A Powerful Post: The Travel Story

pexels-photo-421655.jpegThe key to driving readers to your company blog, and then engaging them, is to provide them with content they find useful or interesting. That is why publishing how-to’s, tutorials, and explanations on topics relevant to your business are so effective.  Another option came to my attention when we posted something we had not done in a while on the blog for my business.  It was a summary of a trip that one of our engineers took to the sales kickoff meeting for a product line we sell, Stratasys 3D Printers, and that he supports.

Based on the immediate response on social media, it was very popular. Visit tracking verifies that it got more views than normal in the first couple of days it was posted. When you have a community built up around your company and, in the case, around the products you represent, then that community wants to be part of the overall experience. They did not get to go to the sales meeting, or maybe the user meeting.  However, by reading a post by you or one of your employees, they can be part of what is going on.

james-blog-miami.PNGJames is a great example of the ideal company non-blogger who blogs.  Take some time to review his post. He is not trying too hard, he is just being himself and sharing his experience.  When he found something interesting, he shared that event with his readers.  He had pictures of himself and other people at the event, and of key information that he learned. He also included an “iconic” landscape image of the location to allow the reader to hang a point of reference on. And, most importantly, he subtly promoted our company and the product.  He talked about meeting the founder of the company, about a fantastic customer case study that resonated with him, and presented an overall positive impression. Then at the end, he made it personal by mentioning that he and his wife played tourist after. This was with no coaching from me or anyone else who works on our blog.

padt-stratasys-kickoff2018-f05So think about your business and what travel your employees do.  Maybe it is a trip to visit a key customer if you have permission to talk about them.  Perhaps a team went to some training by a supplier.  Maybe you had a team building retreat.  Snap a few pictures on your phone, write an informal summary, and you will have a popular post that improves your brand and strengthens your customer community.

Grabbing Attention with a Quote: Adding pull quotes to your blog

“This is a far better post than I have ever posted before”

While putting out my latest post, on blogging and community, I popped out a sentence that was important and, in my opinion, kind of funny. In magazines that sort of statement would be highlighted as one of those quotes that stands out in the overall text.   You don’t see it too much in blogging but you do now and then, and I thought I should figure out how to use it.

It’s Called a Pull Quote

So I googled, and found out that this sort of highlighted text is called a “pull quote.”  There is a good description in Wikipedia here. If you are like me, you have been seeing them your whole life but never really thought about how to use them and how impactful they can be.  But now that we are blogging, self-publishing your own content, this seems like a good tool to know more about.

The key purpose is to highlight a thought or point that pulls the reader into the text.  Now the name makes sense. It also is a quick way to add a break to a lot of text without having an image to stick in there. This is especially true if you jazz it up a bit.  Two birds with one stone.

Plug it In

So how do you add pull quotes? The easiest way is to find a plugin that adds them for you.  If you don’t know CSS and are on a platform that supports plugins, this is the way to go.  A quick search for WordPress plugins shows four options, two of which are well used.   Install and read the directions and boom, you have block quotes.

Or Div it Up

If you need more control or, like me, you are using a free blogging platform that does not support plugins, then you simply need to add a block with some CSS formatting.  Don’t worry, it’s not that hard.

“This is a fantastic pull quote, it will pull almost anyone into the text!”

Put the text you want pulled out on your blog. Then go to the HTML tab of your editor.  Put

in front of your text and

after. This tells HTML that the text within is to be treated as a block.  Next, we want to format it by specifying a width, some decorations, text alignment, and spacing.

The section on formatting in Better Blogging for your Business goes into more detail on how to do this. But for the purposes of this article we can keep it simple and use the following to start:

blogging-pulltext-html-code.PNG

Change my quote with your quote and you will have what you need.  If you know CSS, add and change as needed.  And if you are comfortable with setting such things up,  add the final style to your stylesheet and you can easily use it over and over again.

Community is Important to your Business, and your Blog Can Help

The holiday season is upon us.  It is a time where we tend to think a lot about community.  Our neighborhood, friends, family, co-workers.  One of the most important Communities you belong to is your business community.  The customers, vendors, and fellow businesses that make up the ecosystem that you are economically dependent on.

team-386673__340We all take the importance of community for granted.  It is part of every day and we move between groups without a thought.  When needed we engage giving and taking from other members as needed.  The reality is that being part of a community doesn’t take a lot of work, you basically have to show up and not piss anyone off. Hopefully, your company is meeting this minimum requirement.

