Saturday, October 17, 2009

Success Through Excess

Jon Sobel writes:

"Over the top" is a phrase heard most often in theatrical circles. But marketing campaigns often go over the top too. And why not? Marketing is a kind of performance, after all, and in performance going over the top isn't always a bad thing. An exaggerated turn in an otherwise tasteful or modest production may be off-putting and unlikable. But where appropriate, it's amusing and effective. Drag queens delight audiences by exaggerating the iconic traits of legendary performers of the past. Heavy metal and rock bands, from Kiss to Twisted Sister to Gwar, make excess and kitsch their stock in trade. By good-humoredly "offending" what's commonly considered to be good taste, they have a pleasing and memorable effect.

Call it the joy of being manipulated. When you're pulling people's strings in such an obvious way that they feel like they're in on the joke, you've made a connection, whether you're channeling Barbra Streisand or selling lottery tickets. The New York State Lottery has a commercial out now that features cute bunnies dressed in adorable little outfits on miniature candy-colored amusement park rides, accompanied by a fluffy-sweet little song. Every time the commercial comes on my wife drops whatever she's doing and stares at the screen like an idiot. It's a marvelous example of success through excess:

Finnish heavy metal band Lordi won a Eurovision contest through excess. True, they had a catchy song too – but videos like this haven't hurt them at all:

Finally, American TV watchers are all too familiar with Pizza Hut's penchant for finding ever more creative ways to do excessive things with pizza dough. The chain's interest in baking things right into the crust got silly enough that it became fodder for a Mad TV parody:

Of course, a memorable marketing campaign doesn't guarantee a big sales boost. The flip side of feeling like you're in on a joke is feeling smart enough not to be seriously manipulated. Having a good product remains key. Further, a commercial's very inventiveness can outshine the product it's meant to promote, especially if the product isn't that remarkable. But all things being equal, the old adage rings true: there's no such thing as bad publicity. And going over the top can be a great way to be so bad you're good.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bios and Press Releases

Elisa Peimer writes:

While creating both a bio and a press
release for a client recently, I was asked, "Why do I need both?" Good question! If a press release is about something a person is doing or has accomplished, isn't biographical information going to be part of the press release?

Sure. But while a bio and a press release share some information, their purposes are different.

A bio – or biography – tells the whole story of the person it's about. A bio of an executive, author, or musician, for example, talks about that person's background, influences, and career path. It discusses their early work, and what they did in order to create their newest work. It touches upon the choices they made in their lives that led them to where they currently are. It also goes into depth about their current creation – their thoughts about it, what they're trying to accomplish, what they hope their company, customers, or public will get out of it.

In writing a bio, I'll always (if possible) interview the subject to get a sense of what they're about. I'll ask them about their childhood and their early influences, as well as specifics about their newest project – what inspired them, who they worked with, what they hope to achieve. The ultimate goal of the bio is to draw readers in and get them interested in the subject. It's ultimately a marketing piece, something to give the reader a reason to want to find out more about the subject and his or her work.

A press release, on the other hand, is built around a specific piece of news – a product release or event, for example. It pulls information from the bio, such as general background about the person or people involved. The main purpose, however, is to promote a thing – a merger or acquisition, a new deal, a record release party, a new book or CD, a new strategic partnership. The press release is sent out to the media for the purpose of advertising the event. Sometimes publications reprint the press release as is, and sometimes the press release is the instigation for further editorial coverage of the event. A press release should have all the relevant information clearly on the page: what, where, when, who. It should also provide web addresses for where to buy the product, where to RSVP for the event, etc. And it shouldn't be too long – one page is usually best. Publications have limited room to reprint content, and you don't want to give them something they can't fit in their available space.

As you can see, a press release is time-sensitive, while a bio is not. A press release is created to promote something, gets sent out, and that's it. When a new event or piece of news is in the works, a new press release should be written and distributed. A bio, while it can and should be updated over time, is a perpetual tool that should be posted on the subject's website, and on social networking sites and e-commerce sites, as an additional tool for the press. Both are necessary parts of a good marketing and press plan.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Twitter: The New Customer Service

Elisa Peimer writes:

A few months ago I wrote about Twitter as a means of business-to-customer communication. I had been intrigued by reading about what happened to a guy who had been stranded at the airport after his JetBlue flight was delayed. I found it really interesting that the whole customer service process – JetBlue trying to figure out what the problem was, Southwest stepping in and trying to get the guy on one of their flights – represented a fundamentally new way of business-to-customer communication. All instantaneous, all public. It broadened the perception that Twitter was about more than just letting people know what you were doing at any given moment.

One of my favorite bloggers,, recently posted her own highly entertaining story of a customer service issue resolved via Twitter with Maytag. After a long bout of poor customer service regarding a broken washing machine, she tweeted her frustration in no uncertain terms. The result? A call from a manager at Whirlpool, Maytag's parent company; quick service; and even an offer of a free machine from another manufacturer.

I recently had one of my own customer relations issue resolved via Twitter. It happened after a certain amount of frustration. I’m currently working with a wonderful Indian singer named Chandrika Tandon and I was in the process of getting her new album up on popular online music distributor CD Baby. Due to a misunderstanding at the printer, I needed a UPC number from CD Baby, stat. I emailed. No response. I called. No one picked up the phone. I continued to email and call for days, to no avail. Meanwhile, the printer was waiting on the project until a UPC number could be procured. In desperation, I posted a tweet to CD Baby’s Twitter page – Hello? Is anybody out there? Why aren’t you responding to emails or picking up your phone?

Apparently, someone at the company watches their Twitter feed – within 5 minutes I got a response. “Sorry you’ve been having trouble getting through – what’s up?” After going back and forth on Twitter a few times, my UPC code problem was resolved within hours. I was glad I was able to get my client what she needed, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed that I had had to resort to a public calling out of bad customer service before I could get a response. At the same time, thank goodness for Twitter – if I hadn’t had the option of using that method to get in touch with the company, who knows when I would have been able to get the help I needed?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Marketing: A Matter of Life and Death?

