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5 Ways to Speak to Different Audiences

One of the challenges in getting your message out is that your audience is typically quite diverse, especially when dealing with a technology product. Engineers have one way of talking; Chief Financial Officers have another, and end users yet another. Effective marketing and business communications dictates that you offer a message for each of your targeted audiences to ensure your message is understood by all relevant stakeholders. You need to speak in their language.

Complex software or other technology sales are seldom performed in a vacuum or decided by an individual. Therefore, a consensus must be achieved before a final “buy” decision can be reached. For business communications in high tech industries, you must address a wide, diverse group of individuals. Finding your audience for a cult movie such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show might be equally difficult!

The challenge is how does one accomplish this task?

First, you need to realize that you can’t speak to each of these different “personas” at the same time, in the same venue. Not only would this be complicated to write, it would be difficult to read! Your best course of action is to pick different media or channels to conduct your varying messages.

Here are five different venues for your consideration when speaking to your different audiences:

  1. Write a white paper that offers a detailed explanation on how your product works, how it is use, why it is better than the competition, etc. Point is that this is a venue that highly technical IT or engineering audiences can understand your message or communications
  2. Record a video interviewing your president, speaking to how he / she is committed to the direction of your company, the research that has been done to ensure the product is delivering maximum value … busy “C” level executives might have time to listen to a 4 minute video of your president
  3. Get a placement of a contributed article in a publication that speaks to return on investment (ROI, return on assets (ROA) etc, to entice potential senior financial management audiences to read and understand the financial impact of purchasing your product
  4. Post a blog entry for middle management or “line of business” personnel to read, on a topic that concerns actually using your product, or what specific challenges can be addressed … getting more into the “weeds” of what your product does
  5. Be a sponsor at a trade show with a booth, staffed by employees. This type of venue offers a different “slice” of who you can speak with about your product, but one audience that it is quite effective at reaching are your partners, who might also be exhibiting or attending. This is  an important audience to speak with , both from a future partnering perspective as well as to convince them that your product is viable in the markets you serve

 

Teachers understand this task, as seldom do each of their students learn the same way. Some might be visual learners; others learn by doing and some may learn only by reading. Marketing or business plan writing is no different. Marketers must recognize that quite often a different language and medium must be chosen to communicate with each of these different stakeholders. Business plan writers must know what type of investor they are writing for, to then better understood what level of industry terms and jargon should be included and what should be defined better, for novice readers.

Who do you write for? I would be interested in hearing what other venues have worked for you in the past.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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The Age of Communications Transparency

Often the true impacts of technology innovations are not immediately recognized or understood. It took decades for the discovery of electricity to widely impact how we live in a world where electricity and light is readily available. The Internet is no different. Still in its infancy, new social behaviors have already been embraced and adopted, including how job searches are conducted, travel arrangements are booked and social networking through sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Another not so obvious change involves the ownership and privacy of information, specifically our own identities and reputation. Today it is much harder to have privacy or lead a “secret” life. A recent example is the congressman Anthony Weiner twitter scandal. Another is the photo showing Michael Phelps taking a bong hit nearly three months after he wrapped up a record haul of eight gold medals in Beijing. The list goes on and on. Today’s social media venues coupled with smart phones that all now include cameras have made privacy more difficult to maintain.

Marketing communications transparency is a smart choice in today’s world that lacks privacy

This lack of expected privacy has a big repercussion for marketing communications, business plan writers and investor prospectus authors, among others. In just the same way that the truth has a way of getting out to the public, unsubstantiated or exaggerated marketing claims will most likely be discovered or revealed. Today it is critical to communicate with complete transparency. Spokespersons for companies and their products must be genuine. Product claims must be documented and proven.

Third party recommendations have always been important to drive sales. The challenge, however, is that it used to take a bit of effort to find someone who has just purchased the product or service you were contemplating. Often the effort didn’t justify the work, so purchases were not necessarily “qualified” by a third party reference.

Today, a referral is as easy to find as going to Yelp or launching one of the many different smart phone applications with an interactive “rate this” or “comment on this” feature. Buyers don’t expect every review to be perfect … in fact, they might suspect a lack of transparency if every review is perfect. They want to see who had what issues, to then make their decision accordingly to pursue the purchase, or not. The point is that there is now a very efficient, active venue for voicing concern or issues with a product … a “horror” story could take on a life of its own and spread like wildfire.

