Measuring the Value of Outdoor Advertising

As a marketer, you must make many choices on not only what your primary message should be, but also on what medium is the best to communicate your vision. I just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about a nice win that the NASDAQ just pulled off – getting Kraft Foods to drop their big board listing on the NYSE to go instead with a listing on the NASDAQ (see article here). I can only image what the lead time and typical sales cycle is for such a decision, as it is clearly more than just a simple administrative change such as switching banks. Beyond the logistics of such a change, there is clearly a message at play – Kraft wants to be seen more as a company that is closer aligned with the technology companies that now dominate the listings on NASDAQ.

Stepping aside from that whole decision process and what was involved in closing the deal, the point that got my interest was when I read about what was publicly stated as the key reason that Kraft made the swap. According to the article, it was “the prospect of cost savings and the marketing visibility afforded by NASDAQ’s landmark advertising billboard in New York’s Times Square.” Cost savings in today’s economy is certainly justifiable and reasonable. What was interesting is the reference to the billboard that NASDAQ has in Times Square, which I am sure each of you has had the chance to either see either on TV or in person.

Wow. So, what Kraft is essentially saying is that this outdoor advertising venue was the tipping point that pushed them to close the deal. A couple of questions and comments come to mind here. First, what benefit is Kraft really envisioning? Increased brand awareness? I think that pretty much everyone in the world has now heard of Kraft Foods, so that clearly can’t be the case. How about awareness of what Kraft stock can be purchased for? In today’s digital world of price tickers, I have a hard time believing that it is this type of awareness that they are talking about.

I would propose that the awareness they seek is being viewed as part of the NASDAQ’s group of more tech-heavy, startup type of companies that are more typically on that exchange versus the NYSE. But, this message simply wasn’t part of the article. Maybe NASDAQ is trying to expand their positioning to be more than just a home for tech firms, and this was a way for them to point out other reasons for making the swap? If any of you have any background info that can help explain this decision, your comments and feedback would be most welcome!

So, there you have it. The decision to pay millions (?) of dollars a year by NASDAQ’s marketing team to keep that lease or own that real estate with its prime placement in Times Square actually led to a sale, which can now be tracked directly to that investment. The next question is: “Did the marketing team put this into their ROI calculation to help justify the expense?” There probably was some sort of awareness factor, which then translated into some sort of increased branding … but, to actually get a sale as almost a direct impact from the billboard / outdoor sign? I am guessing “no.”

In concluding, first, I hope that the marketing team at NASDAQ saw the article and is now pointing it out to their executive team. Second, I am not endorsing a marketing campaign composed entirely of outdoor advertising – an integrated approach covering multiple channels and awareness media is best. Third, to those thinking that there isn’t really any value to brand advertising and that any quantifiable new sales are not really possible from such expenditures, maybe that assumption isn’t quite always the case!

 
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+.

The Importance of Visual Communications

Visual digital communicationsI recently met with a group of marketers and public relations specialists from Europe last week. Our meeting was an excellent opportunity to look “outside in” at how I operate as a marketer. One of the lessons learned was the importance of including pictures with my marketing communications.

Now, don’t get me wrong … pictures have been a part of my communications for some time now, especially in blog posts such as this one. You can definitely increase your readership by including an image with your blog post – this has been proven by those who do research for our industry.

My “aha” moment was the level of importance that a picture can play with your communications objectives. Here are three take away points I gained from my recent trip:

  1. Today an increasing share of your readers have English as their second language; when English is your second language, not only can subtle nuances of the language be lost, but sometimes main points as well; a picture or two can really help convey your message
  2. In the “sea” of marketing communications pushed to various reporting, magazine and other online venues, our eyes quickly scan through headlines for clues to see if an article is worth reading; having a picture gives you a much greater chance of being seen by a “scanning” eyeball
  3. From a cultural perspective, other countries place an even greater emphasis on images that you might expect … beyond the benefit of simply standing out from the clutter of content we are bombarded with on a daily basis; there is a credibility perspective that is lost in some cultures (ex: German) for content that appears without an image

So the next time you are writing a press release, white paper or business plan, and you are focused on ensuring your message and communications objectives are covered, take a few extra moments to consider what image can support these objectives to actually increase the likelihood that your content is first found so it can actually be read.

 
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+.