Marketing goes far beyond selling shoes and filling theater seats. It dramatically affects people's lives and livelihoods, even alters the directions of nations. "Army Strong," anyone? How about "USO: Until Every One Comes Home"? Harry and Louise? Slogans and characters like these are parts of marketing campaigns for intangibles like services, charities, and political opinions. They want something from you, but in these cases it's often not money; it's your opinion, your vote, your actions, or your time.

The same principles apply in the political world as in the commercial: you have to make what you're selling visible and appealing to enough "consumers" that they give you what you need to succeed, whether it's profit or votes, cash or cachet. It's not for nothing that we talk about President Obama "selling" his health care plan and the public deciding whether to "buy" it.

Marketing can influence segments of the American public to support or oppose any big societal change. Remember when President Bush wanted to privatize Social Security? The idea seemed to align with the nation's capitalist, anti-big-government plurarity. Yet a large majority of the public wouldn't buy it.

But Americans didn't reject that plan purely on its merits. They rejected it, in part, because the President didn't sell it well. The plan was seen as threatening an entitlement to which the public had become accustomed. Only a very stong, sharp marketing plan could have made such a change seem wise, or even palatable, and President Bush did not have one.

Now a Democratic President wants to introduce a new public option into the health care system. Ideologically, this move leans in the opposite direction from Bush's Social Security plan. Yet President Obama is having almost as hard a time selling his leftish plan as Bush had with his rightish one. Why? Ineffective marketing on Obama's part, which has left the field open for strong marketing from his opponents.

And their disruptive and provocative tactics are working. In addition to placing emphasis on the Republicans' talking points about deficits, they divert attention away from the issues and towards the political theatrics. The result: polls find more Americans expressing caution and suspicion about health care reform. To counter this, the Democrats must find good marketing strategies of their own: painting the Republicans as do-nothings (a cynical tactic but potentially effective), or suggesting their pockets are being lined by big, private insurance companies.

To do battle, the two sides arm themselves with time-honored marketing techniques: appealing to the heart over the head, saturating the media, simplifying the message, and so on. In cases like this, however, the better marketers will earn something other than bigger profits (although drug companies, insurance providers, and the like are certainly stakeholders too). They will earn the power to determine the well-being of the citizenry.

A bit more important than selling shoes, wouldn't you say?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Entrepreneurship: It’s All About a Can-Do Attitude

This week's post is by Elisa Peimer.

Marketing isn't just about positioning your products for maximum positive exposure. It's also about positioning your company to be seen in a positive light. And if you're an entrepreneur of any kind, your company is you.

If you don't believe what you offer is valuable, you can't expect clients and customers to believe it. Yet of all the things I’ve learned about getting your own business in gear and being successful, maintaining this positive attitude is often the most difficult thing, even if it seems the most basic.

A positive attitude means saying and believing that, even in the midst of a recession, with no clients, and being a start-up, you’re going to make your business work. For a glass-half-empty kind of person, adopting that mindset can be a real challenge. But it’s imperative. If you’re going to convince people that your services are valuable, the first person who has to believe it is you.

This really hit home for me recently after speaking to a couple of friends, both of whom have run their own businesses for their entire professional careers. They’re in completely different fields, but they have two things in common. The first is that their companies have had moments of both real success and real challenges. The second is that they never seem to doubt that they can succeed moving forward. What I find admirable about that is that they maintain that positive attitude despite the fact that their businesses have not followed a straight uphill trajectory. It isn't an unbroken string of success that has made them impervious to negative thinking, it's their own internal energy and drive. The fact that sometimes they stumble doesn’t make them doubt their ability to succeed.

Try this simple, refreshing, eye-opening exercise:

Write down all the reasons why someone should hire you.

That's it.

These could include all kinds of different facets of you and your business. Maybe you have many years of experience in your field. Or you’re really good at follow-through. You're good with people. You've got a network of contacts that makes you more valuable. You're a great idea-person. You’re a fantastic proofreader, consultant, financial advisor, writer, designer, developer – whatever it is. You know what your skills are, and where your strengths lie. Make sure you remember those facts. Keep them in mind and use them to feel confident and valuable when you’re looking for business or working with a client.

Of course, that's often easier said than done. But it's essential. As you forge ahead in your business – and in your life – remember that your biggest fan is you. It’s much easier to focus on your failures and shortcomings, and we all have those. But it’s more pleasant – and lucrative – to concentrate on what makes us valuable to our clients, our friends, and ourselves.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chain Stores and Localvores

Marketing is the language of commerce, and like any language it can be used for good or ill. Sometimes the line is hard to draw.

One of the latest marketing buzzwords to escape the hive is "local-washing," a variant of "green-washing."

Green-washing has been around for a while. It means making false or exaggerated claims that a product is environmentally friendly. Local-washing, then, means asserting (or suggesting) that a product or service is local when in fact it is not — or when using the term "local" is, at the very least, a bit of a stretch.

The new marketing technique takes advantage of the growing "localvore" movement, in which consumers favor products (food and other things) that come from their own region. The growing popularity of farmers' markets, business alliances like Indiebound (for independent booksellers), and region-based movements such as Local First Vermont are a few of the more organized manifestations of the increasingly popular "local first" way of thinking.

Big corporations are learning to take advantage. Wal-Mart stores, where an increasingly large number of Americans do their grocery shopping, now feature local produce sections. But according to Stacy Mitchell of the New Rules Project, "[t]he chain's] local-food offerings are usually limited to a few of the main commodity crops of the state in question...Yet this modest gesture has won Wal-Mart glowing coverage in numerous daily newspapers. Few ask...[whether this actually creates] more and better opportunities for local farmers than the grocers [Wal-Mart] replaces...Wal-Mart, like other chains, has learned that tossing around the word 'local' is a relatively inexpensive way to convey civic virtue."

