How Storytelling Sells

March 23, 2011

Corporate Storytelling as Undiscovered Riches

There is a growing movement that believes in the power of storytelling to communicate in business, even to sell products and services. What is behind this thinking and how can we tap into the power of our inner voice?

First of all, I’m not claiming that anything I say here is new. I was lucky ten years ago to meet an interesting man from the Mars Corporation who had worked on exactly this area. As usual, Mars were ahead of the game. Disney have also habitually understood the power of storytelling as part of building their brand, perhaps because their films are a succession of stories and their experiences and merchandise are so dependent on the stories they tell.

So why is storytelling so effective? First of all, storytelling taps into one of the oldest pastimes, a way of uniting communities, conveying truths and entertaining those we love. Children beg to be told a bedtime story, and so, a small part of us continues to feel comforted and reassured by information presented in the form of a tale.

There is a strong oral element to storytelling. In history, tales were communicated from generation to generation without being written down. Sometimes music accompanied the storyteller. Sometimes storytelling took the form of drama, initially in ancient Greece, perhaps even in caves, and certainly in the plays of Medieval mummers.

Storytelling is therefore an important part of the dialogue between people. What is the first question you ask a someone you meet at a business networking event? I bet it’s something along the lines of “How long have you been with your company?” To which, oddly if you think about it, the classic answer is a story: “I’ve been with Plastic Holdings for three years. Well, before that I was in a different industry, helping research into oil based paints. Now though with Plastic Holdings I’ve had the chance to travel the world and help people understand the importance of the right materials to the job in hand.” See what I mean? The questionner didn’t ask his new acquaintance to tell a story, but it was immediately the first response.

There are two ideas that spring from this th are significant. The first is the strong oral tradition of storytelling. Stories were initially passed down from person to person, and as such, any corporate ‘story’ needs to have an oral element. In addition to appearing in company newsletters, on websites, etc, the company story needs to take flight in the conversations of staff members. This is where it starts to feel part of the company culture. Video can also play a part in disseminating the story.

Second, and these two are connected, it needs to feel, and be, completely authentic. This is important. We’re not talking fluffy myth making here. OK, myths are stories too, told first at the hearth and then in theatres and on stage but veryone knows them for what they are. Myths do not belong in corporate culture. Stories do. A good corporate story is a carefully researched and validated recording of real events.

The wonderful Max Howard, President of Exodus Film Group and owner of the Max Howard Consulting Group is now working worldwide helping organisations understand the importance of corporate storytelling. Animation specialist, ex-Disney and Warner, a man who can spot a good story from 20 paces, it will be interesting to see his progress with major organisations over the coming months. The views on storytelling raised above are my own; I am sure Max could tell it better.


Growing Your Business in a Recession

February 2, 2011

 

Keep a Sense of Focus in Recessionary Times

In November, I posted on How to Market in a Recession, explaining the importance of free information, relevance and careful testing of marketing strategies.

The more I talk to clients and consider the best ways to grow my own business in the current climate, the more synergies I see. So I decided to share these learnings in the hope that they are useful to others.

It may seem hard to imagine, but there is indeed much business in the current climate. It’s just a case of identifying where it is and tailoring your proposition to fit. Here are some thoughts on how to run your business in a recession:

1. Explain the value in your proposition. Don’t just give your customers value, explain where the value is. Your customers may need to justify their spend either to a board, their colleagues or even themselves.

2. Provide open pricing models. Offer a variety of different pricing options with the services very clearly defined for each one. This puts customers fully in control of how much they buy and for how long. This is true whether you are promoting office maintenance services to companies or running a restaurant for tourists. By providing an ‘a la carte’ or ‘set menu’ offering, customers feel in control of their purse strings and are more likely to want to buy from you.

3. Understand your client’s business in depth. By tracking your client’s business, you can help them stay on track and understand the challenges that their business is facing.

4. Deliver quality. Quality is always a prerequisite, but look at the details. What more can you offer to enhance your service offering? What can you do better?