“The reality is that being part of a community doesn’t take a lot of work, you basically have to show up and not piss anyone off”

Success rarely comes from meeting minimum requirements. To take advantage of your community you need to be engaged and give to the group.  The obvious ways to do this are to join industry and local groups, attend events, donate to charities that the community wants to support, and participate in the all-important networking to exchange ideas and resources with others. But how do you reach people when you are not directly interacting with them.

Blog It

The answer, of course, is your business blog.  And I’m not just saying that because this blog is promoting a book on business blogging.  Your blog is an extremely effective tool for interacting with your business community.  It allows you to distribute news, invite people to events, share advice or information, and help promote the sense of community in your community.  Think of it as the local paper for that community.

Be Social

Most people will point to social media for fulfilling this purpose, and it can be a very effective way to get small pieces of information out and to interact quickly and efficiently. But social media lacks depth. Instead of only using social media, use social media to share your blog posts.  Taking this approach not only gets your message out to the community, it also gets them to your site and your branding.

Add Value

Be careful though. One way to actually piss off your community is to be selling. You need to follow the key rule of business blogging; publish useful content often. If you are seen as always selling or as being self-serving, you will be shunned.  And remember, your customers are part of this community and you don’t want them shunning you.

Put your Company in the Center

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The best thing for your business is to build your own community around what you do, or if the community is well established, move your company to the center of the group. Just as with any community, you do not want to get to the center by forcing yourself into the middle and shouting so loud that you have to be noticed. Instead, you want to find your place, do good things, and the crowd will move around you.  Following the basic rules for business blogging is a great way to do this.

Participate

If you want your business to benefit from being part of a community, then participate in that community. It costs less than advertising and it creates loyalty and referrals.  People want to belong and support the things they belong to. Take advantage of that by blogging things that the community wants to know about. If you focus on community, your community will focus on your business.

Need help in getting started or improving your blogging game, purchase your copy of “Better Blogging for Your Business

 

 

Old TV Commercials are More than Retro Cool – They are Instructive

As part of our feeding frenzy of holiday entertainment content consumption, my family was watching a Christmas episode of the Colgate Comedy Hour with Abbot and Costello.  The difference between this show from 1950’s TV and our modern streamed, enhanced, and digitized content is amazing.  The amount of slapstick humor being the most obvious.  But when it was all said and done it was not the dance numbers, Costello’s pratfalls, or even Abbots deadpan delivery that captivated us.  It was the commercials for Colgate-Palmolive that were mesmerizing.

Take a look at this example I found on YouTube.  It’s not the same one that was on the Christmas special but it is cut from the same mold. If you are trying to get a message about a product out to your customers, it is a simple example of a well executed example.

Are you laughing?  I sure did. Now watch it again, this time with a critical eye. Try not to be so superior or cynical.  Break it down and you will see the basics of advertising techniques exposed and naked. In our high-tech polished approach to marketing today we often forget the basics presented here.  Let’s look at them:

Start with the Brand and Product Claim

Screenshot 2017-12-08 at 6.32.47 AM

A placard is the start. It shows the product, the brand, and a clear statement:  “Cleans Your Breath While it Cleans your Teeth!”  We would never use an exclamation point today, too much.  But see how clear it is. The viewer knows the product, the brand, and the claim. Now they need to drive that home.

Get Attention, with a Bird and some Drama

Next they show a bird and the words Squawk Squawk Squawk.  It’s cute and get our attention.  The bird also says that “feathers are flying.”  I wonder why? Is this clickbait of the 1950’s?

Establish the Problem

Basically, Tom isn’t getting any because his breath stinks.  She refuses to “COO” with him… but we all know what Tom really wants, and isn’t going to get till he sees the dentist.

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The Trusted Advisor Recommends the Product and Tells you Why

No subtlety here.  The dentist has a big Colgate poster on his wall and is holding the product so we can all see the branding.  And you thought a Coke can on a sitcom kitchen table was too blatant.

