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Why it pays to admit you don't know

May 13, 2014 by Andy Bounds

Why it pays to admit you don't know/ 3D graphic illuminated question mark{{}}So, what’s the most useful business technique I could show you?

Well, I don’t know. It depends on all sorts of things — your personality, your skills, your priorities, your current challenges. But if I could just ask you a few quick questions, I’d be able to tell you exactly what you most want to know.

Using the words “I don’t know” in response to someone’s question can often help you. It gives you the chance to ask more questions first — ones that will show you the best way to answer their original question. It also stops you saying the wrong things or losing the power in a conversation.

Here are other situations where saying “I don’t know” could be extremely helpful:

  • When you’re asked “how much do you charge for X?”, say: “I don’t know yet. It depends what you want. Let me ask a couple of quick questions so I fully understand. I’ll then be able to tell you the exact price.”
  • When someone says “what will you cover in your document or presentation or workshop?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends what you want the reader or audience to do after it. Let’s discuss that first, and I’ll then be able to answer your question.”
  • If a friend is going for a job interview, and asks “what should I focus on?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends what the interviewer is most interested in. Have you asked enough questions to find that out yet?”
  • When pitching for work, and a colleague asks you “what are our best selling points here?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends on what the prospect will find most valuable. And, to establish that, we’re going to have to ask them more questions.”
  • One of the questions people often ask me is: “’I’m going to an important meeting. Should I use PowerPoint or not?” My answer always is “I don’t know. It depends what you’re looking to achieve, and what your colleagues want. Have you asked them yet?”

Take charge of the conversation

All these examples help you regain control of the conversation. After all, if you answer their question before you have enough information, you’ll be guessing. And guessing increases the chance of your answer being too long or irrelevant.

This is especially important for people who sell. The instant you give your price before discussing your value, people think you’re too expensive. They’re already thinking, “can you reduce it?”.

A price doesn’t make sense on its own. Here’s a question for you: “Is £10,000 expensive?” It’s impossible to say, isn’t it? It depends what it’s for. It’s cheap for a Bentley; but exorbitant for a sandwich. So you first have to discuss what they’re buying, and establish the value they perceive is in it. And the only way to do this is? Ask them what they perceive as valuable.

Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

Posted in Sales | 1 comment

How to pack a punch with your online content

May 08, 2014 by Sharon Tanton

How to pack a punch with your online content/ Box training and punching bag{{}}It’s good to be able to vary your copy style — different styles for different tasks.

Deep level service pages or white papers, for example, are a place where people will be looking for detail, and will expect to find copy that lays out your process or explains the nitty gritty of how your products work.

Your home page and blogs, however, are a different matter. Here you’re after copy that grabs people quickly, and packs a real punch.

So how do you do that?

Address the reader

The quickest way to pack a punch with your copy is to address the reader directly. Putting “you” into whatever you’re writing is your short circuit to making a connection. How do you feel about that? More connected, I’ll bet than if I had written how does the person reading this feel about that?

Direct from me to you is the shortest way to hit home fast. Imagine your ideal reader, and forget about everything else, just write it to them.

Vary sentence length

Short sentences are another way to keep people moving so quickly through the copy in a way that doesn’t feel like a long hard read. Keep sentences short. That way people won’t drift off. They’ll stick with you.

Of course not every sentence needs to be super short. You want to pack a punch, not make the reader feel under fire. So vary the sentence length sometimes, so it feels conversational, but not like gunfire.

Get active

Active verbs make writing punchier. Seeing, running, jumping are all pacier than saw, ran or jumped. Similarly cutting out unnecessary “wills” and “cans” make your writing more direct.  So don’t say, we can deliver solutions. Say, we deliver solutions. (Except avoid the word solutions at all costs. Find some real words that describe things people can picture instead).

Add colour

Metaphors and analogies can help pack power into your writing. I could tell you that last night in an Aberdeen hotel surprised me, because there seemed to be no women anywhere, except those working as waitresses, and that all the men seemed to be sizing each other up, and you might get the picture. If I told you it was like the Wild West, you’d get a quicker and sharper image of the place, and that picture will stay with you for longer. Metaphors add colour and vision to whatever you’re writing.

