Friday, October 31, 2008

Blogging For Business

As a blog virgin, if you will, I know very little about how to do this right. But I am a writer - so stream of consciousness is not my thing. My plan was to start a blog on a topic I'm an expert at (marketing), find my voice and then move forward and promote it as I promote myself. I think it's going pretty well only a month in - although I did get some feedback suggesting I dump the hot pink (sorry fashionistas) background to make it easier to read.

I started a blog because I want people to find me - to learn more about the way I think - and obviously to hire me to help them market and communicate. In this testing phase I'm still figuring it out. Also wanted to get enough content to submit articles to marketing web sites and publications.

So I met with a serious blogger, Lindy Dreyer of SocialFish, who started 10 years ago and is building a business around social networking. Thanks Lindy for the advice. And if you're interested in one of her seminars go to Also hunted around on the web for other advice and added a few things in but quite frankly her comments were better.

Tips for successful blogging:

1. Pick a topic and stay with it - You are trying to build a reputation and credibility in a new medium. That won't happen if you mix it up - and combine personal with professional. One or the other and keep it consistent.

2. Give them top 10 lists - And thanks David Lederman. We're all familiar with the format and it makes it easy to get your arms around a subject. The top ten reasons why I started a blog, the top ten reasons why my blog sucks, the top ten things marketers should address in this recession, etc. If ten is too much try five - this is a fast read medium after all.

3. Mix up your content - Her advice for me, too much text. Add pictures, streaming video, RSS feeds (when I figure out how to do it), etc. That's next week's assignment.

4. Comment on others blogs - If you want traffic for yours, read others and comment. It builds up your Google presence and encourages people to come see your blog. Lately I've been posting questions on discussion boards related to what I'm blogging about - it gets my name out there and encourages people to visit my blog and web site.

5. Figure out your messages and keep them consistent - Whether it's your blog, Facebook, Ning, Twitter or a printed piece make sure you say the same things about your business and the value you deliver on all of them. This can be kind of hard because your messaging evolves as you do, and when you find a new social networking site you sign up and may alter what you say based on the market it serves. But you need to be consistent in messaging about your company - no matter who is reading. .

6. Credit others, to add as much value as you can - This one I get as a marketer. This isn't just about self promotion. It's about helping people market better. I'm a secondary voice, what I think matters, but it's just as important to add other voices in too, and let readers know I'm out there listening. Plus it builds credibility and good will.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Facebook - New marketing channel or play space?

This week I went to my fourth meeting on social networking in the last two months – I’ve now seen it from the advertising, marketing and ASAE perspectives. As a marketer I'm fascinated by this new opportunity and particularly its application to trade associations and other membership organizations.

The economy is tanking, associations are bleeding members, they can’t convince young professionals of their value and their budgets are getting cut. Social networking is an entirely new media channel for marketing and connection with members, prospects, and well targeted members of the general public. Associations know this – but they don’t know what to do about it. Plus it’s still affordable to get in.

Then I've seen a bunch of twenty and young thirty-somethings running around who know very little about marketing putting up these sites with a vague plan that says it will help you reach and keep members– a handful of marketing consultants talking like consultants and charging a lot for it – and a huge opportunity to help associations and others figure out how to do it right.

By the way, there are virtually no case studies and I've heard the one ITSE from the ASAE annual meeting five times. That's not a good sign.

What the associations need is a strategy across all these social networking sites and the rest of their marketing and communications, an understanding of how to drive people to these places, a plan for what to do with them once they get there and most important figure out how it can help them grow.

Should the cart come before the horse? Well the horse should keep moving forward but the cart and it's contents (forgive the metaphor) should be organized and thorough before it leaves the station.

Think of the first corporate Websites. They were vague, empty descriptions of companies with little functionality simply because they wanted to be on the playground. Then they evolved, and evolved and evolved - and many associations are stuck with these models that don't work very well. So this time let's figure out what we want to accomplish here first and move forward with an end in sight.

