Monday, April 12

Guessing At Recovery: Expect A New Consumer

"The question is whether [March retail sales] are a trend or a blip, and my guess is that this is more of a blip." — Ken Goldstein, economist for Conference Board

He is not alone. That seems to be the assessment from many economists despite the sudden strength of consumer spending across several categories. In addition to an upturn in the auto industry, consumers are eating out more, buying more apparel, and are less likely to wait for coupons or price promotions to buy cosmetics and toiletries than they were a few months ago.

Understanding A New Economy And Slow Recovery

However, not all data is so rosy. Consumer confidence remains at levels typically seen in the depth of recessions, reports Advertising Age. Even in a recovery, sentiment will likely lag behind. Bruce Kasman, JPMorgan Chase, suggests it is indicative of a shift in the U.S. economy from a debt and consumption economy to a savings and export economy, not all that dissimilar from what The Futures Company suggested last year in its Darwinian Gale white paper.

So what's the hold up on recovery? The Associated Press Economy Survey, released today, tells the story. Most of it is related to what many consider the pillars of the financial security — jobs and the housing market.

• Unemployment will remain high over the next two years, perhaps 8.4 in 2011.
• Home prices will remain flat, with no gain this year and only a 2.3 gain the next.
• The economy will grow 3 percent this year, which means a very slow recovery.
• The Federal Reserve will begin raising short-term interest rates in the fourth quarter.

What this means for marketers is settling in on a new but smaller base of consumers, those people who are employed but operating with a much more conservative approach to spending. More than likely, the uptick in some sectors indicates that this group is tired of waiting, waiting, and waiting for the economy to improve on its own.

It also means marketers need to get back to the basic tenets of marketing and rethink strategies that used to work in an optimistic growth economy. Michael Shepherd, owner of The Shepherd Group, will be one of those who can help. Like our firm, Shepherd believes a marketing message must be tied to a business strategy to succeed.

The New Rules Of Marketing Are Old Again

In some ways, this better explains why consumers pushed back against brands as social media became mainstream. It wasn't because brands needed to give up control over their marketing messages to consumers as much as consumers finally having the opportunity to tell companies that their marketing messages were out of sync with their business strategy (and some companies didn't even have sound business strategies).

Specifically, when marketing messages are aligned, things tend to work. Apple provides a great example, selling 300,000 iPads on its first day. The iPad is not a must-own product, but it represents something Americans haven't seen enough of lately — innovation, even if that innovation is a first step toward fully functioning tablets that may one day replace laptops (trust me on this, it all depends on what such technology can dock to and not what many critics keep crying about).

Selling the iPad was only the tip of the iceberg for Apple. Three hundred thousand iPads means a surge in application purchases, no matter what anyone thinks about the product. But this isn't an iPad post. It's just an example of what sound marketing does despite the economy, shift toward a more cautious consumer, and how marketing tied to business strategy syncs with social media.

It also represents a better tact for marketers than the new mood of government, one that opens: "Over the past year, the Recovery Board has received its share of gratuitous criticism from some journalists and Internet grouches." It then goes on to explain that it didn't waste $18 million on a site redesign. The site only cost $6.8 million to date.

This isn't about politics. It's about contrast. Apple accepted the criticism and still stayed true to its marketing message. Government has been leaning heavily on push back public relations, feeling secure in winning a shrinking percentage.

Successful marketers in the near future are best served if they understand the difference. Marketers can no longer rely on mass media alone to reach the optimistic spenders made up of the sons and daughters of the generation that survived the great depression. The new consumer is looking for innovation, authenticity, and value. Count on it.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, April 11

Collecting Tips: Fresh Content Project

Almost every day, someone seems to be posting tips designed to make your life easier as a marketer, advertiser, or social media pro. But the reality always is the same: not all tips are created equal. Some of them recap the same tips you can find anywhere and other tips are just downright wrong.

While we didn't mean to, all the fresh content project picks that took us from March into April tended to share tips one or several steps ahead of the same old posts. Even better, many of them bridge concepts that other people sometimes struggle with: should social media be outsourced, does communication count with a cause, or can SEO writers and copywriters ever play nicely together. Take a look. The answers might surprise you.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 29

How to Maximize your Facebook Ads
Kelly Day shares several tips on how gender, age, interests, and education are only the tip of the opportunities that come with advertising on Facebook. While many people in the business already know some of these techniques, Day outlines several in a well thought out post that could help organizations break away from group blasting and work toward making their messages personal.

