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Trust Your Gut

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In a world of “best practices” and striving to make decisions based on complete and perfect information one needs at times to step back and do a simple gut check on the issue or challenge at hand. We can all get caught up in the process and politics of the situation and lose site of what often is the simplest and most elegant solution.

We’ve got three partners at d.trio, and many people have asked us how you make a business work with three different perspectives on everything. We’ve found it to be an advantage. Not only does approaching decisions from multiple angles result in creative solutions, voting on issues is unanimous or 2-1. Either way, a decision is forced to be made. And doing something nearly always trumps doing nothing.

There is one caveat to the above. And that is if you are in the voting minority but have an extremely strong gut feeling on an issue, your minority vote may trump the others. This has only been invoked a handful of times in our 12+ year history, but has proven extremely beneficial in each case.

Gut feelings are a curious mix of experience, science, common sense and intuition. As such, they are difficult to explain and can seem contrary to what appears logical. They are, however, powerful and if used judiciously can steer a clear path through the storm.

5 Simple Communication Tips

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Simple communication advice I can share with you – these tips have helped me become a better communicator around the office, to my co-workers and my clients:

  1. Open your ears. So you have a great idea? Everyone else does too. Share your idea and open your ears. Your “great idea” could evolve and come to life. Someone could help make your next great idea become phenomenal.
  2. Just stop. Using the word “just,” that is. The word minimizes the amount of work involved with your request. Instead of asking my designer to “just change the color to something brighter,” I now skip the “just” and ask her to “change the color to something brighter.” She can decide how easy or difficult it is, and let me know.
  3. No more buts about it. Any sentence becomes more positive by replacing the word “but” with the word “and.” For example: “I like your idea, but…“ sounds like I’m about to slam the brakes on an idea. Instead, I say “I like your idea, and…” because it sounds like I am enhancing the idea. It’s a great way of disagreeing without being disagreeable!
  4. Compliment-a-day rule. A “great shirt” or “did you get a haircut?” can go a long way. It shows that you notice the little things, and in our business, little things can make a big impact. I’ve never heard a complaint about someone that is too complimentary.
  5. Clear as a bell. Whether I’m face-to-face, email, voicemail or text, I try to say what I mean, clearly…and quickly. Ever find yourself explaining a problem before you ask for something? Switch that around – I’ve found it’s best to ask for what I want first, then get into the details.

Creativity vs. the Hard Stuff

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I’ve had blogger’s block. I don’t know why, but it got worse as the Super Bowl got closer. Intimidated by the extreme creativity and sheer enormity of the budgets for advertising during the Super Bowl, I felt diminished by it.

In our heart of hearts all marketers want to be able to turn on the Super Bowl and point to our pride and joy (ad) and say – “that’s my creativity, that’s my baby.” Yep.

But we’re boots on the ground marketers. We have big ideas that touch one person at a time and create results and ROI – not big splashy TV commercials that flood the airways with humor or drama. And although it’s not as sexy, it plays an important role in selling things, getting the word out, making connections and creating relationships that build trust and brands. It wasn’t until I read this blog in Advertising Age – http://bit.ly/eXZJK2 – that I started really thinking about the significance of what we do versus most Super Bowl ads that will be forgotten by next year.

Could it be that there is more value in strategic communications through multiple channels? That relevant communications are really better than all that creativity that is bought and sold at the Super Bowl? I’d have to say yes.

I’ve been told many times in my career that marketing is a really tough way to make a living – that we do the hard stuff.  And we do. But it’s the good stuff, it’s the relevant stuff that really gets people to act and engage.

So I got myself together and wrote this blog. We’re out there every day with our creativity, finding the right way to move forward with brand messages through small and underappreciated channels. Pat yourself on the back; you do the hard stuff and it works. Keep on working hard, getting the word out through the channels that work for you – social, digital, direct response, print and mobile etc.

And if you continue to give the people what they want, then maybe, just maybe you’ll do something that ends up being shown during the Super Bowl. Okay, just kidding, probably not, but doing what you love to do and having success with it does have its own rewards. Do you agree? Tell us how you’re doing and what you think here or at our Facebook page.

