Give It Away: Good Content Marketing Means Sharing Information Freely

keep-calm-and-give-it-awayThe other day, a client voiced some concern about his blog:

“Sometimes it seems like I’m giving away all my best stuff,” he said.

My response? Good. Give it away!

Of course, the right balance depends on the unique nature of your business, but when you’re designing your content-marketing strategy and deciding what type of information you will share, keep a few things in mind:

Everyone else is doing it. And this time, you should too.
Today, information is cheap and everywhere. So if you’re not “giving away” your insights, someone else is giving away theirs on the same subject. And because they are, they’re gathering interest and audience.

Nobody wants to listen to you promote yourself.
But they do want to listen to you talk about stuff that’s relevant to them—stuff that’s helpful or illuminating. So if you spend 80% of your efforts giving away good info, and then, from time to time, you mention a new product or service, you’ve got a much better shot at getting folks to listen.

On the other hand, if all you do is self-promote, everyone is going to tune you out. Everyone.

But with relevant content, you are promoting yourself—in a good way.
By showing your audience how much expertise you have, you actually are promoting yourself. You’re showing that you’re a mastermind, but doing so in a much more helpful and less annoying way. Win-win.

Sure, at times it feels a little strange to share all your best goodies without immediately getting something in return—stranger and stranger the further from net native we are.

But the more you give it away, the more you’ll get comfortable with the concept and begin to really internalize the many reasons it makes loads of good sense.

Super Bowl Ads, a Play by Play

We’re live reviewing standout ads from the 2017 Super Bowl. Keep checking back & we’ll update this page as the game rolls on…

Ford’s Stuck Ad: Effective & Enjoyable

What a way to start the game. This ad is a can’t-help-but-smile-at-it example of how to beautifully and effectively leverage the power of story and humor.

Ford taps into our collective experience with layer upon layer of often amusing and familiar examples of people getting stuck – from the stopped chairlift to the locked out dog owner to the kid with his head wedged in a Big Wheel. (“Mooooooommmmm?!”)

The examples are sweetly textured in their humanity; as such, deeply engaging; and clear yet lighthearted in their message: no one likes to be stuck.

The resulting examples of Ford’s work to keep us unstuck are intermixed with the freeing conclusions of some of the ad’s central characters’ stories. Yet even as exciting, high tech, more slick Ford technologies are interwoven, they are not set in contrast so much as presented as parallel in their human context.

It’s effectively and beautifully done.

Bonus points for the cat with its head stuck in a Kleenex box. Just more proof that cats are still the most effective advertisers out there.

Click here to see the Ford ad.

Google Home: A Good Lesson for Marketing the New

As in, tie it to the old and familiar.

Google has a technology that people need to be convinced to adopt – not just a product that people need to be convinced to choose. Here, they do a good job of focusing their entire ad around familiar, comforting situations that take place in our homes.

The messaging carries a tone of safety, ease, and comfort – rather than one of a machine listening to your every word, parsing your requests into big data that large corporations can use to target you, and who knows what else. It’s a smart approach, and, although not breakthrough or particularly incredible, it works and is worth learning from.

Click here to see the Google Home Super Bowl ad.

Mobile Strike Ad: A Waste of Airwaves

Is this just proof that Mobile gaming is so popular that they don’t even need to invest any thought or effort in their advertising? Or did they just forget that their deadline to deliver creative was coming up, so the day the network called and asked where the ad was, they said, “Oh no! Let’s just use that spot we had Arnold do as a gag for the company Christmas party.”

You might not want to waste your time clicking here to see the Mobile Strike Ad.

Skittles Making Us Want Skittles

I wish I had something brilliant and insightful to say about the Skittles romance the rainbow ad, but I have no idea what is going on with this one. One tweet I saw mentioned that after missing the first few seconds, she thought it was an ad for hallucinogenics.

What I will say is that it makes me want some Skittles. Now, that probably tells you a lot more about their product developers than it does about their marketers, but when you have something that delicious to work with, hey… ride the rainbow.

Click here to watch the Skittles ad (and have your Skittles at the ready).

World of Tanks Makes an Effort

I get that these gaming apps want to appear low fi, but at least World of Tanks manages to do this without also being boring.

