Aim Digital Content at People, Not Search Engines

When you create marketing content, should you write for your audience or search engine algorithms? One expert says write for your audience, providing informative, useful and relevant content.

When you create marketing content, should you write for your audience or search engine algorithms? One expert says write for your audience, providing informative, useful and relevant content.

When you write a blog or some other form of digital content, is your target audience real people or a search engine? It is more than a theoretical question because without search engine optimization, your content may never reach the eyes of your intended audience.

Writing for Search Engine Journal, Sam Hollingsworth claims writing for a search engine is a mistake. He says digital content producers should focus on “the human beings who are actually reading the content” and let ever-improving search engines do the rest.

“Google’s role in the everyday lives of humans across the world becomes greater each passing minute, deeply rooted in its dedication to ensuring its search engine is giving users the best-possible answers to specific search queries, anytime and anywhere,” Hollingsworth says. “For these reasons, Google (or any other search engine) doesn’t need us to write content that is specifically designed for it. Google serves its users, and it wants content to serve them as well.”

That sounds good, but does it really work that way? It does, Hollingsworth insists, if you follow some basic rules of the road for search engines. Here are for writing “quality content:”

  • Quality content should have a purpose – a topic matched with an audience. The topic should be of interest, relevant and useful to the intended audience. It wouldn’t hurt if it also was entertaining and had some presentational value. Stick to a single topic in each piece of content so you can fully engage readers, not confuse them.

  • Quality content has a unique voice. If your content sounds like anyone could have written it, then you provide little incentive for readers to search for you. People may have favorite genres, but most people appreciate a variety of writing styles. The surest way to write in a unique style is let your writing reflect how you think and speak about topics.

  • Quality content is well researched. It should cover a topic thoroughly and not be limited to a specific word count if the topic demands longer treatment. Solid research should be showcased by effective packaging – headlines, charts and illustrations.

  • Quality content is well written. Copyediting is a must to catch typos and grammatical flubs. Editing for writing style and clarity is also important to put forward your best wordsmithing. Maybe most important, attack your story in an arresting way so it will seem fresh and inviting. It never hurts to make your first sentence the best sentence.

  • Quality content should have an author. Readers will want to know who they are listening to, so tell them. Bylines become reputational business cards attached to quality content. If people trust what you write and find it interesting and informative, they will follow you, which after all is the point of content marketing.

  • Quality content cites sources. Saying where statistics come from is essential to establish credibility. Citations also reflect the reliable sources you are monitoring to prepare your content. Relying on sources has the salutary effect of curbing any temptation to hype a fact.

To the extent content generators need to worry about search engines, they should concentrate on the relevancy of their content. This goes beyond the purpose of the content to the purpose of content marketing. What are your consumers or clients searching for and how can you deliver the content they search?  Your expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness need to bend to the simple proposition that you must provide the answers for your intended audience’s questions. There is no other reason for marketing through content.

There are different strategies to consider. You may want to appeal to a wide universe and build a large following. You may increase your clicks and stimulate word-of-mouth engagement. Or you may zero in on a smaller group of people, who have specific questions that, depending on your answers, could convert them from readers to buyers.

Relevance written small or large doesn’t change Hollingworth’s main advice – quality content should aim at people, not algorithms. Understand how search engines work because they are critical to connecting with your audience. But really understand what your audience wants to know – and give it to them.

 

Hot Trends to Keep Content Marketing Fresh and Relevant

Target audiences keep moving and so should your content marketing strategy to reach them. Here are tips and trends that can enable you to keep your content fresh, relevant and easy to access by consumers.

Target audiences keep moving and so should your content marketing strategy to reach them. Here are tips and trends that can enable you to keep your content fresh, relevant and easy to access by consumers.

Successful content marketing involves a lot more than slapping a slab of content onto your website or into a blog. It requires a strategy, moxie and keeping current on evolving trends.

Brendan Gannon, who is the marketing and editorial coordinator at Ragan Communications and PR Daily, produced an infographic that tracks the seven hottest trends for content marketing. Some of them aren’t new, but have become even more important. Others stretch the concept of content marketing.

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At the top of Gannon’s list of trends is authenticity. This has always been an essential ingredient in content marketing. The spread of fake news has heightened consumer interest in brands they can trust. Gannon cites statistics to back up his point – 91 percent of consumers will reward brands for authenticity and 86 percent say authenticity is important in their decision of what brands to support. Transparency, he explains, is the best way showcase brand authenticity.

Another staple of content marketing are personal connections. The tried-and-true way to build rapport is through content that is relevant, informative and useful. Gannon suggests that can extend to social media by replying promptly to consumer comments or questions, hosting Twitter chats or Facebook Live Q&As and telling stories on Instagram. Content can be personalized, he adds, by showcasing your own staff so consumers feel comfortable they are in a relationship with people.

Gannon’s third hot trend is somewhat counterintuitive. He argues for augmenting video and podcast content, which draw the biggest online crowds, with long-form content, which attracts serious consumers and impresses Google’s algorithm so you move up in searches. Longer pieces, according to Gannon, also underscore you are an authority on a subject and someone worth consumer attention.

Placing content in multiple channels and formats is at once obvious and not so easy to accomplish. To cover all your consumer bases, Gannon says, you need to spread around your content. Video is the big dog, estimated to represent more than 80 percent of internet traffic this year. Some 75 million Americans watch online videos every day and viewers can retain as much of 95 percent of what see in a video. At the same time, nearly a quarter of Americans regularly listen to podcasts, some as many as five podcasts per week.

Social commerce offers a bigger opportunity than in-store searching and purchasing. Instagram and Facebook provide consumers with a real-time platform to share images and videos of people using and enjoying products. Product features can be highlighted. Mobile apps can become like online shopping buddies that offer advice and tag along as consumers roam the racks and aisles.

We tend to think of content marketing as pristine and unsullied by advertising. However, Gannon suggests perception doesn’t square with how shoppers shop. It’s true that consumers aren’t salivating to see ads, but they can absorb them when the ads deliver value and are integrated closely with the adjoining content. The key is to make ads look like an integral part of the content, not just the odd man out along for the ride.

Gannon’s final hot trend deals with collaborative content. This involves teaming with complementary companies that have common marketing objectives and the kind of products that can be combined with yours to spark consumer interest. The good news is that collaboration can relieve some of the burden of continuously finding fresh content. The bad news, if you can call it that, is it takes work and patience to pull off collaborative marketing because there are more people and egos to please. Collaborative marketing may work best in lifestyle and food spaces. But don’t let that dim your enthusiasm or curb your curiosity.

