Navigating Minimalism and Maximalism in Marketing

No doubt you’ve all heard of the poor guy who starved to death, equidistant between two three star restaurants with perfectly valid credit cards in his pocket. He just couldn’t deal with having to make the momentous decision to choose one or the other. Sound familiar?

No doubt you’ve all heard of the poor guy who starved to death, equidistant between two three star restaurants with perfectly valid credit cards in his pocket. He just couldn’t deal with having to make the momentous decision to choose one or the other.

Sound familiar?

Given the number of data and AI marketing options at our fingertips, the bewildering range of media to choose from, the unlimited possibilities for product and service pricing and delivery systems, are we sure that we aren’t facing the same fate — death by maximalism.

I thought I’d made up the word but as usual, Google put me right.

“The term maximalism can refer to anything which is excessive, overtly complex and “showy”, or providing redundant overkill in features and attachments, grossness in quantity and quality and maximalism the tendency to add and accumulate to excess.”

Discussing this maximalism with a sophisticated and highly successful marketing colleague, he just shook his head and admitted that while he certainly was guided by the wealth of data available, “in the last analysis” he said, “I just follow my gut.”

Regular readers of Target Marketing will have seen a number of thoughtful pieces on determining the optimum number of marketing messages to send and when enough is enough. Not surprisingly, despite their general recommendations, none that I can remember have come down solidly and told us whether to maximize or minimize the frequency of communications.

The essence of the maximum/minimum question would appear to be driven by priorities and these are likely to be different — not only for each marketer but for each product or service. Determining what’s most important to you is a very good place to start, and surprisingly not the metric that many marketers use.

Most of us start (or should start) by looking at the bottom line. That would be easy if there was only a single bottom line. But we all know that the priority of determining whether we are looking for a single profit point, a lifetime value, an increase in brand value, the optimum return on our marketing investment (ROMI) or some other metric, must impact our answer. Haven’t we all seen instances where, for example, late in the fiscal year marketing management discovers that approved promotion monies have not yet been spent and fearing that as a result, budget allocations for the following year might be reduced, rationalizes an immediate, urgent campaign to use this money?

Various studies of consumer attitudes to commercial email communications support research published by Campaign Monitor that clearly indicated that the largest reason subscribers flag email as spam (almost 46%) is “they emailed too often.” As we all know, too often can be a big turnoff. I stopped watching CNN because the multitude of “short breaks” were longer than the news content.

This doesn’t mean that we should abandon the maximalism of our marketing efforts for minimalism despite the current and trending rage among brands for “less is more.”

From Copypress:

“Minimalism as branding is a bit of a divergence from the historic take on minimalism. It takes its core principles from the movement and presents a unified, cohesive framework that emphasizes clean, simple designs with exacting focus.”

Think not only of graphic design but of total strategic marketing focus, as well.

On the basis of long experience with what works and what doesn’t, the Denny Hatch school of direct marketing applauds with good reason, maximized “ugly” presentation and beating the bushes for orders as long as it is profitable.

That said, there is an increasingly strong argument for stepping back a little and meditating on the possibility that instead of maximizing our promotional efforts, we test minimizing them. We could then determine whether the consumer trend is away from “the more the better” consumerism and we can develop more and better customer relationships with less communications.

With so many choices available to marketers, we are like the poor fellow who starved to death, in danger of starvation in the midst of an abundance of plenty. Perhaps it’s time to start listen more to our guts than to our data.

Create Direct Mail Alignment for Better Results

The strategy of direct mail alignment with your other marketing channels is crucial for your success. Mixed messages, poor clarity and too many points of view confuse your prospects and customers so they don’t make a purchase. Aligning your messaging across channels is the best strategy to give you better results.

The strategy of direct mail alignment with your other marketing channels is crucial for your success. Mixed messages, poor clarity and too many points of view confuse your prospects and customers so they don’t make a purchase. Aligning your messaging across channels is the best strategy to give you better results.

