Waste Not, Want More.

Got a form letter from my cellular carrier. It’s one of the Big Ones, sent from the “Senior Vice President” no less, of “Customer Experience.” Useless does not begin to describe this thing.

It’s textbook, How NOT to Design a Direct Mail piece:


  • It’s all copy, no images. Just a little bold, bullets, line breaks.
  • It’s personalized (ok, one point), but then about him and why he’s writing to me.
  • Next up it’s lots of babbling b.s. about them. Techs and specs, with SIX footnotes (?!) as if anyone would read that far.
  • It mentions two new “value” offerings, but no breakdown as to how they would Help. ME.
  • Mr. SVP goes on being “proud,”  bragging about a popular vanity (read: meaningless) service award.
  • It ends. With him being glad I chose them. And an epic facepalm: No CTA. Seriously. Nothing.

The ONLY reason I even got past opening and scanning the damn thing was professional curiosity. A real person, shredder city.

How many thousands of dollars in paper, printing, postage were spent mailing millions of these? What marketing communications manager thought this a good investment – a generic, no-offer form letter?!

Wherefore art thou, oh elusive ROI?

I’ve long since held that logos and websites and good writing, smart PR and integrated social media are all parts of an essential Communications program. Strategic, comprehensive Communications being key to any business success. And I still do.

I also know that in a Time vs. Money, DIY at your own risk world, the ROI sometimes just isn’t there for small biz. If no one’s pipes break or people don’t have the money to redo their bathroom, that local plumbers phone won’t ring no matter how lovely the logo, how shiny his Facebook page, nor beautifully written the website copy.

As I recently commented in a smart discussion on piffle, publicity and traditional PR – even the big guys get this wrong. Next week, the global brands will roll out their Big Game Ads that by all accounts, do not impact sales nor improve brand reputation. But spend gazillions they will.

Do we just go through the motions? Spin wheels for the sake of looking like we’re doing something?

Dear Mr. SVP: Stop TELLING me you’ve done better, SHOW me with a better signal inside, by dropping fewer calls. Don’t waste my monthly fees marketing right back at me – give me a loyalty discount. Invest in your customers, in your brand – not banal business blather

Tell me: How do we guard against the waste, make sure we get the true business returns we seek? My advice to all businesses, large and small: Waste Less, Do More. 

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Brand Image is in the eye of the Beholder.

Can’t help it, the Macklemore-Ryan Lewis tune “Thrift Shop” is one of my jams. Fun, catchy and it makes a pretty keen observation on marketing to our consumer culture:

$50 for a t-shirt? I call that getting swindled and pimped. I call that getting tricked by a business.” Cracks me up since while I’d never pay that much for a tee just because it has Brand X on it, I’d be happy to get it for $14.

How did I not know about this?!

I’m a diehard clearance rack shopper at Macy’s, happy to peruse Marshall’s and TJMaxx for deals and bargains. One store that I’d never considered was ROSS.

Maybe it was the signage, maybe the “Dress for Less” tagline; can’t say I’d ever paid attention to their ads. But whatever it was, the image I had for ROSS made me think it wasn’t for me. OMG was I wrong.

ROSS has cute stuff! It’s not wall-to-wall designer, but I’ve found some nice dresses, bought cute gifts and housewares. Scored Michael Kors shoes! Told a friend about my ‘new’ store and she was like, ‘been going for years.’ I was like, ‘so you’ve been holding out on me then?!’

I’m paying attention to the ads and wow, is the marketing off brand. Is it that they’re going only for the bargain shopper? The lower end? Is that why the marketing seems to ‘miss’ the middle, and high? Whatever the reason, they need a rebrand.1243048824goodchance

Image is Everything

Think what your marketing, your communications say about your organization, your small business.

  • Are you going for ‘value’ but landing on ‘cheap’? Details matter. If you’re courting the high-end market, you won’t you convey ‘gotta have it at any price luxury’ when you use cut-rate photography, design, printing, ‘buy now’ hard sell.
  • If you talk ‘customer service‘ as a cornerstone of your brand, then relegate it to a subset of sales, it’s just a setup for crappy service. Call center ‘support’ staffed with nothing more than a script and no empowerment in the company only hurts your reputation – and drives customers to someone who does it better.

