We’ve written in the past about strategic messaging, how it lays the groundwork for all business communications and how it can prepare you to respond to any situation.

And, boy, do we have a situation.

COVID-19 and its ramifications have changed almost everything about consumerism, causing massive shifts in customers’ buying habits, needs and priorities. The battlefield for attention also has shifted, with businesses worrying less about getting through the noise of their competitors and more about penetrating the mind of consumers in survival mode.

So, you may ask, how can a strategic messaging plan created in better days guide your communications in the face of an unprecedented, unanticipated and volatile worldwide event?

You might be surprised.

First, the strategic message planning process enables companies to establish who they are and what they want to represent. For all the clients we’ve helped in this journey, we’re proud to say, this has included some sort of giving back and caring about their customers and communities. This solid basis for empathy – perhaps the most treasured form of communication at this time – can direct what a company does in the face of this crisis and how it does it. Whether it’s using a 3D printer to make masks (as one of our clients has) or simply reaching out to say “we care” to reducing prices or donating money to organizing individuals in a related cause, a company can follow through in the way that reinforces their brand promise.

Next, as strategic messaging contains an internal aspect, it’s important to keep in touch with your employees, reinforcing what they already knew and being transparent in your dealings with them. How you treat them in this time is a reflection of who you are and extends beyond your walls to impact corporate image.

Strategic message planning also looks at ways in which organizations can disseminate their messages, deciding on the best ones for the right times and campaigns. With access to a variety of vehicles already in place, businesses can shift emphasis as needed. Obviously, now is not the time to invest in billboard advertising, but it is the time, for instance, to capture eyes through your social media platforms and online sponsorships.

As a company’s messaging captures its “voice,” organizations can build on that for consistency in image and communications. If you’re a serious venture bent on problem solving, keep it up and, if possible, applying it to the current situation. If you’re known to be a bit whimsical, feel-good messages can reinforce your brand while helping to ease anxiety.

Finally, strategic messaging is the fuel of crisis communications, providing guidance for outreach to all your constituencies – from employees to investors – already knowing how they prefer to be reached and what resonates with them.

When your company is ready to center itself with a strategic messaging process or protect itself with a crisis communications plan, we’ll be here to help.

Until then, stay safe and stay in touch with those who matter to you.

Roughly 90 percent of U.S. businesses reportedly use social media as a marketing tool. That number is a testament to the power of online outreach and the opportunities it can provide to grow sales. As we head into 2020, those opportunities no doubt will grow themselves, as technology continues to evolve at an astonishing pace and in possibly bewildering array. Following are some of the related trends we believe you can expect to see in the New Year.

  1. Content Continues Its Reign . . .

. . . and high quality is expected. Remember that no one knows what you do better than you, so use that knowledge not only to inform but to assist your prospects and customers. The more content, the better, as you make it easier for search engines to find you and your relevant information.

  1. Internal Communication Strengthens

Businesses will take a fresh look at an under-used weapon – their own employees – by aligning and engaging them with corporate goals and plans, using digital tools to create an atmosphere that spurs productivity, team work and mutual pursuit of excellence.

  1. Brands Take a Stand

This election year is expected to see more brands weigh in on issues that impact their brand purpose and audiences, as noted in Forbes. “Research has shown that trust among government is down, and more people are looking to their workplace and brands that emulate their personality and beliefs to drive change. For brands, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate their cultural relevance.”

  1. Customer Experience Drives Sales

The customer experience is predicted to become the leading brand differentiator in 2020 taking  Customer Relationship Marketing to a new level of necessity. “Consumers agree, according to a 2019 Salesforce survey. In it, 84% of respondents ranked the importance of experience at the same level as products or services.”

  1. Companies Get Personal

Most leading marketers agree that 2020 is going to see an explosion in personalized marketing, reaching out to consumers tired of the generic and the irrelevant. We saw this coming, in a recent survey 90 percent of consumer participants said they would be more likely to give their business to a company that offered them a personalized experience.

  1. Surveys Get Shorter, “Smarter”

Tired of tedious, and often clunky surveys, consumers will drive companies to create “micro surveys” as quick pop-ups on phones or websites if they are to succeed in information gathering in the next decade. The most sophisticated research eventually will incorporate artificial intelligence in the data collection process and lay the foundation for real-time, “conversational” marketing.

