I lost a friend to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). As she wrote in a blog about her diagnosis: “You know you’re in trouble when you go to the doctor hoping you have MS.”

A young mother of three, she eventually succumbed to pneumonia brought on by the symptoms of this horrible disease.

A talented writer, she also had a wry wit and strong sense of irony, and I’m sure she would have been greatly amused by a fundraising campaign that has people dumping ice water on their heads for the honor of donating to a charity.

Yeah, I know that’s not how it’s supposed to work. Theoretically, what most of us know as “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” is an either/or proposition – get iced down or pony up cash. But it has captured the public’s minds and hearts and increased the ALS Association’s coffers by nearly $16 million at last report, for a 767 percent hike over the same period last year.

Let’s face it, from a social media and PR point of view: It’s brilliant.

Naysayers (hereinafter referred to as “party poopers” for the purposes of this document) are calling it a sterling example of how to appeal to the vanity of the Facebook/YouTube-obsessed. Others point to the relatively few people who suffer from this particular disease or the unlikelihood of the fundraising’s sustainability. Still more like to point out that it wasn’t an original idea or, at its nascence, had anything to do with ALS.

Our reply is: So what?

Can’t we just take it for what it is – a viral phenomenon that shows the power of social media to do good and spread the word? And, for our purposes, its place as a necessary component in almost any public outreach effort?

People with ALS eventually lose their ability to speak. This campaign speaks for them in an inclusive way that creates community. Okay, so it may be a flash in the pan, but it shone bright and long enough to raise needed research dollars.

May we all be so successful.

The term Brand Ambassador means different things to different people. In some usages, it’s a corporate position; in others, it’s college kids handing out swag. Often, it means empowering employees to go forth and spread the word. And, increasingly, it means building a power base with a product’s or service’s fans.

In that regard, following are a few ideas to fuel the buzz you need from customers to create excitement for your brand.

1. Know the customers most passionate about your product. Look at the base you have and build from there. Google your company or product and see what’s being said. Then start brainstorming about how to turn comments into       commitment.

2. Create an aura of exclusivity. Not long ago, we talked about Maker’s Mark, a bourbon with an official Ambassador Program. What makes it cool is that it isn’t advertised (at least we haven’t seen it); it’s a word-of-mouth sort of thing that makes Ambassadors feel unique. (Trust me, if you know one, they never shut up about the product and look for it everywhere they go.)

3. Let your employees know what you’re doing and why. Get them excited, as well. You can even provide incentives for bring true Ambassadors on board.

4. Go social. Set up forums for your fans and get conversations started on social media or on your own web site.

5. Encourage your active Ambassadors to invite kindred souls. Remember that you’re not searching so much for quantity as quality when it comes to people who represent your brand.

6. Reward your Ambassadors. Whether with the occasional lagniappe, or insiders’ emails or special status at events or notifications specific to them.

7. Listen! Along the same lines, don’t forget to listen to what your Ambassadors say, acknowledge it and, if appropriate, act on it. There’s no better reward than knowing you’re being heard.

There’s more, of course, but these are some of the basics.

A good place to start is the next time someone says, “I use your product/service all the time.” Instead of thanking them, ask questions as to why. You may find out you already have Ambassadors. You just have to reach out to them to make the most of their enthusiasm.

Need help getting started? You know where we live.

The Next-Mark leadership team often shares stories of brands and companies that have influenced our perception of the marketing industry and shaped the way we do business. Our focus tends to center around the start-ups that beat to different drums, color outside the lines and embrace the unconventional.

In 2007, two buddies were sitting around drinking beer when they decided to go into business together. (Admittedly, it was not the perfect environment for cogent thought, although I’m fairly sure I once “invented” pet insurance under similar conditions.) Anyway, their idea manifested into a retail craft beer store that built so much camaraderie among enthusiasts that it quickly evolved into a Tampa tavern named World of Beer (WOB).

Today, the company has more than 25 outlets in Florida alone, each offering a revolving selection of 500 craft beers. That said, however, WOB’s biggest seller is its sense of community, and behind it is a ploy that would make any marketing person’s heart sing.

Here’s how it works:

When you (pay to) join the WOB Loyalty Club, you get a T-shirt making you an official member. From there, you’re encouraged to drink as many different beers as possible to pile up points and make yourself eligible for more shirts, weekly free beer, glassware, Koozies, special events and your name on the wall.

It’s “Cheers” on steroids because everyone is Norm. And you get to choose your own nickname.

And, while the concept draws people of all ages, it’s absolutely perfect for my generation. Think about it: At WOB, all you have to do in your quest for glory is show up and buy something. No skill required. There’s even an app that keeps track of your beers and your points for you.

It’s genius. I mean, where else would someone go and sport a golf shirt that proudly announces he’d spent thousands of dollars on beer for the privilege of wearing it?

WOB came in early in the craft beer craze, which probably helped, and the corporate office now is making tweaks that include the addition of food and other beverages, so it will be interesting to see what the future will hold. But for right now, it seems to have hit the market – and its target market – just right. Kudos.

