read each year, and know how much time or how many newsletters you can commit to each week.

Write down your goals and record what you do. Recording your progress is the best way to see if you’re doing what you’ve committed to do.

And always take opportunities to keep on learning.

Enhancing your reputation and personal brand

Starting with an obvious sstock-illustration-12961409-reach-the-solutiontatement, many companies are reducing their workforce. These reductions add to a highly competitive environment workplace environment.   This makes it more important than ever to make the best impression possible to management, employers and potential clients and customers.  A recent Harvard University study found that 85% of workplace success is due to personal skills.
Workplace etiquette is important.  Here are a few pointers to improving your workplace impression.
1.  Don’t burn bridges.

Every person in your company can affect every other person.  Jobs are interconnected.  The person who you are rude to today could be the person you work for tomorrow or someone you may need to ask for help. Treat everyone with dignity and respect.  This goes along way to gaining a good reputation.

2.  Make meeting time useful.

When you need to have a meeting, keep in mind other participants are busy too and be prepared with materials or information needed for the meeting.  Thank attendees for their contributions and send out a meeting recap that summarizes what was discussed, agreed to and action items.

3.  Communicate promptly

When you receive a phone call or email, whether internally or from a client, be sure to respond in a timely manner.  If the answer requires more time then let the sender know that you are working on the answer and that you will keep them posted as to your progress. Don’t leave either your employer or client wondering what is happening with their request or they will assume you have dropped the ball.

4.  Using email or any electronic communication

Take time to carefully craft your message.  This includes checking spelling, punctuation, grammar and capitalization. Be specific, avoid unclear questions or one-word answers.  Email has a tone of it’s own so be aware of the tone of your communication.

5.  Respect Others’ Time

When you need to interrupt someone,  be polite and get to the point quickly, to allow them to get back to his work in progress.  Avoid interrupting meetings unless it is absolutely necessary.

6.  Dress for Success

Even in a casual environment, err on the side of caution.  Your appearance can imply to clients and coworkers that the situation, company or people involved aren’t worth the effort to present yourself respectably.

7.  No surprises–Keep Your Manager Informed

Be authentic and be sincere.  Don’t overdo compliments and agreements. Treat coworkers and managers with respect. Provide your boss with information, since your manager is ultimately responsible for your performance.  Inform your manager of delays, setbacks, new developments or concerns.

8.  Be timely

Time is almost always a factor in anything business related, from a deadline for a project or a meeting set to begin, don’t be late. It implies that you have things more pressing than your coworkers or clients, and more worthy of your attention.

9.  Remember the Basics

Remember your manners. “Please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” are some of the most basic spoken manners.  Avoid raising your voice and offensive language. Disrespectful, yelling and offensive language should be avoided.  That type of behaviour leaves a lasting impression that you don’t want.

A very simple way to look at it is treat others like you want to be treated.

8 Steps to writing your story

iStock_000019172466SmallRecently, I started listening to the “Writing Tools” podcasts available at iTunes university.  The author, Roy Peter Clark, outlines 23  rules that provide the nuts and bolts of writing effectively so that what we want to communicate comes through clearly to our readers.

The last chapter of this book describes a metaphoric writer’s workbench.  A five step description that describes how writers work.

As we develop our company stories these steps provide a basis for starting the process.

Step 1–Get your ideas.  Take the time to explore your environment.  Open yourself up to listening, watching and being mindful of your company and your business.  Look for ideas that will get your customers attention.

Step 2–Explore those ideas.  Look at your business as a storage room of ideas. Collect related and even unrelated details. Keep your mind and ears open.

Step 3–Collect evidence.  Get out of your office chair. Leave your office and explore your business environment.

Step 4-Find your focus.  Get to the heart of the story.  As the author of “Writing Tools” states “Break the shell and extract the nut.”   This step requires research, going through all the gathered information and critically thinking about the message and how the message is supported by clear evidence.  In this step, the focus could be expressed as a summary paragraph, mission statement, theme statement, or a question that your business story will answer for your customers.

Step 5–Select the best parts.  A writer knows that they can’t or don’t want to include everything.  It is in this process that they eliminate research that doesn’t fit or clearly document the focus of this business story.  I find this step a difficult one because I would like to include all the information that my hard work has generated.  However, my readers could become overwhelmed and miss the nugget of what I want to get across if I included everything.  Be selective.  Keep what you don’t use because it may be useful in another story but for now cut what you can’t effectively use to make your main point.