The 12 days of marketing

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The end of the year is a time of reflection and review, so the next time you find yourself humming along with the 12 days of Christmas, make it productive. Here’s a perfect opportunity to review and renew your marketing for next year.

In the spirit of the season, here are my 12 days of marketing action.

  1. On Day 1, you look back at 2010 and take stock of the good, the bad and the ugly. What can you do differently in 2011? Did you stop or cut back on marketing to save money – it’s time to start again to gain visibility. You’re behind.
  2. Day 2. Now look forward. Make a plan based on what you achieved with your marketing in 2010 and need to accomplish next year. Did you try a new media? Did you measure the results? Yes? Then you have a benchmark for 2011.
  3. Day 3. Review your customer list and contact your customers to thank them in some way.  It doesn’t have to be big, just heartfelt. Maybe you’ll get a testimonial.
  4. Day 4. Examine your failures. Don’t just blame loss of clients or revenues on the bad economy. Make sure you understand what didn’t work and why. Make a plan to fix the issue(s). You don’t want to lose next year’s marketing budget because you don’t understand what happened this year.
  5. Day 5. Thank your employees, vendors, freelancers, and others who helped your business run smoothly in 2010. They matter in the success of any business and can make the difference between being good and great.
  6. Day 6. Think about what didn’t get done that you wish had and why. Make a wish list and prioritize what you want to get done.
  7. Day 7. Find more visibility – there are many ways to help people find you – from running ads, to email, mail and PR campaigns, to redoing your website for better search results, to kicking up attention to your social media platforms.  Embrace the new marketing scene and aim for multiple touches.
  8. Day 8. Read, learn, and find out what your competition did and is doing in terms of marketing and innovation. What did they accomplish in 2010? Are you ahead or lagging them?
  9. Day 9. Take some time to look up and out of the minutia. The big picture never presents itself to someone staring at details all day long. We all need to take a break, go to a seminar or take an improv class. Do something to kick up the creative juices so you can hone your vision. Your marketing will be more successful if it’s built on vision.
  10. Day 10. Once you’ve created your marketing calendar, publish it so there is buy-in and input from your organization. Create excitement!
  11. Day 11. Ok relax. You’ve earned it. And enjoy your holiday season! Volunteer your time and get refreshed to take on your 2011 marketing plan.
  12. Day 12. We’d love to hear from you! Tell us what you learned from 2010 here or at http://www.facebook.com/dtrio

Is comfort good?

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I spent the weekend at an event that took me out of my comfort zones, and it made me think about the role comfort plays in our business and personal lives. During this event, I talked to a woman who wants her business to be at the top of her industry, but doesn’t want to venture into new territory to do it. Nor does she want to spend money on search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to help other businesses find her.

She was smart, articulate, clearly had plans and was undoubtedly comfortable with her company as it is – somewhere between the status quo and real success.

Just as author, Jim Collins, says in his book “Good to Great” that “Good is the enemy of great,” comfort is the enemy of success in business. Comfort is lounging on a soft couch in sweat pants, feeding on junk food. Fine for a weekend but bad as a lifestyle. In business, comfort means not challenging the status quo or taking risks. It means doing same things day after day without questioning whether they are the best decisions for your business, product or service to be successful into the future.

If you apply that inertia to your marketing decisions, it’s even worse. You can’t market yourself well unless you find fresh ways to get your name, products or services out there. Different marketing channels can work together to improve how people can find you and you can move the needle toward your goals.

There are many marketing channels that produce results and many that work together to increase business success through increased visibility. Maybe you haven’t changed your marketing programs for a while, or you need help figuring out the steps to take to move that needle in the right direction – that’s what we’re here for. Send us your questions or tell us how you’re doing, here or on our Facebook page.

Coincidentally, I just read a good blog that ties in with this, about getting out of your comfort zones and striving for excellence. I hope it helps motivate you. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/08/six_keys_to.html

Eye tracking basics. Guest blogger: Alexandra Franzen

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What do your customers really see when they read your website pages? Read on for illumination from Alexandra, our guest blogger extraordinaire who has an eye for interesting and pertinent information.

When a customer visits your company’s website, what do they really see?

The truth? A big fat “F.”

