Recently, one of my clients sent me his favorite email marketing piece. To him, it was the gold standard, and he wanted his email campaigns to look just like this piece. Why did it resonate with him? The subject line caught his attention, the top message intrigued him, and the copy supported the message. And so, he clicked on the CTA, filled out a form, and downloaded the offer.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? I was also impressed with the piece and the message, but as I took a step back and thought about it, something felt off to me.
Just like anyone else, I can be seduced by good copy and design, but sooner or later, my marketing sixth sense starts to kick in. Why did the campaign feel off to me? It targeted the wrong buyer.
What appeared to be a beautifully executed campaign was, in fact, a dud. The campaign was directed at IT engineers and used the language and imagery that would resonate with that group—and it did this very well. Unfortunately, that was not the target audience for this piece. This piece was intended for business operations folks—so “wrong” message sent to the right buyer.
I am sure that a great deal of time, effort, and money went into creating and launching this particular campaign. I am equally sure that it failed. Why? Because buyer personas are the most critical component of inbound email marketing campaigns. If you don’t truly understand who you’re trying to have a conversation with, you will not be able to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
Often, the buyer persona is like that person you’re always trying to avoid at parties: you don’t want to spend time with someone you don't have a connection with. But you need to work on that connection and figure out what makes your buyers tick:
Believe it or not, buyer personas are easy to develop. It just takes some time and of course, input from those closest to your customers and prospects. Check back next week for my pointers on how to create and evolve personas.
When developing a deck, most people open up PowerPoint (or some other presentation software) and start working on slides. Before that, they might have created some sort of outline. For example:
And then the slide creation work begins. A slick template is used, titles convey the content of each slide, images are inserted, some tables are created, transitions are selected, and it all looks, well, pretty. But when you start to dig in, the deck just does not hang together. Because there is no story.
So, exit out of your presentation software with all its bells and whistles and ask yourself this question: What’s the story I’m trying to tell? And no, the story is not about how you want to sell your solution to a customer or why a VC should invest in your company. That’s actually your objective.
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. There’s what I like to call a storyline that informs the actual story. For companies, the storyline is how and why the company was formed, its ethos. From that storyline, comes every story—or deck or pitch or video or other marketing asset—you create.
Storylines have major themes which in my parlance are messages. The messages are the building blocks for every story you create. You probably have heard the marketing adage of staying on message. There’s an art to this as the messages should sneak up on you—not through word-by-word repetition but through themes, tone, and attitude.
Before you start working on a deck, do some work on your storyline. Don’t fall into the classic trap of “We are the smartest people with the greatest technology that built a B2B enterprise solution for the XYZ industry.” That’s a snooze fest and no one is going to remember it. Instead, think about why the company was founded: Was there a seminal event, a light bulb moment that your founder(s) had when trying to accomplish something? Did his/her idea fill a void, meet an unmet need? What makes your storyline different from others in your market space? Pretend that you’re talking with someone who has no knowledge of what you do—what can you say to keep their interest?
Work on making your storyline compelling. At the same time, make it simple and easy to follow so that people can remember who you are and what you do.
How Google Works is an example of a great deck as it has a storyline and a story. If you take a look at this deck, you know it’s a Google deck—even if you went through the deck and removed every mention of Google, you would still know by the tone, playful images, and vibe that this is a Google presentation. Added to that, every slide is designed to tell a small story but when stringed together, tell a much bigger story. Finally, while the deck is interesting there’s also a simplicity to it—making it easy to remember.
As you work on your storyline, be patient. Storylines are fluid and will grow and change as your company grows and changes. You will go through iterations as you work on decks and other marketing assets and that’s as it should be.
Once you’re comfortable with your storyline, go back to your deck. Just like the storyline, every deck tells a story. Instead of thinking about the deck as the pitch deck or the sales deck, focus instead on your audience:
Think of each slide in your deck as a mini-story and make sure that as you run the slides together the bigger story comes into focus. Now that you have the story, it’s time to apply all those presentation software bells and whistles.
A final thought: Just because you can, does not mean that you should. Bells and whistles should be used to propel the story (and storyline), not overpower it. One of my most common comments on slide decks is that they are too noisy. Animations, transitions, images, smartart, charts, and videos are great but use them sparingly so that the story does not get lost.
Now, for some great resources. If you want to hone your presentation skills, go to Duarte, the best presentation firm I’ve ever worked with. Their site is a great resource for anything related to presentations and I own every book Nancy Duarte has written on the subject. Here are some other resources:
Every couple of years I take a look at what’s available in terms of free and inexpensive marketing tools. If you don’t have a large marketing budget, these tools can help make your funding decisions a lot easier: some projects can be DIY’d while others get a full court press.
