Category Archives: Brand

Blocking out noise to focus

Distractions can divert you from your core message and business purpose

Photo by: yellomello, fotolia.comNoise could be on my mind today because of the contractors who are tearing out a tile floor the level above my office. Or because of the gale-force winds that have been ripping through Denver and keeping us up at night.

Yet, I have found a way to sleep in spite of the howling, and I am now at my desk writing in spite of the loud bangs and crashes above my head. So, it got me thinking about the various forms of ‘noise’ that can happen in our daily business lives.

As communicators and news lovers, I think PR people and writers can be especially prone to allowing noise to seep in and distract us from our core work and purpose. We want to be in on all the conversations, we want to participate in the latest Twitter chat, and we don’t want to miss out on the next big trend. That desire to be in the know can lead us down any number of rabbit holes and, when we come back to our original task, we wonder “Ok, now, what was I doing?”

Right. What are you doing? What is the purpose behind your work today? If you can’t come up with an answer, then it’s time to start at the beginning: strategy.

You don’t need to spend days at a retreat to come up with this strategy, but you do need some time away from all the ‘noise’ that distracts you. Sit alone quietly or grab a few key team members and discuss some answers to the question: “What is the purpose of our work?”

(Check out these articles for some inspiration to help drive this conversation: “Purpose: The Secret Ingredient that Drives Business Success,” Forbes; “5 Tips for a Useful Mission Statement,” Inc.)

Once you have given words to your reason for existing – once you have named your purpose – you can put those words to use for you. Those words begin to have meaning and can give you focus as you put them into practice.

For example, if you own a cupcake shop and you have decided that your purpose is to “share the joy of crazy flavors and killer frosting with the best community in the world” (I may or may not be craving cupcakes right now), then those words should guide your decisions about where you spend your time and what information you share.

Your time and your messages will focus on interesting flavors and perhaps the sources of those flavors. You will focus messages on your local community, why you chose to live and work there, and how your business fits into that vibe. You will not waste time talking about the noise of celebrity gossip or the latest national political debate. Stay focused on your purpose and let it drive your communication decisions.

Of course, as your business grows and evolves, your purpose may change. Be sure to revisit it once in awhile to ensure that it both sums up and inspires your work.

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Print vs. electronic communication

© bloomua - Fotolia.com

Having worked in this business for more than 15 years, I have seen communications vehicles, such as newsletters, swing from predominantly print pieces to electronic and back again. My previous employer had even been sending one of its newsletters by fax before I took the job (that was more than a decade ago).

I recently met with a law firm to discuss creating a newsletter that it plans to send to its clients and business contacts, and we decided together that print was the preferable medium for the firm’s needs.

Electronic newsletters and e-mail marketing pieces still have their place, of course, but it’s helpful to consider the benefits of each medium before proceeding:

Benefits of print communication:

Visibility and readership
I checked my own e-mail inbox and counted no fewer than two dozen different senders of e-newsletters and e-mail blasts. I requested each of these subscriptions, and they all contain material I want to read. In reality, though, I read maybe three or four of those communications each week – and only on weeks when I am not crazy busy. In fact, this week’s headline on one of those issues is “9 Ways to Get Your E-mail Opened” (and I do intend to read that one).

The print magazines and newsletters I receive, however? I read every issue.

Reader-friendly layout
No scrolling. No browser-specific layout glitches. No words smashed up against photos. All the information is laid out in easy-to-digest sections.

Professional feel
Paper quality, high-resolution photos, layout and color schemes help create a professional feel. In addition, print often allows for more in-depth coverage of issues. For some industries, such as the law firm I mentioned earlier, those professional touches go a long way.

The coffee-break test
Unless I am meeting with a friend or client, I rarely take a lunch or coffee break without reading material. Sometimes that material is on my smartphone or Kindle, but more often than not, it’s when I take the time to read my magazines and professional newsletters.

Benefits of electronic communication:

Timeline
Without print deadlines to consider, e-mail communications can be sent almost immediately, especially if minimal graphic design is required. E-mail marketing systems make it easy to lay out and send a marketing piece or newsletter immediately and often.

Cost
Depending on the size of your business and e-mail list, using an e-mail marketing system can be quite cost effective. Graphic design services and flipbook software for sending high-quality, larger pieces like e-magazines, can get more pricey.

Links
If one of your primary objectives is to drive traffic to your website, an e-newsletter can be a simple way to link your readers to more content there.

Ability to track readership
E-mail marketing systems allow you to pull reports on number of e-mails opened, links clicked, content shared and more. That information can be invaluable for future marketing and communication efforts.

For most businesses, a mix of both print and electronic pieces makes sense. Which one do you tend to use more and why?

