Archive for May, 2012

 

We resonated to the “it ain’t purty” lament expressed here by our colleague Dan Goldgeier concerning the future of written marketing materials.  And we commiserate.

There are plenty of reasons for the apparent decline of the written word in business but no real excuses for it.  Just look around and consider the state of our broader social culture. Twitter is a headline service.  What else can you call a “micro-blog” that calls for no more than 140 characters per post?  Social media isn’t helping, either. Yes, forced brevity compels crisp clarity but the problem is the short-cuts that have been trampled across the garden of language:  “OMG! I will call u 2 c if U R coming Ovr, k?” Texting has given us letters and numerals 4 use as words and encourages kids to hack whole new forms of expression.

Website visitors have ever-shorter attention spans and ever-diminishing time to spend it scrolling long-form content.  Pinterest, where you can say it all with photos, is the new new thing in platforms.  When was the last time you sat down and wrote a real letter on real paper to a family member, friend, senator, or editor?  Email doesn’t count.  But it’s probably as good a scapegoat as any for greasing the skids under the carriage of well-crafted, precise expression of ideas.  The reasons are many and they’ve been dissected and de-constructed at length elsewhere.

Still, we’re inclined toward optimism. Don’t short-sell our business culture yet.  Ipads, Kindles and e-readers of all stripe encourage more consumption of more content, including novels, biographies and histories.  Just not on company time.  Walter Isaacson had a monster best-seller last year in the Steve Jobs biography. Let’s hope everybody reads all 600-plus words.  Historian Robert Caro just published another marathon read in his multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson and at last glance it was ascending on best-seller lists.  As far as marketing is concerned, we creators of content must take our stewardship of the language much more seriously than we take ourselves. After all, if the devil’s always in the details then the need to read the fine print now takes on a whole new significance.  An editors will always outnumber writers.

Good content grabs the reader.  And holds on.

A new client of ours in security technology recently shared his frustration about the chronic struggle to find resources for content generation in a business environment screaming for more and more content marketing. It’s not enough to know the technology of a given domain, whether it’s security software, business intelligence or medical devices.   A content creator bent on seizing and holding a reader’s interest long enough to convey important brand messages must understand something about the product that’s at least as important as its features and price. This is the monetary return in benefits that result from the economic investment in the product in the first place. In three letters: R.O.I.  Everybody talks about it. But when it comes to putting it into readable prose, it’s suddenly elusive and slippery. Nonetheless, the need to spin a good yarn in clear, crisp, narrative storytelling is no less mandatory.

Return on investment is the plot-line of every case study, white paper, or use-case you publish. Same goes for every web page on your site.  If you fail to make your value proposition the central character,  you can’t advance the storyline. And in today’s attention-deficit world of customers smothered in messages coming down in torrents, your content must jump off the page.  You drive your stories with the value your offerings deliver and the ROI your customer enjoys.  Customers typically measure ROI by subtracting the sum of your price plus your adoption cost from the dollar amount they put on the benefit(s) they perceive.  You might calculate it some other way, but they won’t.  Your content should reflect their preference.

How do you ensure that your  ROI shines through in your content?  How do you tell the story of your value proposition in ways that grab and hold interest? Does your current library of content reflect the latest releases?

Graduation Moment

Below, the 2012 edition of “the speech”: 

Congratulations, graduates of the class of ’12!

You now depart campus and enter the world of your chosen profession.  Please accept my best wishes for finding a job there.   But, I digress.  These remarks are supposed to give inspiration to you, not indigestion to your parents.

Right around this time of year, there’s usually talk about the failure of institutions of higher learning to instill the attitudes and training necessary for success in the working world.  I take issue with this assertion.  In my judgement,  this has never been nor should it ever be the purpose of a college degree.  As far as the attitudes necessary for success in life, to my way of thinking they were supposed to have been instilled in you many years before you arrived on campus as a wide-eyed freshman.

This instillation should have happened at home as you were growing up, not in a classroom or lecture hall as young adults. What I’m talking about is the guidance your mother and father presumably gave you at every turn.  Especially mom.  And it would have gone something like this:

Share with others.  Yes, mom was probably referring to toys and ice cream, but think about it.  Leadership and success have a lot to do with the sharing of ideas, information, tips, suggestions, enthusiasm, energy, goodwill and inspiration.  Esprit de corps.  Departments and groups and organizations that share amongst themselves, especially the credit for jobs well done, tend to be more spirited, better focused and more productive.  This is what is meant by the effective organization.

Plan ahead. Most moms I’ve known frowned on procrastination.  They also wanted you to think about the consequences of your actions.  Mothers don’t like aimless drifting.  Same thing goes for life as an adult.  Most good things don’t just happen to us by a random act of the universe. They are the result of specific actions we’ve taken to make them happen. We fail to make good things happen to the extent that we fail to plan for them.  “If you fail to plan you’re planning to fail” might sound corny but, boy, is it true.

Remember the Golden Rule. What goes around, especially in business, comes around.  Make a habit of being respectful to your customers, friends, employees, colleagues, bosses, clients, retail clerks, ticket agents, hotel maids, bus drivers, and everybody else with whom you transact on any level. It will, most often, be returned to you. It’s good business. In every transaction, no matter how trivial it may seem, ask yourself: How would I like to be treated if I were on the other side of this?

Stay in touch.  Your mom never failed to let you know when too much time had passed between calls or texts. She wants to hear from you.  So, too, never ignore your colleagues, bosses, customers, prospects, clients and partners. The people who matter in your world. Stay in contact. Reach out.  Connect.  Let people know you there and care.

Reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than you are today.   I’ll bet your mom encouraged you to be accepting of others who may have been different. To include them.  In the same way, being open to new ideas and trends is fundamental to creativity, innovation and adaptation in a changing world.  This happens to be a typical trait of the most admired companies in America, too. For obvious reasons.

Be alert:  Where mom might remind you to look both ways before crossing the street, the business equivalent of this admonition would be to stay up-to-date with current events.  This is how you stay on top of trends and developments. It’s key to making better decisions, especially ones having to do with technology and planning.  Understanding what’s happening in your market will make you a more intelligent practitioner of whatever you do. The better informed you are, the better decisions you’ll make and the more effective you’ll be.

Tell the truth. Your mom was a stickler here, with zero tolerance. In the business world or anywhere else, even half-truths can be as corrosive as outright lies.  Whatever misleads and undermines spells doom, sooner or later, for the instigator.  Particularly in this increasingly online world, transparency is key to sustained success because trust is currency.  If you don’t have it, you won’t survive. In the office, untruthful is another word for “uncool”.

Admit mistakes and, above all, don’t cover up. You’ve heard it said that the cover-up is worse than the misdeed?  This became a truism for good reason.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Parents, especially moms, are notorious for encouragement.  It’s in their job description.  But it’s absolutely true that sooner or later you will fail.  If you don’t, shame on you. You haven’t reached far enough, haven’t stretched yourself and you will not grow.  Failure is not in failing to succeed.  It’s in failing to try.  And try again and again.

One last thing.  It’s not about going out into the world to find yourself.  You won’t.  What you must do is invent yourself.  And, if need be, re-invent yourself throughout your career.  And, no, there is no app for that. 

Congratulations!  Especially to your parents.