Fieldworks Marketing provides industry expertise, content and access to decision makers, to help you generate new business and build a position of influence in your markets. It is an innovative BtoB agency providing marketing, PR and social media services to retail technology businesses across the globe. Our digital marketing blog posts aims to push the boundaries on retail thinking and..
Thinking primarily about blogs, LinkedIn updates and articles, there are lots of reasons why you don’t get read; here’s 5 of them from a professional copywriter and ex journalist. Feel free to give me feedback on my style!
What you are saying may simply interrupt rather than add value to a conversation the target recipient is already having. This is not an easy one to get right because naturally, you are broadcasting widely and can’t catch everyone with thoughts that exactly match theirs at that exact moment in time. However, consider that most content is an interruption and then consider how you might tailor based on who you are sending it to, when and how you can know what’s bugging them. This is 101 account based marketing and should be the direction of travel, otherwise every communication is simply mass marketing. Like this one.
Lack of insight
Telling people that you know what they already know is annoying, because it makes people think that you are not paying attention to what is going on in the world. You need to tell them something they don’t know or tell them a new way to do something that might be more effective than what they’re doing right now. This is how we talk to one another in a conversation; we try to help each other out, so why should this be any different in your content. Which also suggests that if you don’t have anything insightful to say, keep quiet.
Stop telling your targets what life will be like in five years time if they are just need to work out how to fix what is happening in front of them right now. Unless your crystal ball gazing can be used to affect the present, then what are you doing but simply making people more nervous about the route they are taking. It’s also very annoying to be told how awesome the future will be, because it is another reminder of the mess they are in right now. Lastly, future gazing is a bit of a cop out, because you don’t have to be right and no one will call you on it.
There is a way to tell people you think they are wrong but using apocalyptic language isn’t the way to do it, unless you are famous and even then, it can be pretty annoying. Marc Andreesen calling the end of retail by 2020 is not helpful and the tone is partronising. Worse, he’s dead wrong. The other danger, to which I am also subject is, do people really want to hear about the future of retail from a middle-aged white guy. You can’t be who you aren’t, but you can tap into what the likes of Lily Pebbles is saying about retail. Your own echo chamber will always cause you to talk in a slightly condescending way so time to listen to what others are saying and share that with your audience.
Use language that is true to you. You may not be a writer and you may have all your content written for you; that’s fine, as long as the writer works hard to understand how you speak. They should write as you speak, so that your personality and view of the world comes through. You know you are good in the room with your prospects, articulate, persuasive even funny – these should all come through in your writing. That’s how your content will stand out from everyone else’s.
If you want to talk to me about how to breathe new life into your content, I have created a free audit that I think you will find helpful.
I agree with Chip Wilson, the word ‘athleisure,’ coined apparently by the New York fashion mafia, sorry, media, sucks. What in fact does it actually mean? Think Lululemon and you think fashion and you think fitness, you don’t think about athletics and you certainly don’t think about leisure. Sure, the denizens of my local supermarket are doing their best to put the word leisure into athletics, but the word still remains inappropriate for this brand, and others of that ilk.
It doesn’t stop there. I admit I kind of liked the phrase Internet of Things when I first heard it, but I’ve since learned that sticking the word things into a sentence is really only a way of admitting that you don’t what you mean. Remember how hard we all had to work, to work out what IoT meant and when we found out, we realised that it didn’t really work for what happens in the real world.
No one liked omnichannel but we were kind of stuck with it until we realised that it also does not really mean anything to either retailers or their customers.
Name that concept
And so on. Now, I appreciate I am being tough retrospectively as the meaning of so many terms has morphed over the years, to render the original meaning redundant. Why have a go at people who were trying hard at the time to encapsulate new concepts into short words or phrases? Frankly, could I have done better?
Possibly not, but what worries me is, we fight to communicate with each other through the thick walls of a word or phrase, and often end up with a whole new idea which is not even close to what the originator intended. Then everyone’s expectations are raised to the point where the original concept cannot possibly deliver what it was hoped it would. For instance, I believe in the good intentions behind IoT, but I no longer believe that the journey is worth sticking with. You can Internet of Things any number of devices you like, but you won’t have the right data, and the right interactions between those data to actually extract value.
Let’s stop the fake terminology
That’s a whole other journey that is probably taking place out of sync with IoT, supported by a more recent concept that is meant to be a panacea, Artificial Intelligence and/or Machine Learning (I never can tell which is what). So now, we have smart ways to extract value from data and the machines to gather, process and report on it. Except that, the terminology promises immediate results, while in retail, we are probably five or more years away from that actually happening.