Thought leadership remains a stalwart part of content marketing, especially for professional service firms that sell what they know rather than what they make. The boundaries of thought leadership can be stretched, too. In addition to demonstrating mastery of subjects, thought leadership can showcase keen insight, empathetic perspective and the human dimension of serious issues. Put another way, thought leadership can display leadership as well as thoughtfulness.

Gannon’s underlying advice is to keep your content marketing strategy, tactics and execution fresh. Your target audience isn’t standing still. Your content marketing shouldn’t just be marking time, either.

 

Millennials Glued to TV as Much as Other Adults

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Millennials like TV programming, even with advertising, as much or more than other adults. And Millennials have stronger emotional bonds to TV characters than YouTube personalities, according to a 2018 report by the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB).

The common perception is that Millennials have deserted commercial television. The data in the report indicates otherwise, noting Millennials watch TV as much as other adults, just less so on cable. This finding suggests marketers trying to reach Millennials shouldn’t entirely abandon ad-supported TV programming and dump all their advertising on Instagram and YouTube.

VAB’s members are pretty much the who’s who of broadcasting and premium video content. Nevertheless, the takeaways in the report titled, “Exploring Millennials’ Meaningful Relations with TV Programming,” are striking. The topline finds are:

  • Millennials feel a strong bond with TV programming and regularly set aside time to watch their favorite programs, prioritizing it as “me time.”

  • Millennial viewers are actively engaged beyond when TV programs air by sharing and posting video clips, following actors on social media, reading recaps and scouring the web to find behind-the-scenes scoops.

  • Motivated by their attachment to TV shows, Millennials buy products, select travel destinations and dine at restaurants they have seen featured or advertising on TV.

A key underlying theme in the report is that Millennials do more than watch TV; they engage with programs and actors that interest them. The emotion bond they forge carries over to digital platforms such as “liking” a program or actor on Facebook, sharing video clips and tweeting.

Millennials are often the cultural carriers of phrases or memes that originate on TV programs, including dressing up like a favorite character on Halloween. They also serve as the word-of-mouth ambassadors for programs that have appeal for Millennial audiences and are more likely to feel personal connections to favorite TV program actors. Sometimes the attachment is so strong Millennial viewers go through something akin to withdrawal when a season ends. 

The picture of Millennials sitting by themselves staring at their smartphones or tablets isn’t completely accurate either, according to the report. Millennials enjoy the communal dimension of watching favorite TV programs with their friends.

While Millennials consume lots of content on YouTube, the data from the VAB report indicates they enjoy live TV programming, despite advertising, significantly more (40 percent to 29 percent).

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

An Intranet’s Dual and Often Clashing Roles for HR, News

An intranet isn’t for every organization, but they are extremely useful for corporations and nonprofits with disparate, far-flung operations to build cohesion. Too often, organizations try to cram together a human resource portal with an internally focused news channel, which can be awkward and a source of friction. Both functions are important and work best when designed and managed separately like siblings.

An intranet isn’t for every organization, but they are extremely useful for corporations and nonprofits with disparate, far-flung operations to build cohesion. Too often, organizations try to cram together a human resource portal with an internally focused news channel, which can be awkward and a source of friction. Both functions are important and work best when designed and managed separately like siblings.

Organizations with intranets often struggle with how to maintain a site that offers human resource information and news content aimed at employees. The lure of a one-click online employee information center can actually be a mirage.

Managing an online HR portal versus an internally aimed news channel is distinctly different. The content needs for both aren’t in conflict, but how they are packaged and promoted can be very different. More fundamentally, they serve different needs for employees – and management.

Intranets are critical for sprawling organizations. They can create cohesion among far-flung employee groups with different jobs, clientele and languages. HR portals are invaluable tools for onboarding and departing employees. Internal news channels are a proven way to keep employees in touch with company news, upcoming events and a response to a crisis.

The HR portal carries sensitive information, which usually involves legal review and variations for employees in different states or countries. For example, health insurance coverage can vary widely for an organization that operates nationally or transnationally. The news channel should center on timely information that is relevant to employees.

Employees will seek out the HR portal to clarify benefits, learn about policy changes and find out the steps involved in leaving. The test for the HR portal is providing up-to-date, accurate and accessible information. 

Employees will go to the news channel if it delivers real news, not just acts as a conduit for bland management messaging. The test for a news channel is to offer brightly written, inviting content about their organization and some form of interactivity. Without interactivity, readership will be perfunctory and engagement nil.

For organizations with bargaining units, the HR portal may need to be segmented for covered and exempt employees. For organizations with international operations, the news channel packages need to be customized for various markets.

Information on the HR portal is unlikely to change often enough to warrant an app. But an app that allows employees to check the internal news channel on mobile devices for breaking stories or timely information is a must. Keeping the internal news channel newsy is necessary to sustain interest and viewership.

Some content, such as a video of a top executive explaining a new organization-wide policy, can be shared on both online platforms. A video of an executive describing the steps being taken to address a major incident or announce a huge new customer are more appropriate for the news channel, which can be designed to accommodate breaking news.

The audiences for an HR portal and news channel are not completely coincident. The HR portal should be constructed to state as clearly as possible organizational policy on behavior and benefits for the employees for whom those benefits pertain. The news channel can be an outreach vehicle for a wider audience that can include key stakeholders as well as employees.

The design of an HR portal should feature access to key information employees might seek. The design of a news channel should appeal to employees and draw them in as viewers and even active participants. Organizations that encourage employees working at different locations to “congregate online” would prefer the congregation on a news channel rather than an HR portal.

When employees depart, they typically surrender company-provided laptops, tablets and smart phones and are denied access to the main HR portal. However, former employees may require some level of continuing contact to monitor unexpired benefits. Access by ex-employees to an internal news channel is usually not a good idea because at least some of the stories – and certainly the interactivity – will have a for-employees-only quality.

As you can see, the purpose, management and day-to-day activity of an HR portal and an internal news channel vary greatly. Their coexistence on a single website can be problematic and an unnecessary source of friction. For both online platforms to be successful, they need to perform their unique functions well. Their overall design and functionality can be coordinated and similar, reflecting the organization they both reflect. There are off-the-shelf designs that can make it easier to start or reinvent an intranet. But it is a smart choice to treat, manage and customize them as separate and valuable avenues to reach employees.

 

 

Looking Behind the Camera at the Video Production Team

Video and visual storytelling are “in.” Before you jump in, you should understand what it takes to produce a professional video that will represent your brand and tell your story authentically and effectively.

Video and visual storytelling are “in.” Before you jump in, you should understand what it takes to produce a professional video that will represent your brand and tell your story authentically and effectively.

