8 Ways to Deliver a Punch to B2B Writing 👊

Fact: writers rarely get trained for B2B technology writing, it just kind of happens. You deliberately or accidentally fall into a tech company, breath in all their communications, the bytes and bites, brand style guide (if they even have one), and somehow it all comes together. Rinse and repeat for next company.

But no matter how much writing experience under your belt, it doesn’t mean you’re cranking out good, compelling writing – that task requires a more Herculean effort.

For starters, writing about features and benefits of non-human technology has innate issues: How do you make those products interesting? How can you move the reader along to the next step? How can can ensure they won’t yawn, or worse yet take a power nap?

Writing B2B copy over two decades, I’ve seen my share of snoozefests and poppin’ copy. We all know that in the digital age of distractions, smart, engaging copy isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s the mandate. Competing with thousands of other websites and incoming messages, texts, plus other online choices, your content needs to stand out – or your reader is out.

Here are some techniques I use to turn up the volume and make my writing count.

Focus on helping your customer—always❤️                                                                         I know, obvious right? But you’d be surprised how many times I run across copy that is me, me me: let me tell you how great my product is, look at all my shiny bells and whistles. But that is not solving the customer’s problems. I still have to check myself, especially when I’m working with a product manager or marketing mucky-muck who thinks his or her widget is the best thing since sliced…circuits. It’s an essential ingredient to any good B2B writing, better yet all marketing writing.

Ixnay the jargon and buzzwords🙄                                                                                      Let’s play a drinking game: how many times do you see the words “leverage” or “enable” in technology marketing writing? Yeah, we’d all be drunk by now. Cut those altogether. No one talks that way nor should they unless they’re an AI-fueled robot. Though it’s tempting to use easy-access words, especially when you’re under deadline, take the time to find that perfect synonym. If branding will allow, use “craft” instead of “expertise,” or “technology muscle” instead of “innovate.” Swap “very easy” with “effortless.” Or even small tweaks like “exceed expectations” to “defy expectations” can make a difference. Be creative, not lazy.

Surprise Your Reader😮                                                                                                        There’s nothing like a one-sentence paragraph to stop your reader in his or her tracks.

A sentence that stands by itself in a sea of others beckons the reader and gives you a potential hook to read the entire blog post, case study or whatever you want eyeballs on. Make sure that sentence has impact. If your reader is scanning (trust me, they will be), it could be the only words they read. Choose carefully.

Or try a skillful use of the em dash — which can create drama and emphasize an important point — but don’t be overly dramatic with every sentence, make it count.

Flip Clichés Upside down🙃                                                                                                  Many a corporate communication organization, especially global companies, wisely implement a no-colloquialism policy. Americanisms like “follow the leader” or “the stakes are high” can cause confusion to non-native English speakers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use well-worn phrases that most cultures do know. For instance, “Time is on your side” can be turned into a statement to create urgency and also give a confident spin, such as “Time is not on your side when…”

Be a Person, not a Monolith🙋🏻                                                                                              Some larger companies like to mention their name over and over in communications as if the person didn’t realize where they were, while others use the “we” and the “you.” Smaller companies tend to be more comfortable with this language but frankly, the big multinational ones need it the most – they are impersonal corporate entities. In the real world, people like to be spoken to and with directly. Personal pronouns are warmer and help build a connection. Don’t get carried away with it, but weave in various places to keep that thread going.

Use Provocative Questions and Bold Statements🔥                                        When writing my first direct mail campaign early in my career, my boss said to me, “Never start an email with a question because if the answer is no, they’ll stop reading.” Point taken, but there are still plenty of ways to sidestep the inevitable yes or no and get your reader to think and engage with the copy. It could be a rhetorical question like “Why are you paying for extra services you’re not using?” Or a statement like “XYZ thinks everyone should pay for full service, but we disagree.” Don’t be shy about challenging your reader’s thinking and throwing in some fun with language. Speaking of which…

Inject humor –But With a Slow IV Drip🎭                                                                              I’ll be the first to laugh at a good pun, funny joke, or amusing alliteration. And there is definitely a place for it in B2B copy – it just needs to be the write one. (sorry couldn’t help myself). But before you trot out your comical stylings, make sure the brand voice has the flexibility, the wit is in context, and humor that is accessible to all. If your reader doesn’t get it, the joke’s on you. Making someone smile or laugh is one thing; turning them off is quite another. Irreverent, self-deprecating humor like on this CB Insights page, strikes the right tone: “In God We Trust, Everyone else Bring Data.” 

Embrace the writing rhythm🎼                                                                                            Short sentences are great for understanding. Long ones can be woven in to make a point when they need to (but 25 words max). Much like the way we speak, writing has its own pattern. Otherwise, we’d be completely monotone. Make sure you mix it up so you’re not fatiguing the reader. Get it?