I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But, can we agree to stop letting fake terminology get the better of us, and just sit down and try and work out how to fix the problems facing us right now. Sure, sell me a dream, but I need some guarantees that you can deliver it in my lifetime.
I think this is important. Sure, you can teach your agency the basics, but if they don’t really know your industries, or the key influencers that work in them, then how can they know what content will resonate, what channels will reach your targets, and what tone of voice you need to use for each persona? Unless they have this knowledge and insight, they are really transferring the comms problem back to you.
Do you integrate all your services around a single set of core KPIs?
You are almost certainly get the answer yes if you ask this one, but probe a little deeper. Some of the larger agencies struggle to ensure that the range of services they provide can be monitored for effectiveness through a single dashboard and under the management of a single account director. Integration is a basic requirement for ensuring all activities are focused on the same targets, and that each contributes to influencing those targets in your direction.
Are you going to challenge my thinking?
An agency can’t really challenge what you are doing currently if they don’t understand your markets, or can see why what you are doing now may not be working. There are plenty of agencies out there that will simply take order and do your bidding, but this is unlikely to work if, as most companies, you are working in a ruthlessly competitive market. You need the agency principals to tell you the truth, particularly as you want them to deliver.
How international are your capabilities?
There are plenty of so-called global agencies that distinguish themselves only by being shit everywhere. They often have smart people at the centre who build great strategy and structure but then execute badly in the individual countries. This is the ‘no one got fired for hiring IBM’ excuse, but the stakes are now generally too high to tick the global agency box but get only patchy delivery. Using single-country agencies is fine as long as their partner network is real, tried and tested, and as long as the lead agency is prepared to take responsibility for what each partner does or does not deliver.
Will the agency save me time?
The kick off meeting should not be the last time your new agency makes the effort to understand you; they should invest in learning so much about you that they end up knowing more about you than you do. A perennial complaint from companies is that they feel their agencies don’t really understand them. Sure, you are trading complementary not identical skills, but they are there to take work off your hands, not increase it.
Do you like them?
Working with people you don’t really like never works for long. It’s business AND it’s pleasure. If you like each other, there’s a chance you will make a deep commitment to get things done, while also being more understanding when things go wrong from time to time.
As a marketer, my time was naturally spent almost entirely with the exhibitors, and there were some impressive solutions on show that are already delivering value into UK retailers. These solutions were not all well presented or articulated, and while trade shows are never the easiest place to get a message across, here is some advice which works not just for exhibitions but marketing generally.
Make sure the guy you put up front is good at explaining your solution
I spoke to one start up and sensed that they had something important to offer, but I’m not really sure what it was. I had to do all the work, but still never really quite got there. I’ve checked my notes and they don’t help. Contrast this with a well-known in-store tech vendor and all was clear right from the word go. Whoever that guy was, give him a raise immediately; if you have only minutes to get your message across, you need people who can communicate.
Focus on the value
You may be re-imagining or redesigning or re-whatever retail. But what does that really mean? The show made it clear that the penny has finally dropped for an increasing number of retailers who know that change means change, so it makes sense to stop evangelising and start talking about the value that your solution delivers to these retailers.
Promote yourself before and after the show, not just during
Appearances at trade shows are often treated as activities somehow independent of both mainstream marketing and sales activities. Why? The people at the end of both activities, the customers and prospects, are the same. Those exhibitors that worked hard to fix meetings in advance had a good show; others that didn’t started blaming the organisers for a lack of traffic. It’s down to you I’m afraid to work it harder.
Listen to what retailers are telling you
I like tech tours because it’s a good way to guarantee that you will see a lot of retailers, but you need a mechanism for checking in with them to find out what they are interested in, or hopefully to find out what their biggest challenges are. We all know what is happening in retail generally; the really precious information is what is happening retailer by retailer. And too many exhibitors were so desperate to get through their pitch, that the retailers just had to stand there in silence.
It is typical for vendors, often the smaller ones, to do a trade show and then retreat back into their own little world, or business as usual as we call it. The retailers will do the same and unless you made some kind of impression, you will already have been forgotten. Trade shows give everyone a lovely warm feeling that lasts around 24 hours. What now is your plan to re-contact all the people you saw, and also all the people you didn’t see?
Tech companies are not always good at talking about why businesses should buy from them. What problem that I have right now are you able to solve? And what measurable value will that bring to my business in the immediate and longer term?
Here then are the six steps you need to take, in order to develop a value proposition.
This is not easy to do, because it requires input from a range of people from inside and outside the organisation; people who probably never sit down together to consider this. But when they do, the impact is dramatic because it creates an unbroken chain of clear messaging from the web site all the way into the sales pitch. The goal is to express your value with clarity, consistency and simplicity.