Producing a video is a team effort. But many times, clients don’t know what each team member does, or even what kind of help they need. So, here’s a guide to the key players on a video team, and the role(s) they play in the production.

Videographer: (Also called camera operator, photographer, director of photography)

This is the person with the camera, lights and equipment. He/she is responsible for capturing the visual images used in a video. Some of the necessary, and unseen, duties the video photographer is responsible for include: 

  • Scouting potential filming locations;

  • Lighting interviews and filming locations;

  • Operating specialized camera equipment such as a dolly, slider, jib, pole cam and drone;

  • Setting up audio and microphones for interviews (including shotgun and lavaliere mics);

  • Monitoring audio during interviews;

  • Conceptualizing interesting ways to film a subject, product or idea.

Producer:

This person is the conductor of your production. He/she oversees all aspects of the project, including but not limited to:

  • Budgeting;

  • Scheduling;

  • Hiring the video team;

  • Story mapping;

  • Story production;

  • Interview preparation and conducting on-camera interviews;

  • Assisting the video team during filming;

  • Reviewing raw footage and interviews;

  • Project management;

  • Script development and/or scriptwriting, if voiceover narration is needed;

  • Auditioning and hiring professional actors and professional voiceover talent, if your production calls for that;

  • Logistics;

  • Permit acquisition (if filming in public spaces);

  • Issuing waivers;

  • Booking out of town travel;

  • Working with the video editor to make sure the client’s vision is clearly communicated in the finished video. 

  • Also handles coffee and lunch runs for the crew.

Editor:

This person weaves together the raw footage, interviews, voiceover narration, motion graphics and animation into a cohesive video that reflects a client’s key messages. Editors are responsible for:

  • Selecting music;

  • Selecting interview clips and b-roll footage;

  • Resizing still photos;

  • Color correcting footage;

  • Selecting effect transitions;

  • Creating 2D and 3D animations;

  • Editing audio to remove clicks and pops;

  • Exporting a video file for Internet use.

Many videographers are also accomplished editors and are involved in the creative process from the beginning, which can help streamline the production process. Whomever you hire to edit your video must be proficient in editing software such as Premiere, Avid or Final Cut. 

Now that you know the players on the video team, let’s crunch some numbers.

It takes an average of 8-12 weeks to produce a three-to-five-minute video, and around 90 hours to produce the project professionally. If you divide the number of hours by three (for videographer, editor and producer), you’re looking at an average of 30 hours of work required for each team member. Based on that, these are the questions you need to ask:

  • Do you have a producer-videographer-editor team in-house that you can free up to produce your video? Can you get other staff to take on the additional 90 hours of work that your in-house team can no longer do because they’re working on your project?

  • If you have experience as a producer, do you have an additional 30 hours of unpaid time in your schedule that you can devote to working with an outside videographer and/or editor to produce a video? 

  • If you’ve never produced a video before, would you even know how to approach such an undertaking? 

  • If your specialty is filming and editing, would you be willing to devote hours of unpaid time to learn the production part of the process?

Once you determine how much time you’re willing to commit to producing a video, you can figure out the financial investment you’re willing to make.

Generally speaking, a videographer/editor will be less expensive than a producer/videographer/editor team. Occasionally, you can find “one-man band” video pros – people who can film, produce and edit. If you want to keep costs down, hiring one person who does it all might be a good fit for you. The producer-videographer-editor team would be on the high end budget-wise because you’re paying for producing expertise. But if you’re someone with little time to spare, paying a higher fee might be a good trade-off because of the time you save by not having to be so hands-on during each phase of the project.

Whichever option you choose, base your decision on the amount of time you’re willing to devote to the actual production of a project, as well as your experience in the nuts and bolts of video production.

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About the author:

Holly Paige is a story consultant and video content creator based in Portland, Oregon. She produces videos for businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories and tell them right. Visit: www.waveonegroup.com

 

Google Veteran Job-Matching Ad Reinforces Value of a Useful Message

Google’s Super Bowl ad reinforced the potency of a TV ad with a straightforward message teamed with a clear call to action. The spot didn’t have glitz, celebrities, jousting knights or party-wrecking NFL legends, but it still packed a punch and made viewers pay attention.

Google’s Super Bowl ad reinforced the potency of a TV ad with a straightforward message teamed with a clear call to action. The spot didn’t have glitz, celebrities, jousting knights or party-wrecking NFL legends, but it still packed a punch and made viewers pay attention.

There are many things to learn from this year’s roster of Super Bowl ads (for example, never invite a bunch of former NFL players to a party), but perhaps the most important lesson is the continuing value of a useful message with a clear call to action.

Google earns my top award in this category for its minute-long spot aimed at assisting veterans match their military expertise to good-paying jobs back home. 

This is not a new undertaking for Google. It has sought to help returning vets for years. The 2019 Super Bowl ad managed to sum up its commitment with a sequence of images showing codes. For most of us, the codes are meaningless. For veterans, the codes represent the skill and specialization they achieved while serving in the military, which can easily be overlooked or undervalued by employers.

The ad’s message is that Google has used its vast online resources to align those military codes with jobs and professions in the domestic economy. It’s like translating French text into English as you read.

Google has teamed with RecruitMilitary, which bills itself as the nation’s leading veteran hiring company and talent recruiter. “We provide the spark that ignites organizations to excel by helping them hire and retain America’s best talent – its veterans,” proclaims the company’s website.

Google’s role is a feature called Cloud Talent Solution that allows veterans to search for job opportunities using their military occupational specialty codes. “The new search function is key to those service members who are actively seeking new career opportunities but are unsure of where to begin. It also delivers a strong starting point for newly transitioning veterans as they begin their post-military career search.” 

The Google Super Bowl ad wasn’t remotely glitzy and didn’t feature scads of celebrities. Instead, it relied on an intriguing message that resonated with transitioning military veterans – as well their families, employers and support communities. One of the greatest sources of untapped talent in the nation are military veterans who have skills. Those skills go for naught unless they have a job-matching map of where to look to apply them.

The ad served the purpose for Google of reminding viewers online searches combined with artificial intelligence algorithms can be a powerful tool that can reap very tangible benefits for individuals and businesses.

The simplicity and straightforwardness of the ad reflects a creative decision to let the message carry the day instead of relying on dazzling graphics or big stars. It reinforces the notion that a good message with a useful purpose is something people will want to hear. 

The military recruitment project by Google is commendable in its own right. The Super Bowl ad elevates the priority of the program while underscoring the value of technology in a complicated modern world. Many of us worry about our privacy and the mis-use of our online data. Google provides us an example of how the internet and machines that learn can deliver a great value to men and women who have earned it.

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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.

