Trends

New year, old you: Why thinking you'll transform yourself in the new year sells yourself short

It’s the new year, a traditional time for setting goals, feeling guilty and inadequate, and resolving to be a better person. Not necessarily in that order. Goals and resolutions are great, and everyone here at Sol is definitely on board with making them and supporting each other to achieve them.

Let’s be realistic. Expecting to completely transform yourself by losing weight, being a better parent or spouse or daughter, becoming more active in your community, learning new skills, getting a better job and finally taking that dream trip to Vietnam is setting yourself up for failure. It’s also selling yourself short.

First, you didn’t make it this far by being a complete loser. You’ve managed to eke out a career of some sort, make your way through this complex society to become at least a semi-responsible adult, and be in a position to read the Sol Marketing post about setting goals. You, my friend, are already aces.

Second, goals that are vague are difficult to achieve. As my grandpa may or may not have once said while we were skeet shooting, “You can’t hit a blurry target.”

Just as you do in your company planning sessions, set those SMART goals for yourself for 2016.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

One of my own 2016 SMART goals is to enter my homemade canned goods in two categories (tomato preserves and sour brined pickles) into competition at the State Fair of Texas. That’s specific, measurable and actionable. I’ve made these before and have gotten lots of positive feedback, so I know it’s realistic to do this. And, the deadline is sometime in July, which is perfect because the spring tomatoes ripen in late May through June, and cucumbers are starting to come on in July. So there’s a timeframe associated with this.

Rather than think you need to completely reinvent yourself—you don’t, and even if you did it wouldn’t work—think about specific steps you’ll take to have a spectacular, or at least satisfying, 2016. As for myself, I’m taking orders now for the limited edition batches of tomato jam.

 

Storytelling 101: Presentation is Everything

Every time you present about your business or yourself you are telling a story. Make the most of it. Join Brand Dominatrix and Investor Pitch Whisperer Deb Gabor and co speaker award-winning storyteller and entertainer Jon Bolden in a storytelling 101-- a FREE highly interactive educational hands-on experience that will equip you with the necessary tools to connect with audiences in unique and powerful ways. Register Today

Why understanding your customers' desires and needs will drive irrational loyalty in 2016

2015 was all about content marketing. Brands realized they needed content, and a lot of it. Things kicked into high gear as marketing teams struggled to fill nurturing programs with assets. Customer journeys, personalized marketing, retargeting, account based marketing and increased implementation of marketing technology stacks all fueled this insatiable thirst.

The results, not surprisingly, were often a case of more not being better, but simply more being more.

A huge challenge – and thus, we predict, a huge trend in 2016 – will be for brands to up the quality level while producing enough quantity to fill their programs.

Making better content is important, got it.

So, how do we do it? The old processes and rules need to change. You need to streamline workflows, put serious resources into repackaging already-good content into new forms targeted appropriately, and most importantly, get a thorough understanding of your customers.

It’s not enough to create personas based on demographics or even behaviors. You need to understand what motivates people, what they’re trying to accomplish.

Once you know what drives someone, the path to creating content that engages and moves them toward purchase and loyalty becomes clear.

The megatrends of mini-customer insights, people looking for emotional connections and a maturation of the content marketing ecosystem are converging. We predict 2016 will be the year a deep understanding of your customer will power quality content that creates irrational loyalty and bonds between your customers and your brand.

Austin entrepreneurs say branding is their biggest challenge for 2016

Finding funding isn't it. Even making key hires isn't it. Instead, members of the Austin chapter of the Entrepreneur's Organization say increasing brand awareness and lead generation will be their biggest challenge in 2016. Are you ready? Ready to go from startup mode so you can scale and grow? It's going to be a great year.

Read the story

Find out how YOU can generate irrational loyalty

Join the Austin chapter of the American Marketing Association for a professional development luncheon Thursday, January 21, 2016. Do you ever wonder how top brands create irrational loyalty among their users? The world’s most profitable and well-known brands bond in highly emotional and compelling ways with the customers who are most likely to spend the most money with them.

Deb Gabor, founder and CEO of Sol Marketing, will lead a highly-interactive workshop to guide you through identifying and profiling the customer who is most highly predictive of your success using the Ideal Customer Archetype methodology. Through the use of hands-on exercises, you will learn to use this method to go beyond traditional demographic and firmographic profiles to hone in on behavioral and attitudinal attributes that enhance the climate of consideration for your brand.

