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Month: March 2020

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According to a survey conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) on March 18, 43% of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands they “know and trust” as COVID-19 pandemic spreads. And 40% want to know how companies are responding to the coronavirus pandemic, compared to just 15% who say they do not want to hear from companies at the current time.

But as the COVID-19 crisis drags on with no end in sight, businesses risk turning customers and stakeholders off if they aren’t careful about their messaging strategies. Indeed, a more recent survey conducted by Digital Commerce 360 found that 43% of consumers believe coronavirus messages from retailers sound too similar and “are losing their impact.”

How can companies ensure their messaging strategies don’t backfire? Here are questions every company should ask before communicating with customers and stakeholders about COVID-19.

Is the message essential or non-essential?

While many companies naturally want to communicate about how they’re responding to COVID-19, some messages are necessary and others are not. For example, companies that are taking action that will impact customers, such as canceling services or making changes to orders to pending orders or reservations, obviously have a need to communicate with customers.

On the other hand, companies that want to speak more generally about how they’re responding to the situation — both the bad news and the good news — should recognize that such messages are not essential. While that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be delivered, it does mean that extra consideration should be given to how, when and through what medium they’re delivered.

What is our relationship with the stakeholder?

Most companies have many different kinds of stakeholders and COVID-19 presents a unique situation in which companies may have a desire or need to communicate with many if not all of them.

Companies risk making a huge mistake, however, if they attempt to communicate with all of their stakeholders with a single message, at the same time and through the same medium. Instead, this is a moment that calls for segmentation — thoughtful, granular segmentation at that.

For instance, it can be very wise to segment customers. Arguably, businesses have more justification for communicating with regular customers, or customers the business has transacted with recently, about COVID-19 than customers that the business hasn’t transacted with recently. Companies should be especially cautious about communicating with inactive customers and customers they have not communicated with recently.

Put simply, if a company hasn’t sent a message to a former customer in over a year, it should consider that sending a non-essential email to that individual at a time when he or she is being bombarded with COVID-19 emails from companies he or she has active relationships with is, at best, more likely to be ignored and, at worst, could be seen as an annoyance.

When and how much do we need to communicate?

Based on necessity and the nature of a stakeholder relationship, companies can more reasonably determine ideal timing for COVID-19 communications, as well as how much information should be communicated.

This is especially true of email. Given the volume of COVID-19 emails currently being sent now, companies should consider that if a message doesn’t need to be delivered now, it might have a better chance of being opened and read at a later time. And while long letters from CEOs might hit all the right notes from a PR perspective, companies should be realistic: most consumers are probably not going to read them completely, if at all, especially if the content is not essential and/or the recipient’s relationship with the business is on the weaker side.

What medium is likely to be most effective, not most convenient?

Most COVID-19 communications are being delivered by email and while it might be the most appropriate in many cases, companies shouldn’t forget about other mediums they can take advantage of.

For essential communications, prominent notices on a company website can be highly effective. For example, retailers can use such notices to inform customers of supply issues, delivery delays, etc. And travel companies can use such notices to inform customers of changes they are making related to the pandemic.

Companies that have used other mediums, such as social media, online video and podcasts, to build strong relationships with the most engaged and invested stakeholders can look at those mediums as potential alternatives to email as they can be used to cut through the clutter and deliver messages to valuable segments.

Remember: it’s not all about the company

The pandemic that’s sweeping the globe is in many ways an unprecedented event that challenges businesses in ways they’ve never been challenged before. While the conventional wisdom is for companies to stay engaged and respond, communication strategy during an event like this should at all levels incorporate a humility borne of the recognition that the company isn’t the center of the universe for the vast majority of its non-employee stakeholders.

In staying humble, companies are far more likely to come up with answers to the above questions that are appropriate and reasonable for these extraordinary times.

COVID-19 Insight for marketers

Get regular updates from thought leaders in marketing and beyond on how to address the challenges presented by the COVID 19 pandemic. Visit The Lowdown.

The post Consumers care about coronavirus responses, but here’s how companies can avoid overdoing it appeared first on Econsultancy.

