The Slippery Slogan Slope

Whether you use audio or text, communication is one of the most important aspects of your business and directly impacts your success. I can’t tell you how many times I personally have clicked away from a page and potential purchase because it just didn’t have the information I needed to establish if it was the right purchase for me. If it’s a serious or big or necessary purchase that can’t be put off I’ll do the research and visit a couple other websites to find the answers I need to decide if I’m going to make the purchase or not. Often it’s a case of lacking information, but all too frequently the information that’s provided is confusing, contradictory or just plain strange.

I read an article recently by Brooke B. Sellas about 3 marketing slogans she’d change (Apartments.Com, Time Warner, Victoria’s Secret) and I agree with her thoughts on some of the issues that the current slogans have. Slogans change all the time, especially when they’re not central to the brand. But even logos and names which are typically more permanent have been known to change as the business grows and develops.  Reading the article by Sellas got me thinking about some other marketing communications that aren’t helpful to the brand either.

One headline that I recently asked “what does that even mean?” about is a credit card offer that reads “Another credit card that’s not just another card.” Another card that’s not another card? Why not lead with a line about specifically why it’s better/different than some other cards like about the best mileage deal they offer, best cashback program they have, lowest fees they have or something else that sets them apart, instead of trying word soup. Another of my favorite confusing lines are the drug commercials that say “if you’re allergic to x drug, don’t take it.” How do you know you’re allergic to it? Do you have to take it first? Why not just say that you’ll be tested to confirm you’re not allergic?

I have no issue with having a headline or slogan to help you stand out, but I think you get the point that it’s a really easy way to screw up your brand and create a disconnect with your clients and customers. If you know that slogan or those first lines are your opportunity to really catch the attention of your potential buyer, why aren’t we more attentive to what they communicate (and what they say about us as a business)? Don’t choose a headline or slogan just because you think you need one, invest instead in doing your very best to communicate specifics to potential customers.

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Finishing the Thought

My partner and I have been having a bit of a water issue lately so I’m really keeping on top of the weather and paying attention to when they’re calling for rain. So the other morning I was telling him that I had gone online and checked the weather for the next few days and there was rain predicted on whichever days it was predicted. And he interrupted me at what he thought was the end of my sentence and thought and said something about the likelihood of the rain and then when he was done I finished what I had been trying to tell him.

There was no argument and no issues and certainly wasn’t a big deal, but it got me thinking because I had all the information and data to tell him yet I wasn’t able to finish the thought before he jumped in with his questions and thoughts. This is fine when a couple or a group are trying to brainstorm or in a situation where many voices is a good thing. But in this case it wasn’t a good thing because I was going to address exactly what he brought up before he interrupted me. This is one reason why I like technology like texting, messaging and emails which allow you to get out a full thought. There’s no possible interruptions, you can put out your full thought (hopefully a well thought-out thought) and they then have the opportunity to send back an equally well considered thought, hopefully not one stuck on reaction.

That said, something is often lost when you’re talking virtually and not in person.  Some conversations deserve the respect of being done in person and I know how hard it is to keep your mouth closed when someone is talking about something and you have an idea or a question or think they’re missing something or are wrong about something. It’s one reason why I keep paper and pen next to me at all times at my desk, use a pad when talking with clients, and even suggest to clients to use it as a tool when they’re having (tough) conversations with a team member at work or even with their partner at home. That way the thought or idea gets written down and can be brought up when there’s a true space in conversation and not as an interruption which can escalate the conversation. It also gives you a chance to reflect before just saying something, which means you can hopefully avoid saying something cruel or hurtful.

I love when someone has excitement for life, or a story they want to tell, an idea they want to share, or has great information to share. But it can be easy to get caught up in that excitement and be tripping over each other to get the words out.  That excitement can also cause some serious damage if we’re not careful and don’t take the time to think and truly converse with each other by both speaking and listening.  Will you join me in being a better listener and communicator this week?

What Kind of Content Are You Creating?

Last week I shared a little about my passion for reading, and while I’ve read thousands of books there are only a couple hundred that want to read more than once, and even fewer than that that I would be happy to pick up any and every day or night. The fact is that most of us keep picking up the next book or TV show or blog post or video, we don’t typically do repeats. And we don’t have to because there’s so much new content of all forms being added to the world on a daily basis. I add several forms of content to the world on a daily and weekly basis between social content (60+ pins and posts per week), blog posts (7 or so per week), and newsletters (4 per week). Whether you add more or less to the world each week, you’re probably adding content too.

Recently I read a blog post that raised the question of creating memorable content, which got me thinking about the whole content story and all the pros and cons that go along with it. I support businesses and people creating content and sharing it with the world, I think it’s good to share your voice, opinions and create a community where people can learn from each other, encourage each other, and grow personally. All of the content we’re creating is providing ideas, answers, insights, inspiring us to ask questions, and challenging us to question how we’ve always done things. I do think we need to be careful about passing judgment on the value of someone’s content, what may not be valuable to you would be valuable to someone else.