People still buy from people; they need to know who runs your business and what kind of people they are. Entrepreneurial, visionary, opinionated, courageous, analytical – human characteristics that you have in abundance but are nowhere on show. Who is your technical guru? Who is your futurist? Who can talk sense about implementation? Who is your quirky person who has an unusual or controversial view of how the world is changing?
What do you do? In the rush to be different from their competitors, vendors often forget to state in plain language what they actually do, which can make things tough for visitors and for search. At this stage, it is important to do competitive analysis so that you get found through search. You are not looking for a unique way of describing what you do, because you will never get found. Only later do you need to worry about whether you need to start paying to get found?
Not so much geographically but where do you play in terms of industries or types of businesses. Not an easy one because most vendors want to hedge their bets and go after every possible opportunity. This can make everyone think that you are not for them. It’s best, I think, to start with a sweet spot, an area that you can dominate and build customers. Or you may want to target fast-growth businesses. This requires some homework to determine your total addressable market, so that you match your messaging.
This is about when will value be delivered. Again, not an easy one because the answer always depends on how the user business implements and sticks to the schedule. However, consider that most businesses recognise that any decision to buy new software involves risk and one of the greatest risk mitigators is when they can see value being delivered early. This is why PoCs and pilots are popular, with the added advantage that it becomes easier to get more investment in something that can be seen to be working.
Why are you in business? In what ways can you make things better for business, for people and the world around you? The why of business is very topical but it come with pitfalls. For instance, many companies’ Why statements are interchangeable, so that if we are all here to make the world a better place, then we have lost the thing that makes us distinctive. However, it is important to have this discussion because it is almost certainly there somewhere, but maybe never made it into the open. For examples, see Wholefoods, Uber, Airbnb and Amazon – you may not subscribe to these companies’ excessive hubris, but you remember it, right?
This is an important additional risk mitigator. Companies want to understand at least the main elements of how you engage and how solutions are developed. This plays to the personality of your business. Most vendors simply call this consultancy, the bit of their business where they advise, but that can be a put-off because it sounds a bit pompous and almost certainly expensive. I’m not against taking a consultative approach and I am not against consultancy being paid for, but this cannot be a cover-all for how you engage.
Pricesearcher wanted to educate retailers about the difference between price comparison websites and search engines and, ultimately, increase retailer engagement with a view to signing them up to the site. In just three months, Fieldworks’ highly targeted coverage in national and trade media, mapped to specific job titles, led to two High Street retailers indexing all their products on Pricesearcher.
CEO and founder at Pricesearcher, Sam Dean, had this to say about the campaign:
“We engaged with Fieldworks at a critical time for the business and can wholeheartedly say, from my perspective, the return on investment was 100%. The team garnered strong PR coverage across a targeted list of media that served a number of purposes: raising awareness among the investment community and encouraging retailers and brands to sign up to our service.”
He added: “The level of coverage in the national press could only have been achieved through prohibitively expensive advertising and would not have had the third-party validation that respected editorial delivers.”
Are you looking for game-changing PR that delivers demonstrable business performance? Then hit us up and find out more about how you can drive your business forward through the power of PR.
How can you make sure your messaging is true to you?
How often do you read a brilliant piece of content that somehow doesn’t ring true about the company it is promoting? The words are beautifully constructed, full of sound and fury but ultimately, signifying nothing, because you just don’t believe it.
It’s easy to get it wrong because, in the struggle to be noticed for even a split second, language and good writing have been tied up and tortured until they finally agree to be euphemised.
We’re all getting tongue-tied
But it gets worse than that; it may just about be OK to say, ‘I want to vocalise this,’ when we really mean ‘I want to say something’. And I guess I need to get used to the office lift saying ‘Service Condition’ when what that really means is, it’s bloody well broken. It’s not all about you, Mr Service Condition man, it’s about me having to walk up five flights. But it’s not OK to buzz-word your company’s core messaging from a Corporate Bullshit Generator.
Think that’s not you? Guess again. How did we get comfortable with phrases like omni-channel, retail theatre, seamless experience, data-driven decision making? It’s not the words themselves; once upon a time, they meant something to us all, but now they have been co-opted into the mainstream, all sense and meaning have been lost. Now, we are all ticking the same box, which may keep Procurement and Legal happy, but it will not achieve the job of differentiating you from all your competitors.
Plague of euphemisms
It gets worse; we think we are clever when we mash words up; I know I do. ‘Phygital’ is easily the ugliest and ‘athleisure’ isn’t pretty. It’s as if, in the search for meaning, we have ended up at the opaque end of the colour spectrum, but we stick with it because we think that, even though we are drowning in vagueness and euphemism, at least we are all drowning together.
