Tag : expert-brand

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146: Marketing Less to Sell more

Right after World War I, military plane builders scrambled to find a new market for their products. While some looked for ways to adapt warplanes for civilian use, Gianni Caproni set about designing the largest commercial plane ever. The famous biplane engineer’s ambitious vision was the Transeareo (also called the Caproni Ca.60), a floating plane capable of carrying up to 100 passengers.

To carry its unprecedented cargo, Caproni designed the plane with not one, not two, but nine pair of wings. No, really. I guess the math makes sense: “If two sets of wings lift X kilograms, then nine sets of wings should be able to lift four and a half times that weight.”

Ca.60 Under Costruction
Sadly, though, the design didn’t make sense. On its second demonstration and first real attempt at flight, the flying Erector Set crashed onto Lake Maggiore in Italy. (You can see pictures of the carnage here.)

I can relate to Caproni. Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of Biplane Productions opening for business. During the first few years, I thought the way to get profitable in a hurry was to promise as many services as possible. Auctioneer August 2003My company brochure was an 8-page catalog with lots of small print filled with insecure words. I even ran this embarrassing ad in Auctioneer. It was immature, shoddy, and poorly proofed. I tried to do a bunch of things “good enough” rather than focus on doing one or two things well.

I made a lot of mistakes. At least two big, reliable accounts crashed and burned within the first few years.

Fast forward a decade. I don’t run ads in Auctioneer. I don’t have a company brochure. I don’t have a booth at trade shows, and I don’t promote a wide range of services in any medium or environment. I’m generating far more business each year with glacial rate changes and next to no advertising.

How? The same way I tell university seniors and young entrepreneurs to build their businesses: find both a proficiency and an underserved niche that benefits from that proficiency. Then dive full force almost exclusively into that fishing hole.

One interesting thing about the Transaereo: it was designed without a rudder. Caproni thought that the pitot could create the same steering input by varying the action of the three columns of wings. I find a lot of small businesses like Biplane Productions used to be: rudderless, grabbing any updraft it can and taking it where it leads. For me, though, that led to an unstable, unsustainable flight. The business slowly gained altitude, but it was a fight.

Now, I focus on two things: print design & industry education. With that focus, it has been getting easier to estimate time and costs. I’ve been getting faster and faster at the same tasks, which has allowed me to give myself a raise without changing my rates. My “past & present client” list has been consistently growing. Specialization has given the impression of expertise, and people hire experts—especially the ones teaching their marketing classes.

Auctioneers ask me regularly how to grow their seller base. One of the main things I recommend is focusing on a narrower range of asset categories and/or geographic service areas. It’s impossible to specialize in five or eight types of auctions, but I see auctioneers claiming that all the time. Even if you do other services or sell different assets, you don’t have to market them all. I still write press releases, post auctions on listing sites, and help companies with social media. I just don’t market those and other services, because they dilute my brand.

One of my good friends flies Boeing 777’s for United Airlines. He told me that his international flights leave the ground, weighing more than half a million pounds. He said that some 747’s leave the ground, weighing roughly 750,000 pounds. Both of those international jetliners carry way more than 100 passengers, and both have only one pair of wings. Granted, those two wings are much bigger than the Transaereo’s contraptions. The power is more concentrated and efficient—something aeronautical engineers figured out well before the jet engine, even before the second World War.

We should follow their lead into “less is more.” Let’s be jetliners instead of lumbering origami. Let’s concentrate our brands. Let’s look like experts. Let’s stop telling people we can auction just about anything.

Then, let’s watch our brands and revenues soar to 30,000 feet!

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113: Branding Lessons from a High-Rise Crane Operator

I had the privilege to climb a 15-story construction crane and interview its operator. He graciously answered a bevy of my questions, some of which probably sounded mundane or elementary to him. While I learned about his fascinating world 57 meters above the other workmen, one of his answers surprised me as much as any.

Rudolph in Action

We were standing next to the counter weights on the machine arm—the short boom on the back of the crane opposite of the long boom (called a “jib”) from which the hook descends. I asked, “How heavy of an object can you lift with this thing?”

“Out on the end, one and a half tons—maybe two tons. Close to the middle, I can lift three tons,” Rudolph answered in his heavily-accented English.

