Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

Are You Applying Agility in Sales?

3 Texans Bandera editedOrganizations—not people—have typically been recognized as agile, based on technology and business processes.

However, as communicators and professionals who market and sell, we must focus on human beings and the roles that people play within agile organizations.

At a recent training program I led for an inside sales team in the financial industry, we covered agility. How could the team improve collaboration and competency when working with their business-to-business clients and prospects?

On the Dime

When executives and analysts talk about agility in business, the word pivot is almost always in the conversation.

Being able to pivot means that you can strike the balance between what your plan is/was, AND still assess new opportunities with a high level of flexibility.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Obey the spur of the moment.”

To apply agility to your communication and sales, it’s imperative that you have a 360-degree view of your relationships, partnerships, prospects, clients, products, services, and self.

This is not a one-time analysis or critique that’s done periodically.

Your 360-degree view is ongoing because change is constant. To keep up with the twists, turns, and trends in your industry, you must always be reading, studying, learning…and applying your newly acquired knowledge.

Intensity Counts

Agile professionals are thoughtful, deliberate, and decisive. Their time zone is real-time.

This is what differentiates agile thinkers from the as-soon-as-possible thinkers.

If you want to be the go-to person—the agile professional—you have to:

Immerse yourself in your industry. Your daily formula for success: Study. Simplify. Apply.

Help clients reduce inefficiencies.

Think from the customer’s perspective.

Pay attention in a way that is smart, creative, curious, and proactive.

Contact clients and prospects to share new information, updates, and relevant news. Translation: Don’t check in, follow up, or touch base. Bring value.

Uncover problems BEFORE they occur. Don’t wait for customers to contact you when they have a problem or challenge. That’s too commonplace, and mediocre. Agile communicators and marketing and sales professionals contact their clients FIRST, explaining that a problem is looming and offering a recommendation or insight.

Agile professionals solve problems before they arise, making consistent and invaluable contributions to their client’s success.

 

The Agony of Delete: 3 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Content

scales of justice edited

Here’s an unscientific poll about content that I want to share with you.

More than 80% of people who write press releases, blog posts, bylined articles, and white papers admit they struggle with how to edit content.

I’m happy to offer a few suggestions on how to approach the editing process:

1. Write the main purpose on the back of a business card. In one or two sentences, summarize the reason you are writing. This brings clarity, which (usually) leads to brevity. If your purpose is too long for the business card, rip it up and start again. It must be clear in your mind before you begin to write.

2. Dissect your words and sentences. Slowly read each sentence, one at a time. Then read the next one. If you removed one of the sentences, would your story change? Each sentence must build off of the previous one, adding value to your story. This practice can significantly shorten your content and change the flow of your message. Translation: Cut the crap.

3. Consider your reader. Your word count will drop when you remove self-serving information that will be irrelevant–or annoying–to your audience. And don’t bother with jargon or rhetoric. Write to offer solutions to your reader’s challenges. Solve, don’t sell.

Finally, the words ‘very’ and ‘that’ should be used sparingly, if at all.

4 Key Aspects of Today’s Content Strategy

itsy bitsy spiderWhat’s the future of content marketing? It depends who you ask, I suppose.

When I joined one my favorite online places to learn –Sunday night’s #blogchat on Twitter–I knew there would be plenty of takeaways on content strategy and marketing.

The guest expert was author and entrepreneur Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute.

Pulizzi shared tips on the importance of building an audience for your blog, and converting loyal followers. He also covered the future of content marketing.

On the purpose of your blog:

Once we know the why, we need to clearly focus on who the audience is for our blog.

There are three reasons to create a blog: to generate sales, to save costs, or to create more loyal customers.

Your blog needs to create an audience. We can’t do much good if we don’t have an audience.

The blog can be the center of our entire content marketing strategy. Think of it as home base.

On building loyalty with readers:

The blog is the place where we should be creating passionate subscribers…subscribers are key.

The most valuable part of your blog is the audience you have opt-in permission from to communicate with.

