Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Meaningless Words and Blah Blah Text: Three Buzzwords to Avoid

“”When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’” L. Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

As another year comes to a close, folks are taking stock of the year in buzzwords – especially pertaining to business-to-business marketing communications.

It can be fun reading posts about “PR Buzzwords” or “Overused Words in LinkedIn profiles” – but it can be painful, too. 

As a marketing communicator, I’ve written a fair share of content with words like  “Value Add,” Award-Winning,” “Industry-Leading,” “Mission Critical” and “Thought Leader.”

Beware the Blah Blah

Granted, these are useful concepts in PR or marketing communications.

Yet terms like these and others quickly become meaningless and instead of adding “more” they start to mean “less” as so aptly put by Humpty Dumpty in the quote above.

In fact, they become “blah blah” text, and are best deleted.
The Long and Short of It
Mark Twain once said about an essay or a letter he had written, “I am sorry this is so long. I didn't have time to make it shorter.”
It takes time to write concise and compelling text.  One must first capture the essence of the idea, write an initial draft, go back and reorganize, then return a third or fourth time to “slash and burn” meaningless blah blah that adds no value. 
Top 3 Offenders of 2010
In the spirit of “slash and burn,” here are my suggestions for the top 3 offending blah blah terms of 2010.
  • Transformative – This isn’t a word.  Using the word in a proposal or marketing blurb does not make it so. Exactly what does "transformative" mean anyway?  This is a major blah-blah word. Best avoided 
  • Deep Dive – I hate hearing this term in a meeting when it means, “to explore an issue or subject in-depth. "We should meet to do a deep dive on this issue." What’s the converse – a “shallow dive”? 
  • Going ForwardThis is “filler” and of no value.  It means “looking to the future” and can be deleted anytime you see or hear it, as in the following sentence:  "Going forward, we anticipate earnings improving in core industries, with even better results in the expanding diversified markets."   Simply remove “Going forward…” and the meaning of the sentence is not impacted.

Additional Resources

As for additional reading, here’s a suggestion for going forwardVisit these transformative websites to take a further “deep dive” into the subject:

BuzzWhack - demystifying business jargon & buzzwords - check out the funny warning on the home page! 

The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary - the most complete A-Z "blah blah" resource there is! 

Happy Buzzword-Free New Year!  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mind Your Manners: 5 Basic Rules of Twitter Etiquette

Anybody with a keyboard and an Internet connection can connect to a group via social media,  whether through FaceBook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. 
For social media to be “social”, it’s a good idea to remember one’s manners. 
In the case of the micro-blogging site Twitter, it’s a place for business-to-business marketers to engage with customers, prospects, influencers, analysts, media and others. 

An effective business strategy is to use Twitter to share key industry topics, trends, regulations or other relevant and timely issues.

Twitter as a Reflection of Your Brand
I’d also like to suggest that Twitter is an expression of your brand.

A brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind of your prospect. Thus if follows that your Tweet stream contributes to that perception.

So it’s wise to operate within the constructs of common courtesy to lock in positive branding. Your Tweets are a reflection of your brand!

5 Easy Rules: A Matter of Common Courtesy
Inspired by conventional wisdom from Emily Post, Miss Manners and other etiquette experts, these tried and true rules are relevant when engaging in “virtual conversation” – especially if Tweeting on behalf of a client.

1. Listen when people tweet. A great conversation stopper is when someone is not paying attention or looks everywhere else but at the speaker. Same holds true with Twitter – acknowledging a compelling Tweet or content is polite – it lets folks know you are listening.
2. Don't monopolize the Tweet Stream.
 Avoid a one-way series of “all about you” or “all about your client” messages. Retweet industry trends, link to expert blogs, business forecasts, or respond to a Tweet of interest.  Don’t broadcast or blast Tweets about the client. (this was a hard lesson for me when coordinating Tweets for a tech client– PR habits die hard!)
3. Tweet specific questions to show interest & go deeper.
 A classic conversation tip: nothing is as effective as the follow up question.
4. Watch your language. Good spelling, appropriate language, and a grasp of the English language all have a place even within the confines of 140 characters.
5. Please & thank you. Even in the virtual world, common courtesy never goes out of fashion.

A Success Story
It’s been a distinct pleasure to be at the helm of the Tweet stream for Plex Systems, a client under the auspices of Markit Strategies and PR. 

These rules noted above were assembled as a result of managing the program. By taking this approach, and using powerful tools like Twiangulate to link to relevant followers, here’s what has been accomplished.  

-  Relevant followers have grown by 60%.
-  Mentions and retweets by influential followers have grown 500%.
 Results also include several new media placements as a result of Twitter connections.