He might have meant tonnes (2,205 pounds) instead of tons (2,000 pounds), but the proportions are the same. Either way, the closer he got to the central mast, the more he could lift. The closer he got to his core strength, he got more efficient and more capable—with less risk. He could take fewer loads to move the same amount of material or take on loads otherwise impossible.

 

Where Rudolph Works

I highly doubt Rudolph realized the inherent advice that he was giving. It’s the same advice I give college juniors and seniors who ask me how to build a successful business and the advice I give nascent auctioneers in the halls at conferences: “Focus on your core competencies. Find what you do best, and focus on the niche market that values that.” It’s advice I had to learn from experience.

Early in my career, I took on work at the end of the jib. Technically, I managed to move whatever the material I was asked to move; but I wasn’t efficient at it and, candidly, probably not even effective at it. Eventually, I got out of web design, then logo design. I stopped taking on projects from companies outside the auction industry (except for barters). I’m now even considering dropping a service for which I’ve won an award—because my hook seems at the end of the jib every time I provide it.

The difficult part is giving someone the direction to head from that advice. You can’t always follow your heart; it often leads you to hobbies and/or unemployment. It’s more than honing a natural skill. If a lot of people have the same skill, you’ll struggle as a commodity. It’s unfair to depend on serendipity; but somewhere in the mix, it seems like most entrepreneur tales and success stories hinge on it. Mine does, too.

That said, once you find that sweet spot—that area of specialty, that niche of proficiency—stay there. As soon as you can, discover where you’re an expert and stray as little from that prowess as possible. Why?

  1. The more efficient you are, the less you’ll have to work for the same income.
  2. You’ll waste less time & energy and give fewer excuses & apologies to customers—some of which can be very expensive.
  3. Customers prefer experts, and they’ll usually pay an expert more than they’ll pay a general practitioner.
  4. By default, you’ll have fewer competitors, the farther away from generalist you can brand yourself.

The adage is true: the jack of all trades is the master of none. You can’t specialize in six different auction (or graphic design) markets. That would mean that you average 16% expertise per segment. If someone is looking for a specific specialization, they’re going to look for someone whose expertise averages as close to 100% as possible.

When I tandem hang glide, I don’t ride with just any pilot—even though my church buddies fly helicopters, experimental aircraft, 767’s, and acrobatic stunt planes. I ride with a licensed, tandem hang gliding instructor. When I want my MINI inspected for a track day, I take it to the only BMW racing specialist in town—not one of probably a dozen DMV-licensed inspection centers in the Lynchburg area. And if I ever had to lift 5,000 pounds of rebar ten stories and drop it next to a South African contractor, I’d ask Rudolph.

Taking It Personally

I benefit from people who have heavily invested themselves into one hobby and can help me experience them, but I tend to dip my toes in multiple adventures rather than dive into any one of them. I’m the same with vacation spots, as I generally prefer to explore a new destination rather than revisit an old one. From what I’ve read online, the stimulation from new experiences keeps our brains active and more creative.

In other words, diversity is good for most of us. While I teach others to stay in a professional niche, I tend to encourage acquaintances, friends, and family to broaden their horizons off the clock. The world is too big of a place to leave unseen.

This morning [January 16], as I walked the streets and sidewalks on a continent I’d never seen before yesterday, I thought of a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

*SPECIAL THANKS to Ian Immelman for granting me access to the WBHO crane and to Rudolph, its operator!*

77: Your Brand, Charlie Sheen, and President Obama

Photo credit: http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Horizons/2010/0813/With-Tweet-Button-Twitter-looks-outwardSeveral weeks ago, one of my college friends posted on Facebook that she had closed her Twitter account after not using it and not understanding what the appeal was.

Whether you’ve investigated Twitter or not, you may have the same impression: “What’s the big deal about Twitter? I don’t get it.”

With literally hundreds (if not thousands) of social media sites out there, it’s valid to question the importance of different environments. And it’s beneficial to explore the advantages and disadvantages of each. None of us have time for them all; so we must each determine why we use the sites we do and how to achieve the maximum benefit from them.

Next to Facebook AppSo, what about Twitter?

Let’s start with what Twitter is not. Twitter is not just text messaging the nation. Twitter is not just the playground of Charlie Sheen, teens, and Silicon Valley geeks. And Twitter is not Facebook or a direct Facebook competitor.

Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, told Hemispheres Inflight Magazine that Twitter and Facebook have different purposes. “We’re trying to deliver on the idea that Twitter has information about what’s going on in the world that you care about, and that’s different from Facebook’s value proposition, which is a way to stay in touch with people you know . . . I would describe it as a personalized news service. It gives up-to-date information on whatever you care about that’s happening in the world . . . We want people to understand that you don’t have to tweet to use Twitter, any more than you have to create a web page to use the web.”

If you only remember three words from that last paragraph, make them personalized news service. Twitter is an environment where people go to get quick snapshots of what interests them, be it international news, jokes from their favorite comedians, or the events in their friends’ respective days.

Twitter as News SourceMark Cuban titled a 2008 blog post, “If the news is that important, it will find me.” While there are multiple channels for news to get to us, Twitter is growing as a primary way that its users keep tabs on their surroundings. It’s certainly true in my life. I follow my local newspaper, CNN, ESPN, Wired, Wall Street Journal, and several tech blogs on Twitter and usually find hot headlines from these Twitter feeds before or in lieu of their more established formats. Twitter is both direct feed and word of mouth, rolled into one.

For the consumer, Twitter’s primary benefit is its shortcut to the world.

For the marketer, Twitter offers a chance for their brand to be a newsmaker. Whether you are posting informative links, company news, special offers, or customer service responses, Twitter helps you keep your brand in constant public awareness—without paying for advertising. Depending on the content in your posts (called “tweets”), Twitter can even help you establish an aura of expertise. If your tweets regularly contain links to helpful stories with specific market insight, you can build a public trust in your knowledge and experience base. This is important, because we all prefer in most situations to hire experts over general practitioners.

But doesn’t a Facebook business page accomplish many of these same objectives?

In many ways, yes. Twitter, though, streamlines a constant stream of outside knowledge (rather than that from social circles); so, you’ll find it easier there to collect, sort, process, and redistribute large amounts of information. Twitter is designed for a large quantity of posts; but it’s simplified for immediacy and geared for short encounters, since most of its users access their feeds through their mobile devices. Twitter’s text-based system is built for fast download with links for the people who want to expand a specific tweet beyond a quick thumb-scroll. Each tweet holds a maximum of 140 characters with which to entertain, converse, inform, or direct to more information.

So, Twitter favors the pithy, the succinct, and the connected.

And while most Twitter followers also own a Facebook account, the opposite is true of the percentage of Facebook users regularly engaging with a Twitter feed. In that way, Twitter offers a unique audience—typically a tech-savvy, culturally-connected one.

Over the past couple years, Facebook has incorporated popular Twitter features (like status mentions) into its system. And Facebook publishes its news on Twitter. If Facebook thinks it’s important to set up shop there, you might want to think about it, too.

If that’s not reason enough, know that a bunch of us use Twitter to post the things we hide from you and the rest of Facebook.
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For at least a decade, I found good news to be a watered-down synonym for gospel. I mean, good news can be anything from hearing your son is arriving home from Iraq tonight to learning that you can download a song you like for free on iTunes. Over the past few years, though, I’ve learned the weight inherent in this good news.

News isn’t history. News isn’t distant past. News is, “That just happened!” or “This is happening right now!”

If our view of the gospel is exclusively a historical list of verses in Romans, we fall short of its full intent and maybe even its power. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, we are shown lives that explain the eternal significance of Jesus’ substitution AND that share what the Holy Spirit is blossoming in their lives.

We can sell our catechisms and doctrines to a secular culture, but they need to see an alive faith and how it impacts our current daily existence. That means we can’t just obtain our hell insurance and check our luggage all the way to heaven’s baggage claim. We have to be constantly changing, growing—becoming more alive. If the gospel isn’t constantly making news in those of us who’ve found its goodness, why would we expect it to be regularly making news in the lives we touch?

[footer]Photo credit for Twitter Bird Image.
Screen capture images purchased from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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41: The Not-so-silver Blogging Bullet

Communication BulletsIf you’re reading the same articles I am these days, you’ve heard there’s a silver bullet minted for business: blogging. A recent HubSpot study showed that commercial web sites with blogs garnered 55% more visitors than those without blogs. And they had 97% more inbound links (when other sites link to yours) than their blogless counterparts.

