Category Archives: Marketing Communications

Long Live the “Systematic Buzz Phrase!”

This little gem was a favorite of a veteran college professor. He used it in class to highlight how easy it is to create speeches, presentations, business plans, news announcements and general messages that contain pure nonsense. I thought it was worthy to share.

thThe “Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector” first appeared in 1968 in Newsweek Magazine in an article called “How to Win at Wordsmanship.” A U.S. Public Health official, Philip Broughton, then 63 years old, came up with the idea to show how buzz phrases run rampant in business communications. It is as relevant today as it was then.

Here’s how it works. Thirty popular buzzwords are organized in three columns. To create a perfect-sounding, legitimate buzz phrase—applicable across as many industries as you can think of—simply choose any three-digit combination and select the corresponding word from each column!

For example, 4-9-0 translates to functional policy options!  My lucky numbers 7-7-7 translate to synchronized incremental projection!  

Go ahead, try it!

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3
0. integrated 0. management 0. options
1. total 1. organizational 1. flexibility
2. systematized 2. monitored 2. capability
3. parallel 3. reciprocal 3. mobility
4. functional 4. digital 4. programming
5. responsive 5. logistical 5. concept
6. optional 6. transitional 6. time-phase
7. synchronized 7. incremental 7. projection
8. compatible 8. third-generation 8. hardware
9. balanced 9. policy 9. contingency

I would add a few more words to the column lists—big data, multi-channel, ecosystem, engagement, earned media, owned media, ROI, scalable and viral immediately come to mind.  What are your suggestions?

warroomMy guess is nearly 50 years after the “Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector” debuted, far too many corporate marketing materials, business plans, executive letters and online copy use more buzz phrases than any of us would like. It’s so easy to fall prey to industry jargon, especially when social media and online communications put increasing pressure on timing.  Unfortunately, I’m sure I have been among the guilty.

Abraham Lincoln said of his communications: “I determined to be so clear than no honest man could misunderstand me and no dishonest one could successfully misrepresent me.” He would be horrified to read some business communications today.

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Face it. You Are Addicted!

Having neck pain?   Walking into people on the sidewalk?  Experienced a near miss crossing the street?

img_0792Sometimes I think the “DON’T WALK” signs should read “STOP TEXTING.”  We are not only more connected than ever, many of us have a tinge of “connectivity addiction.”

The more devices we have, the happier we are. In fact, we have more devices and spend more time on them than any other device prior. With computers, laptops, television and radio, the on/off button was something regularly used. Not so with our devices today. Always-on is a badge of honor. And who doesn’t feel the onset of anxiety setting in when the juice runs low or heaven forbid, runs out?

We think we are “connected” because we are “always-on.” We see a tweet, a post or an update as soon as it occurs from friends, family, colleagues and even world leaders. But are we? Are we truly connected to what matters most to us? Moreover, do we really want to be that connected? Is it healthy? Is it productive? Am I really more informed or better off because I can share a photo of my pancakes, the skyline, a dog or cat or whatever I fancy right now?

Anectdotal evidence suggests there are cracks in the connectivity dream. In some circles, disconnecting is the new black. And yes, you guessed it, there’s even an app for that.

Companies must better understand the dynamic between man, woman and child and their devices. And we all need to be connected in different ways. Real-time data gives us the ability to get more of what we want and less of what we don’t want and do so when and where we want to receive it. Today, uber relevance reigns. There is simply too much competing for our attention. I ask again, to what end? Is all this connectivity leading to better, more targeted, more relevant communications?

The Wisdom of Lester Wunderman

lesterI learned a valuable lesson from Lester Wunderman, the father of direct marketing, years ago: “Just because you know my name doesn’t mean you know me,” he said. Taking that a step further, it also doesn’t mean I want it now (even though all the data suggests it) or I want to do it with my phone.

In the world where we can access any and everything with a swipe or command, a “connectivity gap” is emerging, and it is getting in the way of communications that really matter to consumers, businesses, employees and even our friends.

We think we have communicated something because we just “sent it” or “posted it.” But unintended consequences are real. Delivering bad news in a text doesn’t work. Un-vetted blogs, tweets, posts (light on facts), do more to un-inform, than inform. Hashtag photo opportunities too often backfire. And the list goes on.

There simply is no substitute for well-conceived communications strategies that close the connectivity gap and free us from our connectivity addiction. Integrating new media technologies and an understanding of how social media channels wield their influence are part of it. But make no mistake, nothing happens without a plan and a commitment to stick to it.

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Social Media – What’s the Fuss?