I want a social networking partner who gets this and sees value in what I can bring to the table. In the meantime, AAAS is helping me set up a Facebook page for our Science Inside Alcohol grant and we'll learn as we go.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Marketers - 30 Million LinkedIn Users Available Now

LinkedIn is offering up its 30 million professionals worldwide to B-to-B market researchers. It will be interesting to see how the new service does, what comes from it, and whether or not users will participate. Here are some of the details which were first published in Online Media Daily.

The data points that LinkedIn has are very impressive. Among them - filtering respondents by title, seniority, function, age, country, and company size, and other criteria.

Almost half of LinkedIn professionals are employed in the U.S.

Users can opt out of the service and will be offered rewards to share their behavior like cash incentives, donations to a charity of their choice, or merchandise.

LinkedIn management claims it will limit invitations to participate to four times annually - and will increase it as the business grows.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Adapting Your Message in our New Economy

A recent listserv post by a non-profit asked the question - How should we adapt our messaging now that funders are cutting back?

One of our network members, Karen Paul Stern and I came up with some suggestions. She watched an appeal recently where the non-profit leader launched into the same spiel that he did the year before, without even acknowledging that things are different now. The reaction was not good.

So if you're looking for funding - or to get more business from existing clients or members - here are three messages that can help.

1. We're All in This Together

Acknowledge that everyone is struggling right now and that it's not necessarily the best time to ask. Ask about how are your funders' priorities changing - what are they looking for in a charity now? Address their concerns and try to figure out a way to help them too.

2. We Have a History

This is someone you know, an organization or a client who has given you work or funding in the past. They know you, they know what you do well, they know what you don't, you have a relationship, a history. Remind them of the benefits they've gotten from working with you before and the work you do, your attention to detail, to service, to reporting, to communicating shared success.

3. We Need You More Now Than Ever

OK - now here's where you make your pitch. Everyone is hurting - the work that we do is still needed, in fact more so. Explain why and how what they give helps - quantify and measure results whenever possible.

Questions - please ask.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Becoming One of the Chosen Few

How do you raise money when the stock market is tanking? That’s a big question for anyone who relies on funding from other places. Donors are going to cut back – the question is where. Even if the market recovers in the next year, the sting of today’s losses won’t disappear.

So we’re starting a series of articles on how to message and market in tough economic times. What worked a year ago won’t work now.

The Stern Communications network has several members who specialize in working with non-profits. Here are the changes they’re seeing in corporate giving and some advice for keeping funders engaged and happy. Corporations are. . .

Examining their donation pools. Funders are looking at the mix of charities they support and trying to fine tune it to a few that offer them the most value. They are examining portfolios and evaluating return on investment (ROI) for everything they spend. They will cut back – it’s a question of whether or not you are the one cut.

Asking for quantifiable measures of value. If you expect to get donations now build in a way to measure results of funding. Be prepared not just to explain your value – quantify it. Measure at the start of your program, and at key benchmarks along the way. And report to donors as you achieve them.

Direct connection between businesses and charities they support. As funders start cutting back – the small donations, the ancillary budgets, are going to disappear. Those they fund must have a direct, connection to their businesses – so they can make a case for supporting their industries. So if you’re distributing food to the poor, go to a food company, preferably a local one. If you are helping female cancer survivors go to the medical service providers. In pure marketing terms – answer the question what’s in it for them?

Staying close to home. In tough times, companies spend more in their communities. They stay close to home to build good will. Supporting a local charity, getting employees involved, helping in schools, mentoring and training – all are options companies will be looking for. Offer ways they can help here – even if the investment is people rather than funds.

Finally, help your funders get media attention for their contributions. Publicize their donations as widely as you can. Tell everyone you know. Thank them in a public way.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Making the Complex Simple and Persuasive

Maybe it's watching late night television (Stephen Colbert, John Stewart and Bill Maher are my guys) or maybe it's eight years of soundbite journalism. But lately as I write proposals and talk to clients I find myself asking the simplest of questions and not getting clear answers to the basics of their businesses.