It pays to connect on Twitter, while minding one’s manners. There’s still much to learn – but it pays to be polite. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thank You, Google Instant, For The Gift of Nearly One Full Hour

Remember the introduction of Google Instant? It was launched in early fall 2010.  As you recall,  Google Instant is a search enhancement that shows search results as you type.

I found it quite distracting at first, and now hardly notice it. In fact, it’s an expected feature.

The brainiacs at Google did study after study and found that on average, people take 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only milliseconds to glance at another part of the page.

They figured users scan search results page as they type. Heck, they figured correctly!

Don’t you find you often get the right content much faster than before because you have been “trained” not to finish typing a full search term, or even press “search?”
If I Could Turn Back Time
So by predicting my search and showing results before I finish typing, the Google smarty-pants assure me that Google Instant saves 2-5 seconds per search.
OK so here’s where math skills take over.
20 Average Searches Per Day
Between work-related, family and personal tasks, I guestimate I perform between 15 – 25 Google searches per day. Emphasis on the word “guestimate”….(Note:  this data is hard to find, so let’s just use this number. In fact I likely performed an over-average number of Google searches just searching for  “average number of searches one person performs in one day”)
Back to the math…(Thanks, Colleen of Sullivan Leh Designs, for checking me on this...) 
100 Seconds Saved Per Day
So if on average I perform about 20 searches a day, with a savings of 5 seconds per search with Google Instant, average daily savings total 100 seconds each day with Google Instant.
11.5 Minutes Saved Per Week
In a given week, that’s 700 seconds, or about 11.5 minutes saved.  
50 Minutes Saved Per Month
So last month, I saved a total of about 50 minutes.   (By golly, that’s 10 hours savings per year! Can’t wait for 2011!)
The Gift of Time
Sincere thanks to Google Instant for saving me about 1 hour last month, what a gift! 
Unfortunately that hour was wasted coming up with this blog posting. Ah, the irony. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Button Button, Who’s Got the Button?

My colleagues and I have been chatting a lot about buttons this week. Yes, it’s been that kind of week. 
Can a seemingly insignificant web button make a difference in how a business to business website, direct marketing email, or newsletter generates leads? 
You betcha!
How a button is designed; colored; written and placed on a page makes a big impact in how prospects behave after opening up an email or visiting a website.
The “click to take an action” button comes in a range of varying shapes, sizes and styles. Conventional wisdom reminds us to consider the following.

---Text   Using images or icons on buttons makes them more useful, for sure. An icon makes it clearly obvious to the user as to what function the button provides. For instance, an arrow indicates that a button guides to the next or previous step or page.The text depicted on a button is also critical, and should be short, concise, and indicate what will happen when the button is clicked. Command verbs rule. (I.e. “Register Now” button takes the visitor to a registration page; “Download Free Paper” takes the prospect to a Resource Center 

--- Design  Buttons come in a variety of shapes – the highest performers are rounded and somewhat dimensional like a keyboard button. 

Again, wiser folks than I regularly perform A/B testing to see what design produces optimal results.  Their findings show that the highest performing buttons look clickable and clearly portray what will happen when clicked. Sticking with a recognizable standard (rounded corners) is likely a good strategy. 

--- Operation   The ‘hover state’ and ‘click state’ of a button can mimic the physical reality of clicking a key on a keyboard, complete with a clicking sound.  All these operational elements have been tested.  Again, the standard operations always perform best (a clicked button that looks “depressed” is what a user expects.)

--- Color  Once again, this is an area where user testing is critical. Lots of studies out there that concentrate on this one issue. I can’t imagine doing this for my day job, but there are many studies that show yellow is the highest performing button color, and can make a huge difference to an e-commerce site. Next time you browse eBay or Amazon, check out the button colors!

--- Placement  Much has been written and studied about button placement.  I can’t add too much of value here, other than to note that providing multiple buttons and calls to action on a website is proven to increase conversion rates and performance. 

Consider Your Buttons

If the goal of a website, direct email, or eNewsletter is to convince a prospect to take action, consider your buttons.  Making it easy for a user to find a button and take action will make all the difference in your programs.

And if you can, A/B test.  In the case of a direct mail, send out one message with one type of button; and the same exact message with a different button design.  See which one performs the best. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Would the Talking Heads Say About Twitter?

You start a conversation you can't seem to finish it

You're talkin' a lot but you're not sayin' anything
When I have nothing to say my lips are sealed
Say something once why say it again?

