How to Be a Better Brand Spokesperson Than Mark Zuckerberg

Recently, during a live stream of Facebook’s weekly internal Q&A meeting, Mark Zuckerberg shared, “I do such a bad job at interviews.” When the CEO of a company with a market cap of over $500 billion admits that he does a poor job at press interviews, it makes you wonder: What makes for a good brand spokesperson?

Recently, during a live stream of Facebook’s weekly internal Q&A meeting, Mark Zuckerberg shared, “I do such a bad job at interviews.” When the CEO of a company with a market cap of over $500 billion admits that he does a poor job at press interviews, it makes you wonder: What makes for a good interview?

For starters, the quality of an interview should be judged from both the perspective of the interview subject (and their company) as well as the reporter (and their publication). I’ve worked with dozens of spokespeople over the years and have facilitated good, bad and, quite frankly, ugly interviews.

The likelihood of a good interview increases greatly if you identify spokespeople with certain innate qualities. Good interviews are also the result of proper preparation and training.

4 Requirements of Good Brand Spokespeople

Whether a company is big or small, there should be an arsenal of spokespeople to cover a variety of topics that will boost the corporate reputation. The best place to begin selecting your spokespeople is with these four requirements: interest, availability, knowledge, and title.

Interest

If a spokesperson isn’t interested in participating in interviews or doesn’t see the value, then guess what? They won’t be good at them. Public relations teams should educate their spokespeople on PR goals and share examples and results, especially over time, to maintain interest.

Availability

In the digital and social media age, the news cycle is rapid. If a spokesperson can’t respond within minutes or hours, they will miss out on opportunities.

Don’t assume travel means a spokesperson isn’t available. I’ve worked with colleagues who are road warriors, but make the time for interviews from airports, hotels, and cars. I’ve even done chat and email interviews with spokespeople who are in-flight.

Knowledge

An interview is an opportunity to share knowledge specific to a story topic. If a spokesperson doesn’t know what they’re talking about, they make themselves and their company look bad. A brand spokesperson should be a subject matter expert and, in partnership with the PR team, the interviewee should do additional research ahead of time.

Title

Not all brand spokespeople are created equal in the eyes of the press. Certain roles and titles garner more media interest than others. More often than not, reporters prefer the opportunity to speak to a CEO or other member of the C-suite. It’s very difficult to get a reporter excited about speaking to a sales leader.

Going From Good to Great

Now that you’ve got someone who is a willing participant and knows what they’re talking about, there are a number of other factors that will make for an engaging and valuable interview, for both the company and the publication.

Unique and Timely POV

Contrarian and provocative points of view make for more interesting stories and help reporters provide a balance of ideas. A brand interviewee should be able to speak to relevant and timely matters, and provide perspective on what’s to come.

Sincerity

A good brand spokesperson, much like a good politician, is likeable, genuine, and sincere. When Mark Zuckerberg sat down with CNN in March 2018, following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, he was robotic and dodged a lot of the issues, as noted by the BBC.

Clarity

Interviews can last a few minutes or hours. However, that doesn’t mean a brand spokesperson should ramble. It’s important to be clear and concise. The best spokespeople repeat their key points and pause periodically to allow reporters to ask follow-up questions. Training and preparation provide an opportunity to pinpoint key messages and practice concise delivery.

Good Judgment

Even with extensive preparation and a public relations representative facilitating an interview, there’s onus on the brand spokesperson to exercise good judgment when asked a tough question, or in general. Elon Musk’s erratic behavior in interviews and with the media makes him a liability, not an asset, when it comes to interviews.

Open to Feedback

There’s always room for improvement, when it comes to interviews. Feedback, during the pre-interview prep work and post-interview, is critically important for a successful partnership between the brand spokesperson and the PR team.

Empathy

Journalism has transformed in the last two decades. Many publications have shifted to digital platforms, while numerous publications have folded. Reporter deadlines are tight and workdays are long. Spokespeople who can empathize with the position a reporter is in will be better interview subjects.

To help my spokespeople understand the reporters they speak with, I’ve not only focused on general media training (i.e. message development, interview tactics) but have also shared “a day in the life” of a reporter.

