In the interests of simplicity — because after all that is the subject of this blog — I’ve moved to a self-hosted wordpress.org site. My short time here generated more than 14,000 visitors, and I’ve given up both my Google visibility and a lot of traffic (in the short term, I hope) with this move but I thought it made more sense to consolidate my business site (which was getting very little traffic) with my blog, which was getting traffic but wasn’t generating business and put them together in a place where I could do affiliate marketing, enhance my personal branding, and do a number of other things.
I invite you to come visit me at the new home of Bulldog Simplicity, hosted by Host Gator.
One of the great challenges in business communications is making a computer-generated letter sound personal and still achieve its goal. It’s not easy to make a collection letter feel like it was written to an individual, to walk a line between friendly and firm and recognize that many of the recipients are embarrassed to be getting letters like that. I was asked to do that a few years ago, overseeing a project where we rewrote more than 700 letters of various intents to credit-card customers.
Despite positive feedback, we were told to change them back a few months later because many of our internal constituencies didn’t think friendly and empathetic was the right approach. Sigh.
That’s why I particularly liked this Ted talk from branding pioneer Alan Siegel, whose corporate tagline is Simple is Smart. In this speech, Siegel describes simplicity as “a means to achieving clarity, transparency, and empathy, building humanity into communications.” And he practices what he preaches…delivering a speech for what is normally a 15-to-20-minute time slot into just over four minutes.
Siegel is behind the YMCA’s new rebranding strategy, changing the name to “the Y” to reflect the nickname everyone has used for generations, although somewhat inexplicably, the Y is asking newspaper editors to refer to individual branches by the old name (e.g., the YMCA of New York City). This could be described as a “Twitter strategy,” where companies like National Public Radio and Kentucky Fried Chicken have now become NPR and KFC to fit into what some analysts describe as “a bite-size space.”
Siegel’s message is simple, yet few have embraced it. What can you do in your daily actions to make clarity, transparency, and empathy into a national priority? How can you overcome the barriers that the lawyers and the politicians often put in place to make that goal such a challenge?
First, I apologize for my absence over the past three weeks. I’ve been building a new website, Consultant Launch Pad, which is designed to help new consultants and people whose job searches may be at a point where they have to think about alternatives to pay the mortgage. We have a lot of resources on the site to help you make your decision, set up your business, and get customers. I invite you to come take a look. Let us know what you think, suggest resources we don’t currently have, and join the Forum and ask — or answer some questions. I think you’ll particularly like the 30 Second Launch Pad feature.
I’m one of those people who believes that if you hear a good idea from three different sources, it’s probably worth paying attention to. Today’s idea is Limit Choice.
It started with coming across Groupon, which is one of those businesses where customers are a great deal on a single item. The deal depends on either a certain number of people taking it or it’s there until the supply runs out. I signed up and while I haven’t bought anything yet, it’s true that the deals are great and I anticipate I will participate before too long.
A few days later I was listening to an interview where Gary Vaynerchuk, the author of “Crush It,” was offering some advice to start-ups. He’s a bit over-the-top, but one of his pieces of advice had to do with simplicity and limiting choice. Gary was talking about how he had tested the “Groupon” model in one of retail wine story by replacing a rack near the front that held 10 bargain wines with just one. The result? “We’re crushing it,’ he said. “We’re selling these bottles at a staggering rate, one that trumps residual loss of not selling many products in that space.”
All this reminded me of one of the key “rules” we followed when offering credit-cards through the mail in a previous life. We tested everything and inevitably found that Choice Suppresses. The more variations on a card offer — different designs, different pricing, different value propositions — the fewer responses we received.
The reality is that people are overwhelmed these days. We bring a lot of that on ourselves — travel teams, dance classes, and the like — but at some point businesses decided we needed more and more choices. So that’s why today I can walk into a store and find razor blades with four, five, and even more blades when one can really do the trick (at a fraction of the price).
Think about places where you might be offering excessive choice to customers and what impact that might be having on their buying decision. Are there opportunities to reduce the choice — perhaps by careful targeting of benefits — and actually increase response?
Have you read anything that clearly explains what the heck British Petroleum was using to implement its failed Top Kill strategy?
Here’s how the New York Times described the material being used to force-feed mud down the throat of the blown-out well: “The mud has been ‘weighted up’ by adding dense powdered minerals so that it weighs 16.4 pounds per gallon. Additives have been mixed in to improve the flow and prevent the formation of icelike structures of gas and water called hydrates.”
To the reporter’s credit, he did describe it in the lead of his article as having “the consistency of a half-melted milkshake,” which actually isn’t too bad.
You can often simplify difficult-to-explain concepts by channeling how a teacher might explain it to a classroom of kids. Authors Chip and Dan Heath (Made to Stick) urge presenters to be Concrete and use Stories (or in this case, Visuals). As the Heaths point out, a sticky idea is understood, it’s remembered, and it changes something. The half-melted milkshake analogy may hit one or two of those standards; Bill Nye hits all three once he sets the stage for what the mud does. He went far enough to make his explanation Concrete, and therefore sticky.
Maybe this points to the inherent disadvantage the print media has against the electronic media, but you have the same advantages in a conference room or in front of an audience.
What kind of examples or visuals have you used to explain something more complex?