Remember, 80% of your web traffic will never come back again. We need to work very hard to get them to subscribe.

Think like a media company. The value of a media company is in their list (the audience). Convert traffic to subscribers.

On the six important aspects of your blog:

Your content must fill a need in the marketplace that is not being met.

You must be consistent. Blog at the same time and frequency every week (just like a newspaper would).

You need to tell stories like a human being would. Get rid of corporate speak.

You need to have a point of view. What is your take? Why are you the expert? Show it with your content.

Remove the sale. Never sell anything directly in the content of your blog.

Your goal should be best of breed. Strive to be the leading content creator for your content niche.

On the future of content marketing:

Podcasts are going to really break out very shortly. They will be more easily available and there is a lack of content now.

Sure, everyone is talking video. But I see opportunity in audio, print, and in-person events.

Google+ Hangouts are another way to market. I like that you can create a podcast out of a hangout.

Longer form content is making a comeback. We are seeing 1000+ word posts perform WAY better than shorter posts.

The founder and host of #Blogchat, @MackCollier, has a stellar lineup of guest experts for the coming weeks.

It’s a smart and most enjoyable group!

3 Reasons to Use Metaphors in Business Communication

crushed AW can editedThe rapid pace of technology and the world makes it more challenging than ever to connect with people, especially those with whom we want to build consensus and influence.

While words are powerful, the human brain is wired to think in pictures and images.

For example, if someone said the word ‘car’ to you, your mind will instantly pull up an image of a car, not the letters C-A-R. You may picture your dream car, your first car, or the car you currently drive.

Consider these three reasons for using metaphors in business:

1. Metaphors help us capture attention. The year 2014 has been dubbed ‘The Year of the Visual’ on social media. Infographics, slide decks, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo, and Vine snippets garner more attention than basic text. Therefore, it makes sense that we weave metaphors—which pull up mental pictures—into our business conversations and presentations. Metaphors help our messages resonate with others.

2. Metaphors create emotional connections to other humans. Metaphors—also referred to as comparisons, analogies, or relationships—speak from and to the right side of the brain. This portion of the brain handles emotion and imagination. When discussing a logical matter (left brain), such as systems and processes, consider this suggestion by corporate trainer and author Anne Miller.

Metaphors in Biz communication Pullout box Anne Miller 6-2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Metaphors help simplify complex thoughts and ideas. Have you ever watched or listened to a newscast where the announcer says, “The water main break pushed 15,000 gallons of water into the streets of our city. 15,000 gallons. That’s enough to fill Yankee Stadium three times.” We may not grasp what 15,000 gallons of water looks like, but most people have an image of a professional baseball stadium to help them better understand the size and scope of 15,000 gallons of water, three times over.

As Miller says, this subtle power of language helps us to persuade, explain, sell, and inspire others to get the results we want.

4 Communication Lessons We Can All Learn from ‘Shark Tank’

shark tank edited

The popular TV reality competition show, “Shark Tank”, is packed with tips on how business professionals can improve their communication skills. There are also plenty of lessons to learn about pitching stories and self-confidence.

As you probably know, the premise of the program is that aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs give a 10 minute presentation to five self-made millionaires and billionaires. Among the Sharks: Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran and the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban.

Each guest requests funding for their idea and offers a percentage of the business. One or more of the Sharks can suggest a modified plan for funding and the piece of the pie when—and if—the business takes off.  

Make no mistake, the program is called “Shark Tank” for a reason. The investment tycoons considering the deals are top notch professionals who have succeeded and struggled in numerous ventures.

I imagine it’s quite intimidating to stand before this esteemed group to pitch your idea.

