Content development

Who is listening to you? You might be surprised

That takes some effort to listen and be aware of what the opportunities actually are but if you ignore them you do so at at your own peril.


Throughout my career as a professional communicator I come across clients who are absolutely sure they know who their audience is. Invariably they are wrong.Let me give you an example.

Many years ago I counseled a semiconductor company that had a great business selling components to Apple for the iPod. They sold almost 30 percent of all their product to Apple. They knew that Apple was never going away.

In our research into the effectiveness of their content we found what seemed to be a discrepancy. We knew that there were multiple product groups that the client’s technology would fit, but they were focused only on the iPod team. We told them they needed to start a focus on development teams.

They responded, “We know who to talk to, you just concentrate on putting out press releases.”

Six months later, at a trade show, two Apple team managers came by the client booth to take a look at a new codec chip and after a brief introduction one of them said. “It’s too bad we didn’t know about this two months ago. It would have been a perfect fit for a new product we have coming out.”

One year later, Apple introduced the iPhone. One year after that, Apple switched to a competitor’s chips for the next generation of iPod. The client lost all of Apple’s business. Today, that client is part of their competitor having been bought out after their stock tanked about 5 years ago.

The moral is that there is always someone listening, or who needs to listen, to what you have to say. It is your job to figure out who that is and what they need to hear.

A good communication strategy requires looking at all the potential customers and influencers in a particular market. You might be concerned only with the companies and people that will buy your product, but you might not be thinking about the ultimate user of the product; or the people that provide the pieces of your product that you don't manufacture; or the service companies that are distributing your product; or the people that actually influence all of those people. Each of those “publics” can determine the fate of your organization as much, if not more than the immediate customer.

Now you might believe that one set of information is enough for all groups, but you would be wrong. In the case of the client, they were focused on the needs for one application of their technology. when there were, in fact, multiple applications. The iPhone project managers may have been hearing that information somewhere inside Apple, but it wasn't targeted at their product. It needed to be communicated in a way those project engineers could relate.

That takes some effort to listen and be aware of what the opportunities actually are but if you ignore them you do so at at your own peril. Just remember: what you don't know may actually kill you.

Marketing coffee break: Marketing Automation makes investment in people profitable

This is our first interview in a new series on best practices in marketing technology. today we talk to James (Jamie) Morgan, vice president of global sales for SharpSpring, one of our technology partners.

Most companies, we have found, that invest in new tech for marketing and sales somehow think they can skimp on professional personnel but that has been a poor model for success. The marketing automation industry is growing rapidly, one of the fastest growing industries in the world, but the tools are complex. Very few customers of the industry are making effective use of the tools and customer turnover is as high as 50 percent annually. as a result, many industry members are scrambling constantly for new customers. SharpSpring, however, ties it's business directly to marketing and communications professionals and has an admirable 2 percent turnover rate. One of the lowest in the marketing automation industry.

Our discussion with Jamie shows why it is so low and why investing in competent professionals is key to success.

Video: People are still key to Marketing Automation

Marketing automation tools are foundational to improving your digital marketing ROI, but they are not a magic talisman to sales. You still need expertise and experience to get the results you need.

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Sharing is a thing, but it isn’t the only thing.

I received a few emails from a content services vendor this week (Here’s a suggestion…did you get my email… have you read my email…) and after getting over the initial annoyance of a rookie PR gaffe I decided to look into the suggestion while I made coffee. My response is this blog post.

The vendor was Venngage which has a nifty online tool for creating infographics for distribution on digital media, and competes with dozens of similar online tools. The offer was a very long white paper on engagement that, to their credit, had no blatant push to buy their service, but it wasn’t completely subtle. The premise of the white paper is “content that people share is a good thing.” In fact, if anyone from Venngage sends you the link to the paper, I just saved you a who lot of time because you don’t have to read it now. That is all it says, but with lots of statistics before they get to the point.


It’s true that a metric of content engagement is, in fact, how many people in your audience share your content. For a company like Venngage, creating sharable content is an important metric, which actually denudes their white paper of all subtlety. That being said, sharing is a not a great metric of the value of your content, no matter what the statistics say.

A recent study by Colombia University said almost 60 percent of content shared on social media is not actually read by the people sharing it. They look only at the headline and if it creates a gut reaction (positive of negative) then it gets shared. The problem is that the most common SEO practice is to create emotional headlines that often have nothing to do with the content that follows. The headlines are heavily salted with phrases line “will blow your mind” and “you won’t believe what happens next.” For infographics, if you are among the majority of people that doesn’t actually read shared content or, even worse, taken in by fake news this is problematic. As a result, many infographics shared are full of sensationalistic, inaccurate and down-right false information being spread throughout the digital world. 

This results in two outcomes: misinformed people and people who are angry at you for spreading disinformation.  In the former group, these people are not making a conscious decision to do business with you. If those people do any sort of fact-checking they become the latter group because they are pissed off about being lied to, even though that was not your intent. This practice rarely results in revenue for you, which is the stated goal of content marketing, and it destroys your reputation.

There are only two metrics that truly matter in the area of content marketing: (1) How much time do they spend on your content and website and (2) how many end up asking for a proposal. Everything else is interesting but not important.  You can have a brilliant infographic that gets shared and re shared hundreds of thousands of time, but if they spend no time actually considering that information and if they never end up buying your service or product, that infographic is completely useless.

It is more important to get one paying customer than 100,000 shares or content that no one reads. It takes time to build a relationship and relationship is engagement. So before you invest in tools and gimmicks for social engagement, focus on the quality of your content first. There are no magic beans.

Contact us if you want to figure out how to create engaging and trustworthy content.

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Automation's dirty secret: We still need people

In all cases we have learned that these companies, if they don’t have trainable employees, must invest in employees or consultants with the knowledge and experience. More importantly, those resources need to be dedicated to the task.

With all the talk of automation replacing workers there is a dirty little secret that most people are ignoring: The need for workers to implement and maintain automation tools and to effectively analyze and interpret data from them.

Companies like to buy automation technology with the belief that they eliminate the need for people and expertise but when they fail to invest in the manpower to use that technology it severely hampers the ability of the tools to deliver value. At the same time, while ROI is significantly reduced by the lack of appropriate staff, the cost of eliminating the unproductive tools increases.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of marketing automation and online communications.

Over these past two years, Footwasher Media has been doing free preliminary and paid in depth evaluations of organizations and we have discovered that while the industry providing this technology is booming, the effective use of these tools is still far behind the curve in all areas. Here are four scenarios illustrating the problem. We are seeing a lack of production in their marketing and communications programs. In all cases we have learned that these companies, if they don’t have trainable employees, must invest in employees or consultants with the knowledge and experience. More importantly, those resources need to be dedicated to the task.

