The Value of “Easy” as a Strategy

 Marketing strategists and issue managers may enjoy greater success by making things easy for would-be consumers or advocates. Take the word of  Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist.

Marketing strategists and issue managers may enjoy greater success by making things easy for would-be consumers or advocates. Take the word of  Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist.

If you want people to do something, make it easy.

Sound advice from behavioral economist Richard Thaler, who won a Nobel Prize for “humanizing economics.” Thaler’s main thesis is that people don’t fit into classic economic models and often respond with emotion, not reason. One of the many human quirks Thaler identifies is an unwillingness to deal with complexity – or busy work.

In a 2009 column for The New York Times, Thaler wrote most people are willing to be organ donors, but don’t bother to fill out the forms. Donation rates would increase, he said, by simply forcing a choice or making the choice easy with a smartphone app.

Thaler said retirement savings rates would improve by making it easier for workers to save. To overcome the barrier of procrastination, he recommended creating retirement plans with automatic enrollment for workers, with an ability to opt-out. The Oregon legislature took Thaler’s advice and established OregonSaves, which is in its second year and already has 18,000 participating workers who save on average $103 per month.

Marketers and issue managers who want people to do something would be well advised to take Thaler’s observations to heart. The easier you make a customer journey or requested action, the more likely people will oblige.

The four Ps of marketing – product, price, place and promotion – form the basis for sound marketing strategies. However, customers may shy away from the product they want at a price they are willing to pay if the purchase is too messy or difficult. Long lines, indifferent service and clunky websites can discourage an otherwise eager consumer.

 Richard Thaler was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics for his observations about human behavior that can be predictably irrational, especially when an action isn’t easy.

Richard Thaler was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics for his observations about human behavior that can be predictably irrational, especially when an action isn’t easy.

The same is true in the world of issues. You can explain until you are blue in the face that a construction project will ultimately be good for a neighborhood, but the short-term inconvenience may turn rational people into a community of discontent.

Buying a car has a well-earned reputation for being a disagreeable experience that takes too long and often feels manipulative and murky. Car dealers have responded by making it easier to find the car you want and buy it without wasting an entire weekend.

Politicians are constantly asking for campaign contributions, but many potential donors find it a hassle to drag out their checkbooks to write a $15 check. Campaigns now make it easier for donors to contribute online.

Retailers can simplify their customer journeys with self-checkout, free home delivery and easy-to-navigate online checkout. The issue manager on that contentious construction project can talk to neighbors, identify specific concerns and agree, for example, to limit construction hours and avoid truck traffic when children are going to and coming back from school.

Basing marketing strategy on price and value is smart. But it is smarter to recognize customers dislike a shopping hassle.

Developing solid content and persuasive arguments is essential to an effective issues campaign. But it is prudent to understand that people get confused or distracted with too much detail.

“Easy” should be a routine element of any strategy. Making something easy sells and convinces. Making something easy removes complications and excuses. Making something easy is a value many people can’t and won’t resist.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Explaining Explainer Videos

 Explainer videos are rising in popularity because they can boost Google rankings, increase conversion rates, entertain customers and be shared easily, adding some pep to a website or social media platforms.

Explainer videos are rising in popularity because they can boost Google rankings, increase conversion rates, entertain customers and be shared easily, adding some pep to a website or social media platforms.

There’s a new kind of animated and live action video appearing on websites and social media platforms. It’s called an explainer video and judging from the rave reviews this form of visual communication is getting (higher Google rankings; increased browser-to-buyer conversion rates; easy to share), it’s a must-have piece of digital content.

Here’s a snapshot of what this trend is all about and why you might want to consider using it in an upcoming marketing campaign.

The idea behind an explainer video is a quick explanation of what your business does and the problems you solve for your customers.

Explainer videos typically involve either live action video and/or some kind of animation. Examples are a series of whiteboard sketches; 2D and 3D cartoon animation, typography moving around on a screen (called kinetic typography) or  animated cutouts of people and objects. 

Explainer videos run up to two minutes in length and contain some or all of the following elements:

  • Written script highlighting a problem a potential customer faces; the solution the company provides and a call to action
  • Voiceover narration
  • On-screen graphics
  • Music
  • Animation style
  • Subtitles

Prices range from thousands of dollars to free software for the DIY crowd.

What the explainer video offers is an easy way for businesses to add a video element to their websites and social media platforms.

Like every other type of digital shiny object, the danger is relying solely on explainer videos at the expense of creating additional forms of personalized content. Savvy communicators know they need to speak to different audiences and the best way to do that is to develop content that is meaningful and memorable to each target group.

That said, here are two ways to decide which type of explainer video is best for your company:

  • If your goal is to humanize your company, using live action video is preferable to animation. You can use key company executives, employees and customers to communicate your message. Dollar Shave Club produced a hilarious live action video featuring the president of the company.
  • If you have a complicated topic or need to deliver a conceptual message, an animated video is a good way to visualize the subject and walk viewers through your process. Pinterest produced an easy-to-follow animated explainer video.

Explainer videos are the newest way for brands to make themselves seen and heard. And in this increasingly crowded digital landscape, getting noticed is a never-ending challenge. 

About the author:

Holly Paige Photo.jpg

Holly Paige is a story consultant and video content creator based in Portland, Oregon. She uses the power of storytelling to produce videos for businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories and tell them right. Visit: www.digitalwave.tv and www.waveonegroup.com.

Personalize Content Marketing Through Staff Content Sharing

 Add zip to a content marketing strategy by encouraging your own staff to share useful, relevant content with customers, clients and prospects at conferences, in meetings and even on cold calls.

Add zip to a content marketing strategy by encouraging your own staff to share useful, relevant content with customers, clients and prospects at conferences, in meetings and even on cold calls.

One of the best, but most overlooked channels for content marketing is your own staff.

Content marketing is all about providing useful, relevant information to your customers or clients. We tend to think of that information as transmitted digitally via a website, blog or social media.  Delivering it personally can be even more powerful.

Turning your entire staff into a team of content marketers could be your most cost-effective marketing strategy.

Savvy companies view their staffs as brand ambassadors. Converting brand ambassadorships into content marketers only requires taking the time to share the content you want customers or clients to receive.

Staff meetings can become more meaningful if they contain time for content sharing. Make staff aware of an upcoming thought leadership blog, new website features or a social media campaign. Make it easy for your staff to share your content, and encourage staff members to share the content.