Starbucks is rebranding some of its stores, removing their corporate identity entirely in order to disguise them as independent shops. Barnes & Noble encourages store employees to create video blogs about their favorite books as part of an effort to make individual stores "feel" more local. Supermarket chain Winn-Dixie touts "local flavor since 1956." HSBC, the huge international financial institution, calls itself "the world's local bank."

These techniques can seem disingenuous, even outright fraudulent. On the other hand, it's hard to blame the chains for availing themselves of whatever cultural developments are attracting consumers. They didn't get to be big corporations by being inherently evil, they did so by outcompeting in the marketplace. Now, suffering something of a backlash, they are casting about for ways to maintain their dominance.

Can big chains fool enough of the public enough of the time to make their local-washing campaigns succeed? Can we accept a certain level of exaggeration as a natural manifestation of market forces at work? Or is any degree of local-washing unacceptable deception?

Is more regulation needed? Vermont has strict rules about when a product can be labeled with the state's name. New York City's Greenmarkets permit only produce grown on farms within a specific mileage range of the city.

What do you think?

Meanwhile, stay tuned. No one knows how all this will shake out.  See you at the Greenmarket!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Merchandising: Capitalizing on the Surprising

In our office we have a coffee mug with the picture, name, and slogan of a singer-songwriter we knew years ago. She left the business awhile back, but if she ever turns up in our orbit again, it's fair to say that the presence of that mug will have some effect on the interest we'll take.

I thought of this when I learned of a high-class twist on the time-tested concept of the promotional mug. In conjunction with the release of Pedro Almodóvar's latest film, Los Abrazos Rotos, the illy coffee company has created an arty cup-and-saucer collection featuring emblematic scenes from the director's most famous movies.

Now, much as I adore Penélope Cruz, I'm not about to spend $60 for the privilege of sipping espresso from a cup with her face on it. But that's not the point. Just the fact that I've learned about this promotion (via a Twitter post) has incrementally increased the likelihood that I'll see the film.

Why? Because the film's promoters did something just a little bit new, a little bit different, and hence a little bit worth tweeting about.

When I saw Rock of Ages on Broadway a couple of months ago, every audience member was handed an LED "cigarette lighter" to wave during the show's classic hair-band songs. It was a great promotional gimmick, because the darn thing's actually useful as a small flashlight, so I've held on to it. Although I loved Rock of Ages, I'm sure that tiny piece of swag has increased the number of people I've recommended the show to, because carrying the little light around in my bag has kept the musical closer to top-of-mind.

Merchandising—whether it's swag (free stuff) or purchasable items (original cast albums, concert t-shirts, an Almodóvar espresso cup)—is here to stay, because it works. But coming up with something creative, something a little different from what people are used to—something, in other words, worth talking about—can give a campaign that extra nudge and push the product deeper into public awareness.

It doesn't even have to be expensive.  For the right price, you can get a logo imprinted on just about any manufactured item you can think of, but the do-it-yourself method works too: I've seen musicians selling, along with their CDs and t-shirts, unique items such as art prints, self-printed books of poetry, homemade cosmetics, and logo-imprinted candy.  Some of these items are more lasting than others, of course, but the creative thinking is evident.  Singer-songwriter Kay Ashley hands out "Kay-zoos" at her shows—bright yellow kazoos emblazoned with her logo.  During her set, she has you play along with a particular song, and when you go home you have a lasting (and possibly useful) souvenir.

So it's not necessarily about spending a lot of money.  It's creative thinking that can give your product a push into the public's consciousness. Go and create.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I’m in the Mood for Some #Moonfruit!

This week's post comes from Elisa Peimer, one of Oren Hope's founding partners.

Since I wrote about Twitter a couple of months ago, I’ve been Twittering along – tweeting about music, life, and work, and catching up on friends through their tweets. Occasionally, I like to check out the trending topics to see what people are talking about. Generally, it’s what I expect – Michael Jackson, the political situation in Iran, Wimbledon, or the hot celebrity of the moment.

But the other day I saw the top trending topic was something called #moonfruit. What the heck was moonfruit, and why was everybody talking about it? Intrigued, I clicked on over, only to find that moonfruit wasn’t a story at all, or even any kind of discussion. It’s a promotion, run by web development firm Moonfruit.

To celebrate their tenth birthday, they’re giving away a Macbook Pro every day for ten days. To enter, you have to include the tag #moonfruit in your Twitter posts. Each posting is entered into the contest for a random drawing, which means the more posts you include the tag in, the more chances you have to win. Consequently, thousands of people are tagging #moonfruit in their posts, skyrocketing the tag right to the top of the Trending Topics list. Which means it’s on every Twitter user’s front page, which means that people like me, who’ve never heard of Moonfruit, are clicking on it to see what it is.

Moonfruit has managed to get in front of hundreds of thousands of potential clients on one of the world’s most popular websites for two whole weeks, with the kind of promotion that’s so simple it’s been done for ages. It’s the Web 2.0 version of an enter-to-win box – fill out a form, drop in your entry, and hope for the best. Except that now, all you have to do is type the tag into your tweet and you’ve entered the contest. But what makes this so much more powerful is that each entry is shared with all of your Twitter followers, so the contest and the company awareness spread in a classic example of viral marketing.

I have got to say that this is one of the most brilliant marketing schemes I’ve seen in a long time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Writing for the Web, Part Two: Home Page Homilies

Entire books have been written about writing for the web. They have titles like, well, Writing for the Web. Also: Writing for the Web: A Practical Guide, Writing for Multimedia and the Web, and the nicely alliterative Killer Web Content. I imagine these books are used in Marketing courses, and I'm sure they contain many sensible words of wisdom. But honestly, it's hard to imagine anyone needing to study a whole book to learn a few basic principles.