And we are passing this stuff on. The next generation is repeating this stuff back to me rather than admitting that they don’t understand what anyone is saying, and calling for a return to a world where we wrote as we spoke.
Rescue your prose
For me, it’s about reading more good writing. The Economist, although it is not quite what it was, manages this well, as does the FT, although standards are variable. Get some excitement back into your tired prose by reading Ernest Hemingway’s sports journalism, or William Burroughs. And get some sense and structure back by reading George Orwell or Graham Green.
Then you are ready to listen again to the people who work in your business and develop messaging that it true to them. This is not about products and services, it’s about people and the words and phrases they use. They may trot out a few of the howlers above, but if you have ears to hear, prepare to use them to catch the essential truth of why they do what they do every day.
In the tech industry, this process starts well enough when a small group of people get together to launch a startup, but once the VCs, the creative agencies and the web designers wade in, it can go horribly wrong. Listen to them and you are sure to end up wearing someone else’s clothes; they may fit now, but they’ll strangle you in the end.
Ask your PR agency how well they really know your industries
PR agencies generally claim to have lots of experience in your industry, but a superficial understanding is not expertise. Real experience is based on time served, insight, contacts, acknowledgement by industry peers. Building and selling stories into vertical media depends on all these. In the era of account based marketing where sales depend on insight, industry expertise is everything.
Ask them how well they really know marketing
Some agencies are PR only, some offer a range of services and some are full-service, but how well do they understand the sales journeys that your customers and prospects take? You are probably selling based on some insight into the challenges they face, so you need PR that demonstrates that you understand not simply the generic challenges facing your industries, but the challenges facing the individual companies and individual decision makers within them. Otherwise, you are just educating your competitors.
Ask them if they send out press releases
If you think this is the everyday business of a PR agency, think again. The media don’t like press releases, your customers don’t like press releases and the format hates the content, because it forces everything into a tired template that is now out of date. Naturally, there will always be a need for a written document, particularly when it is the basis on which your customers take part in PR, but press releases are not sales documents. Selling stories is about picking up the phone or going to see journalists and thrashing out the story together.
Ask them if they will always do what you tell them to do
The PR agency that agrees to push out press releases about everything you do will be responsible for the bad taste that PR may already have left in your mouth from past experience. And everyone has had at least one bad experience with PR. There are many reasons, but one of the most important is the way agencies get lazy about creating stories. They will often turn round to the client and say, we can’t help you because you’re boring. Not good enough. Dig deeper, the stories are there.
Ask them if they know the difference between KPIs and metrics
In the digital era, there is a lot that can be measured and reported on, and the primary measure is still media coverage. A good agency should be able to commit to guaranteed minimum levels of press coverage for each story, but they should also be able to demonstrate their wider marketing expertise as it relates to your sales funnel, by winning backlinks, share of voice against the competitors at a thought leadership level, generating opportunities to see in the media titles as read by your prospects, and driving digital amplification via social button shares.
Ask them if they know what newsjacking is
Newsjacking is a way for your agency to get media coverage for you on the back of industry news. Obvious really, but if you look at how most agencies play it out, they simply find ways for your spokespersons to agree with what is being said in the news. More noise that probably doesn’t get noticed. Do it by all means, but recognise the value of other approaches, for instance, going against the tide of opinion, or agreeing but talking about where things might lead. Doing this successfully brings me back to my first point, which is if you want an agency that’s really going to make a difference to your bottom line, you need one that understands the industries you sell to.
Want to know more of our PR tips and tricks to getting the most out of your PR activities? Talk to the agency that just had awards success with both of the UK’s PR industry bodies, the PRCA and CIPR. Give me a call on 01892 784 500 or drop me an email at email@example.com.
The Fieldworks PR team were lucky enough to head up to London for a glittering black-tie reception at the PRCA Dare Awards ceremony, held in the Mountcalm Marble Arch, last week.
We had been nominated for two of our PR campaigns in the hotly contested Trade and B2B category – one for a recent campaign with Pricesearcher and one for our Peak Trading 2017 campaign for ShopperTrak.
As one of the leading industry bodies for public relations in the UK, the PRCA awards recognise communications excellence, so we’re thrilled the campaign and our combined efforts – working closely with the ShopperTrak marketing and Insights Consultancy teams – was awarded such an accolade.
The judges commented:
“We were highly impressed with this entry. We felt that Fieldworks and ShopperTrak had produced the strongest campaign by far in this category, with a very clear and concise entry.”