Marketing Speak: How Effective Is It?

Do you ever get tired of candy-coating, creating euphemisms … i.e., marketing spin? I’m a journalist turned marketing writer, so I probably have a skewed perspective anyway. Sometimes, though, don’t you think just telling the truth is more effective than spinning it? Or candy coating it?

I once worked on content for a group that wanted to promote its online breast cancer risk assessment. Great cause. Great message, right? They didn’t want to use the term breast cancer other than to describe the assessment.

Why? Because it’s scary. Yes, breast cancer is scary. That’s kind of the point of the risk assessment.

As I found out writing copy for this campaign, if breast cancer is caught early, people survive. The earlier you take action, the better. The messaging loses that urgency when you replace the term breast cancer with breast health.

Another group I worked with kept trying to find the right catchphrase for its software. The company’s SEO was tragic because it kept changing how it spoke about its own product. It would change about every three to six months. The message would barely have a chance to hit the market before it changed again.

The organization’s competitors were killing them online because they chose a phrase, simple and direct, and through thick and thin, they stuck with it.

Marketing is in a world of hurt right now. We’re being asked to make the numbers instead of the sales team. And when we don’t? Well, it’s usually not good news for the marketing team.

Let’s think about marketing for just a moment. I’m in marketing and I feel that we often over-communicate, over-market at times. I understand having a presence, frequency, etc., etc. I’ve been at this long enough to understand some of it is just a numbers game.

The world, myself included, gets way too much marketing. I have to go through once a month and unsubscribe to tons of email campaigns because, by the end of each month, I’m getting hundreds of marketing emails a day – not to mention the ads on social media.

When your vision is filled with marketing speak, you become numb to it. You start to block out the ads. The appeal is no longer there. “It’s all a way to get me to buy something.”

Yes, it is a way to get you to buy something or do something or whatever the call to action is. But if you’re going to act on something, are you going to act on breast health or breast cancer?

Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but for me, I’m going to act on breast cancer … because it is scary.

If Content Is King, Authenticity Is Queen

Authenticity. When you’re a journalist you work with facts. Facts are authentic. You can’t deny facts. When you start candy-coating a subject that needs to be taken seriously, you become less authentic. You lose the seriousness of the situation.

And when you are buried in hundreds of emails, what’s going to stand out to you? Candy coating or truth? For me, it’s truth. I realize I’m making myself a focus group of one here, as one of my friends likes to say. At the very least, test it and see which performs better. That’s all I’m saying.

For a while, I felt like marketing was heading in a good direction. Authenticity was the name of the game. Now, we still claim authenticity, but it’s becoming highly diluted. Sweet and syrupy. Fun and creative.

These things can work and can be very successful. Authenticity can be successful, too. I don’t feel that business gives real authenticity a chance. Perhaps, if given the full ability to be authentic, it could be more successful than typical marketing speak.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, only 48 percent of US consumers trust businesses. That’s less than half who even trust companies. Admittedly, I’m one of them. I don’t trust companies either. This same article notes that social media is more of a hindrance for trusting in business, resulting in some folks vowing not to buy the company’s products ever again.

I think it’s time for the marketing field to take a look at itself. It’s time for us to grow and re-adjust. We need to get real for our client’s sake. Clients need to get real about their messaging.

We need to focus less on going viral and focus more on who we are and why we are here. That will appeal to more people than catchphrases.

America the Brand

I watched the political conventions and the campaigns up to the conventions, and I wonder what has become of America the brand? We’re the land of freedom, free speech and opportunity for all. The leader of the free world. But this election year, it feels a little less like leadership and a little more like the country’s nudey pix just got leaked to the internet. It’s uncomfortable and fairly embarrassing.

Presidential election years are our time to shine in the global market, to show the world what we’re all about. In marketing terms, we refresh our messaging, relaunch our campaigns, and we get our story out to the world about who we are, what we stand for and why you should want to be part of this great country.

It’s like a brand new product launch every four years. And usually, as ugly as it is, I think it’s great. Sure the debates are painful and the campaigns treacherous, but that’s part of our story. You fight an honest fight (or at least semi-honest) until a victor emerges. We debate because we can. We argue because we have the right to do so. We disagree because that’s what makes us who we are and, generally speaking, we are better for it.

This election year, however, has been a little disheartening. I’m losing faith in the American brand. Debates have always skewed toward red herring issues instead of focusing on the real challenges facing this country. But so far, this year, the debates have focused on personalities rather than politics.

Of course, there are the obvious reasons for disillusionment. Donald Trump’s little hands and big dictatorial ways just make me sad. That’s not the type of person I want acting as my top brand ambassador. Call me crazy, I guess … or maybe European, since they seem to agree with me.

And although I wholeheartedly believe that he has the right to say whatever he wants to say and I do not put politicians on a pedestal, but what I do expect from the brand leader is civility. I expect respect for others. You can disagree or pummel someone for their political offerings, but don’t attack the way someone looks, how they dress or how they sound. At least not publicly. That is a sign of weakness to me. Not crying, not even being unsure of a decision shows the same kind of weakness for me. I have found in my lifetime the weakest people are the ones who attack others on a personal level. They have insecurities so deep that they generally stay in a mild, but easily escalated, fight or flight mode. And while I may at heart empathize with their insecurity, I don’t tolerate poor behavior or personal attacks. That is not the brand I support.

But this year has shown more frailties in the American brand beyond Trump. Bernie Sanders fought a very good fight, and I truly understand his supporters’ heartbreak. I do. I’ve been there many times myself. I wanted nothing more than Al Gore to be elected in 2000. It didn’t happen.