That also means mixing bite-sized paragraphs mixed with chunkier ones to keep the tempo going. And don’t forget to add guideposts like bullets and headlines so you keep the reader moving through.

What are some of your tips? What’s your pet peeve or joy in writing and reading B2B copy? ☺️😜🤓😩😖

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The Ten Commandments of Consulting

10 commandments17 years. 50+ clients. And 10 lessons I’ve learned running my freelance communications business (sometimes I’m schooled a few times, lucky me).

Obey your contracting creed. We all have our happy work place — pay attention to it. If you’re the type that gets distracted easily and seeks quiet to concentrate, park yourself at home (like me). If you crave socialization, head to the co-working space. Though these sound like obvious choices, the almighty dollar can sway you otherwise. When I moved to San Francisco from Sunnyvale seven years ago, my frequent and long drives to clients back and forth to the south bay were making me miserable. After my inaugural year of barely-contained road rage, I committed to only taking Silicon Valley gigs that were remote or called for only a few office visits. I am clear I don’t want to spend half my time in the car. Have I lost work because of it? Absolutely, but I’m also open for contracts that fit within my lifestyle (and there is much less yelling in the car).

Fake it till you make it.  Let me explain: when I am asked if I do graphic design, the answer is always no —  that is a gift that I do not have nor claim, BUT I can recommend designers and oversee project management (always offer clients a silver lining). On the other hand, several years ago when clients asked me for social media help, I self-taught online, grilled social media experts I knew, and implemented in my own business. Point being, if clients want a new skill and you realistically can and want to add to your wheelhouse, do it. But don’t ever lie about a skill. That will come back to bite you in a painful way, not to mention you’ll make enemies fast.

Trust your gut. Like most things in life, if something doesn’t feel or smell right, it isn’t. If a client seems vague, the work has PITA written all over it, or any other reason your brain and gut are duking it out, follow the gut, it will always set you straight. Example? An ex-client (emphasis on ex-) blurted out during our interview “You’ll really dislike me and want to leave this job.” We both laughed, but she was right, I was gone a few months later. And so was the other freelance writer she hired. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. In the battle between head and gut, embrace the latter instead of shoulda woulda coulda thinking.

Always carry your business card.  These days, business cards are considered passé or unnecessary. But sometimes analog wins. There is nothing like a visual reminder for potential clients than your business card. One of the largest contracts I’ve had in my consulting career appeared during a mani pedi session at the local salon. The woman in the chair next to me turned out to be the director of communications for a leading Silicon Valley company – and was looking to fill a contract marcom role. Voila! A new client was born (and yes, my biz card was handy). You never know when your services will be needed for a gig. This doesn’t mean you’re always in “sales” mode, it means be ready when it happens.

Different rates for different tasks is a no-win. If a client wants an a la carte rate menu, you’ll usually end up with the short end of the financial stick. Why? This payment model is based on the premise that certain tasks are more important (and should pay more) than others. Think of it this way: no matter where you’re spending time, it’s related to the project. For me that would be research, writing, editing, or meetings — they are all interrelated in producing a great end result. The one thing you cannot get back is time, so don’t give it away – it’s your most valuable asset as a consultant.

It’s client or company bon voyage. If your client quits to go to another company, be prepared to stay with to the company or leave with that person in their next role. Also know that sometimes you’ll be out of a gig when the new client comes in with “their own people.” Prepare for all of these options at any time. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Cultivate good, healthy relationships around your client— a stakeholder or decision-maker surrounding them could be your next boss. One company I worked with went through three marcom directors before it was purchased, but I stuck with the firm.

Hold your work cards close. Whether you’re busy at the moment, courting other clients, or desperate for a new gig, there is no need to tell potential clients. When asked about your bandwidth, find out what the work scope is first. This is not a game or sneaky tactic, it’s just good business. And when it comes to the almighty dollar, think of yourself as a negotiation ninja — the first person who opens their mouth usually loses. That doesn’t mean you’re out to gouge clients,  but get the most financial power for your skill-set. Be reasonable in your expectations, but also be smart and never, never undersell yourself.

Say goodbye to team spirit. Truth: You are not part of the team no matter how many happy hours you attend, kudos you get on that project, or office friendships you’ve cultivated. You are not getting a regular paycheck, you are an outsider contributing to projects at a company.  You must be OK with this fact. Some freelancers get their feelings hurt along the way. I appreciate and respect the people and teams I have worked with, but the nature of consulting is impermanence. If that premise makes you uncomfortable, hit up the full-time job ads.

