Thoughts from Ciana

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  • 08:37:22 pm on August 31, 2009 | 0 | # |
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    Seven Tips on Writing for the Web

    Are you fully leveraging the power of your web site as a key marketing tool?

    Is your web site a static tool that simply provides information? Or is it helping to accelerate the sales cycle?

    First, be clear on what the objectives are for your web site. Is it to educate? To sell?  To get the reader to participate in some way? To encourage repeat visits?

    Second, make sure you identify your target audience. When you understand what’s of value to your audience, it becomes much simpler to decide what to focus on and highlight in your web copy. A few tips:

    1. Short, Simple Text – people read differently when on the web. Not surprisingly, 79% of users scan the page, while only 16% read word-by-word. Avoid dense pages of copy.  Use short sentences, short paragraphs, and lists/bullets wherever possible. Incorporate links to give readers more detailed information.
    2. Effective Headlines – Use headlines and subheads liberally, as they help to break up the page. Instead of using descriptive language, convey the benefits (include metrics) whenever possible. For example, which Dell headline (actual) is more compelling? “The Vostro All-in-One for Small Businesses,” or “The Vostro All-in-One lets you enjoy the power of a traditional business desktop in 44% less space?” (Yes, the second one is long, but it’s a banner headline.)
    3. Offer Variety –Individuals digest information in different ways so appeal to peoples’ different senses. Include a variety of visual, audio and written content using a variety of forms (e.g., video, images, text, podcasts).
    4. Powerful Visuals – The benefits and unique advantages of complex topics are often best represented when simple, powerful graphics are used to visually convey architectural, conceptual or comparative ideas. Don’t forget to include a succinct caption or title.
    5. Write Newspaper Style – Start with the headline or conclusion “above the fold,” followed by the details. Use simple language – eliminate industry jargon, fluff and gobbledygook. And differentiate your offering from competitors in order to make it crystal-clear why you’re the better choice.
    6. SEO – This is a lengthy topic, but suffice it to say: If you want your site to be easily found and read, you need to understand search engine optimization.
    7. Call to action –If a reader is interested in what you have to offer, give them opportunities to engage further, or take the next step – e.g., buy it, try it for free, download it, read about it, comment on it, or chat with someone about it.

    While there are many experts and web resources available, Jakob Nielsen covers a broad range of related topics:


  • 04:34:26 pm on August 3, 2009 | 0 | # |

    Avoiding “Sterile” Communications

    On a recent Saturday morning, I was listening to the “Dining Around Town” show on KGO radio and Food Maven Joyce Goldstein was on the air. She was describing a pastry chef who spent hours and hours making a dessert that used all sorts of gadgets – a huge slicer, a dehydrator, gellan gum, instant freezer, etc. – while showing off his technical skills.

    But the chef was far too technical.  “Where’s the soul, man!” exclaimed Goldstein.  She felt there was no passion, “no sensuality” to his cooking.  She called it “machine food.”

    The same can be said about some high technology marketing. Especially with products rich in technical depth and whose benefits are not intuitively obvious. Oftentimes, technology companies will take a “clinical” and (overly) technically accurate approach when describing their offerings, resulting in a lack of passion and emotional appeal to the buying customer.  In these instances, the relevance and benefits to the buyer are noticeably absent – they’re either missing entirely, or buried in mounds of mind-numbing technical detail.

    Technology is an incredible enabler, but sometimes we communicate in ways that fail to connect with the buyer.  How would you assess your ability to communicate the value of your offerings?

    See related blogs on the power of stories and stories that motivate, or visit our website.

  • 11:24:49 pm on July 13, 2009 | 0 | # |
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    Stories That Motivate

    Forget about PowerPoint and statistics. To involve people at the deepest level, you need stories.”

    Screenwriter Robert McKee in Harvard Business Review, June 2003

    On page 1 of The Wall Street Journal weekend edition (7/11/09), there was a heartwarming story about a 36 year old Iraq Vet and his golden retriever, who is trained to help people whose suffering is emotional, not physical. Kind of like a Seeing Eye Dog for the mind.

    The story begins with Tuesday, a golden retriever who is following around his owner Luis Carlos Montalvan to make sure that Luis takes his half-dozen pills for the day. We learn that Tuesday is also able to recognize imminent panic attacks and wake Luis from terrifying nightmares with a calming lick or nuzzle.

    It’s not until we’re well into the story (the next page) that we discover the organization behind these animals – Puppies Behind Bars Inc., a New York-based nonprofit that uses prisoners to train psychiatric-service dogs.