Our friendly dentist looks like an expert, an older and knowledgeable professional that is going to help us solve our problem.

Screenshot 2017-12-08 at 6.52.59 AM

There is no build up. He launches right into the fact that you need Colgate to get rid of your bad breath, and here is why. Scientific test! 7 out of 10.  And then four performance claims: cures bad breath, cleans your teeth, tastes good, and stops tooth decay.  Each claim is backed up with a visual to reinforce it.

Positive Reinforcement: Tom gets to COO

Our narrator, a talking bird, provides the transition right into the positive reinforcement.  Tom gets some. And the narrator repeats the message.  “After Colgate, no more Squawking.”  Implying that no talking equals more making out.

Screenshot 2017-12-08 at 6.46.34 AMI have to say the passionate kiss is kind of like watching your parents make out… but it does get the point across.  Although, Al and Tipper did it better.

They then drive everything home with a jingle and a cartoon of two generic characters kissing.  The woman is SO HAPPY to see her man. A jingle is added to embed the message in our head with a catchy toon. This cartoon segment is interesting because it repeats the brand and key product claims twice.  The couple kisses and shows their smile as the happy moon looks on.

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Then the message repeats again with just words and the jingle.

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Trusted Advisor Comes Back to Make Sure You Get It

Our dentist starts with “remember.”  He says Colgate is what you need, and he makes the product claim a fifth time: clean breath, clean teeth. Those old-school Madison Avenue types repeat the message over and over again. And if you didn’t realize there were two claims, he holds up his fingers to make sure you know.  Simple branding, simple claims repeated in several different ways with visual reinformecement.

Screenshot 2017-12-08 at 6.59.33 AM

Finish Up With Brand and Applause

At the end of any pitch, you have to transition back, and they do it with a brand message: “Colgate’s: Is Pure! White! Safe!” and product image.  What struck me about this transition back to the TV show is that this is the first time we have heard the “pure, white, safe” message. That sort of surprised me and I wonder if they were transitioning brand messaging or if this was intentional. Everything else on this add was repeating clean breath and clean teeth?  We may never know why they switched message. Maybe repeating it six times was one time too many?

Screenshot 2017-12-08 at 7.05.14 AM

Notice something else?  The toothpaste tube in the first placard is facing left, at the end of the commercial, it is facing, right. Intentional?  Probably.

I just noticed something else as well, Tom is never shown using the product.  We see the positive result of his use, but at no point does anyone actually brush their teeth.

What Can We Learn From This Commercial?

I don’t know about you, but I became very conscious of my bad breath while watching this. I need to brush my teeth to get the Starbucks out of my mouth  The add held my attention even with the poor production values and wooden performance.  That is because it was simple and to the point.

The key lessons I took away from watching this a couple of times are:

  1. Tell a story
    Tom not getting any, the Bird is concerned, the wife fesses up and Tom gets help. Tom gets some after using the product.
  2. Introduce a problem that people care about
    Bad breath leads to no kissing. And Tom even put a tie on!
  3. Offer the solution from a trusted advisor
    Our stock dentist tells us what to do, how to solve our problem and backs it up with evidence.
  4. Show the benefit of using the product
    Tom and the cartoon characters get to smooch.
  5. Repeat the brand and the key product claims over and over again.
    Cleans your breath and your teeth!  Also, the brand in the form of the name, logo, and product are shown as often as possible.
  6. Keep the message simple.
    The dentist introduces two other claims (tastes good, fights decay) but does not dwell on it.

Think about your advertising, and especially your blog posts where you are trying to advertise a product.  Are you telling a story? Have you clearly defined a problem and a solution?  What are your product claims and are you repeating them?

This old advertising is great because it is so simple and obvious, we can see the construction and execution of a persuasive campaign clearly.  Sometimes from the superiority of our advanced technology and our cynicism about advertising, we do not take advantage of the lessons the experts of yesterday knew well.  How is this any different from the latest Cialis advertising?