Close your eyes. Picture what you want customers to see, what you think they see when they hear your name.

Take a hard, honest Kitchen Nightmare Meltdown look: Your website. Your brochures and ads. The stories you tell. The lobby the greats guests, your showroom floor. The photos you splash on Facebook and Pinterest.

There’s a reason global companies like Apple, Disney, Coke know from reputation and PR, service and image; the details represent what they need them to. These things are all part of your brand – and they communicate your company’s brand image.

If you’re telling the wrong stories, building the wrong image in the eyes of your stakeholders – I can help you create the right one.

Ever been pleasantly surprised or galactically disappointed by a brand experience that was completely off? Tell me.

Photo credit: Bluntcards also crack me up.

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Real Time, Words with Friends and the Death of Patience

Blame it on the cell phone; good a bad guy as any.

This instant access, quick hit has done us in. Sure it started with TV remotes and microwaves, but it’s Digital, the freedom of wireless and high-speed Internetz that’s hit the FF button on work, on play, on life.

We’ve somehow bought into the NOW notion when it’s an impossible standard, a Gerber Baby expectation.

People won’t answer every call. Voicemail happens.

You can’t reply to every tweet in real time.

A text message doesn’t have the magical ability to alter the time-space continuum.

Emails may take a day before you ge reply. Ditto blog comments and Facebook questions.

That form or TPS report you so urgently need, may take 24 whole business hours.

This isn’t slow, this isn’t unprofessional, it’s not poor communications or customer relations – it’s reality.

No really that person – the doctor or sales manager or account coordinator you’re calling – they just can’t speak right now; they can’t stop everything they’re doing because you’re texting or tweeting.

I am ALL about the multitasking, I totally get we want want we want, need what we need but this Now, right the hell NOW! is killing us.

  • It’s rushing work and causing mistakes.
  • This instant on, lightning access is turning us into poor planners and procrastinators.
  • It’s lowering the quality of services and work and business. And our lives.
  • We’re becoming rude, short-tempered and unreasonable.

Yeah, I see them – Messrs Pot and Kettle are giving me some hairy eyeballs from across the room. I’ve had my iPhone 5 a whole week and already go all Dark Side and want my WWF NOW!!

Patience is supposed to be a virtue for some reason, probably because some slacker got sick of being rushed all the time. Or maybe there’s something to it?

Chill. Take a breath. Go for a walk. Have a drink. Relax and smile, that’s what I’m gonna try – along with a glass of wine. FWIW.

Photo credit: Lots of choices, this one from Motifake.

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Captive Audience, meet Wasted Opportunity

Meetings. Events. Conferences. Presentations.

What gathers us here?

Whether it’s orientation for employees, introduction of new product lines, the national convention for franchisees, or a social media conference, meetings and events are developed to accomplish that most ‘basic’ of business functions: communication.

One of the rare times I’ll ‘call out’ a brand so to speak, couple of weeks ago I attended a software release party, the latest major release by the 800-lb Gorilla of Design, Web, Publishing software. Hosted by a local group, it ventured into that most dreaded of meeting territory, pointlessness.


Bringing almost 200 people in with the raffle for a couple of very valuable software packages, the brand’s organizers got the ‘hook’ right. The rest, not so much.

The room was a captive audience of their target market. They had the chance to impress us with their brand’s responsiveness to customer requests. They had the opportunity to showcase all the cool, new, time-saving and money-making features that would make upgrading (expensive) worth it.

They blew it. Prior planning prevents poor performance, and there was zero sign of it here.

  • The event ran too long – with no efforts to speed things up.
  • The advertised food and beverage were inadequate, especially considering it was an RSVP event and they had headcount in advance.
  • The venue was too small, uncomfortable with no air-conditioning. In June. In Atlanta.
  • There was no WiFi, an amenity one would expect at any business presentation.
  • It was dull, the basics of good presentations were ignored, people left.