    Using a story to introduce your business helps to personalize your company, making it easier for people to relate to what you’re saying.  An effective business story touches on our emotions and helps put a “face” to an impersonal corporate entity.  Good stories are memorable and motivate us to get involved or contribute (buy).

    Which do you think is more powerful: A story about Tuesday and his master, or the descriptive paragraph about Puppies Behind Bars that appears on its website?

    Think about the business stories you can tell:

    • How your product or service has impacted the lives of others (success story)
    • The quirky personality of your chief geek, who’s developed a new technology
    • The inspiring team dynamics behind a recent product launch

    Please share with us the stories you’ve heard, or are telling.

  • 09:45:45 pm on June 3, 2009 | 0 | # |

    Surfers or Skaters? Choosing Your Target Audience

    There’s a saying that goes “If you try to please everyone, you please no one.”  Trying to market to everyone is a waste of time and $$ because your messages become too high-level and meaningless.

    In order to get your customer’s attention, you need to segment and target your marketing efforts, since each customer group cares about distinctly different things. The “T” in target is part of our TRUE model and is an important first step when defining your value to the customer.

    Power Shield pendant

    For example, let’s say that I own a company called Riptide Designs, which designs and sells pewter jewelry.  Although anyone (age, gender, race, geography) may be interested in my designs, I need to identify a target audience so that I can tailor my marketing efforts and articulate the value of my offering in a meaningful way.

    I decide to target young adults – primarily males – ranging in age from 10 to 24 years old, who are looking for jewelry that allows them to express their individual style, personal taste and symbolism. I know that this group typically shops at places like Hot Topic, Aeropostale, or Zumiez. I also know I need to do more research on their buying behaviors, as well as understand how and where they find information (e.g., word-of-mouth, magazines like Thrasher, websites, etc).

    Since Riptide’s product line includes surf jewelry, skate jewelry, leather and trendy fashion jewelry, I can further segment my audience – for example, targeting surfers and skateboarders. I know that surfers and skateboarders both value individuality and that their lifestyles are distinct enough to warrant different language, different visuals and different content on my web pages or in my advertising to better appeal to each of these audiences.

    There are many ways to segment your customers:  age, sex, ethnicity, interests, demographics and so on. Or for businesses, you can look at: type of company, industry, role within an organization, shared challenge or issue, etc. There are many categories to look at, but what’s most important is to identify, research and profile a group that shares a distinct value experience.

    We segment customers in order to better understand what’s relevant to them. Identify what a customer values, and don’t forget that it can be more than just features – “value” or what’s relevant to them can be measured in price, convenience, service, or experience.

    By understanding what’s of value to your customer, it becomes much simpler to decide what to focus on and highlight in your marketing activities.

  • 12:08:26 am on May 13, 2009 | 0 | # |
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    If you’re a small company and your marketing budget is virtually null, how should you invest the few dollars you do have? Should you try to sit out this economic storm and hope for the best?

    In our experience, the companies we work with are investing in a handful of highly targeted marketing activities. They can’t afford to go dark. Especially if competitors are scaling back, since that’s often where the greatest opportunity lies.  With a solid foundation (e.g., a defensible value proposition) in place and a clear understanding of the target audience, these companies typically focus on the following 3 tactics to “weather the storm”:

    1. Website

    Use your website as your primary marketing tool if marketing dollars are tight. But make sure you’re using it to appeal to your primary audience.  If you’ve launched your product, use your website to sell, instead of simply to educate.  Ask yourself: Is my site essentially a collection of product data sheets or is it designed to move the reader further along in the sales cycle – e.g., buy it, try it for free, download it, read about it, comment on it, or chat with someone about it? Re-write key sections for crisp, evidence-based communications (no jargon).  And make sure you differentiate your offering from competitors in order to make it crystal-clear to the reader why you’re the better choice.

    2. Customer Stories

    Customer stories are compelling because they’re concrete examples of why (and how) others are adopting your product or technology. Whether you publicize them widely, or limit them to sales calls or internal use, customer stories help establish credibility, create buzz and boost morale. Investing in a growing portfolio of stories is also a great way to stay in touch with your buyer and gain on-going insights into what matters to them. From one-page customer write-ups to online customer reviews on your website,  customer stories are credible marketing tools that can be used in advertising, PR, presentations, videos, at events and on sales calls to show success and momentum.