IMHO, “perfect” is the new “like” when it comes to over usage. It’s driving me nuts. I spell my name for someone, and he or she says, “Perfect!” Of course, it’s perfect; I know how to spell my own name! I give someone my phone number, which is, of course, “Perfect!” Where exactly is the perfection – in the sheer beauty of the assembled digits or my ability to remember 10 sequential numbers? Grrr.

Anyway, this rant was brought to you courtesy of my initial distrust of a recent Content Marketing article about creating “perfect” content product. It turns out, however, that while perfection may be hyperbole, the piece offered some good guidance, promoting copy that is:

Real-time: Taking advantage of current trends and relevant news stories to remain topical.

Fact-driven: Leveraging creditable statistics and solid information for credibility.

Visual: Remembering that visual content gets processed much (much, much) faster than the written word.

Efficient: Having the right people and right number of people in place to do the job well.

Curated: Using content from others to create useful information for your audiences.

What it boils down to is the thought that has to go into content creation and management, being constantly on alert for news you can announce or share and getting it out there in a form people want to access.

A perfectly good pursuit at all times.

At Next-Mark, we use Associated Press style, unless we’re asked to do otherwise. This works well for me, as my roots are dug deep in journalism. It also works well for our clients when we’re talking to working journalists via press releases, news alerts or advisories. It’s a matter of not wasting their time and respecting what they do by speaking the same language.

The latest version of the AP Style Book (“The journalist’s bible wherever you are”) was released this past May, “optimized for the desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet.” The version sitting next to me has a copyright of 1977, handwritten changes and a stamped reminder to “return to” a newspaper that went belly up in the ‘80s.

Yeah, we’ve both been around a long time.

I was taught that AP style was created not only in the name of consistency, but also brevity – using the fewest punctuation marks and shortest accepted spellings to allow for more copy per space. That’s why its perhaps most recognizable trait is a long-held disdain for the use of a comma before “and” in a series. Today, that also extends to having only one space after a sentence.

Of course, you don’t have to know AP style or be a former journalist to write a press release, but it does go a long way in making it easier for editors to accept, as rewriting corporate announcements are not exactly the dream they hoped to live.

In later blogs, we’ll talk about other roads to journalists’ hearts. For now, though, remember there’s a method to the madness of getting press attention – and sometimes it’s a matter of style.

 

 

Years ago, I was writing the script for a meeting that included the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, or “DepSec,” as we said. The first time I used the abbreviation in the computer document, however, a box popped up that said, “Do you mean ‘dipstick’?”

No, I most certainly did not. And, besides, I’ll have you know that I’ve always been quite capable of making mistakes on my own, thank you, without electronic assistance.

I was reminded of this by a recent online article about common errors made by even the most professional writers – all by themselves.

One of my own pet peeves targeted in the post was the repetition of words, as in,  “The recently announced program is one of the first programs ever addressing this problem, and the program format is designed for maximum participant participation in the program.” While such sentences get the point across, they can raise doubts about your attention to detail.

A second was misplaced modifiers, as in:  “Created in the 17th century, visitors will be amazed by the architecture of the mosque.” Hopefully, the mosque, not the people, debuted in the 1600s. Otherwise, there’s a bigger story there.

One noted “error” that cut a little too close to home involved phrases one tends to use over and over. While this makes readers feel they know you, it also can dampen the copy’s effect. (That said, I had to consider that I use “that said” and “consider” way too much.)

You’ve seen legions of other writing errors, I’m sure, from incorrect choices among homonyms to the eternal confusion between “which” and “that.” On the downside, they can make you wonder about the writer; on the upside, they can make you feel superior.

Still, the fact that someone cared enough to write an article gave me both hope and inspiration: hope that respect for language lives on and inspiration to do better by it.

 

Since my invitation to the Content Marketing World meeting in Sydney apparently got lost in the mail, I’m attending vicariously through its web site and tweets.

One speaker that caught my eye (not my ear, as I wasn’t there and still bitter) was a rep of the Australian Football League, an organization’s whose AFL Media site is being lauded as a showcase for thoughtful content marketing on a huge scale. Among his tips that might apply to any business were:

1. Storytelling is at the heart of content marketing. Your company’s story may not involve scantily clad young men running around a elliptical field, but it likely has its own points of interest that can be used to connect with others. (To find them, however, you may have to work with someone not as close to the subject as yourself.)

2. Determine your content “dead zones.” For AFL Media, those were Wednesdays, when everyone was pretty much over what happened the previous week and not yet fired up for the next. As noted, these zones will be different for every brand, but company’s should trust their analytics to ensure posting when the audience is most engaged.

3. Tell it, warts and all. As the speaker and I share a journalism background, I can understand his desire for genuine, credible news – good and bad. That said, this particular tip might be best for the largest brands that remain under the public microscope and need to tell their story their own way.

4. Try, test and discard if necessary. The gaping maw of digital media can be intimidating, but its upside is the ease with which you can change and adapt your strategy as you learn. The bottom line: Be brave. After all, you could have the next “Barney Cam” (look it up).