Once you intimately know your Ideal Customer, you can identify opportunities to make your brand part of your customers’ self concept, tell your brand story more effectively and focus your marketing efforts on the customers who will help you win.

Limited seating available: register today.

Don't have time to read the top 10? Try just one.

By Sara Breuer It's hard to make time to read all the business books people recommend, isn't it?

Top 10 lists are great, but I don't think I've made my way through the top 10 business books of LAST year yet. The clever people at Inc. magazine did some vetting and, with the Financial Times and McKinsey's choice of the ONE must-read book of 2016. You may not like it, you may not agree, but it's worth a look.

Read the Inc. list

The secret to targeting millennials: DON’T

Today's marketers have pigeonholed millennials into a vast group of faceless, nameless people. Let's be honest: between the ages of 18 and 34, they range from living on Snapchat to buying houses. Who truly thinks you can target consumers across so wide a spectrum? Please help our session make it into SXSW Interactive 2016 by voting for us in the SXSW PanelPicker!

Deb Gabor and Cliff Sharples have worked together to successfully profile, identify and target consumers to create business success for leading digital media and internet firms, including HomeAway, Cheezburger and now Fexy Media. In this session, they’ll discuss how to leverage consumer insights to understand who your customers really are, how they behave and what they care about -- so you can build a powerful emotional relationship with them.

What is the fallacy of marketing to millennials? How should you be profiling, targeting and segmenting your audience? What are the characteristics beyond demographics that allow you to dial in your brand to make the most powerful relationship with consumers? We'll talk about all this and more... if we make it into SXSW!

Voting closes at midnight this Friday, September 4.

To vote, visit our page on the SXSW PanelPicker. You can sign in with Facebook or create a quick and easy account, then give us the "thumbs up" to vote for our panel.

Thank you for the support!

The shoe fetish continues

$11,629.29.

That’s not what I owe in payments on my car.  Nor is that my Central Austin property tax bill. That’s how much money I’ve spent on shoes at Zappos.com in the past 10 years.

About a year ago, I did a blog post about my love for Zappos. Since some time has passed, and my taste in shoes has become decidedly more selective and expensive, I felt it was time for me to give you an update.

Check out this year's Zappos order chart below.  You can see, while my 2013 average order size went down, my total number of orders went up. Apparently, during 2013, I was buying LOTS of cheap shoes.  I have no explanation for this other than perhaps I went on a flip-flop binge. I do live in Austin, so it’s possible.

ZapposChart

Looking back on 2014, the total number of orders remained the same (16), but the average order size when up by more than $30!  What I have to show for that is a couple of pair of “couture” shoes (ask me to show you the blue suede Ted Baker stilettos; they’re fabulous) and a handful of athletics, trendy open-toed booties and a variety of more sensible styles.

To be fancy, I added a trend line so you can see how my lifetime value as a customer is trending over time: it’s increasing at a pretty good rate (I think the Zappos team loves me).

So, besides the obvious fact that I love shoes, what else can you take away from this?

As I wrote in last year’s blog post, there are lots of places online to buy shoes – many of them less expensive than Zappos.  And, believe it or don’t, there are dozens of convenient brick-and-mortar places at which I can buy shoes and even wear them home the same day.  However, I still choose to buy most of my shoes at Zappos because I love what they stand for.  I love how they deliver service.  I love how I experience their brand.

You could say that I love WOW, and that’s what bonds me to them year after year, even when there are less expensive, more convenient choices.

Here’s something that comes directly from Zappos’ website:

At Zappos, Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing With WOW.
WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that's above and beyond what's expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don't want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.  Whether internally with co-workers or externally with our customers and partners, delivering WOW results in word of mouth. Our philosophy at Zappos is to WOW with service and experience, not with anything that relates directly to monetary compensation (for example, we don't offer blanket discounts or promotions to customers). We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.

Delivering WOW through service is a core tenet of Zappos’ culture. And Zappos culture – not shoes – is their brand.  In fact, since last year’s blog post, Zappos has launched several additional retail categories on their austere e-commerce site, and that’s got my attention.  With the addition of beauty, sporting goods and home products, Zappos is my first go-to place when shopping online for anything.  With free overnight shipping (both ways) and no-questions-asked returns up to 1-year later, how could I ever pass up an opportunity to check with Zappos first?  I’d say that I’m irrationally loyal to Zappos.  That means that I’d check there first for product availability before shopping anywhere else.  Zappos and I, we have a tight bond.

There are many companies with core values, but most read the same.  Can you guess which company belongs to these?