  1. Going with the Pros

It’s taken awhile, but business leaders are acknowledging that digital marketing is its own animal and needs a plan and strategy. Rather, digital marketing needs to be driven by people who know what they’re doing on each and every relevant platform available – while always looking for the next.

  1. Thoughtful Outreach

Now, more than ever, it’s not enough to just post on a regular schedule. Each piece of outreach should be developed to inspire conversations, establish your place in existing ones and create meaningful relationships.

We no doubt will be talking more in-depth about these and other digital trends in the New Year, as they continue to alter marketing in our ongoing digital age. Until then, we’re here to take on the task or answer any questions you might have as 2020 looms with unprecedented outreach opportunities. Wishing you continued success in the new year!

 

We once engaged with a new client whose leaders were among the most enthusiastic and involved professionals we’d ever seen. They were revved up about their company’s abilities, its accomplishments and its future, and eager to tell us why. Thus, our strategic messaging sessions with them produced marketing communications gold.

Funny thing, though. Very few nuggets of that gold could be found in their existing marketing outreach. Pretty much none.

The reason was obvious. As a challenger brand in a competitive market, they had positioned themselves to align with their peers, saying what those companies said and what they thought they were expected to say. Given their success, it obviously worked. But, given that success, it was now time to step away from the crowd, showing their unique niches, abilities and personality.

This involved a new strategic plan and a strategic messaging architecture to support it. We were happy to help with the latter, creating a foundation for a cohesive image, compelling content, a strong voice in the marketplace and consistency in all interactions – with employees, prospects, customers, investors and partners.

There are various types of strategic messaging frameworks, some simple, some extremely complicated. Some plans are created internally; others rely on outside consultants for a fresh, unbiased view. All, however, should incorporate the following:

  • A value statement that lays out organizational priorities and core beliefs.
  • A positioning statement that puts the “why” in “why us.”
  • The target audiences to be reached.
  • How the organization meets those audiences’ needs, solves their problems or improves their lives.
  • Primary and secondary messaging to keep the proverbial horse in front of the proverbial cart.

There are entire books written on the subject, but, simply put: Messaging can have more of an impact than almost anything else in business. When driven by strategy, it also can be a source of rejuvenation and a springboard for advancement in the marketplace.

Let us know if you’re ready to jump on that trampoline. It can be fun and exhilarating, as well as meaningful.

If there’s one form of business communication that has stood the test of time and made an easy transition into the Digital Age, it’s the newsletter. In a world ruled by new technologies, it may be hard to imagine how it has survived as a content distribution channel. Yet, it remains a content marketer’s favorite medium and serves as a key tool in your digital marketing arsenal.
Not convinced? Below we have put together five reasons you should consider joining the successful businesses that have used their expertise and thoughtful content to make valuable connections with clients and prospects through the power of the email newsletter.
1. That ROI Thing
 Email marketing is the absolute easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get your organization in front of people who matter. One study, in fact, found that for every $1 spent on email marketing, $44 is made in return, Email Newsletters pull their weight in this type of cost-effective outreach by being able to address issues, solve problems and educate, creating a community of readers and building trust.
2. Elite Positioning
With the right information in it, a digital newsletter can position you as the thought leader among like businesses or within an industry. You become the authority readers go to source when they have questions or are seeking solutions. And, significantly, you’re the one they refer to friends, family and others. Once you get someone on your list, you’re already preaching to the choir – to people open to building a relationship with you.
3. Long Engagements
Statistics show how that email newsletter readers spend 80-percent more time on its host site – a significant commitment in this day and age. And, once your digital newsletter is opened and read, the user may just stick around to see what else is there. Links within the newsletter also build on the interest you’ve created, by redirecting readers to other site sections and adding weight to your value story.
4. Identity Heft
Digital communication is hands down the timelier format for news, updates and announcements. Email newsletters, by virtue of their ease and immediacy, enable you to speak to your target audience about who you are now, with up-to-date insight into what is happening with your organization, brand identity, values and philosophy.
5. It Isn’t Over When It’s Over
Once you’ve sold a consumer something or provided a needed service, you’ve completed more than just a transaction. You’ve shown that your marketing has worked, and you have gotten to know the individual a little better. Digital analytics offered by some email marketing platforms can also help you further hone and customize your newsletter so you may zero in on the appropriate target audience.
These points represent just some of the many “whys” of adding digital newsletters to your marketing mix. As for the “hows,” you’ll need strong, compelling, on-brand content written in a professional, yet personal, way. The document should be visually compelling, as well, without being overdone. There are other fine points of technology and tracking, but, all in all, your digital newsletter can be the best – and fastest – way to build relationships, your brand and your business.