    3. Blogs

    Blogs are one of the easiest and cheapest (free!) ways to push your message out directly to the public. Perhaps the greatest benefit of blogging is that while you’re sharing your commentary with the world, you’re also learning from others as they comment and interact with you. You can use blogs to establish your technical credentials so people seek you out.  Or you can share your experiences, advice and tips to position yourself as an expert.  Before you start your own blog, it’s helpful to comment on other people’s blogs to begin to build your reputation. Blogs can help market and brand your company, but you need to be passionate and authentic in what you write.  If you’re a business blogger, make sure you have a purpose and a plan. Don’t  blog occasionally – think of blogging as a long-term “campaign” that helps you grow a following and boost your company’s search rankings.  It’s easy to get started. We use, but some of the more popular sites are, and

    Other ideas?

    What’s on your “top 3” list for must-do marketing in these tough economic times?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – what else should be part of the mix?  How would you prioritize your marketing $$?

  • 03:34:28 pm on April 21, 2009 | 1 | # |
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    Have you sent out dozens of resumes without getting a single call back? You’re not alone. It’s a tough job market out there, and hiring managers have the luxury of choice. Clearly, you need to stand apart from your “competition.”

    The TRUESM model we use for value proposition development can also apply when writing your resume.

    1. TARGET your resume. One size does NOT fit all. Many of us have had diverse careers, and we’re proud that we can demonstrate a number of disciplines and areas of expertise. Too often, we feel we need to list everything, but what’s needed today are specialists, not generalists. So tailor your resume for each position you apply for. Make sure that your experience closely matches the requirements of the job. If you’re not thinking “This job exactly mirrors my background!” then be aware that there are probably (many) others whose background it does closely mirror.
    2. Show how you’re RELEVANT. Include an executive summary – remember, the recruiter is only scanning your resume, so the more succinct you are, the better your chances. Write executive-style (i.e., assume you have 20 seconds or less to make your case). Concentrate on 1-2 points that show you’re a strong fit for the job. Focus on accomplishments (e.g., “I designed a new process based on customer data that resulted in 32% sales growth…”) as opposed to responsibilities (e.g., I “coordinated…” or “worked with…” or was “responsible for…”), which were simply your duties.
    3. Highlight why you’re special or UNIQUE. Do you have any distinctive skills or relevant experiences that set you apart from the next candidate? Another way to separate yourself from others is to make your points succinctly and powerfully using the fewest number of words possible. Think white space, not dense copy. Keep rewriting to make your resume & cover letter tighter and stronger with every draft.
    4. Cite EVIDENCE to gain credibility. Use proof that you’ve created (e.g., “I pioneered the restaurant’s signature ‘stack’ dishes and increased revenues at Chez Loran by 110% last year…”) or proof that others have created (e.g., “I received the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award in 2008…”)

    Finally, if you get an interview, prepare 3-4 stories illustrating different areas of expertise you can comfortably talk about. For example:

    We had planned our new product debut in 90 days, but our fiercest competitor surprised us with an early announcement, so we had 30 days to launch – with no support staff and on a shoestring budget! I put together a team of 3 marketing people, and I personally developed the competitive analysis, wrote the sales materials, conducted the sales and partner training and designed a successful launch, on time and on budget. I thrive in a fast-paced environment where speed, flexibility and a focus on results are key. In fact, these products were the fastest ramp-to-revenue products in the company’s history!”

    Do you need help with your resume? Send us excerpts from your resume and we’ll illustrate how to improve its content in a future blog using our principles for developing effective messages (while maintaining your anonymity).

  • 08:22:27 pm on March 31, 2009 | 2 | # |
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    We’re all familiar with stories – they’re the tales you tell upon returning from a trek in Costa Rica, or the chilling story you tell your teenager about the perils of drinking and driving.

    But how do you tell a business story?

    Even in business, we tend to understand things better when they’re presented in story form. Stories give context to a narrative and help put a “face” to an impersonal corporate entity. And since they’re often built upon personal experiences, stories cut through the meaningless jargon that’s so common in the technology industry.

    The best storytellers are those who have lived through rich and memorable experiences (good and bad). So “business storytelling” comes easiest to those who are in constant contact with customers – sales people, service reps, executives or field engineers. If you’re sitting in an office in a product unit or a marketing department, seek out opportunities to observe or talk to customers.

    Most of us are familiar with the product pitch that goes something like this:

    Our Ergo ES.4 and EXP.36 servers deliver superior performance, reliability and efficiency for all your enterprise web-tier applications. Enabled with SuperSpecial™ technology, Ergo ES.4 servers not only provide the highest power-to-server efficiency than any server on the market today, they are ideal for unpredictable scale applications, allowing customers to confidently scale to more than one million concurrent users.

