Kathy Klotz-Guest

Posts Tagged ‘jargon’

Keeping it Simple Means Keeping it Human

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Complexity is easy; simplicity is hard. There is a lot of noise out there. If being simple were easy, everybody would have mastered it. That’s a great thing; when your competitors are convoluted, simplicity sets you far ahead of the pack. Whether it’s your offerings, your service, all the ways you engage with your customer or your marketing messages, simplicity gives you a big advantage. There is elegance and efficiency in simplicity; and keeping it simple makes it easy for customers to do business with you.

Complexity alienates and destroys value. Customers are busy; they don’t have time to sift through noise to dissect what you really do and how it applies to them. Simplicity streamlines customers’ (and prospects’) lives and respects their time and money – that makes you stand out! Companies that offer products and services based on technology are especially vulnerable to the complexity trap. You can’t explain complexity with more complexity. Rather, the only antidote to complexity is simplicity. Simplicity takes work.

So where do you start with “simplicity” summer cleaning? Map out everything you do in marketing. Then ask, “Where can I simplify?”

Research

Leverage social media tools and good, old-fashioned human conversations (yes, these still work!) to vet products and services. Not using your engaged customers as a market research panel? You should be, as they can lower your research cost and product risk. They can tell you if something works before you go down a certain road, or tell you if your current offerings aren’t working. Focus on your high-end customers, especially. Social media tools aren’t just for communications; they can help you better understand usage patterns, needs and wants, and that makes them ideally suited for getting at great information that can help you streamline your business interactions. Still, they must be used together with human touches. Those touches can get at information that other approaches can’t.

Product

Have you ever walked down the bottled water aisle at the grocery store and wondered if a brand really needs dozens of varieties of water? Companies segment to reinvigorate margins and profits – it’s the product life cycle in action. However, more choices mean more complexity for the customer. Examine your offerings. If several overlap and benefits are unclear to prospects, simplify by repackaging into fewer options. You’ll likely see margins improve as well. I’ve done this recently, and it has made a difference.

Customer Service

What are all the ways you engage with your customer? Track all the ways you touch your customer or prospect. Map out your experience flow. Look at ways to simplify and add value for your customer. Too many unnecessary touches can actually reduce value. For example, I worked with a company where each division conducted separate market research projects on the same customers. That often meant that customers would be asked to fill out surveys four times a year. Is that really necessary? No. Consolidate into a single touch that respects your customers’ time and is likely to yield better data for you. If touches add value separately for your customer, keeping them separate makes sense. Make sure that the touches you keep – whether newsletters, social media, or emails – offer something that makes a difference to prospects and customers. The key is quality “touches.”

Look at all your marketing channels. Call your own phone number. Does it go into a black hole, or are calls routed appropriately and returned? Does it have an outdated voice mail message? What about your inbox with online leads – what outgoing messages to people get when they submit a query? And, what do you do with that lead? One client set up an inbox to track incoming leads through the website. What did they do with those inquiries? Often nothing – leaving customers to have to find other channels to get the help they needed. This adds complexity, creates a poor customer experience, and doesn’t benefit the company.

Marketing Communications

Look at all of your communications. Are they simple to understand? Are they consistent? Streamline your message, and make sure your channels are integrated into a content network that reaches customers easily. That means that all channels talk to each other – that’s where the multiplier effect is.

Be sure your language is clear, simple and compelling. Cut out jargon. Jargon is like a bad restaurant experience where no one is really served well. It’s lazy and that is why we over-use it. We don’t have to think. Here’s the rub: when you use jargon, you end up sounding like everyone else with no unique voice. So dare to be different by being simple.

Here’s a quick litmus test: can you articulate the essence of your business in ten words or less? You should be able to. It’s not easy – and that’s the beauty of it. It will take you a number of iterations. Mine did. This exercise forces you to distill your value into a simple, memorable statement. For example, here’s my statement: “I help organizations turn marketing-speak into human stories that connect.” Get rid of “inside” language that you use internally because it won’t be meaningful to customers. The detail of “how” you get results for clients doesn’t matter at the highest level;  results do. Ask for feedback. Rinse and repeat!

Knowledge is a double-edged sword. It’s fantastic to have a number of things under your product umbrella, and to want to share that expertise. However, you can’t hold your customer or prospect hostage while you explain – verbally or in writing – everything you offer. An elevator pitch should focus on one idea; I mean a 30-second elevator ride, not 30 stories heading up the Sears Tower.