Ready for Prime Time

Rarely, will you find a brand spokesperson who has all of the skills and characteristics outlined above. However, with the right partnership between PR and spokespeople, companies can be well-represented in press interviews and can forge relationships that will help tell their story and improve their reputation.

‘Killing Marketing’ to Save It

The book “Killing Marketing,” the latest from Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, says this: “We must kill marketing that makes a living from accessing audiences for short bursts of time so they might buy our product.”

Millennial marketing
“BMXr’s,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by micadew

The book “Killing Marketing,” the latest from Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, says this: “We must kill marketing that makes a living from accessing audiences for short bursts of time so they might buy our product.”

It continues: “We must rebirth a new marketing that makes its living from building audiences for long periods of time, so that we might hold their attention through experiences that place us squarely in the initial consideration set when they are looking for a solution.

“This is the marketing of the future. It is achieving a long-term return on the one asset that will save our business: an audience.”

The book is wonderful — I highly recommend it. It’s chock-full of ideas about how to transform the marketing department from a cost center to a profit center. It details multiple ways to pull direct and indirect revenue from marketing, once true engagement with an audience has been established. In their words, it will transform your marketing into something more powerful than “the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make.”

But specific to the selection quoted above, for me it’s another spark of thought about the downside of personas based on demographics.

If you’re personas are demographic- lead rather than interest-led, then you’re setting yourself up for selling in short bursts of time. You’re not going to be able to establish a long-term relationship with an audience based on who they are and what they truly care about — because you simply won’t know what those things are. And you won’t create experiences that hold an audience’s attention for future consideration.

To truly build audiences for long periods of time, we need to start with interests and preferences rather than demographics.

To employ a far overused example …

Red Bull doesn’t define its audience as “Millennial males who want an energy drink.” The brand understands its audience by defining all of the facets of interests in a lifestyle of adventure — from edge (extreme) sports to music to fashion to travel and so on. And then Red Bull provides that audience with access to that lifestyle, through publications, events, social media content and more … and it sells some energy drinks, as well.

If Red Bull did the former (define a demographic), it would’ve been able to effectively place an ad for an energy drink on channels where Millennial males might be. And the brand would’ve sold some drinks, and perhaps captured some people who would continue to buy Red Bull through the years. But the brand affinity it would’ve created would’ve be thin, at best. And it’d be in a constant cycle of reloading short-term audiences. That’s a losing game.

Instead, Red Bull tilted toward the latter — personas based on interests. But … how did that happen?

Maybe the brand started with an idea like: “We see opportunity to engage the ‘extreme sports lifestyle audience regardless of age, location, etc.’ in a whole new, deeper way.” Or, perhaps Red Bull carefully observed its initial audience — the short-term customer audience it had when it first went to market with the drink — and asked questions like:

  • We see Millennial males are a big part of our initial audience, but what’s behind the demographic?
  • What commonalities does that portion of the audience share with the rest of the audience?
  • What is it that our audience — in aggregate — is telling us they care about most?
  • What information are they craving most?
  • And is anyone else providing that information? Access?

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. And most of the stories we hear about Red Bull’s content marketing successes don’t focus on the starting point of audience understanding. But I imagine it was more along the lines of not resting on an initial, demographic-lead audience understanding. I imagine the brand had a short-term audience, but decided it didn’t want to have to constantly reload. Good for Red Bull!

Smart marketers will take note and do the same. They’ll dig deep. They won’t rest on the easy, starting answer. They’ll get past the simple, demographic personas, and they’ll start thinking about interests that transcend demographic as the path to building a long-term, engaged audience.

In short: Demographic-led personas lead to decent targeting and short-term sales. Simple ROI. Interest-led personas lead to engagement and brand affinity for the long-term: Simple ROI plus customer lifetime value.

17 Principles of Persuasion, Direct Marketing Style

So you’ve created your campaign and attended to all the details of identifying your audience, created your offer, and toiled for hours and hours, honing copywriting and design. But in the end, the tipping point for your success likely stems from the degree to which you emotionally persuade an individual to take action.