But to kill it at blogging for business, your ammo will have to be a 4-part alloy of balanced attributes. In unclassified documents obtained by biplane productions for this article, the not-so-shocking components are now available for commercial application.

Helpful Information

Readers are willing to waste their time on entertainment. But they draw the line on useless information. You wouldn’t care about your local tire shop owner’s trip to the Tire Industry Association‘s annual convention. You wouldn’t finish a story on you local UHaul‘s shipment of new trucks. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Change out your business for a random one in your phone book, then ask yourself, “Would I care about this news or advice?” If not, try a different topic. The more reader-centric you make your writing, the more likely your readers will absorb your content.

Give them practical information they can consider, if not use. Break it down into bite-size chunks or steps. Eliminate jargon to make room for layman’s terms. Prove that you’ve earned your insight, which they can receive for free.

Engaging Content

There are no owner’s manuals on The New York Times best sellers list. Extremely helpful content (in multiple languages, no less), but even gals wouldn’t grab a coffee at Barnes & Noble and read one. You’re going to find few doctoral theses shared on facebook or forwarded via email. Even with all the uproar, the various health care bills right now will go mostly unread by the masses whose lives they might impact.

So, sprinkle your knowledge with anecdotes, statistics, even graphics. Give it the sound of your voice, not wikipedia’s. Treat the reader as your friend, and they’ll stick around for more of your stories. Better yet, they’ll forward them to their other friends.

Altruistic Feel

You know that icky feeling when you’re flipping through the channels and a televangelist sneaks a book or DVD pitch in there? He may or may not have preceded the infomercial with inspirational insight; but a cord of distrust binds your interest, because the smell of narcissism and self promotion burn your perception. A lot of blogs wreak of these tendencies.

Don’t be that guy! Don’t soak your words with marketing. Trust that what you’ve dispensed for free will be received with gratitude and maybe even returned to you in some measure. People consult and hire experts, especially humble ones.

Professional Execution

I love when Jay Leno televised newspaper clippings of bad communication. The words made sense to the advertiser or writer. But poor editing and/or a lack of outside insight turned their effort into a detriment to their organization—and accidental humor on a large stage. Grammar, syntax, capitalization, punctuation—they matter. Presentation and readability can make or break your post. Undeveloped thoughts can turn interest. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been spared by the pre-release review of my wife or a trusted peer. I’ve even chose not to publish posts, based on such counsel.

Treat your writing like you do your professional craft. Don’t be afraid to call in other eyes or even collaborate with other writers. Excellence communicates professionalism. Good ideas poorly expressed lose their impact.
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We’ve all heard, “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.” Parents and teachers have proven this true for millennia. Sadly, many churches and their parishioners have not. Many times, to be candid, I have not.

Denominations emphasize our differences. Religion wraps faith in layers of suffocating exclusivity and distracting tradition. Christians, me included at times in my life, have made heaven a result of doctrines and creeds, checked lists, and kept rules. In so many ways, touching so many lives, the movement of Jesus has driven people away from our cause instead of to Him.

The secular world doesn’t care what version of the Bible we read or what reformer we most closely follow. They don’t search for a name on a sign. We won’t attract them with mission statements or the “what we believe” page on our web site. Few, if any, are impressed into heaven.

They want to know a personal God, and they want to see what that looks like in us. We are called to study the Truth and warned to watch for wolves. But we are asked to love with wisdom, to care with sacrifice. It’s easier to learn than to love. It’s easier to segregate than to unify. But easy is the harlot of the opposition.

[footer]Image(s) used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

40: What Kind of Blogger Are You?

Colored PencilYou’ve read it, too: there’s a pot of gold under the blog rainbow. It’s difficult enough to weed through the millions of blogs, trying to find content that’s worth your time or even accurate information. The tidal wave can make it seem like your contribution will get drowned in the throng. Business magazines (and blogs themselves) tout the benefits of the blogging entrepreneur. With all the competition on the Internet, how do you carve a niche for your words?

The first step is determining what you want out of the blogosphere—what’s the end game, the reward for the investment? Is it discovery, influence, income—or maybe something else? With this premise clarified, you next need to determine what kind of blogger you will be. As with advertising, if you try to be everything to everybody, you have to compete with everybody. But if you can be the Pied Piper of a few, they will march behind your product. One of the following blogger types probably best suits your ambition.

