Marketing

Taglines: Pragmatic

In my last couple of posts, I talked about why I liked the tagline that Workflowy uses and the tagline that Xero uses. Today I’ll cover another example I enjoy.

Friends make products. Enemies make documentation. – Pragmatic Marketing

Pragmatic doesn’t make software, but they promote a framework (and train and certify software people in it) for building and marketing software. Their framework is aligned with Agile, and this tagline is a clear shout-out to the second “value” statement in the Agile Manifesto,

“[we have come to value]: Working software over comprehensive documentation.”

Those of us in the industry that use some version of agile-based processes to create products will immediately identify with this statement – especially those of us that “grew up” in a waterfall environment. So, to that end, this tagline is both entertaining and functional. People that don’t know anything about Pragmatic will at least discern that they rely on an iterative approach to product development and marketing in their framework.

Taglines: Xero

In my last post, I talked about why I liked the tagline that Workflowy uses on their home page. Today I’ll cover another example I enjoy.

Beautiful accounting software – Xero

Beautiful and Accounting are not two concepts that we normally put together. Really, nothing associated with accounting seems beautiful, except perhaps to accountants themselves. However, as a small business owner, I can tell you that accounting software can be a nightmare, even for a tech-savvy person who isn’t afraid of numbers and has a decent understanding of accounting. So, for any accounting software company to care about making a beautiful product is one huge step forward for those of us that have to use it – and for a company to actually deliver on that is an even bigger deal.

In the long run, I think Xero will need to come up with another tagline – the more competition there is, the more sophisticated users become, the more we will expect beauty in the products we use – but for now, I think they’re using their tagline to make an important statement about an element that distinguishes them from the competition, when competition in this area largely relies on pricing. There are some feature differences between various tools, but accounting software has to do largely the same thing because it’s such a well-defined practice.

In the meantime, though, I enjoy using Xero, both for its aesthetics and its functionality.

Taglines: Workflowy

The tagline has long been an instrumental tool in a company’s marketing toolbox. Short and sweet, the objective of the message is to draw you in for one purpose or another, be it an attempt at direct persuasion (sales), a catchy phrase that sticks in your head and is easily recalled (brand recognition), or an entertaining or inspiring note that triggers an emotional response or molds your perception of a product, service, or company (brand culture/identity/philosophy).

I personally am most interested in those taglines that convey culture, philosophy, or identity in some way. As humans, we are wired for connection, and though we may normally think about that in terms of connection to other people, we clearly also connect with brands and products. I’m sure you have friends or family members that swear by the make of car they drive or have been members of the Apple cult since Day 1.

As a software geek, I regularly try new products, and like most software users today, there are many things that matter to me beyond the pure function of a given tool. Company philosophy and personality are one of those extras that grow in importance as more and more solutions are created in a given space. The short tagline a company uses to express itself can contribute or detract from the overall image it attempts to put forth. Here’s one I like:

Organize your Brain. — Workflowy.

I wrote a high-level review about how enamored I was with this tool last year, and I still hold a fondness in my heart for Workflowy (even though I hate the name itself). In this case, I like the tagline because it is an utterly simple explanation of why you should use this software. If you’re someone that thinks in lists and outlines and just wants to get things done, you’ll swear by the elegant simplicity of this product. I’ve seen another tagline on their site that I like a bit less. When logged in, you’ll find a short note at the bottom of your screen that says, “Make lists. Not war.” Cute, maybe – but it doesn’t grab me on an emotional level on par with the product itself.

Clever Features: Betabrand (Too many to list)

I hate marketing emails.  I get them no matter how hard I try not to and no matter how many times I unsubscribe.  It’s an annoying fact of Internet life, I guess.  There is one exception, though, and when I realized today that I actually open and read the emails I get from Betabrand every time I receive one, I thought it was worth a few minutes of my time to give Betabrand some kudos and do my part to spread the word about a brand that I think highly deserves it.

Betabrand is a small clothing operation run out of the Mission in San Francisco, and from all indications, they are on fire.  I am not a very fashion-conscious person; in fact, people that know me would probably say I’m anti-fashion, or fashion agnostic, or something like that.  Truth be told, I would wear jeans and a t-shirt all the time if I could get away with it.  I mention this simply to underscore how effective the marketing of Betabrand is.  I’m the last person on the planet that would be their customer.  First, they sell primarily men’s clothing, and second, they are beyond hip in a way I can barely fathom.  So why am I on their mailing list, and why do I read every email and immediately go check out their latest products online?  It all started last Christmas – I was looking for a cool pair of corduroy pants as a gift for my other half.  Somehow I stumbled upon Betabrand and the Cordarounds.

I thought the Cordarounds were clever for two reasons:  1) the horizontal ridges on the pants and 2) the bold fabric that peeks out of the sides of the pockets.  These pants are really unique!  It doesn’t stop there, though.  The reason I continue to read all their emails is because they are ridiculous.  They are funny, campy, weird, and just plain entertaining.  Below is part of the text of the email I received yesterday, titled “Betabrand presents: Black Sheep and Sasquatch Sweaters”:

In today’s newsletter: one beautiful wool sweater, two tales of varying veracity. Plus, a strategy for photographing Bigfoot that’s guaranteed to work!