Simplicity takes commitment. Yet, think for a moment how much complexity can cost you. Most people won’t tell you if you are convoluted, so get ahead of the curve and ask your best customers.

Coco Chanel, the great fashion designer had it right: before you leave the house, take one item of jewelry, clothing or an accessory off. Like great fashion, less is more when it comes to great marketing.

Keeping it simple benefits your customers and you. That’s the simple truth. Can I get an, “Amen?!”

Keeping b2b Marketing Content “Human”

In Marketing, Marketing FUN, Social Media on May 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm

There would be a lot less bad marketing in the world if executives were forced to read all the ineffective, sometimes downright awful, content their organizations produce.

Marketing is supposed to put human needs first by sounding like it was created for humans by humans. Marketers know this.

So why is there so much bad B2B marketing content out there? It’s not a lack of creative storytelling talent. B2B companies are just as able to develop creative, fun, people-focused content as their consumer-oriented counterparts. Consider Cisco, IBM (yes, that IBM – once known as stiff and stodgy), NetApp, and Hub Spot to name a few examples.

With a little effort and strategy, you can breathe some life into your marketing. Below are five doable ways to humanize content and connect with your audience.


Stories

Humans are wired to think in stories. Twenty thousand years ago, when Grog needed to communicate hunting information, he didn’t issue tribal press releases boasting of “breakthrough arrow technology.” He told a story that was passed down and shaped by others.

All great marketing is storytelling, and it’s important to use stories to connect. We absorb stories, remember them, retell them, and they become part of how we “frame” our new world. Stories allow us to feel and to visualize what could be. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, for example, in which he painted a picture of a better world. If we want customers and prospects to feel something for our products other than boredom and disaffection, we cannot aim our content solely at their “logic” brains. Stories that illustrate how your products and services have made a difference for customers are a huge sales advantage. “Logical facts,” however, are easily forgotten and are far from transformational.

The best storytellers often do not sit in the executive suite. Enable your employees, fans, and partners to share their stories and extend your narrative’s relevance to them. There is no more powerful referral source than peer and user-focused stories, especially if users are telling them!

Conversation
Keeping business content “human” means that it should not only be relevant, it should sound like simple and clear conversation. And “simple,” doesn’t mean “dumb it down.” Complexity is easy; simplicity isn’t. The Roman orator Cicero famously stated, “Forgive me for writing such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Simple just means easy to understand.

Think of all the casual conversations you have. No one recommends a product to a friend because it contains “disruptive, game-changing technology.” If people talked like this to us in personal conversation, as Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void describes, “we’d punch them in the face.” We recommend a product because it solves a very real human problem. People don’t talk like robots in everyday conversation; so why is this buzzword bingo part of our content? Even more surprising, we somehow expect people to read and relate to this stuff.

Color Your Words and Images
Colorful language simplifies concepts and makes them memorable. Paint a memorable visual with your words by using analogies and metaphors. For example, instead of “PR director,” you might describe your work as “story detective.” When I am talking with high-tech engineers, for example, I describe my work as the human-language translator between an internal technology focus and external customer needs. Simplify by using useful, accurate and helpful images that are meaningful to your business and for customers. Avoid overused metaphors (sports and war, for example) that have become clichés in business, however. That’s how buzzwords “happen.” If any wording smells like buzzwords to you, change it.

Outward Focus
One of the reasons companies struggle with making content human is because they are too inward-focused. That is, they are too centered on the question of, “how do we describe what we do?” They are focusing on the “we, me, us, and our.” Instead, companies should be outward-focused. The right question to answer is, “what are the human challenges our customers have?” When you approach content by describing human needs first, it’s much easier to then explain how your organization can help.

Here’s a quick test of your “outward focus” quotient: Does your company use the word “targets” or “prospects” / “customers” more frequently? If a customer comes to your website, can they glean in seconds what your organization does? Here’s another exercise: count how many times your writing mentions your company and its services. Then, count how many times it references customers and their needs. The latter should always be more pervasive, and your customer-to-company “reference ratio” should be high. Clear, relevant, and human-centered writing takes effort. Yet, the benefits are clear.

Jargon is a symptom of an inward-focus projected onto customers, and it is lazy. Readers won’t (and shouldn’t have to) struggle to decipher your narrative. Jargon also shortchanges your organization because it puts an unnecessary barrier between you and your audience. It’s like a bad restaurant experience where no one is served well (note the simile).