Knock them out!

To summarise, the key to writing copy that packs a punch is to make it resonate with the reader. Put them at the heart of whatever you’re writing, keep the writing pacey and colourful, and get creative with your comparisons. It will knock them out!

Sharon Tanton is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut, creative director at Valuable Content and co-author, with Sonja Jefferson, of Valuable Content Marketing.

What is responsive design and do I need it?

May 07, 2014 by Sarah Orchard

What is responsive design and do I need it?/responsive web design word on slate{{}}There is no doubt about it, the unrelenting rise of the smartphone and tablet cannot be ignored. Your customers are constantly on the go and being able to access their life in the palm of their hand makes it all a bit easier.

But does your website do the same for them? Have you tried to undertake your main customer website activities on a smartphone or tablet? Was it as easy as on a desktop device?

For many businesses, the answer is simply “no”.

Smartphone proliferation

A recent article by eMarketer indicated that in 2012 the global smartphone audience surpassed the one billion mark and will reach 1.75 billion in 2014 and continue to rise.

By 2017, smartphone penetration among mobile phone users globally is likely to be approximately 50%. Recent Deloitte research stated that the number of smartphone users in the UK has reached 72% — that means that seven out of ten of your customers may be viewing your website on a smartphone.

Will they like what they see? And how do you know whether mobile customers are important to your business?

If you look at your Google Analytics data you will see the constant rise of your mobile device visitor (you do check your GA reports, don’t you?). I’m certainly seeing this pattern across the website stats for many of my clients. Some business sectors are seeing larger shifts to mobile device visitors than others but I can assure you that every business is seeing these percentages on the up.

The case for responsive design

If you have a website that has a transactional element to it — so your user needs to complete a purchase or a task, like registration or sign up — then I think you need to consider developing a responsive design website. This is the gold standard in mobile web and means that no matter what device is used to access your site it will shrink and adjust how it displays content, making the user experience easy and enjoyable.

If yours is a brochure-style website, you can probably get away with what you have for the moment. However, I would highly recommend you test it on tablets and smartphone devices to see how it renders and if it is still usable. I have seen some absolute shockers in terms of what can happen to your beautiful website when viewed on a smartphone! If it’s unusable for your customer you are risking losing out on business.

Should I get a mobile app?

I would recommend a responsive design website as a minimum and then consider if any part of your customer journey is suitable for translating into an app. Apps have many advantages — generally they do not need an internet connection, the user interface can be streamlined, and you can focus the customer on the task in hand.

But be careful not to get drawn into developing an app simply for the sake of it. You don’t necessarily need one, they’re not cheap (around £5,000 upwards) and they have ongoing development costs, so it isn’t a one-off investment.

As with all marketing tools, it depends on your target audience. Find out first how your customers behave online — are they increasingly accessing your site via their mobile devices. This should drive your decision to develop a more mobile/tablet-friendly online presence to aid website conversion and sales growth.

Sarah Orchard is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a consultant at Orchard Marketing Associates.

Further reading


Why your social media regime needs time and discipline

May 06, 2014 by Grant Leboff

Why your social media regime needs time and discipline/ Athletic woman at the gym{{}}Business use of social media reminds me a little of the arrival of the mobile phone. While embraced as exciting by some, at the beginning, many found the idea of a mobile phone abhorrent. “Why would I want people to be able to contact me everywhere I go?” was a usual retort I often heard. Of course, over time usage grew and now most people would find it hard to live without their mobile phone.

There now seems to be a general acceptance among companies that social media is a vital marketing tool. And eventually companies will not be able to live without it at all. I think we are close to that situation already, although many organisations have failed to realise that this is the case.

Social media takes time

However, while most businesses are embracing social media, many are disappointed with the results they are getting. Having created their Twitter, Facebook or Google+ accounts, they simply cannot understand why customers are not coming to them in droves. It is akin to signing up for gym membership and then waking up the next morning disappointed that you don’t feel healthier and you still aren’t sporting a six pack.

