Business, Editing, Marketing, Writing

The Devil IS The Detail

Do you consider yourself to be “detail-oriented?” Great. Now stop that nonsense and read on.

When I first started my career in advertising, I would pore over every project with intense scrutiny. To call-out that slight discrepancy in the kerning of a word within legal copy gave me a rush; I prided myself on being the epitome of hyper-scrupulosity. But then, something happened. I gained a new perspective. It came by way of a casual conversation with a fellow freelancing colleague that went something like this:

Colleague: “I had to reprint my entire presentation at midnight last night. More out of pocket costs at Kinkos! <insert nervous laughter here>”

Me: “Wow, what happened?”

Colleague: “Page numbers weren’t centered. I typically prefer the page numbers to be centered, and this time I right-aligned. Ugh…didn’t look right.” 

Me: (Puzzled) “Does your client feel that strongly about page numbers?”

Colleague: “Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t have noticed. But I did. And that’s all that matters.”

So let’s break down this scenario a bit, shall we? My colleague spent additional time (time = money) and financial resources for a reprint due to an inconsistency that had zero impact on the final audience or the substance/accuracy of the presentation itself.

An eye for detail is a value-add trait…to a point. In fact, I published (and still stand behind) the financial impacts of seemingly minute details. But when losses outweigh gains, the attention spent toward said detail produces diminishing returns.

How do you distinguish the value-add details that warrant special attention from those that are actually costing you? Behold, a handy (albeit aesthetically lacking) decision tree for all of my meticulous-minded brethren and sistren:

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It’s been said that the devil is in the details. Sometimes, the devil is the details. Improve efficiencies (and save your sanity) by learning to distinguish between the two.

 

 

 

 

 

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Business, Content, inspiration

Finding the Meaning in Menial

It was the day before my sister’s baby shower. My mom and I scrambled to organize the flower arrangements, party favors, game cards and a million other details to ensure those months of planning came together just right. At the last-minute, we decided there wasn’t enough pink decor (because you can never have too much pink decor), so an impromptu order was placed at the local Party City for a couple dozen pink helium balloons.

The employees – mostly teens – were visibly disillusioned by their “menial” summer job of fulfilling helium balloon requests and appeasing panicked moms in search of  Frozen party poppers. After speaking with one of the employees, my mom was told that the balloons would be ready that day and guaranteed to last through the weekend.

By the next morning (day of the shower), the balloons were deflated, sickly hovering inches from the ground. The order wasn’t even correct to begin with, and by now it was too late to rectify. But, who cares, right?! They were just balloons. Those employees had better things to do than put forth 100% into such a “menial” job. It’s a temporary occupation in their career path that doesn’t count for anything more than a paycheck…right?

Even a task as seemingly menial as accurately fulfilling balloon orders has meaning. These employees are helping to bring color and fun to events that commemorate life’s greatest celebrations – birthdays, graduations, weddings and baby showers. Suddenly, that lowly summer job at Party City is something much more significant.

I’d argue there is no task or job that is menial, as there is meaning in everything. It simply depends on your outlook. 

It’s not just teenagers working a summer job that struggle with finding meaning in the menial. If you’re a manger, director or even a corporate executive – at some point in your every day, I’m willing to bet you execute a task at the office or at home that might feel “below you.” Or perhaps it’s your career that feels trivial. “I manage a gas station – where’s the meaning in that?” I’d reply that you’re ensuring hundreds of individuals and families can continue their journeys and safely arrive to their destination.

Because there’s meaning in everything, that’s reason to give everything your 100%. Every time. You never know who you might impact or whose day you could brighten with something as simple as correctly filling that balloon order. So go ahead, find the joy in reorganizing the status template, sorting the mail or delivering every McMuffin with a smile. And mean it.

 

Have you ever had a “menial” job that you turned into something satisfying and significant? Share your story!

 

Photo Credit: Seedbed.com

 

 

 

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Business, Marketing

Can you impress me in less than one second?

I’ve always chosen the path less traveled.

In high school, while most of my classmates chose to study one of the more popular languages, like Spanish or French, I chose the lesser popular “German studies.” Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Around 95% of my graduating class chose to attend the University of Missouri, otherwise known as “Mizzou”. I chose Missouri State University. It wasn’t because I couldn’t get accepted into Mizzou, but because I wanted to do what everyone else wasn’t. Not to mention the fact that MSU just so happens to have the largest and most highly accredited Business Administration program in the state. (Take that, Tigers!)

Following graduation, most everyone I knew moved back to St. Louis to start careers in the city they knew since birth. My husband and I decided to pack up and start careers in Kansas City – a place I had never even been before.

As I approach my XX birthday (a lady never tells her age), I see that most of these same people have long started their own families. But instead of swan diving into parenthood this year, my husband and I decided to take a bucket list trip to the Maldives. It was incredible. See?

photo

I was recently reminded of this habit of going “against the grain” during a conversation with a prominent senior VP of marketing communications. She mentioned that one of her best marketing strategies is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. This strategy has worked quite well for her over the years.

I’d say this same strategy has worked pretty well for me, too – which got me thinking.

What’s something that everyone is doing right now?

Digital marketing.

What’s something hardly no one is doing right now?

Direct mail.

Well, I’ll take that back. There are still quite a few companies out there with a direct mail strategy; however, according to the Winter 2015 issue of “Chief Marketer”, direct mail volume is down overall.

Let’s rephrase the question then, shall we?

What’s something hardly no is doing effectively right now?

Direct mail.