One of the following sweater stories is true. Which one is more worthy of retelling is up to you. Read on!

#1 The Black Sheep Sweater: Now You Can Wear A Figure Of Speech

Every autumn, we knit a small batch of limited-edition Black Sheep Sweaters with loners, iconoclasts, and the oft-misunderstood in mind.

True to its name, this crew-neck pullover is knit from 100% natural (undyed and untreated) wool yarn that comes from actual black sheep. Shunned by most of their paler brethren, these outcast ovines live on a few small Montana ranches near Yellowstone National Park. They’re raised how you’d imagine Western sheep would like to be raised — in fresh air and wide open spaces, with lots of tasty summer grass to munch on and plenty of John Wayne DVDs to watch at night.

Our mill in the nearby Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming takes the shorn black fleeces (more grayish-brown, actually) and spins them into soft, extra-fine yarn for our sweaters. We’ve been assured that no hazardous chemicals or robots are used in the process. In fact, these folks are dedicated to environmental sustainability and preserving traditional ranching culture in the West.

Yes, the Black Sheep Sweater is not only ruggedly handsome and ethically produced, it’s a figure of speech you can actually wear. But what if you want a slightly more exotic (and hirsute) garment? In that case …

#2 The Sasquatch Sweater: Cryptid Couture

Since time immemorial, the hair of the Sasquatch has been prized by clothing manufacturers for its color, texture, and unique earthy aroma. But this shy creature’s reclusive nature — and occasional propensity for sudden and terrible acts of violence — has made genuine Sasquatch-wool garments nearly impossible to find. Until now!

Introducing our new, limited-edition Sasquatch Sweater. Each one is knit from 100% pure Bigfoot fur, harvested from our free-range herd in the Cascade Mountains. We like to say a better sweater begins with a happy Sasquatch, so ours are lovingly raised on an all-organic diet of berries, roots, and fresh salmon, giving their fur a robust character that’s been compared favorably to the finest black-sheep wool.

Know that our Sasquatch enjoy an idyllic existence at the sprawling Double B Ranch, spending their days sunning in wildflower-filled meadows, loping through copses of hemlock and spruce, or just rolling around in mud and fragrant bear scat. And when it’s time for our ranchers to gather lovely Sasquatch fleeces, the gentle brutes are taken to feng-shui-approved wool sheds and given a powerful chamomile-based sedative, lest they grow uneasy and rip off a rancher’s arm or face.

Also, rest assured that this garment contains only residual amounts of Sasquatch musk, ensuring that sweater-wearers may visit the forests of the Pacific Northwest during mating season with only moderate fear of romantic entanglement.

No matter which story you choose to believe, one thing’s for certain: We made just a limited batch of Sasquatch and Black Sheep Sweaters, so they won’t stay around for long. Order yours today — only at Betabrand.com. (We’ll be tracking the popularity of each product and will report back next week with our findings.)

This company has so many things going for it; it’s really pretty inspirational to watch them expand.  According to a year-old article on FastCompany.com, they debuted with the Cordarounds last May (2011) and expected to hit $2MM in revenue that year.  Pretty insane, and they now carry tons of apparel.  Speaking of which, besides being hip and hilarious, they find really clever ways to design innovative features into their clothing.

Take the Gluttony pants, with three buttons so they can be expanded when the wearer eats too much.  Or the Bike to Work pants, that when rolled up have a reflective material on the cuff and a triangular reflective flag that pulls out of the back pocket to make the rider more visible.  This is definitely a company I’m keeping my eye on.  Their humor has captivated many, and the company has capitalized on how well they resonate with consumers, with a highly successful app for submitting user generated content.  People that upload photos of themselves wearing Betabrand or with the Betabrand ‘B’ photoshopped onto their faces sideways like a pair of glasses get a discount if they purchase within 24 hours, and the pictures the public comes up with are almost as funny as the content the brand produces.  Check them out, even if you’re not a clothes junkie – they are impressive.

Communication Audit – Strategic Analysis

Yesterday, I published a short article about some immediate tactical steps you can take to audit and improve your company communication.  Continuing with that theme, below are some additional questions you can ask when you have the opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Did the company have a discernible goal with each communication?  Was that goal met?

Often the goal for a given communication is taken for granted, and this can contribute to missed opportunities and poor messaging.  Consider system generated emails, for instance.  Many companies use HTML formatted emails for communication when the emails are thought of as part of a marketing conversation with the consumer.  Confirmation emails sent after someone signs up, or when they change their password, are often given much less attention because they don’t seem like marketing materials.  They are, though.  Any kind of interaction you have with your customers is a marketing opportunity – and that is not to be confused with a sales opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to leave a good, neutral, or bad impression on customers.  Every communication should have a well defined goal, and may have more than one.  If you can’t name it, you may not need that communication – or, perhaps it just needs a real overhaul.