Alyssa Patzius, vice president for Influence&Co., says content sharing can be a way to stand out from competition by offering something of value, not just your business card. Sharing useful information and associating the source of that information to your enterprise is nearly the same as third-party validation, Patzius suggest.

She says content-sharing strategy can work at trade shows, professional conferences or even cold calls.

Of course, sharing blah content could have the opposite result. Avoid self-aggrandizing pitches and stick with solid how-to content or meaningful storytelling that relates to your brand or business. Don’t tell would-be clients about your successes; share with them how you go about achieving successful outcomes for your clients.

Some content is evergreen and never goes out of date. However, fresh content can be more impactful. There is nothing like the rush of recent success to spark content sharing.

Don’t limit your content to something in print. Video and audio content can extend the personalization of content sharing by including visuals and voices from your colleagues.

The next time you are charged with creating an energizing agenda for a staff meeting or retreat, plug in a segment about content sharing. And make sure you are generating content worthy of sharing to inform and impress customers and clients.

 

A Story about Public Relations and Advertising

 With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

Public relations and advertising are separate disciplines. Sometimes fiercely separate. It is fun to see the virtues of both come together to tell a brand story.

Subaru is airing a TV commercial for its Forester model titled, “A Life Story on the Line.” In a brief 30 seconds, the ad traces the life of a young couple through school, marriage, the birth of twins and a devasting traffic accident. The family survives and credits their Forester for “keeping their story going.”

The commercial conveys the Subaru brand promise in a nutshell or, more precisely, in a story line.

In previous years, Subaru storytelling ads talked about their vehicle’s durability through the eyes of a dad cleaning out memories from a car he is giving to his grown-up daughter. In a well-known series of ads, a dog family puts a Subaru through its paces in human terms from vacation traveling to a front-seat first kiss.

TV advertising earns its way by pushing messages in a visual envelope. But the creative instincts needed to produce an eye-catching 30-second spot are closely related to those employed by filmmakers to produce movies. They also are the stock and trade of public relations professionals. Storytelling may not work to announce a furniture sale, but Subaru used it effectively to promote the safety of its cars in flesh-and-blood terms.

Mac Schwerin, writing in Adweek, pans the use of storytelling in advertising. He says globalization has eviscerated brand stories, which tend to be tied to a specific place. Stories, Schwerin claims, are parochial and advertising needs to be global.

“Advertising is an objectively terrible format for storytelling,” he adds. “Commercials are not given enough breathing room to reward characterization, voice, humanity and a bunch of other nuanced literary stuff.”

Ana Gotter of Disruptive Advertising disagrees. “Stories communicate messages in highly specific and emotionally impactful ways,” Gotter says. “They’re memorable and give us something to identify with and hold on to. Statistics tell us what the reality is – stories tell us why it matters and why we need to care.”

Subaru has taken Gotter’s advice, not Schwerin’s, when producing TV ads. A simple, fast-paced narrative with a beginning, a moment of truth and a happy ending gives viewers a potent 30-second brand message: Subaru vehicles are safe.

The ad doesn’t try to lure you to a dealership with a discount or special promotion. It only tries to convince you that could save your family’s life by driving one of its cars. By anyone’s measure, that’s a powerful story – and an effective brand story.

The age of content marketing has achieved a lot, including bringing PR and advertising professionals closer together. The notion of paid advertising no longer is the exclusive territory of the Don Drapers and creatives who work on beanbag chairs. Paid advertising extends to storytelling in print, video, audio and social media formats.

Stories can sell, often better than confetti, screaming typefaces, overbearing announcers and unbelievable celebrity endorsers. Check out your own brand story and think about ways to share it with your customers and prospects.

Get Ready for Your LinkedIn Close-Up

 LinkedIn has jumped into the video sponsored content arena, posing yet another compelling reason to hone your on-camera skills so you appear confident, knowledgeable and easy to watch.

LinkedIn has jumped into the video sponsored content arena, posing yet another compelling reason to hone your on-camera skills so you appear confident, knowledgeable and easy to watch.

Does it seem like your LinkedIn feed is full of talking heads these days? It’s not your imagination.

In the past year, the world’s #1 platform for business lead generation has jumped into the B2B video arena in a big way, by introducing professionally produced video ads for sponsored content and launching a mobile app for iPhone or Android that allows users to record and upload their own video content.

If you’re using LinkedIn to grow your business, what could be easier than hitting the Record button on your smartphone and speaking directly to your tribe.

For most of us, speaking on camera is a stressful experience. The thought of looking into a camera lens and not knowing who will be watching – or what they might think of you – causes fear. And fear triggers a fight-or-flight response that causes many people to sweat profusely, turn red in the face and struggle to breathe. Call it stage fright on steroids.

A big part of my work is helping people become more confident speaking on camera, and I’m happy to say that with preparation and practice just about anyone can improve his or her on-camera performance. Here’s how:

  1. Figure out what you want to say before you hit the Record button. You don’t need to memorize what you’re going to say, but do prepare a few talking points ahead of time.
     
  2. Before filming, stand in front of a mirror and practice your presentation out loud. You’ll feel ridiculous. Do it any way. As you practice, keep your eyes focused on your reflection, as if you are speaking to an actual person in front of you. The camera will pick up any twitch, frown, grimace or involuntary eye roll. You want to minimize as many non-verbal tics as you can. 
     
  3. During your mirror practice, pay attention to your tone and delivery. Do you sound confident? Friendly? Are you speaking too fast? Video magnifies the way a person looks and sounds.
     
  4. After you’ve practiced a few times, record a practice take. Smile, make eye contact and stare directly into the tiny camera lens. It will feel unnatural at first, but remember that you’re making eye contact through the camera lens to your unseen audience.
     
  5. Play back and review. Resist the self-criticism and focus on things you can change. If your video looks too dark, record yourself near a window to capture more natural light. Pay attention to the way you look and sound. Ask yourself: what would your intended audience think about you and your business if they saw your video?
     
  6. Avoid recording endless takes. You’ll wear yourself out and lose your enthusiasm. Try recording two or three versions. Review. Revise. When you’re happy with one, upload it to your LinkedIn feed.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Then, take the leap. Speaking directly to camera is a skill, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

Holly Paige Photo.jpg

About the author:

Holly Paige is a video content strategist and creator based in Portland, Oregon. She uses the power of storytelling to produce videos for businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories – and tell them right. Visit: www.digitalwave.tv and www.waveonegroup.com.