Sometimes a little creative effort is all you need to stand out in your industry.

Click here to watch one of the World of Tanks ads.

Michelob Ultra Nails Belonging

Human beings have an inherent desire for community – a fact which has not been lost on smart advertisers. To leverage our desire for belonging, marketers take advantage of social proof, viral marketing, and – in the case of advertising – the good old tactic of pulling on our heartstrings.

Here, Michelob Ultra – a beer that is specifically targeted to a health-conscious audience (despite the fact that the product itself is not as strongly differentiated as its marketers would like you to believe – although this type of highly specific and not necessarily sensible differentiation is true of many beer brands, and is more an indication of the beverage industry’s marketing muscle and expertise than anything else), makes a strong play for those very heartstrings.

In addition, it is an expertly executed ad with notes of altruism and human kindness (notes that have appeared in many Super Bowl ads this year – great to see!).

Click here to Watch the Michelob Ultra ad.

C’mon, SPAM

Talk about a brand that had every opportunity to reinvent itself – to make us laugh, to capitalize on its inherent hipster retro appeal, to do something innovative and create a new era in its branding.

Instead, they talked about frying SPAM. Riveting.

Not to get too technical here, but the mistake they made was that they produced a feature-focused ad rather than thinking about the big picture feeling that they want to evoke. Missed opportunity for sure.

Fortunately, I’m not currently able to find a quick link to one of these SPAM ads. So we can all be spared from that reminder of what it’s like to be on unentertained and unamazed.

Laugh Out Loud Honorable Mentions

I’m keen for anything that makes me laugh. So just for that, I have to give a thumbs up to…

The T Mobile ad with Snoop and Martha Stewart.

The Bai ad with Christopher Walkin and Justin Timberlake.

The Overall Lesson

A big lesson that I think any small business can learn from this year’s Super Bowl ads is that there is always opportunity in current events. Time and again, I see that time-sensitive, tie-in content is most effective at getting eyeballs and engaging audiences.

Right now, in our country, we are in a period of upheaval. Tensions are high and people feel disconnected and at odds with one another.

This year’s Super Bowl advertisers channeled that situation into encouraging, inspiring, story-driven advertisements focused on the inherent goodness of mankind.

It is a message that we are all thirsty for, and one that feels timely – even in the (many) cases where the ads did not get into political specifics but simply pointed to the resulting emotional needs that we all have during this time.

An uplifting theme, at the end of the game.

On Lauren & Jay & Celebrating Love

Over a year ago, 2 of the world’s best people invited a bunch of other great people out to a gorgeous slice of cliff-top land along the southern coast of England, where sparks (literally) flew.

Lauren and JayA few weeks before that gorgeous day, Lauren, the bride, not only asked me to read at the wedding, but also to write the reading. She did this with a wonderfully laissez-faire approach that was quintessentially her. Something like: “What? How long? I don’t know. Whatever. I trust you. And no, I don’t want to read it first. Just write it and it will be great.”

(She’s a great encourager. One of the all-time best, in fact.)

The product of that request came immediately and has had some lasting effect, and requests that I share it have continued to come in. So I asked the blessing of the obvious parties and am placing it here for a few reasons:

  • To honor Lauren & Jay;
  • to easily pass it off to their beloved friends and family members who have requested it since that amazing day; and
  • perhaps, to tune us all in to something that should be top-of-mind this time of year (and always): love

So with great thanks and hugs to the now not-quite-so-new newlyweds, here (finally) are the words they inspired with their beautiful story. Read, share, carry it on if you like. Because love is worth celebrating.

* * *

Shakespeare described romantic love as “an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.”

Aristotle called it “a single soul inhabiting 2 bodies.”

The apostle Paul taught that agape love is patient and kind. He said it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

For this bright pair, for our beloved Lauren & Jay, love seems to be a sort of awakening to a more pure and illuminated world. It is a life-long truth finally realized. A story of intertwined souls that transcend time. A story of meant-to-be.

