Advertising, Business, Content, Editing, Marketing, Writing

The Million Dollar Mistake You’re Probably Making

A few weeks ago, I made a huge mistake.

I blogged under the influence of wine.

And not just one glass. After a couple generous pours, I sat down at 10:30 PM to crank out what I believed to be the most compelling piece of literature ever to be revealed to mankind. Because, there’s nothing that seems more logical after a half bottle of Apothic Red than to immerse yourself in the intricacies of WordPress.

The next morning, I hopped on the computer, sweating bullets of anticipation to reread the sure-fire masterpiece that emerged from my mind the night prior. What I discovered instead, in my newfound state of clarity, was appalling. If only I had heeded the advice of Ernest Hemingway: Write drunk. Edit sober.

There’s nothing that irks me more than careless typos, grammatical ignorance, and other like sins of the writing world. And here I was, staring at numerous, unequivocally blatant errors of my own doing.

Wait a minute…did that incorrect subject/verb agreement just snicker at me?!

Lesson learned.

In marketing communications, we often talk about the quantitative impact of an error:

500,000 brochures shipped nationwide, printed with an incorrect price that requires a reprint = $1,000,000 mistake

There’s also a qualitative component, however, that in the long run can be even more devastating than that short-term robbery of your marketing budget.

Numerous business studies have found that writing errors negatively impact a customer’s perception of you and your company – in more ways than one. And if you think that little typo on your flyer went unnoticed, or that “no one really cares” if you accidently misspelled “jalapeño” on your restaurant menu – think again. Consumers are highly judgmental and unforgiving creatures.

Larry Beason is a professor of English at the University of South Alabama. In his study, he had business people read error-filled documents, and then tested their reactions. Here’s what he concluded:

  • Errors create confusion regarding meaning
  • Errors affect a person’s credibility and image
  • People tend to brand writers who make mistakes as “hasty”, “uniformed”, “careless”, “lazy”, “uneducated”, and “uncaring”

Just as errors reflect on the individual, the individual reflects on the company. Beason noted that interviewees explicitly stated they saw these writers as poor representatives of the company. One businessperson said, “Errors tell what your company’s like.”

Enter the halo effect.

The halo effect is a cognitive bias which states that humans tend to apply generalized opinions of people and entities based on one element.

In short, the above noted negative perceptions associated with your bad writing are likely to be attached to your company. Bad writing = bad company.

Let’s take this a few steps further. Negative perceptions will tarnish your brand identity, can be cause for outside investors to jump ship (or not even board the ship in the first place) and will decrease your customer lifetime value (CLV). Depending on the size of your company and industry, these damages can equate to thousands – if not millions – in lost profits over time.

Good grief. The ramifications of those seemingly meaningless typos sure did escalate quickly, huh?

Marketing communications are the conduit for expressing your brand identity and directing consumer perception. It’s critical to get it right, and to get it right the first time.

So, as a business owner, how do you ensure your communications are presenting your brand identity in an accurate – and positive – light?

Well, you could try to take it on yourself. The problem is, many companies don’t even recognize their own errors – a gleaming example of, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

As someone who specializes in marketing communications, perhaps I’m a bit biased, but when it comes to something as important as perception – I advise that businesses leave the content strategy, writing and editing to the experts. One primary reason? We tend to see what we expect to see in our own writing, rather than what’s actually there. Therefore, a marketing communications professional can provide the fresh set of eyes necessary to objectively review.

And if you balk at the cost of hiring a professional, ask yourself this:

Is the cost of a typo in the budget?

Cassie D’Arpino is a freelance Marketing Communications & Strategy Specialist, helping brands better connect to their audiences in meaningful, emotional and effective new ways. Her experience prior to working as a freelancer includes six years in strategic planning and senior account service at a shopper marketing agency in Kansas City, Missouri. Cassie received her MBA from Missouri State University, and currently resides in Springfield, Missouri with her husband, Steve, Pekingese puppy named Bella, and two Persian cats, Garfield and Cubby. She is a lover of Sriracha, a neuromarketing nerd, and obviously, a fan of animals with short snouts.

For more marketing musings and random reverie, follow Cassie on Twitter: @Cassie_DArpino

 

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Advertising, Marketing

Light up your engagement strategy with sincerity

Another marketer talking about engagement?

::Audience slowly files out of room::

WAIT! Don’t leave just yet.

Yes, I know. “Engagement”, in some ways, has surpassed its 15 minutes of fame. There’s a reason why we keep talking about it though – it works. But only when executed correctly. And that’s where so many companies continue to struggle. Continue to unknowingly struggle. Are you one of the many who is struggling in ignorance?

Potential light bulb moment ahead.

To develop a truly successful online engagement strategy, more companies need to think of engagement in terms of stages. True engagement continually cycles through the following three stages, to create a “circuit” of sorts:

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In my observation, too many companies believe that by achieving Stage 1, they’ve successfully “engaged” their audience. Well, yes, and no. Without reciprocity – Stage 3 – you’re essentially just leaving your audience hanging, and the circuit is incomplete.

But there’s another layer to consider, and without it, even a full circuit engagement strategy will fall miserably short.

Sincerity.

If you’re not engaging like you mean it, don’t even bother with Stage 1. You’ll never move beyond it. Think of sincerity as the conductor to your engagement circuit, facilitating the electrical flow.

Sincerity is one of those terms that is often used, but hard to define. My personal definition of sincerity is simple: Honesty of heart and mind.

For decades, psychologists have strived to pinpoint exactly what factors help us determine the true sincerity of another person. Tonality? Non-verbal indicators? Eye contact?

The answer appears to point to something more visceral in nature. Sincerity, as described by Husni Adnan:

“Sincerity is like a black ant on a black rock in the darkest night. It exists, but is very difficult to see.”