Good marketing alignment provides:

  • Engagement: People are more engaged with your mail piece when they understand what you are saying. They must be able to easily see what the key benefits are to them and why they matter.
  • Trust: Alignment across your marketing channels provides greater clarity and trust. When people trust you, they buy from you. Since direct mail is considered to be the most trustworthy marketing channel, take advantage of it.
  • Performance: When you align, you are able to meet customer and prospect expectations. This leads to more purchases and better marketing performance.

So how can you come up with aligned messaging? Find the right problem to solve with your product or service for your customers and prospects. You must deliver a value to them and you do that by solving their problems. If you are not sure of how best to articulate your message as solving a problem, talk to some of your current customers. Their feedback can help you articulate better messaging.

With direct mail alignment with other marketing channels, you find that prospects and customers are pulled into the purchase zone. It is a natural occurrence when people are engaged with your company and want to be a part of the experience you have created across marketing channels. Remember that emotion is the key to drive response. How can people get an emotional attachment to your messaging if it is not clear and resonates throughout all of your marketing messaging?

Your customers and prospects need to know that you can provide them with three key things:

  1. Attention: They want to feel as though you think they are special. You can do this with personalization and special offers. Only send relevant marketing to them. I once received a mailer that wanted me to become a member of an organization that I had already been a member of for over 14 years. I felt insulted and not valued. Be sure to send the right offer to the right people.
  2. Competency: They want to feel that you know what you are doing and will provide them with a good product or service. You can help build up their view of you by using testimonials from current customers.
  3. Caring: They want to feel that you care about them as individuals. Give them a little extra love with a bonus offer or gift after they order. Make them want to continue to do business with you.

When your story messaging meets all three points, it resonates more — which leads to increased response. Your marketing strategy should align your messaging effectively. How do you do that? Remember that people love and relate to stories. When you are able to create your messaging in story form, you build authenticity, trust, empathy and engagement — which all lead to purchasing from you. This story can then be used strategically across all of your marketing channels to enhance your results.

This will take planning and time to prefect; however, the results are well worth it. Are you ready to get started?

10 Storytelling-in-Content Marketing Lessons Learned

Storytelling lifts content marketing into more powerful messaging. Today we share 10 lessons learned as a result of a content marketing series. This campaign was designed to energize volunteers and a base of followers, build a larger base of supporters and strengthen a brand with the long-term goal of monetization through product and

Storytelling lifts content marketing into more powerful messaging. Today we share 10 lessons learned as a result of a content marketing series. This campaign was designed to energize volunteers and a base of followers, build a larger base of supporters and strengthen a brand with the long-term goal of monetization through product and event sales.

During this campaign, we’ve seen, first-hand, the power of story with diverse styles of video content marketing that included interviews, behind-the-scenes stories building up to a major event, and the high viewership of the final long-form video

Regular readers of our blog may be aware that I am a member of a world-class international Barbershop Harmony Society champion chorus (we recently won our 12th Gold Medal competing among 31 groups from four countries in front of a live audience of 7,000 plus thousands tuning in via webcast). I handle the marketing for the organization (with assistance from Reinventing Direct co-author Perry Alexander). We have the latitude to explore new approaches, and we share them from time-to-time with readers like you.

Because it’s a music-based organization, and because we frequently use video as the primary messaging vehicle, we have come to realize the power of not just music, but overlaying storytelling.

Now that the six-month pre-contest campaign has concluded, we share 10 lessons we’ve learned from this campaign about storytelling and content marketing.

