Once upon a time, many years ago, I sat at a conference table in the middle of the afternoon with a man named John. We were in the meeting room at the Hillsborough County, Florida chapter of the American Red Cross; I’d been volunteering as a Public Affairs correspondent for a number of months, writing pieces for their newsletter and generally supporting their local outreach programs.
Today I was sitting with John, interviewing him for the front page article of our quarterly, the glossy color version of the newsletter that went out to Red Cross donors, supporters, and various politically-connected folks. We had decided to start doing profiles of people who had gone through our First Aid and CPR programs.
Even over fifteen years later, I still remember talking to John like it was yesterday. He had a great story.
Conversion is a tricky concept, once you begin digging more deeply into it.
You already know the basics: catch them early, preferably with an eye-grabbing headline, and then give them enough red meat to keep them interested, while preferably allowing them the time to establish a sense of identity in your message. Then, at the end of the show, you make your pitch and start passing around the buckets.
Easy, right? Well, no. It if were, everyone would be doing it.
Even so, any time that I sit down to start writing marketing copy, I have to begin by asking the Big Conversion Question. What do we want the readers to do, exactly? Download a whitepaper? Call your sales team? Subscribe to your newsletter? Different end goals demand different tactics, and likely also very different flow and pacing to carry those tactics off. That’s where things start getting thorny indeed.
Before I can get your marketing message all packed up and ready to drive, I need to see that little red circle on the map, on the far end of all those lines and squiggles, drawn around that bold point that reads “Do This.” Only then do I feel comfortable in packing up the wife and kids, tying down the luggage, and hitting the open road with your pitch.
Please let me introduce myself.
My name is Rob Warren. My wife and I own Load Bearing Creative, and the voice you read here on this blog is generally (but not always) mine. I’m a technical writer and a tech marketing guy. Most of the time, I work in a home office, writing white papers and case studies, while watching our wiggly Lab out in the back yard chasing birds.
There are human beings on the other side of the keyboard. And they believe in stuff.
For most of us, I think, there’s a natural inclination when we write about our businesses to avoid injecting personal sentiment into our working words. Some of that falls under the category of “being professional”, I suppose, but the older I get and the longer I work in this field, the more I suspect it’s little more than risk aversion.
We’re all afraid that some incredible client is just waiting out there to shower us with riches, but will shun us at the last moment because – gasp – they have discovered some personal bone of contention. So we hedge and avoid and back away and stick to the bullets.
Thing is, I don’t think we can get away with that anymore. Not in the social media age.
Setting aside whatever your feelings are about the issues, candidates, or campaigns, the events of this election year should be teaching us all a lot about effective messaging in the social media era. Basically, that historian Daniel Boorstin was right.
Back in 1961, Boorstin published “The Image: A Guide To Pseudo-Events In America”, a short history of the evolution of public relations in America during the 20th century. This was after the first televised presidential campaign, and Boorstin was particularly inspired by the “sweaty lip” Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960. In his book, he identifies and outlines the “pseudo-event” – a reported-on event that is only important because it has been reported on – and how it could be used in the future to blur the lines between legitimate news reporting and entertainment.
Sound at all familiar? It should.
One of the most frustrating parts of working as a marketing creative today is that, no matter your particular skill or specialty, there is no end to the parade of people ready to tell you that customers only care about something else.
Are you a graphic designer? People want to see photography. Web engineer? What matters today is multimedia. Multimedia producer? You’re going to need a good website for that, as well as a good story to tell around your video. Copywriter? Sorry – no one reads anymore.
There is no question that the explosion in global and mobile digital communication has forever upended how businesses and customers find, regard and interact with each other. But people do still appreciate great graphic design. They can still get a bit choked up with just the right brilliant image. And, yes, people do still read. What they don’t read is the stuff that bores them to tears – which, unfortunately, accounts for a staggering portion of modern, prose-based marketing today.
If you’ve been working at all in the world of marketing over the last few years, no doubt you’ve encountered the word “agile”. Lifted from the lexicons of manufacturing and technology, agile marketing is a philosophy of embracing the sheer volume of data, events and sometimes outright chaos that exists in the commons of business communication.
An agile marketer recognizes early, adapts quickly and prepares continually. In an increasingly interconnected global society, where a single comment or short video can “go viral” and become a major news story in a matter of hours, it is no longer enough to plan an annual campaign and spend months executing a battle plan. Your business and market are moving much, much faster than that. You need to be able to turn on a dime.
If I had to point to any single problem that nearly all companies had in common, it would be this: they only talk from one side of the argument.
Everyone is important. Every product is revolutionary. Every new business initiative is destined to rock the world and change Life As We Know It Forever. And when you approach your marketing from the perspective of only one side of the issue – the side that means you win – then you miss out on some of the best opportunities you’ll ever have for creating a truly effective sales message.
So how do you hit both sides of the story without turning your message into an ambiguous mess?
Everybody has a different idea of what design is – and that’s most of the problem. When you’re trying to wrangle the conflicting opinions and priorities of your creative team, your sales people, your product managers and your customer support staff, it’s only natural that consensus is going to be hard to find. We all agree that good design works. What we disagree on is how to make it work.
Most of us tend to notice design only when it fails, or when it suddenly meets all of our needs at once. Unfortunately, most projects have to aim for somewhere in the vast territory that exists between catastrophe and catharsis, and as a project manager your job will be to arrive at that destination safely and securely.
At Load Bearing Creative, we are committed to giving back. Whether it’s through services, expertise and advice or products, we are dedicated to contributing to our community.
As business owners, we know there’s more to philanthropy than just helping others – although that is our primary motive. Providing services to non-profits is a great way to build your business and promote employee morale and loyalty. Continue reading
Direct competition is bad business. You can see it every day, and probably could name at least three businesses operating in your own industry that are guilty of its excesses. Positioned the same, targeting the same customers, providing the same product, priced at the same level: in a world of increasingly diverse tastes, needs and resources, there are few more reliable ways to ruin your business than to busy yourself in offering up more of the same.
Direct competition destroys value. Eliminating significant distinctions between you and the next guy only guarantees that you’ll compete on price, which always turns into a race to the bottom – and a dash to see who can go broke first. On a grander scale, that destruction of value takes a serious toll on quality, markets and people.