Step 6–Put your key points in order. Outline the scope of your work.  Develop a plan and work from that plan. Working from a plan gives you, as the writer, the benefit of a vision that allows you to see the story in your head and understand fully your mission.  At this stage, simply outlining the beginning, middle and end of your story is sufficient.

Step 7–Write a draft.  Just write, if you can, fast and free.  Don’t scrutinize or criticize your initial draft–just write and get your thoughts out in writing.  If you have taken the time to complete the first six steps this step will be more fluid. Remember this is a draft and for your eyes only so just write and write and complete a draft.

Step 8–Revise and clarify. Now is the time for rewriting.  Alone in your office, read your work out loud.  See how it flows.  Does it make sense? Does your story document your goal?

Roy Peter Clark identifies the steps in these key words…Sniff. Explore. Collect. Focus. Select. Order. Draft. Revise.  Now have a good time developing your business story.

Thinking about company growth

Sometimes, even if your business is doing okay, there are things that can be done to enhance your companies growth.

It might be you know the problem but don’t have time or resources to work on the solution or you might need an outside resource to come in and from a fresh perspective look at what is working and what isn’t.social-brain-fullimage-960

You may realize that you want to engage more effectively and efficiently with your current and potential customers.

You may hear all the buzz about social media and are not quite sure which social tools fit with your business model or how to effectively combine the traditional approaches with the social media approaches to effectively communicate your brand, have one voice and not be confusing to the audience you are working to engage.

It could seem like you are trying to find a path through a dark forest. If you don’t have a compass, a map and beginning and end point you could just end up getting lost in the deep dark forest. And, just like climbing a steep trail or heading up a mountain to get to the top it can be time consuming and exhausting.

However, with the right information, thorough knowledge and profile of your target audience(s), a solid competitive analysis, a good strategy and knowledge of marketing and communications tools your planning will be more effective and your organization can move toward increasing revenue rather then exhausting funds.

With all the noise and activity in the marketplace, it is easy to become swayed and moved in different directions but with the appropriate goals, objective and plan you will know where you are going. And, when course corrections are necessary and they will be, it will be easier to understand what needs to change and how to make that change.

Focusing–single tasking versus multitasking

speak-bubble-960I was in a meeting recently where several members of the audience were either on their laptop, smart tablet or checking their phones.  I wasn’t the speaker but I did feel sorry for him since I am not sure how much anyone got out of his talk.  Plus, many of the meeting attendees looked like they had sensory overload.  It probably didn’t help that the speaker included slides that were so packed with charts, graphs, and information.  However, that is a subject for another post.

Why is it that so many people look overwhelmed or burned out at work?  Well, studies show that nearly half of those employed workers are suffering from burn out on their jobs.

There are usually many reasons for employee burn out and some include the number of hours worked.  Since the economy has forced employers to lay off workers and downsize their workforce, those still employed are covering the gap resulting in longer working hours.

However, that isn’t the only reason,  some experts think that the reason for the burn out is that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time…multitasking.  In other words, working on laptops in meetings potentially taking notes but more realistically surfing the net, answering email during conference calls, eating lunch while in a meeting or at your desk, calling while driving–the list goes on.  I am also guilty of this and am making a conscious effort to focus and get adequate downtime.

While I can argue that technology lets us do our jobs better and faster it also has no stopping or starting points and no boundaries.  We can go anywhere and access our email, text messages, Facebook, twitter.  Sometimes it feels like I just have to look to see what new information popped up on my twitter feed or incoming email message.  That type of behavior detracts greatly from my focus and the work that I need to get done.

Why is lack of downtime a problem?  Because when there is no real downtime that causes a loss of productivity.  Then because we switch back and forth from our primary tasks which are important to something else that takes our attention away, we are increasing the time it takes to finish a task by an average of 25 percent.

So if you have a primary project that you need to get done and it would normally take you 2 hours to complete with all the other tasks it would take more like 2 1/2 hours–30 additional minutes–at least.  And, this is a small project–what if it is a project that takes 40 hours.  Not being able to focus will add at least 10 hours to the completion time. And, then with no downtime or shutoff point, there is the possibility of burn out.