Branding Demands Drinking Upstream from the Herd

 The University of Wyoming launched a new campaign aimed at appealing to out-of-state students, but the campaign’s cowboy reference has been panned as branding gone bad or, as cowboys would say, as drinking downstream from the herd.

The University of Wyoming launched a new campaign aimed at appealing to out-of-state students, but the campaign’s cowboy reference has been panned as branding gone bad or, as cowboys would say, as drinking downstream from the herd.

What could go wrong by promoting a university with a cowboy reference? Apparently, a lot.

The mascot for the University of Wyoming is Cowboy Joe, which happens to be a horse. That might explain why the University’s new marketing slogan – “The world needs more cowboys” – has met with a stampede of opposition.

According to the Laramie Boomerang, the college town’s local newspaper, criticism of the slogan ranges from sexist to racist to stupid because it is unlikely to appeal to out-of-state students, which was the express purpose of the new marketing campaign.

Associate Professor Christine Porter said the slogan harkens back to Western stereotypes and misrepresents the University’s current-day research and educational goals. She said the new slogan runs the risk of “embarrassing ourselves as an institution across the nation.”

Chad Baldwin, the University’s director of communications, defended the new slogan, calling it a redefinition of cowboy. “We’re basically throwing away the old stereotypes and updating what it means to be a cowboy and what it looks like,” he said. “A cowboy is not what you are, but who you are.”

That may be the way the new slogan was sold by the marketing firm that reportedly was paid $500,000 to come up with a campaign to recruit more out-of-state students.

A survey conducted by slogan critics produced some sarcastic alternatives, but also an intriguing one – “The world needs more trailblazers,” which seems like a better saddle to ride in redefining modern-day cowboys.

As the University of Wyoming campaign demonstrates, branding can be tricky business, even for a school known on sports fields as the Cowboys (and Cowgirls). Coming up with names, taglines and slogans requires, as cowboys say, not squatting when wearing spurs.

Branding experts start by gathering as much information and opinions as possible before plunging in. From all accounts, fact-finding didn’t occur in the creative evolution of the “cowboys” slogan. To quote another cowboy saying, that’s like digging for water under an outhouse.

Reaching agreement is hard enough when you have done your homework and is virtually impossible if you skip it entirely. Interviewing people doesn’t necessarily produce the perfect name, but it helps rule out the wrong choices. Interviews also offer clues and hints on the trail to the right choice.

Branding involves more than names and slogans; it rests on strategy. Communications don’t become strategic until they have undergone testing. Even a basic online survey of students from the target recruiting area could have warded off the “cowboy” slogan cow-pie.

As the University professor observed, ““I truly appreciate … the idea that who a cowboy is needs to be rebranded to be more accurate to the diversity of people who are cowboys, or who have been. However, you don’t do that with a marketing slogan.” 

It’s always wiser to drink upstream from the herd.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Navigating the Twists and Turns of Effective Facebook Advertising

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With all its faults, missteps and ever-changing algorithms, Facebook still attracts a lot of daily eyeballs. Capturing a share of those eyeballs requires a combination of skill, diligence and circus acts.

Margot da Cunha, writing on the WordStream blog, offers some useful tips designed to help you target, inform and charm your intended audience.

Appropriately, her first tip is to “target an insanely specific audience,” which is something Facebook, with all its information-gathering, can assist you to achieve. “The super-sophisticated level of ad targeting is one of the main reasons to be excited about Facebook marketing,” according to da Guntha. Specific targeting requires a granular understanding of your customer or client personas – from who they are to what motivates them.

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You don’t have to start from scratch on targeting, as da Cunha suggests rounding up all your existing customers and leads, then entering them into Facebook’s Custom Audience feature. She also advises trying to clone your existing customer base using Facebook’s Lookalike Audience feature. For these “known” audiences, more specific ad content would be appropriate and likely persuasive.

Creating and sustaining the right content is another important ingredient of success on Facebook. Da Cunha recommends “short, enticing videos” that convey information quickly and with some entertaining frosting. To see effective videos, da Cunha suggests viewing and mimicking BuzzFeed’s approach. A beneficial byproduct of shorter videos can be ease and less cost in production, she says. The main benefit, however, is the right people view them.

Some of the skills da Cunha identifies are making your Facebook posts easy for the eye to navigate and only paying to promote your best content. “Focus viewers’ attention toward the most important part of your Facebook ad. For instance, if you have a strong call-to-action, you could show an image with a person looking at or pointing to that text,” she explains. Continuously generating fresh content is important to sustain interest, but you can maximize attention by promoting your best stuff, even if isn’t new, but remains relevant. This is a smart business decision, as well as savvy marketing.

Then there is the circus. Da Cunha urges the use of pictures of dogs or babies – or both. Stage contests. Post pictures of your employees having fun, which can humanize your brand. And don’t overlook emojis to connect with viewers who want to share emotions and feelings.

Advertising on Facebook will never be easy or obvious. Knowing how to navigate the twists and turns on the road to success of Facebook can save time and money – and earn kudos from your boss and clicks from your target audience.

Which Online Video App is Right for You?

 Instagram introduces a new long-form video-sharing platform that underlines the importance of video content in marketing, public affairs and political campaigns.

Instagram introduces a new long-form video-sharing platform that underlines the importance of video content in marketing, public affairs and political campaigns.

Instagram, the popular photo sharing app, stepped up its game in a big way last week by launching IGTV, a mobile video app for iOS and Android. IGTV allows users to shoot vertical video on their smartphones, and upload an hour’s worth of video, up from its previous one-minute limit. IGTV is accessible from a button inside the Instagram home screen, as well as a standalone app. Users can create their own content, and access popular videos from Instagram celebrities.

By declaring “Game On!” to online video rival YouTube, IGTV could prove to be a worthy competitor in the video-sharing space. Some industry analysts are even predicting that Instagram, and parent company Facebook, are challenging the future of television with IGTV, pointing to the “TV” in the name of the app, and the “static snow” effect that appears in the app when users switch from one video to another.

Clearly, the impact of IGTV on the current state of television or online video remains to be seen. In the meantime, there are plenty of existing apps and platforms that B2B and B2C content marketers are using to create and post engaging video content. Here’s a sampling:

YouTube: This is the granddaddy of the free online video content-sharing sites. YouTube is owned by Google, so you can expect YouTube videos to show up well in SEO searches. On the other hand, the sheer popularity of YouTube videos can make it difficult for your specific video to gain traction with its intended audience. There are the annoying pop-up ads that appear on your video, and the so-called “related” videos that appear after your YouTube video ends. But if you want maximum SEO search capabilities, and don’t care about pop-up ads or other forms of brand clutter, YouTube’s your platform.