In these lyrics from The Talking Heads 1977 breakout hit “Psycho Killer”, the art-house band could well have been talking about what not to do on Twitter, the social media “Micro Blogging” tool gaining popularity with business-to-business marketers. 

David Byrne and company might mean that when using Twitter, it’s not wise for folks to be talking a lot and not saying anything; not smart to have nothing to say; nor is it good idea to be saying things over and over. 

A Plethora of Postings

Take a moment to Google “Twitter Social Media Marketing Strategy” to see the plethora of postings offering sage advice on how to leverage Twitter for business-to-business marketing.

In post after post, read how to gain influential followers, locate useful Twitter tools, and raise the awareness of a company’s products and services with regular Tweets.

Interact, Engage

It was a Google search that recently led me to an excellent blog posting from Penn State’s Business School’s blog.  The posting talks about the importance of Twitter as a way to interact with customers and attract prospects.

The posting ended with this nugget: “Social media existed long before the Web.  It was often called “conversation.”

Keyword = Conversation.  

I’ve only begun to dip my toe in the social media marketing pool, and am comfortable being in “learning mode” about what potentially is an excellent outlet for engaging b-to-b prospects and industry community members. It's important to keep the concept of "conversation" front and center. 

It’s a mind shift.  Instead of looking at Twitter as another “channel for promotion” or another outlet to “get the message out,”  the key concept is to use the tool as a way to engage.   

This means being intentional in connecting to people where it makes the most sense from a business perspective.  This might include current customers, analysts, media, business associations or others.  

You Are What You Tweet

Once one connects with those specific to the market, tweet about valuable information in the form of links, advice, and posing/answering compelling & timely questions.   

Retweet information of value, but don’t overdo it by “saying something once, then saying it again…”   

After all, reading through a company’s Tweet timeline is a good way to get to become informed about a company’s brand. (Twitter as a branding tool, future blog post!)

Converse, Then Connect

In short, establish a conversation with folks based on topics of value.  

Then it’s possible to reap the rewards in terms of building connections to those in the market community.  

So What Would The Talking Heads Say?  

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what The Talking Heads might say about how to use Twitter.

To paraphrase David Byrne: 
1.     Don’t be a PsychoTweeter
2.     Use Twitter to start conversations
3.     Tweet a lot and say something
4.     Have something to say each time you tweet
5.     If you tweet it once, there’s no reason to tweet it again

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

5 Lessons Tap Dancing Teaches About B-to-B Marketing

A few years back a friend encouraged me to join an adult tap dancing class.   The program is sponsored by the local Recreation Department. 

And before this goes any further, note that we students in Beginning/Intermediate Adult Tap aren’t the Rockettes by any means. We’re just eager learners taught by a skilled instructor who has a sense of humor (thankfully), as she gamely leads us through shuffle ball changes, heel/toe combinations, stamps & stomps.

We assemble most Monday nights to learn steps with such intriguing names as “Falling Off the Log”, “Back to Cincinnati”, “Paddle Turns” and many more. In the spring, we zip ourselves up in sparkly costumes and perform in a recital right along with all the kids and teens.  We make quite the spectacle!

Tap dancing offers specific lessons related to my day job: marketing communications,  planning marketing programs & campaigns, and working with clients.  The way I see it, tap dancing class offers the following five lessons.

1)    Take each step as it happens.   This is another variation of the sage advice “fully concentrate on each present moment.”   In tap class, one can’t master the step one is doing while worrying about the next step to come.  That’s the same in marketing. 
As an example, when planning for a big project like a product launch, a web launch, a newsletter redesign, or a major email campaign, focus on what one action to take now to prep for the next step. Do you need to arrange a team planning session? Draft a key message document? Write a case study? Small steps lead to larger success.
2)    Go about your routines with gusto.  Even a novice tap dancer can perform a routine “with gusto” ...  The key is to make the routine effective. 
In business-to-business marketing programs, there are “routine tasks” to implement each month:  customer newsletters; prospect eNewsleters; website updates; press releases; monthly campaigns; marketing metric reporting.  One must tackle each project systematically and with gusto to maximize effectiveness.
3)    Practice and know your stuff, but improvise if needed  I’m a big believer in practicing.  In fact, I host emergency tap dance practices with the entire class in my garage right before each recital. (It's fun to see the neighbors doing double-takes when they walk by!)

It’s wise to be “well practiced” in terms of marketing.  That means attending webinars, participating with professional groups like IABC Detroit, or attending conferences such as Usability Week conferences by Norman Nielsen Group to keep skills fresh.  Marketers should keep abreast of current thought about social media marketing, SEO and online marketing.  Practice makes perfect!