Social Butterfly
You might be a blogger and not even know it. If you use sites like MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter, or Facebook, you’ve contributed to what is categorized as “micro blogging.” Rather than post to your own site, you’re sharing content via a collective platform, where others can interact with your pictures, videos, links, and notes. This is a great venue for learning and teaching, as well as cultivating friendships. And it’s a good test to see if you can regularly generate popular content, to see if you might have blogging potential. Because not all online relationships are created equal, take full advantage of security and filtering features. Be real. Be yourself. But control the parts of your life that others can see.

How-To Expert
Most entrepreneurs looking to earn business off blogging go this route. If you can write knowledgeably about a topic, you can develop an “expert” brand that people will trust. Before you pronounce yourself a columnist, develop a list of all the topics on which you can competently write (or record in audio or video). You might even want to pre-write a couple handfuls of them before publishing the first one. Use visual examples, if you have them; and don’t be afraid to purchase stock photography. Edit carefully (multiple times), as poor grammar contradicts the professionalism you’re trying to convey. Simplify steps with bullet lists; and highlight links to similar articles, including any sources you might use.

Aggregate Hub
You don’t have to be the source of knowledge to be considered an expert. You just have to know where to find insight for others. If you can save others time in sifting through the Internet haystack to find the needles that interest them, your resourcefulness will make you a place they check first or regularly. Some, like I do, will subscribe to your updates. The challenge is to find the content others can’t quickly find themselves. Technology like google alerts can help, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time doing the research you’re trying to save others. Don’t forget that local stories might have a broader appeal and that international sources may shed new perspective on domestic topics. Try to post at least daily, if you want people to frequent your site. All stories become old stories on the web in a matter of days (if not sooner).

Journalist
Blogging has democratized journalism, just as the MP3 democratized music. To get noticed, you’ll need to scoop some significant stories and be able to verify sources. It may be easier to report on local issues or trade news than regional or national stories. The key is to get that information online as soon as possible, especially if you’re competing with a print publication and/or its web site. If you’re reporting on an event that is broadcast, consider a live blog on location. To gain credibility, make sure any subjective material and/or commentary is well separated from the news part of your site. Stick to the facts, even if that results in small posts. Cross-sell your stories via email subscription, text messaging, and/or social networking sites like Twitter or facebook. Make sure you use images only for which you have permission.

Activist
You’ve got an agenda—a cause, a movement, a political party (or candidate), a hot button issue. You want to engage and enlighten people with opposing views. It’d be cool, too, if like-minded thinkers find you as a source of great ammo for the fight. While venting and cheering both prove cathartic, keep in mind that everybody you know (and many you don’t) can read your posts. So, keep it civil, appropriate, and mature. The goal here is to create content with a viral attraction, something people will want to forward to others. To gain a following, stay away from talking points, clichés, and unverified reports. (As soon as your references are proven false, you lose credibility.) New analogies and angles could get you noticed. Satire, if well done, gets shared and spread.

Journal Writer
You want to transcribe the moments and impressions of your life but with public access. The possibility that the public might be interested goads you to be consistent. If nobody reads your work, you’re cool with knowing that you benefited from the process. Someone out there connects with life and/or your experience, and you hope they find you. Categorizing your posts and tagging key words will increase your chances of discovery. Renaming your (legally-obtained) pictures with keywords before uploading won’t hurt, either. And living a life worth reading will prove beneficial to you and the anonymous web surfer. If you write through a specific lens/angle, you are more likely to attract a regular audience.

Narcissist
Do you think your slice of the world would make a decent reality show? Is your life odd or interesting—enough that others would find it entertaining? If you don’t mind the shameless plug or you’ve gained celebrity you’d like to milk, make the most of your 15 minutes of fame. To keep readers, include lots of photos and/or video. Create intrigue with teases for pending content. Remember that voyeurs and freak shows come with the territory; so, carefully monitor comments, if your blog includes that feature.