So what about the question of memorable and viral? Well, I have several people whose content I always look forward to. Their content isn’t necessarily memorable and I don’t think they go viral often or ever, but it’s always good reading/watching, I always get something out of it and I always look forward to their next publication. Back to the point, viral is a great way to get your content and you in front of tons of people for a very short time, the hope would be that you have something to convert them into so that you can continue to build a relationship long after the content is no longer viral. And as far as memorable, I certainly can’t remember everything I’ve watched or seen, and as we add more content to the world in all forms it will be harder for it to be memorable.

So I propose that instead of working towards memorable or viral content, that we instead work towards second reads and watches, and consistently deliver goodness. Why? Because with this shift to second (and beyond) views we’re increasing the chance that people will remember us (and our content), we’ll know that people are clearly finding value in the content (and us) and increase our chances of getting them to read from us (and hopefully buy from us) again. And with the shift from viral to consistent goodness, it’s about building relationships with people who will miss you when you’re gone, who share your products and content, who look forward to seeing what you have to say, and always find value in what you bring to the table.

What kind of content will you create this week?

On Relationship Fights and Conversations

Summer is here and that means lots of together time! No relationship is perfect, but constantly sniping and demeaning each other in front of the kids is not only a great way to irreparably damage your relationship with your partner, it’s also a great way to damage your relationship with your kids. I’m not talking about the occasional serious conversation or minor fight in front of them, that can be educational for the kids, and it’s healthy and normal for a relationship.

If you’re working through a very stressful time (that you can see an end to in the near future), try to have those disagreements when the kids aren’t present, scheduling them if necessary. Scheduling fights and discussions sounds dumb, but it not only protects your kids and your relationship with them, it also may help you avoid some of the fights because you’ll have more time to think things through and make sure you’ve got all the relevant information instead of just reacting.

Most of us don’t enjoy fighting or arguing, and it doesn’t feel good when we’re at odds with someone we know so intimately as they know us. But if you’re constantly fighting or going out of your way to be nasty, it’s not healthy for either of you or the kids.  At that point you either need to seek counseling as a couple, or if you’ve tried that and it’s failed or it’s not something you’re willing to do, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.

All relationships have ups and downs and some only last for a short time. But most of us want our romantic relationships to last, which means the sooner we accept that things will change, we don’t know everything and the importance of listening, patience and compromise, the more likely your relationship has of being what you want it to be.  What positive strides will you take in your relationship this summer?

Smarter Words for Success

I love words. They’re all around us: they’re what we speak, what we read, what we hear and what we think. But when it comes to communication there are some words that people use that aren’t the best choice or don’t say the best thing or hinder your confidence from building and success from happening. So today I thought we’d take a look at some phrases that are best left out of your vocabulary, especially in situations of careers or success.

No Problem:
This is one of the ones that really frustrates me. Most often you’ll hear this where a ‘you’re welcome’ could have been said, or an ‘I’m glad I could help.’ It makes it sound like your question or need could have been a problem and they’re not really all that thrilled or even satisfied to have been able to help you.

I’m Sorry:
This is a phrase we absolutely should use more often, we aren’t always willing to apologize when we’re in the wrong. However, it’s also used to apologize when there’s no need to apologize, for example when you’re sharing your opinion. You’re not sorry that you’ve got a different opinion than someone else (or at least you shouldn’t be), you just see it differently or don’t agree.

I Hate to Bother You/Sorry to Bother You:
The issue first is that you’re assuming that your question is going to be a bother, or that you’re being a bother. If you have a need or a question, there’s no need to feel guilty for asking about it or getting the help you need, and there’s also no need to apologize for needing help, we all need help at one point or another. Instead, after you’ve had your question answered or gotten the help you need, if you feel it really was a bother or they went out of their way to assist you, you can say something like ‘I really appreciate all your assistance.’

I would encourage you to think about the words you’re using. Are they closing doors and relationships that could be great ones? Are they unnecessarily limiting you, your options and your future? Do they place blame where blame isn’t due? Do they show that you’re confident, that you’re willing to work, that you believe in yourself and that you’re a capable human? Take even one day this week and really think about the words you’re using, the impact they’re having, and if there are words that would be more empowering or positive for you and those you’re talking with.

Studying Social Media

Lately I’ve been reflecting on social media, and the number of people who are calling it “evil.” I don’t deny that there are some bad people on there, that some people aren’t really considerate of what they’re posting or that there aren’t vulnerabilities or weaknesses on the social platforms, because all of those things are true. But if we were to get rid of social media for those reasons it would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to use an old expression.

