Archive for April, 2011

Mr Publicity

No knock on the good work of  all the techie publicists and firms for which they toil, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in many years doing PR in Silicon Valley it is this:  it’ not about your contacts, your shmoozing gene, or the technology involved in getting your message out.  It’s all about the merit of the story you’re telling and the way you pitch its news value.

I don’t care who you know, who you met for breakfast at Buck’s or with whom you having a drink at Il Fornaio, it’s still about your chops for recognizing a trend and how to sell into it.  It’s still about your instincts for knowing if and how what your pitching relates to something topical.  It’s about knowing news.  Not unlike advertising, it’s not about the big technology you’re using but the big idea you’re selling.

Couple of other things I learned:

Great clients make great agencies.  Good shops have always had a knack for picking winners (most of the time).  See: Regis McKenna. Less-than-stellar clients were never made into stars by hot agencies.  Ultimately, clients typically received the PR they deserved. It was true 30 years ago when Commodore tried to challenge Apple (they flunked) and it’s no less true today.  I’ll refrain from the lipstick-on-a-pig metaphor, but it sure as hell is appropriate here.

The difference between buzz and fizz.  Buzz is self-generating and it’s almost always associated with something of real value. Think Apple products.  Fizz inevitably goes flat and it’s always associated with something of limited (if any) value.  Stuff that’s contrived and phoney.   There are countless examples.  Hope you don’t work for one.


When it comes to blogging, frequency matters.

Findings released earlier this year by HubSpot bear repeating, not to mention serious management consideration at companies of any size in any industry. Right now. Nearly 800 companies, representing B2B and B2C, were studied. Among the findings: the more you blog, the better your chances of attracting more of the traffic you want.

Brands whose management has taken this seriously, e.g., CEOs who post quality content on a weekly basis, draw the most high-quality leads. Not only that, the leads drawn were less expensive to generate than those coming via other means. To the tune of 52%.  To say that this is significant is an understatement.  Cheaper generation of quality leads drives down the costs of sales.  It’s that simple. Another nugget: Practically all those companies who post multiple times a day acquired customers directly via the posts.   Even if you can’t post every day, it’s worth noting that even a weekly post generated customers.   Turns out that the most popular frequency is once a week.  Still, more is better.

Easy Cooking

Ban tryptophan from your content, online or off

The three ingredients to eye-opening content:

1.  An idea that’s relevant and compelling.  What are your customers talking about today?  What do they worry about? Wish for? Lose sleep over? Rely on for comfort? Use as standards of vendor excellence and best practices?  Addressing any of the above, proactively, will get you on their radar.  How you address it determines to what extent it endears you to them.

2.  A presentation, or package, that’s engaging.  A good guideline: scan your case studies with a ruthless eye.  Or have a trusted associate outside your company, one not known for telling you what you want to hear, look it over.  Is the main character your customer or you?  Prospects don’t want to read about your product.  They want to know about the benefits it delivered to your buyer. And how they simplified your buyer’s life.  In other words, they want to read a story about someone like them, not about you.

3.  A “product” that results in re-telling.  Think of your content as product and yourself as publisher. In the publishing business, the objective is buzz about what’s published. You know content is great (remarkable) when, like a story, it is re-told. You want your customers (“readers”) to share it with like-minded customers.  So grease the skids by making your content embeddable.  Make it easily shared across all media platforms.  Brand a YouTube channel if you’ve not already done so. Remember: leads generated by in-bound marketing, e.g. their blogs, generate leads that are up to one-half the cost of leads spawned by their traditional out-bound efforts. 

What’s your recipe for lead-minded content?

Festival Story Telling

Are you telling a good story on your About Us page?

Phil Roybal (not pictured here) was a great storyteller in the early days of Apple. I remember him taking the stage, or the podium, microphone in hand (this was before the days of headsets with the little wire mic now favored by speakers, for good reason), and spinning the story of how Apple came into being, succeeded, ran into some trouble, overcame it, and made a success.  He liked to walk around while he was doing his thing.  But unlike some speakers he got away with it because you paid attention to what he was saying, not doing. Didn’t make much difference who his audience was — employees, dealers, customers, schoolkids, or the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce.  He went with the same basic shtick and it enthralled the audience.  When he finished, the crowd knew something it hadn’t known and felt good about the fact that Apple existed.  Phil also left behind a favorable impression of Apple products, which was the whole purpose. “Everybody loves a good story,” he would say.  Indeed.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I saw a blog post by author Brian Tracy, courtesy of HubSpot, sharing tips on how to make your “About Us” page more meaningful.  How to do better business storytelling.  Turns out that good business storytelling is whole lot like good storytelling of any kind.  Phil knew this and his audiences appreciated it.