  • Customer Service
  • Quality
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Teamwork

Of course you can’t – because they’re too generic; they aren’t memorable or ownable; they aren’t part of a company’s very culture; they aren’t this company’s brand. The best core values are ones that are remarkable and define how customers experience a company’s brand.  They have the following characteristics:

  • They are actionable
  • They describe how you act as a company
  • They are visibly integrated with how a company does business
  • They are aligned with what’s important to customers
  • They are used to attract and retain the best talent
  • They have support from all levels of the company

…and most importantly, they aren’t platitudes.  They are unique to a company’s beliefs.

Many companies have core values, but don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release or on a plaque in a company’s lobby.  Your core values are part of the DNA – or the story – of your brand.

So what core values are you willing to commit to?

What it means that content is (still) king

With the explosive growth in the interest and need for content in marketing, the old adage has taken on new meaning. No longer is it okay to cut and paste bloodless brochure and web copy for “all your marketing needs,” or ignore content marketing entirely in favor of paid advertising campaigns. Content rules my world, and from his subjects, he demands much.

I work on content all day, every day. I do it for clients, for Sol and for personal/community projects. I must be a loyal subject, paying homage and being faithful and constantly vigilant. It takes a LOT of time to make content. Almost always more time than you – or your client, your team, your boss, your committee chair – think it should.

At Sol, we’ve developed a streamlined workflow leveraging the latest tools for producing content, and we’re constantly looking for ways to optimize that workflow. However – no matter how efficient you are, good content takes brainpower, heart, soul, and effort.

And here’s a fallacy I want to bust right now: it is not faster to repurpose or migrate existing content. Inevitably, copy needs to be rewritten, specs updated, new images and data researched or created. And then the repurposed content has to go through the entire production and QA process.

That doesn’t mean you should overlook existing content as a source for creating new pieces. Quite the contrary – repurposing or re-skinning already-approved messaging is a great way for your team to leverage outsourced resources like Sol so your internal teams can focus on your core marketing strategy. Just be prepared to pay for it and allow adequate time to get it.

Given the headache, why should you even bother with content? Because it works. Kapost reports that for large enterprise companies, leads generated through content marketing cost 41% less than those generated by paid search; for mid-size companies, they cost 31% less.

Content works. You just have to work at it.

Long live the king.

6 keys to building brand swagger

I always tell clients to answer the following questions to figure out what's at the top of their brand pyramids:

  • What does it say about a person (a customer, a user) that he or she uses/wears/drinks/eats/lives your brand? The answer to this question lies in how your product/brand addresses someone's core values and beliefs.
  • What makes you indispensable to a person?  Meaning: what is the singular benefit he/she gets from using your product or brand that they can't get ANYWHERE else?  The answer to this question is NEVER about the product – the speeds/feeds or the "ities" (reliability, adaptability scalability, manageability, etc-ability.)  The answer to this question gets to the true differentiation of your product and the root of the emotional relationship people have with you and your brand.
  • How do you make your customer a HERO in his/her own story?  Everyone has a story.  How does your brand play into the customers' own stories?

As I told you in a previous post: all branding is about sex.  How does your brand give a person that sexy swagger that makes others swoon?

The most enduring brands are the ones that create irrational loyalty among their users.  Irrational loyalty is the kind of love a mother has for her own offspring, or the kind of love that enables customers to continue to purchase and support your brand, even when they know there are products and brands available that are functionally superior.  It's the reason that I always run in Asics shoes, and why I always buy Apple products.  I actually feel guilty when I don't buy the latest and greatest iThingies.

I have my own loose model of brand success. Over 20-something years of working with and creating brand stories, I've learned that there are key elements that give brands the ability to create a lasting legacy in their categories. I didn’t just pull these things out of my ass, I have validated them through hundreds of thousands of research interviews and hours upon hours of hands-on brand consulting.

Here they are:

  1. Relevance:  a solution to an acknowledged problem.  The problem has to be huge and profound for the people that have it.
  2. Vision: an answer to the question, "what will the world look like when we've solved this problem," expressed thusly:  someday, every blank will be able to blank.
  3. Awareness and affinity: lasting brands are often (or have the potential to be) leaders in their categories.  Top of mind awareness has the highest correlation to brand purchase. For example, think of the first canned soup brand that comes to the top of your head?  Did you say Campbell's?  So...what's the #1 soup brand in grocery stores today?
  4. A system of economics: organizations that can create a system of economics  around themselves have endurance and demonstrate leadership.  Think of organizations like Salesforce.com, or Oracle.  There are developers, resellers, integrators, customers, employees, vendors, and others who all experience success as a result of the financial relationships they have with those brands.
  5. Integrity: the strongest brands in the world walk the talk.  Think back to B-school. Do you remember studying the Tylenol crisis?  J&J, the parent company of Tylenol, was able to weather one of the most epic product quality shitstorms in history because the brand has integrity.  They took control of the communication about the situation.  They were proactive.  They didn't hide anything.  They demonstrated respect for the humans involved, from victims to employees to stockholders.  Who wouldn't put their confidence in a brand that exhibits those characteristics?
  6. Humanity: in today's world, brands that show compassion towards other humans and a desire to authentically connect with their audiences create the most indelible bonds.  Think about the brands you feel most strongly about.  Are there any you LOVE?  Why is that?  When you love someone or something, sometimes they get a "pass" when they've done something wrong.   

As a brand, I'd love to be in that position.

It’s strange that I could sum up almost 25 years of my life’s work in this one short blog post.  But there it is.  How does your brand measure up?

 

 

 

 

5 marketing lessons from your first day at school

By Shaina Forman

The smell of a freshly-opened package of notebook paper… the grinding sound of the pencil sharpener... sightings of glittery Lisa Frank pocket folders strewn across the classroom… Excitement and uncertainty of what lies ahead for the year is racing through your mind.

Lessons you learned from all of those first days of school can wholeheartedly apply to your professional life as a marketer today.

  1. What was cool in junior high might not be so cool in high school. Don’t be that kid who shows up to ninth grade with a rolling backpack. If you’re targeting a new market, what’s always worked for you in the past might not work now. It’s time to experiment to discover what resonates with your new audience and what they care about.
  2. Befriend the new kid in school and play nice. It was always a mystery which of the kids you played with during recess would turn into lifelong friends. Now, you never know where a new professional contact might lead you down the road. If somebody reaches out to you, make a connection for them. They might someday introduce you to a new customer, help you get a job, or even turn into a great friendship.
  3. Fads are fads. On the first day of school my junior year, almost every single girl showed up wearing the exact same denim miniskirt from American Eagle. It was flat out embarrassing, and nobody ever wanted to wear that skirt to school again. What are you doing to stand out from the pack? Just because your competitors offer a deal doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to do the same. Fads are important if you want a piece of the virality, but think ahead about what will most likely bring you long-term success. And make sure that you can communicate your value propositions before somebody else comes along and copies you.
  4. Get organized ASAP. Just as it was important to keep track of your homework assignments in your daily planner, you still need to always have full visibility into everything you’re working on. The more organized you are, the easier it is to prioritize and see what’s bogging you down. Then you can find areas where you can save time and focus on what’s most important.
  5. Don’t be scared to try something new. Join a new club and get out of your comfort zone. Take a random class to learn a unique skill. Do something unexpected. If your marketing communications are becoming the same old same old, or if you’re feeling stuck, get out there and try something different.

And one final pro tip: writing with colorful markers still makes life more fun.

 

 

Soul searching from the youngest Sol team member

By Noah Krell

In mid-May I finished my four-year stint as a student at Washington University in St. Louis. Four years gone, four years full to the brim with wholesome learning, mild-to-intense debauchery, real friendships, shallow friendships, professors with stunning insights, bank accounts with stunning(ly low) balances, cliché #3, cliché #4, cliché #5. Everything "they" told me would happen in college, happened in college.

This realization prompted immediate feelings of guilt as I recalled each and every eye roll I gave in response to parental advice over the years. But, beginning a new chapter in my life affords me the opportunity to start fresh, and in that spirit, I decided to poll the office on what pieces of advice they would give to their younger selves. Here’s an aggregated, semi-NSFW list, with my personal interpretation of each point.

1) Don’t give a s*** what other people think, do what you love Okay I’ve heard this one before, and the conclusion I used to always come back to was: easier said than done. It’s way simpler, and way easier to avoid conflict by being conventional, right? But what I’ve grown to learn is when you weigh that sense of ease and simplicity up against the benefits (happiness) you gain from actually doing things youenjoy doing, you might find the scale tips more easily than you’d expect. If you’re able to swing it financially, you should embrace this concept in your professional life. If not, do what you need to do to pay the bills, but outside of work embrace your guilty pleasures, and don’t be ashamed to share. My name is Noah and The O.C. has been my favorite TV show since I was 12.

