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Archive for the ‘Effective Communication’ Category

Engage Customers with Key Marketing Strategies

In Branding, Effective Communication, Marketing, Marketing Communications, Marketing Message on September 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Three years ago, when I wrote the article, Common Sense Marketing in a Tough Economy, I had no idea that the information would be so pertinent in 2011. That article is one of the most popular since I launched Words That Work. Today, as in 2008, business owners need to make every marketing dollar count. What marketing strategies work best? While there is no single solution, here are three key marketing strategies that work in a challenging economy — and whenever you want to grow your business.

Strategy 1: Go back to basics. When it feels as if the walls are closing in on you and clients are evaporating, you may be tempted to toss aside your marketing plan and try something new. While there is nothing wrong with new approaches, this is not the time to forsake the basics. Start with a clear marketing message. This succinct statement should immediately engage customers and prospects and help them understand what your company can do for them and why they should do business with you rather than with your competition. Consider it your “logo in words.” Include it in print pieces and proposals. Share your marketing message when networking and then expand on it when you follow up with a new contact after an event or meeting. Instead of using a standard recording, make your marketing message part of your voice mail message.

Strategy 2: Cater to your customers. Your customers are golden and the reason for your business success. Treat them that way. Begin by establishing a process that allows you to stay in touch with customers on a regular basis. If you don’t have an up-to-date database of client contacts, develop one. Plan to “touch” your clients about once a month.

An email newsletter filled with useful information is a great way to stay in touch with clients. Consider profiling customers in your newsletter. This is a win-win situation. Potential customers get a firsthand look at how you have helped an actual business and your customers benefit from added exposure. Handwritten birthday cards, holiday greetings and notes of congratulations and thanks are thoughtful gestures and make you stand out. (When was the last time you received a handwritten note?) Take advantage of social media to tout your clients. Mention their accomplishments in your posts. Respond to their posts. We all know the power of referrals. Whenever possible, refer your clients to potential customers.

Strategy 3: Cultivate your prospects. Prospects are tomorrow’s customers. Treat them as you would a client. Develop a process to stay in touch with them. When you attend a networking event, capture contact information in a database and connect with prospects through social media. Plan to touch prospects at least once a month. When a prospect asks you to call “in three months,” have a system that allows you to follow through on that commitment.

When you meet someone for the first time, ask if you may add him or her to your newsletter database. Prospects will appreciate that you have asked their permission and they also are more likely to read your newsletter rather than hit the “delete” button. Use your marketing message in all of your prospecting tools, including written proposals. Don’t assume that people remember details about your company just because you have shared them in a meeting. Have you worked with a client who faced a similar challenge as your prospect? Share customer profiles so prospects can see your work in action.

©2011 Joan B. Marcus Communications LLC

The Fine Art of Mulling It Over

In Effective Communication, Writing on July 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Mulling it over When I was in grade school eons ago, teachers were quick to admonish us when they caught us daydreaming — staring out the window, seemingly thinking about nothing in particular and certainly not working on the task at hand. They told us that we were wasting time, time that we would never recapture. But were we really?  Interestingly, after working as a professional writer for more than three decades, I find that daydreaming or unstructured thinking is an essential ingredient of good writing. When daydreaming is coupled with “mulling it over,”or structured, deep thought, it’s an unbeatable combination for writing better and more quickly.

I’m not sure why this works or how it works, but I do know that I do some of my best writing when I am away from my laptop, doing something that has nothing to do with writing. This makes sense because writing is not about filling paper or your computer screen with words. Writing is a thought process. Before you can find the right words to write, you need to understand why you are writing and who your audience is. You need to brainstorm ideas, research what you don’t know and organize your thoughts. Then it’s time to start writing.

How does this work? Well, here’s how this particular blog entry was written. A few days ago, while I was taking my morning walk, I had the idea to write a post about “mulling.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mulling” as thinking something over “deeply and at length.” It’s an essential part of writing but one that people often try to skip to save time. When I got home, I jotted the idea down and stuck it in a file with other ideas for blog posts.