With apologies to Tracy, here is my take on the best practices I’ve seen along the way since my, and Phil’s, Apple days:

1.  Listeners (or readers) want to know the story from the beginning.  What happened?  Who were the characters?  What were they trying to do or solve and what were they up against in their mission?

2.  Conflict creates the drama that creates the interest that keeps people from falling asleep.  Did your founders flounder for a while?  What were the obstacles they overcame?  How?  Did they succeed against all odds?

3.  Readers and listeners want resolution.  Not that they want everything brought to a tidy conclusion, but they want a sense for where you took them and how it speaks back to the beginning.  Think of being atop a mountain and looking back down where your started. If your story can delight them by arriving at an unpredictable juncture in the final chapter, so much the better.

Like all good yarns: a beginning, a middle and and end.  In other words, founder(s) who embarked on a journey on which they overcame obstacles and achieved something worthy of acclaim.  And pride of belonging. A story worth telling and hearing.

Every company, like every employee in it, has a story.  What’s yours?  What is it about your business story–About the Company– that is worth reading or hearing?  How can you make it more story-like?

Web Marketing

Business Insider’s Bianca Male threw out some small-business website tips the other day that content creators in any size business cannot be reminded of too often.  Boiled down, here they are:

1.  Update content continually. Stale websites get pushed down in searches.  The ones whose pages feature fresh material, images, links and keywords zip upwards.

2. You can’t blog too frequently. Not only is it an automatic content refresher, it personalizes your brand with personal outreach to customers and prospects.

3. Link back to your own site. Good way to increase traffic is to add in a few links back to your own pages within the text of every new page you create. Descriptive keywords draw search-engines crawlers.  It’s another reason why blogs drive (attract) traffic.

4.  Use video and images. Because their volume is so small compared to the text that’s out there, they are especially attractive to search-engine spiders.

5. Track and analyze. Alexa and Google Analytics are simple to use and deliver invaluable information about your search standings and web traffic.  Best of all, they are free.  Use them.

What do you do to grow the right traffic on your site?

Black Boots And A Carpet

Had a couple of separate conversations this morning with former marketing colleagues, one of whom I’ve known since pre-Internet days.  Both discussions reminded me, in far different ways, of a timeless marketing-and-selling principle I learned back in the day.  It is more relevant than ever in the digital culture.  Boiled down, it is this: Make your main thing the main thing.  In terms of what you put on your website to make it visitor friendlier, your “main thing” is all about the uses and users of your product or service.  Even more than the product or service itself.  This is not an easy thing for product-driven people to wrap their heads around, but it is fundamental to success in the search-driven marketing world in which we do business.

Your visitors want to know about your products and what they do but, even more, they want to know who uses them and what specific benefits are being derived.  Appraise your site continually, particularly the home page, from the outside in.  Look at it through the same lens your visitors look through. See it through their eyes, not yours.  Then ask yourself:

1. Does our home page clearly convey at-a-glance what we do?

2. Is what we do described in terms that are compelling enough to inspire clicking through to the next logical link or page?

3. Is there vivid substantiation by way of customer commentary and case studies?

4.  Are our case studies focused on users and the good things that happened to them as a result of what they bought?  Are we publishing case studies?

5. Can a visitor easily identify with the users we spotlight and quote?  How do we know for sure?

It’s natural to want to do a little chest-thumping and self-congratulating on your web site but make no mistake.  Above all,  people want to know how people just like themselves benefited by doing businesss with you as opposed to the myriad other alternatives out there.  Appraise your site the same way you do the sites of your own prospective vendors and merchants when you’re doing your own diligence.  When you go shopping online.  In the digital culture, more so than ever, the way to attract the right customer is to be one at all times.

What do you do to make your site more visitor-friendly?

Freedom - Man

Freelancers don’t actually set you free

Freelance writers come in all varieties.  And degrees of quality. This is a problem for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons, and why they have mixed feelings about when, or even if, to hire one.

In fact, there are no hard and fast rules. Still, I will share the following considerations that have served me well in contracting with scribes-for-hire:

1. Are you squeezed for time to the point of suffocation? Where other work is suffering?  Do you have multiple projects for people to work on and no one available to work on them?

2. Do you have the chops? There will come a time when the skills needed don’t match what’s called for by the project staring at you. You may have people who write but they may not be the ideal match for the content required in this particular deliverable.

3. If you have surges of activity that are intermittent, seasonal or temporary, a reliable writing service can represent value. The issue here is reliability–which is generally, but not always, predictable on the basis of reputation and track record of work for clients similar to you.  You’re looking for knowledge in your domain, yes, but you need quality writing delivered when you need it, not when the writer gets around to it. When doing your diligence, be sure the references are unanimous about the writer having “worked well under extreme pressure” and “keeping budget promises”. You need quality delivered on time–and on budget.