  1. Stimulate interest/earn trust: You audience probably isn’t interested in what you have to sell until you have stimulated their interest and earned their trust in your value to making their lives better.
  2. Give them unusual access: They want to be let in on what’s behind-the-scenes. Video can deliver this experience better than any other channel.
  3. Build tension/release with joy: Like any good story, add an element of tension, but let the audience experience joy. People will remember you for how you made them feel.
  4. Give context in your story: As an insider, it is your responsibility, as a storyteller, to set the stage. Refrain from using acronyms and jargon, so the viewer can appreciate the importance of an upcoming element of the story.
  5. Leverage the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): Craft your story so it builds from one part to the next, so your audience, while fearing they’ll miss something, is looking for your message.
  6. Let characters be stars: If you have multiple people in the story, creatively develop a delivery vehicle so everyone can participate. (We had a crazy idea about how to include over 140 people, including myself, in a video. See the result here.)
  7. Put your audience inside the story. Don’t be detached. Invite them to come along with you.
  8. Encourage comments and reviews. Your audience will tell you what they think, so invite participation.
  9. The story dictates length: Many claim videos must be short. Not necessarily true. They must be tightly edited and move the story along. The final video in this series was 36 minutes long, and YouTube audience retention was higher than average, all the way to the end. Use YouTube analytics to reveal where fall-offs occur and to improve your overall storytelling.
  10. Strategically monetize: Think long-term about monetizing content marketing. In this series, coming into the all-important fourth quarter, this audience is pumped, which makes selling performance tickets, recordings and fundraising all the easier.

Beyond building the brand (and winning the contest), tangible results of this six-month campaign include combined video views of over 22,000 (still growing daily), website views spiking by four times over average, consistently strong email open and click rates, Facebook Fan page follower increase of 25 percent, and Twitter follower increase of 27 percent.

Bottom line: You must continue to offer multiple reasons using circular viralocity for people to return to your website. You do that by developing a compelling story and content.

Finally, a word about music and the brain, and why this storytelling campaign was so successful: Recent brain imaging studies are telling us more about the importance of singing or playing a musical instrument than we’ve known before. For instance, if you’re a manager or executive, chances are that as a child you sang or played a musical instrument. A recent study reveals that early musical training can be influential in determining an individual’s success.

And there’s more: Emotions encouraged by music activate similar frontal brain regions, and can have a significant impact on your marketing messaging.

Music has the power to create a pleasurable experience that can be described as “chills.” As chills increase, many changes in cerebral blood flow are seen in brain regions such as the amygdala. These same brain areas appear to be linked to reward, motivation, emotion and arousal, and are also activated in other pleasurable situations.

Storytelling works. The inclusion of relevant music in storytelling can stimulate and take people to desirable emotional places. And if you want reaction, make sure the music “chills.”

Surviving Email Errors: It’s About the Perception

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Unfortunately, I also subscribe to the premise that to be considered a professional, you must sound like a professional. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred, and I believe we have become less sensitive to typographical errors and more receptive to text shorthand, even when the type of correspondence calls for something far more formal. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Despite my abhorrence for the misspelled word and my dependence upon editors to ensure I toe the line, my writing is seldom (perhaps never) perfect, and I suffer great angst on the occasions when I find a string of badly ordered letters hidden in plain sight within my writings.

Undaunted, my quest for the perfect content continues, and with good reason: The Web Credibility Project conducted by the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab found that typos are one of the top factors for which a website’s credibility is reduced. If this is true of websites, surely the same can be said about other content we marketers produce, including emails.

According to a University of Michigan and University of Maryland study on grammatical evaluation and social evaluation (opens as a pdf), in general, homophonous grammatical errors (e.g., your/you’re) affected judgment and readability more severely than typographical errors (e.g., teh) or hypercorrections (e.g., invited John and I), but all typos have shown to have a negative impact on how you and your organization is perceived, and how receptive your recipients will be to a message with a typographical error. Typos imply carelessness and irresponsibility, especially when you are creating content on behalf of your clients.

When You Err
Many marketers believe that when a typo makes it through, they should immediately issue a correction or apology, but this is not always the best response. You need to keep the gravity of the error in perspective and resist the urge to panic. Take an objective look at the error and evaluate how egregious the error. If the error is statistical data or other numbers, it’s likely more important to address it than if the error is a typographical error such as teh. Likewise, if the error occurs in your subject line, this alone can adversely affect your open rate, so sending out a second email with a new subject line may be appropriate. On the other hand, sending a second email might well be more than your recipients will tolerate, and the correction email could be marked as spam or elicit an unsubscribe simply because it came so closely on the heels of the first. A balance must be reached.