Set ground rules early with friends. Some consultants have a policy that they never work with friends. But if you decide to engage, it comes down to communication. I have worked with one close friend for years because we keep business and friendship separate and professional. If there was ever an issue, we put friendship first. We also benefit from a shorthand that improves project collaboration and outcomes. Conversely, I’ve worked with one friend who took advantage of the situation and didn’t put in her best effort as a sub-contractor. Unsurprisingly,  we didn’t work together again but we’re still friends. Wherever you stand on this, know the risks and rewards before you commit.

There is one word I haven’t mentioned anywhere, and one most associated with consulting: risk. This is a top reasons people don’t go into freelancing, or leave it. So here’s your last commandment (that is also one of my favorite quotes): Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Believe it. Consulting never ceases to amaze me — the variety, the fun, the challenges. One thing is for sure, when you join the ranks of the independents, you’ll never be bored.

 

5 Tips For Working With Freelance Writers

ODNS+meme+FTWA

Ever wonder why some of freelance writing projects go smoothly and others sink like the Titanic? Peek inside our brain with some first-hand insights that will help your content hit the nail on the head – instead of the last one in the coffin.

Be a Great Partner

Collaboration is key in content development. We don’t automatically flow words together without effort. We rely on the best information to create that fabulous writing for you. We do our part by getting all the materials to the job done, including asking smart questions and confirming details. Your part? Help us close the understanding gap, like legacy knowledge or a relevant back-story, so we don’t risk missing the mark. Say, for instance, I’m the second writer you hired for this job. Why didn’t that first engagement work out? How can we improve this one?

Chart the Course

Set expectations about the project – that means the schedule, reviews, logistics, milestones and any “gotchas” along the way (um…we may add in a new product at the end). Most of these questions can be answered with a project plan – even a loose one. Schedules change but at least we’ll have a roadmap. For example, a recent website client didn’t include all the players for early reviews, so near final copy, major changes were required. That added up to wasted time, resources, and money for everyone.

No “Sh*tty First Draft”

Writer Anne Lamott aptly stated the truth about first drafts years ago and it won’t change – mark my words (sorry couldn’t resist). By the time you see our work, we’ve put a Herculean effort to make it the best it can be – but we do expect changes. It’s rare that the first time you see a document it will be “perfect” and require nary an edit. We can pine for this utopian scene but don’t expect it (that’s why it’s called Utopia, people). We are prepared to revise and get constructive criticism. Those writers who can’t deal should pick another career. Which leads us to the next tip…

Show Me, Don’t (Just) Tell Me

The way you review matters: Slap-dash or vague verbal comments will produce a sub-par result. “This paragraph doesn’t work” isn’t specific. Why? What’s the issue? If the tone of the document is off, that’s one thing, but if there are parts you want to change, be clear and note it on the document, email, or whiteboard – anything. But know that verbal feedback can sometimes be tricky to interpret. A former client would not review documents in writing as she was “too busy.” The result? A protracted review loop with misunderstandings and ad hoc changes all along the way. Bottom-line: Clarity early saves time later.

Shift Happens

Sometimes mid-way or at the very end (see “gotchas” above) someone, somewhere decides that this document needs to serve another purpose, the messaging has changed, or a response to a competitor should be weaved in (and of course deadline hasn’t changed). Hopefully, the entire document doesn’t have to be scrapped, but sometimes that’s the reality. Know that we will likely need to add to the budget and schedule if it’s not baked in. Small changes? Fine. A rewrite is a whole different animal. We’ll be fair and work with you on this, but know there is a difference between revisions and starting from scratch.

Circle-Slash Whiney Writers

Occasionally, there is a piece of content that just doesn’t work – period. Maybe the CMO jumped in and forced a paragraph that changed everything; or a success story wasn’t all that impressive; or the blog post is watered down because too many people got their hands on it. None of these situations is anyone’s “fault,” but they do need to be resolved. Moments like this can also be a breeding ground for misunderstandings and delays. Writers take a lot of pride in what they do and will help solve the issue if we can. But ultimately it will be your decision, knowing we’ve done our best work and it’s out of our hands. Though difficult, this is the life of a freelancer. The end result may not be our perfect ending, but it’s yours – and we have to accept that and walk away.

The Wrap

Freelance writing projects are an intimate exchange of partnership, jumbled words, and moving parts that can churn out a great result – or turn into a failure to launch. The best outcome? That the content serves the purpose, it will be read by your audience (and shared too!), oh, and you get well-deserved kudos. The beauty is that we can learn something from each engagement – about you, ourselves, and how to improve our writing for future projects.

Oh, and one more thing of beauty – that you’ll call me back for your next project.

