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Without A Call To Action Your Content Is Not Marketing

There’s a lot written about content marketing these days.  If you believe the gurus, ninjas, PR pros and ‘experts’ content is the solution to all business ills.

Want to find more customers? Content marketing is the answer.  Want people to believe your company is the Uber of X, Y or Z? Content marketing will help you convince them.  Want to attract millions of dollars in funding? Content marketing is a sure fire way to achieve it.

There are many problems with these assertions but one in particular you should know about.  Content used for marketing purposes – a true piece of marketing communications content – MUST have a call to action.  What’s a call to action?  In its simplest form it is a clear request to the reader to take a defined action.

“Visit your local dealer and book a test drive today”

“Call 1 888 123 1234 to buy the 2016 Chevrolet X’

Sign up today to receive your free gift”

If there’s no call to action then a piece of content is not a piece of marketing communication, it’s promotion. Awareness. Publicity.  Why does this matter?  Simple: because marketing is about getting people to take actions to support your business.  Awareness is simply that.  There’s no attempt to get people to take action and, as as result, can’t be marketing.

Without a call to action, your content isn’t marketing, it’s just content.

Why EVERYTHING is not marketing

Is everything marketing?, how is everything marketing

 

In a conversation on Twitter last night a good friend Stefan Lubinski suggested that everything these days is marketing.  I disagree – and here’s why.

There are more platforms than ever before on which to communicate to large groups of people – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Blogger, Pinterest, Foursquare, Instagram, Snapchat, Meerkat, Periscope, Google Plus, Google Hangouts, Email, SMS, WhatsApp… to name but a few.  There are more online publications than ever before – on any topic you can think of.  There are more people using them to publicize products, services, opinions, content – you name it.  But that’s NOT marketing.

At best, the majority of it is publicity; at worst it is just noise.  Like somebody with a megaphone stood shouting at people in the digital street.

Some are shouting orders: ‘Do this!’, ‘Click here!’, ‘Buy this!’, ‘Read that!’.

Very little of it could be described as marketing!

Marketing is about getting people to take a specific action – because they want to.  This requires them to understand what they are being asked to do and do it willingly in order to support you or  your organization.  The action needs to be specific and clearly defined.  It should, also, have a defined commercial value.

No matter how much you urge somebody to do something; no matter how loud you shout or how often, if they don’t want to do it all you do is lose your voice.

I wrote a few months ago that most PR and marketing is publicity that explains more.

 

Stop Creating Content. Start Building Relationships.

What if you stopped creating content to post on every social network and publishing platform and focused instead on building relationships?  Think about it.  How much time, money and energy are you wasting by creating content in the name of marketing that has no noticeable impact on your business?

Sure, you might get a few people sharing a post; you might feel good that somebody liked what you wrote; but what’s the tangible value from spending hours every week creating content?  Don’t know?  Don’t want to know?! If you’re doing it because your ‘PR’ or ‘marketing’ company told you to there’s a pretty good chance the only winner in the process is them!

What if you stopped creating content and, instead, focused on building and maintaining relationships with the people who matter most to the success of your business?  What if, rather than creating a piece of content you picked up the phone and talked with somebody? A potential investor; a prospective customer; a journalist; a former customer that just became an ex-customer.

What if, rather than trying to sell them something you asked questions? What if you tried to gather insight, rather than convincing them you’re the Uber of X or that you have a unique, innovative whatever that they simply must buy?  What if you spent the money you’re wasting creating content that nobody reads; nobody cares about; and invested it in the relationships that matter most to the success of your business?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Startup Storytelling: how to make people care

When was the last time you read a book where the story started with a product pitch?  How many of the books you’ve read recently, autobiographies aside were about the author?  How many of the autobiographies were of people who had still to achieve something significant in business? I raise these questions because storytelling it was a topic of discussion during a twitter chat organized by Startup Canada as part of its #startupchats series.