Do various types of writing portray the same voice?

Experiment and develop a conversational voice, then formally define that voice so others have a stylistic model to follow.  All writing has a voice, and particularly when multiple people are involved in writing materials for your company, you need to make it clear what that voice sounds like.  Writing with a playful voice won’t come naturally to everyone that might be involved in writing, though.  Defining that playful voice, even by going so far as to create a caricature of a virtual person, may help your team achieve more consistency.

Are there any kinds of communication that are missing?

Don’t simply review what you already have.  Stop and think about whether your materials answer the questions you think your customers might have.  Work with someone who knows nothing about your company or even about your industry, and ask them if any questions are left unanswered when they read your materials.  Dig into any support databases you have access to and look at what customers are asking about.  If you have customer service reps, talk to them.  They are an invaluable resource when it comes to understanding what your customers really want and need.

Communication Audit – Cleaning Up Communication

A couple of years ago, I performed a communication audit for a technology start-up.  The company had some significant issues with their communications materials, but that wasn’t surprising.  Often in a start-up environment, you see people whose primary skill set does not include writing creating public facing content for a variety of communications channels.  What is more surprising to me is that I continue to see grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and other issues in the published materials of many larger, more established companies.  With that in mind, I thought I’d share the things I look for when auditing communications materials.

Many formal audits focus on external communications.  However, the questions below can be used to guide an audit of internal communication as well.  Employees notice the same kinds of issues that customers do, and it is just as important to have high quality internal communications materials.  An audit may include many channels or types of communications.  For the start-up I mentioned earlier, I reviewed the primary corporate website, the product website and online documentation, system generated emails, software user guides, blog entries, press releases and even job postings.  The list of artifacts can be quite long, and one of the mistakes companies make with communication is to skip things like system generated email messages.

A good communication audit will examine both broader objectives and communication goals and the specific mechanics of communication materials.  In this post, I’ll focus on a few of the more tactical questions I asked myself about the materials I reviewed.  These are the kinds of things that can be done at any time, and even in a piecemeal fashion.  They should also be done on a regular basis.

First, some nuts and bolts tactics that can be employed when you don’t have time or don’t need to look at the big strategic picture:

Was the communication understandable?

This seems obvious, but often those closest to a product or service are those least likely to notice that an explanation or description is hard to follow.  Minimize jargon, unless it is appropriate, as would be the case in something like a technical API specification.  Keep sentence length reasonable, and break paragraphs logically.  Smaller chunks of information are easier to comprehend, and something as simple as breaking a paragraph can add a surprising amount of clarity to a complicated topic.  Ask someone outside your organization to review your materials.  In some cases, it’s best to ask someone outside your industry.  If you expect a “layman” to follow your communications, it can be invaluable to get reviews from people that know nothing about what your company does.

Was the communication flawless?

Any writer should strive for flawless communication from a spelling, punctuation, and grammatical perspective, but it’s amazing how often small errors are missed.    Subtle errors that are easy to miss include things like matching verb tense, subject/verb agreement, run on sentences, and dangling participles.  Publishing writing with grammatical errors only says negative things about your company, no matter how amazing your product or service might be.  It’s worth the time and/or money to have your company’s writing reviewed by a good editor, and that editor doesn’t have to be a professional.  Other people in the company may do just as well, especially when you can enlist multiple reviewers.

Was the communication consistent?

Consistency is another important element to any company’s message.  When multiple people are involved in writing for a company, it can be difficult to achieve consistency, but there are some basic steps you can take to move in this direction.  Choose terminology explicitly.  For instance, if your product is used by software developers, choose to use the term ‘developers’ or ‘programmers’ or ‘engineers,’ but don’t switch between them or use different terms in different places to represent what is really one type of customer.

For a quick review of the grammatical subjects I listed above, see:

Verb tense

Subject/verb agreement

Dangling participle (or dangling modifier)

GM Helps Make My Case

It seems GM has come to the conclusion that paid advertising on Facebook hasn’t been effective for them.  This article explains why, and underscores my opinion that “going social” isn’t going to work for all brands, at least not without some serious innovation and relevant value for consumers.  Marketing via Facebook and Twitter may be growing, but like many fairly new advertising channels, there are two significant issues.  First, it takes time for brands to figure out how to use them well.  Until they do, consumers won’t pay attention.  Second, just because the channel exists, doesn’t mean it’s the right place for every brand to advertise.  This is exactly what GM has seen.

Think about their product.  Cars.  Are cars on your mind when you’re on Facebook?  For some people, perhaps yes, cars are on their minds – somewhere.  But even someone that is ready to purchase a car right now is going to rely on plenty of existing channels to get information about GM or any other car company.  A car is not an impulse purchase, so a simple click-through kind of ad isn’t going to have a huge impact on whether they consider a GM model or not, and when they’re in research mode, they’re already on GM’s primary website, or AutoTrader, or Edmunds, or Consumer Reports or any other number of established websites with information about cars.

I think GM made the right move.  That’s not to say there isn’t a place in their overall portfolio for Facebook, but it should be limited.