Consider these four communication lessons we can all appreciate from “Shark Tank.” It seems all of the budding entrepreneurs have similar traits:

  1. They absolutely believe in themselves and their products. From the elderly couple who designed a pair of underwear to capture the smell emitted from flatulence to the young political wonks in Washington, DC who, in their spare time, created a recipe for Barbecue Sauce and Rub, every person who has appeared on “Shark Tank” has had a true sense of themselves. Their willingness to be vulnerable to the barrage of questions and raw feedback on national TV is admirable.
  2. They embrace negotiation. Often times, the projections and numbers are off, and the Sharks are fast to point out the ‘real numbers.’ Fledgling entrepreneurs often have to think on their feet to throw out new and more accurate figures without compromising their business plans and credibility.  
  3. They control their emotions. A certain blend of heart, enthusiasm, and humility is a significant part of a successful pitch. Yes, most guests leave the show disappointed that none of the Sharks invested in their idea. But it’s valuable for people watching the show to see guests draw the emotional line and keep their composure, something that requires a great deal of inner strength.
  4. They know how to appeal to the senses.  The inventors and creators that are on “Shark Tank” know how to engage the Sharks with visuals, tastes, smells, and sounds. The gym trainer who created special bras for women athletes brought along several women who were wearing different styles of the undergarment. When pitching food or drinks, guests arrive with impressive packages containing samples for each of the Sharks.

If PR, marketing, and other communication professionals focused on these four skills and attributes—belief in themselves and products, negotiation, control of emotions, and sensory experiences—I’m guessing we would have a more satisfied and successful workforce.

 

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Do You Know How to Create and Use Punchy Sound Bites?

blackboard_sound_biteBe quotable. Make your point. It’s kind of like a tag line. Sum it up in eight words or less.

Sound bites have typically been associated with political speeches and the subsequent ‘confusion’ (allegedly) created by reporters who have irresponsibly taken things out of context.

A sound bite or quote is the short tight combination of words that hits your message home.

It’s the needle in the haystack.

How do you determine the nugget, the key point that you can pull out of the entire speech or article that is powerful, succinct, and telling?

I’m fluent in sound bites because of my experience in broadcast news and covering press conferences and political events. It requires a new way of listening.

Today, we depend on sound bites because of the dwindling attention span of our society. Too often, 140 characters are too many.

Below are five ways to recognize valuable snippets and sound bites so your communication pops:  

Testimonials: Gather a few thank you cards or recommendation letters you’ve received from happy clients. Highlight one or two key phrases that resemble a movie advertisement. For example, when a new movie released, you’ll see these kinds of splashy nuggets: “Best Thriller of the Year!” or “An Amazing Voyage of Life!”  Identify the words or phrases in your client’s note that reflect your brand and results.   

Blog Posts: Have you participated in a webinar or read an intriguing article? Find the expert’s snippet or quote that can strike a chord with your audience. Open your post with this powerful quote and build out your topic.  

Slide Decks: Have you been repurposing old but still relevant content to include visuals? Pull a couple of gems and quotes from well-respected thought leaders and include them in your slides. The words should be bold and punchy.

Research: Many communicators are moving away from lengthy white papers and case studies. Learn how to capture key results from research so it’s easy for your audience (or boss) to process. Simplifying material isn’t about ‘dumbing down.’ You can quickly add a hyperlink to the full content for those wishing to access more details. Remember that infographics are appealing and easy to grasp because they are sprinkled with sound bites.  

New Developments: Many speeches delivered by thought leaders and politicians contain more than just the key points that support the title. Trained journalists will tell you there are often tidy little references or hints of something to come. Pay close attention, not only to the main points of a speech or article, but for a hint that may be dropped about a new trend or industry development. By pinpointing this buried treasure, you’ll have a new nugget or sound bite to fuel fresh content.  

Clearly, there is value in communicating in sound bites. 

 

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7 Smart Things Every PR Pro Can Do During a Blizzard

Edited snowstorm jan 2014Can’t pitch your story because of the weather?  Tired of eating the cookies you bought during an ‘emergency’ pre-storm grocery run? Sick of watching reporters get blown off their feet during live shots of the blizzard?

Speaking from personal experience, I’ll venture to say that most PR professionals and communicators don’t thrive on down time.