Getting the right message to your customer is hard, which is why you should be blogging with some basic rules and techniques to make you more efficient and effective.  “Better Blogging for Your Business” is the perfect solution.  Seven out of Ten business bloggers found it very useful to their blogging activities.  It is scientifically proven to get bird owning housewives to do more business with you.  OK, I’ve not taken a poll or done a scientific study. But anecdotally I’ve heard that they found the book very useful.  I won’t promise that your Significant Other will embrace you in an awkward kiss, but I will promise that reading the book will be useful to your blogging efforts.  Stop Squawking and order your copy today.

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How Can You Compete with Amazon? Community

Technology probably disrupted your industry. And if you sell to consumers the online giant, Amazon, most likely disrupted your business.  Even if you sell to other businesses, large, online competitors can eat your lunch.  So what do you do?  What is a differentiator that can set you not just apart, but above the box store on massive online retailer?

Community

Giant selection, instant shipping, good prices, and easy buying experience are what large companies have going for them.  But you have something that everyone is looking for: the chance to be part of something. Most people want to belong and be part of something, and they will pay more and deal with a less streamlined experience to participate.

Here are some basic ways that you can build a community around your product or service:

Expose your Company Culture

dog-at-workCompanies large and small are nothing more than a collection of people working together.  And when you have a group of people you have a culture that is unique to that group. Do not hide it, share it.  Using social media, blogging, or anecdotes when you interact with customers in person, share fun or interesting quirks or activities at your company.

If you have an IT guy that bakes cookies for everyone on Wednesdays, blog about it and talk about it. Maybe you all get together once a quarter and brainstorm new product ideas.  Your customers want to know about that, they want to know what it is like working at your company because they have a deep need to be part of something.

Your giant competitor does not have a culture, they do not have something that your customers can relate to. Take advantage of that.

Share your Human Side

barberCulture is about what it is like to work at your company.  An even better way to welcome your customers into your community is to share your human side.  Put faces on who you are simply because your large competitor is faceless.  Regardless of the industry, customers want to be connected to another person.

You can share your human side through social media and blogging if you don’t interact face-to-face with your customers.  But if you do, then encourage your employees to interact on a personal level with customers.  This does not mean they have to talk about their love life.  But recommending a favorite restaurant, or mentioning that you just got back from vacation at Disneyland creates a human connection and hopefully finds common ground with customers beyond your business relationship.

Of course, be careful to respect your employee’s privacy.

Share Success

People want to be part of a successful community. Help them make that happen by sharing your successes, large and small, with them.  Also, share the success of your community members. If a good customer has a big contract win or opens a new office, congratulate them in front of your community.  Just remember to ask permission if any information is not already out there in the public.

Take time to Interact

talking-phoneIn the end, creating a community around your business that attracts your customers is about priorities.  You need to take time to interact.  Customers cannot get to know you if you do not take time to build a relationship.  Your competitor is driven by 2% increases in productivity so they can deliver greater shareholder value.  They don’t have time to tell a client about their new puppy or tell a funny story about the company Haloween party (not THAT story, too much information).

Stop, interact, build a connection and a community.

Create Social Events for your Community

open-house2One powerful way to pull all of this together is to create a social event for your growing community.  If your business is local, this is easy.  Just pick a time and some event, and invite people in. It can just be a social thing or maybe a seminar or a demo.  Don’t sell, inform. Don’t ask for orders, build relationships.

Not everyone you want to will show up, and some people you do not want will show up.  But over time if you keep it up you will create a stronger and more loyal customer base.

And… Blogging is the Glue

A good and robust blog can be the glue that holds all of this together that reinforces the community you are building. It is a single place to share information and celebrate success.  Blogs can be set up to publish to social media and the comments section is a place where your community can interact.

Read “Better Blogging for Your Business” to see how easy it is to have an effective blog for your business.

Should you do a Business Blog?

Your sitting in your monthly marketing update and someone says it: “We need a blog!”  “Yes!” “A blog is a great way to get our word out!” The task gets assigned, you buy your copy of “Better Blogging for Your Business” and you start developing your goals and content ideas.

However, should you do a business blog?  The answer is probably yes, but if you don’t answer it honestly, you are not off to a good start.  Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure you are ready for your journey.

thumbsupIs your Company Committed to a Blog?

Commitment from management and employees is critical.  If you, or maybe you and a couple of co-workers are committed, that is a great start.  But you need backing because starting a blog is a long-term relationship.  Creating and publishing good content takes time and effort.  It is well worth the time, but fighting for priority will wear you down.