2) Pick something and run with it I think the concern here might have something to do with switching majors a few too many times in college, and racking up more education bills than you (or your parents) know what to do with. As someone who didn’t go through that process, this meant something different to me; It meant something along the lines of: every now and then, allow yourself the opportunity to develop a passion for something, rather than wasting time trying to find the absolute perfect fit. That is to say, sometimes we don’t know what a perfect fit feels like until we fully devote ourselves to exploring it. Break-in a pair of shoes before immediately writing it off as a bad fit – after a few weeks (months, years) of walking in it you’ll probably change your mind, and you won’t have wasted effort trying on a new pair every week.

3) Don’t apply for credit cards I literally started shopping around for credit cards the night before I posed this question to the office (read: I started shopping around for cars and realized it might be smart to build credit first), so you can imagine this advice was a little bit jarring. Different people operate in different ways, but I think the main point here is that, in certain cases, it is best to plan ahead and to make current decisions accordingly. Don’t do anything that will benefit you now but screw you later, because chances are the regret will outweigh the initial satisfaction. Make decisions that are right for you, and be honest with yourself. Be smart, be frugal, and do your research before jumping into anything too risky.

4) Get your nude photos taken now Crass, maybe, but editing/censoring honest advice defeats the purpose of asking for it. The subtext for this one is “…because you’ll never look better than you do right now.”  Well, we all like to think we can maintain our health and our looks even as 40, 50, 60, 70-year-olds, but the honest truth is that it gets harder every year (or so I’ve heard). So, with that in mind, I have a couple of takeaways here. First, takeadvantage of your youth, looks and energy while you have them, and second, invest in your own physical and mental well-being now, so that you can reap the benefits (or rather, not have to pay the price) later on in life.

5) Don’t be afraid Also easier said than done. I know I’ve still got plenty to learn and experience, but I’ve been confronted with plenty of situations throughout my life that have evoked some element of fear – fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of physical harm, etc., etc.  Granted, I’m not going to condone confronting physical harm without worry. However, when it comes to fear of failure, consider everything as an opportunity. Be optimistic. Don’t be afraid to jump outside of your comfort zone, because in the end, there is absolutelyzero downside. Worst case scenario you fail miserably and embarrass yourself along the way. The optimist in this situation takes it as a learning experience, and an opportunity for personal growth. So what if you fall on your face? Suck it up (we’ve all been there) and remember to tie your shoes next time.

6) Be less judgmental This is the flip-side of point #1, and the perfect opportunity to put my psychology minor to good use (…bear with me). Ironically enough, one of the easiest things to forget as an intelligent being with your own brain, is that everyone else has a brain too. You might not be a selfish person, but because you operate within your own personal psyche, and your environment only exists through the lens of your personal psyche, it’s almost impossible not to lace that environment with your own judgments. This is a natural, healthy process, until you let negative judgments cloud your lens and dictate the way you interact with others. Be yourself, but let other people be themselves, too.  Let me watch The O.C., drink cheap beer or read my Dan Brown novel, and I’ll let you rock out to heavy metal, wear skinny jeans or root for Oklahoma football. I promise we both bring plenty to the table, I promise we can coexist, and I promise we can maybe even be friends.

Pleasure reading for the marketing professional

By Noah Krell

Personally, I can't remember the last time I read a book for pleasure (mom if you're reading this, I can feel you cringing).

I know this isn't a completely uncommon problem amongst millennials (with our screens), but I also know that it's an avoidable one, and one that's important to address. Reading is one of the best ways to learn, to keep the mind sharp, to expand the vocabulary, etc., and as my coworker told me the other day, "the easiest way to become a good writer, is to become a good reader."

With that in mind, I'd first like to publicly vow to read a book strictly for pleasure before the month of September is over (I'll blog a book review as proof).

Now that that's out of the way...my short-term resolution is to find ways to make "business reading" more enjoyable. I'm fortunate enough to work in an industry full of creative minds, intriguing ideas, and people that actually make a living out of communicating those ideas, so luckily I have TONS of interesting, gratifying content to sift through. But therein lies the next problem...where to even begin?

I recently stumbled upon a pretty comprehensive list from Kapost's content marketing blog, The Content Marketeer, compiling 14 of the best blogs and news sites to follow as a marketing professional. If you're a marketing professional and you've been around the block, you’re probably already familiar with most of these. But as a rookie, this list has been extremely helpful for me as I strive to shorten the learning curve as much as possible. As an added bonus, I've already found/bookmarked a few sites and writers that I actually enjoy reading. Take a look and let us know what you think.