Vimeo: This video platform is preferred by filmmakers and producers of high-quality videos. Vimeo is a paid service for business, but the advantages include no ad overlays over videos and brighter video and cleaner audio. Unlike YouTube, you can make changes to a Vimeo video without creating a new URL link. This is a time and money saver, especially if you have a video you plan to update on a regular basis.

Facebook Live: This service allows users to broadcast live video from their mobile devices straight to their Facebook News Feed. Use this app to share up to 90 minutes of live events, interviews or other user-generated content. Users can access the Facebook Live option when they post an update to their Page. They’ll be able to see who’s watching their broadcast, as well as read and respond to any real-time comments. After the broadcast has ended, your Facebook Live video will remain visible on your Facebook stream.

Periscope: This is Twitter’s live streaming video app. You’ll need a Twitter account to shoot video with the app. When you download Periscope from the App Store, you can subscribe to the Periscope broadcasts of those you follow on Twitter. Periscope played a key role in American politics in June 2016 when Democratic members of the US House of Representatives staged a sit-in on the House floor to protest gun control. When the House session was halted, and the cameras shut off, Rep. Scott Peters (D-California) used his Periscope account to broadcast the sit-in and speeches, which was live streamed by C-SPAN.  

LinkedIn: In August 2017, the world’s largest online professional network jumped into the B2B video arena by launching LinkedIn video through its mobile app for iPhone or Android. Users can record their own video in the app or upload previously recorded content. In May 2018, LinkedIn introduced video ads for sponsored content. According to the company, the sponsored content video lives directly in the LinkedIn news feed. Similar to the Facebook Ad model, LinkedIn’s Sponsored Content video is a paid service, with pricing levels based on pay-per-click (CPC) or pay-per-1,000 impressions (CPM).

So, what does it all mean?

It means video is a huge part of the online experience, with as many different uses for video as there are apps and video platforms. It’s easier than ever to create and post your own videos, but the glut of online video content makes it hard to rise above the noise.

That’s why content marketers and professional communicators need to get crystal clear about the audiences they want to reach, and the messages they want their audiences to hear, so they can produce visual content that is engaging, memorable and meaningful.

Holly and Wayne Paige are video content marketing strategists and creators based in Portland, Oregon. They use the power of storytelling to produce videos for businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories – and tell them right. Visit: www.digitalwave.tv and www.waveonegroup.com.

 

Know Your Long-Tail and Fat-Head Search Keywords

 Search engine optimization techniques can be puzzling, but underneath techniques such as long-tail and fat-head keywords are fundamental business principles of positioning and being the answer to your customer’s question.

Search engine optimization techniques can be puzzling, but underneath techniques such as long-tail and fat-head keywords are fundamental business principles of positioning and being the answer to your customer’s question.

A key to any business is being discovered. Most businesses don’t have massive budgets for brand-building advertising campaigns, so increasingly businesses rely on paid search as the red carpet to their physical or digital front doors.

Being found by search engines can be as tricky as giving directions to your brick-and-mortar store. Businesses don’t automatically show up on the first page of a Google search, even when they dominate their market. Being on the first page of a search usually requires paying to get there.

In relative terms for advertising, paid search is inexpensive. With search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns, you push keywords, promote content and pay for clicks. How much you pay is less important in many respects than the quality of potential customers who find you. That has led to keyword search strategies with interesting names such as long-tail search and fat-head search.

WordStream, an online advertising firm, demonstrates the value of long-tail search with this example: A classic furniture store is unlikely to be the intended destination for someone who types in “furniture.” It is more likely to be the target for someone looking for “contemporary Art Deco furniture.” That’s the basic concept behind long-tail search – focusing on longer, more specific keywords that give your business a greater chance to be on the top of a search.

Think of a long-tail keyword as a way to shorten the path of a customer to your window or website.

“Obviously, you’re going to draw less traffic with a long-tail keyword than you would with a more common one, but the traffic you do draw will be better: more focused, more committed and more desirous of your services,” explains Wordstream.

In addition, there is less competition for longer keywords, so they wind up costing less, even if they have a higher click-through rate. Wordstream says, “With shorter keywords, competition for rankings can be fierce, but visits can be scattershot and ROI can be low.”

Another strategy is fat-head search. The thinking behind this strategy is to sharpen your positioning so you are the singular answer to search questions related to your business. “Move beyond long tail search,” advises Brian Halligan of Hubspot. “Get good at fat head search. Be the answer to the question.”

Halligan’s example is that it is better to go beyond “shoes” or even “Nike running shoes” to “Nike size 8 running shoes in [fill in your location.]” You certainly will get less traffic, but Halligan says the visitors you get are less random and looking for something specific. This level of specificity plays well with the growing trend of voice search, which is more compatible with longer keywords.

The real secret behind fat-head keywords, Halligan insists, is moving past what a business sells to what customer question the business answers. “Alarmingly, many of the businesses we encounter still struggle to define exactly what they sell and to whom they sell it,” Halligan says.” It’s a problem that isn’t going to go away. in fact, it’s likely to intensify.” The more precise your positioning, the “fatter” your search keywords can be.

While basic marketing concepts remain in force, how you exploit your positioning has branched into new realms that may require professional assistance. Don’t be surprised if the expert who shows up to guide into the brave new world of online search success looks a lot like your granddaughter. You could do a lot worse than asking your granddaughter for help.

 

 

The Schultz Legacy on Corporate Leadership

 Howard Schultz is stepping down as executive chairman of Starbucks, the coffee company that he made ubiquitous and iconic for what it served customers and how it treated employees. Schultz, who may run for President in 2020, left an enduring legacy of corporate leadership.

Howard Schultz is stepping down as executive chairman of Starbucks, the coffee company that he made ubiquitous and iconic for what it served customers and how it treated employees. Schultz, who may run for President in 2020, left an enduring legacy of corporate leadership.

The decision by Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz to step down is fueling speculation of a 2020 presidential run. There is no need to speculate on Schultz’ enduring impact on the rules of corporate behavior.

After announcing his decision, Schultz didn’t spare his criticism of President Donald Trump, the “political class” and Democrats. “My concern is for the country,” Schultz said in an interview with CNN Money. “I think we can do much better. I think the political class as a whole has been reckless.”