Four Ways to Maximize “Minimalist” Marketing

clutter

Familiar with the tiny house, declutter, and downsizing trends? Then you may have heard of the “Minimalist” movement too. The concept has taken off, with more than four million followers of its books, podcasts, a documentary, and tons of media attention.

But what the heck is this minimalist thing and why does it matter to marketing?

First some backstory: the Minimalists idea emerged from two 30’s, corporate worker bees who walked away six-figures jobs in the throes of typical American “success.” They were miserable on the endless hamster wheel and wanted to find more meaning in their lives. The Minimalist Guys (yep that’s what they call themselves) decided to strip away the life clutter. Disengage from rampant capitalistic culture. Find happiness and make time for what matters―stronger connections, personal growth, and happiness.

Intrigued by this idea, I watched the “The Minimalists” documentary. It begins with quick-cuts of the ‘90s consumerism excesses as the narrator quietly judges our complicity. It was a stark reminder that not much has changed in the digital age. “More” is still the mantra. The time is ripe for marketing to adopt own brand of minimalist philosophy.

Here are some ways you can apply the Minimalist principle to your marketing and be more effective with less.

Keep your content clean (NOT the NSFW kind)

When you’re living the Minimalist life, your home won’t be packed with “stuff”. No knick- knacks. Electronic devices gathering dust. Pictures that don’t bring you joy. Yet every day (every waking moment, let’s get real) consumers are overstimulated by busy websites trying to get us to click, crowded social media news feeds, red notification lights blinking and buzzing incessantly. We, as marketers, should help our readers focus on the most important messages. There’s a reason why Apple, Volkswagen, and other iconic brands share the legacy of of the best advertising around: there is a strong visual element, few words, and a supporting message hammered home. Adopt this principle of simplicity wherever you communicate. Keep everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Channel Your Inner Editor

The life of a minimalist means that you don’t overcomplicate things. Take what you need. Give what you can, but do no more than that. As marketers, the writing practice should be just as disciplined. Don’t let the important messages you have to say get lost in a word jumble. As a writer, I strive for brevity but it often tempered (and tempted) by wordiness. Instead, deliberately choose your language wisely and say no more (there’s this thing called editing. And more editing.). And don’t overwhelm your reader with messages. Make more impact with less. Something else to ponder: if you can’t say what you need to in a sentence, go back to the drawing board. The last benefit? Readers will notice what you say instead of staring into a sea of words.

Social Media Master of None

Minimalists don’t do five things at a time and multi-task the hell out of them, they one or two very well. Visit a friend, make a connection, focus on the beauty of the moment. When it comes to social media marketing, we tend to view all channels as one unit―incorrectly. Social media now an established part of the marketing mix, but you don’t need to be everywhere―just where your customers are. Some companies hop on the latest platforms because they’re “cool” or for novelty’s sake. Sure, test the waters, but don’t invest tons of time and energy with a square peg in a round hole. Spend social capital with what works best for your business. If your target audience is young, Snapchat. If you have a visual product or can creatively express your business on Instagram, post away. If you’re B2B, LinkedIn and Twitter make sense. If you have a start up, there are other considerations. Reign in your social media in and you’ll reach the people that matter.

Choose Quality Over Quantity 

Though the Minimalist Guys hug as many people as possible at their events, their philosophy is about making the space to spend time with those that really matter. In the same way, as a marketer, don’t try to attract every audience. Do a spring cleaning of your database and get rid of the dead-weight; take a hard look at your personas and see if you’ve overdone it and can condense or toss a few; drop excess mailing lists you’ve been on that aren’t paying off; and finally, scrub “we’ve always done it this way”from your marketing vocabulary. Excising marketing programs can be a painful pill to swallow for marketing organizations, but a worthwhile change.

These are a few ideas but certainly is not an exhaustive list. What would you do to pare down your marketing? What will be the first thing you cut?

 

Answer These Questions Before Starting Your Freelance Business

Every year, millions of corporate employees fantasize about breaking out of their cube shackles to start a consulting business. In fact, freelancers make up 35% of our national economy—that’s 53 million people! Are you going to be one of them in 2017?

Before you make that jump, answer these nine questions.

#1 Are you obsessed with it?
enOk that sounds a bit extreme and stalker-ish but like most things, if you don’t really (really) want it and aren’t fully committed, it won’t happen. You’ll find excuses, you’ll delay, you’ll talk about it but never take action. It has to be at the top of your priority list. Something you can’t stop thinking about. An itch you have to scratch. If you don’t feel this way, you’re not in 100% and that’s a recipe for failure. I’ve witnessed this as colleagues “trial” freelancing it but don’t go all-in, and unsurprisingly end with a thud (and feeling bad about themselves). Freelancing isn’t like going vegetarian for a month – it’s going to be a big part of your life. Take it VERY seriously or don’t take it at all.

