Category Archives: marketing communications

When “Contact Us” Translates into “We Don’t Care”

It’s the simple stuff that kills us.

As communicators, we dive into the details of how to best communicate to key audiences. What’s more titillating than a comprehensive audience analysis, psychographics included? Our brains explode with ideas and tactics that integrate and initiate action and interest.

IMG_8715fThen we get slapped with the big hand of Stupid. The simple things that kill our ideas, energy … and workplace respect. Even when it’s not our fault. Hello.

I found this out during the last few weeks not as a communicator but as an everyday consumer. Actually, I was interested in getting more involved in something beyond my “self.” Volunteering for a non-profit was of interest so I outlined the organizations of interest, went to their websites and looked for key contacts. Most didn’t offer what seemed to be relevant contacts for volunteer opportunities, just a basic Contact Us online form. So I filled them out.

Tick, tock. Tick tock … tick …

It’s been weeks. And now? While I still respect the mission of the organizations I queried, I certainly don’t think as highly of them. As for volunteering for them, not likely. So what’s the issue here?

  • Option 1: Messages go into some black hole and are never checked.
  • Option 2: Messages go to a specific person who ignores the inbound correspondence (intentional or not)
  • Option 3: Messages go to several people so that “someone can handle it,” with each person assuming someone else will respond – or no one does.

Regardless, the system is flawed. And the organization is screwed. Volunteers get miffed. Donors get miffed. Anyone and everyone gets miffed. Guess what happens during the annual fundraising event? People remember.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your “Contact Us”

  • What is my company saying when key contacts are not listed online—and only offers an impersonal form?
  • Have I filled out the Contact Us form to test the process in which responses are received and resolved?
  • Do I know who is solely responsible for receiving and responding to incoming inquiries, and are they shared with personnel that need to know, i.e., sales, product development, customer support, etc.?
  • What is the cost per sales lead at my company? Assuming one of three “contact us” inquiries are sales related, how much money is being lost when a response is not provided? Ouch.

Enough said. Go to your company website. Fill out the form. See what happens.

And make changes fast. It’s just good communications.

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Do Small Businesses Need a Marketing Communications Intervention?

Among small businesses, (500 employees or less), I find it rare that they much in the way of communicating with customers, prospects, suppliers, influencers, and even employees. Why? There are three primary reasons:

  1. Marketing is perceived as mysterious, and seems complicated.
  2. Sales is familiar and seems easy (I hire a sales guy, use Salesforce and dial for dollars).
  3. I’m too busy to think about it or do it (We’re developing products, ensuring service, hiring people, keeping people happy, fighting fires and meeting payroll, etc.).

When they meet communicators, they’re usually interested in what we have to say. We’re excited and more than willing to rattle off exactly what their business needs: “Social media is critical, public relations is essential and your website, sales materials and trade show stuff must be new, fresh, and compelling. And, of course, there’s the issue of your corporate brand and how all of this fits into an overall marketing communications strategy. So, let’s get started.”

The business owner is now catatonic. Eyes are glazed over. Is he or she breathing? Their business brains have gone straight to “oh my god”  and “there’s no way I can do all this—no time, no money, no people.”  We just assassinated our prospect.

Here’s how to slow down and showcase the role of marketing communications for small businesses in 7 simple steps:

  1. Break it down. No company can do everything all the time. Through a simple yet comprehensive planning session with the sales and executive team, we discover the business goals and efforts that are already planned. We align marketing efforts with business efforts. Business goals with marketing goals.
  2. Start small. If the business owner and the team are historically sales focused vs. marketing savvy, it’s critical to start small and get them comfortable with how marketing works—vs. sales. Starting small may mean implementing something as simple as a customer letter that is written, printed and mailed every quarterly. An easy First Step is a brief yet consistent e-mail “newsletter” to customers and prospects.
  3. Budget the basics. The same principle applies here. Don’t scope the marketing program so they have to put a lien on their building. Give them some practical perspectives, share a brief strategy/goals statement, and then break out the steps and tactics with hard numbers. Be precise and specific.
  4. Stay nearby and navigate with care. I find that entrepreneurs thrive amid chaos so keeping efforts focused, synced and timely are often the most difficult parts of the project. Pre-scheduled status meetings per week serve to remind everyone “who’s on first.” Keeping everyone committed, aware and engaged is 95 percent of the success factor.
  5. Make it easy. Do everything you can to eliminate redundancy, delays and to-dos. If it gets you what you need to accomplish the task, meet your client for a drink after hours or do a phone call after they tuck in their kids for bed. Accommodate them.
  6. Show progress. Don’t go silent and not correspond with the client for a week. Tune in, communicate and let them know something’s happening. I add calendar reminders called “Quick Touch/Client A” just so I reach out—even if there’s not a lot to say. Quick and easy.
  7. Step back. In our quest to act and generate results, we may forget the most important action required with clients: to listen. They are the experts in their business. We need to leverage that so we can improve and advance their cause—and ours.

When clients and communicators combine their competencies, long term, the outcome is extraordinary. There is strength in relationships and results.

Please follow me at http://www.twitter.com/practicalpr.

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Filed under marketing communications, PR, Roy G. Miller, Small Business, Uncategorized

Brainstorming: The Brain & Drain, Team & Triumph

Creation doesn’t necessary require blue skies and fields of dreams.Nor does creating ideas. It can be the stalest of conference rooms or a session room at a hotel.

Creating ideas often requires brainstorming, a gathering of folks who spill their brains and hearts to deliver a barreful of ideas. From that barrel often comes The Big Idea. The Best Idea.

The most ineffective approach to brainstorming? See our last post, but it often involves prima donnas and temperaments. As one BusinessWeek article says,”… it is total nonsense to conclude that if you want creativity, you ought to keep your people in solitary confinement where they can’t ‘waste time’ listening to and building on the ideas of others.”

This time, we’re talking effective brainstorming and how to deliver the best ideas for yourself and your clients.

My favorite—and my mantra on brainstorming:

Follow the rules, or don’t call it a brainstorm. I can’t say it any better than this: … “Alex Osborn’s original four (rules) still work: 1) Don’t allow criticism; 2) Encourage wild ideas; 3) Go for quantity; 4) Combine and/or improve on others’ ideas, plus I’d add “One conversation at a time” and ‘Stay focused on the topics’ as both help save groups from dissolving into disorder.

Claire Allison at the GetSmarter site, shares 10 top brainstorming tips. All 10 aren’t here, but the ones that are particularly important:

Have a moderator. It’s important for someone to be assigned to guide the brainstorming session and to keep track of ideas.

Write everything down. Every idea is valuable. Visual brainstorming is an effective tool that can assist with illustrating perceptions and points of view of different ideas, making room for new ideas.

Bring in an outsider. Bringing in someone who is completely unrelated to the project will give an injection of fresh ideas, which could prove very valuable.

Evaluate the solutions. Stepping back and looking at ideas in their entirety can help identify the best and most workable solution. The most important aspect of brainstorming, in my opinion, is the “understanding that the purpose is to build on and extend the ideas of others” and to bring together the various skills and mindsets of your staff to gather ideas and build on them.  By keeping the session non-competitive, encouraging all ideas, no matter how outlandish, and resisting the urge to impose your own agenda, the group brainstorm can be an effective way to elicit creativity and discover innovation.”

Could it be said better than that?

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Filed under marketing communications, PR, Small Business