For years, we’ve been trumpeting the value of “content marketing,” that is, the consistent generation and distribution of content that customers and prospects find relevant and useful. During that time, we’ve seen a number of companies attempt to hop on the content bandwagon – only to fall off again when they missed the mark.

Whether your organization is on the sidelines or leading the parade, here are some trends we’re seeing that you may wish to consider as you create and/or tweak your strategic marketing plan for 2018.

  • Real writing. By that we mean the products of professional writers. Companies that staff or outsource content creation by trained professionals will have a leg up. Not only will they have better content, but it will be generated more quickly by people accustomed to deadlines and adept at story telling.
  • Real thought. For instance, one of the marketing flavors of the day is the infographic. Ostensibly a vehicle for disseminating complex information in an understandable form, many of this ilk appear to so cluttered that it requires an advanced engineering degree to sort out. It’s not enough to have content – in any form – it must be content created with the reader in mind and promoted in the right way to the right audience(s).
  • Real time. There are two factors at work here. First, it appears that organizations are creating content less on a hard schedule – “We need a blog every Friday!” – and more when they have something worthwhile to say. This is a good thing. Just as with press releases, less can be so much more. The second factor involves the growth of livestreaming of video. Look for more as, according to a widely reported survey, more than 80 percent of respondents said they would rather watch a live video from a brand than read a blog.
  • Real accountability. Whether you take our advice of employing professional writers or not, make sure someone is in charge of your content creation, blogging, social media, etc. That person should have the long view of your goals and assure that all supporting documentation moves those goals along.
  • Real commitment. Content marketing is only as powerful as the effort behind it. For instance, what comes to mind when you’re on a company’s web site and discover it hasn’t posted a blog, a press release, a white paper, etc. in months? Or there’s no original content, just pass-alongs of someone else’s thinking? Not exactly confidence inspiring, is it? The point is that, as with any worthwhile endeavor, you must be in it to win it.

Content marketing is not to be taken lightly. It requires purpose, planning and follow-through. Though the journey takes time and energy, however, the destination promises significant rewards.

Let us know if we can help you get there.

A recent study, “The Science of Social Video: Turning Views into Value,” by the Vanson Bourne international research firm has a lot to say about a hot topic – the impact of social video on commerce.

We’ve been promoting videos for our clients – social and otherwise – for some time now, and reports such as this only solidify our commitment to the medium. If you are still on the fence for your organization, however, here are a few findings that led Vanson Bourne to conclude that “social video is driving significant brand interactions.”

  • Nearly 80 percent of consumers surveyed reported engaging with brands on social media, such as YouTube and Facebook.
  • Three in four respondents linked social video viewing to purchasing decisions.
  • Consumers surveyed reported spending an average of six hours per week watching video content on social media networks alone, and 67 percent said that this amount has increased in the past 12 months.
  • Americans emerged as the most likely to watch ‘how-to’ videos.

In addition, nearly 80 percent of respondents agreed that video the easiest way is to get to know a brand online.

We belief that’s the crux, as that’s what marketing today is all about – creating relationships and encouraging ongoing conversations. Pictures merely sweeten (and can hasten) the deal.

Still, as in most media, competition is fierce and only the strong will prosper. A video is only as good as the message it conveys, the emotions it creates and the results it drives. Thus, the incredible marketing opportunity afforded by social video could be quickly diminished by poor quality.

If social video is, indeed, a part of your marketing plan (and we believe that, in many cases, it should be), it requires a special skill set to get it right. Getting it wrong can get it noticed and shared, but not in the way an organization had hoped.

