Don’t Blog Like Me, but Don’t Be Afraid to Start Slow

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When I visit a small business website, I often check out the blog to get a sense for the personality and focus of the organization. And if that blog hasn’t been updated in 3 months, I immediately make a decision about the brand: I see it as stale, uncommitted, a bit behind the times. And that impression is hard to change.

So where does that leave me, according to the time elapsed since my last post? You guessed it: in the stale/indifferent/dated category. I can tell you that I’m as sharp as a Ticonderoga, as dedicated as a retriever, as cutting edge as a TED conference. But it’s what I do that speaks loudly, and the impression I’ve already left isn’t easy to shake.

When life got in the way of my blog these past few months, I thought about backdating a pile of posts so that at the very least, future visitors wouldn’t see this lull and question my reliability. But then I thought, no, this illustration is just too bad to pass up.

So, with myself as the shinning example of what not to do, let’s take a look at the question I hear from clients all the time: How often should I post to my blog?

Now here’s the hitch: I answer this question as a strategic marketer speaking to small businesses—particularly those who are launching a new blog. If I were focused on professional blogging or SEO, I would respond very differently; and if you’re focused on these things, there are lots of answers out there for you.

But today, we’re going to look at designing a blog schedule that supports the goals of your brand, and there’s no right or wrong prescription for every business. Instead, here are 3 principles that should help you design the right program for your company:

1. Run a marathon, not a sprint

Many new bloggers make the mistake of starting with an unsustainable schedule. They’ve read articles encouraging at least 3 posts per week, they have a lot of ideas, and they’re excited.

If this is you, great: use that fire to fuel a big backlog. But don’t commit to an intense schedule just yet—especially if you’ve never blogged before.

Instead, track your hours as you fill that file folder with future posts. (If you have multiple contributors lined up, ask all of them to do the same.)

At the same time, set up a blog-writing schedule for yourself and try to maintain it. Stick with it for, say, a month. And then look back at your stats, both

  • How long (on average) it takes you to finalize a new post
  • How well you’ve been able to maintain your schedule

Use this data to determine a realistic blog-publishing frequency. At this point, you can be aggressive in your estimate: in our last step, we’ll rein it in a bit.

2. Let audience determine frequency

Next, it’s time to consider what’s best for your audience.

SEO gurus often urge bloggers to post quite often—in many cases pushing for multiple posts each week. But such rules tend to target professional bloggers or those focused on improving SEO. So don’t let the gurus stress you out: if you’re using a blog to market your business, take a close look at your unique goals and audience before deciding which “rules” to follow.

How so? Well, let’s say you’re licensed to sell desks to schools in the 78704 zip code, and you already have contact information for the purchaser at every school in that district. Your goal: connect with existing prospects and clients in a meaningful way.

In this case, 2 posts per week might improve your search-engine ranking, connecting you with purchasing directors at more schools around the country. But that won’t help your business.

At the same time, too-frequent posts could actually overwhelm clients and prospects who follow your blog, but a bi-monthly post containing pithy, valuable information would be welcome. So plan your scheduling accordingly.

3. Ready, set, go slow!

Once you’ve balanced what you believe you can do with what think you should do, start posting at a lower frequency than you believe you can sustain. At the same time, continue adding to your backlog at your target rate.

So if your ideal is 2 posts per week and you launch your blog with 10 posts in the hopper, add a new post to your file twice each week, but only publish to your blog every 10 days. Once you’ve maintained your target post schedule for 2 months, pat yourself on the back and speed up your publishing rate to 2 per week.

Another month passes and you’re maintaining your 2-per-week target? You’re ready to publish at your ideal rate—and now you have a killer backlog in case life ever gets in the way.

But not too slow

Keep in mind that if you (like our bad example, aka me) wait months between posts, you’ll look like you fell off the face of the earth. So regardless of audience, if you’re going to bother setting up a blog at all, you need to commit to regular updates.

If you don’t think you can manage roughly 1 post per month, consider postponing launch or hiring a writer to help you generate content at a consistent clip.

2 quick tips for those planning a lighter schedule:

  1. Keep posts as regular as possible: If you’re only chiming in occasionally, it’s especially important to churn out those posts like clockwork. This shows your audience that you’re dedicated to your business and consistently have valuable information to share.
  2. Set expectations: If you’re posting as rarely as once each month, include an intro or sidebar note on your blog that lets visitors know how often you update. This will tell readers what to expect and even help them look forward to your next post—rather than wondering when you’ll reappear.

Mini Marketing Lessons: Dinosaurs, Poop, and the Power of Persuasion

rex-163618_640As many of you know, I just took some time off to have a baby.

So the past couple months have been a foggy stretch of exhaustion, elation, and general insanity as we figure out our family’s new normal with the help of 1 toddling terror of a 2-year-old and 1 colicky princess of an infant.

Since this was already such a relaxing exercise, we decided to move into a new house a few weeks after bringing our bundle home. (You know how parents who’ve done it say you should never, under any circumstances, move with a newborn? Listen to them.)