5. Sweat the detail. Think about everything that’s important to your customer and make sure that your products and services meet those needs. For example, if you are running a tourist restaurant next to a beach, what would make someone visit your cafe instead of the one next door? Then, no matter how inconvenient to you, make those changes. If there are fewer customers on the beach, you want them to be eating lunch with you, not your competitor down the promenade. It sounds Darwinian but it’s true. If you are running a telecoms service for businesses, what annoys clients about the way other companies send their bills, extend lines of credit, send their engineers, pick up the phone? Take every one of these points and do them better in your organisation, even if it means taking tough decisions.

6. Continue to market. There are some cuts that need to be made in tough times, but make sure that everyone knows you are still there and open for business. Use innovative strategies, challenge pricing models, by all means, but make sure you promote your company with as much energy as in the good times.

I hope that these thoughts are useful. It would be great to hear your experiences.


How to Write a Press Release

January 19, 2011

Writing Press Releases is Simple

Last week I gave some tips on how to structure a press release template. This week, here is some guidance on writing a press release – assuming that you already have your press release template together.

1. The Headline. The headline should summarise the entire press release and encourage the journalist to read further. If it’s a business to business press release, something along the lines of  ‘Sondberg Printing Announces Acquisition of Greenink Supplies’ would work well. If the press release is for business to consumer, you might want to adjust your tone if the subject is a little lighter; for example ‘UK Consumers Love Peachy Scents this Valentine’s Day’.

2. Writing Style. Your writing style needs to vary depending on the content of your release. Think about the publication or website in which you want your release to appear and write about your news in a way that it likely to appeal to the editor. If you are sending your release to The Telegraph, The Sun or Baking Professionals, the style is going to need to be very different. With B2B PR, you can assume that the editor and the reader will have a lot more background knowledge of the subject.

3. Make a Great First Impression. The first paragraph should summarise all the key points. Remember that a busy editor will want to understand your press release quickly before putting it forward for possible inclusion or rejection.

4. Give Enough Detail but Not Too Much. Use your second paragraph to give enough – but not too much – additional background. About 100 words is enough.

5. Add Quotations. Add some quotations from interested parties. There should be at least one quotation from your company, perhaps from the CEO, plus a quotation from another related group. This could be a client or business partner if the release is about an agreement, or someone who understands the relevance of the news, either an industry spokesperson or consumer expert.

6. Finish with your Contact Details. These should be in the press release template I described last week.

This framework should form a useful template for writing a press release. I’d be happy to answer any questions your have if you leave a comment.


Tips for Creating a Press Release Template

January 12, 2011

A Press Release Template in Less Time Than It Takes to Find the Coffee

If you are planning to release news to print and online journalists, it will help to create a proper press release template. Once you have set up a template, it can be used for future press releases, saving you time. Here are some tips on the essentials that you need to include:

1. Create your press release template in MS Word or another, similarly accessible format. If a new version of Word comes out, use the slightly older version until you are sure that most journalises will be able to open the new format.

2. Add a logo to the top of your document.

3. Underneath, on the left hand side, add ‘For Immediate Release’.

4. In the centre, add the words ‘Press Release’.

5. Underneath, add a headline for the press release such as ‘ABG Graphics Acquires West London Design Company’

6. Start your press release with the location of your news release and the date – for example “London, 15th February 2011”

7. After the main press release, add a final paragraph containing boilerplate about the company; for example

‘About ABG Graphics:

ABG Graphics is a London based graphic design company specialising in design for all types of fashion industry catalogues. Founded in 1985, ABG now has a staff of 165 people in the UK and China and dedicates itself to serving leading names in fashion retail.’

8. At the bottom of the release add a section: ‘For Further Information:’ and then include your contact details which should include your name, your title, telephone number and email address.

These tips should help to get you started with any PR activity. Look out for next week’s post on writing press releases.


