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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Using Newsletters for Marketing

Newsletters make excellent tools for communicating with customers. Many seem to fail in this simple task, or at least underperform. I offer some insights.

First, let me define a newsletter. I define a newsletter as a regularly delivered communication from a business to its customers. At the very least, a newsletter describes products and services. It should do so in a  way that interests if not entertains its intended audience. Though it serves to sell your product or service, it must offer more than a price list.

You should regard establishing a rapport with your clientele as the motive for your newsletter. That means that your newsletter should become something that your clientele looks forward to reading. To create that result demands a subtle marketing approach. Your newsletter should take a cue from the upsurge in social media marketing.

Here are some tips for creating a vital newsletter:

  • Avoid hyperbole. Present the merits of your product or service honestly.
  • Provide information. Give your clientele ideas of how to use your product, or different ways that your service can help them.
  • Offer insight. Explain intricacies of your industry.
  • Deliver interest. Entertain your clientele with relevant aspects regarding your product or service, the history, science, or romance
  • Show personality. Let the human side come through.

Do you see the common thread here? You want your clientele to engage with your newsletter, not throw it away or delete it. You must, therefore, treat your clientele with content that will intrigue them.

One last ingredient must be included: good writing. Understand good writing as a skill. Good writing results from training, practice, and a dedication to effective communication. Let me quickly break that down.

Training: Let us assume that you had some training writing proper English in school. Do not let that be the end of it. Pick up a grammar book once in a while, and refresh your knowledge. I find The Elements of Style  by Strunk and White refreshing to read periodically.

In concert with such refresher courses, develop the habit of reading critically. Do this with your work, do this with the writing of others.

Practice: Regard everything that you write—articles, letters, emails, everything—as an important communication that must be done right. No sloppiness allowed. Write as clearly and concisely as possible.

Dedication: Understand the value of good communication, and how good writing fits in with that.

Your newsletter should reflect your professionalism. It need not be slick nor stuffy but it should show the effort of a serious endeavor.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Does Going Viral ‘Work’?

I want to consider the term ‘going viral’ some more. Many people use the term. The idea of going viral  has become a goal for many marketers. What does going viral entail?

I define viral material as any that accrues great interest, receives linkage and commentary from many sources, and otherwise enjoys a buzz. The Internet, that vast communication network, lies central to the material’s viral reach. Internet = Land of Constant Buzz.

I further define ‘going viral’ as a natural process, though I guess I should add ‘sort of’. To my mind, going viral differs from marketing. The difference between the two terms brings up an essential point.

How marketing and going viral differ resembles how a canal and a river differ. Canals are human-directed waterways. Rivers proceed more naturally, according to gravity and landscape. Keep that difference in mind.

Marketing presses the product at consumers whereas ‘going viral’ is a fortuitous popularity. One can influence that popularity but in essence, you have allowed the interest to develop on its own. Efforts to enhance that interest enter the territory of hype.

Since my metaphors proceed so swimmingly, I will posit a further damp comparison. Imagine a river in steady transport as your marketing endeavor. Now imagine the abundance of spring snow melt and rain overwhelming the banks of the river. Picture that untrained expansion as a viral enthusiasm.

You need to communicate straightforwardly the advantages of your product or service. In that effort, you show your respect for your customers. Your marketing should center on bringing those advantages to the consumer in an intelligent, creative, and honest way. Do not pretend that your product is more or other than what it is. If your product lacks something vital, fix it rather than hype it.

Endeavoring towards viral interest is a commitment to the momentary. Interest will wane, the flood will recede. You cannot depend on the viral. You should think in longer terms.

Hype exaggerates. When marketers attempt to produce viral effects, they seek to produce an exaggerated version of your product. That version will always, always reach fail state. And the competition in Land of Constant Buzz is ferocious because attention there is slim.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Social Media as Buzz Word

The rise of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as instruments of business connection has created what we term social media. Social media provides a tool to reach customers. That tool has been effective, but I think we need reminder of how the tool works.

Social media offers a channel for communication. That channel needs two-way communication. Two way communication sits at the heart of effective social media.

A problem develops when businesses try to steer the communication. Such steering results in the same sort of effect as someone hogging the conversation at a party. Listeners tune out.

One should remember that social media communication differs from the advertising of old. Old style advertising used television, radio, magazines, and other one way streets. The advertiser controlled the message. You the potential consumer heard only what advertisers wanted you to hear.

Social media works in the tubes and databanks of the Internet. The Internet is interactive. What you put on the Internet can be refuted, distorted, or sung to the high heavens. You simply cannot fully control the message.

From a business standpoint, this can dismay. The business message seems out of control. Power resides in that lack of control, however.

The thing is, your product or service has to be worth consumer interest. Things that work well interest consumers. Your marketing enthusiasm differs from a consumer’s enthusiasm for your product. If you use social media strictly to spout your marketing enthusiasm, you do not connect to whatever enthusiasm consumers have for your product or service. That is the opposite of going viral.

Be proud of what you offer, and show it in honest terms. You work in the land of trust, finally; you want to earn the trust of consumers. Give consumers valuable information and real insight. Avoid muddying the water with hype.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Digg Down

I register only mild interest in Digg, the content aggregator that has seen better days. Digg has had, and presumably continues to have, a significant user base, but it never captured my involvement. Even so, Digg tempts me to ruminate.