#2 Does it scare the sh*t out of you? (in a good way)

f6There is a saying “Fear is the great extinguisher of  dreams…Conversely, it can be your best mentor and source of motivation.” Though my uncorporate lifestyle seems natural to me now with the built-in highs and lows, life wasn’t always this way. Freelancing to me is “controlled risk”: you look fear in the face most of the time but also get the rewards of your efforts. When you close the door on corporate, you  hit salary, benefits, and other cozy securities on the way out (not to mention those awesome free snacks). As a freelancer, you may have periods of “stability,” but get used to those air quotes – that word won’t be in your vocab often.


#3 Do you get bored with routines?            

f1Sure there are built-in habits we all have, whether it’s the rabid commitment to three cups of coffee before you talk to anyone, or lunch with your bestie every Friday, or being crazy busy during tax season if you’re an accountant. But the guts of your business – the pace, the timeline of work, the daily schedule, the ups and downs, will have a choreography of their own. One evening you can burn the midnight oil for a deadline and the next morning scout for a new client, or go for a walk in the middle of the day  – but you need to thrive on the variety, not fear it.  Which leads me to my next question…

#4 Are you exceptionally self-disciplined?
f3Yes, you’ll have an ever-changing life, but you also have to hunker down when you need to – big time. This is a core characteristic of freelancing. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I’m tempted to watch TV all day (no, just while eating lunch); or if I get up at 10am (nope again, but I don’t get up at 5am either). Like a regular job, you have to prioritize work and get it done in a timely fashion. The difference?  You won’t have a boss in your face pressing you on a deadline or cube mates noticing when you leave the office. And sometimes you’re working with two or three clients at a time so you practice your juggling skills. Sure there are times you can relax with wiggle room, but the majority is spent working or hustling for new work (or both).

#5 Do you have back up in the bank?
small busThis is another biggie if you’re going out on your own. How much is up to you. I recommend six months to cover personal expenses (not to mention start-up costs for your business). I realize not everyone can do this. However, a baseline of financial security provides a good balance of work-your-butt-off to-get-clients but also know that you have resources to live and take the stress level down a notch. Yes, you could challenge yourself to go out on your own without funds, but you may make decisions you regret – like take a client you’re not crazy about, sign up for work beneath your level, or even slog some lattes at Starbucks if you’re that desperate. The healthiest balance is to have a financial security blanket as you build your business.

#6 Are you able to turn off the perfectionist gene?        
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Here’s a secret: it’s pretty darn easy to start a freelance business. A lot of people think it’s tons of work and get overwhelmed and scrap the idea altogether. You don’t need an elaborate marketing plan, payroll system, or office space – especially these days with a computer, connection, and tons of online freelancer services for everything from productivity to accounting. Don’t spend tons of money on your business when you’re just starting out. A few years ago, a colleague delayed her coaching business until she built this complicated client interface that cost thousands of dollars. Start professional but lean. Pivots are common and your work focus can change, especially at the beginning. Pick and choose the must-haves. It’s easy to feel pressure to have the crème de la crème when you start out, but it’s better to iterate your business as you go.

#7 Do you enjoy your own company?
f2This is not a question we often ask ourselves. When I went out on my own in 1999 the world of the internet was a lot smaller. Yes, there was email and the “net”, but there was no social media, Skype, apps, smartphones, and the rest of technology we rely on to keep us connected (and often distracted by). Back then, you had to be very purposeful in daytime socializing. Even though now we have a plethora of red notification lights continuously assaulting our senses, you’ll likely still spend a lot of time by yourself. There are ways to reduce alone time if it bothers you: join a co-working space, go to your client’s office, or schedule social time every day, but it won’t make solo time disappear.  If you find this inherently bothersome, freelancing may not be for you.

#8 Are you a natural or unlikely sales person?
smmmmGet that used car salesperson image out of your head. We’re all in sales one way or the other. Think of when you sell an idea to your boss with a PowerPoint presentation, or try to convince an employer to hire you, or sweet-talk a friend into trying a new cuisine she’s unfamiliar with. Freelancing forces you to be a natural connector. That means everything from going to networking events to having your elevator pitch down for random people you meet, to branding on social media. One trap I’ve seen (usually accompanied by the disdain for selling) is to rely on one client. That work could go away at a moment’s notice for a variety of reasons, but more importantly, it flies again why started a business in the first place. I know one colleague that only works for her former employer as a contractor, so she’s just working the same job for the same company without benefits.