There is no summer vacation in marketing

How I learned to turn the summer doldrums into my secret weapon

by Sara Breuer 

Summer can be a tough time for getting anything done in marketing and sales. Entire weeks seem to be off limits for both generating leads and closing deals, not to mention getting approval on ANYTHING. Have you ever tried to reach someone on Monday, July 3? Or the Friday (or Thursday) before Labor Day? It. Is. Not. Happening.

Besides planning around those down weeks, marketers worth their salted caramel ice cream use the summer to get in shape for the busy fall season. Q3 is huge for so many businesses, from retail to enterprise B2B. Don’t go into it all flabby and pasty from too many Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black marathons.

As I finished up my son’s “Camp Spreadsheet” — it’s how we track where he’s going, when, and for how much money each summer, not a place he goes to learn about spreadsheets — it occurred to me that I’m crafting a summer marketing camp for myself as well.

Summer reading list

Summer reading isn’t just for middle schoolers, and your list doesn’t have to be just books. Challenge yourself to find and read a blog or follow a new expert in your field – or a new expert in another field for that matter – on Twitter.

This summer I’m plunging headlong into reading several smarties who go deep into IT marketing and lean startup methodology. It was either that or Remembrance of Things Past, and frankly, there aren’t enough weeks in the summer for me to finish the Proust.

Improve yourself

Learn something new. Check out a new tool. Take a class. Do you REALLY know everything you need to about marketing automation or how to use Adobe Marketing Cloud?

My goal for this summer is to learn more about using LinkedIn as a social platform. It’s embarrassing to admit I don’t fully understand its capabilities, nor how to leverage them to their fullest.

Make new friends

It’s easy to get comfortable with the people you work with every day. Your team may be a well-oiled machine, but if you’re a marketer, you need professional friends in Finance and IT. You know, the people who don’t understand what it is you do all day. Make a point to find someone who can make your life a whole lot easier, and reach out to see how you can make her life (or at least her job) a whole lot easier.

I’m choosing to focus on getting to know the professionals who are in my business development group, Austin Business Link. In particular, I’m reaching out to see what I can learn from this group of cool, successful people who aren’t straight-up marketers.

When summer’s over, I won’t just have a killer tan and some Instagrammed memories, I’ll have some mad new skills and stronger relationships. Sure beats chigger bites and a broken arm, doesn’t it?

The Solutions Epidemic

My one-woman campaign against the most overused word in marketing copy.

by Deb Gabor 

What do you think is the most overused word in technology marketing copy? Scalable? Reliable? Proven?

Nope. It’s solution.  The word solution is everywhere in today’s technical marketing copy.  It’s an epidemic.  And I admit, I’ve contributed to the epidemic. Starting now, I’m on a quest to eliminate the word solution from our technical marketing copywriting vocabulary.

There are three root causes of the rampant spread of the word solution in marketing copy:

1. Lack of understanding. Sloppy marketers either don't fully understand the technology or cannot succinctly speak about their products or services. Instead, they refer to solutions.  As a result, they miss the opportunity to describe what the product is and does.

Here's an example: A young software company we’re working with is getting ready to launch a new product with the word solution in their positioning and description.  Customers need to know basic information about a product, including what they’re actually buying. This particular company seemed afraid to call their product software, which is what it is.  If we don’t say it’s “software” or an “application” or a “system,” and just say it is a new solution, the question of what the product actually IS remains open, leaving customers scratching their heads.  Using the word solution in place of another more specific description makes the company seem like it doesn’t really know what its product does.

2. Lack of commitment.  Positioning is as much about what you’re willing to give up as it is about what you do.  Marketers and business leaders who are unwilling to commit to a particular product or service category often cop out by using “solution” instead of a specific description of their product.  These are the same marketers who say they are creating “new categories” or “disrupting” old ones.  That’s great if you have enough marketing muscle and budget to permeate customers’ decision-making processes with a whole new category of product or service.  But my experience shows me that unless you’re a FORTUNE 50 company, you probably don’t have the stomach (or the budget) for creating an entirely new category on your customers’ shopping lists.

If the product seems to have no direction, then help define one. If it's composed of multiple functional pieces, then explain it so customers understand what it includes.  If it is software, call it software.  Your car isn't your “transportation solution.”  Your phone isn't your "communication solution."  Is your boyfriend a “loneliness solution”?  Reserve use of the word solution for times when it’s paired with statement of a real problem or when helping your teenage kid with her chemistry homework.

Speaking of teenagers, this leads me to the third reason for the solutions epidemic...