What determines sincerity is a “feeling”, and as a human race we’re all fairly good at sniffing out insincerity based on gut alone. It’s like your very own little red “I Call Bullshit!” button.

So then, how do you prevent your audience from pressing that little red button on your online engagement strategy? Express sincerity by being authentic, emotional and transparent.

Authentic

Stay true to who you are. When you engage your audience in ways that don’t ultimately tie back to your brand’s reason for being, you’ll eventually muddy your identity and lose your audience. A beauty product company that “engages” by asking, “How’s the weather where you are today?” will likely garner responses, but long term, how is this type of engagement of value to their audience?

Finally, it may go without saying, but we can all benefit from this friendly reminder – be cognizant of word choice and tonality. Ensure every tweet, status update and post is reflective of the overarching voice of your brand. For example, if Taco Bell’s tweets suddenly started referencing Shakespeare (in a non-sarcastic, serious way), you better believe I’d be reaching for my little red button.

Emotional

When someone is being sincere, you can feel the emotional undercurrent. When strong emotions are evoked, it compels action, propelling you from Stage 1 to Stages 2 and 3. Take for example TD Bank’s “Automatic Thanking Machine” campaign. If you haven’t seen the heartfelt video yet, grab some tissues and view it here.

After watching the video, I was moved to tears by TD Bank’s sincere acts of kindness toward their customers. I was so moved that I was compelled to express these feelings to TD Bank. I sent them a tweet, to which they soon responded in a personal and light-hearted way:

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I now follow TD Bank on Twitter. And, just like that, TD Bank moved me through all three engagement stages, fueled entirely by the emotional component of sincerity.

Transparent

Allow your audience to see through your brand – the good AND the bad. Remember how being transparent completely revitalized the Domino’s brand? The “Oh Yes We Did” campaign was absolutely revolutionary in that never before had we seen a company so publically address their shortcomings. Transparency is synonymous with honesty, which is at the heart of sincerity. Let your audience in, and they won’t want to leave.

Is your company engaging beyond Stage 1? Stage 2? Or, are you dealing with a broken circuit? Conduct with sincerity, and watch your audience truly light up.

Photo Credit: Wired UK

 

Cassie D’Arpino is a freelance Marketing Communications & Strategy Specialist, helping brands better connect to their audiences in meaningful, emotional and effective new ways. Her experience prior to working as a freelancer includes six years in strategic planning and senior account service at a shopper marketing agency in Kansas City, Missouri. Cassie received her MBA from Missouri State University, and currently resides in Springfield, Missouri with her husband, Steve, Pekingese puppy named Bella, and two Persian cats, Garfield and Cubby. She is a lover of Sriracha, a neuromarketing nerd, and obviously, a fan of animals with short snouts.

For more marketing musings and random reverie, follow Cassie on Twitter: @Cassie_DArpino

 

 

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Advertising, Consumer Research, Marketing

Gain consumer insight – for free.

A lot of marketers spend a lot of time seeking the answer to one of two questions on consumer behavior:

“Why did they buy?”

“Why didn’t they buy?”

It’s funny how these same marketers tend to think about “consumers”. It’s as if they are this elusive foreign species that can only be examined at arm’s length behind the cloak of a corner window office. Careful – don’t get too close – consumers have been known to bite!

So, the task of getting into their head is often delegated to research consulting firms. Thousands of dollars and several months later, results are produced, reviewed, and executed by way of revised marketing strategy and ad spend.

Does this approach work? Sure.

But, what if I told you there was an alternative way to gain consumer insight – for free?

Gaining valuable knowledge into consumer behavior is as simple as stepping out of your office (it’s alright – the consumers have been heavily sedated for your safety) and into the front lines. Whether your business is a restaurant, store, medical facility or bank, you are doing a severe disservice by not stepping into that environment on a regular basis and observing its functionality through the consumer lens.

coach-making-an-observation

Observing through the consumer lens is the ability to take off that super trendy (yet ironically blinding) marketing hat, and to experience your business from the standpoint of you – the consumer you. Because, I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but, you and I? We ARE the consumer. Yes, we’re marketing mavens and business aficionados. But we’re also consumers. Much can be learned by simply stopping to look around, observe, and get in tune to your thoughts within the environment.

During my time spent at Two West, an agency in Kansas City with a shopper marketing focus, we spent a lot of time at our client’s place of business. I’m not talking about their office – I’m talking about their store. Conducting store visits and audits was a regular part of life, whether you were a research director, project manager, or intern. And that’s the beauty of this type of observation – you don’t have to be a seasoned research director in order to uncover opportunity for improvement when approached from the consumer standpoint – the “you” perspective.

“After I watched the demo on the product, it was hard to navigate back to the home screen.”

“I noticed customer’s weren’t really picking up the brochure, and those that were, used it only with a store rep.”

These were real observations, made by real employees that helped to better refine strategies for real clients. And besides the hour or so spent outside the office, and the occasional compensated lunch, total cost for this type of invaluable insight is close to nothing.

Retail guru Paco Underhill best summarizes the idea of thoughtful observation in this quote from his national bestselling book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping”:

“The purest example of human shopping I know of can be seen by watching a child go through life touching absolutely everything. You’re watching that child shop for information, for understanding, for knowledge, for experience, for sensation. Especially for sensation, otherwise why would he have to touch or smell or taste or hear anything twice? Keep looking: Watch a dog. Watch a bird. Watch a bug. You might say the ant is searching for suitable food. I say he is shopping.”

Underhill’s insight transcends beyond just retail. No matter your business, if you are trying to reach people, you must look at your world through their eyes. It’s not done in an office, it’s not done through a mediary. It’s done firsthand, by you. So get out there, and watch. You might be surprised by what you – the consumer – can discover.

Photo Credit: carlyanderson.com

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