Don’t take it personally — it’s not a report card. The human eye literally scans in the shape of the letter “F” — picking up hot zones in the header region, jumping down to the sub-header line, and then skimming straight down the page.

eye_tracking3

 

Sophisticated eye tracking tests performed by the Nielsen Norman Group, the Poynter Institute, the Estlow Center for Journalism and New Media and Eyetools provide new insights (no pun intended) into how we interpret webpages.

In addition to unveiling the distinctive F-shape pattern, eye tracking experts have highlighted a few additional techniques for effective web copywriting.

The Whisper Effect.
Ever notice how college professors speak softly to command their students’ attention? Sometimes, small text equals closer reading. As Steve Outing and Laura Ruel of the Eyetrack III project explain, “Smaller type encourages focused viewing behavior (that is, reading the words), while larger type promotes lighter scanning.”

Short & Sweet.
Copywriters instinctively know that short, concise paragraphs work better — both online and offline. Long blocks of dense text often get ignored, because they feel too daunting. As Dean Rieck of Direct Creative notes, “Big blocks of type look imposing and difficult, like reading a Faulkner novel.”

Words for Facts. Images for Stories.
Factual information — like names, numbers and locations — are best expressed through words. But high-concept processes, systems and stories are better conveyed through multi-media methods: graphs, images, illustrations and videos.

1-800-Got-Junk does an excellent job of illustrating their business model in this animated movie, while Rice to Riches — a luxury rice pudding restaurant in New York City — has a fantastic “brand storytelling” intro video on their website.

For more eye scanning insights, check out Eye Tracking, Inc. — a company that measures website usability, and Eye Tracking Update, an aggregate site that pools together the latest findings in the field.

Alexandra Franzen is a writer + editor + organization freak who freelances for d.trio marketing as a copywriter. You can find her blogging at Unicorns for Socialism and tweeting up a storm at @Alex_Franzen.

F-pattern eye scan images via Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox

Get your messages chosen.

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There’s too much stuff in my head today. It’s as cluttered as my desk and email inbox. I’m not alone, but that’s little consolation to a marketer whose job it is to cut through the clutter. Yet, I got an email from a blogger I follow, Joe Grant, http://jjgrant.wordpress.com/ and it made me sit up and take notice. Why? Because there’s always something in his blog for me.

As marketers we have to accept and address a general lack of focus and propensity to distraction or we should just give up and go golfing. And, by the way, how and why are people able to concentrate on a golf game for more than 4 hours and yet can’t get to the 1-minute (or less) task of reading our marketing messages?

Interest and relevance.

It all boils down to that, interest and relevance. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself (or better yet ask them):

  • What do customers want and need to know that you can provide them?
  • What are the different ways that they access information and what is their preference in receiving it?

We all have to live with the distractions of day and moment, but if your messages and content are more compelling and more relevant than the next guy’s, your customers will take notice and choose to open yours over your competition.

This isn’t about shouting, it’s about whispering – getting customers to lean in to hear more. It’s about presenting thoughtful interesting information, in an easy to read format and making it look good. Leave them wanting more, looking forward to your next communiqué. And give them options (email, snail mail, blog, social, mobile etc.) that they can choose between to receive your communications. It’s about giving your customers choices while meeting their needs. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and go for a stroll. Take some time to think about what you can provide that is relevant, interesting and/or fun. Then next time your customers will sit up and take notice of what you have to say.

We’d love to hear what your experience has been with your cutting through the clutter, here or at http://www.facebook.com/dtrio – tell us what you think.

Are you engaged in social marketing?

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In previous blogs I’ve talked about customer engagement. It’s a crucial part of new marketing and particularly social marketing. There are different ways of accomplishing engagement but it has to be interesting, sincere and fun.

Engage people
Whether you market to consumers or other businesses, you are still dealing with people, so consider your audience and what is meaningful to them. You can do this in many ways – as a retailer, you can offer product, product discounts or an exclusive say or insight into the next iteration of a product. If you are in education you can offer information (blogs or white papers), school discounts or other things of value such as links to scholarships and grants. Financial services companies can create forums for people to learn tips for saving and share successes or ask financial advice, as well as develop white papers regarding subjects of interest, such as saving enough money for retirement.

dtrioturfwars

Offer value
The key is to offer something of value to your customers and make sure they have a say. The social media realm is different from push marketing where you try to influence a group of homogeneous people with offers you think or know they will like. With social marketing you put your brand out there for interaction, buy-in and influence. You reach your audience by offering information or other things of value.