The chat was a rarity on social media these days – a civilized exchange of views by people with polar-opposite viewpoints.  Scrap that.  It is a rarity these days. Period. One of the participants was a long-time member of the Toronto Startup scene, Mark Evans.  Mark’s position in the chat was that product is key to good storytelling.  He wrote a blog post about his experience of the chat and asked me to write a piece about my take on the topic because we disagreed so fundamentally on the issue.

In his post, ‘For Startups, What’s More Important: Good Product or Good Story?’Mark poses the question whether it is the product or story that is more important for startups stories. He makes a case for both in his post, but I still disagree with his assessment. While the story is always more important than the product, a story that focuses on the startup, as Mark suggests, is also the wrong approach. I’d also argue that the product is irrelevant if you’re not telling the right story.

Mark makes the point that product rules because a bad product will be found out.  I agree.  But that’s one of the Ps of marketing – not part of the storytelling process [the promotion P].  Marketing doesn’t work without successfully delivering on all four [Product, Price, Place and Promotion] but starting the promotion with ‘I’ve got a good product’ without explaining why anybody should care is unlikely to win friends or influence people – let alone sell things.

When I was a child of the stories I read started with the fabled sentence, ‘once upon a time…’.  Why?  Because it is a vehicle for setting the scene.  It’s a way to provide context; to draw people in to the story. They didn’t start with a product pitch.  None of the stories I remember from my childhood started with a pitch by the author telling me how good they were are storytelling, character development, etc. and none started by telling me they were the Shakespeare of children’s books.

We all know that when we find a good story we can’t help but want to read more. We enjoy the twists and turns; the stories of good vs. bad. So what is the right story?  If it’s not product or a story about your startup, what should the theme of every good startup or small business story be?

The right story is the one that the audience wants to hear.  And, this is where most companies get it wrong.  They’re so busy pitching and telling the world how unique their product is; how they’re going to be the Uber of X, Y and Z, that they forget about the audience and, as a result, they lose them.  Nobody cares about their story.

I read, on a daily basis, supposed content marketing ‘experts’ imploring startups to tell their story.  I hear the same people telling entrepreneurs they have a voice.  But, for startups in particular, the key to telling the story your audience wants to ‘read’ is first understanding the audience.  If you understand the audience you can create story they can relate to.  

In his post, Mark talks about Dollar Shave Club and the video that is widely credited with putting them on the map, called, ‘Our Blades Are F***ing Great’.  The key to that story is the problem faced by men around the world – having to spend ridiculous amounts of money every month on razor blades.  Had their story been about their blades or the company it’s likely nobody would have cared. It’d just be a story about a cheap razor-blade. 

But because the company told a story that showed it understood the problem and positioned its solution in a fun and attention-grabbing way, the company was able to communicate how it solved the problem in a new and innovative way. They didn’t lead with their product or their startup story – they lead with a problem that their audience understood. We all know how it worked out.

So, when you’re starting to write your startup or small business’ next story forget the product pitch and the narcissistic navel-gazing and figure out what story your audience wants to be told.

Startup storytelling tips

  • Write the story your audience wants to hear – not the one you want to tell
  • Your product is useless without an understanding of the value it delivers
  • Nobody cares about your story or your product.  They care that you understand their story and your product can help them write a better one
  • Resist the urge to use storytelling as a veiled product pitch

Learn from some of the greatest corporate storytellers

Nike ‘’Take It To The Next Level

Apple ‘think different

Maserati ‘Strike

Chipotle ‘Back To The Start

Public Relations Is A Business Strategy – Not A Department

National Post Entrepreneur Rick Spence

“I thought I was sitting down with a PR specialist – but you didn’t mention it once in the last two hours!”.

Earlier today I spent two hours with a journalist that writes for one of the three main newspapers in Canada.  He’d was interested in one of the innovations that is part of my business – PR Office Hours – where startup and small business entrepreneurs can sit down with me for 15 minutes and get advice on how to use public relations to tackle a current business challenge for just $50.  They can either book in advance via my website or drop in and hope there’s a spare slot.  It’s a model I’ve borrowed from Apple with its Genius bar.