Another important element of an outward focus is the “so what?” factor for customers. Great content focuses on helping your audience achieve something better – get better results, save money, make money, make better decisions. It should center on improving customers’ bottom lines, not yours.

Fun and Humor
Fun is a healthy part of “serious” business. It’s a fantastic way to connect and cut through clutter. Even in b2b, relationships happen between people, not faceless entities, and fun and humor are as human as you can get. Funny is great; yet even a little levity works, too, especially for brands in need of a little brand botox! And, fun is less “risky” than you might think. Companies operate as “people,” too, with their own personality attributes.

IBM’s video series, “Art of the Sale,” for example, poked fun at IBM’s reputation in the mainframe business. It was refreshing, unexpected and cut straight to the point: “we know we had a reputation as being out-of-touch; we hear you, and we’ve changed.” Why did this series work so well? Because it was unexpected and it changed how people perceived the company. It was “un-IBM.” It was also an acknowledgment by the company that is was willing to be different moving forward. When expectations are inverted, customers are delighted. The right question for marketers to answer should be, “how do we favorably invert customer expectations?” Humor recognizes our shared humanity, and that is a powerful connector.

Vox Humana
With the exponential explosion in online content, it’s becoming not just a crowded world, but one where fresh voices are increasingly harder to find. Keeping content human increases its relevance and it can help change customer perceptions – and expectations – for the better. That’s a big competitive advantage in an increasingly noisy, sometimes un-human marketplace.

Now, back to the idea of forcing execs to consume their own bad content… I think I am on to something, or at least something fun for me. You say “torture”…I say public service…!

Making Sales More Human

In Marketing, Social Media on December 20, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Are your sales efforts focused on meeting human needs, or does your sales team treat prospects as objects? If you don’t know, you should. After all, it’s your business at stake.

Human-centered organizations focus on meeting customers’ specific needs and goals. They discuss with people, rather than talking at people from a script.

Recently, I was a prospect on a frustrating call with a vendor that helps businesses write books.  It was positioned as a free consult. It was not. Not only did it not provide value; it destroyed value.

For 45 minutes, this vendor stuck to a tight script, talking “at” me, rather than conversing with me about my needs.  I’m not a robot, so why was he acting like one? There was nothing human about this experience, and I would never treat a prospect this way. Several times, I tried to segue from the script back to my specific issues, and each time he put me on “hold” to get back to his formula. He had a product to sell; I had a set of human needs to meet. I didn’t give a crap about his “product.” As cartoonist Hugh McLeod described in a scene where marketers were speaking jargon, “if people really talked like this to us in real life, we’d punch them in the face.” AMEN.

Emotional Awareness

When you stick to a script, you strip the consultative, human element out of the conversation. He didn’t want a relationship; he wanted to make a sale. That means he made the call about him.

This vendor was lacking something critical to sales and marketing success: emotional awareness. He did not get that my attempts to deviate from the script was me letting him know he was way off.  In fact, it made him stammer. That’s right; he stammered because he didn’t actually know how to talk with people and really listen. Sales and marketing require emotional intelligence. While I actually enjoyed knocking him off his script that treated me like a sales object with dollars signs over my head, it was disappointing to see exactly how unprepared he was to have a conversation.

When I asked if I could speak to several references, he stated that it’s “not our policy.” Not your policy to let prospects talk to actual customers? Wow. He clearly didn’t want me talking – something humans do – to his customers. Instead, after the call, he sent more of his sales collateral with his company’s filtered ‘success stories’ of clients making hundreds of thousands of dollars before their books were even published. It sounds hard to believe.  And it is. Which is clearly why he was unnerved. The reality is your prospects already talk about you, which is exactly why in this new world of peer connections and referrals, you need to be engaged in actual conversation with prospects, not in  hard selling. Selling does not create trusted relationships.

Sales success depends on how you make people feel about doing business with you. It’s about a human, feeling-based connection. And following a script regardless of my needs makes me feel distrustful and insulted. His agenda is transparent, and so was his lack of sales prowess. Now back to my point about value. Great sales people create goodwill. When we treat people as sales objects, we destroy value for both the prospect and the organization.  I can’t get my time back, and it’s not easy to undo the damage caused by such an interaction.