1. Big tech
Content chief of a large semiconductor company, who moved from a senior position at a large, well known publication, was appalled by the lack of integration of the analytics tools. “We had a team on the publication whose job it was to maintain and report on readership trends and when I got daily readership stats from the team at the publication it was like looking at a moon launch spread sheet from NASA. At this billion-dollar tech firm, they had a single admin working 10 hours a day maintaining and reporting on customer engagement. I was lucky to get a two-page four column spreadsheet once a month.

2. Human Resources
CEO of a medium size recruiting firm has employed multiple form of automation and analytics tools, but hasn’t integrated it into their daily practices because “they don’t have time for the learning curve.” As a result they are still doing much of the communication and search on a personal, ad hoc level management and staff are overwhelmed by the workload.

3. Startups
CEO of a small Indian software company is frustrated by the lack of production from sales and marketing programs and spent a week examining their procedures. He discovered that while they have not been avoiding hiring marketing staff, they have tried to economize by hiring junior-level marketing and sales people whose experience is not up to the task. Senior management is comprised of experienced engineers with no idea how to manage or direct sales and marketing.

4. Real Estate
The owner of a large Texas real estate company pays exorbitant prices for social and online tools to drive in leads that their agents rarely use because of their complexity but make almost no investment in the manpower to properly integrate the tools into the workflow and train agents in their use.

In each of these scenarios is a common theme: either insufficient staffing for the task or none at all. Some people want to focus only on Silicon Valley as problematic in this arena but as the scenarios above show, It is a worldwide problem that spans all industries. We have found similar difficulties in personal services (beauty salons and spas), consumer retail and financial sectors.

Automation is not a form of magic: Just plug it in and work is done. It doesn’t work that way, anymore than the invention of the wheel put luggage carriers out of work. Automation makes jobs more efficient and cost effective and makes the knowledgeable employee more valuable.

How is your content and marketing program doing? Room for improvement? Drop us a line and we can help.


I'm old and you are not. That's good thing.

I turned 64 this year and have been on the receiving end of scams and offers related to social security, dementia and Medicare for weeks now. I'm also getting offered senior discounts without asking. None of that has bothered me as much as getting dismissed because I'm no longer in my 30s (which bothered me as much when I was in my 20s). Today, however I had a revelation and I'm feeling much better about my age.

I was doing a session with the marketing team for a small business back by telephone and was in the process of breaking down their preconceived notions about communication when the youngest member of the team asked me, "How do you know this is what our customers are thinking?"

"Because I've been doing this for 40 years," I replied.

"Oh." She replied. 

Then one of the business owners, well into his 70s asks, "Wait a minute. You said you've been doing this for 40 years. How old are you?"

"I'm 64."

"Well, all right then. I feel much better about this."

What we had in this meeting were people with specific experiences and perceptions that were colored by their what they "knew"to be true. Most people never venture far outside of that comfort zone. They talk to the same people, listen to the same opinions and get annoyed if they are forced to go outside of that zone. In the world of communication strategy, that is a formula for failure. Until you actually spend a significant amount of time outside the zone, you can never properly communicate to your audience.

I've been watching social media since the 1990s, long before we had Facebook and MySpace. I had become pretty good as a communicator in general and with traditional forms of media but I knew that this new form of communication would become more important in a relatively short time, so I went waist deep in it and learned that my particular approach to communications fit better in social media than it did to mass media. That approach essential says: "No one cares what I think. They care what people they respect think. Write about that."

To do that, you need to be outside your walls talking to different people, learning how they accumulate information and knowledge (often two different things), and how they apply it to their lives. No one has all the answers but collectively, they have most of the answers. It is hard to realize that until you've had a few years under your belt, so being old helps a great deal.

But being old doesn't give you all the answers, either. The people that are younger than you have a different perspective in life that is no less valid than yours or people that are older. They all contain a portion of truth than needs to be considered. That is the key component in any successful communication strategy: breadth of perspective. That, however, is very hard to do from the inside of an organization, and the longer you are in the organization, the more likely it is that your perspective will become calcified.

That's why getting the perspective of someone out of the loop is imperative and the best choice generally comes from your current and prospective customer base. What they think of you is an order of magnitude bigger than what you think of you. They may not be correct in their view, either, but when you show you are open to their opinion, they become more likely to listen to yours. In the process everyone gets what they want and need.

Survey shows wineries are losing business at a significant rate

By Lou Covey  

A Footwasher Media survey discovered that most of the wineries outside of two California counties may be losing as many past customers they are gaining new. Wv_2009-01-13_Peaks_MNGT

Overall, the viticulture industry is doing well. Sales of premium wine (more than $20 a bottle) is increasing steadily and California is reaping the benefit of that popularity because If you buy or consume wine in the United States, it is most likely coming from California. There are more than 3600 wineries in California alone, which produce 90 percent of all the wine sold in the United States, according to the National Association of American Wineries

The lion’s share of that market, however, is located in Napa and Sonoma counties. Multiple marketing sources place the marketshare of those two counties between 50 and 70 percent of the total market. Because of that volume, Large Napa and Sonoma wineries can produce enough product to supply retail stores. Smaller wineries with less volume rely primarily on direct sales of wine, at the winery or through wine clubs, the primary driver of revenue. Outside of those two counties, direct sales is 90 percent of the revenue, on average. 

To see how this reality affects consumers, Footwasher Media sent a survey to more than 1100 people who stated they had visited a wine region in the past five years, with 30 percent responding. The respondents, between the ages of 21 and 50 with men and women equally represented, had all visited a winery in the past five years. The questions were:

  • Do you remember where the winery was?

  • Do you remember the name of the winery?

  • Do you remember what variety of wine it was (not red or white)

  • If you remember the name of the winery, have you repurchased their wine through a retail outlet or a wine club?

All of the respondents could remember where the winery was and a two-thirds could remember the name of the winery, but a less than half (44.4 percent) could remember the variety of the wine they sampled and 66.7 percent never bought another bottle of wine from the winery in the past five years. So for every 10 new customers, only a little more than 3 were returning.

That last response should be disconcerting to smaller wineries reliant on direct sales. The wine industry, as a whole, is somewhat recession proof with sales holding up rather well through economic downturns, but sales shift to low cost wines (between $4 and $10 a bottle) and away from higher end selections (more than $20). If two-thirds of your business is going away after the first impression, you are going to have a hard time surviving when the rest of the economy tanks.

What may be more disturbing is that millennials, who are replacing boomers as the primary economy drivers, prefer craft beer and spirits to wine and as boomer retire and die off, the primary market for the wine industry will also go away unless the wine industry can start attracting and retaining the millennials.

Looking at direct sales, Napa and Sonoma pretty much blow away every other region when it comes to tasting room sales. Statewide, the average purchase is $99, whereas in Napa, the average is $216 and Sonoma $120. Outside of those two counties purchases drop below $70.