Yesterday afternoon, I started scoping out the main ideas of the post, which gave me last night and this morning to think about it. While watering the garden this morning, I started mulling over the article and jotted down key ideas when I got to my office. I focused on the key point I wanted to make (thinking is critical to writing) and how I could best engage readers in the topic (starting with a story). I finally decided to use this post as an example so my idea would be more concrete. I quickly drafted and then edited the post several times.

The next time you are stuck when you are trying to write, give yourself some time to think. This isn’t a luxury and it isn’t a waste of time. It’s a critical part of the writing process. Bottom line —  think before you write and let your mind, not your fingers, do the writing for you.

When do you do your best thinking about your writing? Share your thoughts — and thanks for reading.

Copyright 2011.  Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

Effective Communication Cuts Through Noise

In Effective Communication, Marketing Communications, Marketing Message on June 29, 2011 at 10:04 am

Several years ago, I was volunteering in my son’s kindergarten class. The room was filled with the noisy energy of more than 20 five-year-olds. When the teacher wanted the children’s attention, she spoke quietly yet firmly, so quietly in fact, that the parent volunteers in the back of the room could barely hear her. The teacher never raised her voice yet in less than a minute, the room was quiet and she began reading a book to the children. Parents marveled, joking that they had to yell to be heard at home. The teacher responded, “I speak softly so the children have to listen.”

In this age of sensory and information overload, how can you “speak softly” to compel your prospects and customers to listen to you? Here are three key concepts to guide your marketing communications efforts.

  1. Deliver an important message. Every time you communicate with prospects and customers, deliver a message that is important to them. Focus on what they need, not what you need. Talk about benefits not features to ensure that all of your marketing messages are customer-centered.
  2. Deliver a succinct message. It’s human nature to tune out someone who drones on and on without making a point. Don’t fall into this trap and lose the attention of your audience. Have a succinct marketing message that clearly explains the customer pain points your product or service addresses, your solution and what makes your solution better than that offered by your competition. Your marketing message is the verbal representation of your brand. Use it consistently and often, just as you do your company logo.
  3. Deliver your message with confidence. You don’t need to barrage your customers and prospects with messages to get through to them. This sends the signal that you really don’t know what makes your product or service important so you are hoping that volume will make up for that information gap. Make the effort to determine who your audience is, the best way to reach them and what they need to hear to purchase your product or service.

How It All Began

It’s or Its, Who’s (Or Is It Whose) to Say?

In Effective Communication, Writing on June 27, 2011 at 10:57 am

There has been a wonderful quote by British playwright Shelagh Delaney making the rounds on the Internet and Twitter recently. “Nothing passes. Everything stays with you. Everything makes it’s (sic) mark.”

But horrors! This wonderful quote also includes a glaring misuse of the maligned possessive and apostrophe. I rather doubt Shelagh Delaney used the word, “it’s,” in the original quote. “It’s” means “it is,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense in the quote.

Generally, an apostrophe indicates that a word is possessive — it shows ownership. However, it also can indicate that a letter is missing, as in a contraction. The confusion with “its” and “whose” stems from the fact that the apostrophe indicates that a letter has been left out, not that the word indicates possession.

Here’s an easy way to determine which form of these words to use. If you can replace “it’s” with “it is,” use the apostrophe. If you can replace “who’s” with “who is,” use the apostrophe. Otherwise, use the possessive version, its and whose.

How It All Began

Tame Grant-Writing Summertime Blues

In Effective Communication, Grant Writing, Writing on June 22, 2011 at 2:00 am

It’s summer and thoughts of lounging at the beach or hiking in the mountains are floating through your head. The reality is you are stuck in your office writing a grant proposal. Not your idea of a fun summer? Here are some of my favorite ways to speed up the grant-writing process to get you out of the office sooner while still getting optimum results.