There is still a role for preparing corporate collateral, but its role should not be to try and “sell” the product, but rather, provide details that a company can prepare best, such as specifications, product performance as well as documentation on what can be realistically achieved.

But, it better be accurate and current, as a fair representation of your product’s capabilities. If not, it is now a reasonable expectation that you will be found out, and you will pay the price with a loss of brand integrity for not practicing transparency in your marketing communications.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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The Role of Pricing in Messaging

“If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it”

– JP Morgan

According to Google books, the origin of this quote is a conversation JP Morgan had with a neighbor regarding the purchase of a yacht. The quote has been made famous by Henry Royce, when applying it to the purchase of his Rolls Royce automobiles.

Importance of pricing on messaging and marketing communications

If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford this toy.

From a marketing communications perspective, the concept is actually quite compelling – a message that rings loud and clear to your prospective customers. If you must know the price before purchasing, then it is probably too luxurious for you. A purchase decision that falls into this type of classification is clearly high end, something that only the wealthy need consider. As a business strategy, if you are selling a high end product, this type of positioning could be just right.

Pricing plays a critical role in your messaging and marketing communications surrounding not only the quality of your goods or services, but also on your focus on customer satisfaction. Do you deliver consistently superior results that your customers can justify spending more for your product? If so, then you should be charging more, and your customers will pay more, helping you to preserve your brand integrity. It is all part of a consistent message that you, as a marketer, need to convey to each of your current and future customers.

Alternatively, if your product is “me too” (non-differentiated) or if you are the low price leader, then you have no claim to charge a premium and shouldn’t. If you do, your customers will be confused, and will likely not justify the higher price, preferring instead to purchase from your competitors.

BMW is an excellent case study on how to leverage pricing as part of their messaging. Back in the 1970s, the brand was not considered premium, akin to the likes of Volkswagen. In the 1980s, however, they made a decision to dramatically increase prices across all products at a time when their marketing communications shifted towards positioning the brand as premium. It worked.

I had an interesting experience with the AAA club of Southern California about a month ago. I inquired about purchasing their premium service, which included expanded towing coverage. They refused to sell me the service, stating that I must first purchase their standard service for a year and not use it before having the “privilege” of purchasing the premium service, for more money. Needless to say I was infuriated. Here I thought they were eager to offer expanded, higher margin services. They, on the other hand, see themselves as a “country club” of sorts, where I have to pay my “dues” for a year before being considered for an upgrade, like they are doing me a favor. Talk about a confusing messaging strategy!

How does AAA get away with it? Well, it turns out they have a bit of a monopoly in the Southern California market, so there really isn’t a viable competitor. Clearly, not only is their pricing calculated incorrectly, but their view on customer service is that of a monopolistic organization, such as the US Post Office. In other words, it isn’t a priority. Even to a customer of 31 years!

To conclude, pricing plays a critical role in your marketing communications – the story you want to tell. Are you customer friendly? Are you premium? Or, are you a generic product with no differentiation other than price? Pick your story and be sure to set your pricing to support that message.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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Avoiding “Article Vomit”

Q: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

A: No, if no one is there to hear it.

In the same way, you may have the greatest product or service, but if no one knows about it, then all your work has been for nothing (and your marketing prowess could be called into question). As a marketer today, you must incorporate the Internet in your marketing communications … which means you need to understand Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

As a concept, it isn’t hard to comprehend. Your prospects will typically go to an Internet browser when considering a product purchase, performing a search by keywords of what they seek. Some will already have an idea of what your product is called or what your industry terms are. Some will not, so will search by the challenge they face. It is up to you to know which is relevant, and then build search engine optimization into your marketing communications to match these search profiles.

Search Engine Marketing

Keep SEO a top of mind item when preparing marketing communications

The challenge is that you are competing for these words with often hundreds or even thousands of other sites, many that have dedicated staff working every day to improve their rankings. This is an onerous task to those just getting started. There is a first mover’s advantage. Those building their keywords and search phrases first tend to secure the top rankings and can defend them effectively. The best offense to a well placed competitor is to further refine your keywords to be more specific to a smaller sub segment of the market you are trying to reach. And, create a lot of new content.