Our research found that most wineries make use of wine clubs to bolster direct sales and larger wineries in Napa and Sonoma average about 2500 members per club. That’s a healthy return-customer list. However, outside of those two areas, average club member ship drops below 100.  Both Napa and Sonoma winery clubs show a larger member attrition rate than the rest of the industry but members of clubs in Napa and Sonoma send almost three times more on wine than members of clubs outside of those areas.

There are many reasons for this discrepancy, including lack of effective marketing practices and the relative invisibility of any other viticulture area.  Most marketing services purchased by wineries are winery-focused. The content, whether online or print, is about the winery and how wonderful each one is without identifying a single differentiation. Likewise wine associations and guilds lack anything in their content to differentiate one region from another. Every operation has pictures of beautiful scenery, stock shots of wine bottles and glasses and lists the most recent awards for their products. Without differentiation, however, customers will choose what they already know to be a solid choice: the wineries of Napa and Sonoma counties.

Experienced wine lovers can cite products from multiple areas, but those are not the customers that actually drive profits. The individuals that are occasional wine consumers make up the bulk of business and they focus of what is available in retail or where they can go for a vacation, which is well supplied by Napa and Sonoma.

To be able to survive the vagaries of our economy, the wine industry outside of those two counties need to rethink marketing practices and begin differentiate themselves from their competition and give customers a reason to do business with them.


SEO is simple, but not easy

Yes, yes, I know. Your customers are far too busy and intelligent to use social media and, even if they do, they do not use it for business-related activity. That’s an inaccurate belief. More than two-thirds of the population of North America and Europe are actively involved in social media on a daily basis, which means it is highly likely that your customer base does use at least one medium every day.

Two bits of information came out in some conversations today regarding how to optimize search for your website. Most of the conversations were around a report on Search Engine Land where Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, confirmed what the Google algorithms look for in search engine rankings. Here are the two most important activities you can do, based on my understanding:

  1. Engaging content is the most important thing for SEO

  2. Links back to your site

The first activity is all under your control. You identify and create the content on your site and if it is self-serving, bloated and sales focused, you are probably not going to see a lot of traffic coming to your site; probably not going to see that content shared or commented on; probably not going to see customers spend much time reading it; probably going to drive people away from the site before the time spent on the site can give you any value. So invest in good content that your customers want to consume.

The second activity is mostly out of your control because it requires people to add links to your content, and you can;t make them do that… unless your content is interesting. But there is something you can do: start using social media.

Yes, yes, I know. Your customers are far too busy and intelligent to use social media and, even if they do, they do not use it for business-related activity. That’s an inaccurate belief. More than two-thirds of the population of North America and Europe are actively involved in social media on a daily basis, which means it is highly likely that your customer base does use at least one medium every day.

Even if a significant number of your customer base doesn’t use social media, however, your active presence in social media is the second most importing thing for SEO because it provides multiple links back to your site. Every time you share an article, even if it is a crappy piece of marketing dreck it represents a link back to your site. If a good customer decides to click that link, share it (most don’t read the content on the link), or comment on it, it registers with the algorithm. 

Now, the second activity could be even more crucial for you if you insist on producing marketing dreck for content because at least it adds links back to your site. But if you invest in good content, the social media presence will make it even more valuable.

So keep it in mind: Your content and your social media activity are the most important activities for boosting SEO. Everything else is a waste of time without them.


Engineers are a barrier to good communication

Engineers know a lot of important stuff. They know so much important stuff that when faced with what they don’t know they believe it to be unimportant. And since they have spent so little time learning how to communicate properly, or even learn basic grammar and spelling, it seems even less important to them. As a result, people who do know how to write and communicate are not important to them.

I work in an industry that makes it very difficult to do my job, which is create content that is engaging and understandable to a wide audience and there is one primary reason for that. It’s run by engineers.

Let me say, at the outset, that I hold engineers in high regard. Their ability to understand how things work and how to make them work is nothing short of miraculous. There is a reason I feel that way because I lack basic numerancy. Numeracy is the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas, to engage in and manage mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life. In short, I have math anxiety, which would be disastrous if I decided to pursue a career in engineering. Instead, I chose to pursue excellence in the english language and the skill of communications.

And almost every engineer I have ever known lacks any appreciation for that decision, and most of them are just above what might be considered functional illiteracy. Literacy is understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging with written text to participate in the society, to achieve one's goals and to develop one's knowledge and potential. Very few engineers I have known are comfortable with written language.

Let me give you a recent example. A client of mine sent me a legal document he had prepared and sent to one of his customers. I had not gone more than two paragraphs of the four-page document before I had found a dozen grammatical, contextual and basic spelling errors. I suggested that before he sends out anything else that he either turn on his spelling and grammar checker or give it to me to proof. He responded:

“You are not my secretary and when I need a secretary I will hire one. I had this reviewed by several people and it is fine the way it is.”

The people he had it checked by were all on his engineering team.

That is not an unusual circumstance in my 40-year (plus) career.

I used to wonder why this is until I married a woman with training in learning disabilities. She has pointed out to me that the smarter someone is the more likely it is that they land somewhere on the scale that defines dyslexia. Since I’ve already pointed out that I believe engineers are very smart, I think you can see where this is going.

I will never question the science or math skills of an engineer, especially electrical engineers and computer scientists, but their writing skill is very questionable. Even MIT, back in 2002, admitted that bad writing skills causes most of the software they develop to fail, But it isn’t so much that they can’t write well, they just don’t think it is important.

Engineers know a lot of important stuff. They know so much important stuff that when faced with what they don’t know they believe it to be unimportant. And since they have spent so little time learning how to communicate properly, or even learn basic grammar and spelling, it seems even less important to them. As a result, people who do know how to write and communicate are not important to them.

This begs the question: If I am so frustrated with and industry that doesn't believe what I do is important, then why don’t I work with an industry that does?

The answer is simple. Footwasher Media understands that what the tech industries do is very important and helping the world to understand what they do is crucial to the future of mankind. When we find companies that know they lack the abilities we have, it makes for very satisfying work.

4 Steps to Fixing your Content Marketing Program

By Joe Basques
Footwasher Media Vice President Shapeimage_5

A short piece in looked at "7 Inconvenient Truths About Content Marketing” provided a nice summary of some of the major pitfalls to avoid in your content marketing program.  Anyone starting a new content marketing program, however, would be a bit discouraged in the endeavor because it did little, to tell you how to avoid, much less fix, these problems.   

So let’s fill in those blanks.