How will you use the advice from this post?

Want your employees to share more about your business on social media? Wondering how best to guide their social media posts? In this article, you’ll discover how to develop guidelines to help employees post more on social media and find examples of types of posts employees can model. #1: Create Clear Social Media Guidelines for […]

The post How to Guide Your Employees to Post More on Social Media appeared first on Social Media Marketing | Social Media Examiner.

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I’ve seen reports that someone is asserting that utm=COVID19 in URLs results in all mail going to bulk at multiple ISPs. This is the type of thing that someone says is true and dozens of folks believe it and thus a “deliverability phact” is born. For a plethora of reasons, this doesn’t pass the sniff test. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

It’s very tempting to identify this One Simple Trick to get your email into the inbox. Change this font. Take out this UTM. Change this hostname. And, in some cases it may even work for a time.

But, look, if filters really were that simple they’d be wholly ineffective. Not just slightly ineffective but wholly ineffective. Anything that is easy to test can be defeated, and spammers test as much or even more than marketers do.

Don’t believe me? Over a decade ago I was invited to a meeting with a “marketing company” based out of San Francisco. After I got there and signed the NDA, they explained their strategy to get mail into Hotmail. Starting at 5pm they would have their content staff start writing emails and sending them to Hotmail. They’d test and test and test until one of them got into the inbox. Once they found content that would get through the filters, they’d turn on the floodgates and send as much mail as they could until the filters caught up. They’d do this all night, every night. (They were shut down by the FTC not long after I declined to work with them.)

It’s naive to believe that filters would be so transparent and think they’d still work. Anything so simple is going to be discovered and exploited by the spammers. Don’t fall pray to this kind of deliverability nonsense. Think about what the bad guys would do if this were true. And then remember that the bad guys have a lot of practice exploiting naive filters.

How To Use Dramatic Irony for More Than Shenanigans

Welcome to Read Like a Writer, a new series that examines a different element of the craft of fiction writing in each installment, using examples from the Recommended Reading archives. Each month, the editors of Recommended Reading—Halimah Marcus, Brandon Taylor, and Erin Bartnett—will select a few stories that illustrate a specific technique, style, or writing challenge. 

In the first installment of Read Like A Writer, we discussed how to write an ending that is surprising yet inevitable. In this installment, we’re going to talk about another way to build momentum in narrative by thinking about how that “surprise” element can be turned into suspense. Alfred Hitchcock illustrated the difference between surprise and suspense by inviting you to imagine a bomb under the table. If neither the characters nor the audience knows about the bomb, and it goes off, that’s a surprise. If the audience knows about the bomb, but the characters do not, and the audience anticipates the bomb going off, that is the suspense. The key difference is dramatic irony, that old dusty literary concept we all learned in high school. 

If the audience knows about the bomb, but the characters do not, and the audience anticipates the bomb going off, that is the suspense.

But dramatic irony has much subtler applications than high school curriculum allows. Alice Munro opened my mind to the potential of dramatic irony and it’s painful pleasures with her story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.” In it, a woman named Johanna goes to work for a man and his teenage granddaughter, Sabitha. Johanna is an object of mockery for the Sabitha and her friend Edith because she lacks fashionable clothes and interests. Sabitha and Edith begin writing Johanna love letters that purport to be from the Sabitha’s’s father, and Johanna falls in love with the father through letters he did not write. Eventually, she writes that she is coming to live with him, packs up, and leaves.

I experienced this short story like a horror movie, my dread mounting, my palms sweating. My compassion for Johanna grew proportionally to my certainty that she would be heartbroken and humiliated. But Munro, the master, would never do something so predictable and cheap. When Johanna goes to live with the father (spoilers here), they fall in love and live happily ever after. 

Even when a story isn’t dealing with bombs, dramatic irony is often something that is set and later deployed. The dramatic irony in “Hateship, Friendship” is that I, the reader, know something Johanna does not, which is the true author of the love letters. Munro uses that knowledge to heighten the emotion of my reading experience, and then deploys it in a self-aware way that undermines my expectations. 