Remember when Colbert asked the senator who had introduced legislation to put the Ten Commandments into school curriculum and he couldn't name them? How mortifying was that? Years ago when I asked my ex-husband, an MIT PhD in political science, what his doctoral dissertation was about I got a 20 minute explanation. By the time he finished it almost a decade later - we'd whittled it down to less than a sentence - "It's about the impact of non-profits like Save the Whales on international politics."

When we search Google or Dogpile or whatever search engine we use we get explanations - most groups now have a Wiki. But why isn't the Wiki or at least the link to the Wiki on their Web sites? Has anyone thought to ask?

Here are just a few questions I've typed in lately and not been able to get an answer for - from sites that belong to the largest groups representing these specialties.

What is neuroscience?
What is a psychologist?
What is a podiatrist?
What is technical education?
What is an obstetrician?

Sorry scientists - if you cannot tell me within one or two clicks what it is you do I am gone. It would be very positive to say that people get so involved in what they do - and so caught up in their industries - that they think everyone knows what they are. But it's more complicated than that. People don't think about making the complex simple. And so they can't communicate with the general public. How can you have public understanding if you can't explain clearly? You cannot.

The big question of course is how can you effectively market when you can't explain and aren't educating as you go. The answer is you will never get beyond your core market - and most of us - particularly in these days of social networking absolutely want too.

Most people have an elevator speech (a 1-3 sentence explanation) of what they do. But they don't have it for what their specialty is.

To be fair I've had to develop my own too. My elevator speech - I take complex, scientific and technical information and making it accessible to everyone. What is communications? It's explaining who you are, what you do, why you're better at it, and why they should hire you - at every point at which you connect with a customer or prospect.

If you have good public relations people then you should have all of this - and it should be part of your media training and messaging. I used to work with a really good media guy and I remember when he took a one page fact sheet explaining the Components Packaging and Manufacturing Technology Association's products and turned it into we're the people who make the chips that run many of the products you use. We're the Intel Inside of everything. We get it.

So go on your Web site and search your area of expertise? Is it explained? Could your fifth grader get it?

That's my thought for the day.

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's Time for New Messages Stupid

Remember when Bill Clinton beat Bush I with the simplest and smartest of messages - It's the Economy Stupid. Well guess what candidates - it's time for new messages. It's time to stop running around talking about big problems that require huge amounts of money. Talk to the American people about how scared they are. Stem the panic. Give them hope.

I have spent the last two election seasons totally frustrated by both Democrats and Republicans who never seem to get what the American people really want. On Tuesday night - as Americans watched their financial future take a total nosedive - the debate never got to the issue of what either candidate really intended to do about it.

Instead they took jabs at each other- you voted for it, you didn't vote for that, it's your party's fault, no it's your fault, I'm smarter, I'm more committed, it went on and on until it all became stupid droning elevator music. Why was the debate considered a tie? Because neither candidate said anything they haven't said many times before.

When it came to foreign policy - I wanted John McCain. Even though I don't agree with him on much he sounded more confident, like someone who could figure it out. When it came to the economy I wanted Obama - despite the finger pointing at least he got that the middle class is so unbelievably screwed. And he says he wants to do something about it.

Anyway what I realized, from a communications perspective, is I'm frustrated as hell - as my 401K disappears and the world financials crash - I want to know this is being addressed - at the highest levels of the world. I want messages. I want hope.
So here are the messages I would use if I was running for president - or if I was president. At the very least one of the top advisors for any of these people. Because they don't get it either.

CEOs could use these messages too - they are big, generic and hopeful. And that's what people need. It's like talking to a four year-old, acknowledge how upset he is, do something to make him feel better, focus him on the next thing.

1. This is Not the Great Depression - it's not folks. It's an absolute mess and there are many economic indicators out there that say it may continue for awhile - but it's not 1929. That market was completely different, we didn't have government involvement and they just let that sucker crash. This time it's not like that.

2. World Leaders are Working on This. We are doing everything that we can to stop this but it may go on for awhile. It's going to be a wild ride but we'll make it. It's not an American disaster it's a world disaster. And we are trying to fix it on that level - which takes time.