3. Laziness. Yes, we are all lazy. Our peers in other industries, such as medical technology, have to work even harder than we do at describing their products and services. They can't just continue to say that their “solutions will revolutionize the way people live.”  In many cases, they have to define the science and then be able to communicate what their technology does.

Whether you’re an internal marketer or serving clients as an agency resource, your job is to help convey the company's identity and what its products and services do. If you use “solutions” early on in your descriptions and key messages—you're not working hard enough.

 

 

Your email marketing is like a bad date

I will go out on a limb and say that a lot of us have been on nightmare dates in the past. You know, the ones that make you wish you had an eject button on their seat. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who have avoided the excruciating pain of these dates, and for that, I commend you on your excellent skills of perception. As for the rest of us, the haunting memories will last with us until we enter the grave. Let’s be honest here. Terrible email marketing is just as bad as terrible dates: the constant stream of one-sided conversations, our futile attempts at cutting communication, the (completely obvious) hints of clinginess. If you are involved in bad email marketing, shame on you. I try to unsubscribe from your email lists as fast as possible. Preferably I try to not get on the lists in the first place. There is little doubt that I am not the only one who hates being constantly bombarded by irrelevant email messages.

 

Here is a condensed list of what makes me sprint to the unsubscribe button:

  • The email contains irrelevant or boring content
  • The design of the email is not eye-catching/pleasant to view
  • You send too many email messages
  • Your content in new emails is no different than previous messages
  • I feel no connection to your company
  • Your promotions aren’t substantial enough

 

From the dual standpoint of a marketer and a person who receives a lot of junk emails, here are three ideas that address these issues and can enhance your email marketing campaigns:

 

Create a more efficient email design. You want your dates to be exciting, interesting…even fascinating. In the same way, keep your emails concise and stimulating. No one wants to read dull and long email messages! If your message takes too long to make its point, your customers will quickly lose interest. They will most likely attempt to bang their heads against the nearest wall. Try to keep your messaging brief but not lacking in substance. Limit the amount of email messages you flood into your customers’ inboxes. Don’t be the date that talks so much without actually saying anything. Tailor to your segments. Like a good date, try to learn as much as you can about your readers. Do not think that all of your customers are interested in all of your products and services. If you send out a blanket email to everyone on your list, it will lose effectiveness compared to targeted specific segments. Think about the times where a date has been incredibly flat because of the complete and utter lack of commonality between you and the other person. You can dodge that by employing different email campaigns for specific customer segments. Give your customers a reason to read your email messages. Provide value to your readers through the email messages. If the message is not worth reading, they won’t get anything out of it and may unsubscribe / delete your messages. You do not want to be a boring date. You want to have quality conversations with them, discussing topics that interest them. Make them want to read and click through to your website by piquing these interests. One of your main goals is for your customers to feel a connection to or affinity for your brand, not make them watch the clock and wait for you to stop talking.

 

Don’t take your customers out on a nightmare date. Follow these tips and hopefully avoid the heartbreak of people unsubscribing from your email marketing. Perhaps you can win over your audience/customers with quality, engaging material that gives each of them reasons to get on board with your company.

The death of the screwdriver

Don’t worry; we’re not talking about the beverage. That’s alive and well. The focus group is a classic tool in the market research toolkit, and has been for decades. Relatively easy to organize and conduct, they allow brands to get insight from actual customers on a wide range of important topics. The methodology and costs are well acknowledged by marketers and researchers across all industries, and it can be a comfortable move when formulating a research plan.

Sure, sometimes groups can feel like the AT&T video at the top…

…and there are also issues with groupthink, facility/travel costs and realism of feedback. However, a skilled moderator goes a long way towards reducing the effect those factors have on responses; no need to fix something that isn’t broken, right?

The same question can be asked before assembling something that requires more than about 10 screws. Would a screwdriver get the job done? Absolutely. Will it take 10 times longer, result in burning forearms and be way less fun than using a variable speed power drill? Once again: absolutely.

Nearly every computer and phone that is manufactured today comes with at least one camera, usually capable of recording video. People are connected to social media at all hours of the day. Marketers have unprecedented access to customers for research; why make people come to a sterile facility with one-way glass and a bowl of peanut M&Ms when you can get their responses from the comfort of their own home, on their own schedule?

Here at Sol, we’ve utilized video ethnographies that give us the same type of qualitative feedback we used to get from focus groups, but also allow us to cut video highlight reels that really give our client a feel for their customers. Other techniques such as group chats and discussion boards allow us to maintain communities for projects where feedback is needed over a longer period of time.