1.  Strategy, Strategy, Strategy...

The article points out that content marketing without strategy is essentially worthless.  I agree completely.  Strategy is the cornerstone of any content marketing program and documenting it is crucial.  Multiple research studies (Forresters and Content Marketing Institute to name two) have demonstrated that companies with a documented content strategy are seeing tremendous results from their programs with measurable ROI.  Those without a strategy are not happy with their programs because they have no idea what the ROI is supposed to be.  Here’s the kicker: The studies show that between 80% - 90% of the companies interviewed for the survey do not have a documented strategy.  My own personal experience confirms these numbers.

I call that wasting your time and it’s why so many pundits are claiming that content marketing is dead. The reality is, in the case of most companies, content marketing is dead on arrival because it lacks a strategic focus.  

While the article also points out that strategy isn't free or easy. We know that it doesn't have to be expensive.  Yes, it will cost some money for a comprehensive strategy, but without it you won't see the ROI and you're wasting your time.  It's the foundation of your program, so seek professional to help.  Footwasher Media will even give you a free evaluation of your program to help you get started.

2.  Everyone's An Expert...

I think this is the single most common sales objection we hear at Footwasher Media regarding content development.  Most anyone and everyone who's ever passed an English class thinks they can write content for their website.  The truth is, you may be proficient for an English class, but writing content or creating a video that people want to share and engage with is completely different.  

Footwasher Media takes a journalistic approach to content because journalists are trained to find the unique angle in just about every story.  They'll find things you'll never think of because they don’t come from the angle of the corporation but from that of the user. 

Marketers and engineers generally only look at what they think is the upside of their products/technology without actually considering the perspective of the user. Most of them can’t do anything else because they are so immersed in their own messaging. The problem is that how they describe their technology is generally the way they’ve heard the competition describe theirs. So if your content is not unique, your customers can’t tell the difference between you and your competitors, which mean you’re still wasting your time.  The world of content marketing is constantly changing.  

Content marketing is about much more than content.  It’s about platforms, infrastructure and metrics too.  The metrics you are looking at now are probably not the metrics that demonstrate ROI. Even click bait sites like Buzzed are learning that merely reposting someone else’s content is a good way to kill your readership. They are changing their measurements from unique visits and clicks to time spent on the site and sharing. If you want to measure true ROI, hire an expert.  We're constantly studying the changes in platforms and metrics and will get you the best ROI.  When you visit a doctor for critical help, you want someone who’s versed in the latest tools and techniques because your life depends on it.  You should want no less from your content marketing team because your business depends on it.

3.  All content is NOT created equally...

It's generally true that you get what you pay for.  We know many content providers that will repurpose content by including a bunch of keywords.  This doesn’t work and creates useless content.  It’s garbage because it's cheap, easy to do and everyone is doing it.  This ties in to the point above.  Journalists are trained to find the unique angle in just about every story.  They'll find things that are really interesting and your readers really want to engage with and share.  Here's something else to think about: Google’s algorithms know the difference between useless info and quality content and so do customers. We recently did an evaluation for a small tech company and found that even though they were producing copious amounts of content, their SEO was in the toilet and no one was reading their stuff.  The reason, they were plagiarizing their own content in multiple sites and the search engines were dinging them for not having original content… even though it was their own original content being reposted. As the experts, we were able to see that almost instantly.

So hire an expert. It doesn’t have to be a full-time person or have a long-term contract and committment. You can bring them on for evaluation and training only. We believe the best use of our skills and knowledge are on a short-term basis. We look at your current program and resources and help you find the additional tools and gain the understanding of how media works. And then we can move on after a few months. You don’t need to sign a year-long agreement and you don’t have to bust your budget.

4.  It's a lousy time to have a service business...

This is where I really disagree with the article.  It's not a bad time to own a service business.  I work in a service business.  Even product-based companies are service businesses. No matter what kind of business you are, though, you have to find what differentiates you from everyone else and write about that.  Most of the time, what you write about isn’t about the widget you sell but how you make your customers’ lives better and more efficient.  Each one of us has a unique perspective on life.  If you can’t figure out what that is, hire an expert and they'll help you figure that out. What makes you different is often something only someone outside of your walls can figure out.


Censorship is not the way

As a free speech advocate I’m growing increasingly alarmed over the trend among many to limit speech that offends as well as the freedom of the press to report news. It is happening with increasing activity on college campuses and within much of our national dialog. While this is not unusual outside of the US, it’s becoming commonplace in the US. This essay was promoted when I heard Robert Scoble of Rackspace make an endorsement of the idea of filtering content that he disagrees with on his own Facebook feed. 

I have a great deal of respect for Scoble. He is a journalist of integrity and an important voice for innovation in technology, but for someone like him to come out and recommend technological advances that stifle free speech by creating a freedom FROM speech was disconcerting.  Article-2411817-1BA0651D000005DC-297_1024x615_large

Scoble’s recommendation came during the last week’s national discussion about whether Syrian refugees should be allowed into the US. The fact that I had not yet made up my own mind as to what should be done and rather than state an opinion, I decided to conduct a Facebook experiment to help mold my opinion while, at the same time, demonstrate how objectionable content can be used constructively. That is the point of this essay.

I began with three assumptions:

  1. I do not know everything.

  2. What I do know may be wrong.

  3. Someone else might know more than I do. 

Next, I read as many arguments and news stories as I could on both sides of the argument (they should be let in/they should not be let in) from reputable sources from places like the Washington Post, Foreign Policy magazine and The Economist (to name a few). After reading them I posted them without comment. Then I waited for comments from my friends and acquaintances.

Just about everyone had a specific side to take. It was obvious when they had read what I posted and when they had not. Just about everyone had a strong position based on their own political leanings. Conservatives angrily disagreed with opinions posted by Liberals. Liberal derisively disagreed with Conservatives. There was no middle ground and very little of it was civil to opposing sides. In some cases, I felt obliged to respond to some of the bile but I resisted. Instead, for each response, if necessary I asked for a clarification of their reasoning. This is where the conversation became more thoughtful.

Yes, there were still obvious biases in each respondent. Some went off on rants and diatribes but even in these emotional statements arose common threads, and the most common was, fear that they did not know everything about the issue; that they might be wrong; that someone might know more than they did. Xenophobia, political bias and outright bigotry played a part in all of it, but it was the fear of the unknown and what could possibly happen if their particular solution was not followed was the primary driver. 

I sat back for a day to think about all of this and I came to approach it using the three assumptions.

First was the fear of the unknown. Realizing that approaching an animal that is fearful or even wounded is a good way of getting bitten played into my reasoning. Many respondents described situations that legitimately established their fear of the refugees, while other described situations regarding close friends and relatives. Telling them that they were wimps, whiners and over-reactors (as President Obama has done) doesn’t get them to back down. It gets them to dig in their heels even more. To approach a wounded animal safely requires patience, the ability to properly assess the state of their wound and the means to affect healing.