 

 

Five Video Trends to Dump in 2019

Tucked too frequently in between good, informative online business videos are some real dogs, which prompted professional video producer Holly Paige to list five trends to ditch in the new year. Think boring talking heads and glitzy, distracting special effects.

Tucked too frequently in between good, informative online business videos are some real dogs, which prompted professional video producer Holly Paige to list five trends to ditch in the new year. Think boring talking heads and glitzy, distracting special effects.

As I review business videos on LinkedIn and other online portals, I see good, even great examples. I also see videos and trends that need to be kicked to the curb.

Here’s my list of five business-related video trends we need to wave goodbye to in 2019:

Lose the one-take wonders

Those stream-of-consciousness monologues that otherwise smart people launch into as soon as they hit the Record button on their smartphones. No. Just no. You’re not witty. You haven’t figured out what you want to say. And your audience doesn’t have time to wait for you to get to the point. Before you hit the Record button, practice, practice, practice. And practice some more.

Ditch the long-talking head video

Have you ever watched someone try to speak directly into a camera and not make a mistake? 

Unless you’re using a teleprompter, it’s pretty difficult to do. Yet I’ve seen many LinkedIn videos that consist solely of a person speaking extemporaneously into a camera for as long as five minutes in one uninterrupted take. Length is not your friend when it comes to producing a talking head video. Make it easy on yourself and your audience by creating shorter videos focused on specific topics. It’s easier on you, the presenter and your audience. Here’s a great example of an easy-to-produce, effective and short (57-second) video by leadership coach Simon Sinek.

Don’t put up with bad audio

Most people will ignore shaky video, but they’ll always notice poor audio. Investing in a wireless microphone is an easy, inexpensive fix. Your audience will thank you.

Gimmicks, begone

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Video is a creative medium, so it’s not surprising that businesses are tempted to push the limits when it comes to developing a creative approach for video content.

However, instead of embracing the latest visual effect, ask yourself: Is the creative direction I’m considering for my video in line with the goals I’m trying to achieve by producing the video? Or, do I want to try something edgy and cool just because I can? With so much online business video available, often the best strategy is to produce content that communicates a clear message in a memorable way.

Resist the urge to follow the video herd

I know this sounds odd coming from a video professional like me. But If you’re not ready to commit to producing video content, don’t do it. There are lots of reasons why businesses don’t use video, and that’s okay. The video medium has been around for decades, and it will still be there if and when you decide to take the plunge.

May the business video content you produce in 2019 be informative and engaging – and help you achieve your goals.

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About the author:

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

 

The Value of Fetching Value Propositions

Poo-Pourri is a perfect example of how a name and tagline can convey a product’s value proposition with a clear, cheeky and hard-to-forget personality.

Poo-Pourri is a perfect example of how a name and tagline can convey a product’s value proposition with a clear, cheeky and hard-to-forget personality.

Value propositions provide consumers with a critical first impression of any product or idea. Think of value propositions as consumer speed dating.

Value propositions are most effective when wrapped in a memorable phrase or tagline. The makers of Poo-Pourri, a pre-flush toilet spray, illustrate the point with their value proposition/tagline – “Before you go, so no one will know you did.”

The Poo-Pourri value proposition, like all successful ones, addresses an acknowledged problem: Answering the call without guilt, regret or an odorous trail. It also tells the product’s story with a cheeky personality that is hard to forget.

Of course, cheekiness is only as good as it is successful. Poo-Pourri markets itself to women, engages in inoffensive potty humor and claims more than 3 billion “stink-flushes” by users. By any standard, a stinking success.

There are many examples of successful value propositions. IMPACT, an inbound marketing agency that helps companies improve outreach and sales, has compiled an impressive list. Here are a few of them: 

  • MailChimp: “Send Better Email” – simple, easy-to-understand and useful.

  • Mizzen and Main: “Performance Fabric. Traditional Style.” – addresses a felt-need by men for a functional, good-looking dress shirt.

  • Vimeo: “Make life worth watching” – provides a window into what it does, with an unobtrusive elbow to its competitor, YouTube.

  • FreshBooks: “Small Business Accounting Software Designed for You, the Non-Accountant” – you couldn’t say it any more clearly.

  • Tortuga Backpacks: “Bring Everything You Need Without Checking a Bag” – this carves a niche in the luggage business that is easily recognizable for veteran travelers.

  • Ladders: “Move up in your career” – responds to a perpetual concern about how to climb the career ladder and make more money by harkening to familiar imagery.

  • Evernote: “Remember Everything” – a memory-refreshing app that helps you keep track of what you are prone to forget, a problem almost everyone faces.

  • DeskBeers: “Craft Beer, Delivered to Your Office” – don’t tell the boss, but applause from fellow employees for this directly appealing name and tagline.

  • Spotify: “Soundtrack your life” – a goodie no longer in use, but still a great mash-up example of a tagline that tells you everything you need to know in three words.

The world of politics has produced a comparable example with the Green New Deal, a proposed stimulus policy aimed at addressing economic inequality and climate change. 

In a noisy world with crowded store shelves and endless social media posts, you need a way to stand out. A vivid value proposition melded into a name and/or tagline is one way to distinguish your product or idea in the minds of potential consumers or fellow sympathizers.

 

12 Tips for Making Video a Reality in 2019

If 2019 is finally the year when you decide to make a corporate video, here are 12 things you should know that will make your video a hit instead of a snack room joke.

If 2019 is finally the year when you decide to make a corporate video, here are 12 things you should know that will make your video a hit instead of a snack room joke.

If 2019 is the year you’re finally going to start producing video content about your business or organization, here is a handful of tips to help you plan a flawless video campaign in the new year. (With a nod to the 12 Days of Christmas and all things fun and festive!) 

1.  Know why you’re producing a video

This should be obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many otherwise smart professionals decide they want to produce a video about their company without thinking through their goals and outcomes. Don’t be that person. Get clear about the pain you want your video to relieve before you start imagining what you want your video to look like. 

2.  Decide who this video is for

Every video you produce needs to appeal to a specific audience. Taking the time to identify the audience you want to reach and the messages you want to communicate, will help you decide the type of video you want to produce, as well as the creative tone and style you want your video to convey. 

3.  Get clear about your outcomes

What do you want your target audience to do after they’ve watched your video? Visit your website for more information? Donate money online? Fill out an online job application? Whatever your outcomes, make sure your video has a strong call to action, directing viewers to take the next step.

4.  Be honest about the investment you’re willing/able to make

Successful video projects are an investment in time, money and talent. The average video project takes an average of 12 weeks from concept to completion. On the low end, a typical budget for a two-to-three-minute video starts at around $5,000 and can vary widely, depending on the complexity of the video you want to produce.