For pretty much any home page, these principles can be summed up easily, as follows:

• Use concise, accessible language.
• Give the key information right up front. (Explain who, what, where, when, and/or how, as needed.)
• Get it right. (Don't allow any spelling or grammatical errors to get through your proofing process.)
• Make it easy on the eyes. (This is partially, but only partially, the web designer's responsibility.)

Here are a few examples of sites that get these things right and wrong.

1. Electrician

Let's say I live in New York and I want to find an electrician. When I search for "electrician new york," among the top entries is Altman Electric. Altman's home page provides the essential information right up front: where they're located, what types of customers they service, and how to contact them. It meets the four requirements described above: no technical terms or excess verbiage, key information up front, no grammatical or spelling errors, easy to read.

Now take a look at another top search result, Apollo One. This home page fails on most counts. It doesn't look good. The text is too low on the page and full of errors. There's no mention of their coverage area except for the phrase "in New York" at the top, which is ambiguous, as "New York" could mean Manhattan, all of New York City, any of a number of conceptions of "Greater New York," or even New York State. For all I know, Apollo One could be a better deal for me than Altman, but I won't be finding that out, because if I need an electrician fast, you can bet I'd call Altman first.

2. Database Developer

Let's say I need to hire someone to develop my company's FileMaker databases. I search the web for FileMaker developers and I find Scottworld. Their home page has most of the bases covered. The font size is smaller than it should be, but the essential information is right there in the first two brief paragraphs, explained in plain language.

There's one thing missing, though. How do you contact them? You have to scroll almost to the bottom before you spot a tiny "Contact Us" text link. It took me many seconds to find it, by which time my eyes were tired.

Now look at Excelisys's home page. This one has more serious problems. It's busy, colorful, loaded with logos. The key text is contained in a white-on-black box, which makes it a little hard to read, and it begins with a sentence that isn't even a sentence and is dotted with extraneous capital letters. The rest of the text suffers from grammatical errors and incorrect punctuation. While the site has a lot of material I could review to get an idea of what these folks do and how well they do it, I'm not likely to click through to see that material, because the home page has made a poor impression.

Search for anything you like, and you'll find examples of bad, better, and best-practices home pages. Make sure your own home page follows the simple principles outlined above.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Writing for the Web, Part One: Basics

If your business is so well established that you don't have to go looking for customers, great! Stop reading this and go have a drink. Most of us, though, have to make an effort. Part of that effort is describing what we do and why we are the ones you should hire to do it.

In the old days, these descriptions were written to be printed on paper: brochures, packaging, and signs -- collectively known as "marketing collateral." Paper media are still with us, of course, but websites now shoulder a big chunk of the marketing burden. Yet surprisingly, although websites and online marketing have been with us for years now, companies often give little thought to creating copy that's appropriate for the web.

What should be on your website for potential clients and customers to read? Here are some basic guidelines for getting it right.

1. Don't dump in everything but the kitchen sink. Your home page and sectional landing pages should contain clear, concise text -- more than slogans, but less than essays. Every business can be summed up in a paragraph. If you can't come up with a paragraph that succinctly and accurately describes what you do and why you do it well, you may need some outside marketing help.

2. If you have multiple lines of business, or several aspects of your product or service each of which needs to be explained, create separate pages for them, all linked from the main (home) page. If you're not sure what deserves its own page or section and what doesn't, there's one obvious and effective way to figure it out: visit competitors' sites and note which ones are clear and concise, easy to navigate and understand, and which aren't. Use the good ones as models for your own site.

3. Include words and phrases that will optimize your site for search engines. There are many sources of information available on search engine optimization (SEO). has some articles on the subject, including "Website Optimization in Ten Easy Steps". (Your mileage may vary in terms of how "easy" the steps are. But despite what some advertisements suggest, you can definitely do your own SEO).

Next week, we'll look at some well-crafted sites and see what makes their textual content effective.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Networking, Part Two: Stranger Things

Talking to people you know and making new connections through them is a great way to market yourself or your business. But it has a built-in limitation: it depends on the people you already know. No matter how social you may (or may not) be, there are always going to be a lot more people you don't know.

There's also the question of quality: your friends and acquaintances may be great people personally, but they may not be connected in ways that are helpful to you professionally. It all depends on whether they have similar backgrounds or work experience to yours.

That's where organized networking groups come in. And no, you don't need to be a graduate of a prestigious college (or any college at all, for that matter) to take advantage of them.

Having a college connection does give you a built-in "in" to alumni networking groups. Just Google "alumni networking" plus the name of your college, or sign up for LinkedIn and search for your alma mater, and you can easily find these groups.

But there are plenty of networking groups centered not on colleges but on professions, locales, or other commonalities. Start with your profession. Virtually any profession has societies that provide information and support; their websites often point to networking opportunities.

Are you a yoga instructor who just moved to Boston? Do you want to meet hip young high-tech workers in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn?  Chances are, whatever you do and wherever you are, there's a networking group out there that can cater to you.

Then there's the very structured world of Business Networking International, which has chapters in many regions, charges a membership fee, and has strict attendance rules. This kind of group brings together professionals with different backgrounds who might need each others' services or can act as conduits to their own personal networks. The idea is that each person you meet is a doorway to a roomful of other people whom you wouldn't otherwise be able to contact.