We can’t all be as good as Munro, but we can borrow a few tricks. Here are three stories from the Recommended Reading archives that deploy dramatic irony in complex and unexpected ways of their own. – HM

A Beautiful Wife is Suddenly Dead” by Margaret Meehan

In Margaret Meehan’s “A Beautiful Wife Is Suddenly Dead,” Karen Roberts wants a made-for-TV life. A high school English teacher who cliff-noted her way through her own education, Karen prefers to imagine herself as a character in another story—a teacher whose “students might erupt into applause, hearts bursting, changed forever” à la Dead Poets Society. After school hours, she fantasizes about the countless, brutally murdered women in her favorite true crime shows, now suddenly beautiful and talented in the past tense. She opts for hair extensions, long red nails, and smooth, waxed skin. She has a husband and she tolerates him, but mostly she’s annoyed he’s not willing to play a more interesting role than “doting husband.” Karen is what some might call “basic,” and what others might call “unlikeable.”  

But from the very first line of the story, we know that Karen’s story is going to get less basic: “Karen Roberts is going to fall out the window.” It’s quintessential dramatic irony—we know Karen is going to fall, she doesn’t. In her introduction to the story, Halimah Marcus calls the opening line of the story a dare. It’s fun to think about dramatic irony as a dare. Like dares, which are performed for the cringing pleasure of others, dramatic irony often relies on a sense of dread. We know something terrible is going to happen, but the character is blissfully ignorant in a way that allows them to continue living out their lives. There’s a measure of schadenfreude fueling our progress from paragraph to paragraph. 

In “A Beautiful Wife,” the feeling powering our experience of the story may start off as dread, but as we get to know Karen, and her obsession with true crime shows, their “miraculous recasting of mediocrity in death,” our dread lifts into something more like delight. Who is Karen, this unapologetically vain woman who is kind of okay with being a beautiful dead one? Meehan subtly guides our attention by creating an unflinching portrait of an unlikeable woman who dreams of living at the center of a more dramatic life. We’re consuming her like she consumes true crime. But she’s not like those other true crime girls. The story dares you to care about Karen, to care about whether or not she gets what she wants. – EB

PU-239” by Ken Kalfus

“Pu-239” by Ken Kalfus is about a disgruntled employee at a Russian nuclear power plant, who, after an accident, steals weapon-grade plutonium to sell on the black market. Timofey’s health has been compromised by the accident, which exposed him to radiation. He knows he will likely die prematurely, and he has nothing to leave his family. The money he makes from the sale will be his life insurance. 

Fiona Maazel introduced the story when we published it in 2013. “It would undersell the story to suggest it’s just a satire,” she wrote. “No, this fiction has the higher aim of ennobling stupidity — of recognizing its power and aptitude for destruction.” The stupidity she’s referring to here is, at least to start, Timofey walking around Moscow with plutonium stored in a coffee can, strapped to his chest. 

It’s not that knowing that Timofey will die that creates the dramatic irony—he knows that too, on some level. Even a person with the most cursory knowledge of nuclear physics knows how catastrophically idiotic Timofey’s behavior is. This tension between the reader’s commonsense knowledge and the character’s reckless actions—the tension encapsulated in Maazel’s phrase “ennobling stupidity”—is where the true dramatic irony lies. Knowing what’s going to happen won’t drive a story; dreading it does. – HM

Alta’s Place” by Morgan Thomas

“Alta’s Place” charts Cory’s growing fascination with Alta, an enigmatic woman who appears one evening at the dry cleaner where Cory works with a coffee stain on her suit. Through their conversation, retold by Cory, we come to understand how Alta’s suit was stained during an asylum interview, and the circumstances under which Alta left her native Mongolia for Virginia. Her landlord discovered her living with another woman with whom she was in a romantic relationship and evicted her, an initial cruelty that had the ripple effect of forcing her to leave the country entirely.