I had filled the afternoon with people that I had worked with before to ensure that the afternoon wasn’t wasted for the journalist if nobody turned up and because I didn’t want to publicize the fact that this particular session was being shadowed.  None of the participants had been promised coverage as a result, and had agreed to be there to help me demonstrate how it works. You can read his account of our afternoon together here  I explained, while I hadn’t used the words public relations everything I had talked about was absolutely public relations.  It had focused on building and maintaining relationships in order to achieve a specific outcome.  I rarely use the phrase PR because it muddied the water: PR is associated by most, including the majority of people charging customers thousands of dollars every month for the privilege when they provide publicity and promotion services.

It’s the second time this topic had been raised in the last few days.  A friend, Alan Kay, summed it up best when he said, “so what you’re saying is that public relations should be a business strategy NOT a department”.  That’s exactly what I was saying.  Building and maintaining relationships is an integral part of every business and not something that should be outsourced to a third party.  Certainly not a third party whose main purpose is to pitch journalists in the hope of securing media coverage [think about it, do you consider direct email an attempt to build a relationship with you or an irritant that usually guarantees you’ll never do business with the company sending it?!

Back to the three hours spent with my journalist shadow and, I explained, everything I had done was designed to help the entrepreneurs build the relationships they needed to achieve a specific outcome ,if none existed, or strengthen the relevant ones that did.  A failure to do this is one of the most common reasons that marketing [the art of getting somebody to take a desired action] fails.  Without strong relationships in place ‘marketing’ is effectively asking strangers to do something that  benefits your.  Often, the request is also without explaining clearly what the benefit is for them.

I’ve been told, by my peers, that my definition of public relations  – everything a business does to build and maintain relationships with the people that are most important to its success – is too literal; too old-fashioned; too specific. I’ve been told that my explanation of marketing – everything a company does to get people to take an action on your behalf… because they want to – is plain wrong.  I repeatedly have the discussion – usually with my supposed peers – that my assertion that publicity – the communication of information from an organization to as many people as possible – isn’t public relations.

But, think about it.  When we need help in our personal lives – whether to lend us a few dollars for a transit fare because we’ve left our wallets at home, or as entrepreneurs when we need help overcoming a challenge in growing our business – our first call is to somebody we have a relationship with.  Whether a friend, a parter, family member or mentor/advisor – we go to people that are the most likely to help us because we have a long-standing relationship with them.  We don’t stand on the corner of the street with a megaphone imploring strangers to help us because we know it’s an inefficient way to solve a problem.  The chances are slim and we have no way of knowing whether people have the capacity or desire to help.

And yet when it comes to our businesses we do the exact opposite. My industry tells its customers that the best way to achieve a business outcome is to stand on the street corner with a megaphone – physical or digital – shouting at everybody that passes.  Imploring them to do what we want them to do.  Worse, my peers tell entrepreneurs that they’re not equipped to do it themselves and should pay a third-party to do the shouting to implore an intermediary to pass on your message.

Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships with the people that matter most to your organization – and you need to own them.  It needs to be a business strategy that is part of the fabric of your business, not a bolt on department that you pay a third-party to do for you – especially when all you’re getting is somebody with a megaphone!

BlackBerry’s Biggest Problem: Nobody Cares

I’ve been talking about what I perceive are the reasons for BlackBerry’s demise in recent years.  There’s a long list from product market fit to a failure to grasp the fundamental shifts in consumer tastes; a failure to understand what its customers wanted to abysmal marketing and PR strategies.  But BlackBerry faces its biggest problem yet.  One that no company wants to find itself in.  It is almost always fatal.

*NASDAQ stock price at time of recording was $9. 40

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  Stay focused on the value you deliver that nobody else can and reinforce this wherever possible. When nobody cares about your company it’s over.