So you've signed up to attend a networking event. What should you expect? They vary quite a bit, from big cocktail-party type events in which everyone stands around wearing name tags, to smaller sit-around-a-conference table meetings. The best are those that provide both an opportunity to introduce yourself to the group, and some time to chat informally. In any case, keep these general guidelines in mind:

• Dress as you would for a job interview.
• Bring plenty of business cards.
• Prepare an in-a-nutshell statement of what you do and what you're hoping to get out of the group or session. Unless you're a supremely confident talker, practice your pitch at home first.
• In your statement, give enough detail to provide a clear idea of your skills, experience, and goals; but make it concise enough so you don't drone on and lose concentration, because that's a sure way to lose your audience!
• Listen carefully to others' presentations and to what they say in conversation, and take notes. Just as you're hoping to make contacts and learn useful information, so are they; you may have something of great value to someone else. Karma is good!
• Follow up! If you meet someone who might be able to help you, or vice versa, follow up with a phone call or an email.

Attending these events has the added benefit of getting you out of your routine, out of your office or your home, and into a fresh environment with new people. Meeting just one person -- one former stranger -- whom you can connect with on some level can make your whole day!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Networking Is Like Dating

This week's post comes from Elisa Peimer, one of Oren Hope's founding partners.

Networking - you either love it or hate it. Setting up a meeting or starting a conversation with a total stranger can be challenging, especially for those who are not particularly extroverted. It can be like dating - will they like me? Will they think I’m smart? Will they find my professional skills, er, attractive?

But the truth is, there's really nothing you can lose by networking, and a tremendous amount to gain. Especially in a down economy, knowing more people is a huge asset.

Being a good networker is a skill that, like most others, has to be practiced. Start small and easy. Network with your friends, people whom you already have social relations with, and who are either in, or tangentially related to, your industry. Ask them questions about their company, their projects. Try to discover if there's an opportunity that they might not have seen. Friends like to help. If you've had that "networking" conversation, then they'll think of you when an opportunity comes up. But if you haven't, they won't.

Once you've mastered the art of talking to your friends, it's time to step it up. Ask them if they can recommend anyone they think you should talk to. It can be anyone – movers and shakers in your industry, colleagues with job openings, or friends who hire freelancers. Try to pinpoint what kind of people you want to meet. The more specific you are, the more likely you'll jog someone's memory into thinking of someone you might like to meet.

Once you have names, make sure it's okay to use your friend's name when making contact. Assuming it is, use that to open up the conversation. A little flattery never hurts. Tell them that your friend had great things to say about them and you'd love to take them out for coffee and find out more about what they do and listen to any advice they might have for you. Ask them if they can share their expertise and perhaps give you suggestions about steps you can take to further your goals.

It won't always work. People can be busy and stressed and not have the time to meet with you. But it's surprising how often you'll find that people enjoy sharing their background and knowledge, and appreciate being turned to for advice.

Don't be pushy - if your offer isn't taken up, don't press it, and don't worry about it. Even if you're able to meet with only a handful of people, that's still a big number, because each one has his or her own network of connections -- and now you're connected to it.

It's the real-world version of LinkedIn. Everyone you know knows lots of other people, and chances are your next opportunity is going to come from a personal contact. Don't be shy. As with dating, your next big thing might be just around the corner.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Email Marketing in a Web 2.0 World

As spam filters have improved, the amount of junk email most of us actually have to look at has dropped. Still, nearly 90% of email messages sent worldwide are spam. Many represent scams, but many are real marketing messages, though they come from businesses all across the spectrum of legitimacy. Like spam, they persist because they cost so little that even a tiny response rate makes the whole campaign worthwhile.

Most of us aren't spammers, though. If you're reading this, you probably want to market your products, services, or expertise sensibly and in a fairly targeted way. You want to use email to get the word out -- without spamming. But it takes a lot of time and effort (i.e. money) to prepare an email campaign. You must carefully compose and target your message. The email has to look good. It must include an opt-out link, a link to your relevant web pages, appealing graphics, and text that's been optimized for the short form of an email (and, of course, carefully proofread).

But now that people are getting more and more of their information through social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), are they still reading their emails? Here at Oren Hope World Headquarters we've observed some "email fatigue" going around. With increasing dependence on social networking for informal communication, and with other distractions multiplying, some of us find ourselves trashing most emails without looking at them, even when they're newsletters we signed up for or campaigns we opted into.

Some of our clients report website hits jumping significantly following an email newsletter. For these companies, email messaging is working. We've noticed, though, that they tend to be companies with fairly devoted followings. Brand loyalty seems to be in short supply these days, so if you don't already have a fairly loyal -- or at least a large -- base, you might be wasting your time with email marketing. Is your email list heavy with previous customers and/or top prospects? If not, an email campaign might not be the best use of your resources at this point.

But what do you think? Is email still a viable marketing tool for smaller companies that aren't yet well-established? Use the Comments section to let us know your perspective.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Your Friend Twitter

This week's post comes from Elisa Peimer, one of Oren Hope's founding partners.

I’ll be the first to admit that I just didn’t get Twitter. What good was posting a little blurb about yourself and what you’re doing that was no more than 140 characters? Quite honestly, I thought, who cares?

But I got sucked into marketing peer pressure and joined up. I found a couple of friends and colleagues and started following them. The first couple of days I spent thinking “what am I going to post on Twitter?” like it was some kind of school assignment. But as I eased into it, I’ve found that I’ve started using it like a tap on the shoulder, a simple “here’s what’s going on,” without having to write a whole blog entry about it. It’s allowed me to keep our company, our blog, and myself at the top of people’s minds. And I actually think that’s the biggest benefit of Twitter. We all know how bombarded we all are with messages and information. Twitter is a simple, quick, and relatively unobtrusive way to keep yourself in the mix.