The benefits obtained by going to the gym take time. They are a result of using the equipment correctly and planning a proper regime of exercise, which is adhered to and monitored over time. Social media is no different. The benefits to a business will take time to appear. They will be a result of using the correct social platforms for that particular organisation, and strategically planning and measuring success.

While more customers and greater client retention may be outcomes that result from effective use of social media, they are not the main objectives you should be concentrating on. Quite simply, social media is highly effective in two areas.

Social engagement

Firstly, social media is an excellent engagement tool. It’s a way of obtaining attention in the marketplace and keeping it. However, this can only occur if companies provide their audience with value. Whether this is interesting information, easy shortcuts to get things done, games or competitions with great prizes, providing people with an interesting stage to voice their own opinions or making people laugh — your audience must get something out of the exchange.

The use of the word exchange is deliberate, because that is the nature of social media. In the first instance a company must provide value. However, social media should not be used as a broadcast mechanism. It is social. Therefore, when people take the time to contribute comments, ask questions and get involved, companies need to respond and make the communication two-way.

The reason why this engagement is so valuable to a business today, is that the most precious element in marketing now is to obtain people’s attention. In this multi-channel digital world, it is hard to get and easy to lose. The most successful organisations, however, have the attention of their marketplace. Today, before a company achieves share of wallet they need share of time. Social media can deliver this.

Customer experience

The second aspect in which social media can play a big part is in delivering a great customer experience. Many firms can no longer demarcate themselves by what they do. In the experience economy, the opportunity to differentiate comes from how a company delivers.

Whether it is meeting customer’s service demands, allowing them to have a voice in the development of new products and services or enabling them to share their own knowledge and practices with others, social media provides businesses with a fantastic opportunity for companies to enrich the experience they give to customers.

So how are you currently using social media? Are you trying to generate engagement and enhance the experience you provide customers or are you frustrated that having posted your profile on LinkedIn you haven’t yet received one enquiry?

Now, if you excuse me, I am off to sign up for some violin lessons. I should be a virtuoso by the morning, right?

Grant LeBoff is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and CEO of the Sticky Marketing Club.

The ten biggest communication errors

May 01, 2014 by Andy Bounds

The ten biggest communication errors/ Borred businesspeople at presentation{{}}Here are the ten communication “errors” that I see most often. Do any feel depressingly familiar?

  1. Back-to-back meetings. When there are no breaks in between meetings, when exactly are people supposed to prepare or follow-up? I guess there are only two answers: at home or never.
  2. Pointless communications. You know all those communications — the reports, meetings, conference calls, emails — that achieve nothing? The ones that nobody would mind if they stopped?
  3. Too irrelevant. Sometimes you do need to communicate. But messages often contain content you just don’t need — pointless agenda items, unnecessary chapters, too many background slides and so on.
  4. Too boring. Ever been on a conference call that was tedious? A meeting that dragged on? Presentations where the presenter read their wordy slides to you?
  5. Too long. Preparation isn’t finished when your communication is as thorough and long as possible. It’s finished when it’s as short as possible.
  6. Too selfish. You know the type of thing… “Here’s my content, with all the detail I care about. My time is so important that I haven’t had time to remove the slides you don’t need. And now I need you to do X. And I mean right now”.
  7. Wrong channels. People often email when they should chat. They hold big meetings to discuss topics that should have been done one-to-one.
  8. Wrong person. When Person A wants to impact Person B, they should speak to them directly. Asking Person C to act as a middle-man is rarely as effective. It dilutes A’s passion and clarity; plus, B’s questions are rarely answered as well/at all.
  9. Poor cascades. One exception to the previous point: middle-men can be good for cascading info from on high. But only when the middle-man adds something to the message — their own experiences, personalising it for his team. If he adds nothing, he serves minimal purpose in the chain. In fact, he can make things worse if he does something as dismissive as: “FYI — read this”.
  10. Onerous pre-reads. Giving people too much to read for a meeting is… well, too much. The pre-reads are supposed to enable decisions, not be a rant about everything.

Do these things happen in your business? If so, the solutions are simple:

Back-to-back meetings — stop having them, finish early.

Pointless communication — stop creating yours. Stop reading others.

Too irrelevant — when preparing, ask people what content they want you to include.