One way we have reached out at d.trio is by hosting a contest we called “Turf Wars” to engage customers and prospects. We mailed out a small container of grass seed and challenged recipients to grow the grass and submit photos of creative entries. We announced progress through email, Twitter, our Facebook page and LinkedIn. Tying into the spring theme, we offered Home Depot gift cards for the top two vote-getters and a gift card for a randomly chosen registered voter.

Measure response
We had a great response – 10% participation and over 260,000 votes from many different IP addresses (multiple votes were ok). We had a huge spike in traffic to our website http://www.dtrio.com/turfwars/, and our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/dtrio as we provided information and updates.  The response to the promotion was really positive and people had fun with the competition. It was fun, interactive, competitive and engaging.

How do you engage your customers and prospects?

We’d love to hear what your experience has been with your social marketing or contests, here or at http://www.facebook.com/dtrio – tell us what you think.

10 Reasons to Embrace Change:

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Change is good. It has to be because business is always in flux. So we’re better off embracing it, not fighting it.

We exist, here at d.trio, in the agency world where everything changes and time is accelerated like dog years – so we’re happy to look back on 10 successful years. We’ve learned a lot. And, no year has been the same as the last one.

So what is the point? The point is I’ve been thinking a lot about business and how change has affected our choices. As a result, I’ve come up with the top 10 reasons change is good:

1. Change keeps your ideas fresh – and we’re only as good as our ideas in business.

2. Change makes you keep learning – short term this keeps our strategies relevant and leading edge; long term we fight Alzheimer’s!

3. Change makes every day different – it fights boredom and give us a reason to look forward to tomorrow.

4. Change keeps you on your toes and thinking sharply.

5. Change is the enemy of hubris, which is the enemy of long-term success.

6. You learn more from change, such as failing at something, than you do from unfettered success.

7. A change of view can help keep the important things in perspective.

8. Change is responsible for inspiration (and inspiration can also create change).

9. Without change, there wouldn’t be game changing technologies like the personal computer, the iPhone and maybe the iPad http://www.garysky.net/ipad-review-by-cnet.html (time will tell) – things that make people think differently.

10. Change is required to take a leap of faith – as we did 10 years ago to start d.trio!

So go embrace change today. Share with us how change has affected your life – we’d love to hear what your experience has been here or at our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/dtrio

2010 resolution follow-up #5 – What do customers think?

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What do your customers really think? If your company has changed in the last year (and most have), it’s a good time to look at your relationship with your customers. Learn what they really think about your company and the products and services that you offer.

Obviously what your clients think of your company is critical to your success. This isn’t a situation where what you don’t know can’t hurt you. But it’s tricky, because clients sometimes will not tell the whole truth – it’s hard to tell someone they work with every day that something is not working. And they are probably nice people who don’t want to hurt your feelings. In Minnesota, there’s a culture of being nice to a fault, where we might not be able to tell by talking to clients day to day that there’s something wrong.

But it’s our (the company, vendor, agency, consultant, internal vendor, etc.) responsibility to know what is going on. So ask. And, you might want to hire someone to help you get the full story. We did, and we learned a lot:

  • Customers know mostly just what you do for them day in and out
  • Although you may do a good job at one thing, they will not necessarily make the leap that you can do something related
  • Perceptions about what you do best may be different from customer to customer
  • History is history, what happens most recently is what people remember (what have you done for me lately?)

If you’re like us, we thought that as we changed our clients automatically understood the changes we had made (and benefit). Things move so fast that in a daily business that a “what’s new” discussion may not always happen.

So make a point of pulling your customers aside periodically and updating them on what you do. Pretend they only know about the services or products that they use or buy on a regular basis. Just because they are familiar, doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate a well thought out recommendation or customized presentation. Especially if they have the opportunity to learn something in the process.

And connect with your customers in other ways – Facebook, Twitter, your Website – there are many ways to connect and find out what they want. The more you know, the more you can react to, fix and be proactive the next time.

We’d love to hear what your experience has been in getting feedback from your clients or customers here or at http://www.facebook.com/dtrio – tell us what you think.