5.  In-house or outsource?

If you’re producing a video in-house, your main investment will be staff time. If you outsource your project, your investment will be in dollars, to hire outside video experts who can assist you in everything from story planning, project management and creative development, to filming, story production and editing. The deciding factor typically comes down to the amount of extra staff time an organization has (or doesn’t have) to devote to the amount of time needed to produce a video. 

6.  Plan, baby, plan

Leave winging it to the birds. Without a solid plan, your video project is DOA.

7.  Short, long or in-between?

There’s a lot of buzz around the “perfect” length of a video. The truth is, there is no perfect video length. However, there are guidelines, based on how a video will be used. For example: 60 to 90-second video testimonials of company executives or customers work well as email attachments, on a website or social media platform. Ditto for a two-to-three-minute product demos. Videos in the three-to-five-minute range (company culture videos, award videos, fundraising appeal videos or video case studies) work well in live presentations or on a website. My rule of thumb around video length is: make it long enough to cover your most important messages, but not too long that people lose interest. 

8.  There’s no “I” in team

Keep your internal team small and focused. Make sure everyone on your team shares the same goals and outcomes and is motivated to keep the process moving forward.

9.  Find video partners that work and play well with others

Every video company has a great demo reel. But look beyond the pretty images when evaluating a potential video partner for your next project. Find a team whose work ethic and values mirror yours. Seek out video pros who “get” your vision, are focused yet flexible, communicate well, enjoy the collaborative process, are easy to work with and deliver projects as scheduled. 

10.  Expect the unexpected

Scheduling snafus. Production bumps. Last minute script changes. Re-edits at the 11th hour. Something unexpected will happen during the life of a project. Having a solid game plan will help you overcome these bumps in the road. When the unexpected appears, stay calm and carry on.

11.  Think Vimeo for video hosting

Most people immediately think of YouTube for video hosting because it’s a free service. But Vimeo is a better bet, especially for business and corporate work. Vimeo is a paid service, but the investment is worth it for a couple of important reasons: First, Vimeo allows users to keep their original online video links, so you can make revisions to an existing video without having to create a new video link, as you have to do with YouTube. Second, Vimeo doesn’t paste unwanted ads over your video like YouTube does. These are small, but important distinctions, and worth paying attention to, if maintaining a professional visual presence is important to you, and your audience.

12.  Enjoy the ride

The video medium is such a powerful communication tool and there are so many applications for it that you owe it to yourself to at least consider producing a video sometime in 2019. And if you are already on the video bandwagon, here’s to another great year of creating video content that engages, educates and inspires. 

Holly Paige Photo.jpg

About the author:

Holly Paige is a story consultant and video content creator based in Portland, Oregon. She produces videos for businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories – and tell them right. Visit: www.waveonegroup.com

 

The Legacy of a President and Letter-Writer

President George H.W. Bush presided over critical moments in world history, laid the groundwork for understanding climate change and displayed what has become a rate amount of bipartisanship and civility. He also maintained the tradition of writing letters that put history into human perspective.

President George H.W. Bush presided over critical moments in world history, laid the groundwork for understanding climate change and displayed what has become a rate amount of bipartisanship and civility. He also maintained the tradition of writing letters that put history into human perspective.

The passage of President George H.W. Bush might well be remembered for the passage of letter-writing. His death reminded America of his legacy of letters, many of them written to his children, others to political rivals, all reflecting love and devotion to country.

Writing letters has receded as people nowadays communicate via email and social media posts. The loss is substantial because our communications tend to be transactional instead of reflective. A deeper loss will be the absence of primary source material for historians to sift through to find the history behind the headlines.

Few tweets will go down in history unlike Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton, the man who defeated him in his 1992 re-election bid.

“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck. George.” 

The New York Times said Bush’s letter to Clinton cemented a presidential tradition in the graceful passage of power from one person to another, often to a person from an opposing political party. The letter exemplified, according to President George W. Bush, his father’s character: “Mission number one was the nation, not George H. W. Bush.”

Jenna Bush, his granddaughter who now works for NBC, shared private glimpses of Bush, many of them from frequent letters to his children and grandchildren. They underscored his love of family, especially when clustered around him at his revered Kennebunkport summer home. 

Bush wrote letters instead of a memoir. His letters contained encouragement and life reflections. “If I shed tears easier now, try not to laugh at me, because I’ll lose more saline and that makes me feel like a sissy. And besides, it’s okay to cry if you’re a man, a happy man, me. All Bushes cry easily when we’re happy or counting our blessings or sad.” 

The 41st President maintained a 25-year pen-pal relationship with a Gold Star mother in Florida whom he met and mourned with after the death of her Army Ranger son. She told reporters Bush empathized with her loss as a World War II pilot who lost buddies and a father who lost a child.

Michael Tackett of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Bush favored the handwritten letter. He wrote them by the hundreds to family, friends, critics, colleagues and contemporaries. To read them is to take in a brief history of the second half of the 20th century – stories of war and peace, victory and defeat, musings on culture and sports, and expressions of deeply personal sentiments.”

Like many prominent individuals, Bush struggled in public to express his emotions and innermost feelings. As Tackett noted, he often mangled his syntax when speaking. But his writings provide a keen, behind-the-scenes view of significant historical events from World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Bush’s letters put history into human perspective. Savoring a Coke during intense pilot training, conveying a presidential agenda (“Jobs, peace, education”) and consoling a reporter who criticized him when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Face-to-face interaction may be best. When that isn’t possible, letters aren’t a bad substitute, especially when handwritten and heartfelt.

Bush’s letters have been compiled in “All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings.”

 

Animation Can Tell a Story and Tug a Heartstring

Debate rages over whether organizations plunging into controversial issues are clever-smart or irrevocably dumb. The Salvation Army shows you can enter the great divide, make your point and earn respect from all sides.

Debate rages over whether organizations plunging into controversial issues are clever-smart or irrevocably dumb. The Salvation Army shows you can enter the great divide, make your point and earn respect from all sides.

The red kettle and ringing bell of The Salvation Army are a holiday staple. Now the venerable organization is featuring heart-touching animated videos that show how an ounce of empathy can generate a ton of good. 

The Fight for Good” campaign tells the stories of people facing hunger, homelessness and financial distress through three characters – Chloe, Gus and Emma. The Richards Group, which created the video campaigns, say they are intended to shed light on the battles faced by people who receive assistance from The Salvation Army and how contributions help. The goal is compassion, not guilt.

Animation is a perfect medium for treading that fine line between empathy and guilt and for somehow making uncomfortable topics more comfortable. Computer-generated animation has made the medium even more evocative and uncannily realistic.