Should You Outsource Social Media?
The topic has been talked about with no clear answer. So Valeria Maltoni reached out to 93 connections on Linkedin in search of an answer. I was on vacation and missed out on offering some input into such a worthwhile post. As expected, the answers are as diverse as always. However, you can see several strategic thinkers providing a clear direction: it depends. Why is that such a good answer? Because intent defines why mediums are used or not. Just remember to be authentic.

Take Back Your Voices
There is some deeper meaning tucked inside Chris Brogan's post that recaps several clotheslines decorated with messages against domestic violence. While Brogan wonders about the effectiveness of awareness only (he doesn't know that was the case), the deeper meaning comes across in the creative communication from the students. It was impossible to miss. When important topics are missed, nobody ends up talking about them. And when nobody talks, nothing gets done.

SEO Copywriting Checklist for Wordpress Blogs
Maria Reyes McDavis A.K.A. WebSuccessDiva offers up a real treat for advertising professionals by skewing her SEO post toward copywriters. While many copywriters tend to feel that SEO can often clutter the language, Reyes McDavis reminds them that good SEO is really about talking "their" language. She's right. Follow some of these steps to narrow what sometimes only seems like the great divide.

How To Build Emotional Engagement in B2B Marketing.
Chris Koch pens a powerful message for B2B marketers: you can still be emotional and engaging in your communication. It only makes sense. After all, people who make purchasing decisions are still people. If you're still uncomfortable with the idea of blending emotional engagement into your B2B marketing efforts, test run some messages around his hot buttons: gratitude, loyalty, and respect.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, April 10

Spreading Hope: Ten Cards4Cancer Stories

For the last several months, Spirit Jump and Bloggers Unite, and thousands of bloggers have been making handmade cards. The medium doesn't matter. Some use glue. Some use photographs. Some put pen or paint to paper. Some made purchases.

The cards are special. Their purpose is to bring hope and comfort to the many men, women and children battling cancer. The idea was to deliver as many as 100,000 uplifting cards to people in hospitals, hospices, and treatment centers.

For one of my friend's fathers, the cards will arrive one day too late. She e-mailed me this morning. Her dad passed away last night. She did not make it home in time. I'd share more if it were my story to tell, but it isn't. So here are ten others for hope.

Ten Stories From Those Who Spread Hope And Awareness.

1. Cards for Cancer... Wrapping Up... by Darcie from Minnesota. She has been working hard to create and collect cards for as long we can remember. On March 31, she had already surpassed her goal to create and collect more than 300. Make sure you follow the back links for more examples.

2. Card-Making Parties Are Great Not all of the stories can be found on independent blogs. Some of them have been collected by the sponsors on a dedicated Cards4Cancer blog. You can also visit the Cards4Cancer Facebook page, where more than 7,800 people have connected.

3. Easter, Cards 4 Cancer, And A Goodbye by Nancy in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She shares her story that starts on Easter Sunday with potato salad. Make sure to check the sidebars. Nancy and her friends and family delivered 150 cards, some with tuck-ins.

4. Newest Batch of Cards 4 Cancer by Kim in Austin, Texas. She has been collecting cards long enough that an Etsy artist donated almost a dozen. She has several other posts that recognize contributors here, here, and here.

5. Only 10 days left until Cards4Cancer Day by Christine in Ottawa. In addition to her reminder after collecting 100 cards, Christine's entire blog is dedicated to creating more good news stories ... because there are not enough when you have advanced cancer.

6. Cards for Cancer by Tania. After sharing her plans with her S.M.A.C. students, they worked together to raise more than 500 cards for their local cancer center. She sumps up their contributions with recognizing their big hearts.

7. Paper Greeting Cards Designed for Patients And Survivors by Minny, an American romance novelist in the Netherlands. While found on Squidoo, the post still goes a long way in describing cards specifically for cancer fighters and survivors. But what makes this story really stand out are all the other ideas to support cancer patients.

8. New Cards for Cancer Update by Terica in North Carolina. Although Terica will deliver the cards on Monday, her post today goes a long way in sharing a striking collection of cards. Many of them include very creative use of pressed flowers.

9. A Huge Success by Mimi in Northport, Florida. To help, she hosted a card creation party at her studio from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in order to create more than 400 cards. She provided food and beverages all day long.

10. Cards4Cancer by Paula from Massachusetts. You might notice we included one of Paula's cards up top to accompany the post. Make sure you visit her blog to see several more made with a mixed medium approach. They are lovely additions.

A special thanks to all the team members at Spirit Jump and for Jason Teitelman at Bloggers Unite and BlogCatalog for spearheading this effort. It was an event well done.