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Relax. Developing a following takes time.

bonsai tree
“Patience is a virtue.”

That is one of my mom’s top three favorite sayings (along with “a place for everything and everything in its place” and “keep a smile on your face and a song in your heart”), and it popped into my head today in relation to my work.

As a new business owner, I am apt to grow impatient with my progress in making new connections, winning new clients, and attracting new followers and blog readers. I want it all, and I want it all now.

Sound familiar?

Well, patience is indeed a virtue (someone tell my mom she was right). In fact, impatience can be a major impediment to business development, because most good strategies take time. For any business, current technology and new marketing and communication trends can capture our attention in those impatient moments and zap our focus. We end up doing a little bit of this, a smattering of that – and then wonder why we’re not making progress.

My advice – to you and to myself – is to pick a few strong strategies and stick with them long enough to discover their true power and potential. If you create a Facebook page, a Twitter feed or a blog, invest the time to develop a brand personality on each channel. Engage your followers in conversation. Most of all, don’t post a few times and then disappear for weeks or months. Regular posting is key to staying on your followers’ radars.

Sure, you might start out with 10 followers, but those followers could become 10 deeply loyal fans. Patience, and regular posting, will eventually mean more followers and more fans.

Remember that your followers need time to get to know you. Your business needs to express a personality (your brand) and deliver consistently on it. Don’t try to be all things to all people – post and share content that is in keeping with your brand. People will continue to engage with you when they know what to expect.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Writing quick tip 07/19/13


“Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion – that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.”
—David Sedaris

I stumbled upon this quote today, and it gave me pause. I have two initial reactions:

  • As a creative writer, you should write for yourself. Sedaris is right: You have no control over your readers and how they perceive and interpret your work. I believe poets and lyricists figured that out long ago, and they perhaps view the various interpretations as part of the beauty of the art form. If you have something to say, put it out there.
  • As a business writer, you must always consider your audience. Of course you can’t know each individual’s particular quirks or leanings, but it is imperative that you consider perspectives that might differ from your own. Do some research, ask for input from others, get a gut check.

    For example, I was driving by a KFC yesterday, which featured this billboard and the tagline “I ate the bones!” I thought, “Wow, KFC must think its customers are really stupid.” I know the marketers were going for clever, but the message was off-putting to me anyway (although I concede that I am probably not KFC’s core target market in the first place).

Assume intelligence among your readers. Let them interpret your creative work as they will, but be savvy about your business messages.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Powerful storytelling for business

by Amy J.V. Atwell

StorytellingI attended the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability conference (LOHAS 2013) in Boulder, Colorado a few weeks ago. As a first-time attendee, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, other than a focus on conservation, wellness and sustainability. I was pleasantly surprised at the diverse topics covered and, as a purveyor of words, the sessions titled “The Power of Story Telling” and “The Wisdom and Power of Words” caught my eye.

Rob Holmes, founder and chief storyteller (why didn’t I think of that title?) of GLP Films, presented the former session. A great story, he said, must be “powerful, engaging, educational and perpetual” and it must “take a risk.” To illustrate his point, he shared short clips of a few of his films.

I admit to being easily moved to tears, and the snippet of GLP’s “Okapi Conservation Project” certainly did the trick. The clip opened at about minute 4:31 and, after an intro of context-setting images accompanied by intense music, these words appeared on the screen: “In the early morning of June 24, 2012, a group of Mai Mai Simba rebels attacked Epulu Station, headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.” Pause. Next image: “They killed six people.”

Powerful and engaging? Check and check. Perpetual? You can bet that short film clip will stay with me for some time. My limited experience of okapis include brief sightings at the local zoo and crossword puzzle clues, but this film instantly pulled me into their story – and it left me wanting to know more about the people working so hard to protect them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As a writer, I don’t often have the benefit of music or powerful images to help tell my stories. I most often rely on words and the occasional still photo. As a business writer in particular, most stories don’t carry the impact and weight of a tragedy like the one at this African wildlife center. Still, I think Holmes’ lessons on how to tell a great story apply.

Below are a few of my key takeaways from his presentation and how I apply them to business writing:

Feature strong characters
Businesses are made up of interesting people. Your business is not your building or your logo. It is not even your product or service – it is you, your colleagues and your customers. A fact sheet on the features and benefits of your product is fine, but an account of the human experience goes so much further. A human face – a human story – allows your readers to connect with your business on a more personal level.

A recent food tour in San Francisco led my husband and me to Hog & Rocks, a ham and oyster bar. I think its staff page is a great example of how to highlight the faces – not just the food ­– of the business. After reading the page, you want to sit down to share a cocktail and watch a game with all of these guys.