However, the unique artistic DNA for animation is its ability to tell imaginative stories that would be harder or even impossible to convey in print or live video. For example, Pixar’s award-winning animated movie Coco transports viewers into the Land of the Dead on Dia de los Muertos as a 12-year-old boy struggles to return to the land of the living. The movie was totally charming, whereas a film version may have come across as gimmicky or scary.

The Salvation Army, which has been around since the mid-1800s and still clings to its tradition of military-style uniforms for its bell-ringing “officers,” saw in animated videos an opportunity for a fresh take on its mission. Animation helped to make the age-old problem of people in need seem contemporary by telling contemporary, believable stories.

“We’ve used illustrative elements throughout the main advertising to convey the reality and desperation of need without the guilt-inducing face of it,” the Dallas-based advertising agency told AdWeek. “Through this visual vehicle we can show the harsh struggles of homelessness, child poverty and unemployment in a more approachable way.”

CFM strategic partner Cappelli Miles has created an eye-grabbing – and thought-provoking – 30-second animated video for OregonSaves that plants the idea people should start saving for their retirement sooner than later. It is hard to tell a complicated story in 30 heartwarming seconds, but animation can make it easier. Animation can travel back in time, create adorable characters that say anything you want and present perspectives that would defy drones.

Animated videos can be spendy because of the immense amount of work required to create them. Regardless of cost, the point of video content is to get noticed and be remembered, which animation can deliver, making it cost-effective for reaching eyeballs and tugging heartstrings.

Animation isn’t the answer for every marketing challenge, but it should be on the table as an option, just like illustration as an alternative to photography for print projects. Measure choices by their impact on your intended audience.

The Salvation Army made that calculation and chose animation for its “The Fight for Good” campaign, which tells a visually compelling story fit for holiday consumption.

 

Sticking a Wet Nose into a Messy Issue

The Oregon Humane Society expanded its message from being humane to animals to being humane to humans in a classy, subtle advocacy advertising campaign that began at the height of vicious verbal attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers during the end of the midterm election campaigns.

The Oregon Humane Society expanded its message from being humane to animals to being humane to humans in a classy, subtle advocacy advertising campaign that began at the height of vicious verbal attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers during the end of the midterm election campaigns.

Debate will continue over whether businesses and nonprofits should stick their noses into public controversies. Perhaps the debate should be over whether they can avoid sticking their noses into public controversies and remain on the cutting edge.

Rating these entries into the public arena should rest on the skill by which they extend their noses, as a new campaign by the Oregon Humane Society demonstrates.

Titled “A More Humane Society,” a 60-second video asks viewers to “imagine a place where kindness and love prevail. A society in which all beings have a place, a purpose and a sense of belonging.”

The imagery is of dogs, cats and chickens, but the message is inescapably aimed at humans.

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The timing of the #bemorehumane campaign coincides with a midterm election campaign that featured vicious verbal attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers. That wasn’t just a coincidence.

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The video leverages the organization’s name that contains the word “humane.” We associate the “Humane Society” with animals, but the video encourages looking beyond our companions to ourselves as humans.

Speaking metaphorically through animals is not new. St. Francis of Assissi once freed a rabbit from a trap, advised it to avoid traps in the future and shooed it away into the forest, only to have the rabbit jump on his lap. Francis is known even today as the Patron Saint of Animals for his expression of love to all creatures.

The Oregon Humane Society has taken the path less trodden before as with its award-winning “End Petlessness” campaign that traded in grim pictures of abused animals for fetching illustrations showing how great life can be with a four-legged friend.

The Oregon Humane Society has taken the path less trodden before as with its award-winning “End Petlessness” campaign that traded in grim pictures of abused animals for fetching illustrations showing how great life can be with a four-legged friend.

The Oregon Humane Society jumped into the middle of one of the nation’s most divisive issues with a subtly compelling video that attests there is no difference between “us” and “them,” no matter who “us” and “them” may be. Coincidentally, the OHS video includes a quick cameo of a rabbit.

The video goes well beyond the common calls for greater “civility” and points to the common ground of life itself. Our differences aren’t so different after all. We love our pets, regardless whether they have fur or feathers. Why can’t we love other humans, regardless of their skin color, religion or politics? 

Unlike the Nike ad featuring Colin Kapaernick that sparked outrage and social media posts of burning shows with a swoosh, the Oregon Humane Society has remained mostly under the radar. It attracted only 7,000 or so views on YouTube since being posted in late September.

However, the video is now attracting wider interest, and it should. The video is a classy example of advocacy advertising. It doesn’t stray from the organization’s purpose – or name. It places its ongoing work in larger relief. It calls people to action, not just to support humane treatment toward animals, but also toward all people.

Hats off to the Oregon Humane Society for sticking its wet nose into the issue of humanity.

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.

 

 

Let Your Organizational Culture Tell Your Story

An organization’s culture says a lot about how it values employees and customers. That’s why your organizational culture may be your best storyline to tell.

An organization’s culture says a lot about how it values employees and customers. That’s why your organizational culture may be your best storyline to tell.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked for lots of companies. I’ve gotten fired from a few, too. Looking back, I realize the common denominator of these premature exit strategies had nothing to do with the quality of my work, and everything to do with whether or not I fit into the organization’s culture.

More than superior skills, a stellar work ethic or a stack of inside connections, an employee’s ability to fit into a company’s culture determines whether he or she will find success on the job, and in the organization. 

Every company has a culture, which typically reveals itself in the way an organization expresses its values, beliefs, vision, behaviors and shared experiences. A company’s culture shows up in the ways people inside the organization interact with each other and with clients or customers. Culture sets the tone for behavior, mindset and expectations. It dictates the way “things get done” inside and outside an organization. 

Which brings us to Clark Public Utilities in Vancouver, Washington. The utility promotes its ‘customer owned, customer focused’ culture every day in all kinds of ways. And the stories the utility tells about its culture gives prospective employees an authentic glimpse into what really matters to the organization. 

One particular story stands out, both for its humor and humble approach. What started as a typical day for a crew of utility linemen turned into a full-on rescue mission. We teamed up with the utility to produce a video about this story, and without giving anything away, it’s a fun story to watch and it speaks volumes about the organization’s culture. You can watch this story here.

If you’re ready to start telling your company’s story through a cultural lens, here are three ways to get started:

First, identify about your organization’s core values and beliefs. Why are they important to the success of your organization?

Second, explore how your employees bring these values and beliefs to life through their work.

Third, determine the kinds of communication tools that would be most effective to the employees you want to reach. 

Telling your company’s culture story is an effective way to communicate what really matters to your organization. Hiring employees that embrace the work, as well as the values, beliefs and shared experiences of your organization, is the key to long-term success, both for your employees, and your company.