7 Tips for Choosing a Website Content Management System

January 5, 2011

A Good CMS Should Work Like a Well Oiled Machine

I’m back after a hectic festive season and hope that everyone who celebrates this period had fun and a good rest.

The need to help several clients update their websites has made me think about what makes a good website Content Management System.

So first, what is a Content Management System?

Content Management System – A Definition

A CMS is a software platform that enables an authorised website editor to access the website to make changes of various kinds. Depending on the complexity of the CMS, and the level of authority the website owner wishes to bestow on the editor, the following functions are possible. I’ll start with the most common functions, moving to those less commmon.

1. Add news stories, press releases, white papers. This is probably ‘level one’ in terms of authorisation.

2. Change the text of the actual website pages. For this the user should have copywriting skills or be working with a copywriter to maintain the house style.

3. Create new web pages

4. Specify the URL for the new page (this is handy for SEO reasons)

What Makes a Good CMS?

A good CMS will contain the following features:

1. A robust architecture. No matter your level of access, you should not be able to screw anything up in terms of the core design

2.It should be possible to easily find the page you are looking for. In-Context Editing, where the copy is viewable within the page design can help with this

3. The CMS should have been designed to help visualise the website both on the temporary (hidden) site and the live site. For example, you should be able to program a link on the temporary site to another page on the site and check it, and these links should also work when the site goes live

4. The navigation should be intuitive. You shouldn’t need to read a manual to work out the majority of the programming.

5. It should be possible to create a new page and to specify keywords within the URL for SEO purposes

6. You should be able to move page order around in the menus

7. It should be possible to move the running order of items such as news stories, case studies, technical papers etc on a page.

Whilst it’s more of a comment than a tip for choosing a Content Management System, it is worth noting that importing text directly from Microsoft Word can be problematic. It is therefore better (although slower) to move the text into Notepad first.

Wishing you all a happy, glitch-free 2011.


Intelligent Email Marketing

December 8, 2010

 

In Email Marketing, One Size Really Doesn't Fit All

Email marketing is becoming increasingly challenging. We’re all receiving too much email, bacn (unsolicited but not entirely unwelcome mail) and bad old spam. As a result,  spam filters are re-tuned and email providers are moving towards preference based email management.

Here are some thoughts on improving your success rate and staying ahead of the curve.

  1. Design and Copywriting. Ok, this will probably surprise you. Keep it to plain text. 38% of recipients read emails using a mobile device and not all of these can read HTML. Do you want to lose this many of your targets? Entice and engage with the headline and provide links to more graphical content.
  2. Browser Testing. Ensure that your email is fully tested across all browsers.
  3. Relevancy. Seek relevancy in your communications. Subscribers will be most interested in your services at the point that they subscribe, so keep your relationship going from there.
  4. Test Frequency by dividing your contacts into groups and sending different numbers of emails.
  5. Personalise. Drop the ‘one size fits all’ model and respond to areas of interest shown by patterns of response to your emails. Companies that hook onto patterns of interest such as Travelocity have seen a significant increase in their conversion rates.
  6. Use a Good CRM which will enable an automated response to patterns of consumer behaviour, or at the very least, the ability to keep track of all this data. Check out Strongmail’s CRM offerings.

For further thoughts on e-mail marketing, check out my previous post, Eight Ways to Improve Your Email Marketing. Apologies for not linking to the companies and posts mentioned above. There seems to be a problem with WordPress but I’ll resolve this as soon as I can.


Social Media – Should Companies Adopt Avatars?

December 1, 2010

For Some Brands, A Social Media Avatar Could Work Perfectly

I had a great meeting this week with a bright project manager who thinks that corporate social media works best if the company adopts a character, a sort of avatar, unique to the company. So rather than setting up a Twitter account in the name of a company, it’s even better to use a robot, a games character, or some other type of identifiable personality. The theory is that this makes the company more approachable and more interesting.

Here are some ideas for social media avatars:

  • A robot to represent a technology brand
  • A cartoon musician to represent a music company
  • A young girl to represent a fashion label

Here are the pros and cons of this approach as I see it.