I am always checking out the latest web publishing tools because outsourcing this can be an expensive proposition. There are plenty of great looking, functional sites in the digital world. Some have a lot of “weight” (design, infrastructure, and content development) behind them while others are the product of some marketing elbow grease and the judicious use of free or near-free website building tools.
WordPress has been a long time favorite of mine but ease of use is not its strong suit. Also, WordPress is a platform, not a website builder but you can use builders like Themify to build a site. I’ve worked with designers on building out a number of WordPress sites because once the site is up and running, it’s fairly easy for marketing folks (or anyone else) to make updates.
But I’ve always dreamed of a website builder that was so easy I could build it in a couple of hours after spending ten minutes looking at a couple of videos and reading a few “help” hints. And I wanted a true visual representation of the site while I was working on it so that design decisions could be made on the fly with little or no effort.
Full disclosure: I’ve looked at a lot of web publishing tools from free to fairly expensive and have always been disappointed. Maybe the tool was easy to use but what you could do with it was limited. Or the tool was difficult to use but the finished result was beautiful and functional. Or somewhere in between.
And then I read about Weebly in an article about the best website builders of 2016:
I took a look at Weebly and was interested enough to try and build a website using their free model. After an hour playing with it, I signed up for a year of Weebly’s starter site package and hosted my site using a domain I had lying around (www.mludloff.com). Yes, I built this site using Weebly.
Why build a marketing consulting site? Well, most of my clients have been referred to me by other clients and I operate pretty much on word of mouth. That being said, I’ve always thought it would be useful to have a site that included some of my portfolio work and give prospective clients an idea of my background and philosophy. But I’ve never had the time to actually do it. Until now.
It took me about an hour to build out my mobile-friendly site, select the theme and templates I wanted to use, and start my content development process. Since this is a site about me and I happen to be a marketer, the content development portion was fast and easy.
In marketing, the phrase “intuitive drag and drop” is overblown and overused but in Weebly’s case, it was spot on. I dragged, dropped, and tweaked text boxes, images, and lots of other elements to create pages with ease: in this case, WYSIWYG lived up to its billing. Images were easy to select and use with inexpensive license fees for stock images at $5 a pop. I did shop around and purchase a few stock photo images to give my site more of a custom look as well as built additional graphics using Canva, an online graphic design tool.
There are a few cons:
Cons aside, this was the easiest web publishing tool I have ever used and it has all the bells and whistles one needs for a robust site.
So how long did it take me to build it out? From start to finish (publishing a fully realized website), I estimate a little less than 20 hours (over four weekends). What did it cost me? Approximately $96 (per year) for the starter plan which removes Weebly branding and allows me to use my own domain plus another $100 for image licensing fees (for five years).
For small businesses and startups, Weebly is an economical way to have a strong digital presence at a fraction of what it would cost to outsource design and content development.
We marketers, and our profession, often get a bad rap. I mean, when the product is horrible and lots of people buy it because of “great marketing,” it’s our fault. I must point out to you that there are lots of companies in the Fortune 1000 that have average to below average products and great marketing (Oracle comes to mind). Equally, there are lots of companies in the Fortune 1000 that have great products and great marketing (Apple) and tragically, there are lots of companies not in the Fortune 1000 that had great products and bad (or no) marketing. You may wonder what I said to my client who dreamed of a world without marketing:
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or, if no one knows you have a great product, how will they be able to buy it?
It’s not going to end world hunger, cure cancer, or alleviate poverty but for those organizations and individuals that do try to address these problems it sure does help to get the word out. Or as we marketers like to say: raise awareness.
And here’s the good news for those smaller companies (you know the startups and SMBs) who aspire to become Fortune 1000 companies, or heck, maybe just grow their revenue 20% year-over-year: great marketing does not necessarily require a hefty budget. Today, you can do a lot with a little—you just need to know where to cut corners and where you will need to make some investments.
The digital world that we find ourselves in has become a great marketing equalizer. There are lots of free or near-free marketing tools you can take advantage of to launch a company, a service, or a product. You don’t need a storefront, you can stock and sell inventory out of your garage warehouse via your online store. You don’t need to pay $10,000 to launch a modest web site, you can do it yourself with a little elbow grease and $299 per year.
But (there’s always a but) keep in mind that you can use these tools and channels wisely or you can crash and burn. You can spend time upfront thinking about your brand, targeted market, value proposition, and how you message all of this stuff or not. And if you believe in doing things on the “not” side of the house, I will simply repeat a wise marketing statement that is applicable to so many things:
Garbage in, garbage out.
Thankfully, this blog is not about garbage. Rather it is about marketing matters. I will post about tools, ideas, strategies, analytics, and hot topics like privacy and security. Welcome to my blog—and I hope you share your thoughts as well!