It’s happening again, this time with social. Before that, it was digital…. Websites…. Internet… email… infomercials…. radio… You name it. Marketers always look to the latest communications craze to get an edge.

imagesBut, is social media different?  Yes… and no.

To the delight of customers and corporations alike, it offers speed and the ability to share with incredible efficiency. Hence, it delivers the conversations with customers that our communications and marketing predecessors only dreamed about. To the horror of marketers (and the delight of some customers), it has the ability to bring down brands, companies and politicians alike in just one tweet or post.

That’s why it keeps getting special attention. Moreover, it’s why social media must be an integral part of the organization as a whole— not just something that resides in a marketing or communications silo. Social media tentacles must reach beyond marketing and communications to embrace the other major business functions, including sales, HR, R&D, product development, legal, and IT. To my mind, it needs to be on every department’s radar screen.

The degree to which other departments are involved depends on how communication flows in each organization, as well as the individual objectives to be achieved. Yet, in many ways, social media is not different at all.   Social media is the logical extension of technology-powered communication that makes two-way dialogs easier and faster. Successful implementation, in many ways, parallels how we use other channels, but with a hyper sensitivity to the ease and speed it elicits a response.  So how should we proceed?

Common Sense, Content and the Dowager Countess

Whether you are a billion-dollar-corporation or a first-time author, anyone using social media should apply a bit of common sense.  Here are five things to keep in mind.

goalsettingbriantracy1. ObjectiveDefine it clearly and from the outset. Whether you want to increase awareness, encourage customer engagement, stimulate event or survey participation or generate sales, know what you want your social media plan to achieve from the start. Too often, social media initiatives are started without a clear goal in mind. So it’s no surprise, those responsible have a hard time articulating the value it brings to the organization. When you start with defined, measurable objectives, such as increase event registrations or prompt a specific call to action, you will derive greater value from the entire effort. Set goals and expect results.

2. Relevant ContentIt’s the lifeblood of any social media campaign. All the videos, white papers, surveys, research, photos, experts, in the world will not meet objectives unless it is uber relevant and easy to access. Content is information and entertainment. It’s long form; it’s short form, and often it is both. It’s consumed now or later. It’s discarded after one look or saved forever. It’s accessible when and where I want it to be. Given all this, the operative word here is relevance. Hence, at all costs, avoid “ready, aim, post!”  Calendar it!

miWRodh7_400x4003. Authenticity – Don’t try to fake it; you’ll fail. Just take a run through Twitter and you’ll easily find the celebrities (or their characters) and politicians who have hired hands write their tweets. Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess (@theLadyGrantham), among my favorites, is successful because she tweets in character, even when she is not talking about the show. Others have met the wrath of the delete button because they simply use Twitter to self-promote. Similarly, successful @brand or @company handles (manned by company surrogates) speak in the brand/company voice that customers have come to know. When executives take to social media, customers, employees and investors want to know they are the real deal, not understudies. Don’t disappoint.

4. PlatformChoose wisely, they are not all the same. True, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and all the rest yet to be developed, are social media. But they are very different in what they can do for you with respect to your stated objectives. Each can attract a different audience and in a different state of mind, with varying amounts of time they are willing to spend with you. That doesn’t mean you need to create more and more content; it means you slice it up differently, depending on the platform. You would be surprised how much relevant content you can create across a myriad of social media platforms using just one industry white paper. Divide content and conquer.

5. MeasurementThere’s no excuse not to do it. Data from social media offer great insight into what matters most to your customers. The beauty of social data is that it is both quantitative and qualitative. Interactions in the form of Likes, Shares, Retweets, Favorites and Pins tell you what resonates. Look for spikes and lulls and adjust your plan accordingly. Direct feedback in the form of comments and mentions can be positive or negative, but they give you real insight into sentiment. Create a rapid response mechanism to assess/manage negative comments. And be open to acknowledge the positive sentiments too. The engagement rate reflected by the cumulative number of social media interactions is important too as a way of assessing the overall effectiveness of your content plan.  If you post, you measure!

A few facts:  By every measure, social has gone mainstream. According to University of Massachusetts study released in 2013, 77%, 71% and 69% of Fortune 500 companies are already on Twitter; Facebook and YouTube, respectively. And the participation rate for Twitter is sure to rise to 100 percent in just a couple of years. But by that time, sure enough, we’ll all be talking about that next new communications craze.

What’s your view?

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Customer Service Gone Digital

When it works. It’s magical.

image of aladin's lamp for blogThink about the last time you ordered merchandise online. If you are like me, you get a kick tracking where the new merchandise is moment to moment. “Oh look! It’s been loaded on the truck!” Followed by “Your shipment is out for delivery.” Then, best of all, “Your package will be delivered by 2pm!” It’s simply terrific for everyone—the merchant, the shipper and the customer.

