Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Storytelling Podcasts and Internal Communications

Newsflash: Storytelling is popular buzzword in marketing and internal communications circles. It's also a very effective technique. Sadly, when we talk about storytelling we tend to be a little light on examples.   #ironic

Listen & Learn: Storytelling Podcast Series

From flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenamesmagenta/5832764969
Generally I prefer to read things rather than listen to podcasts, but recently I spent some time with Shawn Callahan's Putting Stories to Work series. (More accurately: I listened to the first of the 19-episode series.) 

Callahan is enthusiastic about storytelling and insists it's effective. I appreciate his enthusiasm and believe it's well-founded. That said, the first episode, at least, seemed a lot like a spoken-word version of a long-form sales letter. 

I'm going to assume the first episode serves as an introduction. In it, Callahan says the podcast series offers more and different stories about storytelling than are in the book, Putting Stories to Work

Perhaps I'll return to it at some point; I like stories and stories about Storytelling would be right up my alley. In the meantime, here are some of Callahan's tips and my reactions to them:
  • Don't use the S-Word? Callahan says while it's smart to start a meeting with a story, you should not say, "I want to tell you a story." Doing so makes the audience uncomfortable, reacting at least subconsciously by thinking, "what are we, children?" or "do we have time for this?" Instead, Callahan says your intro should engage naturally.  "I want to tell you about something important that happened yesterday..." is an example. In fact, Callahan goes so far as to say that we should "not use the S- word." My take: I think this one needs a little testing. Some people like stories. And many audiences are very practiced audiences (sadly, meetings suck up a lot of our time). So "let me tell you a story," might be the verbal clue to your audience that says, "here's a real-world example - take notes." Also, I've heard that it's good to make an audience uncomfortable - just a little - assuming you can save your listeners from their discomfort and bring them back to a relaxed state (because if they're not relaxed, they're not receptive). 
  • Do use traditional storytelling conventions. Well, by all means - employee the character development, narrative and tension necessary to make your story a story! 
  • Don't write down your stories, just take a few notes so your telling is more spontaneous. Well, maybe for the actual delivery, that will work. But if you don't have formal training as a speaker, practicing with a script is pretty important. (And of course, PRACTICING is very important.) Speaking of speaking experience, Toastmasters is hands-down the best place to get that. 

Stories Sell and Teach

While stories can be helpful in the sales process, I find they often take more time than prospects are willing to give - with the notable exception of a new-product introduction where the product really IS new, and the super-sticky-sweet Extra gum love story of Sarah and Juan.

So my advice is don't use a story just to use a story. (Duh.) Marketing is judged by results; if it doesn't sell (eventually), then it doesn't work.

One place storytelling (and even role-playing) works great is in education - in the business world, internal communications types are dropping the "S-word" liberally. And to his credit, all of Callahan's storytelling techniques (that I listened to, anyway) apply as well to internal communications and training as they do to sales/marketing situations.

The bottom line: stay tuned! Storytelling is here to stay.

Have you heard all of Callahan's storytelling podcasts? What did I miss? I'd love to hear from you! If you have something to add about storytelling and would like to see your guest blog published here (!!) please contact me

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Small Business Marketing: Unmined Data is Content, Customer Service Gold

I've worked with enough small businesses to make a generalization: most of them feel a little left out when we marketing types talk about mining the data and analytics and stuff. They're like, "yeah but that's for Pepsi-sized companies."

Not really.  The cool thing about data is that it doesn't have to be big to be helpful.

Marketing is for all businessesSearch Engine Land neatly outlined 5 under-utilized marketing strategies in an article late last year. The three I found most useful for one small business I was working with at the time:
  1. Use your "unmined" data and 
  2. Spend a few minutes with Google+ 
  3. Check on your online reviews
The primary challenge of marketing in a very small business is just having time to think about marketing.  Small companies or organizations - let's say those with 20 or fewer employees - are often years from even writing job descriptions for their workers, let alone having a marketing position.


A little creativity (and a serious desire to grow, either size- or profit-wise) can give you major marketing results. Here's what that might look like, and what it might mean, for your small business marketing efforts.

Unmined Data? We Don't Even Look at Our Own Website, For God's Sake

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, 89.6% of businesses in the US have 20 or fewer employees. (For entrepreneurs and solopreneurs the figure is nearly 98%.) (Wow.) (Wow!)

So how many have a marketing staff? One employee? How 'bout a marketing budget? The right answer is not many. And, not enough. But this is reality, folks - running a business ain't easy. Hiring a marketing person, or managing marketing plans yourself, often takes a back seat to the reality of running a business. 

On the other hand, marketing is vital to your small business if you want it to survive, grow, and thrive.

The good news: there's a middle ground.

Don't fear your website analytics! 
Use what you know about your customers and 

Know Thy Customer, Know Thy Business, Know Thy Marketing Consultant

There are flexible marketing firms that will offer expertise on an hour-by-hour basis, and many consultants and small boutique firms are happy to help on a project basis.

