marketing

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.

 

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.

 

Emojis: “A New Language in Digital Media”

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Visual communications can take odd twists, such as the emergence of emojis as defining icons for marketing campaigns.

An article earlier this year in Adweek went further, describing emojis as a “new language in digital media” that can communicate “tone and sentiment on messaging apps and social media among consumers.”

Whereas they used to be limited to a happy face and a sad face, now there nearly 2,000 emojis and the character count keeps growing.

Emojis have matured beyond being punctuation marks for text to becoming the message itself. Well known brands such as Taco Bell use emojis that correlate to their products in digital marketing via apps, social media and email. General Electric launched the #EmojiScience campaign that invited people to send emojis to get short video lessons from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Twitter now enables marketers to target customers who have used specific emojis. Dominos has an Emoji Ordering campaign that centers on customers including the pizza slice emoji in tweets. Instead of zeroing in on key words, brands search for relevant emojis. Consumer brands with an eye on younger adults are eager to jump into emoji-based marketing.

While emoji marketing may work best for now with Millennials, it won’t be long before its appeal spreads, if it hasn't already. Who wouldn’t want to order a pizza by posting an emoji on an app? I received a message with a rose emoji from my wife after urging her to take a moment before going to work to look at the beautiful blooms sprouting on her rose bushes.

The advice to marketers at this point seems pretty basic. If you sell ice cream, look for the ice cream emoji. Keep up to date on the growing cast of emojis. Be sensitive to the details of these little drawings, which sport a range of skin tones and nuanced emotions. Don’t expect everyone to jump on board with your emoji campaign until you build some trust. 

Engaging people with emojis means using them as if you are actually communicating with someone. Expressing emotion or sentiment through an emoji can personalize a brand’s interaction with a consumer and sharply increase engagement rates.

Learning how to use emojis may not be quite the same as taking French lessons, but it kind of is. Emoji fluency is critical to say what you mean and not inadvertently communicate something you never intended.  When you are fluent in emojis, you can tell stories with pictures.

Conkling is president 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.

Becoming Intimate with Your Buyer Persona

Marketers obsess about target audiences. They really should focus on becoming intimately familiar with their buyer personas.

A buyer persona is human-scale profile of who buys your product or service, how they buy it and why they buy it.

Shaping marketing appeals to a buyer persona requires a sharp pencil, not a kid's crayon. It's the difference between thinking how to persuade Joe, a recent college graduate who lives with roommates, drives a clunker and is looking for Ms. Right, to buy your new beer, as opposed to thinking in terms of appealing to 21 to 25 year olds who have attended college.

If your marketing compass is a personality instead of a statistic, you have a better chance of making a connection. You can expand the kind of research you conduct from quantitative research of 21- to 25-year-olds to observation of real-life Joes in search of the perfect beer. 

The buyer journey is easier to discover and understand when you trace the footfalls of actual people. You begin to see predictive factors to behavior that are clues to where to place your marketing messages and how to design your website. You learn when and how to engage your customer.

Presents for Your Presence

The glitz, sparkle and shine of the holidays has gone, leaving many people surrounded by lackluster after-effects — disposable gifts and other waste.

As we return to our routines, the stories I’ve been hearing are less about material details and more about the noteworthy nature of spending time in unfamiliar places or sharing time with beloved family and friends — novelty + relationships.

These are the memories that cut through the clutter. The idea of gift-giving also is useful when designing marketing solutions to engage your key stakeholders. What’s the most valuable experience you can provide? What will be remembered tomorrow, a month from now, the next time your stakeholder makes a purchasing decision?

Writer Damien G. Walter shared this insight on his website: “Every word you write is asking for the gift of the reader’s time. Make sure it’s worth it.” He also discusses the idea of the attention economy ­— “you are asking for the most valuable commodity your readers have. Time. Each of us gets a finite portion. No sum of money can buy us any more. And the demands on it are ever greater.”