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 consult with businesses and organizations that want to tell their stories and tell them right. Visit: www.digitalwave.tv; andwww.waveonegroup.com

 

Rescuing People in Danger Because of Who They Are

HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, may have been the spark that sent a man who spouted anti-Semitic views storming into a Pittsburgh synagogue killing 11 worshippers. 

HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety and freedom as they escape from famine, corruption and war. Learn more about HIAS at  https://www.hias.org/mission-and-values .

HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety and freedom as they escape from famine, corruption and war. Learn more about HIAS at https://www.hias.org/mission-and-values.

HIAS, which is based in Silver Springs, Maryland, began in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. By 1904, it has set up an office on Ellis Island. During World Wars I and II, HIAS assisted Jewish refugees resettle. It played a role in rescuing Jews from Hungary, Egypt, Cuba, Liberia, Libya, Czechoslovakia, Poland and, more recently, from Iran, Ethiopia and Southeast Asia.

In 1975, the US State Department asked HIAS to resettle 4,600 Vietnamese refugees. In the past decade, HIAS expanded its work to assist non-Jewish refugees from Afghanistan to Haiti to Romania to Ecuador.

Inflamed by rhetoric about refugees, including a caravan of Latin American asylum-seeking refugees plodding their way on foot to the United States, a Pittsburgh man unleashed his fury against a congregation that actively supports the mission and work of HIAS. 

In tribute to that tireless work – and in memory of the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, we share this animated video that powerfully describes what HIAS does.

 

Photography, The Photo Ark and Great Visual Storytelling

Joel Satore has dedicated his life to capturing intimate, face-to-face portraits of animals that reflect the biodiversity of earth, as well as the dangers of animal extinction. His visual storytelling is strikingly artful, compelling to view and an example of how to show what you mean and feel in a way that connects with a wide audience. [ © Photo by Joel Satore/National Geographic ]

Joel Satore has dedicated his life to capturing intimate, face-to-face portraits of animals that reflect the biodiversity of earth, as well as the dangers of animal extinction. His visual storytelling is strikingly artful, compelling to view and an example of how to show what you mean and feel in a way that connects with a wide audience. [© Photo by Joel Satore/National Geographic]

The power of photography is indisputable. The art of photography involves harnessing that power to tell a story.

There is no better visual storytelling example than Joel Sartore and The National Geographic’s Photo Ark. “Species are disappearing at an alarming rate, but together we can help. The National Geographic Photo Ark is using the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk before it’s too late.”

Photo Ark’s founder, Sartore so far has photographed 8,485 different species of animals in 40 countries. Each photograph is an intimate, face-to-face portrait of familiar and not-so-familiar animals. His goal is to capture 12,000 species in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries to illustrate the earth’s fragile biodiversity.

Of his lifelong project, Sartore says, “I want people to care, to fall in love, to take action.” 

Few storytellers are as devoted as Sartore, but his project provides useful lessons to any visual storyteller:

Captivating Title
Photo Ark sparks immediate recognition of the original ark and its mission to save animals during the great flood. The title taps into our memory banks of books with illustrations of animals scrambling up the ark’s plank. We know what we are in for before we see Sartore’s first photograph.

Photographs can evoke emotional responses, but people have to take notice of the photographs to have an emotional response. A captivating title is like a finger pointing in the right direction.

Visual Story Template
Like any story, a visual story needs a plot and architecture that captures and directs the interest of viewers. Sartore’s plot centers on a staggering number of photographs with either a simple white or black background featuring an animal looking straight at the viewer. There is an inescapable connection, like looking at a photograph of a family member. The one-on-one scale of each photograph doesn’t favor larger animals over smaller ones such as insects. They all seem equal and equally important, which is the underlying theme of Sartore’s story.

Pictures with a purpose tell stories. Visual storytelling does not consist of random photographs strung together like a personal scrapbook. Visual storytelling requires forethought, consistency and competence. It requires a visual template that gives the photographs a harmonious meaning.

You can view 400 mesmerizing animal portraits in Joel Sartore’s photo album titled  The Photo Ark . Purchasing the book is one way to support Sartore’s efforts to raise awareness of endangered species and what can be done to avoid animal extinction.  https://www.joelsartore.com/gallery/the-photo-ark/

You can view 400 mesmerizing animal portraits in Joel Sartore’s photo album titled The Photo Ark. Purchasing the book is one way to support Sartore’s efforts to raise awareness of endangered species and what can be done to avoid animal extinction.
https://www.joelsartore.com/gallery/the-photo-ark/

Visual Depth
Photographs can convey depth better than text, especially to contemporary eyes that skim over pages of words. Sartore’s photographs gleam with color. The animals are expressive. You can stare at the photographs and see details a casual glance would overlook. The photographs have a mesmerizing effect. The detailed photographs convey respect for the animals and make each one appear special and worth saving.

Visual depth results from quality photography, which is more possible because of ubiquitously affordable high-quality cameras, even on your cellphone. However, seeking out relevant detail demands commitment by the photographer to look for it and find ways to capture it. Committed photographers aren’t satisfied with the first shot they take. They look for fresh angles, the best light and shots that advance a storyline. 

Tapping into Emotions as a Call to Action
Photographs activate our sense of sight, which may be the most direct link to our emotional selves. Photographs may make us cry. They also can relieve tension by clearly showing how to accomplish a difficult task. Sartore’s Photo Ark is intended to inspire action to save endangered species by showing why they are worth saving. His still-life photographs burst with emotional energy by putting viewers cheek-to-beak with animals Sartore illuminates as irreplaceable.

Photographs, photo essays and visual stories are almost pre-programmed to get an emotional response and can be molded into a call to action based on that emotional response. That’s why fundraising appeals for abandoned animals, disabled soldiers and malnourished children make their pitches through heart-tugging photography and videography. Words can only go so far in making people act. Photographs can make people go all the way.

Photographic Subplots
The Photo Ark conveys a significant subplot. Sartore’s photographic gallery of species wouldn’t be possible if the shots were taken in the wild. By capturing animals, especially endangered ones, in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, Sartore is underscoring the importance of their conservation efforts. One of his photographs is of a frog – the last of its species known to exist on earth. The frog would have slipped into oblivion if not for his photograph of it for posterity.

Photography can tell stories that go well beyond the pictures. The secondary stories can be subtle or blunt. They are often told as a story about the visual story.

This blog is essentially a story about a visual storyteller, his work and how his example can be emulated. 60 Minutes followed around Sartore to tell the story of how he engages with the animals he photographs.