Maybe one day I'll share a few of my own stories for those left behind. Just not today. Instead, I'll leave you with one parting photo from Geoff Livingston, who recently raised funds for cancer research with a new tattoo.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 9

Finding Purpose: The Trouble With Labels

A Lynn University freshman, pursuing his bachelor's degree in psychology to help veterans transition to civilian life, is quickly becoming a role model in Florida. His purpose, to help reduce the suicide rate among returning servicemen and servicewomen, is only part of the reason.

Slotnick is 84.

I won't invest space on the back story. You can read about it here, here, and here. There is something else that can be learned by Slotnick all together.

Three Lessons To Learn From Slotnick.

1. Labels are meaningless. Slotnick could embrace any number of labels not to do it. He's retired. He worked for vacuum and lawn mowing businesses. He left college almost 60 years ago. He is a World War II purple heart veteran. And yet, none of these labels — whether spun up good or bad — hold Slotnick back while pursuing his degree. He's doing it, with a 3.4 grade point average that he hopes to raise to a 3.5.

2. People wear lenses. Part of it can be attributed to how our brains are wired. People put things in boxes, assign them labels, and see the world through any number of colored lenses. It helps us process information. And yet, most people are unaware that such cognitive conveniences are often wrong. It might convince them to devalue students. Guess at intentions. Or forget that potential equalizes everyone.

3. Purpose is important. We first learned about it detail late last year; 46.5 percent of of soldiers with PTS have suicidal thoughts and 33.5 percent have tried to commit suicide. Many accounts attribute it to the lack of debriefing that was once a necessity as transportation home took weeks and months. Much of it, it seems to me, has to do with lesson one and two. But perhaps even more so, it had to do with rediscovering purpose.

Andrew Weaver addresses how to escape it in his post 8 Ways to Escape the Cult of Mediocrity. Valeria Maltoni warns against it with her post Are You Getting Typecast? And, every now and again, students in my classes and interns at work hear about how the pursuit of potential can be a game changer not only in their lives, but in the lives of people around them.

It's all very simple, but incredibly difficult. Shred your labels. Recognize our lenses cast perception. Find purpose in what you do, even if what you do or enjoy doing doesn't seem as admirable as Slotnick's current endeavor. W. Somerset Maughan once suggested as much.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 8

Paying Interns: Marc Hausman Says No Way

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) uses social media to engage, educate, and entertain audiences for companies like BearingPoint, British Telecom, GovDelivery, Microsoft, Monster, and Sun Mircosystems. But it doesn't pay interns.

Marc Hausman, president and CEO of Strategic Communications Group, is very clear about it in several places. Interns don't add enough value. Interns are lucky to work there for free. And interns ought to be grateful to get portfolio building assignments.

Fair enough. It's his business and if he cannot afford to pay a nominal rate of $8 or $10 or $12 per hour, I can only hope his business picks up. Sure, he is right that the Labor Department need not intervene. But to propose that unpaid internships ought to be standard practice, Hausman is as wrong as his justifications, as are many who commented in support of it.

Why Copywrite, Ink. Has Always Paid Interns.

• Interns Add Value. Sure, not all interns are created equal. Some prove to be a poor match or, in one case I recall, a legal liability. However, students in general add value to professional firms because most come into an internship with high expectations, infectious enthusiasm, and devoid of bad habits learned at other firms. They can also reveal strengths and weaknesses within the organization, especially among future management.

• Interns Earn Opportunities. If the internship program is designed correctly, then they aren't so lucky. They have to earn it, sometimes from a field of other qualified candidates. In other cases, they have to give up paid jobs with no promise of future employment. Sure, the firm might hire them. However, the firm's ability to hire them is not based purely based on their ability. It's based on the firm's fiscal position, which they have no control over. The trust-based risk is mutual.

• Firms Get Paid For Intern Work. If there isn't an opportunity to build at least some samples, paid or unpaid, it's not worth the time for the intern. However, even with oversight, there might be a question of ethics to charge clients for unpaid intern work (especially government clients) for what amounts to a higher profit margin. Besides, in today's world, portfolio building has never been easier. Students can create videos, blogs, and Web sites that demonstrate specific talents.

• Firms Invest In Training Anyway. There are always costs associated with candidate selection and training. If the firm accepts that risk when hiring any candidate, then how could it justify treating a student any differently? At minimum, an unpaid internship is like a free test drive that the same firms would never offer a client for a period of three months with set hours.

Are there times when unpaid internships are acceptable? Sure. Unpaid interns in the nonprofit sector make sense because it is called volunteer work. I encourage students to learn through community service on their own or under advisement.