    But wait! A story can be far more effective. In this case, the product doesn’t dominate the conversation and instead becomes the silent hero in our story:

    I was at the Major Gaming Leagues Pro Circuit tour last week where the best videogame players from all of North America were battling it out for bragging rights and $100,000 in cash. Things were going well until a bunch of gamers launched a massively, multiplayer online game testing the latest pilot of HALO 4 and I thought they were going to bring the network to its knees. Luckily, our servers were able to instantly scale to accommodate this sudden peak need, easily supporting nearly 1 million concurrent online gamers!

    Yes, the story is a little longer, but isn’t it more memorable? And instead of claiming to solve every customers’ problem, the story gives the listener a solution to his/her own problem by way of inference.

    Why are stories so effective? Because they’re concrete, they’re authentic and they’re memorable. The most effective stories touch on human emotion and use equal doses of information and entertainment to impart information.

    In reality, you may not always have a customer story to tell when you communicate information about your offerings. If not, think of an analogy that can help to personalize and ground your offering in reality. Can you recall a business story that “stuck” for you?

  • 01:30:54 am on March 18, 2009 | 2 | # |
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    Value propositions: Hidden Beneath the Iceberg

    Let’s say you’re launching a new product in four months. Or you’re introducing an existing product into a new market with hopes of expanding sales. Sounds like it’s time to sit down and crank out that value proposition — after all, how hard can it be?


    Think of your value proposition as the bottom of the iceberg – most people don’t see all the research and hard work that goes into developing a value proposition. Instead, it’s the story or messages (the tip of the iceberg) that most people “see.”

    Strong Words of Advice: Don’t minimize the work involved in developing your value proposition. It’s critical that you take the time to research, analyze and thoroughly understand your customer, your industry and your competition (and how your offering stands out). After all, a value proposition is arguably your most important undertaking, as it becomes the foundation for future marketing activities.

    I like the way Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation (O’Reilly Media, 2008) elegantly describes this concept when referring to innovation:

    An epiphany is the tip of the creative iceberg, and all epiphanies are grounded in work. If you take any magic moment of discovery from history and wander backward in time, you’ll find dozens of smaller observations, inquiries, mistakes, and comedies that occurred to make the epiphany possible.” 1

    (Similarly, messages are the tip of the iceberg and all messages are grounded in value proposition work. And it takes dozens of smaller observations, inquiries, research, and analyses to develop a robust and credible value proposition.)

    So how do you begin developing a value proposition? Here are a few questions from our TRUE model to get you started:


    • Who is the target audience?
    • What do they care about?
    • Who or what influences them most?


    • What problem(s) are they trying to solve? (What keeps them up at night?)
    • What does this audience value? (expand beyond features, e.g., as measured in price, convenience, service or experience)
    • How would you rank the audience’s buying criteria?


    • What do you offer that’s unique and relevant to solving their problem?
    • Why and how is it better? (factual and emotive)
    • Why is your offering the better choice?


    • What proof or results help prove the value of your offering?
    • How do these results show the customer will get the unique value that you claim with your offering?

    For a real-life example, take a look at the Trader Joe value example that Nancy talked about previously.

    Do you think companies invest the proper amount of time in developing their value proposition(s)?


    1 From Guy Kawasaki’s latest book (full of humor and wisdom!) called Reality Check, The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging and Outmarketing Your Competition (2008).

  • 10:27:44 am on February 25, 2009 | 7 | # |


    I saw an ad recently that caught my attention in the new Food Network magazine. While advertising is only one form of communication, I thought this ad was an interesting example of succinct and compelling evidenced-based communications.

    The ad features Hyundai’s first luxury car, the Hyundai Genesis (base price $33,000), and because most people don’t associate Hyundai’s brand with high-performance engineering or comfort, Hyundai takes a bold approach by positioning the Hyundai Genesis against Lexus, a brand synonymous with luxury automobiles. The headline reads: “Think about it. Isn’t it time someone did to Lexus what Lexus did to Mercedes?”

    Whether you think Hyundai versus Lexus is a ridiculous comparison or not is irrelevant. Hyundai proceeds to make aggressive claims against “the competition” as it attempts to leap categories into the high-end, luxury market.

    First of all, Hyundai doesn’t attempt to convey every feature and detail found in this new model. Its focus on performance and comfort make for succinct messages, which are steeped in proof points. Yes, this is an advertisement, but it’s a good reminder never to fill a page with dense copy. Make your point succinctly and powerfully. For example, here’s Hyundai’s message to customers who care about performance: “The Genesis will take you from zero to 60 in a head-spinning 5.7 seconds – and has more horsepower per liter than a Lexus GS 460.”