These are exciting times for an exciting media outlet. If we’ve piqued your interest, give us a buzz to learn more. We would be happy to discuss whether social video is right for your business, your product and your goals and how we can help you get started.

Just as the shoemaker’s child goes barefoot, marketing agencies sometimes forget to employ the same customer experience tactics for themselves that they do for their clients. That is, they get so wrapped up in the work that they forget to build the relationship. Then, at the end of the project or contract, while the client may walk away happy – he or she may also walk away forever.

That’s because the work is not enough.

Clients expect you to do good work when they hire you. Unfortunately, they may think anyone they hire can do the same caliber of work, so it doesn’t really matter whom they choose.

That’s why you have to make yourself the obvious choice, every time and all the time.

Often, it boils down to adherence to the Four Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Commitment. And, while it may seem simple, their navigation actually is about as easy as a tightrope walk.

Communication is more than just keeping in touch. It is an ongoing process of give and take, but giving and taking in a way that is non-disruptive for both your organization and the client. That’s why a front-loaded system works best; that is, a strategic look at what already is being said and the goals of, and agreement on, new messaging. This reduces the need for meetings and constant wheel re-invention, enabling all to spend their time more productively and in a less stressful way. How does this create a strong relationship? With this approach, you become the archivist – the person/group that already has the informational foundation from which to launch more, and new, campaigns.

Collaboration, while easy to define, is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some clients are more hands-on; others are more than happy to let you take the wheel. It all comes down to each client’s specific rhythms and comfort zones. It also ties in with what some call a concierge strategy, which focuses on providing exemplary service, advice and guidance to meet a wide variety of immediate needs. In marketing, however, it also involves taking the time to listen and understand the client’s long-term goals, marrying that with any episodic requests or one-off projects in order to promote a cohesive marketing effort. The best collaborations fall into the middle of the extremes, based on the mutual trust and respect that form the foundation for productive interactions.

Creativity, of course, is key – but not just for creativity’s sake. It is a sad fact that some agencies can get so caught up in the dazzle that they forget the message. The point is to make the client stand out in its market and industry, but in a good way and a way that builds and maintains momentum. We all have commercials we love but we couldn’t name the sponsor if our lives depended upon it. That’s why it is so important to help clients develop creative strategies that align with their business goals and generate a sustainable conversation about their brands.

Commitment, on the other hand, is one area in which it’s all right to be a little self-centered, nurturing a passion to do your best work at all times and pride that will allow you to do no less. This may sound like a no-brainer and it is – in the most literal way.

That’s because true commitment is a product of the heart, truly caring about the client’s future and being proud to do your part.

Like any strong relationship, the creation of an exceptional client experience builds up over time and requires concerted effort. And, as in any relationship worth pursuing, it requires regular tune-ups to keep it strong and never taking the connection for granted. In marketing, that means assuring the client stays on course but not on automatic pilot, engendering the confidence and loyalty that keeps the bond strong.

A recent New York Times article, “More Wretched News for Newspapers as Advertising Woes Drive Anxiety,” took me back to my days as a print journalist, when a certain editor, to keep us humble, would say, “Remember, you’re just filling the white space around the ads.”

He was right. At least at that time, studies showed that people, when presented with multiple publishers, subscribed to the newspaper whose ads reflected their local shopping patterns. For some of those people, nothing we ever wrote would be as important as a dollar-off coupon for ground beef.

But I digress.

The issue here is the bleak future of newspapers as they continue to be drained of the lifeblood that is print advertising and the question it raises, that is, where are those ads going? The answer, you may have guessed, is at your fingertips – on your phone and personal devices.

As reported in AdAge, the latest local ad revenue forecast from BIA/Kelsey indicates that revenue from local-focused online ads will exceed that of traditional ads aimed at local audiences by 2018. This “digital transformation,” statistics show, is taking place across the nation and “risks sidelining traditional print ads.” It also isn’t helping the television industry, as a new report by eMarketer projects that U.S. digital ad sales will surpass traditional TV for the first time by the end of this year.

The bright side for advertisers is that the emergence of digital outreach widens, rather than narrows their opportunities, offering new ways to win new customers.