The Everyday Power of Photography
Most of us won’t be on a lifelong photographic quest. But that doesn’t mean we can’t commit to a lifetime of using the power of photography to tell our stories, whether it’s in the form of visually compelling PowerPoints, origin stories or marketing campaigns.

Developing a visual story requires a different kind of thought process than sitting down at your computer and typing. But the thought process is actually a familiar one. It draws on our imagination and visual recollection. We need to see our story through our own eyes, then figure out how to tell it like we see it.

Even though sight is a very personal sensation, seeing a story can be a collaborative endeavor. Multiple insights can enrich a visual template, add meaningful detail and infuse emotion. It is the embodiment of seeing a story through the eyes of your audience. It expands the realm of curiosity and possibility. 

The excuse that “I’m not a photographer” is not true. If you can see, you are taking mental photographs all the time. You know what moves you. You may not know how to take great photographs, but don’t let that stop you from aspiring to tell a great visual story.

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.

Writing to Match Skimmer Reading Habits

More people skim rather than read, so it makes sense to write for skim-readers, especially purposeful skim readers who are looking for the maximum information in the least amount of time.

More people skim rather than read, so it makes sense to write for skim-readers, especially purposeful skim readers who are looking for the maximum information in the least amount of time.

In a world of smash-and-grab reading, you cannot afford to dilly-dally in writing to the point. Assume your target audience are skimmers who hop from article to article, video to video and outlet to outlet looking for something that makes them stop – or at least pause.

This isn’t PR jingo. It’s reality. Consider Swarthmore College’s advice to its students about skimming:

“The first rule, in some ways the only rule, is skim, skim, skim. But skimming is not just reading in a hurry, or reading sloppily, or reading the last line and the first line. It's actually a disciplined activity in its own right. A good skimmer has a systematic technique for finding the most information in the least amount of time.”

If colleges are teaching people to skim, we should prepare to write for skimmers, especially disciplined skimmers.

William Comcowich, writing for ragan.com, suggests tactics to satisfy skimmers. Most are obvious ways to package your message in digestible bites – informative headlines, subheads, lists, short paragraphs, key details and visuals.

However, these tactics are mostly crutches for undisciplined or impatient skimmers, who are turned off by long sentences and words they don’t understand. There is another, higher-performing level of skimmers who should drive our writing styles. These are the skimmers that schools like Swarthmore are training.

The Tracks of Skim-Readers

• 55% of page views last less than 15 seconds
• Readers on average read 20% of text
• People don’t read left to right, but skim in an “F” pattern
• Only 10% to 20% of readers make it through an entire article
• A newsletter opened in email has 51 seconds to make an impression

High-performing skimmers seek “the most information in the least amount of time.” They are skimming to find information of interest, utility and value. You might call them purposeful skimmers.

Purposeful skimmers include that group of people we refer to as influential, which is a group PR professionals should court by writing in sync with how they skim-read.

With that lens, one of the most important elements of writing for skim-readers is to provide a concise description of your core point. This requires mastery of a subject by the writer. It means doing more than simply moving information on a conveyor belt of sentences. Writers must have a command of their topics so they can squeeze out what’s important or unique and summarize it in a few words.

The bottom-line message can be contained in a headline, opening paragraph or cutline to a compelling visual. The key is making it visually accessible for the skimmer.

Once you grab a skimmer’s attention, your secondary or supportive points need to be easily accessible, too. Bullet points, pull-outs and cleverly worded lists can be useful to sustain skimmer attention. Readable charts work as well.

When skimmers turn into readers or deep-dive researchers, you need additional layers of information to satisfy them, such as short paragraphs with links or expandable content that’s revealed at a reader’s click.

Word choices, brevity and show-me content convey mastery while offering valuable cues to skimmers. Fluff, wordiness and foggy explanations are turn-offs, probably for more than just skimmers.

The best advice: write for your audience. Increasingly, your audience is full of skimmers. They want premium content, but don’t want to go on a treasure hunt to find it. Make your written content fit the reading habits of skimmers, especially purposeful skimmers. Make your content discoverable.

You won’t be indulging your skim-readers; you will be meeting them at the edge of your content and inviting them in.

 

Want to Attract Great Employees? Tell Your Origin Story

One of the most powerful, but often untapped resources you have is your own origin story. Tell it to attract talented employees and impress customers or clients. Tell it to underscore the values that inspired your enterprise into creation.

One of the most powerful, but often untapped resources you have is your own origin story. Tell it to attract talented employees and impress customers or clients. Tell it to underscore the values that inspired your enterprise into creation.

Remember the old saying, “good help is hard to find?” That statement perfectly describes today’s current job market. With unemployment hovering just below 4 percent in Oregon and the rest of the country, talented and highly skilled workers have the upper hand in the job market. 

Companies need to think differently about how to connect and make the case for their organizations. Crafting an effective origin story – for video and print – is a great way to stand out from the crowd. 

If You Want to Know Where You’re Going, Look at Where You’ve Been

Every organization – large and small – started with an individual or group of people who had an idea and a vision. The founder (or founders) operated by a set of values and guiding principles. The organization’s culture grew from these early values. As the organization grew, new market opportunities presented themselves. Perhaps shifts in the economy led to setbacks or an opportunity for re-invention. Or the original founders decided to retire, paving the way for new leadership and a renewed company vision. 

An organization can experience any number of growth spurts, setbacks, breakthroughs or retirements during the course of its existence. All of these events become part of a company’s story.

Start at the Beginning

The best way to begin the process of crafting an origin story is to look back to your organization’s early days. If the founders are still alive, interview them, either on camera or as an audio recording.

Ask them to talk about their initial vision for the company. What values did the founders hold dear? What was their mission? What inspired them? What early challenges did they face? What victories did they celebrate? Read newspaper clippings or other documents pertaining to the company for historical perspective.

Find old photographs, video or film clips of the company, its founders, early products or projects. Whether you’re producing a video, writing a book, or creating content for your website, including these images and interviews in your story will help humanize your organization. 

Connect, Engage, and Inspire

To connect with potential employees and make the case for your organization, consider targeting your origin story to engage with applicants for a particular position you’re trying to fill.

For example, if you want to hire entry-level production jobs in manufacturing, and your company founder started his or her career on the production floor, present that story on your company’s website or include it as part of your company’s job posting. If you want to engage and inspire current employees, focus your origin story on the way the founders’ values and vision positively impact the company’s current culture.

Whether your business is five years old or 50 years old, you have a story to tell. Take the time to share the story of how your organization came to be, and why it endures, and see if you don’t start attracting – and keeping – the types of employees you want and need.  

Holly Paige Photo.jpg

About the author

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

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.

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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:

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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.