#9 Are you prepared for blowback?
f4You’ll be starting a business, running a business, and thinking of your business – a lot. All of this “business” bleeds often over to your family, friends, vacation plans, and other important parts of your life. Some people may not understand why you work for yourself or worry about you. You’ll likely hear comments from certain corners like: “You work too much” or questioning your judgement with “Don’t you want an easier life?” and negative comments that (mostly) come from care. For this reason, make sure you cultivate plenty of social opportunities with supportive people who either have their own business or appreciate it. Join consulting groups, have coffee (or drinks for venting get-together) with other freelancers, and always remember why you stepped out on your own in the first place.

Well there you have it…did you answer a Big Fat Yes to all of these? Yes, there are many other factors that go into deciding to go freelance, but you’re off to a great start!

 

 

Five Marketing Takeaways From This Crazy Presidential Election

 

clinton_vs_trump_2575979Tomorrow morning we’ll wake up with a new President-Elect.

And make no mistake: it’s been difficult to find positive aspects of this grueling election season, but marketers take heed: we’ve been given the gift that keeps on giving. Witness all the branding, advertising and other dos and so-do-not-dos we’ve seen this election cycle.

Here are five stand outs. They also speak directly to the candidates’ values and vulnerabilities.

Hillary Clinton’s unpopular logo

Remember that less-than-stellar debut? Everyone was suddenly a graphic designer and had an opinion. It was too plain; it was ridiculously old fashioned. It looked like a mash of arrows. It was even officially trashed. But Hillary was resolute to her commitment to the logo and did not back down and change it. Remember when Airbnb was crucified for their logo? They kept it – but this is the exception not the rule. Gap, Coke, and other brands all fell prey to public discourse about their graphic sensibilities and new brand identity. What message does that send about your company and your brand?

Branding taglines: they work!

Every company needs a tagline and so does every politician? Some say Hillary’s “Stronger Together” is as uninspired and uninteresting as her logo, but it’s a quick hit about what she’s fighting for – a unified country. Trump’s theme is “Make America Great Again” in his best attempt to be folksy and send a clear message to his voter. But what exactly is #MAGA referring to? Segregation? 1776? That’s the “MAGIC” of #MAGA –  it’s open to interpretation by his true believers. As an awkward punctuation mark, Trump consistently sports a MAGA baseball hat paired with a suit and red power tie. Which leads us to our next topic…

Damage to the Trump Brand

No other election has seen the circus atmosphere as this one. And what better way to usher it in than a businessman known for his showmanship, brashness, and hucksterism. Though Donald Trump has both collected and nauseated and millions of voters with his polarizing rhetoric, it’s become clear that he’s also permanently tarnished his brand. This is definitely not a case of “Any PR is good PR.” In addition to his divisive popularity, this election also brought out his dirty laundry out in the public for a wash: failed businesses, tax evasion, proclivity for suing people, sexual misconduct. The list goes on. Trump Hotel sales are down even before the election is over. He’s even done damage to his daughter’s successful clothing line. So what happens after the election? He’s lost his well-heeled consumers but gained lower-income fans that can’t afford his brand but who will flock to his much-hyped “Trump TV” or whatever else he cooks up. But no one will ever look at the Trump name in gold the same again.

Hillary’s marketing tactics aren’t so different than our own

Everyone talks about Hillary’s strong “ground game” – they should see her online presence. As someone in marketing and has a low tolerance for overly-zealous campaigns, it’s been a challenge to stay on Hillary’s marketing list. With the regularity of daily emails, texts, and phone calls from multiple sources, I tried to turn down the volume – no such luck. The marketing faucet is either on or off. But given the importance and short-term of this election, I summoned the tolerance of a saint. The campaign employs typical B2C/B2B email tactics, with subject lines with “Re:” as if they were responding to my email (oldest trick in the book); guilt attempts “Can We Count On You, Janice?”; and even “personal” letters from President Obama, Joe Biden, and other political superstars. The HRC campaign get points for their veracity, volume and variety to get my attention. But they get knocked for their seemingly blind-eye to the communication avalanche. In the end, both campaigns have had their email marketing pros and cons.

“Market Research” aka Polling

The media loves polls more than anyone and the public gobbles it up – no matter how valuable it is. After every bombshell announcement of the election cycle –  whether it’s the FBI doing further Clinton private server investigation or Donald Trump’s famous Access Hollywood bus ride, daily WikiLeaks, or women suing Trump for sexual harassment, It felt more like an insane sporting event: Monday Hillary: 1; Trump: 0. By Wednesday the score is reversed in the others’ favor for talking points at their next rally (we can also thank our illustrious media for rapt attention no matter if rumor or proven fact). Bottom-line is that polls are overvalued sentiment throughout the election. Like brands, measuring customer opinions should have a before and after – not the equivalent of a constant heart monitor. This creates a skewed data points that have no relevance if the pulse is taken on a daily basis.