For those blessed enough to taste it, this happily-ever-after sort of love is as much a feeling as it is an act of coming home—home to a place where warm and tender spirits are not only welcome; they’re invited to light a fire, don a pair of slippers, pour a mug of cocoa, and tuck in for the duration of life in a space that is safe and glowing. A space that is all their own. A space where, as this bride and groom have shown to be possible, 2 people can be completely true to who they are and completely true to each other.

It is love’s place—kissed with magic, reflective of God, and blessed by Him.

And in it, we find an eternal reason for celebrating—not just for celebrating the 2 sparks joining here to set the world on fire. But for celebrating love itself—that is can, and will, and must prevail. That it is, after all, a gorgeous inevitability – a true and enlightening force that is living and powerful and ready to embrace us all if we will only, as Lauren and Jay have done, reach out and grasp it, fight for it, wait for it, lift it up, and believe in it. Believe that love is our very purpose, our reward and responsibility, our gift, and our means of reflecting grace.

Let’s Not Belittle the Communicators

The other day, I was watching a certain political TV drama that I’ve become uncharacteristically attached to, when I heard some pompous character comment on how he could never do the type of work that would involve sitting at a computer and selecting fonts all day.

Communication is one of the most essential and important activities that we engage in as human beings
Communication is one of the most essential and important activities that we engage in as human beings

Watch out, prime time. Libby’s getting on a soap box over this one.

What a conceited line to stitch into this dialog, I thought. What a blind character.

Allow me 20 seconds to explain where I personally come from with this, so my opinion has a context:

Like many of the amazing people who work in communications, I don’t necessarily sit at a computer and select fonts all day. But there are times when I choose fonts – very carefully. And there are times when I agonize over a color or an image or a single word – again, with great care. That last example is really in the center of my wheelhouse: if I trip over 1 word in a piece I’ve written, I’ll come back and read that sentence 15 different times between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm, until it’s right no matter how much caffeine I’ve had or what the temperature is or which way the wind is blowing. Those words must hit my ear perfectly and encapsulate precisely the right message.

I don’t do that because I’m right or wrong or special or nuts. (Although I might be all of these things.) I do it because it matters.

It’s worth noting that those agonized-over words can actually bring tears to clients’ eyes – especially those who created the business I’m helping them market. This might seem weird, but it’s not, and it’s actually kind of a regular occurrence. These people aren’t moved to tears because Libby Cortez is brilliant or awesome, but because they’ve done something brilliant and awesome, and now other people can access it, understand it, and relate to it.

Fun fact for anyone who snubs the font-choosers of the world: small business marketers get to help real, live people translate the passion of their heart and the work of their lives into stuff that effectively communicates what the truth of their endeavor has been, what the effort is all about, what the meaning is.

So yeah, every word matters. And every color, font, image, you name it. No belittling allowed.

Communication is one of the most essential and important activities that we engage in as human beings. To effectively communicate the truth of a situation, an emotion, an experience, yes, even an endeavor like a business, nonprofit, or ministry – to get the point across so that the person who is reading or listening to or seeing the message can actually say, “ah, I get it. I feel it. And I know what it means – I know what this is all about” – that’s a big deal.

Communication is the exchange of meaning from one human being to another. But it’s also commonplace, so we’re constantly in danger of oversimplifying it, of presuming that it’s inconsequential, of associating the selection of fonts with a life of waste.

That can never be true.

The way we communicate will always be one of the most important things that we do with our time, one of the most essential skills that we seek to grow throughout our lives, and one of the most direct paths that we can carve to reflect who we truly are and what we truly stand for.

Take that, fictional prime-time TV character.

Motivation, Compensation, and the More-Is-More Philosophy

So… I don’t usually do this. But I might be doing just a bit more of it over the next month or 2, because (have I mentioned?), I have book coming out, and my co-author and I have been working on some great guest posts in the lead-up to publication.

coins-with-a-plant-sprouting-out-to-represent-the-seed-of-motivation-money-providesSince I happen to think that this content is really valuable, I want to point you toward some of it for your own reading enjoyment. Much of it focuses on people management and leadership – topics that small business leaders need to sink our teeth into often.

Recently, on ExecuNet, we addressed a tip that I’ve come to love: pay your people more than they’re worth. Yeah, you read that right.