5 Ways to Improve Website Usability on a Mobile Device

As a seasoned marketer that has written many pages of copy for websites, it is refreshing to now see a new trend now underway. There was a time not too long ago when a website’s content layout could simply be maximized for viewing by ensuring it worked on Internet Explorer, or “IE”. The early days of Firefox were sometimes challenging when image displays or text wrapping would not work quite right … but, it didn’t really matter too much if only 2-3 percent of your audience were using that browser.

Today’s web browsing market is highly fragmented, a condition further exasperated with the proliferation of mobile “smart” devices. The dominance of IE is now gone (see: The End of an Era: Internet Explorer Drops Below 50 Percent of Web Usage). While desktop browsing is still the dominant format, mobile browsing has grown significantly, from virtually nothing three years ago to nearly six percent today.

So, what does this new evolving social behavior have to do with your business? Here are five considerations to evaluate:

  1. How important is your website for lead generation? If this attribute is key, then how “user friendly” is your site? For example, how well can you actually read the content? How many images to you have on each page, which thereby forces the phone to auto size your text to be way too small? Is your competitor’s site more “mobile-friendly”?
  2. How well does your website display on Safari, Android or Opera? These three operating systems comprise 94 percent of all mobile browsing activity. Given Apple’s current market share leadership for this segment (62 percent), it might be a problem if your site has issues with how it is displayed in this browser’s application. For example, is Flash on your site? Flash doesn’t work on an iPhone or iPad, so forget about a user being able to read or engage with this content.
  3. How fast does your website load on a mobile device? This is critical for mobile viewers, as they might be trying to multi-task with another activity while searching your site, such as waiting in line to see a movie, pumping gas, etc. This type of “burst” web viewing has a low threshold for delays when accessing web pages; they will simply turn off the browser or move on to another activity that can be completed quickly.
  4. If your “call to action” necessitates providing info, how streamlined is it? For example, if you are promoting registration for webinar or event, how many fields do you require to be completed? Anything more than 2 or 3 will start to push the limits of what can be accomplished on a mobile device, despite how well skilled your prospect is at typing on their smart phone.
  5. How quickly can information be found on your site? What extent do menu hierarchies play as part of your website’s navigation structure? Whereas a desktop-based viewer has a mouse that can be easily used to track through several tiers of menu choices with a single click, this type of navigation simply isn’t possible from a mobile device.

As a general comment, how often do you check how your website appears on an iPhone, iPad or an Android OS device? If you only own a Blackberry, how informed a decision can you really make, given Blackberry’s meager 2 percent market share within the mobile web viewing market?

Fortunately, options exist to address these challenges. First, it is possible to build a mobile website without destroying your existing site. The use of a .mobi extension can make this possible; viewers can then see a version of your website that has been optimized for mobile viewing. And, if you are really serious, then an App for mobile devices might start to make sense, as it really does offer a much better interactivity experience than trying to simply find information on the web.

What other suggestions do you have on how to better design website for mobile usage? I would be interested to hear 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+.

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+.

5 Ways to Shorten Copy

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) Lettres provincials

 

It would appear the challenge or writing concise communications has been with us for a long time.

Today, shorter copy is needed more than ever. Just look at the success of Twitter, the “ultimate” short copy communications platform. Messages are mostly limited to 140 characters per tweet, requiring a new mastery of short communications.

Upon reflection at my own writing, I probably could do better. So I came up with five reasons why my communications might be too long, to try and write with greater brevity.

 

  1. Too many examples – When presenting complex topics, the inclusion of examples to help explain a concept is sometimes necessary. If your objective is to teach, then providing more content may be right; in a business communication, perhaps it might better to offer a link or source for an example that already exists.
  2. Too long an introduction – Perhaps your topic or challenge being solved is complex, or there are different nuances to the business challenge, and you need to be sure to explain what variation you are solving, requiring a longer introduction. I can’t think of a shortcut here, other than trying to condense your topic down to a paragraph or less.
  3. Too many industry buzz words – This is tough when seeking to improve Search Engine Optimization. The more industry terms, the better your chance of showing up higher on Google. Links to other web pages might help address this challenge.
  4. Too many editors – This is a tough one. Often I have two or more stakeholders invested in my document with different points that must be included. More time to perform more edits is the solution, but, sometimes deadlines contradict this goal.
  5. Too worried about missing a key point – When tasked with writing an important document, such as a business plan, as they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Considerable care must be taken to be sure all relevant points are included. Keeping a prioritized list can help address this challenge; if a point has already been made, perhaps it doesn’t require duplication in a later section. Alternatively, future communications can be added to address omissions.