One of the things I love about social media is your ability to control what you see and who you connect with. Don’t like those constantly negative posts someone you’ve connected with posts? Unfriend/Unfollow them. Don’t like seeing only spam from a company you ordered from once? Block them or unlike the account.  Just want to see puppies, updates from your favorite restaurant and updates from your family? Just connect with them. You don’t have total control on what you see on most sites, but all the same you do have a lot of say in who you could be hearing from.

Social media has incredible potential for people and businesses, but it relies on us all being respectful and considerate of each other and the resource. Of course everyone has bad days and needs to vent, that’s part of life, but no one wants to read that on a regular basis. We want to see the family updates, the calls for prayer or support, the news and updates from our communities, pictures of fun adventures, and reasons to celebrate. Thanks to social media we can connect with and build a community that can relate with us and will support and encourage us, even if few in our physical vicinity do. Social media can give us a glimpse behind the curtain of our favorite brands.

There are certainly things that are wrong with social media, but instead of focusing on them, why don’t we work harder to promote and spread the good? Why not consider what we’re posting before throwing it out there for the world to see?  Why not respect the opinions of others and engage in constructive rather than destructive conversations?  If the bad is only a very small percentage of what’s on social media isn’t it time we start talking about the good?

Time for Explanations

Explanations are tough. There are many funny stories and explanations that people have come up with for kids with regards to the typically titled ‘birds and the bees’ discussion, but that’s only one of the many things that parents have to explain to their kids throughout their lifetimes. Sometimes those discussions are hard when they have to talk about things like Alzheimer’s or violent/racial incidents. Others are just part of the course of life like sex and Santa. There’s definitely a wrong way to have discussions, one of the worst things can be refusing to have any discussion at all.

One of the hardest things is not having a good explanation, there are some things that you just can’t explain, and some things that the truth is very hard to accept or believe. A really simple example would be some of those cop/investigation shows where they get to the end of the investigation and it seems like 3 random things happened and as a result someone’s dead. It sounds kind of logical, but at the same time really doesn’t seem like it, and it’s even harder to accept that that’s actually something that happened in real life.

But explanations are important to us, regardless of the age we are. We like knowing how things work, how they’re connected or what leads/led to what. Explanations are great because so often we’re able to get one, with as much investigating as we’ve done over the years and as connected as we are in this day and age thanks to technology. But as I said, sometimes the explanation doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you can investigate further and find out how it does make sense, but other times you’re left at a loss and unable to make heads or tails of it.

In the case of the extreme flooding parts of the world have seen over the past year, several serious shooting incidents including the one in Christchurch a day or so ago, there really isn’t a good answer to give your children, or yourself. Sometimes bad things just happen. So in response you can teach your kids to be smarter, more caring, more considerate and to always do the research. You can’t protect those you love from harm, but you can give them the tools to make the world a better place, and give them the best chance possible to have a life filled with less hurt and loss.

Dealing with Failures and Outages

The big business news this week so far is about Facebook’s outage on Wednesday and into Thursday for some. Facebook is used by people and businesses alike around the world, so when something like this happens it’s not something they can really brush under the rug. This issue hits on many topics that we’ve talked about recently as well as we talk about frequently like doing business together, communication, customer service and quality, and it also holds a great warning for all of us, so I thought I would share a few thoughts on it today.

Let’s start with the dark side of this whole thing. It can happen to anyone. It can get you bad publicity. It can make you lose customers. It’s something every business should talk about: what to do if there’s a catastrophic failure, what to do if data is lost, what to do if the product fails, what to do if leadership gets caught doing something bad. Being aware of that it could go wrong and having a plan for if it does go wrong is half the battle, the other half has to do with your reaction, communication and actions after the event. You may be able to take the right actions quickly, but if you poorly communicate about the whole thing you may lose any traction you could have made with the speedy repair.

Let’s talk about what Facebook did, that we know at this point. Yes, they obviously got to work on fixing it as soon as possible so more people weren’t affected and those that were would be able to get back on as soon as possible. Then they had a decision to make: how do we communicate this and do we communicate this. They made a really interesting decision, one that I doubt many people would have guessed, and that’s posted on Twitter to let people know what was up. It’s not necessarily the wrong decision (they could have used email), but it is kind of funny and is a good reminder that as much as you want to build a strong business, stronger than your competition, it’s always good to have an open line of communication for situations like these.

The situation will continue to unfold over the next days and weeks, and it will be interesting to see how they follow up on this. What would I like to see? At the very least I’d like to see messages on their Facebook and Instagram accounts sharing about what happened and letting people know it’s fully resolved and if any actions/precautions are being taken in brief with a link to a blog post on their blog with more depth and details. If there were any accounts hacked or breached, those people should be notified by internal message on the network and by email. I’d also like to see them to contact businesses that were actively running paid ads at the time and affected by the outage and fill them in on how the downed network will affect that ad run.

