Archive for September, 2007

‘Marketing’ is just another word for “Storytelling’

September 20, 2007

After seeing the new Wal-Mart ad campaign, created by The Martin Agency based in Richmond, Va., I’m impressed.

Turning around the image of a corporation that everyone loves to hate (even if they simultaneously patronize it) was an unenviable task. How do you go about replacing the public image that your business is a behemoth with bad employee and community relations?

The Martin Agency – which is also responsible for the Geico “Caveman” ads – struck at the heart of what all good marketing should be: They told a story.

One ad features a family on a typical vacation. Clearly meant to tug at the fond childhood memories of parents (or childhood fantasies of what life should be like), the commercial follows a family of six as they load into the minivan for a road trip to Florida. But not without a quick stop at Wal-Mart. We see them stop at tourist traps. We see the kids getting on each other’s nerves. We see them making memories to last a lifetime.

Then we see these words:

“Wal-Mart saves the average family $2,500 a year. What will you do with your savings?”

The tag line is “Save Money. Live Better.”

Wow. That’s a story. It’s a story I want to be my story, even if I don’t particularly want to shop at Wal-Mart.
When it comes right down to it, all marketing is storytelling. Your business story may be that you came from humble beginnings and grew a fast-food empire to compete with McDonald’s. Your story may be that you love ice cream almost as much as you love peace, the environment and your employees.

Your story may be that little savings add up to once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Everything your business or organization puts into the world adds a line to the story – from something as simple as your business cards to something as complex as your employees’ satisfaction.

Good marketing helps you take charge and craft the story you want to tell.

Tips for creating a better Email newsletter

September 18, 2007

A few weeks ago I was talking to one of our clients about his new Email newsletter. He’s in the process of transitioning from a print newsletter and was planning to apply the same approach to the electronic version.

Big mistake.

If you try to remake your print newsletter in electronic form, not only will you ensure that no one will read it, you’ll also be losing out on many of the benefits email newsletters have to offer.

Here are some tips for creating an email newsletter that your users will actually subscribe to and read.

  • Make it easy to scan and read. Subscribers are busy people. They’ve got a lot of Email to wade through on a daily basis. You’ll increase chances that recipients will read your newsletter if you make it easy for them to scan by bolding key statements or offering bullet points, and if you keep it short.
  • Make it worth reading. We’re used to thinking about newsletters as vehicles to share information about our companies – basically, another PR tool. This thinking ignores the basic fact that subscribers are self-interested. Subscribers who offer up their Email address and who take the time to read your content, expect that the content they receive is going to benefit them in some way. Fail to meet that expectation and you’ll notice subscribers removing themselves from your mailing list faster than rats jumping off the Titanic (not that subscribers are rats, mind you).
  • Try using a single article format. Most of the newsletters I subscribe to don’t do this. They opt instead for the multiple-article-summary-paragraph-click-to-read-more approach. While this approach seems to work for a lot of people (because they keep using it), as a subscriber, I find that I rarely click through to read the entire article which means that I’m probably missing out on some good information. Plus, having multiple article summaries to review makes it very difficult to know what’s important and what’s not. A better way to capture subscribers’ attention and deliver your message in its entirety is to concentrate what you want to say in a single article format. Not only is this more effective, it also allows you to title your articles something other than “September 2007.”
  • Send it out on a regular basis. Let’s remember that one of the advantages of having an Email newsletter is that it gives you the opportunity to reach your clients and prospects on a regular basis, and drive qualified traffic back to your site. In addition, unlike its print cousin, sending out an Email newsletter is relatively inexpensive and the costs are pretty much fixed. Thus, the more newsletters you send out (within reason, of course) the more you stand to gain, and the less you will pay to produce each newsletter.
  • Archive old newsletters on your site. Email newsletters can help your company long after they’ve been published. By adding newsletter content to your site, you’ll be creating new pages containing valuable keywords (not to mention internal links to those pages from other pages on your site). This will help you optimize your site for search engines. Also, users who aren’t subscribers will appreciate having access to this free resource material. They may even decide to subscribe to your mailing list after reading it. This is where it helps to have a descriptive title. To receive the search engine optimization benefit and to compel your users to click though and read the article, you’ll want to make sure that your title is descriptive, compelling and keyword-rich. So opt for a title like “Use Your Brand To Make Money” over “Vol. 2, Issue 1.”

Developing and writing effective Email newsletters isn’t easy, but the benefits that your company stands to receive from this low-cost marketing tool is worth the time and effort required to do the job correctly.

What Baby Strollers Can Teach Us About Web Site Usability

September 18, 2007

Not long ago, I was standing in a Babies R Us, searching for a travel stroller for my daughter. There were a lot to choose from but I managed to narrow the list of “contenders” down to the two that met my specifications for functionality, design and price.

The first stroller was a well-known “it” brand for well-heeled parents everywhere. I have to admit that it was slick-looking, and light. The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to open it. I spent 10 minutes trying to flip every lever, and find the page in the multi-lingual instruction book that supposedly told me how to do this. Finally I gave up, disgusted.

The second stroller, though still reasonable, was a less-popular brand and definitely less slick. Unlike the first, however, it was completely intuitive. Without reading any instructions, it was easy to figure out that the two little lever “thingamajigies” (technical term) on handle made the stroller fold down and from there, all one had to do to make it truly tiny was to fold it again in thirds.

I bought the second stroller.

Web sites are a lot like baby strollers when it comes to usability.

How often have you visited sites that are beautiful and technical…and impossible to use? You know the sites I’m talking about – the ones that contain navigation so technical that you can’t figure out how to make it work, or navigation names so clever that you’re not sure what to expect when you click on them? The worst offenders contain elaborate Flash movies, content or other elements that actually get in the way of your accessing the information you came to the site for in the first place.

The typical user, when faced with the challenge of having to figure out how to use a site in order to get what she wants, will abandon the effort and move on to the next site.

What’s a Web site owner to do? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Identify users’ goals for coming to the site. Why are they there? What do they want to accomplish before they leave? Note: This is not the same thing as what you want users to do on your site. Be honest with yourself and if you don’t know, try informally polling some of your typical users.
  • Make a clear path to that information or activity. Don’t make people think too hard (thank you Steve Krug) to find what they’re looking for and don’t present them with obstacles to overcome in order to access the information.
  • Conduct some informal user testing. Invite your mom, your yoga instructor, or better yet, a typical user (think, customer or prospect) to sit down and try to accomplish a task on your site while you silently watch. In fact, invite several people to do this. If you have usability problems, you’ll know right away.

While following these suggestions won’t solve all of your Web site’s problems, they’re a great first step to creating a site that’s easy to use, and ultimately, good for business.