Here are some juicy tips, resources and practices to help you design memorable experiences that engage stakeholders.

Go Offline

Digital tools and networks are essential to strategic communications. But don’t let their importance come at the expense of ‘real life’ or off-line experiences. Think about guerilla marketing, trade shows, meet-ups, flash mobs and special events. These opportunities are avenues for memorable moments and genuine relationship development. Further reading here.

Your Discovery Session: The Ultimate First Date

We measure our worth by results. To get results, we build research-based plans, not whim-based ones. Our ideas are creative, vibrant and zesty, but always grounded in research. Style plus substance. Beauty and brains. We’ll never counsel you to execute tactics without the strategic intelligence to back them up.

The CFM Discovery Session doesn’t take place in a courtroom or involve a trail, but the session is a critical first step to becoming your partner and creating made-to-win strategies.

The session is primary research in the form of a mastermind meeting between your team and ours. We’ll learn all about your business, goals, resources, pressure points and past efforts. You live and breathe your brand everyday. The session allows us to dive in beside you to match our marketing PR expertise with your dreams and goals.

Our PR team develops a custom interview question set for your Discovery Session. Here’s a sample of some of the things we ask about.

Goals

What do you want your brand to do within the next six months, one year, five years? What’s the big idea, the vision, the raison d'etre?

Objectives

Objectives are measurables we track throughout our relationship to monitor program success. We discover objectives as we break down your goals. What do you need to achieve? Here are some examples:

  • To increase sales of our product by 30 percent in our local market

  • To engage new audiences in community decision-making

  • To attract 1,000 consumers to our summer event series

  • To build relationships with industry thought-leaders

Dawn of Millennials

Millennials surge into the marketplace and political theater, eclipsing mom and dad as the favorite buyer and a key voting bloc.Macy's department stores are logging impressive growth by catering to "fashion-loving, smartphone-carrying, reality TV-watching young people" who spend $65 billion on clothes, accessories and shoes.

President Barack Obama is counting on the same age group to ensure his election to a second term.

Millennials literally are coming of age. Born between 1982 and 2003, this age group is cresting as they head off to college, get married, rent or buy homes and start families.

Macy's saw the wave coming as early as 2009, shifting its focus with dazzling results, says Cincinatti.com. At Macy's annual shareholder meeting in May, company officials said same-store sales grew 5.3 percent, while online sales soared 40 percent. That trend is continuing in 2012. Revenue and profit growth translated into sharply higher share prices and a dividend to shareholders that has doubled twice.

Visual Storytelling: Child's Play

Children's storybooks delight children and parents alike because of the dazzling interplay of words and pictures. Their success underscores the power of visual storytelling.

"Sure, picture books are great, but I never could do anything like that," is a typical refrain. The truth is, you can tell a story visually if you let the child in you out.

Martin Salisbury, an illustrator, and Morag Styles, a professor of children's literature, collaborated on Children's Picturebooks, The Art of Visual Storytelling. The book describes how these books charm young and old and the key stages of conceiving a visual narrative.

In an interview with NPR, Salisbury says the appeal of picture books is "the simple visual style [that] allows readers to project their own personalities and thoughts onto the character." Sparking imagination in viewers leads to engagement. And that engagement can be etched deeply in the memory, as reflected by how many pictures and phrases adults remember from children's picture books.

Visual narratives aren't dumbed-down narratives or merely pictures added to illustrate words. "It's that issue of condensing something into something very elegant and short, usually 32 pages, which is very, very complex to do," explains Salisbury. "Making it look simple and elegant is perhaps the hardest thing to do."

It also takes hard work, much the way Mark Twain meant when he said he would have written a shorter letter — if he had more time.

As understatement has fallen out of favor to the more raucous exchanges of reality TV, visual communication remains a source of subtlety. In his NPR interview, Salisbury cites Rosie's Walk as an example of pictures telling a subtle story. Rosie the hen struts through a farmyard while a fox stalks her in the background. The text never mentions the fox's intentions as it describes a series of misadventures by the fox. Nevertheless, children invariably shout at Rosie to watch out for the fox. In marketing, we call that subliminal messaging.