No one could accuse Schultz of being a timid businessman. He traveled to Italy in 1983, became enamored with Italian espresso bars and launched a US version in Seattle in 1984.

“Starbucks started hosting Facebook promotions in 2009, before most restaurants had even figured out this was a space they needed to be in,” Forbes reported. “While most brands were still experimenting with mobile payments in 2014, Starbucks was generating double-digit transactions from the channel.”

Commercial success put Starbucks on the map, but arguably Schultz earned his iconic status by what he did for his employees and what he viewed as his communities. Schultz often said Starbucks was in the “experience” business, not the “coffee” business.

Under his aegis, Starbucks offered health benefits for employees – and extended those benefits to employee domestic partners 11 years before domestic partnerships were recognized in the United States. Employees can receive reimbursement for earning a college degree online through Arizona State University.

Struck by the challenges facing returning US military veterans, Schultz committed Starbucks to hire them and their spouses. Since making the pledge in 2013, Starbucks says it has hired more than 15,000 veterans and military spouses, exceeding the original commitment of 10,000 hires. Starbucks has renewed the pledge to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025. The coffee giant also plans to dedicate more than 100 military/family stores where veterans and military spouses can connect with peers facing similar transitional challenges.

“We strive to bridge the divide between the 1 percent of Americans who have served in the US military and the 99 percent who have not,” says Starbucks on its website.

After a recent incident in Philadelphia when a Starbucks manager called police to remove two black men, Schultz undertook a company-wide effort to provide employees with anti-bias training. The four-hour training affected employees at 8,000 company stores, which were closed for an afternoon. Schultz took a beating on social media and was greeted with skepticism that a single training session could alter deep-seated, often unconscious bias.

Schultz lets criticism roll off his back. When a Starbucks shareholder expressed disappointment at the company’s support for gay marriage, Schultz shot back, "Not every decision is an economic decision."

“As a business leader, my quest has never been just about winning or making money,” Schultz says. “It has also been about building a great, enduring company, which has always meant striking a balance between profit and social conscience." It’s worth noting the value of Starbucks’ shares since the company’s initial public offering in 1992 has risen 21,000 percent.

Schultz seems unlikely to slip out of sight. Americans may see him on the political stump advocating his brand of leadership in a global environment.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling

 

 

Social Media: ‘Evolving, Not Just a Fad’

 What may seem like a fad to some is actually a serious evolution in people’s need to connect with family, friends and brands. Social media has already evolved and will evolve even more, but unless you engage, you will never know when it has evolved to something else.

What may seem like a fad to some is actually a serious evolution in people’s need to connect with family, friends and brands. Social media has already evolved and will evolve even more, but unless you engage, you will never know when it has evolved to something else.

Social media has exploded onto the firmament, but is it just a fad or here to stay? One Millennial expert says social media will hang around and evolve.

“Social media staves off extinction by creating new updates and evolving in order to keep their users interested,” writes Sophia Meyer*, a senior at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. “Twitter has evolved from being a place to tweet about what you ate for breakfast to a hub for news sources and live updates.”

Social media staying power and adaptability erases the excuse for many business leaders to wait out its demise. In fact, the evolution of social media argues for why it is imperative to hop aboard.

 Sophia Meyer wrote an essay about social media’s staying power as part of a job interview as she prepared to graduate and enter the professional PR job market.

Sophia Meyer wrote an essay about social media’s staying power as part of a job interview as she prepared to graduate and enter the professional PR job market.

“Social media users today are not only using social sites to connect with their friends and peers, but they are increasingly using them as their primary news source,” Meyer observes. “The popularity of social media and the opportunity it provides for engagement with customers has made it the number one tool for companies to build their brand and target specific audiences.”

Where once social media was a medium to share your “status,” it has evolved into a platform to share content, including commercial content, Meyer says.

There may be a better venue down the line, but for now social media is the key channel to connect with potential customers and deepen loyalty with existing customers. A big piece of evidence is the rise of influencer marketing. Influencers, who can range from celebrities to bloggers, rank nearly as high as friends in trust and the ability to influence a buy decision.

Meyer suggests social media is not your grandfather’s phone book. And you shouldn’t expect social media to be your grandson’s fave.

“Social media is an ever-trending topic that has seen its fair share of positive evolution, and even fails,” she says. “One thing can be certain, however, social media is here to stay. While its users change and evolve, its features change and evolve, and its content evolves, individuals will always demand social media in one form or another.”

That is a nuanced argument for jumping on the social media bandwagon to avoid missing the next trend because you haven’t experienced the current one.

“Humans will always desire to connect with each other, share their thoughts and opinions, and consume a variety of content,” Meyer asserts. “Social media remains, and will remain, the main hub for all of those human needs.”

*Sophia Meyer, Gary Conkling’s daughter, wrote an essay about the longevity and adaptability of social media as part of a job interview.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Buckle Up for The Future

 “Shows like Westworld show a future world of interaction between humans and robots, which may not be that future-fetched, according to a social media marketer who recommends beginning to cope now for being replaced by a smart machine.”

“Shows like Westworld show a future world of interaction between humans and robots, which may not be that future-fetched, according to a social media marketer who recommends beginning to cope now for being replaced by a smart machine.”

If you are a Westworld fan, you already are steeped in the mysterious interactions among humans, robots and a clandestine corporation. The popular HBO show, which is starting its second season, is more like a video game than real life – or is it?

Larry Kim, CEO of MobileMonkey and a social media marketer, has identified six “massive issues in play” that will impact marketing, employment and possibly our everyday lives. Two of the most striking and perhaps oppositional trends are people living longer and the rise of smart machines that can replace a lot of the work humans do now. It could mean more time in life to be unemployed.

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Kim’s futuristic trends led him to create an infographic listing 10 “critical skills” that he says people will be in high demand in workplaces as early as 2020. One of the most important skills, according to Kim, will be the ability to come up with solutions.

Other skills Kim identifies include cross-cultural competency, new media literacy, adaptive thinking and an ability to work productively in virtual collaborative settings. These skills reflect a more diverse, global economy, a rapidly changing media and information-sharing environment and a premium on getting results. You may be working in your bedroom or at Starbucks, but you will be part of a virtual team.

Apart from noting the need for computational thinking, being trans-disciplinary and having a design mindset, Kim doesn’t offer anything more specific about surviving in an emerging age of artificial intelligence, smart machines and robotic companions (and, eventually) overlords.