Some companies have been able to use Twitter in really inventive ways. When I first joined up, my friend @sharongoldman, a marketing/writing colleague, suggested I check out the Twitter feed of Tony, the CEO of Zappos. Zappos, the online shoe store? Why would I care what he had to say? It turns out Tony has over a half million people following his Twitter feed. His tweets have a good combination of information about his company, interspersed with general comments about his life. It puts a real face on the head of Zappos, and makes you feel like you know him. Which, in turn, makes you more likely to check out his company. It’s marketing, but it’s not done in a dry, “marketing” kind of way. It’s personal and social. And fun to read.

Another fascinating Twitter story is what happened to @davepeck when he was trying to fly out of Austin after SXSW on Jet Blue. The flight was delayed and @davepeck twittered his frustration about it in the airport. @jetblue got back to him to try to help — through Twitter! When wi-fi issues and technical problems ensued with Jet Blue, @southwestair stepped in — again through Twitter — and tried to get him on one of their flights. And everyone who subscribed to all these Twitter feeds was seeing the whole conversation. Jet Blue came out a little the worse for wear, but quickly made amends via a follow-up email, and Southwest Airlines looked like a hero for trying to come to the rescue. All in real time, and all completely public. And all in under 140 characters.

And just so you know, before I started typing this post, I twittered about it at @elisapeimer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Business of...Life?

We didn't name this blog "Marketing: The Business of Life" because the phrase has a poetic ring. We called it that because of the entrepreneurial attitude that more and more of us have been taking.

Thanks to modern-day systematization of how business is done, looking at oneself as a "product" that needs to be "marketed" has been an increasingly popular attitude for years. Now, with the economy in a ditch, businesses reeling, and more and more people lacking steady work, the entrepreneurial spirit has of necessity been flowering like crazy.

Life isn't a business any more than it's a highway, a game, or a bowl of cherries. But so much of what we do requires thinking like a marketer. And in this over-commercialized and hyper-communicative society we're more aware of our image than ever.

People have always dressed and made themselves up to make a good impression on a date. But self-marketing is kicked up a big notch when one has to create a profile on a dating website.

Companies have always advertised and promoted their products. But now they have to be your "friend" too, designing, planting, and watering social networking gardens all over the web, blogging like babies who won't shut up, tweeting like birds in the trees.

For younger generations growing up never having known a world without the Internet, this all comes fairly naturally. But many of us maturer folks were raised to believe that tooting one's own horn is gauche and impolite. For us, re-training is in order. Values have changed.

It goes deeper than simply giving yourself, your work, your company, or your products a positive spin. It's taking a fundamentally market-oriented approach, making sure everything you do is presentation-quality.

A pain in the butt? Sure. But there have always been things we have to do even though we'd rather not. Flossing, quitting smoking, going to funerals. You're adding one more, that's all: marketing. If you're lucky it comes naturally; maybe you even enjoy it. If not, suck it up and go in there and floss.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Website Basics

No matter what your business, your website acts as your online storefront. Whether you're selling goods or services, an online presence is a necessary part of marketing yourself. And, just like a good piece of journalism has the who, what, where, how, and why, a good website should address the basics of what you offer right up front.


Sounds obvious, but it can be easy to get distracted with design and lose sight of the first thing a customer should see: the name of your business. It should be at or close to the top of all of your pages, so people can surf around your site and continually see your brand name. And if you have a logo, use it -- incorporating your company name into a design element makes it easier to remember.


You don't need to get into a lot of detail on the front page, but you do need to state clearly and succinctly what you offer. It works well to come up with a short blurb that gets people's attention: "The largest supplier of home office equipment in the tri-state area, making your office as comfortable as your home" or "Proofreading services with fast turnaround and great rates, so you can get your projects out when you need them." A brief description of what you're selling on the front page can be linked to a more detailed page outlining specifics.


This is only relevant if your location is a part of your business. If you're a brick-and-mortar store, your website acts like your calling card. If you want to draw people into your business, make sure your location and contact information are prominent on all your pages. In many cases, a visitor to your site only wants your physical location anyway - so make sure they can find it. If your location isn't relevant to your business, you don't need to put it on there at all.


How do you do what you do? You have experience, a track record, past successes that you want to relate to your customers. Especially if you're selling a service, make sure that you put down your background, past clients, or samples of your work. Chances are that you're not the only one offering these particular services, so toot your own horn a bit and show customers what you've already accomplished so that they can see what you might be able to accomplish for them.


So now they know who you are, what you do, where you're located, and how you do what you do. But why should they hire you? You probably don't do or sell anything that's never been done or sold before. That's where the Unique Selling Proposition comes in. A Unique Selling Proposition is a brief, catchy message that explains what makes you different, and why you are better than your competitors. Like everything else on your site, your USP should be brief, easily found, and repeatable.

There's a whole lot of stuff going on online. Peoples' attention spans have gotten shorter and shorter. The crux of the website is to get to the point quickly and make it appealing and interesting. You can do a lot of fancy things with a site -- flash, sound, video, blogs -- but you still have to shout your main message loud and clear.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Should I Charge?

Knowing or deciding what to charge can be one of the toughest questions for freelancers or entrepreneurs who are building a new business or going into a new line. But don't let it become a source of undue stress. There are some practical principles that can make it easier.

The first step is to find out the "going rate," as far as such a thing exists. There are two factors to consider here. The more important is: what do others charge? Second, who are your clients?

The only way to find out what others charge is to ask. Ask people you know who provide or use similar services. If you find it difficult to get information this way, search the web for similar services, contact them pretending to be a potential client, and ask their rates.

Using either or both of those methods, you can determine a range of rates that are reasonable and expected.

Next, think about who your clients are, actual or potential. Are they local small businesses or scrappy startups likely to be on limited budgets? Are they well-funded startups? Are they big corporations with plenty of money? A large national firm can probably pay more than the mom-and-pop cookie bakery down the street. This can help determine whether you should ask for the higher end of your range or the lower end.

But once you're aware of the "going rate," the primary principle is to always ask to be paid what you're worth. Perceived value is real value.