With the media in complete storm mode, forget unsolicited phone and e-mail pitches.  

Below are 7 ways for communicators in marketing and PR to stay productive until the weather clears. Most of these can be done from your cozy couch.  

  1. Use SlideShare to create a slide deck from a previous post that received a lot of hits and comments. Repurpose the post by grabbing a few key points from your written text. Add some images and graphics to spice up your words. Post it on SlideShare and cross-promote it on your other social channels. (If you’ve never tried SlideShare, decks are created in PowerPoint, so it’s easy enough).
  2. Take pictures to energize your blog, e-newsletters, and presentations. So much better than stock photos.
  3. Write your Editorial calendar for the year. We are well in to January. It’s time to get the framework together for 2014.  
  4. Check out Muckrack.com (on Twitter #Muckrack) and Help a Reporter Out, or HARO. These are two places where news pros and bloggers are scouting out subject matter experts and trusted sources. There’s plenty of activity to pursue while your sluggish competitors watch the snow fall.
  5. Subscribe to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. It’s a research center that provides in-depth studies and data on timely news issues. You’ll want to bookmark the Journalist’s Resource.
  6. Identify five blogs and pursue opportunities to guest post.   
  7. Poke around Pinterest to see how others in your field are using it to (visually) appeal to customers and prospects.

Just because there’s a blizzard, there’s no excuse for you to have a brain freeze.

And if you opt for Plan B—watching the first few seasons of Mad Men on Netflix—we won’t judge you. Promise.

Stay safe.

4 Letter Words for Creating New Content

Brooklyn it's where my story beginsI was born in Brooklyn, New York. I know a lot of four-letter words.

Sure there are a few that aren’t suitable for this space. But I learned a lot of positive four letter words when I was growing up, too. My parents and grandparents told me—and showed methe meaning of these words: give, help, and team.

When looking at my website analytics, I find that most of my visitors are searching for topics and ideas for their own content and articles.

With four-letter words in mind, here are ways to spark your creativity and develop fresh content:

1. Get a clue about what success means to your target audience.  Have you identified your target audience? Do you know the top five dreams or goals they have for their professional success? When you answer this question, you will have an endless pipeline of topics and content.  

2. Stay curious. Consider every minute, hour, and day a happy adventure in which you’ll discover tons of new things. Read magazines you’ve never picked up. Walk the long way to the office building. Strike up a conversation with someone who appears quite different than you. Read a section of the newspaper you always skip. Listen to a new talk radio show or podcast. Rent a really old movie.  Watch 10 Vine videos. Peruse a competitor’s boards on Pinterest.  Be open to learning.

3. Keep asking questions. When looking for fresh angles and topics, ask yourself the following: What else, what else, what else?  What else is this conference about? What else do people want to know? What else can someone read to learn more? What tips can make their jobs easier? What else did the speaker mention that’s relevant to my audience? There’s always more. Don’t scratch the surface. Keep asking questions.

4. Rage against inertia. Inertia flies in the face of the Internet and everything it represents. Static, stuck, still. Inactivity in social channels simply doesn’t work.

5. Plant the seed. Deepak Chopra wrote, “In every seed is the promise of thousands of forests.” What seeds are between your ears or hiding in social channels that can be planted in fertile soil, nurtured and cultivated? looking up at trees

6. Ramp up your efforts. Don’t take the pathetic road to ‘Pity City.’ I speak from experience in suggesting it won’t serve you well. Sporadic articles, posts, slide decks or videos won’t suffice in keeping people engaged. Commit to these four-letter words and you’ll soon find increased energy and momentum when developing content and ideas.

Need an added content boost? If you would like to brainstorm with me about topics that are relevant to your demographic, sign up now for a discounted one hour telephone coaching session.

 

9 Social Media Topics to Explore in 2014

Wide shot of 628Energy and Momentum. That’s the theme I’ve adopted for 2014.  

The following nine topics recently crossed my radar.