Reviewer
While not always altruistic, reviewing has become a way to establish your thoughts in the marketplace of ideas. Hotels, restaurants, attractions, trips, movies, books, fashion, cars—you get the idea—if you have keen insight and the ability to creatively express it, this could be in your wheel house. The more specific and concrete your reviews, the better. Allusions and comparisons can create effective, polished shortcuts in transcribing descriptions. If you’re posting to your own site (as opposed to a site like TripAdvisor or UrbanSpoon), you might want to collect a few other writers to post with you. Thematic content or posts with a congruent filter will make your posts more readable.

Once you know who you are and embrace it, you’re better equipped to pursue your piece of the readership pie. You may never reap more than you sew into the blogosphere; so, this isn’t a get-rich-quick deal. But in the chaos of an Internet full of self-promoting writers, your words can build your brand with wanted content spoken through your voice.
[tip]

So many Christians burn out—some even walking away from their faith—because they are trying to live for God the way someone else told or showed them. Too many church leaders preach conformity to a tradition instead of to Christ. The fact is, we’re wired differently; and God did the wiring. We have different evangelism styles. We have different ways of expressing worship and feeling God’s pleasure. We learn and process and love differently. On top of that, we have different personalities and different spiritual gifts.

Throw all of those variables together, and you have tens of thousands of potential makeups. God prides himself in creativity balanced by symbiosis. He wants unity—not uniformity! So, explore what parts of your life flip your God switch. Discover where you feel most connected to what he’s doing in the world. Then run at it with everything you have. When you are all you can be, others will want that vibrance you exude.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

27: Buying Credibility to Build the Expert Brand

Advertorial Bill BryantFor at least as long as I’ve been in advertising, press releases have long been classified as “free press.”  The danger of free press is that, sometimes, you get what you pay for.  You can do all the right things with your press release and it still may not get published—at least through the key media on which you were relying.

One way to guarantee that your message gets in print (or an online outlet) is to pay to have the story published: an “advertorial.”  In our culture, the statement advertorial is often just an ad that buys a whole page but only uses part of it for a short message.  These often extravagant media buys, usually by celebrities or united activists, often get picked up by other media and fulfill their original intent—a publicity stunt.

Publicity stunts work; they’re great for one-shot deals.  But if you’re looking to build your brand in the community, particularly an expert brand, journalistic advertorials can get your piece not only published but read.  Here are some tips on how to do that.

Fill an Information Gap

If you are properly nichéd, professionally trained, and/or personally connected to hot button issues, people will value your advice.  So, use your space to sell your knowledge more than your company.  People hire experts.  You will establish yourself as a source for answers, which later may grow into a source for solutions. You’re reading my biweekly advertorial right now.  Would you have read this far, if this were a commercial? Do your homework.  Then be prepared to wait a long time for a grade.

Write (And Edit) Like a Writer

If you want consideration from readers, you have to write like you value their time.  Use statistics and references; use quotations and accentuate them with “pull quotes.”  Check your grammar, or have a professional edit for you.  Sidebars with stats or charts give you that much more credence.  Look at the media’s current articles; mimic their approach.

Half Full or Half Empty?

You don’t always need full pages to get noticed.  You can create a themed article and pay for it to run at regular intervals.  Name yourself as the author, and design the space to look more like a sidebar or column.  Three third-page runs will get you more consumer interactions than one big kaboom.

Reach Out and “E” Someone

It can be expensive to rent space from your local newspaper or regional trade publication.  And you may be paying for readers you don’t need.  Many online sites invite expert contributors to their oligarchy of writers.  Some even allow free access to their visitors.  Email can allow you to regularly reinforce your brand to a targeted group of people already familiar with you and open to your company.  It’s usually cheaper than print, too.

Seduce the Unsuspecting

Draw people into your stories the way that newspapers do: use large, interesting images and captivating headlines.  Make sure stock photos concretely (not abstractly) relate and that company photos are professionally shot and/or digitally enhanced.  Get multiple eyes proofing your prominent text; you don’t want to end up on Monday night Leno.

Your message doesn’t need be contained to you, your competitors, and people hiding in the restroomat work.  Hone it.  Enhance it.  If you believe enough in it, pay to publish it yourself.

—————–

Examples of client advertorial designed by publication and by biplane productions available upon request.
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I’m not a regular country music listener, but I love Tim McGraw’s twangy song that became the theme song for CMT’s “Trick My Truck.”