  • Find your comfort zone. I can’t stand clutter. It bothers me so much that I find it difficult to work in a messy office. I need a neatly organized space to think straight and write well. On the other hand, years ago when I worked in a news bureau, my mentor had no problem working in an office where files teetered precariously and the floor was filled with papers, books, files and notes. Andy was a fantastic writer, even in this atmosphere. Moral of the story — find your comfort zone, especially when working under a tight deadline, even if it means taking an hour to clean the clutter off your desk.
  • Start with your story. The starting point of your proposal should be your story — your agency mission, the need you serve, the clients you assist, the program you have developed. Understand your story before you answer the proposal questions. This approach helps you provide a cohesive response that will help the funder understand the value of your program and the urgency of your request.
  • Dissect the Request for Proposal (RFP). The bottom line is the funder controls the funding that you want. You need to provide all of the information requested, in the required format. The easiest way to do this is to understand what the funder is requesting. Read the RFP as many times as it takes to understand it completely. For longer proposals, create a summary of the funding request and an outline of the questions asked.
  • Write by topic. The quickest and most effective way to write is to follow the six steps of the writing process. (Click here for more information on the writing process.) Writing is a thought process. To keep your train of thought and to write more quickly, attack one topic at a time and complete that topic in one sitting.
  • Turn off all distractions. Writing is a thought process. When you become distracted by email, texts, phone calls and conversations with colleagues, your thought process is broken. Your writing slows down or grinds to a halt. When you write, get rid of all distractions.
  • Give yourself time to mull it over. When I have a major writing project, I like to prep late in the day in anticipation of writing the next day. If your goal is to complete three sections of a grant in one day, brainstorm, research and outline those sections the day before. This gives you the time to mull over your writing and you will find the process goes much more smoothly when you actually begin writing.
  • Take a break. Everyone gets hit with writer’s block sooner or later. When you are under a deadline, however, you can’t afford to waste a lot of time. If you hit a dead end, take a break. A quick walk or other diversion will go a long way to getting your writing back on track.

How do you streamline the grant-writing process? Leave a post to share your ideas.

How to Find Not-So-Obvious Writing Errors

In Effective Communication, Marketing Communications, Writing on June 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm

American journalist, author and grammarian William Safire once said, “If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by re-reading and editing.” Mr. Safire’s tongue-in-cheek comment makes the need for editing obvious. The problem for many writers, however, is finding the not-so-obvious errors. Here are some common writing issues and tips to help you overcome them.

Problem: You proofread your work but still overlook errors.

Solution: It is difficult to proofread your own work and find all of your spelling and grammatical errors. It’s even harder to catch lapses in the logical flow of ideas because you understand what you are trying to say. Before you edit your work, put it aside if only for a few minutes. It is easier to catch mistakes with a fresh eye. For important documents, ask a colleague to read your work.

Problem: You don’t remember the rules of grammar that you learned years ago so you don’t always know when you are writing something grammatically incorrect.

Solution: Many writers cannot cite rules of grammar but intuitively know if something is grammatically incorrect. How? They are avid readers. You can increase your grammar skills by reading well-written newspapers such as The New York Times or The Washington Post. Get in the habit of reading books. When in doubt about punctuation or word usage, consult a style book or dictionary.

Problem: You use the “spell check” function when writing but spelling errors still creep into your work.

Solution: Spell check is a helpful tool but should be only one of the ways you check your writing for errors. The spell check function can overlook subtle mistakes. For example, if you use the wrong word but spell that word correctly, the spell check feature may not bring that word to your attention.

Problem: You have difficulty spelling words correctly.

Solution: Improving your spelling skills does not have to be a tedious process. Playing Scrabble and doing crossword puzzles can help. Reading is another solution. Get in the habit of using a dictionary.

Problem: Even after proofreading an email, you inevitably find a spelling or grammatical error after you push the “send” button.

Solution: If an email is an important piece of correspondence, proofread it on paper rather than on your computer. If that one extra step saves a string of emails explaining what you meant to say in the first place, it is time well spent.

Think Before You Write

In Effective Communication, Marketing Communications, Writing on June 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm

When you face an important writing task, do you find yourself putting it off until the last minute because you don’t know how to tackle it? Or do you begin immediately only to delete more words than you save? Both approaches can be time consuming and frustrating.