Second, the fear of being wrong. These people tended to have lots of facts and philosophies at their fingertips. The rejection of German Jews in WWII was widely used. The poem on the Statue of Liberty, another. All of these arguments lacked one thing. Empathy for the fear expressed by the first group. Even when cooler heads addressed the arguments with reason the respondents replied back with aggression to whoever disagreed with them.  Conversely, the people who took exception to the logic snapped back at them in anger, not unlike a wounded animal, because they were afraid, deep down, that they did not know the real answer. 

Finally, the fear of being ignorant. There were some response to the pro-refugee folks that were quite convincing, but because they tended to point out the ignorance of the other in their argument, the response was angry and went in a completely different direction and away from the discussion at hand: whether to allow Syrian refugees in.

In this process I began to consider the fears, ignorance and polemics of the discussion as all valid for the individuals and then produced a single statement with my position:

“We need to accept the refugees as soon as the FBI has established a protocol for screening them. I'm more interested in making sure families are allowed entry. And I am in favor of each family being sponsored.”

This position first acknowledges the human tragedy that is Syria and that humanity demands a graceful response. It also understands the need to take every precaution to keep the nation safe while providing for the needs of the refugees and integrate them within the larger community. It establishes priorities for entry and prevents naturally occurring ghettos of Syrians that could become resentful of their isolation (as we see happening in France and Belgium). 

Instead of taking a side, I assimilated the emotional basis of each side into my position. Remarkably enough, there was not a single comment on they position, but the number of people the “like” the Facebook post spanned the spectrum of political though among my Facebook audience. So let’s bring back the issue of free speech.

If I had my feed filtered, as Scoble suggested, I would not have had the opportunity to come to a clear position, one that heard and understood each side, and came to a conclusion that was not, in fact, agreeing with anyone in particular, but satisfied the concerns of everyone in general. I could not have come to this point without all the raucous and uncivil discussion I saw on Facebook. Every position generated value. 

I do not know everything, but I have access to much knowledge and as I am often wrong, I can find correction relatively quickly. Listen to everyone, consider where they are coming from and respond in kindness. It’s not easy to do and I don’t often do it. But now that I have discovered how to do this, I no longer need that massive filter we seem to want now.

Content marketing works. Numbers don't lie.

Adding the analysis as a foundational part of our methodology was incredibly important in being to understand what is happening in this clients outreach to new business, but what brought about the changes was a fundamental shift in how they communicated and the quality of their content.

Last year, Footwasher Media solidifies its approach to content strategy by incorporating analysis as a foundation stone in the methodology. We partnered with several marketing automation companies and started telling prospective clients that unless they adopted and used something other than Google analytics that we could not take their business. That requirement significantly limited how much new business we took on because 9 of 10 companies and organizations were not will to use it.

After almost one year of changing to the new methodology I'm happy to say that ALL of our clients are experiencing remarkable growth in their business.

I've chose one particular company to highlight (that I won't name) that has had the most improvement because they had the most work to be done.

When this company came to us in August of last year, we used several measurement tools to evaluate where they were. Their website had been up and running for a couple of years so there was some data to grab. On avert, the site has an atrocious 96 percent bounce rate, had only 14 percent of their traffic coming from direct searches, 14 percent from search engines, 1.2 page views per visit and 0.02 minutes per visit.  Oh, and they average 2 visitors per month.

We engaged with them in October and immediately began implementing a strategy using the Sharpspring marketing automation platform, our lowest cost partner. By December we had renovated much of their content and implemented a strategic plan to develop a quarterly email newsletter program. Their budget was extremely tight but we worked with what we had.

By the end of January, two months before we sent the first newsletter, we started seeing significant increases in the website traffic and lead generation. That growth has continued as we approach the end of the first year.

The bounce rate has dropped to 62 percent on average with an outstanding 20 percent on months when we sent out the newsletter. Admittedly 62 percent is nothing to crow about, but is dramatically better than what it was. What was truly gratifying is that the site average 42 percent of the web traffic directly from the emails. Often, visitors use the email to fund the site as a repeat visitor, rather than going through search engines, however even search engine visits have almost doubled over last year. 

The best part was the engagement of the visits that went from 0.2 minutes to a stunning 8.7 minutes as of October 1. That is the average time of visit for the period between October 31, 2014 to October 1, 2015.

Adding the analysis as a foundational part of our methodology was incredibly important in being to understand what is happening in this clients outreach to new business, but what brought about the changes was a fundamental shift in how they communicated and the quality of their content. 

This methodology works. The numbers don't lie.

A Linkedin power user growing dissatisfied with the social network

This is a real problem that could damage the effectiveness of Linkedin and maybe they should start thinking about what to do about it.

Last week I published an audio interview with IdaRose Sylvester about her doubts about the value of Linkedin. She echoed some of the concerns that I expressed although I'm not about to give up on the platform as yet. She introduced me to Todd Herschberg, a former Linkedin Open Networker (LION), who she said might have had a different perspective. Not quite. In fact he agrees with her more than me.

In this 20-minute interview, we got even deeper into the problems of Linkedin which focus primarily on spam and fake profiles that are proliferating on the platform. This is a real problem that could damage the effectiveness of Linkedin and maybe they should start thinking about what to do about it.  Here's the interview.


One businesswoman looks at Linkedin

The rising SPAM flow in Linkedin is causing some of the more valuable members to flee to other platforms.

A couple of weeks ago I provided my input on the benefits and weaknesses of Linkedin and promised insights from others. The first to respond was IdaRose Sylvester of Silicon Valley Link. IdaRose is an incredible international networker, an angel investor, former analyst and business consultant and is exactly the kind of person you would expect to be a power user of Linkedin... but she is not. And for good reason. 

As I mentioned in my post, the rising SPAM flow in Linkedin is causing some of the more valuable members to flee to other platforms. We recorded the interview. Check it out.


One man's view of the state of Linkedin

This is our second installment on our series on Linkedin and it's value and I’m going to look at it from a very selfish perspective: How I use it, where I value it and where my frustrations are. We’ll follow up with input from other sources in the next installment for perspective.

First off, I’m a big Facebook user. I’m on it several times a day and I crowdsource a lot of information there. I barely pay attention to Twitter. Linkedin falls in between the two. I do a little in Pinterest, Instagram and a handful of others just to experiment and say I know something about them, but that’s where I’m focused.

At the top of the value list I put Linkedin Groups, which is like diamond mining. You have to go through a lot of mud, rock and dirt to find something of great value. I participate in multiple groups, some more than others, and have launched a couple with varying degrees of success, and I regularly add and cull from my list. I’ll get into why I do that a bit later.