Crisis Communications is Alive and Well

With the lowest likability ever for presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, whether the Trump or Clinton campaign, each of their crisis comms person isn’t just on speed dial, but I suspect perched next to them 24/7. There hasn’t been a week, day, or sometimes hour where the PR spin room wasn’t summoned for either candidate. Why? Both candidates have lots of bad PR on irregularly-regular basis. For Clinton, it’s a legacy of attacks dating back to her husband’s presidency, but “emails” is the word that creates the drip-drip every single day. Then there’s WikiLeaks and a host of other perceived missteps and mistakes. For Trump, the light shining on his pre-politics life that is dark as night: the many sordid details about his business dealings, personal behaviors, and temperament that allows him to send rabid tweets at 3am. Ironically there were so many crisis moments for both candidates, that as a public, we tended to become accustomed to the drama of the campaign and even non-plussed at times. Crisis communications became normal news of the day. This is not where you want your brand to be.

Persuasion “Secrets”

Remember Scott Adams of the comic strip “Dilbert” fame? He’s famous for something else: he is a persuasion expert (who knew?!). When Trump was inching closer to nabbing the Republication nomination, Adams did the talk show circuit to explain how this unthinkable candidate could possibly make it to the top of the GOP ticket. Think: “Crooked Hillary” “Little Marco” and all the other short nicknames Trump developed that we remember. It makes an impact. Adams outlines all of the persuasion techniques used by Trump quite effectively on the human brain. Marketing is all about appealing to emotions. Trump takes it to an extreme with his base – and now we know the science behind why it works.

But I’ve saved my most powerful marketing lesson of all for last, and it’s really short: go vote.

 

 

 

Newbie Does Content Marketing World: The Good, the Bad, and the Orange

This is not a top 10 takeaways listicle. Or a shameless crop of speaker quotes to get retweets. This is a story of a thrifty writer who went to Content Marketing World in Cleveland, the apparent “Capital of Content,” thanks to doubling down on promo codes.  It was everything—and nothing I expected. 

Cult of Orange Kool-Aid

If you didn’t know this by now, the Content Marketing Institute LOVES its orange. A lot. I urge you to bring shades if you go to CMW. Be prepared for hordes of attendees that wear it on various parts of their bodies; from hats to shoes to everything in-between. Then there are the signage, carpet, and yes, even orange food-colored products (that I did not imbibe in). In my complete ignorance of Planet Orange, I thought it would be mildly amusing to wear my coincidentally-coral top to the first evening reception. Bad idea. I became an instant, unwilling cult participant. Part of me likes the rah-rah team spirit and the other thinks it’s a tad creepy. I do love purple, so maybe if it was Planet Purple I could have gotten into the color craze more.

Run With Precision of Surgery

Speaking as a former event planner and attendee of a bajillion conferences, it’s my second nature to find mistakes or mental note what I would change–-you know for the fun of it and to feel superior. But I was hard-pressed to find any major boo-boos no matter how hard I tried. CMW was a well-oiled logistics machine from start to finish. The sessions started on time, the speakers were 90% top notch, and the events were memorable. Even the most basic details like lunches—normally a hassle when you have to leave the conference or sit in a stuffy banquet room— were grab-and-go to run to a session or hang out at the convention center. It’s a detail, but one that makes a difference in the overall experience. The opening reception held in the newly-revamped Flats area had it all: food, drinks, a pool, networking, groovy lighting, content geeks awkwardly dancing. But it worked. Cheap Trick concert in one word: epic. Though I loved them when I was a teen, I wasn’t that excited, thinking they were more AARP than OMG. Boy was I wrong, these badasses put on a rockin’ show. I even got one of the guitar picks that was tossed in the audience! #groupiemoment

Mix and Match Theme

Make no mistake: the theme of the show was “Content Strikes Back” and there were Star Wars posters everywhere, cheesy references to it in most presentations, and the grand stage opened with Joe Pulizzi on a starship deck that looked like it came from community theater (I think on purpose?). Added strange bonus: Pulizzi’s ending included a contentized Matrix scene, replete with Keanu Reeve’s trademark black jacket. Similarly, many attendees, including myself, wondered what the hell the former Luke Skywalker could contribute to the content conversation. But we were wrong—the guy proved to be an engaging, funny, and honest speaker about celebrity content and could talk a good game about his Twitter-follower competition with Carrie Fisher. He even trashed Star Wars franchise for making him lose 50 pounds for his one scene in “The Force Awakens”that only showed his face. Other daily keynotes were engaging—in fact the speaker with the highest rating automatically gets top spot at the start of the conference.