In a subtle and masterful deployment of first-person point of view, the reader sees Alta as a kind of doubled. That is, we see Alta through her own words in scene and quoted dialogue, but we also see the narrator’s warped version of Alta. Morgan Thomas deftly reveals the ways Cory’s perception of Alta is curtailed by her own limited experience and by a tendency to objectify and exoticize. 

The dramatic irony that brings this story to its masterful and subtle conclusion stems from the gap between who Cory understands Alta to be and who Alta actually is. As a queer woman herself, Cory is alert to the realities of queer life in America, but she is at times inattentive to Alta’s reality and subtly invalidating of her experiences, eldiding them, wanting to make them smaller, more manageable than they are. Again and again, Cory references wanting to draw Alta. To touch her clothing. To eat her food. To become her, in a way. But Cory doesn’t question these impulses. She is unaware of this tendency in herself, but it is carefully wrought and visible for the reader, giving rise to a tension as we wait for it all to become clear to her. – BT

The post How To Use Dramatic Irony for More Than Shenanigans appeared first on Electric Literature.

What’s the most helpful writing tip you’ve found from this post?

As writers, we are artists. We create through inspiration—a spark brought to fruition through discipline, hard work, and practice. And we draw inspiration from everywhere around us.

5 Writing Lessons I Learned From The Voice

I had some inspiring moments this week as a result of following up on a suggestion from my mentor, Dean Wesley Smith. He told me to go watch a few episodes of blind auditions from the TV show The Voice and see what I could pull from it in terms of lessons for my writing.

I struck a gold mine in the Season 18 Blind Auditions, Part 2, and I’m sharing it with you.

What Is The Voice?

In case you’re not familiar with it, let me explain the premise of the show. Essentially, it’s a competition between four teams, and the blind audition is like when the team captains are picking their teams. It’s called a blind audition because the coaches start out by sitting in chairs that face away from the stage. They can’t see the performers—only hear them.

If what they hear catches their interest, they hit a button that turns their chair toward the stage. This signals that they want this performer on their team. If more than one coach turns their chair, they are in competition for that performer and must pitch their coaching skills. The performer chooses their coach and the teams are formed.

Now and then, someone will sing and no chairs will turn. Sadly, that person takes their ball and goes home. They didn’t make the cut.

5 Writing Lessons From The Voice

It’s fun to watch, with a variety of great music and vocal delights. Here are a few nuggets we can apply to writing that I got from watching the show.

1. The value of real-life experience

After one stellar performance, Nick Jonas said to the singer: “I’m excited to see what inspires you because I feel like you’re the kind of vocalist that real life is going to have a major impact on how you perform on stage.”

Our unique experiences, and the way we react to them, are what set us apart and make us individuals. They give value to what we can offer others and expand our range of expression.

I remember a conversation I once had with a musician friend, a violinist who hit her stride late in life. She told me she used to mourn the fact that she delayed her development to focus on other concerns. But as she came to understand how life events had shaped her, giving her depth and maturity she could have gained no other way, she grew to appreciate how that enriched her playing.

As writers, our real-life experiences do the same, providing a larger emotional palette from which we can draw to create our stories.

2. Figuring it out

The Voice shares highlights and human interest moments about the performers. I listened to one girl tell how she started singing at six years old and her father became her biggest supporter. He set himself up as her sound technician and they traveled, finding gigs. She said, “We didn’t know what we were doing, but we figured it out as we went.”

I don’t know what your writer’s road has been like, but when I took my first steps, I didn’t know what I was doing either. I figured it out as I went along, learning new skills, adding knowledge and contacts, expanding my toolbox. I’m committed to continuing in the same way.

I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go. We all do.

3. It’s all about the emotion

Here are some coaches’ comments I noted down as I watched the show.

“You carry all the emotion that storytellers need.”

“We want to be moved. That’s the point of being an artist.”

“You hit me in an emotional spot.”

“You’re telling a story. The message matters.”

The singers who got the coaches to turn their chairs were the ones who did more than sing on pitch or hit the high notes. They were the ones who used their art to tell a story that engaged the emotions.

It’s the same with writing. Readers read to feel something, to be stirred in some way. As writers, learning how to create those emotional moments is something worthy of our time and effort.