If you find that you’ve made a mistake in your email, take a deep breath and:

  1. Assess the damage. Evaluate the impact of the mistake. Ask yourself questions such as: How many emails were sent? How does the open and click-thru rate compare with other emails of the same type? Was the typo offensive? Will the typo cause a negative perception of our brand? Will the typo cause your customer harm or lead to misinformation? If the typo is a pricing error or incorrect date, it may have a far-reaching impact on your company, in which case a correction is mandatory.
  2. Choose an appropriate response. Once your assessment is complete, work with your colleagues and management to draft an appropriate response, one in step with the gravity of the error. If you do decide that sending a second email is called for, follow these tips:
    • Act quickly. In many cases, a speedy follow up will be seen before the original email.
    • Be upfront. Write a subject line and preheader text that gets directly to the point: You are making a correction.
    • Apologize, without excuses. Take ownership of the error, be frank, and say you’re sorry. Don’t belabor the point with excuses that may well come off insincere or seem as though you want to blame everyone but yourself. Use words such as “correction,” “oops,” or “we apologize,” so your recipients immediately know why they are receiving a second email so soon.
    • Improve the offer. If the typo is concerning an offer on which you cannot deliver, offer them something better.
    • Mind your brand. Be brand consistent, but self-deprecation or humor can be a good approach.
    • Reach out socially. Use your social networks to further acknowledge the error (especially effective with humor) and offer ways your constituents can reach you with questions or support needs.
    • Vet programmatic solutions. In some cases, and depending upon which email automation solution you use, hyperlink errors can be fixed programmatically. While you cannot change the text of the email once sent, be sure to speak with the support team to glean options for fixing the underlying link. If the typo is in the form of an incorrect image, you may well be able to swap the image so that any unopened emails will display the correct image. If the email has been opened but is later opened again, the new image should appear there as well. In this case, a correction will only need to be sent to those recipients who opened the email before you corrected the error.
  3. Monitor analytics. Once assessed and addressed, your email software should be able to provide you with ample analytics about how things went. Keep a close eye on the open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates—these are the best places to discern the level of damage done.

We all make mistakes in our content, but it’s important that we learn from them and learn to avoid them. Here is a collection of tips that may help you avoid the need for an apology altogether:

  • Write your email content in Word and use autocorrect, spell check and grammar check. It won’t be perfect, so don’t depend on it solely, but it can highlight possible areas that need a closer look.
  • Printed emails are usually easier to proofread and pass around for others to review.
  • Read the text aloud, preferably to an audience.
  • Have a child read the text aloud to you. Children are more likely to read exactly what they see since they are typically unfamiliar with the content.
  • Read the text backward, from end to beginning.
  • Send draft emails to a select group on whom you can rely to read the content carefully and thoroughly.
  • Reread and proofread each time you make changes. Many typos are injected after content has passed through proofreading and while you are making on-the-fly and last-minute changes. Resend your draft email to your test group after all last-minute changes have been completed.

It’s one thing to make the occasional error, but quite another to consistently send emails with errors. Each error will erode your customers’ confidence and thus, damage your reputation and this can be a lasting impression. When asked of their perception of companies who send emails with errors, people use words such as “careless,” “rushed,” “inattentive to detail,” “incompetent,” “uneducated,” and “stupid.”

Your email typos might find their way to the inbox of a charitable person who is willing to overlook your error, or to someone simply too busy to notice, but odds are a customer, colleague or [gasp] your boss will notice and will assume that you are careless or uncaring—neither of which is ideal for your continued employment.

If you are sending SMS messages or posting to your social media, you’ll find that these mediums offer a bit more forgiveness, and what might seem like an apology-worthy error in email is a simple snafu socially or in text messaging. Though the formats are forgiving, there is still a call for professionalism, so resist with all your might the urge to use text shorthand in any type of business message, regardless of the vehicle.

Your content sets the recipients’ expectation, establishes you as an authority, and validates your knowledge of the industry. Typos can change this perception in a heartbeat, especially when repeated. Take the time to ensure your content is error-free and you will continue to foster a positive relationship with your recipients—and look brilliant in the process.

As a matter of record, my worst typo was a caption for the photo of a three-star general’s wife, where I noted that she was a “lonely lady rather than the “lovely lady” the client described. What’s yours?