To be more effective and efficient, think of writing as a thought process that requires a great deal of work before you can successfully put words on paper. Refrain from the temptation to rush the process and begin writing before you are ready. Instead, gather facts, connect ideas and understand the message you want to convey to your readers before you begin to write.

The writing process can be used successfully whether you are crafting a brief letter or a lengthy report. Follow these steps to successful writing:

  1. Understand your assignment. Think about your goal, audience and format. Consider what you want your written piece to achieve, such as voicing an opinion, persuading your readers to take action or sharing information. Understand your audience, including their level of interest and understanding of your topic. Finally, consider the format of your writing, such as a brief email message, a major report or a 140-character tweet.
  2. Brainstorm. Once you understand your assignment, think about the type of information that should be included. Ask yourself the traditional questions posed by journalists — who, what, when, where, why and how. At this point, you may have more questions than answers. Jot down these thoughts in no particular order. Be creative.
  3. Research. You now must search for information to answer the questions raised during your brainstorming session. You may need to use a variety of sources ranging from personal interviews to books and reliable websites. As you research, look for connections and discrepancies.
  4. Organize your thoughts. Organize your research then arrange the information into a logical flow of ideas. Develop some form of written outline, although it does not need to be formal. Include enough detail to guide your writing. Take a break to give yourself time to mull over your ideas and your approach. Review your outline one more time to be certain that your ideas flow logically and will be understood by your readers. At this point, about 75 percent of your work should be completed.
  5. Write. You are ready to write when you can form one sentence that summarizes the point of your writing. Complete your first draft in one sitting. If that isn’t possible, complete sections at a time so you do not break your train of thought. Use your outline and refer to your research as necessary. When you finish your first draft, put your writing aside.
  6. Edit, edit, edit. All good writers edit mercilessly. Edit for meaning, mechanics and style. Read your piece through once before making any changes, focusing on the flow of ideas. Do your thoughts unfold logically? Will your readers understand what you are trying to say? Are there inaccuracies or vague thoughts? Once you are satisfied that your message is clear, move on to the mechanics — spelling and grammar. Avoid jargon and acronyms that will confuse your reader. Finally, edit for style.  Be clear. Be succinct. Delete any unnecessary words. Use a natural tone.

When you are confident that your piece is complete, set it aside. After taking a break, read it again, make any necessary changes and you are finished!

Your Marketing Message — Use It or Lose It

In Branding, Effective Communication, Marketing Communications, Marketing Message on May 31, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Blank boardYour marketing message is the verbal representation of your brand. As such, it should drive all of your marketing and be integrated into every marketing tool. How well are you doing this?

Here’s a quick way to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing message. Ask each of your employees how he or she introduces your company to a prospect. Is your sales force on the same page as your customer service staff? Does your clerical staff or the person answering the phone describe your company the same way you do? If you receive several different answers or blank stares, it’s time to take a closer look at your marketing message. Here are five tips to help you craft a memorable message:

  1. Tells your prospects and clients what they need to hear. An effective marketing message is a succinct statement — usually 25 words of less — that addresses your customers’ pain points, provides a solution and explains why your solution is the best one available.
  2. Focus on one key point. Most companies provide a variety of services or products. You don’t need to include all of this information in your message, and you shouldn’t! Instead, focus on the one product or service that best addresses your customers’ pain points. What do you do better for you clients than any other company?
  3. Develop a simple yet memorable message. This isn’t the time to try to impress customers and prospects by using jargon and technical language. Few people will understand or remember such a message. Instead, make your point simply and succinctly. Eliminate every unnecessary word and make every word count.
  4. Think about it. Developing a powerful marketing message takes time. You need to consider your core strengths and weaknesses, the current or future needs or pain points of your customers and how you can best meet those needs based on your strengths. Once you know the answers to these questions, craft a succinct statement that captures the essence of your answers.
  5. Make your message part of your company. Your marketing message should be an integral part of all your marketing efforts. You and our entire staff should be comfortable using your marketing message in casual conversation, while networking and in formal presentations. In short, use it or lose it!