4. More than just an ugly rock

One of the performers shared how she was a rock collector. She laughed about how, when she told people she was going to a rock show, they thought she meant a concert, but really she was just going to look at rocks.

She talked about her favorite kind of rock—a geode. On the outside, it looks like just an ugly rock. But if you crack it open, it’s full of beautiful crystals on the inside.

Sometimes, our books can be like that. They are filled with wonderful, exciting, even life-changing material, but they have to be cracked open before anyone can benefit from all the beauty. That’s why covers, sales copy, and opening paragraphs are so vital. They are what gets a reader to crack open the book.

5. Rejection is not failure

Every singer that appeared on the episode was remarkably talented and put on a great performance. But not all of them got a chair turn. In those instances, the coaches just didn’t quite hear what they were looking for.

When we send our work to an editor and it gets turned down, it’s kind of like that. And a rejection doesn’t mean our story isn’t good. It just means it didn’t work, at that time, for that particular editor. Another quote from the show:

“As an artist, you get so many doors slammed in your face. You should never, ever quit.”

Every writer collects a lot of rejection slips. It’s part of the journey and we can’t let it stop us. Nick Jonas also said this:

“Through success, failure, and everything in between, stay true to your art.”

Failure is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for success.


Stay tuned for another important lesson

There’s another huge and inspiring lesson I got out of watching The Voice. It’s what my mentor sent me there to find, but it’s too big to tack on the end of this article. I’ll save it for another time so I can give it the attention it deserves.

I think it’s amazing how much marvelous inspiration I gleaned from a single episode of a television show. But it’s all around us, everywhere, all the time. Like cracking open a geode, we can find value and beauty where we look for it.

How about you? Have you ever watched The Voice? What’s your favorite source for inspiration? Tell us about it in the comments.


Let’s go on The Voice. Drawing inspiration from what you learned in the article, write a scene where your character auditions on The Voice.

What song does he or she perform? What emotions course through her? How does it go? Do the coaches turn their chairs? Can you sprinkle in the bits of backstory that make the show such a success?

Write for fifteen minutes. When you are finished, post your work in the comments and don’t forget to provide feedback for your fellow writers!

The post 5 Writing Lessons I Learned From The Voice appeared first on The Write Practice.

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B2B Content Marketing Examples

B2B marketing can sometimes seem to play second fiddle to its more glamorous sister, B2C marketing. When it comes to content marketing, campaigns built for consumer audiences are often more intuitive, more fun, or more colorful for the audiences and the marketers who implement them alike. However, as I like to tell my graduate students, marketers get tired of our own marketing way faster than our audiences do.

When it comes to B2B marketing, your content marketing campaigns can be highly valuable, highly sought after, and highly relevant to your audiences. These campaigns resonate most strongly when you are focused on your audiences’ goals, challenges, and mindsets.

Here are five B2B content marketing examples from companies that understand their audiences well and use their content marketing to provide Youtility.

CES Tech Talk Podcast Distills Key Takeaways

B2B Content Lesson: Leverage Your Experts and Break Down the Facts Through a Podcast

CES is such a huge trade show that there is no way that attendees can absorb even a tenth of the content, information, and demos that are presented at the event. How can the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on this massive annual event, create more value for its audiences, reinforce its reputation year-round, and extend its reach?

It produces robust content as part of its marketing approach, such as its Tech Talk Podcast. Each episode of the podcast features industry experts going deep on one specific topic area, such as tech in healthcare, self-driving cars, or the future of innovation.

This series leverages the experts that the organization is already working with and builds upon the brand recognition of its marquee event to build an audience of loyal listeners. This series works particularly well, because it synthesizes the information around each topic area into what you need to know today, as Michael Barbaro of The New York Times says in his podcast, “The Daily.”

B2B Content Example from CES

The CES Tech Talk Podcast is a great example of B2B content marketing.

Athena Health Teaches Business Skills Through Webinars

B2B Content Lesson: Help Solve Their Other Problems

I was recently asked by a client what kind of content they should be publishing for their audience that doesn’t give away the types of frameworks that they offer as part of their services.