Yet, customer service today can be tricky. Establishing that delicate balance between digital technology and personal interaction is critical. Especially now. Here are a few examples of how even the best intentions can go awry.

Where have all the cashiers gone?

I’m puzzled why some retail chains feel compelled to follow the Walmart “greeter” model. It works for Walmart because of its size and scale; and, because it has nailed the check-out experience. A relative newcomer to this retailer, I took comfort when greeters let me know I wasn’t alone as I ventured inside the store. Then, I was mesmerized at check-out, watching the cashier scan and bag my items as the bagging station rotated with ease and efficiency. Breakables were put in a different bag on the turntable. The turntable approach lessened the likelihood of forgetting a bag. A good idea, I thought.

Walmart GreeterSome smaller retailers, however, have decided to add greeters at the expense of cashiers. Do I really need someone to say “Welcome to (pick any store name); let me know how I can help you” only to be left alone at a “self-check-out” station?

Try as I might to embrace this new customer experience, the self-check-out process is anything but smooth. It usually ends up with a computer-generated voice repeating endlessly “Help is on the way. Help is on the way,” at which point, I abandon my purchases; and, you guessed it, go to Walmart!

Greeters are fine but not at the expense of a reliable and quick check-out experience. For self-check-out stations to be effective, they need to work 99.9% of the time. “Help is on the way” should be the exception, not the rule. And, paying someone to sit on the self-check-out perch, overseeing customers as they struggle with the technology, is infuriating.

Retailers (you know who you are), there are experts that can help deliver a far better way!

Is CYA now Customer Service SOP?

I genuinely wanted to say “thank you” to an airline crew that helped me during a difficult travel experience. My intent was pure. I wanted the flight attendants and pilots to know I appreciated their efforts, and I didn’t want to do it in a post or a tweet. I pondered sending snail mail but decided to go the online route when I discovered the carrier’s website had an easy way to register a compliment or complaint. There was even a box to check if you desired a response. I checked “yes.” All I wanted was an acknowledgment that my comment was passed along to the crew.

What I got back was interesting.

goat head onThe five-sentence message began “Thanks for Your Kind Words!” So far, so good. It continued with the carrier saying it was sorry to learn about the difficulty I had experienced at the onset of travel. Ok, too. Then the message showed a sign of the times–some CYA legalese that really got my goat.  It went like this:  “…which was handled efficiently to avoid any unexpected consequences. We’re happy this was your experience and it exceeded your expectations.”

Really? Perhaps it’s my 20+ years in the PR/Communications business, but was it necessary to go all legal on me? I wonder what type of response I would have received if I conveyed my heartfelt thanks in a tweet. The kicker was the tag that followed the customer rep’s signature—“You Share, We Care.”

Unfortunately, today, the spontaneity of digital communication has fostered a sense of corporate paranoia where even the simple, most sincere intents are turned into track-able customer service “case numbers” that can and may be used against you.

No magic here.

Just a Fax Please!

If you are like me, you have snapped many photos of merchandise, receipts, letters and texts and forwarded them to clients or vendors to speed the customer service process. It’s commonplace. So when I switched from one TV/Internet/Phone provider to another, I had a reasonable expectation it would go smoothly, especially considering how well customer service reps (regardless of provider) solved past technical issues.

Ahh but switching service providers is a different customer service story. Yes, the rep efficiently sent specially-designed boxes, with pre-paid labels to return my equipment and I shipped the boxes promptly via UPS. I became a bit hesitant, though, when it was suggested that I keep the shipping receipt for six months because “things tend to get misplaced” by this service provider. Hmmm. I snapped a photo of the receipt for safekeeping.

Sure enough, months later a piece of equipment was declared missing and my final bill included a charge for $398.61 to cover its replacement cost. The equipment was indeed returned in person months earlier (I’ll spare you the details). I had the signed and dated “TV Customer Equipment Receipt” which also included the matching serial number to prove it. Yay!

A_drawing_fax_machine_110609-231127-103009Then the conversation with the customer service rep got interesting:

“I’ll send the receipt via email as a jpg. What is the email address?” I asked.
“No, send a fax,” the customer service rep replied.
“A fax? One of the largest Internet providers in the country, advertising the fastest Internet speeds in the world, doesn’t accept email.” I pressed.
Doubling down, she said, “Just a fax, please.”

So, a fax it was. I’m still waiting for the charge to be reversed.

Mind blowing.

Share your customer service stories here, especially those that have gone right.  As customers, we all may benefit!

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