“How Bad Do You Want It?” is one of my life theme songs.  In the land of the American Dream, I motivate myself by questioning my will, my talent—even my success.  I sort my to do list and my life goals regularly, asking myself that very question, “How much do I want this?  Is [this] worth not having [that]?”

Sometimes I have to say “no” to some pretty cool things, some fun pastimes, some lesser dreams.  But I know too many people paralyzed by the inability to choose which passion(s) to chase, which talent to exploit.  I don’t want to miss throwing a touchdown by waiting too long to decide between two open receivers.

I use my unwritten obituary as a sieve, as well as my life mission statement—among other things.  As a writer and a live-er, I realize that I will sometimes (if not often) have to pay—financially, emotionally, and physically—to impact others with the intrinsic message and lesser statements of my life.  Thankfully, like advertorials for business, those costs are outbalanced by the reward.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

Newsletters & Fruitcakes

NewsThe word newsletter used to evoke an internal groan akin to the one for holiday fruitcake.  For decades, newsletters were more blessed to give than receive.  With desktop publishing and internet technology constantly improving, though, in-house newsletters have made improvements by leaps and bounds.

That said, not all newsletters are created equal.  I’m not just talking about printed pieces versus email or online versions.  See, some build positive recognition of their company’s brand.  Others are still wrapped in their green cellophane.  The recipient knows the sender means well, but they’re not going to stop from their mail sort to absorb the content.  So, here are some tips to keep that from happening to your newsletter.

Establish Your Expertise
The primary function of the newsletter is to inform the reader in a way that establishes your company as an expert source.  The residual effect of newsletter investment may take years.  If you need to borrow articles to fill the space, you are still communicating your knowledge prowess—because you know where to direct others for information.  Just make sure to obtain permission and properly attribute the source(s).

Serve the Reader First, Your Company Second
You wouldn’t want to read your local used car dealer’s run down of his sales reports.  Your prospects don’t want to read your litany, either. But if your local car dealer sold the first off the assembly line or accepted a trade-in from a celebrity, then he’d have your interest.  What’s in your piece for your reader? Make them care about your business by caring about their interests.  Save your “sold!” gallery for your web site.  Spend time to obtain quotes and supporting materials that will make your newsletter more journalistic, more professional, and more engaging.

Graph-fiti Like a Gang Member
If you want to illustrate your accomplishments, don’t toot your horn with paragraphs of text.  Give your successes context with chart and graphs.  I recommend showing sale prices in relation to appraisals/assessments or sales by day of the week or month of the year.  Compare types of auction properties, or map types of properties per geographic area.  Chart online bidders versus live ones over a span of sales.  Make abstract ideas concrete by illustrating them graphically.

Use Large Photos and Lots of White Space
If your piece looks more like a bible page and less like a magazine spread, seek professional help.  This isn’t high school yearbook class or “BUS 107: Intro to Business Forms.”  Your newsletter carries your brand as much as any other media you place in front of your audience.  Break stories up with pull quotes, statistic boxes, charts, and inset photos.  Don’t’ crowd content, especially text.  Use action photos as much as possible.  Use a test audience, especially one unfamiliar with your news.

Stay on Schedule
Determine a schedule—whether monthly, quarterly, or annually—that will allow for you to consistently generate original content.  You want to develop a distribution pattern, even if a sparse one.  If you have extra material for one release—rather than try to shoe horn it into this issue, save the least time-sensitive content for the next issue.

You can save your newsletter from the round file the same way you would protect a Christmas food gift investment: give something the receiver will want to eat.  Put some thought into it.  Avoid the non-refundable bargain bin.

And make sure the old family “special recipe” stays at home.
[tip]

The underlying message of your newsletter is, “We are experts.  You can trust your business with us.”  What is the underlying, almost-thematic message of your life? Do you sift your actions and goals though the sieve of that statement?

For me, I want it all to match my life goal: to live a creative nonfiction life of spiritual and physical adventure that, with integrity, will draw others into the same.  It doesn’t take too long on my web sites and facebook pages to see the ways I pursue that (successfully or not).  But the chase makes the mundane less so, the necessary a contribution—and a positive legacy possible.

Is the way you’re writing the pages of your life story pulling people into the bigger picture?  If not, you can still edit and rewrite the remaining pages—starting with today’s.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

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