Which brings us back to Westworld.  Its co-founder, Jonathan Nolan, calls the show a “metaphor.” Humans show up at a theme park with naughty intentions in which they indulge with robotic hosts. But beyond the sci-fi drama and “evolution of sin,” the underlying question posed by the show deals with human interaction with smart machines that can do more than control the temperature in our houses or alert us when we veer out of a highway lane.

Part of the appeal of the show is that it doesn’t show a static future. Both humans and machines are evolving. Women gain more power and machines become more capable. There also is an intensifying degree of violence.

Kim’s recommended work skills are pitched more for the near term, which is itself fairly unsettling. Westworld casts a glance further into the future, though who knows how far in the future. Between Kim and Westworld, we should get the picture that change is coming, and the changes wrought by artificial intelligence could profoundly affect human life, for good and not-so-good. Westworld may not turn out to be a theme park.

 

 

Another Rebranding Apology; Another Marketing Misfire

 Uber joined the corporate rebranding apology tour with a new 60-second TV spot. While striking a sincere tone, the ad still falls short on specifics and direct outreach to the customers and stakeholders most affected by the scandals that provoked the need for rebranding.

Uber joined the corporate rebranding apology tour with a new 60-second TV spot. While striking a sincere tone, the ad still falls short on specifics and direct outreach to the customers and stakeholders most affected by the scandals that provoked the need for rebranding.

Like Wells Fargo, Uber faced a tough 2017. Unlike Wells Fargo, Uber has launched an ad campaign that offers a more sincere-sounding plan on how it plans to clean up its act.

In a 60-second TV spot called “Moving Forward,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowhahi, who was hired in the middle of a series of scandals, walks through the actions the car-hailing company is taking. Keeping in mind it is a TV ad, not a consumer bill of rights, Uber says it will enable in-ride reviews of drivers and promises to improve the culture at Uber headquarters.

“Moving forward, it’s time to move in a new direction,” Khosrowhahi says in the ad.

Advertising observers have panned the Uber ad as “vague” and another corporate entry on the “apology tour.” That criticism is not invalid, but the Uber “apology” strikes a notably different tone than Wells Fargo’s ad that says the iconic company that began in 1852 is re-establishing itself in 2018.

The Wells Fargo ad started with historical footage and references to its gloried past before getting around to the one specific it announced – eliminating sales quotas for brand managers and instead emphasizing customer satisfaction.

The Uber ad comes across as less flashy and a bit more on point. Instead of a narrator, the voice you hear is the CEO who promises continuous improvement to make things better for riders, drivers and, presumably, Uber staff.  The ad also shows Uber riders and drivers.

Organizations that face rebranding challenges following scandals or product failures should study and learn from the Wells Fargo and Uber ad campaigns. Drawing on history and letting the CEO do the talking are just tactics. But rebranding strategy should center on specific action steps. If the digital age has done nothing else, it has made promises less important than actual improvements. Flash and CEO sincerity aren’t substitutes for on-the-ground change.

It isn’t a knock on advertising to observe that it may not be the best medium to convey the substance of a rebranding effort, as both the Wells Fargo and Uber ad campaigns demonstrate. Often, direct outreach to affected customers or stakeholders is the best path to successful rebranding. Convince them your change is real and meaningful, then let them talk about the change in unscripted ways on social media and, eventually, in an ad campaign featuring consumer reaction to your change.

We talk a lot about customer engagement and building trust. TV ads, regardless of their quality, push a message, but don’t engage. That can have the unintended effect of deepening cynicism and mistrust.

Wells Fargo and Uber deserve credit for undertaking rebranding. They both would have been better served by launching their rebranding in a less splashy – and possibly a lot less expensive – way by reaching out to their customers and telling them directly about the changes being made and asking for their reaction. That kind of engagement may not fit in a 60-second TV spot, but it is likely to provide a more satisfying and durable outcome.

 

Fight Fake News with Validated Data in Story Pitches

 As skepticism grows about fake news, false claims and the news media itself, PR professionals and brands need to make it a routine best practice to provide credible third-party validation along with their story pitches, promoted content and op-eds.

As skepticism grows about fake news, false claims and the news media itself, PR professionals and brands need to make it a routine best practice to provide credible third-party validation along with their story pitches, promoted content and op-eds.

Fears of fake news are making journalists even more skeptical of press releases. Credible third-party validations of claims are the best available antidote.

Traditional media outlets and social media platforms are stepping up their defenses against fake news. Those defenses will naturally spill over to evaluations of public relations pitches, promoted content and op-eds.

PR professionals and brand managers are tasked with communicating commercial messages, often including claims about quality, value, safety and unique features. Watch just about any episode of Shark Tank to see entrepreneurs make claims that often wither under questioning by the investor sharks. Expect reporters, editors and influential bloggers to perform the same critical role.

Instead of viewing this as an impediment, consider it an opportunity to differentiate your new product or bright idea by supplying credible reinforcement of your claims. The reinforcement could be test results from a recognized laboratory or research group, endorsements from relevant experts or testimonials from actual consumers.

Avoid any temptation to juice up or tamper with your third-party validation because savvy journalists will verify it. Even online reviews are getting increased scrutiny to ensure they aren’t plants or faked by competitors.

Celebrate the awakening awareness to fake news, phishing and hacking. Take the consumer’s side on privacy and verification. Model behavior that sets market benchmarks and builds trust. Guard that trust with vigilance so you don’t slip into bad or sloppy habits in validating what you claim.

Experiment with video featuring real customers or an expert using your product and attesting to its quality, value, safety and environmental friendliness. These can be 90 to 120-second mini-ads that can be posted on social media and websites, as well multimedia content to include with media pitches or as newsjacking opportunities to earn media coverage.

Build your credibility components into your basic media outreach strategy so it is routine. Start with a clear, compelling news hook, briefly tell your story, then provide your proof. Providing validation in the form of expert findings, real testimonials and video explanations will lend credibility to your pitch and pique reporter interest. Don’t hesitate to point out that validation is – or should be – a new best PR practice in the battle against fake news and false claims.

Cision’s 2018 State of the Media Report, which surveyed 1,355 journalists across six countries, reveals concern about fake news and public trust in the news media. As a result, journalists are asking “PR professional…to provide accurate, newsworthy information.”

Do yourself and legitimate news media outlets a favor by following that advice.

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Thoughts and Tips on Good Writing

 With diminishing attention spans and exploding communications channels, good writing has never been more important – or more daunting. The secret to improved writing skills may be simpler than you think – read, study, write, edit, then edit some more.