One of the most beneficial and rewarding non-internship programs I developed five years ago for students taking the Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was to volunteer time to develop a media kit for the nonprofit organization of their choice and I would volunteer my time to provide step-by-step oversight. It was a win-win-win, given my near addiction to serving the community.

Only two students ever accepted the challenge. Both landed positions at major firms. As for our paid internships, all of the students with any talent whatsoever landed positions specific to their career goals, including one with a major New York publisher and one a position with a major Los Angeles public relations firm (there are many more, but those came to mind). We design our program that way. Two interns, after they left our firm, returned years later, not as employees, but as clients.

Certainly, internships require an investment by all parties, but it's a mistake to think that only the intern stands to receive a return on investment or that compensation ends with the privilege of allowing someone to stand over your shoulder. The return is directly proportionate to what you make it.

Next week, I'll offer up some insight into developing a paid internship program that works. In the meantime, please consider some other thoughts (and apparently few thoughts) on the value of paid internships. As a footnote, I might mention that communication (advertising, public relations, communication, social media) has become the hotbed of unpaid interns.

PR Interns Part III: You Get What You Pay For
All Work And No Pay: One In Three Interns Unpaid & Exploited
• Was Your Internship Illegal?

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 7

Interviewing Techniques: Nodders, Translators, Talkers, Conversationalists

After ten years of teaching, you can't help but to notice a few things in the classroom. One of them, unless you're a lecturer as opposed to an adaptive instructor, is that every class is different. It only makes sense because the students are different.

This year, my class seemed especially quiet compared to the year prior. At first, I thought it might be because of the smaller class size, but I was convinced it was something else by the third lesson. Seriously. They were so quiet, I almost thought adding keynote presentations during a portion of the class was a mistake.

I might have even skipped keynotes all together had three guest speakers drawn the same quiet, nodding heads. There was that, and I read an article in Communication World by Steve Crescenzo, owner of Crescenzo Communications.

He said there were two types of communicators: nodders and translators. Translators, Crescenzo wrote, know that if they walk out of the interview without understanding the topic, there is no way they can write an article that anyone else will understand. Nodders, on the other hand, hold back on asking questions because they don't want to look stupid.

The article struck home at first. My class was stacked with nodders. But was it really that simple? Looking back on past interviews and classes, I knew it couldn't be that easy. Maybe there are four types.

Nodders, Talkers, Translators, Conversationalists.

• Nodders. While Crescenzo attributes the nodder to being afraid to look stupid or ask dumb questions, I don't believe all nodders are created equal. Sure, some try to fake their way through without looking ignorant, but some are like sponges, analysts who sit back and consider every word spoken with the intent to research anything they don't understand afterward. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes they leave the speaker or interviewee guessing. Do you get that?

• Talkers. This is one of two styles we might add onto Crescenzo's thinking. Talkers command the floor. They don't ask questions as much as they make statements. Inexplicably, they don't always allow the speaker or interviewee to complete a thought before they lead them with a question that opens up dialogue for their stories and statements. They already know the answers so questions aren't really part of the equation. They already know what you need to do.

• Translators. As Crescenzo notes, translators know they not only have to understand a topic, but convince the speaker or interviewee to communicate in ways that the average person might understand it. They have many tricks and tactics in order to accomplish this task. Sometimes, they will ask the same question several ways. Other times, they will ask for examples. And yet other times, they will direct the speaker or interviewee to assume the readers/listeners don't know anything.

• Conversationalists. As the second add on, these folks are fascinating people who frequently drift away from the topic or spend ample time asking questions about the speaker and interviewee. Sometimes they are even forced to scramble during the last ten minutes of a meeting to cover questions they know they need to ask and tend to be surprised when the interviewee announces they have to leave for the next meeting. While the dialogue is always engaging, the social chatter sometimes overshadows the topic.

Crescenzo suggests that the translator has the advantage. While I would normally tend to agree because this style seems to complement the other styles, it seems to me the best interviewers need a more adaptive approach.

Nodders tend to win over talkers and translators help conversationalists stay on track. Conversely, talkers can draw out nodders and conversationalists welcome varied duplicate questions posed by translators. The best interviewers quickly assess and adapt their style to what seems like the best match. Sometimes, saying nothing works. And other times, interviewers have to fill the silence or else the entire session will go bust.

More importantly, never assume any style conveys anything about the other person. The nodder might be afraid to look stupid. Or, they could be analyzing your every word because you haven't stopped talking. Case in point: the interview that unraveled Richard Nixon consisted of a single question. When no other questions were asked, the talker filled the silence.

Bookmark and Share

Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template