For me, content on Linkedin tends to be more timely and unique than what I get in my Facebook feed. There are fewer shares of of general news because people rarely share articles from the Washington Post and Politico and I’ve never seen shared content from click bait sites like Gawker and Vox. Most of the shared content on Linkedin I see is business and technology related. In fact, Linkedin is a great way to get away from national politics,

Linkedin is very valuable as a blog platform. I’ve learned more on what interests people, what specific types of people are interested in, and what subjects are generally a waste of time. Thoughts and information that someone found interesting in random one-on-one discussion rarely get a lot of attention, but put those thoughts and information in context with a news event of that week get huge amounts of attention. I share most of what I create on Linkedin with my Facebook and Twitter followers as well, almost invariably, my Linkedin content sharing is more popular on those platforms than on my own blogs.

That’s the good.

The bad is the spam.  My Facebook and Twitter accounts are properly filtered to keep spam at a minimum. I haven’t found a good way to do that on Linkedin. There are multiple learning sites and articles in Linkedin support that tell you how to set your profile to limit that unwanted content, but it also limits who sees you or can see you. Unlike Facebook, where you can filter individual content and help the page to learn what you don’t like, Linkedin has an all or nothing approach. That means lots of annoying people can contact you with useless offers to buy stuff and services.

In my case, because I have written about SEO and where it fails, I am barraged by SEO, lead generation and other marketing services asking to have a chat and demo. I also get blind requests from people who have paid Linkedin to scrub information from some of the groups I belong to and send me blind email requests. When that happens I go into the groups that they indicate as common to us and reevaluate whether I should continue in them. Two of three inspections usually ends my membership.

As I said before, I’ve had some success using Linkedin to raise visibility and drive lead generation for several clients as well as for Footwasher Media. It takes time and thought to do it right, and it isn’t a good medium for email-blasting. It’s good for making valuable connections. That, in the end is what it is all about.

That’s my view of the state of Linkedin, but that’s one man’s view. In the next couple of weeks we’ll be doing a pod cast as the third part of this series to get the view of other Linkedin users. If you’d like to participate, got to this form and provide me contact information and a brief statement about what you think is good and bad about it platform. We will pick a couple and get back to you.

A brief history on the rise and demise of SEO

Google took the issued of keywords and shoved its priority to the very bottom of SEO and pushed paid search to a specific box on their search page. Suddenly a new group of sits were climbing rapidly to the top of the search engine… traditional media sites. Newspapers, broadcast organizations and bloggers. How could that be? Because Google had changed the algorithm priorities.

 Google has always kept the lid on the secrets of their search algorithm, but since the beginnings of online search, the secrets have leaked out and been discovered by very smart people. These people make up the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry.

There are multiple points of SEO, but from the start, key words were the most important. At first, putting the words in the header of websites was the major starting point so the SEO experts, mostly web designers, made that the primary focus of their counsel to clients. Finding what the most important words were became the definer of the successful site design.

Then Google saw how much money designers were making with this understanding and started selling key words and the designers went wild buying up key words like they were candy and using them for their own resale opportunities. The problem was that you could put ANY key words in the header, even if they had nothing to do with your company.

So Google changed the algorithm to say that for the key word to be valid, it also had to be used in the viewable content. That made it tough for designers to use the key word “President Obama” in a website about boner pills. So designers started grafting in content from other sites and scattered it through websites just to meet that requirement and people using search got pissed off that they were getting links to sites that had absolutely nothing to do with their own search. And the designers were making even more money. 

So Google instituted paid search making companies that wanted to be first in searches pay for the right to bee seen first. That was the first step in killing the importance of key words and the value of traditional SEO.

But searchers didn’t want to be slapped with dozens of ads when they did search and the resulting backlash served as a boon to social media. For the first time, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin started taking searchers away from Google, Bing and Yahoo. Something had to be done. 

Google took the issued of keywords and shoved its priority to the very bottom of SEO and pushed paid search to a specific box on their search page. Suddenly a new group of sits were climbing rapidly to the top of the search engine… traditional media sites. Newspapers, broadcast organizations and bloggers. How could that be? Because Google had changed the algorithm priorities. There are actually dozens of priorities but for our purpose, we just need to concentrate on the following six.

  1. Amount of time spent on the content

  2. Degree of comments (no comments first, one comment second … 57 comments big time)

  3. Amount of shares, likes

  4. Number of views

  5. Paid key words

  6. Unpaid key words

At present, when you talk to web designers and SEO experts, you will find they fall into two categories:

  1. Off-shore click factories that build quick and dirty websites from half a dozen templates and still focus only on key words for SEO. They are dirt cheap, promise the world and prey on small businesses. They send out massive email blasts and fill your Linkedin box with requests to connect because they “saw your profile and believe they can help your company.”  They are to be avoided at all costs.

  2. Experienced web designers/SEO companies that continue to make a good living off of small to large company management who think they know how everything works. These service providers know what the story is, but they follow the philosophy that the customer is always right so they will deliver only what is expected. Their costs range from reasonable to very high and they can be directed, grudgingly, to do the right thing if you know what to tell them.

Footwasher Media won’t work with the first because we know the way only leads to pain and suffering. We will work with the second as long as they realize that we are not going to be taking the easy way. The recalcitrant providers are not on our list, nor are customers who insist on letting them do what they want. 

Keep in mind, however, that neither group are content strategists or providers. They take only the content provided them by the customer. That’s you. If you know how to create engaging content that delivers results, you are on your way to greatness.

If you’re not, contact us.

Overwriting is not a FANTASTIC way of getting the job done. It will not BLOW YOUR MIND!!!!

The first thing most people want to do when writing something is to prove that they are smarter than the reader regarding the given subject. Really bad move. That’s the best way to turn them off. What works best is to tell a story they can use to determine where they stand in this budding relationship with you, which is what every piece of content you create should do.

I’m not writing this for marketing people. I’ve worked with marketers for a long time and they, for the most part, don’t have time to be concerned about effective communication. I’m writing this for salespeople because, in the world of social selling, they are beginning to understand that being trustworthy and forthright are the keys to making sales and revenue grow.

Let me tell you a story.

I was sent a document today with a request to post it on my website.  I had to say no, and not because it wasn’t useful information. It was just too hard to find the information because it was horribly overwritten, like much marketing content is.

End of story. Let’s look at how they could fix their document.

Occasional grammatical errors and typos are excusable because mistakes happen. A decent spell checker app can fix most of that, so use it. Intentionally overwhelming a reader with empty prose, however, is not excusable. It turns the reader off, damages your web statistics, bores your audience and kills sales.

The first thing most people want to do when writing something is to prove that they are smarter than the reader regarding the given subject. Really bad move. That’s the best way to turn them off. What works best is to tell a story they can use to determine where they stand in this budding relationship with you, which is what every piece of content you create should do.