Are you ruminating on website designs, crowdsourcing, podcasts, or agile social media? This post may spark the energy you need to get off the dime.  Translation: Read this and take action!

If you’re like me and are committed to learning (and applying) new practices and tools on a regular basis, you’ll want to bookmark this and share it with your likeminded friends.

1. Code? Say What?

Do Non-Techies Need to Know How to Code?

2. Mumbo Jumbo

10 Words Your Graphic Designer Wishes You Knew

 7 Google+ Terms You Should Know

3. Show Me the Money!

5 Tips on Crowdsourcing Your Brand’s Influence

4. A New Website? Yikes! 

The Complete Guide to Launching a New Website

 What Should I Put on the Homepage?

5. Can You Hear Me Now?

Give Voice to Your Apps: Why Speech is Replacing Touch on Smartphones

6. Video Killed the Radio Star…Or Not

Tools to Make a Killer Online Podcast  

 The Beginner’s Guide to Vine

7 Reasons to Use Multimedia When Communicating  

7. Market, Market, Market

How to Write Call-To-Action Copy that Gets People Clicking  

Build Experiences Instead of Products

How to Use Psychographics in Your Marketing  (Why buyers buy)

Work Hard on Content, But Focus on the Audience First  

8. More Social Networks? Eureka!

Could Pheed and Line Become Major Social Networks in 2014?

 9. The Times They Are a’Changin’ aka Flexibility

Agility is the Key to Business Success in 2014

 Nos. 1, 2, and 7 (Psychographics) are where I am starting.

Where are you putting your energy?  

 

7 reasons to use multimedia when communicating

corner picture at folawnsThese are numbers that PR and marketing professionals simply can’t ignore.

PR Newswire and PR News recently conducted a survey of how companies are usingor not usingmultimedia in press releases and other communication.

The research finds:  

  • 56 percent of PR and marketing executives rarely or sometimes include multimedia in press releases
  • 9 percent of respondents always feature multimedia elements and rich media in their press releases
  • 75 percent of those surveyed plan to increase visual storytelling in 2014

 

I was invited to discuss these findings on a webinar with Michael Pranikoff, Global Director, Emerging Media at PR Newswire  and Matthew Schwartz, Group Editor at PR News.   

Here are seven takeaways from our conversation:

Matthew: There’s a big appetite out there to include visual elements and rich media in press releases and other communication channels. The survey offers encouragement but there’s still that chasm between the desire among PR and marketing executives to use visuals and the challenges of budgets and resources. It’s really finding the link between what visual storytelling can do to enhance your communication and public relations while making the case to the C-suite for increasing budgets for these kinds of channels.

Michael: PR Newswire has looked at 60,000 pieces of content that’s been syndicated over the past couple of years. You get almost 10 times the amount of views when using multimedia than just doing a plain text news release.

Matthew: You would think right now that the static press release would be antiquated in that you have an oncoming generation of decision makers who have been conditioned to the visual and multimedia elements in a release, in a piece of text, in a brochure, or in an annual report. For those companies who continue to distribute plain text and vanilla press releases, I don’t know how much those companies are on the right side of history.

Susan: Our minds think in pictures, not words. That’s why this is so important. Communicators must convey our messages through a blend of pictures and words, not one or the other.

Michael: Layering video in any kind of media leads to an emotional resonance and component that people are looking for in brands…audiences are craving this and gravitating to visual.

Matthew: PR people should start thinking about their own behavior as it relates to video…They go through their workday and they tend to click on a video that caught their attention. It’s not unlike your customers and prospects. They are doing the same things. It’s really changing a behavior.

Susan: Business communicators must understand how their clients and prospects are consuming information. It’s not about how you want to deliver the content. It’s about how the audience wants to receive it and engage with it.

Matthew also notes that a B2B product or service that may seem bland or dry on paper can come to life with visual elements.

The three of us agreed there are many opportunities to repurpose content that contains visuals.

To listen to the free webinar, visit CommProBiz.