3. Americans Must Come Together as a Nation Now. Actually Obama started to say this in the debate and then he didn't really finish it but it's a great message. After 9-11 everyone in this country came together regardless of party, status, race, religion, it didn't matter. We were all Americans who wanted to help each other. We need to get back to that feeling - it was so positive - so we can do anything if we come together. And Americans need that now.

4. What Goes Up Must Come Down and It Will Go Back Up Again. The financial markets will recover and so will this country. The American dream isn't dead it's just on hold for awhile. Hang in there. Better times are ahead.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why Corporations Should Use Social Media

According to the findings of the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study, almost 60% of Americans interact with companies on a social media Web site, and one in four interact more than once per week. The data makes a persuasive case for finding new and more effective ways to reach consumers through social media.

Eighty five percent of those polled believe a company should not only be present, but should also interact with its consumers via social media.

33% of men and 17% of women interact frequently (one or more times per week) with companies via social media. The study found that men, who are less likely to interact with companies in other media, are more comfortable interacting via social media.

Two-thirds of the wealthiest households and the largest households (3 or more members) feel stronger connections to brands they interact with online.

33% of younger, hard-to-reach consumers (ages 18-34), believe companies should actively market to them via social networks.

(Opinion Research Corporation conducted this survey with 1,092 adults comprising 525 men and 567 women 18 years of age and older. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is ± 3%).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Creating an Emotional Appeal for Your Brand

In a tough economy, when price becomes a powerful motivator for choosing one product, service or professional organization over another, Harvard Business School Press authors Rita McGrath and Ian MacMillan remind us about tapping into the emotional appeal of your brand to hang onto your customers and win prospects. The book is MarketBusters.

This is not a new concept (is anything in marketing today?, but there was a rather heated blog discussion about whether or not emotional appeal works in business to business marketing. I had this same discussion with a former boss who treated my saying - of course it can - like the ramblings of an idiot.

But the fact is we all have an emotional connection to the products we buy. It's not just the type of sneaker we wear, or our favorite restaurant or our hairdresser. It's the people we know professionally, the service providers we use, the professional groups we don't give up even though they cost more than some of the others, the Mac versus the PC, or the industrial chemical that we've been using for 20 years, know works, are attached too and don't want to change.

Tapping into that appeal - understanding it - reinforcing it - and using it to emphasize WHY US, WHY NOW - is just plain smart. But first you've got to understand it. Here's some advice from the authors about how to get to the heart of emotional appeal:

Examine what different customers segments think. Good segments reflect behaviors - remember that even customers who are demographically similar may have very different behaviors and preferences.

Look at how customers interact with your product/service. What's on their minds? What are they worried about? Looking forward to? Would they rather be doing something else than dealing with whatever issue you solve for them?

What emotions does your product evoke in customers? This requires research, ask them why they would switch, if they are considering switching. Ask your field salespeople and customer service reps - they probably know better than anyone else in your organization. Then do some brainstorming with members of your team - what could they come up with that might trigger that connective feeling?

Test what you learn. Try the appeal out on representative members of your customer segment and observe how they behave. By the way, observation is absolutely key. Customers often won't - or can't - tell you what is really driving their behavior.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Consumer Behavior in a Tough Economy

Porter Novelli did a presentation recently on how consumer mindset and spending habits are changing in these scary economic times. It helped drive home the reality of just how bad things are. Comments were about baby boomers, generation Xers and millenials (those born between 1980-1995).

Some of the highlights:

No more bottled water - the new water comes from from the tap.

32% of millenials are not as pretentious as they used to be - except in the area of personal electronics.

Use of coupons is up and impulse buying is down.

We are suffering from green fatigue - no one wants to hear about it anymore - just do it.

Cash is the new platinum card. People are buying less and more of what they really need - not just want.

We are evolving into a world of narrow communities and only talk to those who agree with us. That's what micro-networking is all about.

People are focused on necessities -food, clothing, shelter and supporting an individual cause (not multiple ones).