In the story that started this piece, I established four potential characters: the person who is partnering with another company, the person in charge of the company’s partner relationships, the reader of the content and a professional marketer. Whoever reads this piece will be one of those four characters. Whoever doesn’t fall into those categories doesn’t need to read this piece. Moreover, the story was very short. Two sentences, 46 words. It established the relationship and the purpose of the communication. If you can’t do that in less than 50 words, you’re complicating things and you’ll lose the audience.

Avoiding adjectives is another good practice. In the story above there are exactly two adjectives. It needs no more, and they were entirely appropriate to paint a picture. Most marketing content creates a false picture that is easily ignored. Words like “exciting” and “Industry leading” are meaningless because they do not describe anything .  As Mark Twain put it:

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of Mark_Twain_pondering_at_desk_crop1
them, then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”

Finally, ignore the committee input. When any document goes into development, committees become writing teams filled with people who have no business writing. Take press releases, for example.

Every press release begins with one person developing the content. They will spend multiple hours crafting the story if they have any ability at all. Then it goes to the committee where 90 percent of the time will be spent on “punching up” the headline; making sure the quote from the company executive (usually the CEO) tells how “pleased” he is about this announcement; and making sure the lead contains all the buzzwords that have been committee approved.

Almost every journalist I know ignores the headline, lead and quote (as well as the boilerplate last paragraph) to find out what the news is. Because only 10 percent of the effort went into that part of the release, it generally means that there is very little news. The committee and approval process of marketing content is dedicated to ensuring that nothing of value is stated.  

Committees are of value only when they set the parameters of what must be included in the content. The approval process should be nothing more than a checklist of those parameters and the actual prose should be the domain of the person with the ability and experience to write it. That way you speed up the process of content creation and, if the content does not produce the results, you know that the parameters were faulty, not the content or the medium.

Of course, that requires that you have someone on the team that can write. If you don’t, call us, we can help.

Marketing Automation vs. Customer Relationship Management: What is the difference?

The biggest barrier to adoption of marketing automation (MA) is a complete lack of understanding of what it is and what it does. That is also the single biggest barrier to effective use of customer relationship management (CRM) software.

 The biggest barrier to adoption of marketing automation (MA) is a complete lack of understanding of what it is and what it does. That is also the single biggest barrier to effective use of customer relationship management (CRM) software.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, (CMI) which issues reports on the state of the content marketing),the use of content marketing as a strategy is growing and is prevalent in growing companies. However, only 39 percent of the companies reporting having a strategy are claiming to see results, which tracks well with the stat that 35 percent have a documented strategy.  

To check those numbers, we approached more than 50 companies in the past year and asked them if they were doing and we focused on the use of marketing automation tools as part of the documented strategy and, if so, what were they using.  Less than half of companies actually had a clear understanding of what content marketing actually is which tracked well with the CMI study Howver 43 said they were using marketing automation tools identifying Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics, primarily. We found that interesting because neither are MA platforms. They are CRM platforms.  So, in this post we would like to spell out the difference.

  • CRM will help you manage the relationship of customers you already have.

  • MA helps you create new customers.

It is that simple, but let’s expand a bit.

As Salesforce defines CRM: “You can store customer and prospect contact information, accounts, leads and sales opportunities in one central location, ideally in the cloud so the information is accessible by many, in real time.” That’s a really good thing… once you have the customer on the hook. Getting them on the hook is the job of the MA platform.

Marketing is a combination of advertising, public relations, social media and just plain relationships. Until MA technology came along, that required an overwhelming amount of work for a few people, or an overwhelming amount of personnel to do it well. An MA platform does for a marketing team, what CRM does for the sales team, and does it with relatively low cost and complexity, depending on what platform you choose (see previous post).

Some CRMs, like Salesforce and Dynamics have options for marketing automation, but none of the companies we talked to were using those options because they are expensive, difficult to understand and buggy. In fact, none of them were using the CRM capabilities to their fullest, even though they were spending thousands of dollars every year on the tools (and almost all were unhappy with the results).

All MA companies we talked to provide integration with leading CRM platforms. Some MA platforms, like Hubspot and Sharpspring, offer CRMs included in their offerings at no additional cost, although they are not as robust as a leading provider, like Salesforce. However, since most companies are not using their CRMs to their fullest potential, it is something of a waste of money to have a top-of-the-line CRM in place. 

With that in mind, a company hoping to get the most out of automation on a minimal budget, it makes more sense to purchase a subscription to an MA service than a CRM. And if you can afford the cost of a leading CRM, adding an MA service will increase the value and ROI of all your sales and marketing efforts.

Your company might be one of the few that has truly embraced modern digital marketing, but it is unlikely, especially if you have not seriously considered a marketing automation platform. From our personal experience at Footwasher Media, our use of MA has increased our ability to find new leads by an order of magnitude. Our clients who adopt it willingly have seen similar results. Those that rely only on the CRM do not see growth.

In our next post, we will get into the specific value of these tools in respect to content strategy and development.

If you'd like to talk about how to figure out this content strategy thing, drop us a line.

Marketing automation is a must for success, but you may need some help in figuring it out.

This will be the first of several posts on the value and application of third-party marketing automation software. We will cover several aspects of this to simplify your understanding including:

  • The difference between CRM and marketing automation software (surprisingly, most people are wrong)

  • How it helps your sales team (more than they might realize)

  • How does it affect content (a LOT!)

  • Where to find the ROI and prove it to the boss (easier than you might think)

But in this first part, we are going to address the two biggest questions: Who should you use? Can you afford it?

Who you should use

There are dozens of providers of this software and over the past two years, Footwasher Media has been checking out about 20 of the top rated. There are as many lists rating them as there are providers being rated so they don’t offer much help. Most of the rating is based on the number of customers using the service and their revenue. We decided on a different set of criteria: what customers say about them and whether their pricing is transparent.

That latter point is rather crucial. The market leaders (and we won’t name them but you probably know who they are) all appear to have relatively low prices published, but they don’t tell you, up front about the set up charges, the add-ons, the cost for additional services that you might think you get, etc. It’s quite annoying.  Then there is the issue of what customers say.  Marketing automation software is not easy to understand and use. There is always a three-month learning period at the least. But some of the offerings are harder than others. 

So over the past two years we’ve settled on three providers to recommend: Act-on, SALESmanago and SharpSpring. All three land in the top 10 or 20 of most ratings.

For the sake of transparency, Footwasher Media has partnership agreements with all three, but we also have partnership agreements with several others that we don’t recommend. We are agnostic regarding who you might choose, but we highly recommend that you pick one. 

You CAN afford it

Act-on is the most expensive and, in fact, is a bit higher in cost than most of the sales automation packages. The difference is that you what you see is what you will pay (here’s a link to their pricing). It gets rave reviews from customers for ease of use and that might have something to do with the 24/7 customer service they offer. The downside is that they don’t offer a CRM. Many of the big names not include a CRM and those that don’t have integrated the big CRM names, like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Act-on is one of those. So in choosing Act-on, the cost is in addition to what you pay for your CRM.