While I actually believe you CAN give away some of your frameworks (see the next example), an effective type of content for B2B brands is acknowledging the kind that acknowledges that problem that your product or service solves isn’t the (only) one that’s keeping your client up at night.

For instance, Athena Health is a provider of a suite of services such as electronic health records (EHR) and medical billing. But they offer webinars that help their clients deal with their most critical business challenges: to improve the ways in which they run their practices, recognizing that doctors don’t necessarily have MBAs and don’t always know how to grow their businesses effectively.

B2B Content Marketing Example from AthenaHealth

Webinars from AthenaHealth help their clients deal with their most critical business challenges — excellent example of B2B content marketing.

Convince & Convert (This Very Blog) Gives Away Tools & Frameworks

B2B Content Lesson: Provide Your Recipe to Build Trust and Authority

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that we actually give you quite a lot of tools and frameworks that we use with our clients. That’s because we recognize that for B2B businesses like ours, there is a difference between the DIY segments and the segments that want you to help them take those frameworks and put them to good use for their organizations.

Therefore, we give away templates, like the one in this example, along with a video and blog post to explain to visitors how to use it. It builds trust, and when those visitors (maybe like you!) are ready to take their digital marketing practices to the next step, we are already at the top of their list in terms of trust and authority. Not only does it build trust, it also helps us to build an audience—content like this has great value in search. 

B2B Content Marketing Example from our blog

In this B2B content marketing example, we offer a downloadable template, along with a vide introduction.

Mailchimp Profiles Its Customers on Instagram

B2B Content Lesson: Showcase Your Community of Users

For many B2B companies, social proof takes the form of reviews or testimonials; however, as more and more B2B decision makers turn to social media, creating content that reflects your community is vital. In fact, 51% of all B2B customers turn to social media to do initial research, according to Accenture.

51% of all B2B customers turn to social media to do initial research.

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Furthermore, the lines between social media and content marketing are blurring more than ever. More often than not, the content that our teams are creating live on social media channels, rather than on our websites. Therefore, looking at ways to create content within social media makes a ton of sense.

Mailchimp, for example, has used its Instagram account as a place to showcase the stories of what its customers are achieving every day, their creativity, and their stories to showcase the kinds of people who use Mailchimp to power their businesses. It publishes microprofiles on each Instagram post. 

It showcases their ethos, and it reassures potential users that they’ve found their tribe.

B2B content example from Mailchimp

In this example of great B2B content, Mailchimp uses its Instagram account as a place to showcase the stories of what its customers are achieving every day, their creativity, and their stories to showcase the kinds of people who use Mailchimp to power their businesses.

CMI Facilitates Conversation Through Monthly Twitter Chats

B2B Content Lesson: Create Points of Interaction

If we’re talking about strong examples of B2B content marketing, what better place to turn that Content Marketing Institute itself? CMI not only educates marketers, but it also connects them through events like Content Marketing World.

An ongoing example of its content marketing practice is its monthly #CMWorld Twitter chat, where guests are invited to answer pre-selected questions, posed by a moderator, while Twitter users participate in answering those same questions, asking each other questions, and picking the brains of the guest. It’s like “Inside the Actors Studio” if the audience were up on stage participating too.

Not only does this approach create a strong network of devoted brand followers, but it (like our first example) helps the brand to leverage and extend its marquee brand. In this case, Content Marketing World’s #cmworld hashtag gets to be used once a week, rather than for one week a year. This keeps it front and center, when it comes to marketing conversations (their key market).

B2B content marketing example

The #CMIWorld Twitter chat is an ongoing example of CMI’s content marketing practice.

Remember: As you’re developing your B2B content marketing campaigns, keep in mind your target audiences’ goals, challenges, and mindsets. If you are able to address those specific areas and make it easy for them to do so, your content will resonate and be effective.

The post 5 B2B Content Marketing Examples You Can Copy appeared first on Content Marketing Consulting and Social Media Strategy.