The idea of sharing interesting Internet finds sounds good, and apparently for many, it worked. But you can see where things can go wrong. I’ll enumerate, just so that I can use a bullet list:

  • People will try to game the system. Those with something to sell or gain just might find ways to make their enthusiasm count more than that of  ‘the average person’.
  • Trolls, louts, loudmouths, and other irritants of the Internet will gain control of the stage.
  • Interference from the aggregator.

Digg bases its business (and it is a business) on trends, and on the hope that items will go viral. The concept of ‘going viral’ seems under-examined. People treat it as a pot of gold at the end of a hopeful rainbow.

In truth, ‘going viral’ means word of mouth. People talk about the products and services that please them. The noise of a claque might create temporary interest, but that interest will wither if unaccompanied by some satisfaction for the consumer. Social media helps get the word out, but the consumer’s judgment proves final.

It looks like Digg could not find answers to any of the problems bulleted above. I won’t prognosticate, maybe Digg will return to glory. I see Digg, however, as one more disappointing use of the Internet.

I do not blame Digg, though I hazard to say that Digg jumped the shark. The Internet grows less into a repository of information—remember the Information Revolution?—and more into a place of scams, diversion, and self interest. As a follower of trends, Digg did what all trends do. Trends fade. Digg, it seems, has faded.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Search Engine Automatonization

Repetition lies at the bottom of Search Engine Optimization. By frequently using certain words relevant to your website, you can convince search engines of the relevancy of your website to others. Makes sense. As Gertrude Stein wrote, "There is no such thing as repetition. Only insistence."

The result of such insistence may not prove entirely positive, however. That chiming in your ear might be the same words written over and over.

Does SEO batter the reader? I begin to think so. The possibility of engagement with such tailored and straitened writing seems unlikely.

I do not advocate writing with a thesaurus always in hand. That makes for an unnatural reading experience. But limiting your vocabulary within the strictures of Optimization only limits your communication.

I have the happy faith that search engines will continue finding ways to combat the optimization. Their livelihood depends on providing search results useful to those searching. Websites that sound like other websites, that provide the depth of content farms, will not retain interest for those seriously searching for results.

Good writing will. Good writing that provides original outlook, trustworthy information, and clarity of expression, satisfies people more than the limited vocabulary of SEO keywords.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Social Media is Dead

There, I said it. I don’t (quite) mean it, but it needed saying. I will now tell you why.

This blog has been quiet for several months. Partly, the world just got in the way. Tributary Communications World Headquarters moved, and so forth. When and so forth diminished, I felt that the hiatus here should continue. Something about Social Media bothered me.

Social Media interests me when it provides useful information and fresh opinion. Entertainment works, too. Without those elements, Social Media becomes a shoddy effort to beguile. I have been seeing too many shoddy efforts to beguile. I present here examples of what’s been bugging me:

  • Excitement. New products, slightly improved products, same old products, all presented with dynamic dazzle. It wears thin, doesn’t it?
  • Opinion. We all have opinions. Sometimes these opinions  elucidate, aid, inspire, or otherwise profit us. Sometimes, however, opinion obscures and congests. Measure the worth of an opinion by its freshness of thought, not the rumble of its thunder.
  • Information. Speculation is not information. Opinion is not information either. I would say that information is immediately provable. Guesses do not count as information.
  • Prognostication. Projecting what a new release of a product might entail makes a good parlor game. More often, it just muddies the water.

Social Media is so darned rushed that the content suffers. Too many people cranking out too much stuff. Social Media is not dead, but I think I heard it wheezing. Earnest effort, and a breath of fresh air, and this useful (essential) tool will be healthy again. I accept as my duty that I should take my own advice to heart.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Aggregator Wars

Link aggregator sites like Digg, Reddit,and Stumbleupon seem popular, judging by how busy they are. The situation has grown more interesting with Digg apparently losing marketshare lately and Reddit growing. Change never ceases.

These sites allow users to present content in the form of links. They curate content, sort of. Enthusiasm (supposedly) fuels these sites, but much of that enthusiasm is self-serving, as you might guess.

When I first saw Digg, the voting system that pushed stories to the top of the list immediately put me off. Popularity rules. Could this system be gamed? Well, I guess so.

Furthermore—for me at least—these sites depend too much on the ephemeral Now. What’s hot today is cold tomorrow. Shrug.

The styles of the three sites range widely. Digg is slick and coolly professional. Reddit looks homemade, and in fact offers a lot of homemade amateur stuff. Stumbleupon is more like Digg but with a stronger gaming aspect. I feel like all three demand a commitment that I do not want to make. You have to consume your share of the content vigourously.

The developers of these sites possess a generic sense of content that distresses me. Their vision of content entails nothing more than stuff people will consume. Maybe I’m stuck in an old paradigm, but I would like to see some curatorial force behind the onslaught of stuff. Instead, we have popularity contests.

To be honest, I prefer Newser, which has a People magazine vibe to it. The headlines are juicy and lots of pictures tempt you to waste your time. It’s an online newspaper. It works.

Do these sites have a future? They do not rouse my interest much. Twitter and Facebook seem to have them beat. That too could change.