Mastering the art of saying nothing in 1,000 words.

Marketing and corporate blogging are the gifts that keep on giving. If you want to see people who are great at sounding really smart but not actually saying anything of value, go check out corporate blogs that talk about Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, or any of your other favorite modern buzzwords. You’ll find that for the most part these blog posts are written because the company feels the need to be seen as a “leading expert” or ensuring they have appropriate mentions for the most popular search terms.

To someone who isn’t an expert in a subject, it’s easy for these buzzwords heavy, filler posts to look and sound great. Having a corporate blog filled with posts on topics that a potential client will come across is certainly a smart business move. But there are two types of these companies: 1) those that simply spout talking points to sound smart and 2) those actually trying to educate you.

I always fall into the education camp. There’s no value in writing that isn’t intended to inform. The best marketing in the world is where the company tries to educate first. Any company that seeks informed customers is usually one that has put the same level of intelligence into its solutions and products.

Which type of company would you prefer to purchase from?

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Marketing is hard – but that is no reason to make it complicated.

It’s really, really hard to tell the story of your value.  It’s even harder to convince a stranger to you and your company to stop and listen to your message.  If you waste the time on words you will fail almost every time.  Words are too specific and too easily rejected as not being the right words.

Marketing is the art of convincing others to listen to your message and relate their situation to you in a way that convinces them to use you for a service or to buy your product.  If they can’t relate to your message they can’t be convinced.  Complicated is not something most people want to buy.  People buy to simplify their lives.  They buy to get something that they can’t do themselves but know needs to get done.  They buy to save themselves money.  These are simple ideas.

Fitting complicated concepts into the box needed for simple ideas to take hold is really, really hard.  But it can’t be done with lots of words.

How to win by getting people’s attention.

People have short attention spans.  Their attention span is even shorter when they see something they weren’t looking for (I’m looking at you 100% of in-browser advertising).  Winning attention is all about gaining recognition.  Your goal should be for people to organically realize you exist and what you do (whether you are an employee, sales person or corporate marketer).

Many times we try for the big win – a one-day training course, 15 five minute videos going into detail, a PPT training guide with 500 words per page.  None of these capture the imagination or catch attention.  They are too much, too big.  You have to earn their attention first, give them a reason to pay attention.  Hit them with 100 valuable tweets over a year – maybe they pay attention to 2 or 3 and remember you.  Give them a 5 year archive of blog posts – maybe they go through and read 20 in a day because something catches their eye.  Put your logo out there as sponsor of different events so that they see your interests are the same as theirs.

The little things matter more than the big things.  Anyone can write a one-time 5 page white paper on a bored Saturday.  Not everyone cares enough to show their daily interest on Twitter.  Not every company invests in promoting their ideas.  Not every employee puts themselves out there with new ideas.

Big events and productions come in after you have their attention.  But attention is hard to win and even harder to keep.  Are you willing to put in the work it takes?

Sometimes it is better to do nothing at all rather than to do it wrong. #design #marketing

There’s no such thing as bad publicity.

If that saying was actually true then the Streisand Effect would be thought of very differently than it is.  The truth is that image matters.  How people think of us matters.  Our interactions with the universe of customers and potential customers matters.

All of your permanent presences impact the way that people see you.  A bad website is often worse than no website at all.  A simple, information-less website is often far better than a bad website.  Your marketing is considered a reflection of you but in reality it is far easier to overcome no external marketing than it is to overcome bad external marketing.

Modern design thinking teaches us to think simple.  Don’t overcomplicate things.  The more complicated a subject the more it needs to be simplified.  As an engineer my first thought is to explain something as thoroughly as possible but the reality is that this approach makes things worse.  Complicated marketing assumes that the average reader can (and are willing to) be self-taught on a subject that they are probably unfamiliar.  Talk about a faulty premise!

Data that doesn’t exist often says more than the data that does.

Take a look at the marketing pages for different communities around the US.  They all play to their strengths when it comes to attracting companies.  This is only natural because if you are a hotbed for Aerospace Engineers then you should probably be advertising to make the most use out of that population.  Nothing wrong there at all.

But take a look at the macro metrics that are included or not.  Which ones play up their low crime?  Which ones don’t mention unemployment?  Are there small business metrics?  The way marketing works is that you do everything you can to avoid having to talk about your weaknesses unless you have a clear message to make it a strength to some.

The same holds true about business marketing and billboard advertisements and marketing campaigns.  Strengths often are indicators of weaknesses.  Going to strong to a particular point often shows a hedge against a potential weakness.

Be sure to look in between the gaps to understand the unspoken messages.  Knowing what wasn’t said is more important than understanding the marketed message given to you.

Too much marketing is clearly a very bad and very scary thing. #superfish

In the new digital age, all businesses are trying to market more effectively to anyone who uses a computer and the internet.  Last week you probably heard about Lenovo and Superfish.  Bad, bad, bad.  Now the stories are starting to come out about how this is not a one-time situation and it is actually a bit common.

In case you haven’t read up on it, essentially Lenovo decided to bypass basic user security for HTTPS website (just about any website with data worth protecting).  HTTPS works by assuring that a user verifies that they are communicating with the correct server through the issuing of certificates that your browser recognizes.  This allows for secure, encrypted communication to occur.  Superfish (and programs like it) spoof the certificate to make it look like you are only communicating with the site you are on but in reality the program is there in the middle reading and seeing everything.  (Yes, I know I’m not exactly right but this covers the basics.  For the real detail hit up the wikipedia page for HTTP Secure.)

So why do companies do this?  Marketing.  They are trying to get a leg up in making more advertising dollars than their competitors.  If you think flyers through USPS or email spam is annoying, welcome to the new version of that.  And the new version is crazy scary and can corrupt the entire web.  And the companies responsible (like Lenovo) are not the first you think about when it comes to breaking the internet.

Just to top this off, even if they *may* be breaking the law no legal system is going to do more than *maybe* issue a fine which means that as long as they made more in revenue than the fine they’ll carry on with this type of thinking.

Redesign often. Why changing your website look can be a good thing.

One of the sites I read regularly online is Medium.  It’s a great mix of news, opinion, science and other stories that are longer or shorter form.

An interesting thing happens regularly with the site though – it is constantly changing its homepage for browsing articles.  It’s fascinating how the site has evolved from being very picture heavy with fewer articles listed up front to now being headline heavy with some pictures and more total articles.  Evolution is wonderful.

But the surprising thing to me is that I don’t necessarily like or dislike any design more or less than the others (although I’m sure they are engineering it for more total reads).  The thought that runs through my mind is that I like going back (#1) for the content but also (#2) for the new layouts.

I see a day in the future where the actual layout of sites doesn’t matter and people will either have a choice of how they prefer to view content (bring their own content viewer similar to how some RSS feeds work today) or sites will give them choices (visual, text based, topic based, or other).

However, if we don’t experiment with different styles regularly we’ll never get the right fits for our different audiences.