Of course, they may just choose to sweep this under the rug, and for many they’ll just continue on with Facebook as usual. But for the smart business owners, I would hope this serves as a warning that if your only means of supporting your business is through Facebook you should be looking into additional and supplemental ways to market and grow your business. It’s as is often said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. What are your thoughts on the situation?

Subscription Service Smarts

Last week I shared about some confusing communications I’d received recently, this week I wanted to follow up with a discussion on something that many businesses, especially non-profits, rely on: recurring orders/donations. These are a fantastic way of having a consistent source of funds coming into your business that you can rely on as long as you’re offering what they’re buying or they need what you’re offering. These recurring orders can be simply items that people need on a consistent basis (i.e. paper towels and pasta), or a recurring package each month/week of items to try (i.e. beauty or dog items), or a regular subscription like meal kits or clothing outfits. It can also be a consistent monthly donation that goes into a particular fund or supports a particular individual.

If you want to improve the sign-ups and keep people signed up there are several things you can do, some that apply to some types of subscriptions and some that apply to others. One is to keep a good balance of new and top favorites as part of the subscription. Another is to make sure you’ve sufficiently tested the new items you’re sending out. Another is to send updates by email and/or mail so people know what’s going on with their donations or they could add to their order.

One of the biggest keys to keeping subscription customers is the ease of updating their information and their order(s), including what they’re ordering and any delivery information as well as their payment methods/options. The more challenging it is and the harder you make for them to find where and how to update the information, the more likely they’ll just cancel it all. Even worse, if they really struggle with changes, they may leave a nasty review about it online or suggest to friends/family who ask not to order from that company. Out of the 8 organizations that I had to update my credit card information with 3 were easy (at least one of which took quite a bit of navigating and effort to change the information), 4 required a phone call (something that shouldn’t be necessary if you can donate online), and for one the site refused to update the donation so I canceled the subscription and just made a one time donation (and will try again next month). Clearly there’s a lot of progress yet to be made with these organizations, and that’s just a small slice of all the organizations that you can do a subscription/donation with.

What about you? If you offer a subscription program do you make it easy for your subscribers to update their information and stay up to date about what’s going on and their options?

Confusing Communications

One of the biggest aspects to running a successful business is being able to get paid.  Whether you’re running a for-profit or non-profit business your people have to be able to contribute to your work or purchase from you if you want to stay in business.  Technology has made it easier than ever to connect people (and their money) with things and organizations around the world, which enables businesses to have more potential customers than ever before and gives customers more options than ever.

Recently the inevitable happened and one of my credit cards came up to the expiration date, and that’s where the confusion began. I got an email from the credit card company notifying me that the card was going to expire soon (in about 2-3 months), then I got a second email letting me know that a new card would be coming soon (again with almost 2 months to go before it expired), then I got an email from a non-profit that I have a monthly recurring donation with from a personal email account at the company saying that I needed to update my card information (about a month before the card would expire), then I got a text message that the card was mailed, and then I got an email reminding me to activate my card. Are you feeling as stressed and confused as I am by all that?

I’m all for keeping people in the loop but some of these messages were excessive, some were concerning and some were confusing. The biggest of concern were the text message, the email from the non-profit, and the email about activating my card. I don’t have my account signed up for text messages, so to send me a text message was abnormal and concerning. The email from the non-profit was sent in a regular email message (no logos or recognizable templates) from someone I’d never heard of or talked to. The email about activating my card made it sound like the card arrived weeks ago and I was being blamed for not activating it.

The thing about all of these messages is that the issues are very simple to fix and there’s reason to make the investment in working on them. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be sent with recognizable email templates. They’re all able to be crafted in a way that doesn’t sound like the writing was rushed and they can be edited by many team members before being sent since they’re emails that is going to be sent frequently to people and the message doesn’t change from person to person (so it makes sense to give the extra time and effort to crafting them). The third thing to take into account is whether or not the emails have been opened, and if they have been there’s no need for repetition, if anything more information should be given in the initial notification including the whole timeline rather than sending many messages so that the buyer has more confidence and understanding of the projected timeline and when any concerns should be raised. Finally, more attention can be easily given to the timeline of the messages being sent, especially the message about activating the card, which should only have been sent after the estimated time of delivery plus adding in some extra days for any delivery issues like hurricanes or being on vacation.

Doing one or preferably all of these things would have alleviated a lot of stress and concern on my part, especially for something that is a fairly predictable, anticipated and easy process. It certainly was one of the more painful experiences I’ve had with the payment aspect of business. Next week we’ll talk about one of the things I mentioned here, updating recurring orders or donations, and I’ll give you some feedback and suggestions based on what I’ve experienced recently.

What are your thoughts on making time-sensitive communications easier and clearer?