Mentoring: Give a Little, Get a Lot

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring.

The woman running the program was hesitant at first—her vision was to put grads and students together face-to-face and create events that would bring the mentor/mentees together outside of 1:1 meetings.

Even though I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and my college is in chilly Ottawa, Canada, I convinced her to team me with a student who was studying abroad for a semester so neither of us would be on campus.

Luckily I was paired with a wonderful senior named Mitch who was spending a semester in The Netherlands and studying marketing. We hit it off immediately, swapping stories about our pasts, our work experiences and talking about his goals when he graduates (to work in sports marketing). Mitch proved to be intelligent, inquisitive and eager to learn about the real world of marketing and advertising.

In our weekly calls, I answered a lot of questions (about marketing strategies and tactics and concerning specific job functions in the industry), but we also talked about some very practical things like how to put together a solid resume and a LinkedIn profile. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that in this social media crazed world, this very bright student was not that familiar with LinkedIn and how to use it to his advantage. Upon having further conversations with my college graduate son and his friends, it seems none of them were particularly savvy about LinkedIn and how leverage it to their advantage.

Helping Mitch with his resume was a fascinating exercise in marketing. His first draft provided a laundry list of all his summer jobs, but didn’t successfully position his experience and his growing expertise. As I quizzed him on what he actually did at each job, I helped him extract the salient messages he needed to convey about his skills and accomplishments—it was similar to working with a client to help them clarify and synthesize a product’s attributes and benefits, and how they stacked up to the competition.

For example, during his Junior year, Mitch worked for a marketing agency that was helping Microsoft increase its mindshare among college students. He described that job as “Independently reach and educate University students regarding the benefits of Microsoft products while entrusted with expensive technology.”

After some probing into what he was REALLY doing and the knowledge and skill set it required, we rewrote it to read “Manned an on-campus booth and answered questions about various Microsoft software products while retaining proficiency in Microsoft Windows 8.1 and the Microsoft Office Suite of products. Using Microsoft-provided software / hardware, performed a Pre- and Post- Attitudinal Behavior Study.”

Now he sounded impressive!

What was most exciting, however, is that this week Mitch advised me that a Netherlands-based sports organization that he follows on Twitter had tweeted about an opening for a marketing assistant. We quickly got to work refining his resume to match all the skills the job description required and crafted an introduction letter that further highlighted his skills.

We also did a LinkedIn search to determine who the position would report to and poured over the hiring managers resume. I encouraged Mitch to spend time on the company’s website, social media sites to become immersed in the brand, its mission, brand positioning, communications messages and key issues the company is facing.

Yesterday Mitch was contacted by the hiring manager and asked for work samples and to set up an interview. We then went to work prepping him with questions he might ask during the interview process. Honestly, I was as excited as Mitch was!

As I finish this column, I’m waiting to hear the outcome of that first important job interview, but either way, I’m confident that this young man will be a marketing rock star and any firm would be lucky to employ him. And, I relish the opportunity to help another grad enter the world of marketing fully knowledgeable with the skill set to market themselves successfully.

15 Online Video Marketing Test Ideas

If you haven’t tried video yet, consider this a nudge for you to reinvent your marketing approach and broaden your direct marketing skill set. On the subject of reinventing skills, today we announce exciting news about an evolution of this blog and how we plan to introduce you to topics that go beyond video marketing. But before we tell you about the new blog, we put our heads together and came up with a list of the top

If you haven’t tried video yet, consider this a nudge for you to reinvent your marketing approach and broaden your direct marketing skill set. On the subject of reinventing skills, today we announce exciting news about an evolution of this blog and how we plan to introduce you to topics that go beyond video marketing.

But before we tell you about the new blog, we put our heads together and came up with a list of the top 15 online video marketing initiatives that we recommend you test as we move toward the important fourth quarter sales cycle.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

This video includes ideas for video content, use of customer testimonials, product demonstrations, opt-in ideas to grow your email list, using video in social media, pay-per-click, video length, video sales letters, budgeting for video and more.

As mentioned earlier, our blog is evolving and expanding to encompass many of those oftentimes puzzling new online direct marketing opportunities.

While reinventing one’s core competencies should be an ongoing process, in recent years, the requirement to reinvent so that your skills and organization remain relevant has accelerated. So as re-inventors of our direct marketing skills, the editors of Target Marketing have encouraged us to expand the topic of our blog beyond video to include topics like:

  • Using site and search retargeting
  • Integration of customer relationship management systems
  • The analytics of social media to better understand its effectiveness for direct marketing
  • Using content for inbound marketing
  • Online competitive analysis
  • … along with additional subjects that we, as long-time direct marketers, believe you should understand and consider testing.

Starting in a couple of weeks, we begin a new blog named Reinventing Direct. We’ll discuss new ideas, how direct marketers can apply these opportunities, and break it down for you in non-threatening, practical ways so you can better understand it and reinvent your direct marketing skills. We hope you’ll follow us on our new blog, and we invite you to suggest topics in the comments area below, or use the link to the left to email your thoughts.