I know that when I focus on getting a blog post done and I don’t let interruptions or other activities get in the way, I am not only more productive my post is done more quickly.

What are  some of the ways to set boundaries and aid against your own burn out.

  • Make a schedule of what you want to accomplish for the day.  I make my list the night before. Do the most important thing in the morning-right away.  Try to not be interrupted.  So for 60-90 minutes right away in the morning focus on your most important task for the day.  Then take time to reflect.Establish a 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off.. work 50 minutes on your primary project and then take a 10 minute break.
  • Work at a standing desk.. I like this idea allot and just got a standing desk for my office.
  • Establish regular, scheduled times to think about long term objectives.  One of my favorite HBO TV and book series  is called “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”  In one of the episodes the secretary of the owner of the agency asks her why she is not being more productive and has just been sitting and staring for an hour.  The owner replies that she was using that time to think and that thinking time is very important before moving ahead.  Truly spoken!
  • Exercise is also really important.  There are numerous studies on the benefits of exercise not the least of which is better cognitive function.
  • Take regular and real vacations..get away.
  • And, take time to enjoy the little things.  Maybe even get out that gratitude journal you got years ago and start writing in it.

Add, your own mental relaxation and downtime ideas and send them to me I would love to hear what you do to establish balance and rejuvenate your mental juices.

6 questions to answer before creating content.

I know it’s a temptation to want to move forward quickly when adding pages or new sections to your website.  But, it is really important to think about content and message before moving full speed ahead.

Before creating content,  take the time to answer the following questions.

  • What is the goal of this page or section?  Thinking through this question will not only help you determine the purpose but also the necessity of adding a page or section to your site.  It is necessary?  Is this information better handled elsewhere?  If this is the best place to add this information, what is the key point that you want to make.
  • What is the one thing that you want your reader to understand after they have read your copy? Skimming and scanning is the way web readers review content online, therefore, make sure that the design and copy of your page focuses on the key point and supporting points in a succinct manner.   Use headlines, subheads and bulleted copy for easy reading.  If applicable, visuals such as photos, video or slide presentations are helpful and can hold your audiences attention longer if they relate to the needs of the audience.
  • Who is the audience that this page or section is targeting? Knowing your audience and their goals, needs, ways of working, and their environments will help your site resonate with your audience.  Research, as much as you can, about your audience including who they are, where they are, major characteristics, their questions and their concerns and ultimately how what you are providing meets your audiences specific needs better that your competitors.
  • What phase of the buying cycle is the page addressing?   The buying cycle includes 6 distinct stages–awareness, interest, research, desire, user and evangelist.   Where does the audience you are targeting fit and what stage of the buying cycle are you focusing on?  I know we would all like users but you may find that your audience is only at the interest stage.  If so, they will need different information and approach then someone ready to buy.
  • Considering the topic you are covering, what is the primary benefits you need to communicate?   Knowing your audience is essential in knowing how to identify the key benefits of your product or service in relation to your audience.
  • What keywords and phrases do you need to include for search engine optimization?   The mentality of create and they will come does not work in any area of social media and particularly not your website.  Learn how to enhance your SEO by researching articles online.  There is a wealth of SEO articles all over the internet.

Taking care to answer these questions first will help make the development of the copy and design of your section or page much easier and more effective.

Social Local Mobile

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SoLoMo is when someone accesses social media on a mobile devise to obtain information on the local area.  I like to have my vacations planned a little better than this but many people don’t.

SoLoMo lends a great deal of help to the tourist or someone new in the area that wants to gain information about places to stay, places to eat and visit. All with recommendations on how others did or did not like their experience.

The hospitality industry has a great tool to make themselves known to consumers quickly and easily. And, with good recommendations, a possible place for the connected consumer to land.  By using the social networks (So), geo location (Lo) and mobile devices (Mo) everyone can find exactly what they need either close to home or when traveling for personal or business.

For example, after touring a few sites, the individual wants to find a place to eat.  Just using their smartphone and an application like Google Maps, Foursquare or Yelp, they can find a restaurant that satisfies their needs in an area that is close to their current location.  In addition, using the rating system, find the one with the best rating.
A recent Google survey found that 51% of mobile users find trip information with their smartphone.

Next time I am in an unfamiliar area, I will try this SoLoMo and see how helpful it is to me.