SALESmanago from Benhauer Marketing Technologies in Poland comes at a significantly lower cost (here’s a link to their pricing), but it differs a bit from Act-on. SALESmanago charges a monthly fee based on the number of contacts you have in your database, while Act-on charges according to the number of leads you send emails to every month. So you might have a database of 30,000 customers, but if you only send out 1,000 emails you pay the base price, while with SALESmanago you pay for the number of names in the list. Even at that, SALESmanago is cheaper. The downside is that SALESmanago is still something of an unknown quantity. It has significant traction in Europe but is just getting introduced to the US so there is not a lot of data on customer feedback. Still they offer the same 24/7 customer service as Act-on.

Finally we have SharpSpring. We not only recommend it, we use if for Footwasher Media for a simple reason. It’s really cheap if you work through a partner agency like us SharpSpring works almost exclusively with agencies and allows them to resell the service to clients for whatever the market will bear. If you prefer to go it alone, it can be pricey (if you want to know specifics, contact me at lou @ 

Another plus is it is the easiest marketing automation software to set up, has a remarkable ability to interface with multiple other marketing and social media services and, best of all, IT HAS ITS OWN CRM!

That CRM is not as powerful as Salesforce, but we have found that most companies with Salesforce are not using the capabilities to their maximum so they are wasting money. The SharpSpring CRM is quite sufficient. In fact, I’ve even run a 100,000 name list through it flawlessly, which brings me back to cost. There are no additional costs, no tiers, and no set-up fees other than paying three months in advance.  The downside is they have limited customer service, relying on the agency partners to handle most of the simple stuff. But the relationship works.

There is an added benefit to SharpSpring. It is owned by SMTP, one of the oldest and most respected email lists houses in the industry… and SharpSpring uses that database to help identify anonymous visitors. That’s huge.

That is not to say, however, that you should pick the cheapest one.

SharpSpring is an excellent choice if you are a startup company with a limited customer list and absolutely no marketing staff. It’s easy on the budget and has a lot of great features of more expensive packages and can make the job of marketing much easier. But because customer service is limited, when things go wrong it’s hard to get them fixed quickly. The team is quite good and responsive within working hours, however.

If you are a larger company with an established customer base but a limited marketing budget, SALESmanago is a solid choice and will make the most of that budget, plus there is no long term commitment. The relationship is month to month and customer service is excellent. 

Medium-sized to large companies might want to look at Act-on, especially because they’ve been around a while, they have an extensive worldwide service network and they can just take the worry out of the whole process.

If you would like to have a deeper discussion of the options we recommend, or want to talk about another provider and get an honest assessment, fill out the form at this link and we’ll give you a free 30 minutes.

Comeback next week and we will cover what the difference are between sales and marketing automation.

Don't make your content meaningless

 I love words. Always have. And this week, after reading several articles that use words badly I’ve come to understand why.

 Words have clearly discernible meaning when used correctly, while finding meaning in life is often very difficult even in the best of circumstances. When used incorrectly, words lose meaning and that makes me feel a little lost and frustrated.

 This line of thought began earlier this week when the redoubtable Brian Solis wrote an article on VentureBeat that was headlined “14 Startups That Will Change Our Everyday Life.”  Hyperbole

 Brian is high on my list of trustworthy people so whenever he posts something or I find he has written something, I generally read it. Don’t need a lot of hyperbole to encourage me. And Brian doesn’t engage much with hyperbole anyway, which is why the headline bothered me at first, but I read it. The article was about 14 companies with interesting products and services for specific market niches, but there was nothing in any of the companies that I found life-changing for me or pretty much anyone I know.  It was a good article and I enjoyed reading it, but that headline…

 So I asked Brian about it publicly and we took the discussion offline. That’s when I found out that the original article he wrote was titled:

 Here are 14 startups you should know about

 That was accurate, clear and engaging to me. But the editorial staff at VentureBeat decided it wasn’t enough so they pumped it up beyond all reason. That’s called click-baiting. You see it all the time from disreputable online publications and in print from publications like the National Enquirer. The practice is designed to get people to click on a link to the article and it works. But here’s what else it does:

 It destroys trust in the publication and sucks all meaning out of the words.

 I’ve stopped reading sites like Buzz Feed, Gawker, Motley Fool and TechCrunch because of their dependency on hyper headlines. The trustworthiness of the content generally drops the more breathless the headline. And now I guess I need to add VentureBeat to that list.

 I would read an article under the headline Brian wrote, even if he didn’t write it because I am interested in learning about new startups. I don’t need to be pushed and I don’t need my expectations set high and then dashed. Most people feel that way, which is the reason Google and Facebook are constantly adjusting their algorithms to keep this crap out of our feeds.

 H.L. Mencken once said that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public and that is still true today. Click-bait tends to attract rather stupid people who might actually do business with the company. The intelligent person who is brought in by the headline, generally loses respect and grows distrustful of the source. But it is the former that joins the class action suits.

 The question you need to ask yourself is: Do you want stupid people suing you, or intelligent, trusting customers?

Your thoughts are more important than your words.

Words are not important in and of themselves. The ideas and concepts they convey are important.

Several years ago I had a very difficult client who had a hard time understanding that.  We would put together a press release that described the benefits of a technology breakthrough in plain terms. The goal was to establish why this breakthrough was important. The CEO read it over once and said, “It needs more adjectives.”

Three hours later we had sprinkled in enough adjectives to meet the CEOs requirements and the release was virtually unreadable. 

This is a basic problem with all marketing material: An attachment to unsubstantiated superlatives bury the real content.

A couple of decades before that, as a technical editor for Lockheed, I ran across the following phrase. “The RB impacts on the geoid, rather than the ellipsoid sphere.” I had a vague understanding of what that all meant, but I also knew that impact was a noun, not a verb. So I went to the engineer who authored the paper and asked, “Does this mean the warhead explodes on the earth rather than in the air?”

He said after a bit of thought, “Yes.”

“Can we just say that?”

He thought a bit more and said, “No.”

This is the problem with all technical material: An attachment to academic terms obscures the real content.

It is no better in the Internet age.

We are all taught how to do research papers in college in specific formats because it makes it easier for the professors to grade objectively.  That does not mean that the structure is the best form of communication. We are taught in our jobs to stick to “the message” established by a committee of people who are engulfed in the products, but that does not mean people “unengulfed” know what the hell we are talking about.

Words are not important in and of themselves.  The ideas and concepts they convey are important.  Too often, however, we become so enamored with “our” words and how we structure them that it obscures the goal of conveying our thoughts and concepts. Don’t fall in love with words that make you comfortable.  Be sure that what you are trying to say is understood, even if it is not the way you want to say it. That is the path to success.