With diminishing attention spans and exploding communications channels, good writing has never been more important – or more daunting. The secret to improved writing skills may be simpler than you think – read, study, write, edit, then edit some more.

Good writing is essential to effective marketing. Blogs, video scripts, ad copy, promoted content and email subject lines demand an informed literacy – you need to write in ways your viewers will read or listen.

Bryan Hutchinson, founder of PositiveWriter.com, offers suggestions on how to write better. They include reading a lot, studying the techniques of good writers and writing. That’s right, you can get better at writing by actually writing.

The one caveat to writing better is a personal commitment to edit more. Editing is not a form of self-flagellation or an expression of self-doubt. The most gifted writers in history have been craftsmen with words. They didn’t consider what they wrote down as gospel; they viewed what they wrote as the first step toward something better after the hard work of editing.

Hutchinson encourages writers to have passion. I agree. But passion can blindside a writer, allowing them to fall in love with his or her own words. Writing is not about romance, even when it is intended as romantic. Writing is about craft. If you must, fall in love with the process of producing words that speak clearly to your readers. That’s especially true if your mission is to write marketing copy.

As a college student, I deeply admired e e cummings who broke conventions of form and grammar to create a distinctive personal style. Commendable, but not always readable. Since Shakespeare, no English-speaking author has written with more boundless scope than James Joyce, another personal favorite. Yet few people even attempt to tackle Joycean prose. Cummings and Joyce would have made poor marketers, even though they are great writers of poetry and prose because both were relentless editors of their own writing.

In addition to writing and editing, good writers also need to empathize with their audiences. Cummings and Joyce didn’t write for their readers; they expected their readers to meet them on their terms. Modern writers, especially those in the field of marketing, don’t have that luxury. They need to write in ways that audiences will want to read. You can make fun of romance novels, but they can be page-turners because they give their readers what they want.

Learning your audience isn’t purely instinctive. It takes discipline to research and understand an audience. For marketers, this requires intentional research, often in both qualitative and quantitative forms. But novelists often do much the same things by listening carefully to how people speak so they can capture their words and cadence in the characters they create. This is what make characters seem real, just like market research makes product appeals familiar and realistic.

Many of the barriers to good writing – or writing at all – are psychological. One of the biggest bogeymen is “writer’s block.” Any writer can be stumped on the journey to a final script, short story or op-ed, but it isn’t because of writer’s block, which is a state of mind, not a road bump. Writers must have determination to power through road bumps by writing, rewriting or rethinking a key passage. Another phony ruse is waiting for inspiration from the muse. There are plenty of great places from which to gain inspiration without waiting for a mythical voice to whisper in your ear.

Even the phrase “gifted writer” is misleading. If you struggle to write well, you can blame it on your genes. The truth is that some people have better verbal skills than others. So what. Authentic writing comes as much from the heart as the brain. You can write what you feel with a ferocious genuineness. Writing that is genuine can be compelling and sparkle, even if the grammar is fractured.

The most existential part of writing is developing your own voice. Being unique is a hallmark of good writers. Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo writing style is about as far away from John Milton’s classical style as you could get, yet both are viewed as excellent writers. Your style should match your message, but most of all it should reflect your mastery of how you compose words and tell stories. Good writing never goes out of style, even when styles of writing change.

Don’t let writing be the bane of your life. It can be a great stress reliever and outlet for self-expression. It also can be a trusted conduit to share information of value to family and friends and to customers, and constituents. 

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

The Marriage of Brand Personality and Consumer Personas

 There is no better example of brand personality married to consumer persona than the Apple ads that personified a PC and a Mac. Today, marrying brand personality with consumer personas is critical to create and sustain an association that supports buying decisions.

There is no better example of brand personality married to consumer persona than the Apple ads that personified a PC and a Mac. Today, marrying brand personality with consumer personas is critical to create and sustain an association that supports buying decisions.

Consumers choose brands as a form of self-expression so it is important for a brand’s personality to match its consumer persona.

It the past, buying decisions were heavily influenced by location and price. You bought groceries, shopped for clothes and dined out at establishments that were nearby and offered good prices.

In the world of digital commerce, buying decisions have more to do with convenience, value and brand personality. Purchases can be made online and shipped to your door. Products are judged by their value, not just their price. Increasingly, consumers prefer to buy brands with compatible personalities.

Marketer Angela Hausman writes that contemporary consumers gravitate to brands with characteristics common to them. “Basically, consumers think about brands,” she explained, “the same way they think about their friends, celebrities, coworkers and public figures.” That is, as an extension of themselves.

Brands today market, you might say, to their respective tribes. One of the best examples of brand personality tribal identification is the series of Apple ads from a few years ago. The Mac was represented by a casual, hip-looking young guy, while the PC was cast as an older, stodgy guy in an ill-fitting suit. The point of the ads wasn’t to say which computer was better, but which computer “looked” more like Apple’s target consumer persona.

As consumer expectations of corporations and brands have expanded, many companies use marketing to strengthen their association with consumers. Anheuser-Busch paid for an ad during the last Super Bowl showing how it converted beer production lines to produce 3 million cans of water for emergency relief efforts in Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and California. Other beverage producers stepped up, too, and Procter & Gamble sent a laundry truck to hard-stricken areas so people could get their clothes cleaned at no charge.

Brand archetypes have been created to express the universe of brand personalities, ranging from conscientious to neurotic and dreamer to seductress. While these archetypes have merit, they fall short of capturing the specifics of a brand’s actual consumer persona. A consumer may buy a can of soup with less sodium because it is healthier or because it comes in a container that can be heated in the office microwave. The soup company should know whether its consumer persona is primarily making a healthy choice or a choice of convenience – or whether they are too lazy to choose something else to eat.

Consumer personas are the most reliable for marketing purposes when they are based on actual consumer contact.  Even though it doesn’t take a magnifying glass to see loads of families go to Disneyland, it is still useful for Disney officials to find out what prompts family trips at specific times to the Happiest Place on Earth.

As we are continuing to discover, social media platforms have become gold mines of personal information that help marketers to track psychographic patterns. Demographics identify who your consumer is; psychographics explain why they buy your product by assembling a picture, sometimes literally, of their attitudes and aspirations. Brands covet that information to direct their marketing – and adjust their brand personalities.

Consumer personas can evolve over time or as a result of technology changes. Women who once loved to shop in their favorite department store now prefer to find what they want online. Instead of using mannequins, stores need to display their apparel on models and in settings that resonate with their target consumer personas. They also need to project an appealing vibe. It’s as if the new challenge is to make consumers want to dress up in your brand personality.

