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.


Is iPad Advertising Like Harry Potter?

February 23, 2011

iPad Advertising is Very Harry Potter

Those who love Harry Potter will remember the portraits that are hung throughout Hogwarts and elsewhere. Living pictures that move and gesture from within their frames. In Harry Potter, the pictures in books move too.

It struck me the other day that real life advertising is becoming increasingly like the Harry Potter portraits and books, which is ironic considering that Harry Potter is set in a mythical and slightly old fashioned world which no references to Harry’s trainers can quite dispell.

So why are ads becoming increasingly interactive and what lessons are there for the keen marketor (with or without a broomstick)?

It is natural that as technology evolves, there will be an interest in stretching the boundaries as much as possible. Think of moving poster sites on the underground, at bus stops and other outdoor advertising locations. These digital billboards have evolved the concept of advertising from a static image to video, with the potential to tell a story in bite-size portions. It is important with this type of medium to consider the angle at which the consumer will see the ad, and whether there is more than one screen available. With the screens that appear on the tube escalators, it’s much better to show different elements of the story on each screen rather than show the same ad on every single screen.

In the same way, as businesses and consumers reach for tablet computers to read publications and get their news, advertising will have the potential to become more interactive, either showing a video or interactive experience, or, more spookily, and in true Harry Potter style, showing video content within a static ad. Already, stock photography sites such as Getty and iStockPhoto have made this type of content available.

So how can this content be used? What does it contribute to a static ad? Video content inserted into a static ad must add something to the message, rather than just be a gimmick. It is easy to distract the viewer and the intention should be to enhance the message. As with a photo, consider the angle of the subject’s eyeline how the composition works across the ad to include this moving content. Take as much trouble as with a photographic stock shot to ensure the mood, tone, and audio work for the brand.

It would be great to hear from digital magicians in this area and those who simply have ideas as to how it would best work.

 


LinkedIn as a B2B Marketing Tool

February 9, 2011

LinkedIn - the Business Development Powerhouse

LinkedIn is, as many readers will know, the grown-up corporate ‘cousin’ of Facebook, although they are of course run by different companies. If you’ve a few grey hairs and been in business for at least 15 years,  you will also be able to testify to the fact that LinkedIn was around before Facebook and has always been a useful tool for business to business marketing and networking.

This corporate social networking tool now has over 70 million users and at least 1 million company profiles. I say ‘at least’ as the newest figures I can find are from last June, and the last seven months have seen a steady increase in the number of people and organisations actively using its services. This partly due to LinkedIn’s shrewd marketing and also their focus on usability. LinkedIn is very clear and easy to use and this helps busy people make the most of its tools and features.

LinkedIn is an ideal tool in the B2B armoury as a high proportion of decision markers in the English-speaking business world use it. Its main advantage is that it is free to sign up, although some services come with a price tag. LinkedIn’s additional revenue comes from advertising which is carefully thought through and considerate. The French equivalent, Viadeo is moderately successful but there are challenges for growth due to its charging model. The German speaking countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland use a similar site called Xing, but those who speak English often have LinkedIn profiles as well.

Now that LinkedIn data is now accessible to the search engines, it is even more important to use this site to improve your internet presence.

So how can you use LinkedIn to raise your own and your company’s profile?

  • Ensure that you have a comprehensive personal profile listing a full career history and explaining your areas of expertise. Use a variety of terms to describe your areas of expertise so that your profile is seen by people regardless of the search terms they use to get there. For example, if you are the CEO of a bakery company, do not just use the term ‘bakery industry’ in your company description but also ‘food supplies’, ‘baked goods’, etc.
  • Regularly update your profile as this will appear in LinkedIn updates
  • Get recommendations from clients, colleagues and ex colleagues and suppliers
  • Ensure that you use a profile picture and that there is a company logo on your company profile
  • Include links to any social media accounts that you are using such as blog sites and Twitter accounts
  • Include a link to your company’s LinkedIn profile and your company website
  • Fill in all the various tabs on your company profile dealing with company services and follow the LinkedIn guides for this
  • Consider advertising to the right profile of individuals

After writing this blog, it occurs to me that it seems like a ‘LinkedIn rave’. Well I think it’s good and anyone who isn’t currently using it should do so. However, here are some ‘negatives’ if you want to be picky:

  • Loss of privacy – it’s the sacrifice you make for further commercial exposure
  • You need to ensure that your LinkedIn profile is a balanced representation of your business otherwise you could be pigeonholed into a particular area
  • As with any business information edited by its subjects, check that the information you are being provided with is correct

For further discussions about the effectiveness of LinkedIn, please feel free to post a comment.