Forbes recently divulged the following “5 Surprising Marketing Trends for 2013.” Though the article was targeted at small businesses and entrepreneurs, there just may be something for organizations of all sizes to learn in this look ahead.

1. Smarter social media

They’re preaching to the choir here, but we agree that not all social media sources are suited to every industry. Theoretically, according to Forbes, this will be the year when small businesses “become confident and adept enough at social media integration to pick the specific platforms that make the most sense for their business.” (Hopefully, others will follow, thinking before engaging and wasting time on sometimes half-hearted efforts that produce no return.)

2. Simplicity will reign supreme

Pushed to the edge of overstimulation by bright, flashy, complicated input, consumers in 2013 supposedly will respond to marketing strategies that re not only simple in nature, but promote goods and services that serve to simplify the individual’s life, or even just their customer experience. (Fingers crossed. We know we, at least, would enjoy a rest from glitz and Gangnam.)

3. Campaign-based marketing ill take a break

According to Forbes, the problem with focusing on a tactic that involves a set group of marketing activities and processes centered on one theme is that it operates on a company-based timeline. As consumers operate in real-time, the theory goes, social media and web sites will become the primary drivers of marketing in 2013. (For our nickel, marketing campaigns often can make good sense unless they detract from, or dilute, the power of the brand.)

4. Marketing will be more tied to revenue generation

In 2013, it is envisioned, marketing’s worth will start being weighed against sales growth vs. lead generation. This could entirely change marketing’s key performance indicators, according to Forbes, and lead to more effective marketing altogether. (Music to our ears. As a business strategy company, as well as a communications firm, we’ve always measured ourselves by the impact of our work on our clients’ growth and profitability.)

5. Mobile will get its due

Based on the fact that more people purchased smartphones than PCs in 2012, Forbes sees mobile strategy as a “bigger, boler line item on every major marketer’s strategy this year.” (As in social media, the trick will be knowing when to jump in and how best to do it.)

So there you have it:  Marketing in 2013 will be smart, simple, real-time, sales-focused and available on your phone.

Easy enough, huh? Not really. But we can help. Give us a buzz and get 2013 off to a roaring start for your company

 

 

Most likely.

Do you have expertise in your industry? Do you have useful information that would appeal to clients and prospects? Can your product or service resolve a problem or challenge they face?

If the answer is “yes,” white papers can be an integral component in establishing your market leadership and drawing users to your web site to order or download them.

In that regard, here are some tips for creating effective white paper content:

– Save readers’ time by succinctly explaining a specific challenge that exists, i.e. a new regulatory mandate, and advising them how to successfully address it. You don’t have to name your own product or service – often it’s best not to – but you can show how its unique features and benefits are integral to the solution.

– The topic, in and of itself, may be boring (laws and regulations generally aren’t written to entertain), but the impact is not – or you wouldn’t be writing about it. Take the subject to the personal/corporate level with examples and just overall good writing.

– Break it up. Charts, graphs and quotes not only pull the reader through the copy but also highlight key points.

– Start with an outline, which is approved by all appropriate persons before writing begins. There are many ways to attack one subject, and opinions can vary on key points. An outline provides the writer(s) with a clear goal and manages the expectations of the client/manager.

There’s more, of course, but this is a start. If you need help initiating or maintaining a store of white papers, give us a call. We stand ready to help.

Dusting off its crystal ball, PR Daily recently made six public relations and social media predictions for 2013. They are (with our thoughts included):

1. LinkedIn is the new Facebook, and companies will increasingly recognize its marketing potential. Also, as adoption and activity on LinkedIn surge, journalists will spend more time using the platform for research, identifying sources and breaking stories. (We say: The networking opportunity is great, as well.) 2. Governments will go social. The 2012 election generated record-breaking activity on Twitter. In 2013, social media will see an increase in political conversations, driving its adoption as a news source for citizens and traditional media. (We say: Even if you don’t fit in this picture, it’s always good to be where people are talking.)

3. The reputable journalist is revived. The rise of blogging and social media has increased the volume of online news and the speed at which it’s available, often at the expense of responsible reporting. The “citizen journalist’s” 15 minutes of fame are running out and information-overloaded consumers will demand a higher standard of reporting. (We say: Hurray!)

4. PR goes mobile. PR practitioners have learned to draft compelling email pitch subject lines and deliver a message in 140 characters. The next step will be crafting mobile-friendly content as millions of consumers and journalists use their phones as their primary news source. (We say: Simplicity + substance + brevity will drive effective communications.)

5. Pictures tell the story. The rise of infographics, photo sharing and visual storytelling will push PR pros and their clients to deploy messages visually in order to compete in a crowded content market. (We say: As visual content grows in the digital space, the traditional storyboard will become even more important.)

6. PR wins the social media battle. The debate over which corporate discipline (i.e. PR, marketing, advertising) “owns” social media is over. As more businesses recognize the opportunities and threats social media present to their reputation, they will turn to PR pros who can manage the dialog between an organization and the public, achieving results that directly impact the bottom line. (We say: Good. Many companies have gone unguarded too long.)

So what do YOU think? Agree? Disagree? Talk among yourselves.