Direct mail today is bad. Really bad. Maybe my mailbox is just unfortunate in that it attracts poorly executed pieces, like the pretty girl in high school that for whatever reason couldn’t land a decent boyfriend.

I still get excited to check the mail. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I can’t be the only one. Remember the days when people sent handwritten letters? How unfortunate to think that those born after the year 2000 probably don’t even have that recollection. It’s still a treat when I find a handwritten note or personalized card in my mailbox, although such occasions are usually reserved for holidays or following the attendance of a wedding. More typical is that I open my mailbox to disappointments similar to this:

MailPieces

According to Michael Fortin of The Licorice Group, it takes a person less than one second to decide whether or not to throw away a direct mail piece.

Capturing attention through direct mail is by no means an easy task, and perhaps is the reason why so many fail. But, the challenge can be worth the strife. Consider that physical marketing materials such as direct mail better engage your audience and trigger more emotional responses than digital marketing, according to a study conducted by Millward Brown, Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail. The result? Deeper brand engagement.

This isn’t true for just any old mailer though. You have to get noticed.

It’s not enough to just be where others aren’t. Once you’re there, you have to do it better.

When is the last time a direct mail piece stopped you in your tracks? Better yet…when was the last time you were so impressed by a mailer that you actually wanted to save it, to show it off, like Phil? Phil from Paragon Design was absolutely wooed by this promotional piece from Veer – find out why here.

veer-1

This gives me hope. It tells me there are well-done direct mail pieces out there – somewhere. So, I’m going to hold a little contest. You could win one million dollars.

Not really. But there is a prize. Read on.

The request:

Send me a picture of the most impressive direct mail piece you’ve ever received. Tell me about what makes the piece so effective.

Judging rules:

Your submission must capture my attention in less than one second. (Yes – we’re going to be true to life here.)

Where most see this as a challenge, I see an opportunity. Perhaps it’s that “against the grain” mindset kicking in once again.

The top three submissions will be featured in an upcoming post.

To inspire your journey, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Robert Frost’s classic poem, “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood,

and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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Business, Marketing

3 Important Reasons Why You Need to Get Lost

Last week, I went for a run. I got lost. And it was just what I needed. It may be just what you need, too.

Let’s back this story up for just a minute.

I sweat “Type A” from each and every pore on my body – except when it comes to exercise. Not even the notoriously abrasive fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, screaming obscenities in my ear and drop-kicking me down the street, could force that push of my own physical limits. Regarding exercise, I seek comfort, not pain. So, over the course of the past year, I’ve slowly trained myself to complete a daily 2 mile jog that doesn’t overexert any of my physical boundaries. It also allows me to check “exercise” off the to-do list. It’s all very satisfying – or, so I thought.

As I ventured out for my daily 2 mile jog last week, I decided to take a different path. I turned on the GPS and carefully carved out a new route that would still ensure I crossed my driveway threshold just as “2 miles” ticked on the tracker.

Off I went. It wasn’t long though before I realized my GPS was a bit…off kilter.

“Rerouting.”

“Rerouting.”

“Rerouting.”

After three bouts of “rerouting”, I realized I was out of data range (T-Mobile, why must you fail me?!) and there was no hope of ever truly being “rerouted”.

I was officially lost.

And like I said before – it ended up being just what I needed. I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, let me ask – how comfortable are you right now? How comfortable is your brand? Your marketing strategy? Has it been a while since you felt the anxiety of flirting with the unknown? While “comfortable” is safe, it doesn’t move you forward – and worse, it can eventually push you backward.

Here are three reasons why getting lost, as I realized, is so important:

 

1. You’ll be forced to think critically (and creatively).

My typical 2 mile jogging path was so familiar that I could have ran it blindfolded. There was no “thinking” involved beyond the mechanics of putting one foot in front of the other. When I found myself in desolate territory and without the aid of GPS technology, however, the only crutch I had to rely on was myself. This forced me to think about my next moves very carefully. Suddenly, I was racking my brain to remember street signs and landmarks. I was looking to the sun to help reorient my direction (Ask yourself when was the last time you had to do that?). Getting lost requires a change in strategy in order to find a solution. In this process, your brain will be forced to think in a non-linear way that begets newfound ideas and creativity.

 

2. You’ll discover new things.

As I slowly started to orientate myself toward the general direction of familiar territory, anxiety was replaced with a sense of wonder. I had lived in the city of Nixa, Missouri for nearly two years, and never knew what beauty existed in its backyard. I passed sprawling acres of farmland dotted by hundreds of grazing cows, followed by narrow roads winding through woodland canopies. I spotted new neighborhoods tucked into the countryside, the curious architecture reflective of a time both old and new. You never know what you’ll find when you get lost, but for certain you’ll discover something you’ve never seen or experienced before.

 

3. You’ll realize new possibilities.

By the time I found my way back to my own driveway, I crossed the threshold clocking in at 4 miles – and I felt great. Had I not been forced into the situation as I had, never would I have thought it possible to double my distance and live to tell the tale. When you decide to journey down an unknown path, there’s no better feeling than coming out victorious on the other side. What was once unknown is known. Your experience is broadened, your perspectives are shifted. Now that I’ve proven to myself I can run 4 miles, there’s no going back to that 2 mile comfort zone. The benchmark is set higher, daring continual improvement.

 

Before getting lost, I was satisfied with being comfortable. After getting lost, I learned that overcoming discomfort is actually much more valuable.

So heed my advice. Lose your GPS, and throw yourself in an unknown direction. It’s only in being lost that improvement can be found.

 

 

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.

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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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