Are People Interested in Content About your Industry and Company?

This is a hard question to answer without being brutally honest.  You may think what you do is fascinating, but if your customers and prospects are not interested a blog may not be a good idea. I’ll pick on title companies.  They search documents to make sure the seller of a piece of property is the actual owner and there are no liens or lawsuits out there.  Not very exciting. And let’s be honest, even though people need to know what a title company does, beyond that initial explanation there is not much value to knowing more.  The audience is pretty limited, banks and/or realtors. But they don’t really need to know much about what title companies do either.

Are Words and Pictures a good Medium for Your Industry and Company?

Startup Stock PhotosIn some cases, you may be in an industry where words and pictures are just not your best way to share content.  Would a pod-cast be better? Maybe videos?  Simple ads? Think about what the blog would look like in three years.  Will there be good text and pictures?

Is Blogging the Best Use of Your Limited Marketing Resources?

Unless your company’s marketing efforts are well funded, you probably have a limited budget and people. So you have to make decisions on where you spend your time and money.  Blogging can be a very cost-effective way to get on the web and start interacting with your customers.  But make sure you are investing in social media and standard advertising at the right level as well.

Yes, Do it!

For most companies, the answers to all of these questions will be “yes.” The most difficult one to get that “yes” on is a commitment from your company.  Focus on securing that, and you should be good to go.

So what is holding you back?  All those yes’s means its time to get that copy of Better Blogging for Your Business and get started.

do-it

Overcoming your fear of quick and dirty

Under the heading of “practice what you preach” I struggled yesterday to implement a tactic covered in “Better Blogging for Your business.”  The struggle came down to just putting great content out there that was quick and dirty.

One of the most talented and knowledgeable engineers at our company is not a fan of writing prose.  He is actually very good at it but prefers not to do it.  The problem is that he has a lot of great knowledge that can be turned into useful content on our blog.

The book has a whole section devoted to understanding and motivating people to produce content, and what to do if they can’t or won’t.  One solution offered is to grab a PowerPoint slide deck from them and just publish that.   This tactic works really well with several of our engineers, including the one discussed above.

It was straight out of the book. His PowerPoint was simple, concise, easy to follow, and most importantly, useful to users of the software we resell and support. He emailed it to me. I quickly reviewed it and only made a change to the background on the slides, and it was ready to go.

This is a perfect example of publishing useful content often:

  • Save as a PDF
  • Open up WordPress
  • Add new Post
  • Add the PDF as media
  • Write a quick introduction
  • Insert the PDF
  • Stick in some keywords
  • Grab an image form a slide and make it the featured image
  • Set author to the engineer who created the slide deck
  • Click Publish.

Except I couldn’t click. I froze.  It had taken me less than five minutes to do exactly what I recommend in the book, and I hesitated. I ran into the fear that this content was too quick and dirty.

The slides were great.  That was not the problem.  I knew that if I wanted to accomplish the task covered by the slides it would be a great resource. Better than a standard blog post because the slide deck fits the format of step by step instructions better.

coffee-cup-working-happyTime for a walk to the break room for some coffee… maybe there are some snacks out too.  As I took this little break I tried to figure out what my problem was. And it came to me.

Some part of my brain was saying that the post was not fancy enough.  I was feeling the desire to show off rather than just get useful information to our customers.  The option existed to take the PowerPoint and rewrite the content as a post, formatted and lengthy.  Part of me feared that if I didn’t do that, something bad would happen.

It was a quick trip, as I got back to my desk I realized how stupid I was being.  Reformatting the information would take me an hour or more and it would actually be less useful to readers.  The urge was still there.  It was fear of not doing enough and it was overshadowing common sense and experience. Not smart.

pexels-photo-244994So I put my cup down, picked up the mouse and clicked publish.  You would think I was cliff diving or something truly difficult.  Fear is a silly thing sometimes.

Guess what? The post was immediately popular and the PDF has been viewed or downloaded over a dozen times the first day it was out there.

Lesson learned: don’t let fear hold you back. Just do it. It’s only a blog.

Second lesson: a walk to the break room can instill common sense and courage.