So you’ve created your campaign and attended to all the details of identifying your audience, created your offer, and toiled for hours and hours, honing copywriting and design. But in the end, the tipping point for your success likely stems from the degree to which you emotionally persuade an individual to take action.

Persuasion builds. It doesn’t just pop up and present itself. By the time you’ve engaged your audience and you’re moving toward the close, you should already have stimulated and calmed emotions, presented your USP, told a story, and walked your prospective customer or donor through logical reasons to purchase.

But to seal the deal, you need to return to emotion, and you need to persuade. So today I offer 17 principles of persuasion, direct marketing style.

Persuasion is an art, really, that builds over time. It’s earning trust and leading your prospect to a place where they give themselves permission to act. That permission comes from the individual recognizing that acting is in their interest and that they will feel good about their decision. You want them to say “this is good, this is smart, I’m going to do this!”

A place to start this list of persuasion points is with the six principles from the landmark book, Influence: How and Why People Agree to Things, by Robert Cialdini:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment and Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Expanding on Cialdini’s concepts with additional principles for direct marketers, I offer this checklist for direct marketing persuasion:

  1. Trust and Credibility: Persuasion isn’t coercion or manipulation. Trust is earned. Credibility is built. Without these two foundational elements, most else won’t matter. Begin persuading by building trust and credibility first.
  2. Authority: People respect authority figures. The power of authority commands respect and burrows deep into the mind. Establish your organization, a spokesperson, or an everyday person, relatable to your customer, as having authority.
  3. Express Interest: Your prospects are attracted to organizations that have an interest in them. Use this starter list of the six F’s as central topics to build around so you can persuade by expressing interest: Family, Fun, Food, Fitness, Fashion, or Fido/Felines.
  4. Build Desire for Gain: A major motivation that persuades your prospects and customers is the desire for gain. Give your prospect more of the things they value in life, such as more money, success, health, respect, influence, love and happiness.
  5. Simplify and Clarify: Communicate clearly. Obsess over simplifying the complex. Write to the appropriate grade level of your reader. Your prospects are more easily persuaded when you simplify and clarify.
  6. Expose Deep Truths: Go deeper with your persuasive message by telling your prospects things about themselves that others aren’t saying. Don’t be judgmental. Be respectful.
  7. Commitment and Consistency: When your prospect commits to your idea, they will honor that commitment because the idea was compatible with their self-image. Compatibility opens the door to persuasion.
  8. Social Proof: Even though the first edition of Cialdini’s book was written in 1984, a generation before the explosion of social media, he recognized the power of people behaving with a “safety in numbers” attitude from seeing what other people were doing. Testimonials and an active and positive presence on social media are often a must that leads in trust and persuasion.
  9. Liking: The term “liking” in 1984 was developed in the context of people being persuaded by those they like. People are persuaded and more apt to buy if they like the individual or organization. Still, it’s affirming to be “liked” on social media!
  10. Confidence is Contagious: When you convey your unwavering belief in what your product or organization can do for your prospect, that attitude persuades and will come through loud and clear.
  11. Reciprocity: It is human nature for us to return a favor and treat others as they treat us. Gestures of giving something away as part of your offer can set you up so that your prospects are persuaded and happy to give you something in return: their business.
  12. Infuse Energy: People are drawn toward and persuaded by being invigorated and motivated. Infuse energy in your message.
  13. Remind About Fear of Loss: No matter how much a person already possesses, most want more. People naturally possess the fear of missing out (FOMO). When you include them, they are more easily persuaded.
  14. Guarantee: Your guarantee should transcend more than the usual “satisfaction or your money back.” Your guarantee can persuade through breaking down sales resistance and solidify a relationship.
  15. Scarcity: Human nature desires to possess things that are scarce when we fear losing out on an offer presented with favorable terms. But make sure you honor the any positioning of scarcity in your message. If it’s an offer not to be repeated, don’t repeat it.
  16. Convey Urgency: With scarcity comes urgency. Offering your product or making a special bonus available for a “limited time” with a specific deadline can be a final tipping point to persuade.
  17. Tenacity and Timing: Just because a prospect said “no” the first, second or more times, it doesn’t mean you should give up on someone who is in your audience. It can take multiple points of contact, from multiple channels, before you persuade your prospect to give themselves permission to act.