How to Decide Whether to Exhibit at a Trade Show

January 24, 2011

 

Why Exactly Are You Going Around the World for an Exhibition?

It’s trade show season and across the world companies are asking themselves “Should we go to Broadcast Video Expo / CeBIT / Gamescom (delete or add to as appropriate)?” You get the idea.

It’s all too easy to go to trade shows for the wrong reasons and easy to stay away because the costs seem high. The following points might make it easier to decide one way or the other.

Reasons to Exhibit at a Trade Show

1. Your customers will be there. Not only will you have the opportunity to promote your company to them and entertain them, but you will exert a presence in an area surrounded by competitors.

2. The right potential customers will be there. Ask the organisers to send you a detailed breakdown of job roles and companies who attended the show last year and who have registered for this year’s event. Ask questions around the industry and find out whether the majority of ‘industry people’ are going to the show or whether it’s considered a turkey.

3. You met the right people there last year. Our memories can fail us. Think back and check your notes. Who exactly did you meet last year? What business did you close as a result of the event?

4. There are highly relevant talks taking place. This will indicate the type of visitors who are likely to attend. High quality, relevant talks will also provide added value and draw the right people to the event.

5. Consider the entrance costs. If the event is expensive to attend and in a place that it costly to travel to, you are likely to have fewer visitors but potentially they will be of a higher level. If the event is free and in a large city, there are likely to be more visitors but there will be some ‘tyre kickers’ along the way.

6. Check the date. Have the organisers considered the date of the event? Are the right people likely to be able to attend? For example, if you are promoting vegetarian food products at a large food fair, what other events or religious festivals might keep some key buyers away?

7. Do the numbers add up? If you think you could get perhaps three new customers as a result of the exhibition, and the value of these customers might be $100,000 each, then the cost of a trade show at $8,000 might be OK. If you think that you will not get any customers, or you will only get one customer at $2000, then it’s a waste of money.

Reasons Not to Exhibit at a Trade Show

1. Your competitors will be there. Ok, this might also be a reason to go, but first you need to consider why your competitors are attending. Is it simply because they have always attended? Don’t get drawn into other companies’ lazy thinking.

2. You are offered a good deal for booking early. Woah! Rein in those wild horses and consider the Reasons to Exhibit listed above.

3. The trade show is taking place somewhere nice. This is the worst reason of all. Book a holiday instead!

One last comment about exhibitions before I slide off to book a holiday at the NEC Birmingham ;o) Even if you attend an exhibition with the right delegates, book a great booth space, design a wonderful booth and meet lots of fantastic prospects, it means absolutely zip if you don’t follow up your leads. What’s more, the follow up needs to be within a week after the show. Yes really.


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.


Why SEO Your Website?

December 15, 2010

SEO is a Key Component of B2B Marketing

Recently some clients have challenged me on the point of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) at all. The argument, phrased recently by one of my American clients, is as follows:

“We’re a B2B marketing business. Our clients know who we are, so why should we spend money on Search Engine Optimization improving our organic search listings?”

Here are some good reasons to reconsider this position and using SEO, or natural search as it is also known.

1. In the area in which you are most established, your main clients and contacts may know who you are. But what about the new areas that you’d like to mine for business? Your profile will not be as high in these areas.

2. Companies constantly hire (and fire) employees. The contacts you believe you have in key organisations can change at the drop of a fedora. How confident are you that everyone in the company – now and in the future – knows your company name?

3. Do your existing clients know every single service or product that you offer? If you sell denim but also poplin, it would be pretty sad if one of your biggest denim customers bought their poplin from another company simply because they didn’t know you offered it. This would also be a great opportunity for your competitor.

4. If you’re not doing SEO, your competitors might be. If a journalist wants to write a story on your industry specialism, where are they likely to do their research? Yes, the internet. OK, so Fritz from Glassblowers Weekly might have known you for years, but what if a new, younger reporter was tasked with covering the story?

5. Are you are as well known in all countries as you should be?

6. If you ever wanted to sell your company, where would investors look? It’s very likely that they would see how you compared on the search engines with your competitors. At this point it’s worth stating that poor web performance cannot be fixed overnight.

Quite simply, the internet is too big a showroom not to display a well presented, easy to find digital version of your company. If you get the SEO right at the beginning, and build your website right, it is easy to build on. Good use of Search Engine Optimisation will provide you with ongoing leads, PR opportunities and a raised profile that will bring all sorts of commercial benefits. For further thoughts on this, please visit my earlier blog, Planning Search Engine Optimisation from Scratch.

It’s SEO. It’s giving people a map that takes them to your business. Isn’t it worth drawing a map to help people find your digital HQ?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.