Archive for August, 2013

Know Thy Audience

A friend of ours – educated, articulate, and accomplished in his field – recently sent us an article he’d written for a major trade publication. He was justifiably proud. The article was well written and was getting some real attention online (judging by the comments section). But… we couldn’t read it. Even though he’s our friend. Even though he took a highly-technical subject and wrote about it in (mostly) plain English, we couldn’t get through all 20 pages. We just weren’t that interested.

This is actually a good thing.

Because the article wasn’t written for us. It was written for our friend’s professional peers. Written to be engaging in a general way, sure, but also written to address the specific needs, concerns, ideas and innovations of one industry. The article did exactly what it was supposed to. And by shutting us out spoke more clearly to those who were “in.”

Here’s a good rule of thumb for all marketing activities: that one should learn the general best practices for any medium (clarity, brevity, emotional appeal), but also learn the peculiarities of the audience. Sometimes you have to actually break the “rules” of good marketing (designed to appeal to people in general) in order to produce good marketing materials (designed to appeal to specific groups).

An extreme example: there are videos out there that seem to do everything “wrong.” Long, long-winded, highly-technical, and visually uninteresting, they nonetheless get the job done in industries where such prosaic qualities are expected and embraced. Like Government. (If you’re trying to land a government contract, video with an edgy, exciting, startup-style vibe would be a bad idea. Unadorned, competent, and qualified is probably the better approach.)

Not saying that you should go out and make something deliberately boring or deliberately alienating. Only that there’s a difference between interesting and effective. And the two aren’t always complementary.

Our work tends toward the left side, but the right certainly has its uses. And yes, there are ways to seem both engaging and competent/qualified to a certain core group, but you can't be all things to all people all the time. Know thy audience.

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Don’t Be That Guy

The quickest way to sell is asking someone if they want to buy. There’s just no way around this essential truth. In a one-for-one match up, direct sales contact will beat networking, speaking, blogging, PR, promotions and advertising every time. Sooner or later, you have to ask the question.

But that doesn’t mean marketing and publicity are useless.

Instead, it helps to think of them as supporting functions. They’re the things that help move the client or customer toward an eventual “yes.” The scaffolding of recognition, trust, and excitement that successful sales require.

Pyramid (obviously) – Moving up gets you closer to the dollar, but each section supports the ones above. Ex: traditional ad stuff like websites / marketing collateral can be used as supporting material for presentations, while speaking publicly helps you network, etc. And yes we used MSPaint for this.

Without that scaffolding, asking for sales is a little like asking strangers for their phone numbers. You might get a bite now and then — say, one out of every hundred — but you haven’t earned it. The resulting relationship is apt to be short-term, awkward, and transactional. And you’re going to get a reputation as a skeezy, sales-y type.

So… build up that scaffolding. Use video and other tactics to pitch your community outreach programs, or to educate your users; to let people know who you are, and establish yourself as a credible, generous, connected leader. Then use it to ask your question or pitch your service.

Nobody wants to be “that guy.” And nobody credible wants to do business with “that company.”

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The Power of the Frame

Social scientists know about the power of the frame.

In experiments on perception, they’ll show two groups the same video of a car accident, then ask each how fast they thought the cars were going. One group they’ll ask: “How fast were the cars were the cars going when they contacted each other?” The other group they’ll ask: “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”

The phrasing here completely changes the way people perceive the accident (saying “smashed” makes them inflate their speed estimate by 33%).

We didn't "eat" so much as "devour" this pizza.

Like it? Here’s another:

Tell half of a class that an incoming guest lecturer is “rather cold” and tell the other half “he’s a very warm person.” They’ll have completely different reactions to seeing the same lecture.

This is a powerful effect, and sort of terrifying. It means that our reputations precede us in a meaningful (and often unfair) way. It also means that we can change the way others think of us (and the way we think of ourselves), by simply re-framing what we do.

So if you have a reputation for being a difficult employer, make sure you talk about your high standards. If you’re consistently a number two provider, tell us why being the underdog makes you better (more nimble, more innovative, more willing to do extra for the clients you get).

It’s a mistake to ignore your flaws entirely. To do a propaganda video that completely whitewashes your reputation, and makes you into something you’re not. Viewers are getting more sophisticated all the time, and it doesn’t really take much to see through such blatant posturing anyway (the only people fooled by propaganda are the ones who want to be fooled).

But re-framing works. For you and for your audience. When your obstacles stop being your “Achilles’ Heel” and start being your “Mount Everest,” they cease seeming like obstacles at all. They become opportunities. And inspiring ones, at that.

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Keep It Brief

Always. Always. Always.

And not only because attention spans are supposed to be getting shorter (33% of viewers abandon an online video by the 30 second mark, 44% by the 60 second mark) but because no one remembers what you say in a long video. They might remember the first couple things, and they’ll certainly remember the last. But the meaty middle? Forget it. Your viewers certainly will.

This is due to the serial position effect, a reality scientists were describing long before the age of A.D.D. The simple fact is: no one has a perfect memory, although our memory for first impressions and closing arguments is pretty darn good.

So a graph of “stickiness” as a function of content placement might look like this:

The gray middle is the place of hazy recall, of low impact, of washed-out content and wasted marketing effort. In a 7 minute video, it represents perhaps the middle 5. Like it? Neither do we. But it’s the nature of the brains we’re trying to sell to.

So cut out the gray middle — it’s useless anyway — and acknowledge that you can’t say it all at once. Break your message into smaller, two- or three-minute chunks. Give your audience time to absorb and reflect.*

And try not to be too caught up in the throes of composition. Remember: Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan can sell a 3-hour movie because they’re selling a movie. You’re selling a message. Keep it brief.


*This is what we did with Cool Clubs — created several short clips highlighting their main features/benefits, instead of one epic video advertisement. The result is shorter, more easily-digestible information, plus the ability for users to self-select, watching only the bits they’re interested in. See our portfolio for more.

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