There is another angle … game the system, known as “Black Hat SEO.” A recent approach has been to post a lot of content on different sites with links to your site, to help increase your ranking. This is against Google’s policy – it is artificially raising your rankings. JC Penny just got busted for it (read more here), and now their site has been black listed from Google. Just last week Google announced they are changing their search engine algorithms to put a stop to this type of behavior, penalizing sites that really are only comprised of “Article Vomit,” as Chris Knight, CEO of Spark-Net Corp coined, as stated in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

There is really no substitute for continuing to add new content. New information, commentary or announcements – especially with links coming from other websites – is a great way to demonstrate to Google, Yahoo!, Bing and the others that you are an authority in your field. This is one of the biggest reasons why blogs have become so popular. They are a great way to show frequent new content that is specifically tied to the needs of your target market.

So, next time you are writing a press release, web page or piece of collateral, think carefully about how your document might be found on the World Wide Web. What need you are serving and what problem are you helping to address? What words would be used in a keyword search on that topic? Then, go back and finish your piece. After all, if no one finds it or reads it, it might as well have not existed!

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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What’s the Velocity of Your Marketing Communications Pipeline?

While driving on the freeway during my morning commute the other day, I had an epiphany moment. A stretch that had traditionally been a bottleneck seems to have improved. Interestingly, the number of lanes has been reduced from 3 to 2, yet throughput has increased. My theory is that maybe we drive faster when given fewer choices compared to facing a series of merging lanes and decisions.

I would propose that your marketing communications strategy could benefit from applying my observations on freeway traffic.

How difficult are you making it for people to “find a lane” of what message you are saying and what value proposition you are presenting? Do you make it straightforward, so it is easy to “pick a lane” early, even if that lane is to exit? Or, do you offer many choices that merge at various times, resulting in a cluttered message? Think about the ramifications of a confusing message on your prospects trying to learn what you do, an investor trying to identify your revenue model or a sales rep trying to close a sale. The impact extends across your entire organization, slowing down your throughput of leads or opportunities.

Higher velocity is more efficient on multiple levels, from accelerating sales processes, locating new investment capital and training new employees.

What do you think? Do you have a story on how a simplified message helped you to improve your marketing or sales efficiency? How about for raising capital? I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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In Pursuit of Effective Communications

While discretion may dictate speaking “on the QT,” the most effective business communications tend to include more of an open dialog and, ideally, a feedback loop for clarification.

I would propose that part of the reason why social media has made such a rapid impact on the marketing world is because it has helped to facilitate more effective communications, both from a content perspective as well as from a “trust” point of view.

Take, for instance, the list of top 100 PRs on Twitter that Liliana Dumitru-Steffens put together on her blog. If this list were published on traditional media, it would have been printed and distributed to her readers, as a static list soon forgotten. This online social media list, however, has taken on a life of its own, being modified and updated based on feedback she has received from her many readers. In the end, this feedback loop has increased the accuracy of her communications – a luxury afforded this type of communications medium. If only some of our verbal conversations could be updated after the fact, to better communicate what our actual intent was at the time!

Marketing communications is a challenging task. It isn’t that speaking or writing is hard – but getting the right message of what you meant to say is where the challenge lies. There may be times when you are speaking to an audience that does not understand what you are saying. Often, however, they simply won’t tell you their confusion, contributing to a poor communications feedback loop. While it may be easy to blame your audience for just “not getting it,” in reality, it is your responsibility to communicate your message.

In fact, these challenges exist in personal communications as well.

As a marketer, I would propose that there are only two media communications “vehicles” to convey your message – the spoken or written word. Each medium has unique challenges. Address these challenges, and your messaging accuracy will improve, helping you to be a better marketer.

The Spoken Word

Here the issue is consistency … how can you be sure everyone at your organization will say the same thing and speak in the same language or tone? An engineer, for example, may talk about your product’s benefits differently than an executive. Both must be able to speak comfortably, on their own, when telling your corporate message.

We can’t control what others will say. But, we can provide guidance. As new products are launched or new customer values are identified, it is critical to invest time with each of your stakeholders to coach and train them to get it right. Practice makes perfect.

One approach is to provide visual clues or “cheat sheets” to your teams, as a handy reference that can be viewed to help remember the key points of your company’s messaging strategy. For example, a placard hung in a customer service support center explaining the benefits of a recent product launch might help function as a reminder to the team.