How Healthy is Your Page on Facebook?

Facebook can be a powerful tool and an important part of your marketing mix. Your fans become brand ambassadors and spread the word about you every time they ‘like’ posts, post about your brand, share your content and comment on your page. Building and nurturing an online community empowers your fans to work on your behalf.

Three indicators can help you evaluate the health of your community on Facebook and make needed changes: engagement, tone and growth.

Engagement
We use the term engagement to refer to quality interactions. Are fans commenting, sharing and responding to your posts?

If you want to improve in this area, start by monitoring responses to each post you make on Facebook. Do recipes receive the most ‘likes’? Are photos receiving the most comments? Pay attention to the content your community responds to the most and increase those post styles moving forward.

People need to find value in being a fan of your page. Think about how you can mix it up. If you’re only posting traditional marketing messages, then the experience for your fans is similar to going to coffee with a friend who only talks about what he or she does. Share your story, but diversify your content.

The Marriage of Marketing and PR

Marketing and public relations are not strangers. They are essential parts of effective, integrated campaigns.A recent blog charted the differences between marketing and public relations. With all deference, the two have merged in a marriage of strengths. Whatever differences exist are mainly matters of tactics.

The marketing mindset is distinguished by

  • Strong reliance on research;
  • Targeting a specific audience;
  • Shaping information for that audience; and
  • Delivering the information in familiar channels for that audience.

Burger King to Focus on Burgers, Not King

The Burger "King" is being retired so he can spend more time on the beach, but the girl isn't part of his retirement package.BK's King mascot is being retired so the struggling burger chain can focus its advertising on the food it serves.

New creative material will begin to air later this month in coordination with Burger King's rollout of a California whopper that features guacamole.

The King has been a mainstay of mascots since 2003, but in recent times has acted creepier in ads than many burger-munching customers would like as he showed up in people's beds or, worse, peeping into windows.

It seemed as if the King's antics were designed to speak to – or inspire – bored students who had to stay up late to finish homework. Whatever connection the King's ads made didn't translate into increased sales.

The switch to advertising centered on burgers reflects the tenor of the time. Companies must zero in on their brand value, reminding existing and potential customers why they should drop by for a burger.

Cleverness can work in advertising. But too often a clever ad is a substitute for a clear appeal to the customer. This is a time when people want value. Advertising and marketing PR campaigns need to demonstrate value in TV spots, events and social media content. Otherwise, you can find yourself on the same lonely beach as the King.

Thinking Small Gets Big Results

When working on marketing or public affairs issues in small towns, using seemingly old-fashioned communications tools may work to produce surprising results.

A great example is the integrated communications program used by Patti Atkins, APR, public affairs and marketing manager for Providence Seaside Hospital. When Patti arrived at Seaside three years ago, the hospital suffered a reputation problem in the community.

Longtime residents held outdated views about the facility’s quality of care and professionalism, said Patti. Opinions are hard to change in the coastal community.

Being persistent and a traditional mix of simple marketing tools have made a big difference. In just two years, the public’s perception about the quality of care provided by the hospital improved 105 percent, from 20 percent to 41 percent, according to a survey conducted by CFM.

Marketing Your Point of View

Having a point of view isn't a problem. It's what you do about it that matters.

There is nothing wrong with individuals, corporations and interest groups expressing their points of view as part of public debate over an issue. In fact, it's not helpful to withhold points of view that can enrich a debate or add facts that shape or temper legislation or regulations.

If you have something important to say, then jump in and say it. If you don't tell your side of the story, it may not be considered. Worse, your story could be told by opponents, with their spin on your facts.

Think of expressing your opinion on a public issue as niche marketing. You are aiming your message at a discreet audience – Congress, state legislators, a group of local elected officials. All basic rules of marketing apply.