Try as they might, brands can invent their personalities out of whole cloth. Their sense of personality is shared with their consumers. You may see your brand as bright and peppy, but consumers may view it as dull and wimpy. Cadillac has had this problem for years, pushing out cars to compete with German luxury models, but bogged down by a reputation of a living room on four wheels. If brand personalities don’t match with consumer personas, you have a problem.

In previous posts, we’ve encourage companies to picture their consumer (or client) personas, listing their key characteristics and the associations they value. This post urges companies to go further and see if their brand personalities align with their consumer personas. If not, why not? If there is alignment, what do you need to do to maintain the attraction between what your consumers want and what you offer?

Even if there is alignment, what will you need to do to sustain a relationship that extends past location, price, convenience and value to something more basic – do your consumers want to be associated with you. It is not a trivial question. But it can be an energizing one that helps a brand stay fresh, relevant and desired.

Whipped Cream and the Value of Visual Explanations

 A visual explanation can be worth a lot more than a thousand words to show how a product works, steps for a DIY repair or proving cream always rises to the top.

A visual explanation can be worth a lot more than a thousand words to show how a product works, steps for a DIY repair or proving cream always rises to the top.

Neil deGrasse Tyson tells a story about an experience in a Brooklyn coffee shop that provides all the evidence you need of the value of visual explanations.

A non-coffee drinker, Tyson ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream. However, his drink showed up on the counter with no whipped cream on top. When Tyson told the barista he forgot to add the whipped cream, the barista said he did add it, but it must have sunk to the bottom of the cup.

That explanation might have been enough for some customers to shrug off the visual absence of whipped cream, but not an astrophysicist. Tyson told the barista that unless the laws of physics were suspended in the coffee shop, whipped cream doesn’t sink.

That might have been enough for most baristas to grab the whipped cream dispenser and shoot another dab in the cup in the customer’s hot chocolate. Instead, the barista sought to prove the whipped cream sunk, as he said it did. With an I-told-you-so expression, he made another hot chocolate and, in front of Tyson, plopped the whipped cream on top.

The whipped cream didn’t sink.

Tyson didn’t say whether the barista apologized or offered a free drink on his next visit. At that moment, the barista may have wished he had paid attention in his high physics class or milked cows on a farm. But whatever his educational or experiential deficiencies, the barista now has a visual tattoo on his brain that cream rises, not sinks. That’s the power of visual communications.

 Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is known for his cosmic-cocktail ability to explain  complicated subjects simply , used a visual explanation to school a coffee shop barista about the properties of whipped cream.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is known for his cosmic-cocktail ability to explain complicated subjects simply, used a visual explanation to school a coffee shop barista about the properties of whipped cream.

Visual explanations can show how a new product works, steps in a DIY repair or where to get a Passport. They can help walk someone through a complicated procedure or demystify a commonly held perception, like how baffling it is to assemble IKEA furniture.

An underutilized benefit of visual explanations, as Tyson demonstrated, is convincing skeptics. Demonstrations can do away with doubt about product utility or safety. Think seat belts in cars, which are ubiquitous today, but were viewed skeptically by automakers and motorists when they were first introduced. Pictures of people hurled through windshields contrasted to people wearing seat belts surviving serious crashes changed minds – and policy.

Proving someone is wrong is a touchy subject. You can say they are mistaken or ill-informed, but that is apt to make them mad. Showing that a proposition is true (or false) leaves little room for doubt without words. That “proof” can be a critical moment in closing a sale.

Visual explanations can take the form of a short video, animation, infomercial or infographic. Visual content can perform like a chorus. Well-designed print instructions can be enhanced by a video with troubleshooting tips.

The seeming simplicity of visual explanations belies the work it takes to create them. Effective visual explanations reflect successful simplification by their creators. Observing consumers interact with a product can provide clues about what confounds them about it, which can be ground zero for a visual explanation. Lots of technology companies, for example, would benefit by carefully showing how users can take advantage of their features through clever and entertaining visual explanations. 

Infomercials may lack creative flourish, but they specialize in showing how a product can stop a leaky gutter, make a perfect omelet or prevent a deadly slip in a bathtub. That can make something seem irresistible. It also can do the same thing as plopping whipped cream in a cup of hot chocolate.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Small Business Use of Social Media Continues to Grow

 Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Despite its problems with preserving user privacy, Facebook remains the dominant social media platform for small businesses, but Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are catching up. LinkedIn and Snapchat are in the race, too.

More than 70 percent of small businesses with fewer than 500 employees use social media promotion, according to a recent survey of more than 350 US small business owners conducted by Clutch, an independent research firm based in Washington, DC.

Small business presence on social media platforms has risen in step with increasing user engagement. Clutch says as many as 24 percent of small businesses now posting on social media started as recently as 2017. More than half of small businesses with an online presence post something daily.

Women-owned small businesses tend to rely on social media more than businesses owned by men. Millennial-owned small businesses are more likely to use social media than older business owners.

Fifty-four percent of small businesses post images or infographics on their social media sites, adhering to evidence that visual content draws greater attention than text.

Of the small businesses surveyed by Clutch, 16 percent said they planned to become active on social media, while only 13 percent indicated no interest.

Eighty-six percent of small businesses surveyed indicated they are on Facebook, which isn’t much of a surprise given its overall social media market dominance with 2.13 billion users across multi-generations and the ability to target audiences.

A little more surprising is that Instagram logged in as the second most used social media platform with 48 percent of small businesses. YouTube (46 percent), Twitter (44 percent), LinkedIn (31 percent) and Snapchat (25 percent) also attracted substantial small business usage. Only 12 percent of small business social media users rely only on Facebook.

A social media presence for women-owned small businesses is a virtual no-brainer because women outnumber men as social media users. The same holds true for small businesses owned by Millennials and targeting Millennial consumers, who grew up surrounded by digital media and can’t imagine life without the internet.

Generational preferences indicate Gen X and Baby Boomers are more likely to prefer Facebook and LinkedIn while Millennials gravitate more to Instagram and Snapchat, creating at least a crude form of social media segmentation.

The Clutch survey showed 52 percent of small businesses post something daily on social media, 70 percent post weekly and 94 percent monthly.  Images or infographics (54 percent) are the more popular type of content posted by small businesses, followed by offers or promotions (52 percent), reviews (49 percent), videos (44 percent), blog posts (40 percent) and research data (33 percent).