Engage the audience
Again, fact sheets are fine, but your story needs to go deeper than that. Think about your story from the readers’ point of view: Why did they seek out your website/Twitter feed/newsletter in the first place? How can you meet that need and reel them in enough with your content to ensure that they stick around for awhile? Facts and figures might help them make a final buying decision, but your story is what will help make them a truly engaged fan.

One brand with some of the most passionately engaged fans is Apple (well, duh), and I love its web page targeted at creative types. It is a clear example of engaging a specific audience through the use of storytelling.

Take a risk
You don’t have to present your business or your product exactly the way the other guys do. In fact, I would argue that you can be a lot more successful by doing the unexpected. Be quirky, or shocking, or silly. As long as it fits your overall brand and strategy, taking a risk can make your business more memorable.

I met a local franchisee of this moving and junk removal company at a chamber of commerce event a few years ago. Just the name of the business is risky, but it’s memorable. I purposely didn’t cite the name because I want you to click the link to this company’s blog, which features a unique approach to public relations that helps it stand apart from other moving businesses.

I’d love to hear some other examples of great storytelling that you have encountered.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Be memorable, and be human. Perfecting your personal brand.

by Amy J.V. Atwell

personal brandA friend of mine, and fellow freelance writer, recently told me he’s thinking of leaving the freelance world because he’s “never been good at self-promotion.”

I also know professionals who don’t believe in posting their headshots on LinkedIn or with their newsletter articles – and these are director-level individuals who are making high-level business deals on a daily basis.

So, is posting a photo with a social media profile or newsletter shameless self-promotion? I don’t think it is. It is part of creating a memorable personal brand.

Here’s the thing: People don’t do business with businesses. Not really. Oh, sure, there are a few business brands so elevated that they attract millions of fans with a mere swoosh or apple symbol (assuming the product meets muster, of course). Is your business Nike or Apple? No? Then, bottom line, your business is you.

People do business with people. Your company might have a great reputation, and a great brand, but that only takes the deal so far. You and your interactions with customers are an extension of your company’s brand. The human element – a personal touch – helps sell your company’s products and services to customers, aka other humans.

Connecting with customers on an authentic level puts them more at ease. That doesn’t mean you need to become best friends with each contact – not at all. It just means you need to be human. If you’re simply a walking, talking billboard for your company, how will people remember you? Or will they remember you at all?

What if you change jobs or industries? When you try to reconnect with people in your network, will they have a benchmark for who you are, or will they remember you for the sales pitch and one-liners? Your personal brand follows you throughout your career, so it makes sense to be mindful of it and develop it.

With that in mind, here are some tips:

Don’t be the gal or guy people dodge at networking events.
Years ago, there was a regular at networking events I attended. He wore mint green plaid pants and salmon shirts, which was helpful for identifying him in a crowd – and planning my dodging strategy. I had been cornered by this guy before, and he was notorious for blathering on about his product and not much else. Which leads me to…

Don’t blather.
Take a breath. Take a sip of your club soda and lime. Create pauses that allow the other person to speak. If you never let the other person speak, you will never gain valuable insight into why this person could be a great connection.

Don’t just push – connect.
If you do all the talking, you might as well be practicing lines in the mirror. Your goal is not to push out as much information as possible. Your goal is to share ideas and discussions that lead to genuine connections.

Step outside your sales pitch and share something the other person can use. Not only that, but encourage questions and dialogue. The information you share should be the fodder for an interesting conversation. This rule applies both in person and online.

Do post your photo on your LinkedIn profile and personal Twitter page.
Before you ever meet contacts at a networking event or a business meeting, you are likely connecting with them online. Your photo, and a well-written profile, is your chance to make a good first impression. Do not underestimate the power of putting a face with a name (and title, resume and value proposition).

Do be positive.
At a recent business mixer, a contact and I quickly discovered that we had a business organization in common. This commonality would have been great way to develop a conversation and a connection had he not chosen to go negative immediately. He spent 15 minutes spewing venom about the organization and its staff, and I could not wait to make my exit. He did not leave me with a negative impression of that organization – he left me with a negative impression of him. I am not likely to seek him out as a business connection as a result.

You don’t have to put on a phony smile or fake an optimistic outlook, but do be aware that using positive words goes a long way in leaving your new contact with a positive impression of you and your business.

Do listen.
Pay attention to memorable tidbits about the other person and his or her business. Ask questions and use the information gleaned to further the conversation. Remember those pieces of information to start conversation the next time you see someone.

Do be yourself.
I love what Twitter has done for people on this front. In your short Twitter bio, you can let people know about both your business and personal interests in a few simple words. The same should hold true elsewhere in your online presence, as well as in your in-person conversations. You never know when your interest in vintage toys or WWII history helps forge a long-standing business relationship.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.