Why do this? Because, while money is not the top human motivator, it is a very powerful tool for motivation – one managers can use to communicate value and expectations. In short, it’s a powerful instrument in your motivational symphony. And isn’t finding and motivating the right people one of the most challenging / rewarding / important aspects of what you do? You need all the rah-rah music you can get.

If you had tried to convince me of this approach a few years back, when I was just starting to bring freelance talent onto my team, I would have thought, “great idea, but no way.”

Now? Well, I’ve been known to ask for a person’s hourly rate, then tell them I’m not going to pay them that – that I insist on paying them more, that they’re worth more, and that they should never let anyone tell them different.

So yeah. I’m a fan of this.

For the full concept, check out this post on ExecuNet.


Your Best Tagline: 3 Pitfalls to Avoid

Your Best Tagline_ImageRecently, I had the pleasure of joining some clients for a sort-of impromptu tagline brainstorming session. And it got me thinking about all such conversations I’ve been part of over the years—and all the things these conversations seem to have in common.

Often an early step in positioning or messaging, tagline definition can be an exciting, highly creative, and often contentious process.

While a little healthy disagreement is good for any brainstorm, it’s an outright waste of time if the ideas you’re fighting over aren’t built on a strong foundation.

So start by outlining a few simple ground rules—rules about what not to do—and you’ll end up with a far more powerful tagline in the end. (As well as a friendlier team.)

Here are 3 mistakes we often make while working on new taglines:

1. We want to say too much

Don’t we always? But there’s great power in brevity—and in clarity of messaging. So start by looking at your key messages. (If you don’t know what these are, back up and define your messaging before you create a tagline that doesn’t support your brand.)

If you’re a dry cleaner who has decided to appeal to neighborhood residents by touting your convenient location and personal service, write your 2 messages on the ol’ white board before moving forward: local, personal. (Go ahead and write them big.)

Now resist the temptation to include any other messages in your tagline. That’s right. Don’t talk about your on-site facility, your mending services, your 15-year history, or even how sparkly clean you can get my clothes. You chose your key messages. Now commit.

A word of warning: this will be very difficult, so you need to start with a short list and be stingy with words as you develop the concept. In the end, you’ll have a one-liner that seems so clear and simple that it must have come through divine inspiration, but arriving at clarity and simplicity usually takes a lot longer than settling for complexity and outright wordiness.

Great writers know this all too well. Take it from Blaise Pascal, who first described a sentiment that many have since shared: “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”

If you, too, are short on leisure, find more time and get brief.

2. We want to be too clever

This is where you can do worse than simply missing the mark and failing to capitalize on a good branding opportunity; this is where you can annoy your customers and prospects or make yourself look ridiculous.

It’s tempting to provide a list of “clever” examples here, but that’s just too flat-out mean. So instead of humiliating innocent, poorly tagged companies by focusing on what a good tagline isn’t, let’s just clarify what the A-#1 goal of your good tagline is: reinforce your key message.

For that to happen, you need to be clear. And clarity is not a byproduct of puns, rhyming, and forced alliteration. It’s actually squelched by such distractions.

3. We want 

I know, I know. It’s your business. But unless you are the only customer you have and hope for, then the perfect tagline is not really about what you want at all. It’s about what your target audience wants.

And here’s a great time-saver: when it comes to taglines, I can already tell you what your audience wants, no matter what your business is or who your prospects are. They want to understand what product and/or service you provide and why that product and/or service is of value to them—and they want to understand this quickly.

So once you have a list of clear, not-cheesy potential taglines on your white board, take one step back and then one step into your customers’ shoes. Pretend you don’t know you. When you read that perfect description you and your team have worked all afternoon to craft, do you understand instantly what your company does and why it’s valuable?

Be brutally honest here. And if you can’t be brutally honest (which is highly likely, since you’re way too close to the situation), get strangers’ opinions. Spend a few days asking anyone—your doctor, your florist, that dry cleaner in your neighborhood who provides personal service in a convenient location. Then take the responses back to your team, take a deep breath, and begin round 2.

What Tax Returns & Marketing Content Have in Common (Seriously)

Taxes & Website ContentI have loved language all my life—from the day I first sounded out the word “vicinity” off the cover of my parent’s phone book and composed a small yet riveting masterpiece of stapled notecards (aptly titled The Best Book) about the fascinating people who inhabited said vicinity.