In the midst of some new projects and designing a new website that has a real chance to impact people’s lives, I’ve gotten to thinking about whether my personal-branding materials go far enough to explain what makes me different, whether I’m adequately reinforcing the “bulldog” brand on my personal website and elsewhere.
I’m not sure I’m being in-your-face enough, because that’s one of the things that makes me different from other communicators. So I’m taking a second look at my website to get away from trying to make my message appeal to everyone who visits my page (or my LinkedIn profile) and appeal to the people who are actually looking for what I have to sell.
It was with that mindset that I came across Dan Pink’s posting from earlier this week and realized that this ad for the DC Metro truly reflects the “bulldog” mentality that I need to more fully embrace…
As way of background, the Washington, D.C. subway system bans eating on its trains. There are many different ways you can reinforce this message, but this is about as visceral as it gets.
Pink (who wrote Drive and A Whole New Mind) notes that he likes to highlight advertising that is emotionally intelligent (i.e., it either encourages empathy on the part of the viewer or demonstrates empathy for his or her situation), this one falls into the category of advertising that just “shocks and awe(s) us into thinking — and occasionally into action.”
I view it from a slightly different perspective, as someone who has embraced a goal of identifying ways that we can “subtract the obvious and add the meaningful” in business and our personal lives. I can imagine DC Metro officials listening to their agency pitch this ad and saying, “you want to use a picture of what?” in our new campaign.
It’s bold. It eliminates the obvious (statistics or a reminder that there are rules against eating on the trains) and gets right to the meaningful.
We need more of that in our writing — visceral images that make a clear and compelling point.
I’ve written before about focusing on that “one thing” that will remind you what’s important. I found myself recently trying to get myself organized (the catalyst for this is usually my wife telling me to get the piles off the dining room table).
I spent a bit more time on this exercise than usual (the piles often just get moved out of her sight) so I found myself asking what I could do to actually follow the principles of this blog and basically simplify everything, rodeo style. This required me to focus on my one-page project list and trash more than a few folders with articles and project ideas that I wasn’t going to get to in the near (or distant) future.
But then I realized it was more than that. I needed to start asking some tough questions that apply to just about every business — and most likely each of you. These are not questions with yes or no answers — the best questions rarely are. But as we near mid-year, it’s worth carving out some time to sit down, write down the answers, and then commit to focusing on execution.
What’s the one thing I can do to improve my business and what are the specific actions I should take to do it?
What’s the one thing I can do to improve my own performance/productivity and what are the specific actions I should take to do it?
What messages am I failing to hear (or confront) in my business and personal performance and what are the specific actions I should take to overcome them?
Why should someone hire me (or our company) over the competition? If you can’t be specific and passionate (and brief), you need to spend some time thinking through your answer.
This last question is a good one to ask the people who work for you. In fact, these are all good questions to ask the people around you about you. The inability to receive and process feedback is a critical barrier to success.
What questions do you ask yourself to help you get back on track?
A few days ago, someone asked me to explain what made me a “good marketer.” I had never heard the question phrased quite that way before and stumbled through an answer.
Later on, I realized I built a class around that very question 11 years ago. So I headed down to the basement and pulled out the class handout. We had spent more than three months asking that very question of some of the best marketing minds in the bank and organizing their answers into what turned out to be eight categories.
Times change; economies ebb and flow. Millions of trees have died in the search for answers to that question. But the answer never really changes. I won’t list all the tactics that made up the bulk of the class, but here are the principles, tweaked a bit to apply to everyone:
Always remember that we’re in business to (Fill in the Blank). In our case, it was Make Good Loans. For others, it might be Sell Computers, Attract New Donors or Drive Traffic to Your Website.
Be absolutely committed to knowing everything about your Target Audience. We were affinity marketers who worked with alumni associations, sports teams, professional groups, and a host of other partners. The most successful marketers went beyond being credit-card experts to being experts on their groups and the group’s constituents. That’s more difficult for marketers with a broader target audience, which makes No. 3 even more important.
Everything begins with the “list” (or audience). Having a great product doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know where to find the buyer. It’s OK to have multiple lists with different messages.
Design compelling offers with a simple creative message. Two of the most important messages here were Offer is More Than Price and Your Great List Won’t Mean Much if the Offer Isn’t Clear and Valued by the Customer.
Try lots of things. Test in a disciplined manner… Basically, remember that if there’s no control there’s no test and behavior is more important than opinion.
…And keep what works. Measure your results. You need to share successes and failures. I was reading a book the other night where the author was criticizing another author who had focused only on his big successes. We often learn more from our big failures…and those lessons learned are even more important if we share them with others.
Challenge everything. Never stop trying to make things better. Pay attention to the details. Part of this is about a commitment to “publishing.” I doubt there’s any such thing as the “perfect test.” Get to market quickly. Mail less more often. Make sure the affinity is “in” the package.
Spend wisely. It’s real money. This may have been a bigger deal back in 1999 when marketing money flowed more freely, but this is really about putting some analysis behind your decision to test. What do you hope to achieve and what’s the cost in your best-case and worst-case scenarios?
I have followed these principles over the years, and made sure that the people who worked for me did the same. And that should have been my answer when I was asked what makes me a good marketer. I’m disciplined and I make sure I know my audience.
Did we miss something that doesn’t fit into one of these categories? Please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on these strategies in future posts.