It’s been our pleasure to have authored Online Video Marketing Deep Dive. Thank you for being a loyal follower, and we look forward to sharing our tips with you in a couple of weeks in Reinventing Direct.

The LinkedIn Endorsement Smackdown

For years, I was a brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections, meet new colleagues or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website. But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements”

For years, I was brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections (changing jobs, getting promotions), meet new colleagues (either through a mutual connection or using my LinkedIn credits) or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting.

I carefully built my profile and reached out to clients and colleagues for recommendations, smugly building it to over 700 connections. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website.

But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements.”

On the surface it seems simple enough. You choose a series of “skills” and areas of “expertise” from a long list (or create them yourself).

Connected to somebody on LinkedIn? That must mean you know them and are fully aware of their skills, so you have the experience to give them a nod on a skill they’ve identified in their profile when presented with that question.

The problem is that all sorts of people have now endorsed me—some are people I barely know, and, to be honest, many have endorsed me for skills they couldn’t possibly know whether I have or not.

Out of 700-plus connections, 68 have endorsed me for direct marketing. Fair enough … I run a direct marketing agency and have worked in the business for 30-plus years, so it’s pretty safe to say I have DM skills. But it seems strange to me that a sales rep for a printer (who I have no memory of ever meeting) or my personal realtor neighbor, would endorse me for this skill.

I realize that when I look at someone’s profile, a little box pops up asking me if that individual has the skills or expertise they selected … and I could just skip by and ignore the whole thing. But that’s not my point.

My question is: Does having 68 endorsements for a skill make me more of an expert than, say, the guy who only has 12 endorsements for that same skill?

To answer this question, I clicked on the “Skills & Expertise” section of LinkedIn (found within the “More” drop down menu). I typed in “direct marketing,” and the first “expert” who popped up, Bill Glazer, had only 9 endorsements for direct marketing. In fact, after reading his profile, I’d say that Direct Marketing is not his area of expertise (although he has plenty of marketing expertise).

The second guy, Bob Bly, had 99-plus endorsements for Direct Marketing … (I know Bob and he deserves 99-plus endorsements). The third guy had 44 folks endorsing him, and the fourth guy has 58 endorsements, so the algorithm can’t use the number of endorsements as its only search criteria. In fact, after peering into the top 15 folks LinkedIn suggested as having direct marketing skills, I have to wonder about the usefulness of this search tool as the skill sets of these folks were all over the map.

So I have to ask LinkedIn: What’s the point of the endorsement tool? If it’s not being used to rank order skills for those who are searching for that kind of help/expertise, then why offer it? And, if any of your connections can endorse you for a skill, doesn’t that make the idea of endorsements disingenuous?

If Content Is King, Grammar Is Queen

Growing up in a household with highly disciplined parents, my grammar was always being corrected. Whether it was ending a sentence with a preposition, misplacing a modifier or splitting an infinitive, any conversation could be stopped, at any moment. Now that the marketing world has turned its sights to “content” as a key brand engagement device, I’m hopeful that the grammar police are reinforcing their troops for a ride along. Because from where I sit, brands could use a little disciplinary action. (Yep, just gave myself a smack for starting a sentence with the word “because.” Ouch.)

Growing up in a household with highly disciplined parents, my grammar was always being corrected. Whether it was ending a sentence with a preposition, misplacing a modifier or splitting an infinitive, any conversation could be stopped, at any moment, to make sure I knew the right way to restate my thought (per the English grammar guidelines found in the little book Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”).

Yes—dinnertime conversation was often painful.

The lowlight was when my parents told me that my most recent letter home from college was fraught with grammatical errors, and they had seriously considered returning it to me, complete with red pencil corrections. Needless to say, my correspondence home dwindled.

Now that the marketing world has turned its sights to “content” as a key brand engagement device, I’m hopeful that the grammar police are reinforcing their troops for a ride along. Because from where I sit, brands could use a little disciplinary action. (Yep, just gave myself a smack for starting a sentence with the word “because.” Ouch.)

Over the years, I’ve certainly visited thousands of websites, downloaded hundreds of whitepapers and case studies, and, like you, I’ve received lots and lots of emails including sales tips and e-newsletters. I’m still amazed at the lack of grammar skill. Forget the typos—they’re just inexcusable—I mean the basics like “too” instead of “to,” or “between Joe and I” instead of “between Joe and me,” or a simple sentence like this: “If you would like to discuss Social Media with regards to your business further, please feel free to contact me.” Huh?

If you read my blog, you’ll know that I love commas. I think they help the reader pause, consider the point being made, and then continue to absorb the next point. It appears that idea is lost on many writers … or worse, the comma is misplaced. Consider the famous book title “Eats shoots and leaves” versus “Eats, shoots and leaves” or even “Eats, shoots, and leaves.” Personally I like serial commas, but it seems many brands have pushed them aside as part of their brand guidelines and chaos has erupted over the meaning of a sentence. [Editor’s note: Target Marketing adheres to AP Style, as do most publications, and the AP does not endorse serial commas. We apologize for any misunderstanding this may cause about whether to leave your bullets or dinner.]