What would you add to this list? Please share in the comments below.

Top 5 Ways to Personalize Direct Mail

If I were to ask a group “What would interest you and capture your attention with a direct mail piece?” I guarantee that I would get lots of different answers. All of us have opinions, some stronger than others on certain subjects, but those opinions are what drive each of us. The power of direct mail is that we can create individually personalized pieces so that Tom has an offer that interests him, and Sue has a different offer that interests her. The best part is that the pieces can look identical except for the offer message. This can help you save money while increasing your response rate.

If I were to ask a group “What would interest you and capture your attention with a direct mail piece?” I guarantee that I would get lots of different answers. All of us have opinions, some stronger than others on certain subjects, but those opinions are what drive each of us. The power of direct mail is that we can create individually personalized pieces so that Tom has an offer that interests him, and Sue has a different offer that interests her. The best part is that the pieces can look identical except for the offer message. This can help you save money while increasing your response rate.

How To Use Personalized Data:

  1. Name: The quickest and easiest way to start personalizing is to include the name. Not just in the address block, but as part of the offer. Use first name so that you are using a conversational tone. This should not be your only form of personalization on the piece, but it helps to include the first name. (Just make sure that it is the right name!)
  2. Gender: If you have an offer that appeals differently to women than to men, this can be a great way to segment your offer. In many cases women look at products and services differently than men. Use that to your advantage with targeted offers. (Make sure that your data on gender is correct, sending the wrong message can make people angry)
  3. Past Purchase/Donation History: Use what you know about each person to personalize their offer. If they bought peanut butter, reference that when offering jelly. If they made a donation previously, note that donation amount and ask if they can help with an increased amount this year. (Make sure that you make logical associations between a past purchase and a current offer. Don’t send me an offer for coffee when I bought tea, it may mean that I don’t like coffee.)
  4. Reminders: If there is an average use time for your product or service, create incremental reminders to customers that they should be ready to buy again. Include a coupon for another purchase, and make sure to have an expiration date to create urgency. (Be careful not to over remind people. Sending too much direct mail can have a negative effect.)
  5. Location: This can be used to entice people to join their neighbors and buy the same things. (The “Keeping Up With the Jones'” mentality) Point out that others on the block have purchased your product or service, and they should not miss out.

The trick to doing this correctly is the database. You need to be collecting information about your customers/prospects in order to give them better offers. The better the offer, the less likely it will be considered junk mail and thrown away. Do not waste your money sending direct mail to people who don’t want it. Your database is your goldmine. Treat it with the utmost care and constantly make changes to it.

If you don’t have much information in your database, start small. Look at the list above and see what you can do with the information you do have. There are profile list services out there to help you learn more about your customers. If you use list profile services, remember the information is more of a generalization to categorize people. Do not use the information as a fact, since it could lead you to assume incorrectly about what people like and dislike. Personalization can be the catalyst to catapult your direct mail response to the next level.

How Great Marketers Can Inspire Action

We, as direct marketers, often consider the people we’re selling to as our target market. But we’re selling to people, not targets. To generate response, it’s essential to understand underlying demographics and interests about your customer. While this is a starting point, it’s not likely the tipping point that leads to a prospect becoming a customer. Breaking through requires that you think deeply about your customer and lead them to the answer of “why.” Today we offer a new perspective on defining why

We, as direct marketers, often consider the people we’re selling to as our target market. But we’re selling to people, not targets. To generate response, it’s essential to understand underlying demographics and interests about your customer. While this is a starting point, it’s not likely the tipping-point that leads to a prospect becoming a customer. Breaking through requires that you think deeply about your customer and lead them to the answer of “why.” Today we offer a new perspective on defining why customers respond, along with recommended action steps.

A thought-provoking Ted Talk video of author Simon Sinek, titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action, elegantly speaks about the importance of the “why.” The title of this video could just as well have been “How Great Marketers Inspire Action.” Sinek describes a golden circle of “what,” “how” and “why.” The outside ring of the circle, where most marketers approach customers and prospects, is the “what.” The middle ring is the “how.” Direct marketers usually excel at filling in the “what” and “how,” as we translate features into benefits for the logical part of the brain.