In the end, the path to shorter copy is to spend more time … time planning to identify the most concise wording, and time writing more efficiently using shorter phrases that are edited several times. In the end, your goal is to make a lasting impression – getting your content read and understood – which is simply easier with a shorter message.*

 

*Note the first version of this post exceeded 700 words; final version has 450.

 
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+.

Express Yourself How You see Fit

Like so many of us that have been following the latest political scandals, such as that involving Anthony Weiner’s twitter escapades and resignation, I have been amused at how quickly a new word can make it into our English language. One of the recent AP news headline read: “Weiner to resign over sexting scandal.”

To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen “sexting” used in a news headline before, and yet, a pretty respected journalism outlet has used it in a title of a story. The joint combination of two known words is a great way to build a new word, should the opportunity arise where a new term is warranted. In this case, I would say that it was warranted, and the inclusion of this term was indeed appropriate, and highly descriptive. We all know what they are talking about!

Upon reflection, I would propose that the fluidity and strength of the English language is greatly helped by the fact that it is entirely acceptable to create a new word, based on the writer’s own perspective. If the market fails to recognize the word or doesn’t understand what it means, the simple consequence is that the term won’t be repeated, fading away into obscurity. No harm, no foul.

Interestingly, the French view their vocabulary differently, with a strict process for when a new French word is “approved” for general use, ultimately by the French Minister of Culture. With the recent explosion of IT related terms and technologies, the French “word police” have been quite busy. According to an article posted in the Wall Street Journal, before a word such as “cloud computing” (“informatique en nuage”) or “podcasting” (“diffusion pour baladeur”) receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister’s seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state’s General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France. The process can take years!

Imagine if the same set of rigid rules existed here in the United States. I think our IT industry would be at a loss for words as to what we do. One might even argue that our innovation might even be curtailed, at least with regards to how we talk about new products or services. One thing for certain, those of us tasked with marketing communications or business plan writing would be in for a real challenge when talking about a new start up offering a new service.

Fortunately, it is still the “wild west” in America, at least with regards to coining a new word. And, with all the social media outlets today, the opportunity for a new word to be recognized and go viral is pretty good … so feel free to express yourself how you like, without worry that you will be found guilty by a Minister of Culture, at least for all of us living in the land of free speech and writing!

 
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+.

When Less is More

It may seem counter intuitive, but you can often achieve better marketing communications when you limit what you say to fewer words and topics, to deliver a more refined and narrow message. In fact, this concept can apply to other concepts and “walks of life,” such as product management, career strategies or business planning.

The challenge is how to overcome the perception that by limiting your focus you will “miss out” on a future opportunity. There is a natural inclination to expand focus to offer a more comprehensive solution, a wider scope of product functionality or to address a broader range of industry challenges.

The classic case is the start up organization that is inevitably asked by a prospective customer to perform custom work to address their specific needs, when that work veers the company away from their previously chosen direction. On the one hand, a paying customer in the “hand” is worth two potential customers in the “bush.” On the other hand, if you never achieve economies of scale from selling a repeatable product or service, you many never earn a profit, and ultimately go out of business.

A great example of a business that has embraced this concept well is one of my favorite local Southern California burger joints: In-N-Out. Their menu is limited to three combo meals, consisting of various choices of a single or double patty, with or without cheese, and with or without onions. I have learned that if I want a great burger, In-n-Out is at the top of my list.

Simplify with less to tell more of a story.Their message is highly focused. If I am in the mood for steak, soup or salad, I will go elsewhere. In-N-Out is just fine with that. Arrive at 12 midnight and expect to wait in a line on a Friday or Saturday night. They have no problem in getting all teh business they can handle. Staying hyper-focused on their menu has allowed them to master their delivery process of their product highly consistently, year after year after year as a privately held company.

You should use this same focus on your business messaging too. The world is too competitive to try and be multiple things to many people. Pick one. Do it well.

As a marketer, keep this in mind when preparing your communications, writing a business plan or executing upon a marketing strategy. Keep your content and messaging concise and to as narrow a point and message as possible. If you can be relentless in this exercise, your reward will be a highly effective retention factor by your prospective customers, and ultimately, the best chance for a future sale.

 
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+.

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+.

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+.

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+.