So yeah, I’ve been a little busy recently. Somewhat distracted. Occasionally overwhelmed. Some days, I barely remembered to eat. But somehow, all my kids’ essential needs were still met—especially those needs that also fell into the want category, the needs they won’t let me forget. Like a full tummy and fresh diapers for the newborn, and yummy meals and fun playtime for the 2-year-old.

Which got me to thinking, these kids sure have the power of persuasion nailed. Even with a completely preoccupied mom who’s oblivious to most everyone and everything, including herself, they still manage to get my attention whenever they want it.

Here are their 3 best tricks:

Mini Marketing Lesson #1: Be Bold

When it’s time to play dinosaurs, my 2-year-old closes himself into the pantry, gives us warning with a loud knock-knock, and then bursts back into the kitchen as a roaring tyrannosaurus. And when I say roaring, I mean ROARING.

If we were thinking of getting some work done or unpacking a box, well, think again. He enters that room with a bang, and Mom & Dad have no choice but to shriek and jump and run to his heart’s content.

Now, I doubt that the right move for your brand is dino roaring. But there’s a big chance that the absolute right move is to make a big a splash with your marketing—do something your customers and prospects can’t help but stop and notice. Think bold. Think daring. Like Google Doodles or Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning.

Mini Marketing Lesson #2: Be Relentless

If a baby’s got a poopy diaper and you miss the first squawk they send out to let you know, there’s no need to worry. They’ll repeat themselves. And they’ll get more and more persuasive with each cry.

Effective marketing follows the same pattern: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And don’t stop until they remember you. After all, it’ll take at least 7 impressions to truly engage a prospect, so don’t bother throwing out a single squak and resting on your laurels. Instead, choose your message and be relentless in communicating it on every relevant platform: website, blog, social, e-mail, materials, webinars, ads, events, you name it.

And while you’re at it, take a cue from my daughter’s very effective strategy of starting with a little noise and cranking up to a highly convincing screech within a few short minutes. In other words, tailor your marketing message differently as folks get closer to taking action: become increasingly  informative, appealing, and even forceful as your prospect moves through the conversion funnel.

Mini Marketing Lesson #3: Be Targeted

When it’s time to take Buzz and Woody on a mission to infinity and beyond, Mommy’s usually too preoccupied to participate. So my very clever toddler has learned to put less and less effort into enticing me to action-figure playtime while I’m standing at the kitchen sink or loading the washing machine.

Instead, he’s quickly learned that I now spend 30% of my day sitting in the family room with a nursing baby. I am the ultimate captive audience. I can’t move. So inevitably, my one free hand now spends most every nursing minute with either Buzz or Woody in it.

Frankly, my son’s natural knack for targeting his game-time invitations impresses me. And his simple approach is right on: make sure your marketing hits your audience when they’re most open and least occupied. Again and again, I’ve seen a single, well-timed e-mail garner that much awaited closing phone call from a hot prospect, while an expensive ad on a noisy news site yields big piles of traffic that go nowhere in the end. So be smart. Don’t spend for the sake of flash alone. Get creative, look for the right time and place, and then make your move.

Marketing Lessons from the Streets of SXSW

Pedicab
DO find ways to stand out from the competition.

Spandex
DON’T stand out in a creepy way. You want to be remembered pleasantly.
(At least, I think you do.)

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DO take the time to design creative promotions that reinforce your brand on multiple levels. Then repeat. And repeat and repeat and…

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DON’T waste your money making big statements where nobody will notice them.

Feathers
DO have a little fun, create a little drama, be a little interesting.

Donuts
DON’T write your display copy while intoxicated. And don’t rely 100% on online translation engines.

Or do – if your goal is to give your customers good laugh.

Tell a Story, Build a Brand

Story is a powerful tool in the content marketer’s arsenal. Why? Because it not only draws us in and gives us something to relate to. It also shows us why we should care and pushes us to engage with a brand’s message in a more active and lasting way.

This brings to mind the oft-repeated adage of creative writers: show don’t tell.

Don’t say, “Mildred is cold.” Say, “Mildred is shivering.” Why? Because in the latter example, you’ve not only shown me that Mildred is, indeed, experiencing a chill. You’ve also brought me into her world, helped me see her standing in the snow somewhere with her arms crossed tight into her body, teeth chattering. Yes, from one simple word change, you’ve helped me imagine all that – asked me to engage with Mildred’s story, to participate in understanding. And so I’m more invested. I’m more empathetic. And I’ve started to care.

Such is the marketing power of a story.

Watch journalists for constant examples of this: Do they open with facts and figures when developing a piece on, say, a contaminated drug? Not likely. Again and again, they begin with a story – an example of real, live people effected by that drug. These stories will help us engage and evoke our emotions – all while elucidating the necessary details.

In just the same way, you can use this tool to infuse your company with life, to help people engage with your brand in a deeper and more lasting way. When used properly, stories can provide context for your marketing content, bringing your message meaning and making it sticky.

But what am I doing? I’m supposed to show rather than tell. So I’ll just pipe down and show you one great example of a brand engaging us through storytelling, this one from Children Incorporated and the talented folks at Flux Creative Marketing:

Marketing Starts from Within

I had a frustrating phone call with a vendor this morning, one that put a raincloud over my head for most of the afternoon. So much so that I text-yelled at my husband for a dumb reason (YES, HUGE, ALL CAPS, SCREAMING TEXTS) and got an “Are you okay?” reaction to my tone of voice during a client phone call.