Here's an instructive example from the music industry. Independent musical artists often wonder how to price their CDs. (Yes, people still buy CDs, especially at live shows.) Some musicians think like this: since the total cost of recording and manufacturing my product was only (let's say) $3.75 per CD, if I sell them for $10 that's a nice big profit. A second run of the same CD costs even less (say $1.50) to produce, since no further recording costs have been incurred; so now at $10 retail, I'm really rolling in profits. Right?

Not so fast. Your pricing shouldn't be based on a fuzzy sense of what's a "reasonable" profit, but on the value of the product. If most touring musicians are charging $15 for a CD, then $15 is the value of a full-length music CD. A concertgoer isn't buying a plastic disc in a box, he's buying a piece of the experience of hearing the music live -- a piece that, unlike the concert, will last forever. That's value.

Similarly, a service provider who bills on an hourly basis should think very carefully before pricing herself significantly below the competition in the belief that it will earn her more business. An initial discount for a new client might, in some circumstances, be a good idea, but it should be clearly indicated as a special one-time deal. Regular pricing should be set at a level that accurately reflects the perceived value of the services.

Why does a lawyer get hundreds of dollars per billable hour? Are his services really that much more valuable than those of a hospital orderly, a child care worker, a dock worker, a proofreader, or a temporary receptionist? No, but they're perceived that way, and perceived value is real value.

Especially when dealing with a large or well-funded client, price yourself on the high end (or at least squarely in the middle) of what you have determined is the going rate. You can always negotiate from there if it's a job you really need or really want.

With a smaller client, you can consider asking for a bit less, but use this option with caution. I've had situations where I've asked a certain rate and had my offer accepted with such enthusiasm that I was sure the client had been prepared to pay more. This is not what you want to happen. Much better to ask closer to the high end, while being secretly prepared to negotiate; your potential client is probably prepared to negotiate as well. That's just business.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Proofing and Polishing Your Text, Old-School Style

In a previous article we suggested printing out what you've written and looking it over on paper to get a different perspective from staring at the screen. But a printed page isn't the only old technology that still works well when you need to communicate clearly and market your skills, products, or services effectively. We humans and our useful inventions go way back.


While you're proofing your work, keep a good dictionary handy, an actual book version.

Look up the spelling of any word about which you're even a little unsure.

Look up the meaning of a word if you're not certain it's the right one for the job.

Online dictionaries are useful and generally accurate, but a printed dictionary has certain advantages. For example, if you don't know how to spell a word, an online dictionary might not be able to figure out what word you're looking for when you type in your best guess. In an old-fashioned book dictionary, on the other hand, you can scan the words in a column to find the desired word even if you don't know its spelling.

Also, looking up a word in a printed dictionary gives you a momentary break from the screen.

Get a full-sized, hardcover dictionary. The small paperback ones may look handy and convenient, but they're very incomplete.

A thesaurus is also an invaluable tool. An online version usually does the trick. It's easy to fall into the habit of using the same old words over and over again. If you find you're using the same adjective more than once in a sentence, or the same term in sentence after sentence, look it up in a thesaurus and find alternative words that mean the same thing. Except when using specific technical terms, you can almost always find ways to vary your terminology, especially with verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

This isn't just good writing form. It benefits your readers. When we see the same word again and again our attention tends to lag. We get lulled into boredom. So by making your text more interesting for your reader, you're really doing yourself a favor.


Nothing beats the human brain. Even a skilled writer should, whenever possible, have another human being look over his or her copy before it's made available to customers, business partners, or the public.

This second pair of eyes does not have to belong to a professional proofreader or copy editor, although having someone like that handy is always a plus. It could be just about anyone.

It could be a colleague, of course. Someone who knows your business might catch factual errors or suggest improvements.

Or it could just be a friend or family member. Someone who doesn't know your business very well might point out a phrase or a term whose meaning is obvious to you, but might not be to the general reader.

Whoever it is, getting a different point of view will almost always result in some improvements to your writing: clearer phrasing, a better explanation of a technical point, catching spelling errors that you and your spell checker have missed, or any number of things. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one.

However, it is important to know when you do need professional help. If you're rolling out a new website or other mission-critical marketing materials, a marketing and/or writing professional may be needed. Poor grammar, typos, and spelling errors are no more acceptable on a website than they are on printed materials. An unclear sentence is just as bad as a broken link or a missing graphic.

So when you're getting your marketing materials ready for the public -- whether it's printed collateral, a website, a press release, a resume, or anything else that has to represent you in the world -- get a second pair of eyes to look it over. Use a thesaurus to mix things up a little. And when things really have to be perfect, refer (and defer) to the proper authorities: a dictionary for the correct spelling or meaning; a professional to whip things into perfect shape.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Self-Marketing: Stay True, but Stretch!

We're taking a break from the whole spelling and proofreading thing; we admit we burned out on it temporarily. This week we're going to address a couple of matters of marketing (and especially self-marketing) that often crop up when small enterprises try to make a splash.

Don't misrepresent yourself.

While it's important to put the best possible shine on your promotional materials and show yourself off in the best light you can, it's not okay to make things up. A job applicant should not lie on his resume; a marketing director should not lie on her company's website. It's fine to puff things up a bit; it's not fine to fabricate accomplishments that never occurred. One way or another, such falsifying will come back to bite you in the you-know-what.

One marketing professional who was negotiating her first consulting gig recalls walking the line between being honest and selling herself for the job. "The work called for a straight copywriter," she said, "and my background was more broad. I wrote copy as a Marketing Director, but I had never been employed as a copywriter. I did, however, know the brand I would be working on, as I had done marketing for that brand in the past. I was completely upfront with the client about my experience -- and lack thereof. They decided to test me out, so to speak -- which is the kind of opportunity you can get as a consultant -- and see if the partnership worked. It did, and subsequently I got other copywriting jobs since I now had 'copywriter' on my resume."