4)    Hang onto something solid if you need to regain your balance. At our last tap class, our wonderful instructor tried once again to teach us a gravity-defying “Jump shuffle” step.  Thankfully we could grip the bar while doing it to keep our balance. 

There’s a lesson here for business communications. Many projects get off balance quickly – whether because of time deadlines, the personalities involved, or internal challenges. The key here is to hang onto a process, a task, or a plan to regain balance and keep the project moving along.

5)    If all else fails be sure to show flair & enthusiasm  Despite the best planning, practicing and preparation, sometimes things don’t work out as planned.  In tap dancing, as in business-to-business marketing, the best strategy is to proceed with as much style as one can muster.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When a Brown Bag Isn’t A Brown Bag

I just returned from a marketing communications planning meeting with a team of execs from a UK-based manufacturing company. It was a great meeting about the importance of a strategic approach to PR.

Specifically, the company recognizes the value of generating “top of mind awareness” within their industry space. With systematic creation and distribution of key industry announcements, press releases, and news, the company can reinforce their brand image of technological innovation.

A regular news stream helps populate other marketing communications programs such as e-newsletters, direct mail, websites and social media.

We talked about how traditional advertising, or even PPC, has its place but isn’t an affordable option right now to meet their purposes. Conversational, or social marketing, in the form of internet content is gaining momentum and effectiveness. PR fuels this effort.

Watch Your Words!

As the discussion turned to topics worthy of announcements and news releases, it became clear that there is a distinct difference between UK and American “business-speak” and other vocabulary.

As an example, one of the company’s execs shared that in the UK, the term “brown bag” has a dramatic difference in definition than in the US. Here in the US, a “brown bag seminar” means a business meeting in which participants bring their own lunch, or “brown bag it” as they view an informative presentation. In the UK, however, the term “brown bag” conjures up visions of a homeless drunk on the side of the road. This is an important distinction when building a press release!

Never Say “Pants”

The term “pants” is also problematical. In the UK,"pants" usually refers to underwear- not trousers. The descriptive term "pants" is also used when referring to something that is of poor quality ("the movie last night was pants").

Business writing is also unique in the UK, where one will see terms like “whilst”; “heretofore”; “henceforth” and other words not often seen in business writing.

For Further Reading

The Project Britain blog on all things British life and culture offers a handy worksheet and vocabulary listing that translates UK and US terms.

As the blog points out, many Brits are familiar with American slang terms and idioms from consuming US media. Still, it pays to be sensitive, especially when dealing with a multi-cultural business communications project.

PR builds trust and credibility. It is cost-effective way to validate a new product or service to the most people possible. The challenge is to get the word out/generate interest/awareness from unbiased, third party opinion, but to use the appropriate vocabulary!

I married into a UK family, so I understand these issues. I’m just grateful the team reminded me of these particular words. So far, I better remember to stay away from “Brown Bag” and “pants”!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ask and You Shall Receive

It’s easy for a website project to get off kilter. Understandably, those on the web team have their own ideas of what works and what doesn’t work in terms of web design, features, navigation, content and so on.

Everybody on the internal team has an agenda, and a stake, when it comes time to building a website.

But for a business-to-business web project, whether you sell software or professional services or widgets, it pays big dividends to keep the typical, average user in mind. Why? If the goal of a website is lead generation, it should be extremely fast and obvious for a prospect to take action (sign up for a newsletter; follow social media; complete a contact us form). It should also be obvious, within seconds, what it is you sell. If it isn’t, your prospect will quickly click away.

What Do Your Prospects Think?

How would you know if your website is easy to use and navigate? You would ask your prospects. That’s right! You would seek out typical users and buyers of your product and ask them a few questions about the flow of the site, the navigation, the content and other key elements. Ask them informally - sit along side them with a few open ended questions and note what they do. (future blog post: ideas for a simple, DIY user testing project)

From design to content, the user can shed light on the following:

· Information architecture that matches the users' model of the information. Would your prospects be more interested in a menu list of your services, or do they want to see a description of how you serve their industry. How would you know this. You ask them.

· An intuitive navigation system to move people around this architecture. How would you know if the navigation was easy to use? You ask them.

· Chunked text, short and with liberal use of bulleted lists and highlighted keywords. Users scan, so content should support scan ability.

· Reduced use of jargon. Are you speaking the prospects language? How would you know this. You ask them

· Prioritized content availability – can your prospects find what is important to them? And how would you know what is important to your prospect? You ask them.

Parting Thought

Websites influence 97% of prospects’ purchasing decision. Doesn’t it make sense to take some time to ask a typical prospect if your website makes it easy for them to evaluate your product or service?