But at the core of the golden circle, where decisions are often made in the brain, is the “why.” It’s the emotional response. If your messaging isn’t working, here’s a challenge for you to think more deeply about the “why” of your organization and the product or service you’re selling—to tap the emotions of the prospect.

Here are a couple of critical steps you should take so you can reposition your message in order to tap the golden “why” button.

1. Profile your customers. Most profiles are a treasure-trove of demographic, purchase behavior, interests and other fascinating data points. Profiles can be created for you by several data companies and it’s affordable to do. But the profile itself is merely the starting point. We’ve used the insights that a profile yields many times to successfully reposition messaging copy and increase response.

2. Interpret the data. Looking at reports and charts you’ll get from a profile isn’t enough. You must interpret the data. You have to think deeply about what this reveals about your customers. One example of how this works is for an insurance offer we created. The insight from the profile was that the buyer was usually a woman and she had an interest in her grandchildren and devotional reading. The approach to selling this product was the usual features and benefits of having life insurance. But we repositioned the message to reveal the “why.” The “why” message transformed the prospect into realizing that the proceeds from a life insurance policy could be a wonderful legacy left for her grandchildren or a favorite charity. The result for the marketer was a double-digit response increase.

So what can you do to improve your results? Here are some action items:

  • Profile your buyers to better understand the “what”
  • Interpret the data and align it with the “how”
  • Transform your message and reveal the “why”

Then test it.

(As an aside, if you plan to attend the DMA Conference next week in Chicago, I’d enjoy the opportunity to meet with readers. You can email me using the link to the left, or just show up at the Target Marketing booth #633 Monday afternoon between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Or feel free to introduce yourself if you see me at any time).

Death by Whitepaper

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

According to Wikipedia, a whitepaper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. They are typically used to educate readers and help them make a decision.

In the early 1990’s, marketers started to leverage whitepapers as a way to present information about a particular topic that was of interest to a marketer’s target audience, but written in a voice that sounded like a third-party, subject matter authority. It may or may not have even mentioned the marketer’s product or service. Instead, it provided in-depth, useful information that helped readers solve a problem or expand their understanding of an issue.

In 2012, whitepapers have often been used as the lazy marketer’s brochure-ware: A forum where the product/service attributes are extolled, at length.

Sometimes they are poorly designed, or not designed at all—just pages upon pages of text (“because,” as one client informed me, “they’re supposed to be white papers”). She wasn’t kidding.

I particularly hate it when a marketer designs a whitepaper with a full-color, full-bleed, front cover (thanks for soaking up all my printer toner!). As a result, I carefully print beginning on page 2, which often means the contact information for the company which was on the front cover (website, sales contact, phone number and email address) are not included with my whitepaper when printed.

It seems that whitepapers are a lost art. So here are a few tips on whitepaper best practices that every good B-to-B marketer should follow:

  1. Start planning a whitepaper topic by identifying your target’s pain point, or determine a timely issue that would interest your target. It should NOT be focused on your company’s product/service benefits, however those could be woven into your story as a support to your point-of-view, or to demonstrate a solution to an issue.
  2. Make sure it’s well researched, with footnoted facts and figures that support the point you’re making. Include the most current data to keep your topic timely.
  3. Your writer should be an experienced whitepaper writer, not necessarily a copy writer or the named author. It’s most important that the paper is well written, well presented and interesting. It should NOT include sensational headlines, exclamation points or product demos.
  4. Include an Executive Summary: A pithy, 100-word-or-less overview that allows readers to scan and determine if they’re interested in reading more.
  5. Break up reader monotony by including well-crafted subheads, large call-outs (interesting statistics or quotes), visuals (that support the copy), charts/graphs or even icons. Eyes need a resting place when they read a long document and visuals help retain interest.
  6. Number your pages please (so much easier when the reader forwards it up the food chain and includes a note that says to the CEO, “some interesting insights on page 4, 2nd paragraph”). After all, isn’t that your ideal scenario?
  7. At the end of the paper, include an “About the Author” to provide credibility. Your author credentials don’t need to include the name of a high school or favorite pet, but they should include years of experience, where/how they gained their knowledge, the names of articles/books they’ve written, etc.
  8. Include a short paragraph about your company, positioning it in the most relevant light as it relates to the topic. Include a link to a relevant page on your website to learn more (i.e., www.xyzcompany/resources), and an 800 number and email address. You’d be surprised how many people actually want to learn more after reading a helpful whitepaper.
  9. Make sure it’s easily navigable when viewed digitally, but can also be easily printed. And, please don’t bleed my toner dry by including lots of black or lots of bleeds.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: How to Spark a Conversation Revolution!