Too boring — always ask yourself: “what can I do to make this more interesting?” and include it (you’d be amazed how rarely people do this).

Too long — put detail in the Appendix and irrelevancies in the bin.

Too selfish — look at your communication through the recipient’s eyes. If you don’t think they’ll like it, they won’t.

Wrong channels — consider the best channel for this communication; don’t just do “what we normally do”.

Wrong person — go to Person B, not through Person C (and, whenever possible, don’t let other people use you as a middle-man).

Poor cascades — don’t include/be a middle-man unless the middle-man adds value.

Onerous pre-reads — strip them right back. Aim for one page; two as a max. Remember: they’re not just reading yours.

Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

Social media - above or below the line?

April 30, 2014 by Rachel Miller

Social media - above or below the line?/ Social Media{{}}In today’s online marketing world, I’ve been wondering if the old marketing divide — above or below the line — still applies. Are these distinctions still relevant or has the line blurred?

Back in the day, above the line advertising — in print, on billboards and on air — was all about driving awareness and brand-building. Meanwhile, direct marketing — such as mailshots and telemarketing — was all about personalisation and conversions.

Today, email newsletters and social media straddle this line completely — they allow us to talk to the world and have a one-to-one conversation. Online marketing has to achieve both widespread awareness and real results — all at the same time. So, is there such a thing as above or below the line anymore?

Are you talking to me?

Recently, I got an email from a business contact asking me if I wanted to get together for a catch-up. The subject line had my name in it and the title asked if we could meet up. But as I read on, I realised the email was a standard (albeit personalised) message that had been sent to lots of people.

This is a classic case of blurring the lines. Yes, email can be a form of direct marketing but when you send a standard letter to a group of people you are no longer marketing one-to-one. You are broadcasting. And your message must reflect that. You can’t have it both ways.

It’s exactly the same when I get an email from someone who I don’t know from Adam asking me to connect with them on LinkedIn. It looks like a personal message but the truth is that this person has probably sent hundreds if not thousands of these requests. They are broadcasting. And I hit “ignore”.

Broadcasting is not dead

Twitter allows you to respond directly to people, retweet their messages and build individual relationships — all while sharing your thoughts with a larger group.

So is Twitter above the line or below the line? The fact is that it’s a mixture. To get it right you need to apply the rules of above the line advertising and adhere to new, more personal, social mores.

It’s the same with email marketing. If you send a newsletter to a niche group, you can personalise it, target your messages and use a friendly, conversational tone of voice. But you know, and your recipients know, that you are broadcasting. And there’s nothing wrong with that — unless the one person you really want to reach would rather hear from you directly.

Businesses once spent shed-loads of money devising, testing and rolling out ad campaigns that would raise their profile and build their brand. Now they can broadcast thousands of online messages every year — and the main cost is time.

At the same time, though, social media “broadcasting” can be thoughtless and boring. It’s so easy that many businesses forget to be strategic.

The online evolution

But attitudes to social networks are changing. There was a time when businesses, much like teenagers, sought to attract as large a following as possible on Twitter and Facebook — going after so-called “vanity metrics”.

But it can be tricky to hit the right note with large and disparate groups of followers. As Jonah Peretti, ceo and co-founder of Buzzfeed has pointed out, bland messages to these general audiences tend to get a “so what?” response. You can read more about these trends in this blog by Angela Everitt.

Recent research by Pitney Bowes has found that 60% of UK consumers would abandon social media sites like Facebook if mass marketing were to bombard their personal wall.

In addition, the arrival of “dark sharing” or private messaging seems to support the idea that social media users don’t necessarily want all their online social interactions to take place in public.

It seems that after the initial attraction of the “above the line” broadcasting possibilities offered by the likes of Twitter and Facebook, “below the line” opportunities — targeting messages, attracting niche followings, building one-to-one relationships — are now coming to the fore.

There’s no doubt that online marketing platforms straddle the old marketing divide. But valuable lessons learned over many years around above and below the line marketing are still relevant today. The media has changed but perhaps your messages — no matter how you send them — should sit firmly on one side of the line or the other.

Rachel Miller is the editor of Marketing Donut.

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