Why? Simple. The vendor messed up and gave me faulty information, and then she didn’t take accountability. People make mistakes—me more than most. I completely get mistakes. But instead of admitting it, apologizing, and moving forward, this particular individual first tried to convince me that I was wrong, confused, even a little foolish.

And now I’m looking for another printer.

But this is more than a rant about poor customer experience. It’s a rant about the importance of controlling your brand everywhere it intersects with your audience. It’s a rant about the fact that marketing is about so much more than brochures and websites and tweets. It’s about perception. And in the end, person-to-person interactions have a huge impact on how you’re perceived. Especially for small businesses like us.

I used to work with a great CMO who constantly reminded me—and the entire company—that marketing starts from within. It’s an adage that many of us have heard before. But how do you plant the right seed? How do you get your people to represent your brand correctly?

For starters, you align your company around a unified message. No team member can appropriately personify your brand if he doesn’t know what your brand is all about in the first place.

So if you haven’t done so already, start by defining who you are in the market, who you’re talking to, and why those people care about the value you’re offering. Write it down.

Then, use this information to outline your offering and core messages. Again, write it down.

And finally, share it—all of it—with the whole company. Show them who you all are. Show them how you hope customers and prospects will perceive you. Show them what they’re a part of.

All your other marketing efforts will become better investments if you start with this foundation. If you start from within.

Merry Christmas from a Real, Live Human Being

This time of year, many of us are scrambling to connect with friends, family, and associates through personal and corporate holiday messages.

On the business side, we often debate how best to engage: Send an e-blast? Post a snail-mail card? Make a donation on our clients’ behalf? Craft a clever blog post?

The answer depends on your business, as most answers tend to do. But whatever the medium, don’t be afraid to get personal. Because, in a world of global interactions, we’re all craving correspondence that makes us feel closer to one another—like real, live human beings rather than customer numbers or heartless logos.

Of course, the meaning of “personal” changes a lot with the size and nature of your business. If you’re an executive consultant who speaks with your clients directly on a regular basis and knows many details of both their professional and personal lives, you might choose to send out Christmas cards that include hand-written notes and a photo of your family.

But if you’re the owner of 3 sheet music stores with a large customer base, you’ll probably share something that’s a bit less intimate—but still full of personal flare. Like a video of your staff members staging a happy holidays flash mob, each one armed with an instrument or a fist full of fake snow.

A few real-world examples:

Marketing Matters

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Austin-based advertising agency Marketing Matters not only set up a fun & festive holiday card this year; they also included a link to the making-of video, giving viewers yet another window into life at the agency and the unique personalities of its staff members.

Chocolate for Breakfast

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From delectable gift ideas to favorite holiday images, featured seasonal treats to personalized holiday wishes, Chocolate for Breakfast does a great job of sharing personal likes, ideas, and experiences on their Facebook page—all year long. Spend a little time here, and you’ll feel like you’ve been kicking back in their kitchen.

Autism Speaks

A lovely twist on getting personal: Austism Speaks features photos of the autism community in their video holiday card—along with clips of their staff members sharing warm wishes.

Dear Chicago Teachers: I’m Not an Idiot

If there’s one thing that gets me seething about bad marketing, it’s the assumption that your audience is easy to mislead.

On the picket lines this week, members of the Chicago Teachers Union are toting an example of such an assumption: signs that read “On Strike for Better Schools.”

There’s one way to make me question your integrity.

Better schools? Is that why you’re on strike, Chicago teachers? Because I could have sworn you were on strike to

  • Weaken the impact of teacher performance evaluations
  • Give laid-off teachers first rights of refusal on new jobs, rather than allowing principals to hire the best candidates
  • Restore your 4% raise and continue to receive pay for sick or personal days you don’t use

If you’ve changed your demands—if you’re in fact delaying decisions and keeping kids out of class to fight for improved school performance, more up-to-date computers, more nutritious lunches, better textbooks, and so on—please let me know and I’ll amend my position. But as long as you’re striking for your own benefit, please scrap this slogan.

At least then I won’t have to be bothered with you in 3 dimensions:

  1. You’re keeping 3 of my precious nieces and nephews (along with 350,000 other students) out of school.
  2. You’re picketing away my tax dollars so you can put more of them toward cashing in on your unused days off.
  3. (Worst of all), you’re trying to tell me it ain’t so.

On occasion, I’ve seen some of you carrying signs that read “On Strike for a Fair Contract.” That’s more like it. Sure, there are parts of this slogan that represent a matter of opinion, but there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no offensive attempt at deception here: it’s honest. And if you want people on your side, honest is a really good place to start.

So please, for your sake and my sanity, go for truth. Scrap the slogans that offend the intelligence of the parents who pay your salaries—the same parents who are standing outside your headquarters with signs that read “350,000 CPS HOSTAGES! Let Our Children Learn.”

Now that’s good messaging.