How to avoid being the meeting equivalent to a dose of Ambien?  Remember, it’s about your audience.

  1. Respect their time. Be prepared, don’t wing it. Don’t run long. Less really is more and as I am so fond of saying, warm up on your own time.
  2. Manage Expectations. If you bill the event as a ‘release party’ then go for more party, less demo. And don’t run out of beverages halfway through a 3+ hour event.
  3. Brand management. Doesn’t matter if it’s the local chapter, it’s still your company’s reputation on the line. Same as it is with social media, think about who’s representing your brand image.
  4. More show, less talk. Get real with your customers if you’re doing a demo – it’s about them. Show them what they need, the real goods that can make a difference in what they do, not just what you think is cool. Don’t tell me, use better demos that actually show me how the product is different, how it’ll save me time, make me money.
  5. Better venue. Tables, desks for laptops and iPads. Go crazy, find a space with air conditioning. Wifi, duh.
  6. Mix the swag. Raffles keep people involved, but it’s not the Oscars – you don’t have to save all the goods until the very end.

An event like this won’t hurt this company, they’re so dominant in the industry they are more or less marketing-proof. But I learned nothing of value, nothing I won’t more easily find on my own online soon enough.

Meetings and Events 101: Give your audience something they can only get live and in person, make it worth their time. Ever walked out on a meeting or presentation? Seen missed opportunities? Tell me.

Image: I love Dilbert.

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Does your business (cards) pass the WIIFM Test?

As a communications consultant, I collect business cards. Luncheons, evening mixers, business events. As a designer, I always toss a few into the “You’re Doing It Wrong” pile.


You want customers that stick, then you have to think like the customer. All this talk of engagement and relationships and community aside, let me tell you a secret: Customers mostly think about about one thing, “What’s in it for me?”

Most cards fall into one of two categories: 1) over-designed exercises in cleverness — that only artsy, creative types could ever use or 2) boring, generic infodumps – that often say nothing.

If your business card – or website, PR or blog – if your branding doesn’t communicate WHO you are and WHAT you can do for the READER, the audience, the customer – then it’s not communicating at all.

Look familiar?

This business card is a fake; no small businesses were harmed in the mock-up of this card.

Picture this: you meet someone 2.56 minutes at some business networking thing, along with 23 others. Did they do or say anything to make you remember them, make this generic card stand out?

It’s not like they handed it to you then tripped down the stairs and fell off the speaker’s stage. (Oh yes, I did that once; not total face-planting on the floor, but enough that more than a few people noticed. Ahem.)

I’ve got a stack of these. I could contact so and so, by phone or email. But to what end? WIIFM to take the time to go to the website, figure out who you are and WHY I need YOU?

Paper isn’t dead – yet

QR codes, Twitter, LinkedIn is the Rolodex-meets-Resume. Fine. But the business card ain’t going the way of the dinosaurs any time soon.

When I design a business card – as part of a brand identity package – I make smart use of limited real estate: 3.5 inches by 2 inches. Times 2; if you’re not using the back, you’ve wasted every penny you spent on printing.

Rule of 3: three strengths, three features, three points of contact. The more vague your tagline, the more b.s. that reeks from your ‘creative’ job title – the more explicit and accurate your features need to be.

You may not know the whole story – and boy do I not like what I designed (see also, cobbler’s shoes syndrome) – but my card tells you something about what I do: Public Relations and Social Media, Design, Meeting Planning, wrapped in a Communications-flavored bow.

Business cards are easy examples of a first impression – and what impresses others are the details.

Can you imagine a restaurant website that talks about how great the food is, but doesn’t tell you what kind? Or searching for a lawyer but the blog or business card doesn’t tell you they do tax law, not intellectual property? If you’re firm specializes in building hotels, say that – everywhere.

Ask a friend – one not really familiar with your business – to take a closer look at your business cards, your website, your trifold brochure. Do they pass the WIIFM test? If not, call me.

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