...But don't be afraid to stretch your boundaries.

Don't be afraid to say yes. As the example above shows, it's good to try things that are outside the scope of what you've done before. Most successful people and businesses didn't get that way by sticking strictly to what they already knew.

True, it's hard for an established company to go into a new line of business unrelated to its "core competencies," but that has as much to do with inertia as with actual capability. Individuals and small businesses with an entrepreneurial spirit not only can but often must stretch. Got a chance to do a project that's unlike those you've done before? Chances are, like the marketing professional in the example above, you'll be better off going for it. You'll learn something, make new contacts, and become more versatile, adding to the list of skills you can advertise in the future. We're humans -- creative beings, not machines. By definition, we're adaptable.  In fact, we're the most adaptable animals on the planet.  And it's a good thing, because our world changes rapidly.

But change is not your enemy.  Use that adaptable brain to stretch your limits and grow your capabilities. You might find hidden talents you didn't even know you had.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spelling, Part Two: It Don't Mean a Thing

In Part One we covered the basics of using your computer's spell checker. But a spell checker catches only words it can't find in its dictionary. You still have to carefully read over your text, using your own eyes and brain to catch any errors that remain.

This is hard, though. It takes concentration -- and not the same type of concentration required when reading normally. Probably the biggest reason even good spellers fail to catch errors is that the reading brain actually works against the proofreading brain. Normally, when you're reading, your brain doesn't care about individual letters or words, it cares about meaning. It wants to quickly absorb the whole phrase or sentence, to comprehend what's actually being said and move on. So it unconsciously "corrects" or ignores misspellings; it may detect them, but they never make it into the conscious mind.

How can you get around this? Here are a few strategies that can help you become an effective error-catcher.

Read slowly, word by word.

You can help prevent your brain from ignoring the errors by reading slowly enough to experience each word in isolation. By disconnecting the word from the meaning of the phrase or sentence, you're more likely to notice if it doesn't look right. Here's the classic demonstration of the brain not noticing something that's plain to see, but contrary to expectations:

Paris in the Spring

Most viewers, if they're unfamiliar with this puzzle, when asked to read it aloud will say, "Paris in the spring," not noticing the extra "the."

Read out loud.

Some proofreaders recommend reading out loud. This is one way to force yourself to read slowly and deliberately.

Take a break.

Professional copy editor Karen Sherman suggests a pause. "Put the piece aside and come back to it later. When you're writing something, you know what you're trying to say, so that's what you see when you look at it; when you come back to it after doing something else for a while, you'll have a fresh perspective on it, and it's amazing the things you'll notice. It's the next best thing to having someone else proofread your work for you."

Waste a little paper.

Sherman also suggests "printing the piece out and reading it on paper; it's amazing how many things you'll catch that way that you wouldn't notice on the screen." Just from this little change of scene you'll be approaching your text with a fresh eye.

Make the text large enough to read clearly.

You don't have to accept the default size of the text. If you're proofreading on a screen, view your text in a large font, or magnify the window or screen resolution so you can read carefully without straining your eyes. Your eyes will get less fatigued, and you'll be more accurate. The same goes for printed text: print your document in a font size that's large enough to read and proof easily.

Give these simple tips a try.  They're sure to improve your proofreading accuracy.

These techniques can't turn a poor speller into a good one, though. After all, you can't catch and correct errors if you don't recognize them in the first place. Being a poor speller is not a personality defect; some very smart people (some very smart writers, in fact) simply aren't good at spelling.  The type of visual memory that makes misspelled words "look wrong" is stronger in some people than in others.

So what can you do if you're a poor speller -- or if you simply don't have the time or energy to proofread your own writing?  Tune in next week.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spelling, Part One: Spell Checker Wisdom

I shouldn't need to tell you this, but here goes: always use a spell checker. Most word processing programs, like Microsoft Word, include a built-in spell checker. Some browsers, such as Firefox, also include one.

Of course, using a spell checker isn't enough. A spell checker won't catch "too" when you meant "to." It won't flag "Connected" when you meant "Connecticut," or the contraction "it's" when you meant the possessive "its." It catches only those words it's unable to find in its dictionary. So using the spell checker is only the first step. You must follow it up by carefully reading over your text, using your own eyes and brain to try and catch any errors that remain. More on that next week.

Behind every spell checker is a dictionary. But this dictionary doesn't come preloaded with every word you'll ever use. It starts with only a basic vocabulary; it needs to learn any special or unusual words that you use.

Fortunately, you can grow your spell checker's dictionary. Proper nouns, foreign words, and new or uncommon words are likely to be missing from your spell checker's dictionary until you add them. So, if your spell checker flags a word that you know is spelled correctly, add it to the dictionary -- especially if it's a word you expect to use often. Any good spell checker gives you the option of adding a word to its dictionary, so that -- as Pete Townshend might say -- it won't get flagged again.

The ability to add words to your spell checker's dictionary isn't just convenient. It's also important. If your spell checker keeps on flagging words that aren't wrong, over and over, this can actually make it harder for your tired eyes to spot the flagged words that you do need to correct. Our eyes and brains are imperfect. They tend to get fatigued and take unconscious shortcuts. Having lots of extraneous false positives staring us in the face makes us prone to glide over and miss the real errors, even when they've got red underlines.

Ideally, virtually every word your spell checker flags should be a legitimate error that you need to fix. Over time, as you add words to your dictionary, you'll get closer and closer to this ideal.

So use your spell checker. And don't just run it to give your work a quick once-over. Really use it as the adaptable tool it is.

It's your first line of defense against looking unprofessional.

NEXT WEEK: Spelling, Part Two: It Don't Mean a Thing.