The problem was, once I found my passion for writing, reading, and all things word-y, I quickly cast the world of numbers aside. So I never quite learned my basic math skills. Like, oh, adding and subtracting. To say nothing of the mysterious worlds of multiplication and division. And don’t even get me started on fractions.

So, as you can imagine, my numbers-averse brain sees the task of yearly taxes as a painful and horrendous chore.

But this year, it struck me that good old words—with whom I now spend much of my life—and mean old numbers might actually have a few things in common. Let’s take your marketing content and that pesky tax return as an example. Turns out, they’re more alike than you think.

Here are some common lessons that apply to both:

Be a Little Smart, Get a Lot More Bang for Your Buck

In many cases, those of us who are in business for ourselves know a little more about the tax code than those who receive a W-2. Why? Because as business owners, we need to file different paperwork and make different payments—and we can write off different expenses than full-time employees. The more we know, the more we save. But if we’re not clear on what to track going in, we’ll end up with missed opportunities and larger tax bills.

So what do we do? We learn as much as we can up front, do what we know is best, and keep paying attention as time goes on—getting smarter and smarter every year.

The same approach applies to your content strategy: if you own your own business, or take ownership of your company’s marketing program, you’ll yield better returns on each marketing dollar if you take some time to understand your marketplace and opportunities, then pay attention and keep learning as you go.

First, get to know your audience and map their goals back to your product or solution, so you can define a clear and powerful value proposition. Then, use your content to speak to those audience goals. And stay on message.

As you do this, pay attention to what resonates by watching site stats, conducting surveys, and collecting insights from prospect- and customer-facing employees. Keep learning, stay agile, and make continuous improvements.

Investing Too Much Too Early Only Feels Cool for a Minute

Plenty of us have done it before (particularly those of us, ahem, who aren’t so clever with the numbers): we pull way too much out for withholding at the beginning of the year, and come tax time, the government ends up owing us a healthy chunk of change.

But as fun as it feels to get a big check at tax time, when we look at how much more we could have made if we’d invested that money wisely rather than leaving it with the government for a year’s time, we stop feeling quite so cool.

Same goes for your content-marketing spend. Anyone can dump a bunch of money into SEO and SEM before establishing a strong platform of relevant content that engages your target audience at various stages in the buying cycle. But the initial traffic surge you see won’t result in any revenue uptick if you’re (a) not hitting the right audience or (b) not giving your target audience information they genuinely need.

So plan smart from the get-go, watch the numbers as you get started, and invest smart dollars in smart content rather than throwing cash into searchland and hoping for a big return one day.

Deadlines: Annoying but Necessary

As springtime blooms on and April 15th ticks closer, I find myself begrudging the work that must be done to prepare for that filing deadline. And yet, the work must indeed be done. And let’s be honest: if the deadline didn’t exist, I’d put it off indefinitely.

Your content calendar might have a similar effect on you—and on your team of content contributors. You see your blog-post deadline looming. Perhaps you even lament the preparation you’ll need to make, the time you’ll have to spend cranking your post out. But because you know what’s expected and when, you’re much more likely to create your content on schedule (or at least close to it). Not true of the good old asap deadline.

So create a content calendar that’s relentlessly deadline driven: set hard dates, track actual publication against those targets, and reward those who submit content on time.

Experts Get Expert Help

I tried to do my own taxes. Once. When I was fresh out of college and thinking I could do anything and everything myself.

I was wrong.

Most of us get help on our tax returns because we know that CPAs live and breathe tax code—and that we do not. We hire them for their expertise, and then we go back to focusing on what we do best.

If you haven’t already, think about taking the same approach to your content development. Hire a content strategist to help you design and implement a smart, market-driven content-development program that will support your marketing goals going forward. Or hire a content developer to help you craft those blog posts within deadline. The process of collaborating on these efforts will free up your time and begin an ongoing learning process that will support all your marketing efforts going forward.

And one more thing: if you’ve procrastinated like me, think about avoiding any blog-post deadlines this coming Monday. You might have some other work to do that afternoon…