Blackberry iPhone Switch Deal Shows Nothing Has Changed

B

BlackBerry wants you to think that it has changed.  Its Black Friday deal demonstrates it hasn’t.  It’s bad news for the Waterloo, Ontario based company and is yet another example of how the company continues to get its PR and marketing wrong – to the detriment of the company.

The company is offering iPhone users up to $550 if they switch to a Passport on of after December 1.  The chances of persuading many to ‘trade up’ is slim. iPhone users are unlikely to switch – and $550 incentives is not going to be enough to persuade those that could be swayed to give up their shiny i device.

If BlackBerry had a clear business and communications strategy designed to bring users back to its devices, it would realize that iPhone users are not their target audience. The company should, instead, be offering entrepreneurs and small businesses incentives to choose the BlackBerry passport. These are the people who will get most value from the companies devices.  They are also customers that, once captured, are likely to be long-term and loyal.

Until BlackBerry figures out who its customer is, understands the value it delivers to them, develops a long-term strategic plan to communicate this to them, and build long-term mutually beneficial relationship with them the company will continue to flounder.

Read more about BlackBerry’s Marketing and Public Relations Disaster

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: focus on the people that value what your do, rather than chasing those that don’t.

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications

BlackBerry has a death wish!

The BlackBerry Passport launches tomorrow. The question is will anybody care?

The company has, yet again, failed to build the relationships it needed to change the perception of the company, and its marketing around the launch of the new handset has been woeful. Again.

I wrote 18 months ago about my launch plan for the company’s BB10 devices and have been reflecting on what I would do differently for Passport. In reality, much of my BB10 remains unimplemented and would have give the company a better chance of success than anything I’ve seen to date.

The only thing I would change from my original plan would be the device cost. Announced yesterday, $599 dollars off contract is too much. A 50 dollar difference between the Passport and the iPhone 6 won’t persuade people to give BlackBerry another chance. Many wouldn’t switch if the price differential was $500. It’s not so much about the handset, although the Passport is an acquired style choice, but about the brand image.

There are those that have claimed, ‘market share is not BlackBerry’s game’. Some have said it’s about margin. Some who say the company is focused on Enterprise, not consumers.

So why even mention the price differential to the competitors? Why mention the comparative size of the screen? Make a clear statement that you’re focused on a different market.

Lastly, and most importantly, BlackBerry has failed to communicate these clearly via PR and marketing to build relationships and get people to take the action you want them to. BlackBerry has failed on all counts and it’s running out of runway.

I wrote almost three years ago that BlackBerry was its own worst enemy.  Nothing I’ve seen since convinces me otherwise!

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  Don’t get distracted by the competition. Don’t be scared to sell on differentiators. Be prepared to trade on the value you deliver in the eyes of your customers and prospects – and if that doesn’t work… it’s over.

BlackBerry

BlackBerry’s Turnaround Has 7 Days To Succeed

If the response to the BlackBerry Passport, which launches next Tuesday in Toronto, Dubai and London, is the same as the one that met the company’s BlackBerry 10 announcement the company’s turnaround will likely fail.  Over recent weeks I’ve been analyzing the communications portions of the Passport pre-launch, as well as following the rumours and speculation to see what the company has learned from its recent failures.

While there have been some improvements – there can be no doubt that John Chen has done an amazing job stabilizing a critically ill patient: cutting costs and reducing headcount has been the easy part.  Now, the company must show it can overcome the more difficult part of the turnaround – repairing the company’s brand and reputation, as well as selling the device in large volumes.

There are still some worrying signs that tell me BlackBerry will struggle – and it has just seven days to fix them.  Here’s my take on the PR and marketing efforts to date, and what I believe the company needs to do on Tuesday.  If it fails, the turnaround will be fail.

Let’s start with the advert BlackBerry ran in the Globe and Mail last week.