When your small business is hiring marketing help, the first thing you need to know is what you can do in house and what you actually WILL DO in house. Sure, you can assign your customer service/do-everything frontline employees to update your social media channels, but can they really manage that and provide excellent customer service?

(Hint: the answer is usually "no." If you think the answer is "yes," then give your staffers a fighting chance by streamlining your operations and providing them with a checklist of posts to make each week and each month, which will serve as an editorial calendar.)

The second thing to consider as a small business looking for marketing help is, do you have the right marketing person or firm? Your marketing consultant or firm doesn't necessarily need to know everything about your industry, but they'll certainly need to understand how your business operates. There's no sense wasting your money on a firm that wants to get you into Groupons if your customers are other businesses. Or don't use smart phones.

How much should your small business spend on marketing, anyway? 

...And Know Thy Social Media Channels

The Search Engine Land article I referenced above recommended spending some time on your Google products page(s) and mining online reviews for marketing data and content.

The small company I worked with last winter got little action from Google+, however, it got a healthy number of calls and searches for directions from the sleeping giant of social media. So spending a little time with Google+ was worthwhile.

Also, while it had never solicited customer reviews, there were several nice, positive reviews out there in internet land. Sifting through them, I was able to "mine" some "data" and use it to revise some web and create some new posts on our existing channels.

So, take that, Big Data!

Last Word on Customer Data

Even if your marketing budget consists entirely of free media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), you can make the time investment really pay off. (Because there's free, as in no-money-required, and then there's the real cost, which is time-spent-on-one-thing-is-opportunity-lost-elsewhere.)

Mining your customer data can be as simple as jotting down notes at the end of the day or end of a shift about key phrases (especially objections and buying rationale) that you hear from your customers. It can also include

  • Perusing industry blogs and Q&A forums for current trends and pain points
  • Watching the competition with an eye to what they're doing and not doing (unmet needs = service opportunity)
  • Calling or emailing a handful of customers each week, just to keep in touch. 
Use the wisdom collected in those exercises to create your social media posts, and new product offerings. You might be surprised how quickly you see an improvement in your response rates (and sales!) when you start incorporating your customers' voices in your marketing efforts. 

Then, at your next small business event, you can drop into conversation about how you've increased engagement by incorporating the VOC. Go ahead. Brag a little. You've earned it. 

Then take the next step:
Get more traction with online reviews and other under-utilized social media channels

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Will I Ever Have to Write an Essay in the Real World? Hello, College Scholarships!

I've argued that the ability to write essays is actually useful in real life. (More so than calculus, even.) Whether you agree or not is no matter - if you're a college-bound student, you need to write essays. Lots of them!

Here are two essay contests with deadlines fast-approaching. Have fun.

Write a Letter to the Number 5       $1500 scholarship opportunity

Entries due 5/31/16

Do-over Scholarship      $1500 scholarship opportunity

Entries due 6/30/16

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Still Breaking the Blogging Rules (among others)

I've written recently about white papers that aren't quite white papers, and about landing pages that don't follow the rules. Crazy? Only if you think common sense is.

Folks, articles with scary headlines about content such as '5 THINGS YOU MUST DO TO GET READERS' should be taken with a grain of salt. If you know your business and your brain has had the benefit of a cup of coffee, you can make your own decisions about content marketing's MUST-FOLLOW RULES.

Below, a post I wrote about breaking the blogging rules, way back in 2014. I reviewed it and deem the info still worthy today.

The bottom line? Your content needs to work for you and your business. Consider those "rules" a list of suggestions and if you need help getting your message across, work with a writer who gets your business. < shameless plug

Excerpt from Blog Rules to Know and Break, originally published in October 2014

The Steveology Blog is always a great resource, and I found a series of interviews with Lou Hoffman was especially so. My favorite: part 3, about storytelling, highlighting some "rules" of corporate blogging that many organizations break or ignore.

And there I go again, breaking the rules. See what I did there? You and I know that you're not supposed to put an outside link in the first line of your blog. *Sigh* Go ahead, click away laughing - but know why I do this: I think writing should be more useful to readers than it is to the writer - in this case, me.

Which may explain why I don't just blog for a living. But I digress.

Engagement isn't easy, nor is it overrated

Your corporate blog needs readers and you need patience and commitment to get them.

Just because monkeys can write blogs and many blogging tools are free doesn't mean it's a good idea for monkeys to have blogs. *Ahem* Sorry, my snarkiness is showing.

If you've been charged with writing a corporate blog or any kind, don't fall into the content trap and think your task is all about writing. Blogging is copywriting, and copywriting is marketing. Or that word no one likes to say out loud anymore: advertising.

Copywriting vs. Content 

Copywriting, of course, is not just writing, or even storytelling. It's advertising. Meaning, before you write, you have to know your product (or service), your target audience, and how to reach them quickly and effectively.

Sounds a lot like content management, doesn't it?  Coincidence? I don't think so. Nor is that external link placed at the end of this post. Another rule arbitrarily broken? Or valuable content, offered in trust? It's your call.