Creating conversations is hard, despite all the knowledge and tools at our disposal today. it should be easier than ever, right? Not quite. As is all too often the case, fear can get in the way. More specifically, fear of the social media unknown.

Creating conversations is hard, despite all the knowledge and tools at our disposal today. It should be easier than ever, right? Not quite. As is all too often the case, fear can get in the way. More specifically, fear of the social media unknown.

For many marketers, that includes the biggest “what if” of all: What if someone talks badly about your brand? The simple fact is consumers are already talking. Therefore, learning how to spark and manage conversations isn’t only essential on today’s social internet, but it might just save your job or, better yet, get you promoted.

To do it right, marketers must abandon their comfort zone of hiding behind their marketing efforts, including crafting and delivering messages, measuring sales, and then hitting the rinse and repeat button. Instead, they must be open, transparent, adventurous and unafraid. So what’s the formula for sparking and facilitating a great conversation? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Focus on relationships, not technologies. Take the time to understand what your customers want and do online, then determine the kind of relationship you want to have with them.

2. Start with a clear and simple goal. Is your goal about improving customer service (like @comcastcares) or sharing a passion for a topic or issue (e.g., sports, fashion or music)? Have a specific goal in mind at the beginning and add to it over time as you learn.

3. Monitor and survey. Use social monitoring tools to understand what kinds of conversations are already taking place. Investigate your customers’ interests. You may find vastly different interests and engagement levels across certain demographics and customer segments — this often gives you some direction on where to start and who to target first.

4. Start small and experiment.
Most of us have limited resources, so start small. Go narrow, but deep. Then take some chances and do something unique to create value. For example, one of my clients hired a photographer to take exclusive photos at sporting events in order to share those photos with its fans and followers. Needless to say, it generated huge interest and continues to spark conversations around the communities’ shared passion for sports.

5. Try focusing on an industry development or event rather than your product or brand. Leverage big events and share your unique perspective. People will likely jump in as you build trust and establish credibility.

6. Feed the conversation with integrated marketing efforts.
Don’t forget to support your community efforts by using existing tools and resources. Socialize traditional channels such as email to grow awareness, interest and engagement.

7. Don’t forget the “social” in social media. Listen and respond quickly; be conversational, authentic and transparent. Recognize and support contributors by sharing their content with others and thanking them.

8. Measure everything.
What kinds of communications are resonating? Measure each effort’s impact against your objective. Look at quantitative and qualitative metrics. For @comcastcares, that might mean looking at how much customer service has improved and how it’s impacted the perceptions of consumers and the media.

9. Be flexible and willing to change direction. Go with the flow. If an approach isn’t resonating, try something new. Let your customers guide the conversation. In fact, the most successful communities are the ones in which the hosting brands eventually get to a place where they post the least. Over time these brands have been able to earn the trust of the community. They simply spark and facilitate the conversation rather than dominate it. Remember, trust = money.

10. Stick to it. Engaging visitors and customers in conversation doesn’t happen overnight. Stick to it. With a little practice and patience — and lots of listening and flexibility — you’ll find your way.

Building successful conversations is really about listening, relinquishing control and being willing to fail. While this is new thinking for many marketers, it can and is being done well among brands that focus on their relationships, not campaigns.

Finally, success also requires practice. This was best said in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”: “Practice isn’t something you do until you’re good. It is something that makes you good.”

‘Til next time.