You can’t have a conversation unless you listen and respond accordingly. Otherwise, there’s no context and participants are pretty much talking to themselves. It’s the same with persuasive writing. To do it right, there’s as much ear-to-ground as fingers-to-keyboard involved.

This philosophy is at the heart of our new tagline, Content to Conversation, which actually is less a line than a circle of ongoing listening and conversing – all with the goal of persuading consumers to choose a client’s product or service.

The starting point is our initial engagement, in which we listen to clients to get their perspectives of who they are, their competitive environment and where they want to go. At this stage, we both collaborate and lead, integrating the client’s insights with our marketing knowledge and experience.

We also “listen” to the competition and market, adding to the client conversation and discovering its differentiators – those things that make them stand out.

We then create a plan that includes content designed to create positive change in the way the client and its products and services are perceived. When done correctly, that persuasive content begins a conversation among the client and its customers and potential customers, selling product, building loyalty and creating new champions.

The cycle is ongoing, as companies and consumers change over time.

There are some constants, however, including the basic rules of the persuasive content creation that forms the core of all messaging. These include:

  • Never promise what you can’t deliver or defend. (How many “world famous fries” have you eaten in your lifetime?)
  • Speak directly to the audience(s) targeted. (Know their needs; don’t guess.)
  • Promote trust in the company through specific, fact-based assertions. (“We’re the best,” doesn’t cut it.)
  • Provide the occasional “aha,” the “I never thought of that.” (We all love having new information to share with others.)
  • Solve problems. (Everyone loves a problem-solver.)

In other words, leave fluff to the cat, and make strong, compelling arguments based on knowledge and supported by logic.

Be someone worth listening to as a company, and you’ll turn conversations into sales.

It’s always good to know what your competitors are doing. And, according to an article on venturebeat.com, they may be bolstering their market position by cherry picking the best marketing talent.

What will get a marketer (or marketing company) snapped up these days? Article author Dharmesh Shah listed more than a dozen in-demand, “modern” skills that employers are seeking to meet the requirements of marketing today.

Shah, founder and CTO at HubSpot and co-creator of the inbound.org online community for marketers, created the list for job seekers, but it also indicates where marketing is and where marketing dollars are being spent.

His “Most In-Demand Marketing Skills in 2015” include:

– Content creation, especially as it supports inbound marketing

– Web development

– Web design with user experience expertise

– Search engine optimization

– “Agile marketing” that incorporates quick release cycles and an iterative approach

– Social media marketing

– Video production and marketing

– Community management for relationship building

Other “must-haves” on his list include the technical knowledge to put individual tactics in place – a BIG addition to the traditional marketing job description.

So, that may be what the “other guys” are doing, but how about you? Are these marketing skills in your toolbox or at least on your radar?

If not, maybe they, or at least some of them, should be.

It’s something to think about – but not too long. As marketers often have said: “Buy now. Supplies are limited.”

 

I’m sitting here staring at the back of an Esquire magazine (and not just because the cover shows a rear view of two nude comedians for reasons I neither can nor want to discern).

What has grabbed my attention – as it has in the past – is a Cadillac print ad for its “Dare Greatly” campaign. I love it. I’ve even thought of framing it.

But will it work?

In the past, brands such as Cadillac stuck to the aspirational school of marketing, that is, setting your product up to be something a small segment can afford and a larger segment will desire. The key is that, though it might currently be unattainable, the possibility exists for future ownership.

This new campaign, however, is more inspirational, speaking less to what you could own, but who you are or might want to be – and applauding you, even if you don’t achieve it.

In case you haven’t seen it, the ad (some say shamefully) paraphrases Theodore Roosevelt to read:

It is not the critic who counts:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.

Who strives valiantly;

Who errs, who comes short again and again;

Who knows great enthusiasms;

Who spends himself in a worthy cause;

Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,

And who at the worst,

If he fails,

At least he fails while daring greatly.

General Motors reportedly is giving the controversial campaign a couple of years to gain traction and get cars on the road.

Whether it works or not, “Dare Greatly” is itself a bold effort, tying an upscale car to an emotional message based on inner goals vs. outer signs of prosperity.

And that’s the naked truth.

 

 

As early proponents of content marketing, we have been pleased to see it take its place not only among other required tactics but actually replacing some, as more and more organizations are sharing their knowledge to build reputation, business and loyalty.

Think about it on a personal level: Do you blitz past TV ads? Do you remember what that last pop-up was selling? Are you internally wired to be turned off by the hard sell? Do you just love to talk to telemarketers?

If you answered yes, no, yes and no, join the crowd.

This phenomenon has led both B-to-B and B-to-C marketers to look for new ways to cut through the noise. Enter content marketing.

As defined by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), this marketing technique involves the creation and distribution of “valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

This content can be white papers, how-to videos, case studies, technical reports, etc., in which companies show and share their expertise.

Content marketing’s strength is that it is non-interruptive. Rather than being assaulted with sales pitches, prospects and customers are given access to useful information. The more times they find or receive that information under your name, the more likely they are to remember you.

As noted by CMI, quality content is part of all forms of marketing, shaping social media, Pay Per Click and SEO strategies; driving inbound traffic and leads; and serving as the foundation of successful public relations efforts based on issues of interest to potential buyers.

If you’re not a believer as yet, consider these survey results from Roper Public Affairs, which reports that:

– 80 percent of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement.

– 70 percent say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company.

– 60 percent say that company content helps them make better product decisions.

We firmly believe that content marketing is the wave of the future (and present, for that matter).

Will you ride it to success or be left behind?

 

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.