Benefits of Using a Social Media Avatar

1. It’s good way to manifest your brand values. Really it’s no different to finding a good and memorable actor to represent your brand in ongoing TV advertising, for example Nanette Newman for Fairy, Jamie Oliver for Sainsbury.

2. It removes complexity around using real people. Real people come and go and may say that wrong thing. A social media avatar is completely controllable by the marketing or PR operation.

3. It can be more entertaining. You can take more risks with a social media avatar but keep it fully in the scope of the brand.

Negatives of Using a Social Media Avatar

1. It can feel a bit trite. Especially in Business to Business (B2B) marketing and PR, clients often expect a more mature approach explanation of messages.

2. It has to work with your company branding. If you represent a fun, perhaps technology driven brand, this could work really well.

3. It may work better with the younger demographic. Younger clients might find it more entertaining and interesting. Older clients might find it a distaction.

4. The copywriting needs to be good. If you start something like this, you cannot adopt a classic corporate copywriting style. The style needs to sound like the avatar speaking to its audience.

So in conclusion, the success of social media avatars depends very much on the brand and audience. I hope you’ve found this thought-provoking. I’m off to find my robot costume and get my picture taken. Anyone joining me?


Is Informal the New Formal in Copywriting?

November 26, 2010

There are Times When Copywriting Should Wear a Suit

As is evidenced by this blog, I’m all for informality in copywriting. Informality brings people together, it suggests that we’re not too stuck up. It sounds more like the spoken word. As a result, it builds bridges.

Informal copywriting styles were initially used with care. Now it has become a fashion and as a fashion, it has been adopted unthinkingly by the marketing masses. In fact, it’s very much like fashion. The first time anyone wore flares, or cigarette pants, or tricorn hats, it would have appeared daring, on the money, energetic. Then the style was adopted by everyone, and even those who looked bad dressed in the fashion of the day had to wear it too.

It’s the same with copywriting. There are times when it’s just right for the job. Some brands cry out for informality – Innocent Drinks, for example, American Apparel, Gap. They crave snappy sentences that aren’t necessarily grammatical, ‘isn’t’ instead of ‘is not’, exclamation marks, directness.

Yet last week I received a letter from a well respected financial company. They started their letter with ‘We’re pleased to send you…’ Did this make me feel that I had my money in the right place? No. It really didn’t. Where are the trusty, suited individuals looking after my money? It reminds me of the poorly assembled marketing for the Abbey building society before they were purchased by Santander.

Certain organisations should be formal. I’ll give you some examples. Banks, financial institutions, government departments, solicitors, barristers and lawyers, hospitals,  educational institutions, museums, libraries, funeral directors. By formal, I don’t mean stuffy. There is no reason why a copywriting style cannot feel warm, but at the same time reflect certain formalities. These are institutions that we respect, that we rely on to educate our children, uphold the rule of law, care for the vulnerable or the deceased. They’re not selling us snackpots or jeans. They’re there to help us at the most important times in our lives. Quite simply, their writing style should reflect the importance of their role in their lives, and frankly, I don’t care if they come across as formal, or even stuffy. I want them to do their job and do it well. Formal language is a signifier that the doctor has read her notes, the bank has counted to the last penny, and the solictor has remembered that clause we discussed last week. Let’s remember that there are times when copywriting has to wear a suit, and times when it’s OK to wear jeans.


How Much Should I Spend on Marketing?

November 14, 2010

Strategy Should Define Marketing Spend

It’s not always simple to define the appropriate level of marketing spend for a business. However, here are some considerations that should make it a little easier to analyse.

1. How long has your business been established? If your company is well established with a good market share, it may be possible to operate marketing at a stable, but not aggressive level. However, this depends on:

2. What are your competitors spending on marketing? Although these calculations will never be 100% accurate, you should aim to spend more than your competitors.

How is Marketing Spend Calculated?