The Written Word

The written word offers greater consistency of message. Collateral and other content can be prepared and distributed to your employees, customers and prospects. However, without a feedback loop, it can be difficult to gauge understanding. As mentioned previously, the growing use of social networking websites now offers this capability to help address this challenge, by offering readers the opportunity to post comments and replies. Of course, if no one finds your message, then you won’t get any responses!

One way to address this potential communications challenge is to seek feedback on your marketing collateral, business plan or other written marketing communications prior to distributing to the general public. While it may be obvious to you what you were intending to say or speak, you would be surprised how often ambiguity exists, especially when your message is heard by someone from another “walk of life,” such as a different department, country or culture, or even someone that reads or speaks English as a second language (assuming your communications are primarily in English).

In the end, it really doesn’t matter what you meant to say … prospects, customers, investors and others will come to their own conclusion, based on what they thought you said – what they heard you say – and make their decision accordingly. Take ownership for this action and recognize that the responsibility for accurate communications lies on your shoulders, mouth and arms!

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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Forget About Marketing Ethics – Let’s Start with Truth-based Messaging

If marketing professionals seek to conduct business ethically by promoting goods and services beneficial to a customer’s well being, they must first start with truth-based messaging. Regardless of the product or service, if marketers can’t speak honestly when describing features and benefits, then forget about thinking marketers could possibly be ethical, as James Stephenson postulates in his article, “Is Marketing Ethics an Oxymoron?”

Having been a marketer for the past couple of decades, I am quite familiar with the pressure to stretch the truth about product attributes, features or benefits, all in the name of trying to increase sales. My experience in marketing and business communications has been concentrated in the high tech field, including network security and software. With such ambiguous products that are impossible to “touch and feel,” marketing communications tend to fall into broad benefits categories, such as to reduce costs, increase productivity or eliminate potential threats, where the temptation to inflate product benefits definitely exists.

Underlying each of my messages, however, has been a story based in truth. Calculating actual benefits can be tricky. It might be necessary to make assumptions about a prospective buyer’s usage of your product, how your software performs at your client’s company, and so forth. As part of this process, I build a reasonable “story,” backed up by case studies, customer feedback or observations from the field to support my messaging claims.

I am now concerned in the direction of recent corporate marketing communications. A new level of deception now appears to be status quo, as highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “AT&T Relabels Networks as 4G.” AT&T’s marketing department decided they needed a “4G” product to stay competitive, so they decided to simply rename their existing “3G” network as “4G.” Justification was based on comments issued by the International Telecommunications Union, a wireless industry standards body, which indicated that they have not yet set a firm 4G definition. In AT&T’s view, this was a wide open door to apply the 4G term to their “advanced” 3G technologies – look for a future announcement.

This decision goes way beyond a question of ethics, representing an outright deception and lie to prospective customers. Apparently, truth-based messaging is not a requirement at AT&T.

The sad part is that the wireless industry is not acting alone, but is simply following the current direction of the automotive industry.

It used to an accepted truth that automobile model numbers designated meaningful data. For example, Mercedes Benz used to have a strict numbering convention, which made it very easy to understand model and engine size.

If you see a Mercedes Benz SL 55, it denoted an SL body with a 5.5 liter engine. Today, if you buy a SL 63, you get one with a 6.2 liter engine. Rumor has it that the next replacement model will have a 5.5 liter engine, yet be called a SL 63.

I see no truth-based messaging or communications in Mercedes’ decision to change their model number methodology. What I see is deception, which will cause consumers to question the company’s communications, leading to a lack of trust in future messaging.

If you go down the road of deception about product specifications, you are setting yourself up for customer dissatisfaction, opening up an opportunity for your competitors. Your sales team will suffer reduced effectiveness, customer satisfaction will decline and, in the end, brand integrity will suffer. Compounding matters further, the Wall Street bonus philosophy exists here too … those involved in making these messaging decisions will have already been rewarded for their actions with promotions, bonuses or new job offers, prior to when the proverbial “shit” hits the fan.

I propose that a new, higher level of ethics is sorely needed, to be self-imposed by marketing professionals, such that a company’s marketing collateral and business communications can at least be truth-based, rather than outright fabrications. Perhaps I am expecting too much – maybe a better course of action is to institutionalize some sort of “whistle blower” program, such as what the SEC has implemented? Do I sound unreasonable? How far can this messaging strategy continue before the public has had enough? Let me know your thoughts.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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