Just as there are times when a screwdriver is the appropriate tool for the job, there a certainly plenty of situations that are well suited to in-person focus groups. It just needs to be recognized as one tool among many. With the proliferation of technology solutions that provide the same type of feedback as a focus group, it’s time to ask ourselves why we’re still using a method that was developed nearly 80 years ago.

 

Still a sold-out believer in focus groups? Or a recent convert to a new technology? Let us know in the comments.

Bra strapping your way to success

We hear a lot about how startups often get on their feet by bootstrapping, which sounds very manly. It can be difficult for women entrepreneurs (or intrapreneurs, for you entrepreneurial types inside companies) to come to terms with an environment where they’re urged to “act like a man” and bring on the braggadocio. But women, generally speaking, might have a few advantages they’re not fully aware of – or perhaps are aware of as handicaps or limitations, rather than advantages. And guys, take note—women are more known for these traits, but they’re far from off limits for men.

 

Taking these perceived shortcomings and turning them into strengths is what I call “bra strapping.” Let’s take a look at a few.

Let’s start with the big one just to get it out of the way: intuition. Intuition is about reading people and situations, and women can often do it faster than men. That can be an advantage in a lot of fast-paced business situations where you need to make decisions without a lot of input.

There’s a reason the multi-armed Hindu goddess Kali is a goddess and not a god. Women are great at juggling a lot of tasks at once. That’s a key skill for an entrepreneur to have, especially in the early days of a venture. It also comes in handy in the open workspaces so many entrepreneurs seem to favor, with a lot going on at once.

Did someone say problem solving? Seeing problems as opportunities and creating products and services to address those problems is something women seem to gravitate towards. Perhaps it’s because so many women run households as well as their work domains.

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent social networking. Ladies did. Women often manage the social lives of their families, because they tend to have more relationships and make more connections. That’s a huge part of teamwork, and teamwork is key in building a successful business.

Thick skin. Women have it. Women seem to be able to tolerate both physical and emotional pain well—even those who are not mothers. There are plenty of awkward and painful moments entrepreneurs must endure and even overcome.

Developing emotional bonds can inspire people to do their best, and women are generally pretty good at nurturing and respecting emotional connections. The ability to nurture ideas and people, rather than just aggressively making things happen by brute force, is an increasingly valuable skill in the modern business environment.

 

What do you think? Are there really perceived feminine and masculine traits that can be used as valuable tools by anyone?

Love by the numbers

$10,327.00. That’s how much I have spent with Zappos.com on shoes, handbags and accessories since 2004.  That’s in 92 discrete orders with an average order size of $112.00.

These numbers may seem ludicrous to you.  They don’t seem out of line to me because I love shoes but I hate shopping.

Look at the chart below showing order volume and average order size over time.  Over the past nine years, my order volume has accelerated in frequency, from a low of 2 orders in 2004 to a high of 16 orders in 2013.   Along with order volume, for the most part, average order size increased too.  As time went on, I increasingly ordered more, more expensive items.   (I can attribute the trend break in 2013 to the fact that in advance of a series of formal events, I bought several pair of super-cheap “fancy” shoes with the idea that I’d try them all and send back the ones I didn’t like.)

zappos

It looks like have a shoe fetish, right? I don’t just have a fetish for footwear; I have fetish for numbers too.  I’m not showing you that I returned 25 of my orders.  At first glance, my return rate might indicate that I am an unhappy shopper, being completely satisfied with only about three quarters of what I bought.  On the contrary, I’m fiercely loyal to the Zappos brand – probably more so than any other retail brand I use.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of places online where you can buy shoes, but Zappos has them all beat. Their website is simple.  It’s not flashy. There are not bells and whistles; it’s certainly not high design.  At first glance, all you find is a simple online shoe store, kind of like the Craigslist of shoes. They clearly don’t compete on price alone, either.  But Zappos has created one of the best customer service experiences ever, and it shows.   Free shipping every day.  Free returns for a year after purchase, no questions asked.  Recyclable packaging.  Friendly service in the way I want to access it, via email, chat or phone.

Zappos isn’t just selling shoes.  They’re selling a relationship.  They’re selling LOVE.

They make sure all their customers are happy, and Zappos’ superior customer service has become their brand. They’re fanatical about it.  The Zappos corporate culture, the message it conveys  and the relationship they have with customers IS the brand.

So, what about your brand.  What are you selling?  Are you just selling products and services, or are you selling a relationship?