The most common method of calculating marketing spend is a term coined by IDC called ”MBR’ or Marketing Budget Ratio. MBR is essentially, a ratio of your marketing spend to sales revenue.

So What is Normal Marketing Spend?

Marketing spend varies by sector, type of business and other factors such as product lifecycle and competition. Technology companies’ marketing spend ranges from 1.1% MBR for IT service companies, to software companies who spend an average 6.5% of sales revenues. Yet there are some quite dramatic exceptions even within this band. Dot com startups seeking rapid growth and market share can spend as much as five times their annual revenues on marketing, although this is only sustainable through investment and with a view to establishing their market position as quickly as possible.

Business to business companies also vary significantly from business to consumer companies. In the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector, it is common to spend 50% of net sales in the first year of a new product, reducing this to 8-10% within a few years. Conversely, B2B companies will typically spend a few percent of their sales revenues on marketing.

Although it only covers media spend, you may enjoy Paul Dunay’s excellent blog on how major technology companies only spend 0.2% of their revenues on media. As he explains, the bigger the company, the smaller media spend becomes as a percentage of overall revenues, making it harder for smaller companies to compete.

I’ve mentioned the importance of tracking competitors’ spend. It is also wise to think about the platforms on which you will need to promote your company. The online space is becoming increasingly crowded; competition for certain keywords is high. It is best to consult with an expert in online marketing before setting marketing budgets if these areas are important to you.

Finally, rather than allocating marketing spend on the basis of what is affordable, it’s perhaps important to take a step back and consider what will really move your business forward. How can you flourish in the competitive landscape? What are the important promotional routes to gain exposure? If the budget is not available, it’s worth considering outside investment or a change of product offering. Unfortunately a good product is not enough. It’s about making sure the market knows you have it.


7 Tips for Designing Trade Show Displays

October 29, 2010

Consider Overall Design Even While Planning the Detail

This week I wrote on How to Buy a Trade Show Display. This is a follow-on post to help you consider the best way to use the available space. Of course, you will most likely work with a designer to create the actual artwork, but an understanding of the key considerations of designing a trade show display will help you get the most from your relationship with your designer and create a better result.

1. Think about the Content. Consider the key pieces of information that should appear on your trade show display. Try not to include anything that doesn’t need to be there as this will just clutter the space. Remember that people will only skim read any copy on the display as they walk past, so copy should be brief and presented as headlines and bulletpoints. Use one piece of paper for each section of the display and use it to summarise the content that it needs to contain. Arrange the pieces of paper in a line from left to right and check that the copy is presented in right order for a booth visitor. (This arrangement may need to be different in non Western cultures).

2. Intersperse Copy with Graphics. Don’t make your wall panels too copy-heavy. Think about ways that your designer could explain your business visually and devote some panels almost entirely to graphics.

3. Beware of Topical Content. Unless you have the budget to change your trade show display graphics with every event, try to convey topical promotions in literature rather than on the booth itself. If you need to promote a topical offer on the booth, try to use one banner which can be changed for the next event.

4. State the Obvious. Visitors to trade shows get brain dead working out what businesses offer at exhibitions. Make it very obvious on the display graphics. For example, if your company makes car parts, make sure there is some prominent copy that says ‘Best Quality Car Parts’ or similar. It’s amazing how many companies feel they need to complicate their message and therefore make their offerings very unclear.

5. Consider Perspective. Think about the distance from which people will view your booth, and the angle. Make sure that all copy is readable and that key messages are at eye level. Make sure that anything particularly significant will not be obscured by AV equipment, tables, chairs or other furniture.

6. Consider Colour. It is important of course, to reflect the branding of your company, but try to use colour to add life to your exhibition booth.

7. Visualise the Design. Ask your designer to provide a 3D illustration of the booth artwork in situ. This will help you to spot any errors or inconsistencies. For example, if you are designing separate booth panels, make sure that the graphics are in alignment across each section.

These tips should make designing your trade show display a great deal easier. Good luck and feel free to share your experiences and tips.