Still, danger lurks, as every type of advertising – from sandwich boards to emails to the most sophisticated digital ad – requires a different type of knowledge and expertise to create and execute correctly, and most all campaigns require a mix of media. Further, when initiating digital outreach, which can far exceed any publication’s circulation or TV’s program viewership, advertisers pretty much have to get it right the first time.

In other words, it’s not for amateurs.

If you’re interested in initiating or transforming your own advertising, let’s start a conversation. We’d be happy to share our insights and help you share your word.

White papers are a great way to demonstrate corporate expertise, create a thought leadership position in an industry and provide value to prospects, customers and others.

Once done, these publications can serve as grist for social media, trade journal articles, presentations and even marketing collateral, with some added spin. When done well, they get passed on, expanding your reach in perhaps unexpected ways. When refreshed, they give you another opportunity to reach out to your target audiences.

Yep, white papers can do a lot – if, that is, you don’t ask them to do too much.

There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This sad fate can befall white papers, as well, when too many people with too many ideas attempt to create one solid document. With that in mind, here are a few things to remember when planning and creating a white paper.

  • Choose your writer or writing team carefully. If outsourced, look for experience, expertise and demonstrated success. If internal, make sure you are using subject matter experts who not only have writing talent but also actually want to do it. People who love to write – and are good at it – often will jump at the chance. Those who don’t – or aren’t – can bring progress to a halt.
  • Create an outline of the issue/topic you wish to address and product/service capabilities you want to highlight. Remember: You’re not making a sales pitch; you’re solving a problem or providing elucidation.
  • Decide on the key topics you want to showcase through callouts, bullets, sidebars and graphics to pull the reader through – or back.
  • Stay on topic! Throwing in additional – especially disparate – subjects as you go along dilutes your primary message and doesn’t do other topics justice. If a new subject is that good, consider giving it its own paper.
  • Know what makes your audiences tick. Don’t assume. If your white paper misses their hot buttons, you’re assured of a cold reception.
  • Back up every point you make with facts, statistics, quotes from experts, etc.
  • Set a deadline and meet it. Don’t let it become the project that won’t go away.
  • Make sure the design is as professional as the copy and adds to, rather than detracts from, readability.
  • Once it’s done, actively promote it. Posting it on your web site is not enough.

Think of the white paper as the elder statesman of persuasive writing – knowledgeable, authoritative and impressive. Given the respect it deserves in its creation, it can help your organization reflect those same attributes, building business and reputation.

Experts agree that online marketing is going to grow in leaps and bounds in 2016, with new formats and fresh ways to use old ones. It’s the wave of the future and those that don’t catch it could find themselves left far behind.

While opinions vary as opinions will, following are a few of the trends that the collective brain trust agrees should remain on businesses’ radar for 2016.

  • Content will remain enthroned, and unique story telling will keep customers and prospects interested by giving them information they actually want.
  • This year’s strategies won’t necessarily work next year. As in all things marketing, Innovation will be key.
  • In addition to ever-popular videos, visuals such as infographics will continue their upward movement in marketing plans, delivering messages and reducing landing-page bounce rates.
  • Wearable technology will add more details on people’s habits to the information already in all the embedded technologies that collect and exchange data. For marketers, this means outreach that can be behavior-driven.
  • Businesses will put more “social” in social media, stepping outside the box to show personality and create conversations.
  • There will be shifts in SEO best practices to match changes in technology.
  • Web sites will continue to transition to be more user-friendly for mobile.
  • Among platforms to watch for relevance to your business:
    • Live streaming video apps – such as Blab, Meerkat and Periscope – that enable a more personalized customer experience.
    • Snapchat, which is all about exclusive content that’s shorter, more to the point and has an expiration date so the old stuff doesn’t linger.
    • Instagram, which is seen as a major player as business marketing moves to mobile.
    • Periscope, an emerging video app is gaining strides in real-time business communications.
    • Expanding search engine capabilities on social networks, such as Pinterest.
    • Mobile payment apps that speed purchases and provide rewards that keep users coming back.
    • Virtual reality devices, such as the soon-to-be-released Oculus Rift, which could take online advertising into a new dimension.

Got it? If not, we do.

Let us know if we can help as you face the brave new world of digital marketing in 2016.