    Too often, we have a tendency to list everything for fear of leaving something out. If you want your message to stick, keep it simple. Concentrate on 1-2 points that deliver the greatest value to the customer.

    Next, Hyundai’s use of facts and proof points help make their claims more believable. When Hyundai describes the design engineering on the Genesis, it’s compelling: Gaps between body panels are tighter than those found on the standard-bearer for tight tolerances, the Lexus LS460” (which has a MSRP between $63,000 – $77,000!).

    When describing one of its features, Hyundai cleverly cites another high-end name in an attempt to link brands: “And the Genesis cabin is among the quietest and most spacious available. It’s equipped with a Lexicon® 7.1 discrete surround sound system (shared only with the Rolls Royce Phantom).”

    I hesitate to pick on high-tech companies, but ours is an industry with a propensity for meaningless jargon. If this were a technology ad, it might read something like this: “Witness the arrival of a groundbreaking new luxury automobile that delivers versatile performance and unprecedented comfort, driving future breakthroughs in next-generation luxury cars.” Yes, it’s over the top, but the point is that boastful claims without any proof points fall on deaf ears.

    With this, I am reminded of William Zinsser’s sage observations on writing: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular construction, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

    So as ridiculous as comparing Hyundai to Lexus may seem (and despite my lingering issues of quality and reputation), Hyundai’s messages effectively piqued my interest which brought me to Hyundai’s website.

    What do you think? Are there shining (or shameful) examples of B2B or B2C messages that you’ve seen that further illustrate these points?

    Note: For the full ad, see the February/March 2009 issue of Food Network magazine, pg 62.

  • 08:30:08 pm on February 17, 2009 | 0 | # |


    Oftentimes people don’t fully realize just how important it is that their company (or product) messages or “stories” are simple, distinctive and appealing.  Sounds  intuitively obvious, but it’s not always put into practice (e.g., on websites, in collateral, etc).

    Suppose you had $1,000 to spend on a charity. We posed this question to participants in a recent workshop and asked them to look at the messages from two charitable organizations’ websites and vote their dollars based on how the information is presented – not on the merits of each charity. We asked them to use this criteria:

    • Is the information easy to understand?
    • Is it compelling?
    • Is it clear how your dollars will be spent?

    Charity A

    URF/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-charity (Tax ID: 20-41181xx) founded in 2005. We are an international and grassroots Community Based Organization that exists on non-political, non-denominational, and non-sectarian principles.

    Our vision is based upon bringing together all interested individuals and groups to join our efforts in ensuring that AIDS orphans, needy children and marginalized communities are empowered and reintegrated into society as we develop and maintain thriving, productive and sustainable communities.

    What do you think?  This is useful information, but it reads more like a 10K (not exactly riveting stuff). Several people found Charity A’s use of formal language impersonal.

    And while having a vision is good, it wasn’t obvious to everyone how their contributions would be spent  — what exactly does “…empowered and reintegrated into society as we develop and maintain thriving, productive and sustainable communities” mean?

    Sometimes our natural tendency is to inflate our language to sound important. But this simply muddles the meaning and clarity of what we’re trying to express.

    Let’s take a look at the other choice —

    Charity B

    Each night in northern Uganda, tens of thousands of terrified children leave their villages at dusk and walk to town to avoid being kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army – a brutal rebel force that has abducted more than 30,000 children to serve as soldiers and slaves in its 20-year war against the Ugandan government.

    Once in captivity, boys are forced to loot and burn villages and torture and kill neighbors. Abducted girls are routinely raped and become sex slaves or “wives” of rebel commanders. Many do not survive.

    We provide counseling, emotional support, food and medical care for the children who are able to flee, while working to locate their parents and arrange family reunions.

    This begins like a good novel — Charity B uses the power of stories to tap into our emotions and inspire us to act.  And the third paragraph outlines how this group helps children – by providing “counseling, food and medical care,” among other things.

    So, what’s the moral of this story?

    Ineffective messages can impact your bottom line.

    If you can’t express your value to your customer persuasively, customers will put their money elsewhere.

    While these are both worthy organizations, in our most recent workshop, the $1,000 we “gave” to each participant was split this way: Charity B received $9,800, while Charity A received $3,200, based on the messages we showed them.

    It’s worth repeating:

    Your value proposition and messages aren’t simply marketing exercises — they can dramatically impact revenues.

    So make sure you get it right (i.e., targeted, relevant, unique, & evidenced value propositions and messages) before you invest in marketing activities.