This year, however, further damage to the brand came in the form of bad sportsmanship. While I understand the disappointment of Sanders’s supporters, a good sport always accepts defeat gracefully. When I played sports as a child, you did everything you could to win the game. You put your heart and soul into it. But if you lost, you had to go shake the hand of the winning team and tell them good game. That’s part of the American brand to me. Be disappointed, but accept the fact that you did everything you could and now you have a new choice to make — vote Hillary, vote Trump, vote for a third party or independent, write in a name or don’t vote at all. But don’t attack the opponent because your candidate lost. In sports, you don’t get to stomp your feet on the sidelines and pout until they name you a winner. That’s not how the game is played, and that is not what our brand is about.

Also, as I watched the democratic convention, I saw a parade of survivors of unjust killings, terrorist attacks and political isolation. They were in full support of their candidate, but beyond that I saw a picture of a country that didn’t look so familiar to me any more. I saw a country sliding backwards instead of moving forwards. It wasn’t the brand I recognized.

And of course, there is the remaining fact that this country still has not elected a female president. I am concerned what the coming months will bring in terms of generalities made about women. I suspect it will further diminish the brand for me.

But the chance that a woman may finally be elected president is a glimmering hope at least for my idea of the American brand. Do I believe Hillary Clinton is perfect? I do not. But I never have nor will I ever think any political candidate is perfect. They are human, and there is no place for perfection in humanity. But as a female who has been told directly I would not get a promotion because of my gender, this election will tell me a lot about our brand. Are we truly equal in this country? Can we be whatever we want to be? Or not?

I can honestly say I did not realize how much that meant to me until I saw her stand on stage as the democratic candidate for president. I felt pride and dignity. I thought for a moment this may help rebuild our brand with the rest of the world – that there is some hope that we are an authentic brand and that we truly live the message that we sell to other nations.

I do not know how the election will go, but the results will likely solidify my opinion of America the brand. My hope is that we become less of a spectacle and something more spectacular, but I will have to wait and see.

Pokétopia or bust

I came across this article on LinkedIn today. I completely related to it. I’m a bit older than the Pokémon natives myself. Never even understood the fascination with the game in the past. But, my younger coworkers were talking after the Pokémon Go app came out and I, too, saw Twitter blow up over the game. So I downloaded it on July 6 as well. I happen to work with a bunch of software developers, so I could get good tips as we all blundered around the office gardens looking for Caterpies and such.

What impresses me so much about this game is the strategy that is behind it. Nintendo needed a boost. And a boost it got – shares jumped 25 percent in a week. That’s crazy, but awesome. But the strategy is near perfection for today’s society.

Since I was a young one and video games were just coming onto the scene, the complaint has always been the same. “You’re rotting your brain. You’re going to get fat just sitting in front of the TV playing that game.” Given, Atari Pong or electronic football probably didn’t have the same long-term appeal as later video games, but the worry was already there. And it only grew.

It took some time, but they reversed it. Nintendo not only revamped one of its more successful games but it turned the “problem with video games” on its head. You can’t play this game if you’re not moving or just sitting in your room. Well, you can but it’s a much slower process and not nearly as entertaining. It’s getting kids, and might I add adults, outside – walking. It took video games’ biggest downside and made it the solution. I’m just so in awe of that.

And, the younger generations … well, let’s just say that looking outside their own reality is maybe not one of their greatest strengths. But this game becomes part of their reality. It’s genius really. And it takes those “gamer types” from the younger generations, those who sit in their rooms all day, and it gets them moving, gets them outside and more importantly, gets them interacting with others in real time. Hallelujah, I say.

But think about social media, too. The complaint there is that people have insincere interactions, not real connections, and it isolates as much as it brings people together. This game taps into that as well. Even though social media focuses on real people exchanging real information – it’s distant. Pokémon Go is a virtual reality, basically, but it manages to mix virtual with reality by getting you outside. And it has, at least initially, created a phenomenon that is resulting in real interactions. It gives people who normally would not connect something in common.

For example, I am not the outgoing type, but I personally walked around my office park and talked to random strangers (although they actually worked for my company, I later found out) about the game. They explained to me eggs and incubators. I would not have had that conversation had it not been for this game and likely would have never met those people in my own company I’m sad to say.

I’m not saying Pokémon Go will change the world and we will become one big happy Pokétopia. But Pokémon Go is a game changer (yes, I said it). It shows how companies should better focus their strategies – to make use of the negative. So many companies ignore that until they simply can’t ignore it any more. Look at the negatives, understand them and incorporate them into your product so that they are no longer negatives. As a marketer who has to pull in that market information – good and bad – and try to drive movement in a given direction based on that data, this game is huge and an example to live by in my opinion.

And as marketing goes, the author of the LinkedIn article was absolutely right. Augmented reality will change everything one day. We think the world is highly customized now, and highly interactive, but when every brand experience you have is based on your own reality … mind-blowing, right?

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Welcome

I finally developed my first personal website. I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve worked on websites my entire career. In fact, I have not started one communications job where redesigning the website wasn’t No. 1 on the list of things to do. That must be the make or break time  for MarComm folks. Can I develop another site for this company or do I need to move on? Many seem to move on.

I personally enjoy developing new sites, especially when I can build them from scratch. And when you have full freedom like I did on this one, that’s even better. So, I had fun developing this site. I hope you all enjoy it.

This is my professional site, so I plan on commenting on marketing and communication trends and challenges as I move forward with my blog. I’ll try to add some humor along the way because let’s face it, you can’t be a professional marketer or communicator without a bit of humor.

For the first one, I’ll keep it short. I simply wanted to welcome you to my site. If you have comments, let me know.

Talk to you soon!