Attack of the Corporate Packs

There are an estimated 3,500 people that attended CMW event from 50 countries and 50 of the Fortune 100. In other words, the vast majority are from a corporate environment, which was evident through the massive content marketing teams traveling in packs. Armed with occasional orange clothing and an expense account, the roamed the convention center hallways in droves. Admittedly, I did feel like an oddball as a freelancer. But there were plenty of friendly people to network with. It would have been more inclusive, however, to have sessions catering to us content outliers.The closest was one on best practices to hire freelance writers (you can bet I was there). There was also a “Writing Salon” for consultants  in the spiffy new Hilton, away from the action. In the future, I would like to see more events for corporate and freelancers to network directly.

Dare to be “Different” or Die

Remember I said this won’t be a list of takeaways? Indulge me with my few random observations. Speakers in many of the sessions said in their own unique way that content has reached peak so you must think and do differently. As content marketers, we can no longer crank out the same old stuff—with so much noise you absolutely, unequivocally must stand out. Obvious yes, but how to get around it? Idea-planting included: call attention to a provocative question that no one else answers in the industry; take a stand on an industry issue; find that missing stat and capitalize on it in a big way; extract insight from data for a non-obvious answer; dig for interesting correlations and weird ideas to pounce on; come up with “unthinkable” ideas no one else is doing (like freeing gated content or doing a negative campaign that speaks the truth). Though none of these ideas were exclusively new, together they lent a shot of creativity and deeper thought to bring home.

Fuzzy Line Between Journalism and Content: Demolished

As a former journalist (and a cynical reporter at heart) I was surprised, elated and deflated to see that the rise of “brand newsrooms” (oxymoron anyone?) is a real, established thing. Among content marketers and journalists alike, there is a resigned acceptance that newspapers are dying, content is thriving, and a way to make a buck on the side (which has become the main entree). As one speaker and former reporter put it: journalists don’t think they need anything from content, but content marketers know they need journalists. A journalism style brings a dose of reality to content. In essence, the mindset of journalism can lead to greater content marketing.  We should always be asking ourselves with every piece of content we produce: will it pass skeptic test? The only thing I disagreed with: that the pace of content marketing is significantly slower than daily deadlines of journalism, but then again, maybe it’s just my clients (and you know who you are).

KISS Principle lives aka no Friction

Several speakers focused on the importance of content simplicity from writing to delivery. Cut the resistance between where you are and where you want to go to make it easier for your readers. We’re not just left-brained or right-brained about decision-making. Our reptilian brain likes simple choices and hates change. This or that. Chocolate or vanilla. Try or buy. That also means that content should stay away from any sort of difficult, interruptive reading experiences, like rotating banners or tons of links. We need to prepare and communicate our content simply, elegantly and concisely, whether it’s an ad campaign, landing page, a blog post or even social media post. Another fact: Consumers don’t care where they get their information from, they just want it. So don’t be concerned about “credit,” be concerned about giving readers what they want—they’ll thank you later. Again, not rocket science, but  good to remind ourselves of every time we’re producing content, it’s not about us, it’s about freely delivering value and and solving problems for our readers. In other words, the fantastically-jargonny word: customer centricity.

My content marketing awards

Unsurprisingly, the award session didn’t include best freelance content marketer of the year or other  honored oddities. However, I’ve devised some of my own to fill in the gap. You’re welcome.

Best opportunity: 1% on the web are creating content, the rest are lurkers and contributors; this means infinite opportunity for content creators who want mindshare to be a leader not sheep

Best reality check: You may have great content, but quality alone cannot overcome the competitive landscape

Best quote: If you’re writing for everyone, you’re not writing for anyone

Best anti-best practice: Don’t follow best practices, great marketers craft their own

Strangest buzzphrase: “children of personas”: I dare you to bring it up in your next content strategy meeting just to see the dazed expressions

Most unrealistic concept: “empathy meetings”one presenter said, is when he meets with clients weekly to discuss and solve core problems; My empathy starts when I have to go to a meeting at all

Most overused word: Friction—it just rubs me the wrong way

Best live tweeting: Selfie Humblebrag aka @Shumblebrag. Brilliant at keeping the pretention, ridiculousness, and conference clichés in check. We need more of that—everywhere.

In a nutshell, I think CMW was worth the price (including my discounts, of course). It was some good learning, easy networking, and fun entertainment—but please don’t expect me to wear orange next year.

Author’s note: Next post I’ll be taking a look at the content produced by CMW trade show exhibitors to assess who is eating their own dog food and who needs to bulk up.