I’m the first to tell you my personal grammar skills are still not entirely A+ (my parents are nodding), but there are so many proofreaders, grammarians or other online expert sources available (not to mention a nifty little tool in Microsoft Word called ‘Spelling & Grammar’) that there is simply no excuse for any company to be executing marketing materials that are anything less than perfect.

So before you create and publish your next ‘content’ deliverable, consider getting professional help. Here are a few of my favorite editorial review pros:

  • HyperGraphix (www.hgpublishing.com): This guy is smart, fast and CHEAP; Known for proofing tediously long documents on topics that would bore the average reader. Plus he works in two languages (Canadian and American) in case you’re publishing north of the border. He has an online tool that fixes sentences for free (you can’t beat that price), and if you subscribe to his tweets, he provides helpful tips and links to helpful articles.
  • Grammar Girl (grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/): Short, sharp, and to the point, her emails on grammar tips have become part of my morning reading ritual.
  • Bulletproof (www.bulletproofonline.com): Strong proofreading skills and your ideal “brand police” if you share your brand guidelines with them.

If your issue, on the other hand, is content creation, don’t leave that to your sales guy. Cough up the budget for a professional writer—one with the research skills that can thoroughly investigate the topic, identify a point of view for your brand, and write in a voice that matches your brand style. There are hundreds of excellent writers out there who are wincing as they read your materials.

So go ahead—jump on the content bandwagon—and Long live the Queen!

6 Questions to Ask Your SEO Copywriter

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post on how and when to outsource your SEO.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

SEO copywriting professionals can have a wide variety of skill sets, from the newbie who is just getting her virtual feet wet to the uber-experienced direct response professional who is also a whiz at SEO. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are six questions to ask any prospective SEO copywriter.

1. What kind of experience do you have?
SEO copywriting is different. Someone may be a fantastic direct response copywriter. But if he doesn’t have SEO copywriting experience, he may not be your best choice. Why? Because SEO copywriting is part geeky knowledge, part creative brilliance. Not only will your new hire have to have “normal” copywriting skills, but he’ll also need to know how to choose keyphrases, set a strategy and weave keyphrases into your copy the right way. Some folks are self-taught, but the best SEO copywriters have had some hands-on training. A combination of solid experience plus additional training (for instance, being Certified in SEO copywriting) ensures that you have a quality candidate.

2. What do you charge, and what’s included in the price?
You may think that a writer’s price is incredibly inexpensive, but make sure that you know what’s included in the rate. Just like when you buy a plane ticket, some writers charge a low per-page rate, but then add on “extras” like keyphrase research, a per-page keyphrase strategy, and creating titles and meta descriptions. That’s great for some clients. But if you need lots of extras (such as when you don’t have a per-page keyphrase strategy in place), know that you’ll be paying more per page.

3. How has your writing boosted your clients’ revenues?
Yes, we all want top-10 search engine rankings, and your SEO copywriter plays a huge part in making that happen. However, there’s a bigger question to ask: Will your copywriter make you money? Ask your copywriter how her writing has helped to increase conversion rates. She may tell a story about how one landing page generated $25,000 in almost instant revenue. Or how SEO copywriting training helped to increase revenues by 27 percent. If a copywriter can’t give you specifics, dig deeper. Sometimes, the copywriter doesn’t have access to analytics, so his non-specific answer isn’t his fault. At the same time, he should have one heck of a testimonial portfolio and other street-cred to make up for it.

4. Do you outsource to other copywriters?
You may have felt an instant connection when you chatted with the copywriting agency. But will the outgoing and whip-smart woman you spoke with on the phone be the same person writing your copy? Maybe. Ask your copywriter if she outsources. If she says “yes,” ask for a writing sample from the person who will be doing the writing. Outsourcing isn’t a bad thing. But as the client, you have a right to know the players and the process. (Side note: If you don’t hear the “main” copywriter discuss how she evaluates every piece of copy before a client sees it, run away fast.)

5. What kind of ongoing education do you receive?
SEO copywriting is not a “set it and forget it” kind of skill set. The search engines are ever-changing and what worked six months ago may not work today. Plus, new neuromarketing, eye-tracking and information-processing research is changing the way copywriters write content. Ask what kind of sites, conferences and research your copywriter is tracking. If she says, “I don’t keep up with techie stuff,” she still may be an awesome copywriter … but she may not have the necessary SEO skills to really do the job (depending on the skill level you need).

6. What other skills do you bring to the table?
Some SEO copywriters can take on a full-scale SEO campaign and thrive, replacing your need for another SEO company (this is especially true for small businesses.) Other SEO copywriters can train your team, build links and even write that e-book that’s been on your “to-do” list for years. Once you love and trust your new writer, explore how else she can help you. You may find that your SEO copywriter can help you grow your business in many additional ways—and you’ll have a trusted marketing partner who can create killer, high-converting (and positioning) copy.