BlackBerry, BlackBerry Passport, BlackBerry Turnaround
Canadians Love A Good Comeback

With the headline, “Canadians Love A Good Comeback” the body copy reads, “At BlackBerry we’re proud of our Canadian Heritage.  It’s what pushes us to continuously push security and productivity boundaries, allowing those with unstoppable energy to work smarter, collaborate better and accomplish more.  The soon-to-be-released BlackBerry Passport is further proof of our commitment to serious mobility for serious business.”

It’s wordy.  It also doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Being Canadian pushes the company to push security and productivity boundaries? I don’t see the link – or why it matters.  While it’s in a Canadian newspaper [the company playing to a home audience], the advert has been shared globally.  Perhaps I’m nit-picking!  Given the obvious associations with travel something more global would perhaps have played better.

The company says the upcoming Passport is further proof of its commitment to serious mobility for serious business… again, I’m not sure that there’s been much proof of that lately.

Serious mobility for serious business appears to be the strapline under which the Passport will be launched.  It’s not bad.  But it’s not great.  It’s something that would have worked had it been the company’s strapline back in 2006 – differentiating itself from consumer-chasing handsets like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S-Series.  Now it seems more like a defensive tool to protect from competitors that, having captured consumers have now focused their attentions on BlackBerry’s supposed core market.  BlackBerry is back-peddling.

Then there’s the web form used to sign up for more information on the Passport, which has been circulating in recent weeks.

The subhead reads “Don’t limit yourself to the narrow world of today’s phones. See the bigger picture.”, followed by three bullets [the power of three!] focusing on a large, square touch screen, an innovative touch keyboard and a day-long battery life.

That’s it BlackBerry?  That’s the best you’ve got?  The reasons for buying a PassPort over a competitor handset is a square screen, an innovative touch keyboard and a day-long battery life?!

BlackBerry Passport, Marketing,  BlackBerry Passport Launch
BlackBerry Passport Web Form

Let’s look at the launch invite.  Save The Date. See the Bigger Picture. OK.  What about references, either explicitly, to a Passport?  I didn’t receive an invite, so perhaps they sent invites that were passport-like?  The biggest issue for me here is that there is no US launch which, many, have interpreted as meaning the handset will not be available there at launch.  We know about T-Mobile [the obvious partner for BlackBerry] and the delays in persuading US carriers to carry BB10 devices 18 months ago, but if true this is a major blow to the launch.

BlackBerry Passport, Passport Launch,
BlackBerry Passport launch invitation

The map on the invoice is slightly strange.  Most recipients will likely know where London, Dubai and Toronto are.  The plane’s route on invite is also bizarre.  Is it recognition that the company’s journey has been less than direct?

Now on to the real problem.  The price.  Many have rumoured it to be around $ 800 and GBP 500 [I can’t find a Dirham price].  If this is accurate, the company will be pricing it alongside some very popular and established devices.  This could prove to be the biggest sticking point for the company whose handsets are, let’s say, less than fashionable right now.  That may not – and, I’d argue, should not matter – but it will.  Perhaps not to BlackBerry’s core market – the loyal ones that have kept faith with the company and are not worried about the stigma that has been attached to being a BlackBerry user in recent years.  But, it matters if the company is to attract some of the defectors back; they are the people who the company needs to be targeting if it is to turn around its long-term fortunes.

BlackBerry needs to show that it is taking care of business.  It needs to show that, in addition to operational and cost-savings it can sell devices.  That requires it to rebuild relationships with customers that chose competitor devices; it requires the communication of a clear value proposition; it requires the company to inspire potential customers; it needs clear and effective marketing. Come to think of it the recent Globe and Mail advert should simply have said, “BlackBerry Passport: Taking Care of Business” or “BlackBerry Passport: Business Class”.

To date, I’ve seen none of this.  BlackBerry has just seven days to turn things around or its turnaround could be taking on water within the week.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: experiment using small test groups of customers, prospects and those that buy from your competition until you find a value proposition and message that works.

Tomorrow, I’ll explain how I would launch the BlackBerry Passport.  Until then, read my plan for the BlackBerry 10 launch

BlackBerry Turnaround: the hard part is still ahead