How to magically destroy your marketing efforts

August 6, 2012

Magician's hatMarketing is all about leading your customers and prospects down a clear path that leads to their purchasing your product or engaging your services. There is little room for ambiguity in marketing since you have people’s attention for such a brief moment in time. Your marketing messages—PowerPoint presentations, websites, social media, or any other marketing vehicle—should always clearly state what you want people to do and the benefits to them of doing it.

I recently saw an egregious example of mixed messages that made me doubt whether the person involved was really interested in his continued employment!

I was having breakfast at a diner in my town when another patron overheard me talking about the local newspaper. He introduced himself as a sales rep from that paper and talked to me a little bit about my business. He then handed me his business card, a typical black-on-white number with raised printing.

As I was reading the card, I could feel printing on the reverse so I turned it over. I expected to see more details about his job or his employer. Instead, it was a completely different business being advertised. You see, our man is also a part-time magician, so he thought he’d combine his moonlighting gig with his day job on a single business card.

“Your boss must have been impressed,” I quipped and he replied that the publisher was really angry but had let it slide. He then chuckled and told me about a magic show he’d just performed at a day camp. After the performance, who should he see stroll by but the publisher! She saw him in his magician’s outfit and knew that he wasn’t out selling ad space for her paper.

There are several lessons we can learn from this:

  • You should have one consistent marketing message. To use a PowerPoint example, think of how confused your audience would be if after your closing slide you showed one last slide that advertised your side business. How much respect would you lose in that moment?
  • Always reinforce your brand. It’s crazy that the publisher didn’t make this guy throw away the two-sided cards and pay for a reprint with just the newspaper job information. One card, one business. Period. Here’s the PowerPoint tie in: you decide that your corporate template is too boring so you change the colors around. Now your deck doesn’t look like your other marketing materials, and that inconsistency can be jarring to your audience.
  • Concentrate on your core competencies. We all know that a jack of all trades is a master of none. To build trust that we know what we’re doing, we need to focus on what we do best. A newspaper advertising sales rep who promotes his own business during his sales calls obviously doesn’t have my best interests in mind. In a presentation, you must tailor your message to your audience. If your company does five different things but the audience is only interested in one of them, concentrate on that one thing. Mention your other abilities in passing, but focus on what’s important to your audience.
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you are invited to present for one reason (“Please tell us the results of advertising in your newspaper.”) then use that time to promote a different business entirely (Magician for hire! Parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, you name it!), you won’t make a good impression because nobody likes a bait-and-switch.

It’s incredible to me that anybody would have the gall to hand out business cards like this. I suspect that this fellow’s job could “vanish right before his very eyes” if he doesn’t straighten out quickly.


Egocentric PowerPoints fail the “WIIFM?” test

June 11, 2012

What's in it for me?The other day, a friend of mine wanted my advice on pricing the redesign of her client’s pitch deck, the initial presentation shown to a prospect to get hired. When I opened the presentation, my jaw literally dropped because it was an 11-page résumé in 16-point type sandwiched between a title slide and a closing slide. And the closing slide didn’t even have any contact information.

My friend’s client seems to believe something similar to the Field of Dreams maxim: “If you build it, they will come.” In his case it was “If I tell people how great my company is, they will hire us.” But this is a terrible approach.

When you focus entirely on your own qualifications, education, and achievements you’re not necessarily demonstrating your worth. Instead, you’re bombarding your audience with data about how great you are while ignoring issues they may be facing. The focus has to be on the audience and address the big question that’s on everyone’s mind: “What’s in it for me?”

In marketing we speak of “client pains” — problems the client has — and how to solve them. The best marketing addresses these pains directly (“Are you tired of paying too much for cable?” “Been in an accident?” “You could save over $475 on car insurance!”). It can be even more effective if you’re able to reveal pains the client didn’t know he had which could cause problems later on. By providing solutions to these pains, the savvy marketer positions himself as the only logical choice for the client.  Addressing and solving client pains is client-centric, not egocentric, which is what great marketing should be. What’s in it for me? You could save money, increase efficiency, live longer, be happier, lower your risk, etc. etc. etc.

To be fair, the client approached my friend because he recognized that his deck was unattractive. And as everybody knows, admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it. But redesigning this deck would’ve been like putting lipstick on a pig because it was entirely presenter-focused.

What can help for this type of presentation when you’re trying to get someone to hire you based on your credentials?

  • Client testimonials: Ask satisfied clients to described how you helped them to save money, finish a task in record time, avoid red tape, etc. Would they rehire you? If so, quote them on it!
  • Highlight benefits of certifications: If you’re certified or trained in a particular specialty, how does that save your client money? Ensure the success of the project? Prevent rework?
  • Photos of completed projects: A picture speaks a thousand words.
  • Success stories: You don’t need full-blown case studies, just some anecdotes about how you helped your clients to solve their problems.
  • Relevant companies you’ve worked with: Focus on companies you’ve worked with that are similar to your audience’s.

Remember, the presentation is always about the audience, not about the presenter. Always focusing on the “What’s in it for me?” question will help you stay on track to create presentations that really mean something to your audience.

Your turn

Have you ever been to an egocentric presentation? What was it like? Have you ever delivered one?

Good presentations start with good scripts

May 31, 2012

ScreenplayA gentleman once asked me to provide a quote on redoing a PowerPoint presentation. He provided a link to the presentation, which included a voiceover narration.  I had to explain to him that he’d be unhappy with the results if I just did the cosmetic fixes he’d asked for. Sure, the presentation would’ve looked better, but it wouldn’t have made it a better presentation. Redesigning the presentation in its current state would’ve done nothing to address the basic problem: the visuals didn’t match the script.

The script is what you as the presenter are going to say when you’re up in front of the audience, or what your narration will be on a mobile presentation. Some people create PowerPoint presentations first then write the script to match the visuals. This is absolutely the opposite approach you should take. Think about how all movies start with a script. It would be absurd to shoot a movie without one. Just as it’s absurd to create a PowerPoint presentation before you write your script.

The script is what drives the PowerPoint visuals. It tells you what words, if any, to use on each slide and suggests images that would help to convey your message. It can also suggest the use of animation to emphasize or illustrate key points.

PowerPoint presentations should enhance good storytelling. And you don’t get good storytelling without a good script. So here’s a simple graphic to remind you of the correct four-step sequence you should follow when creating your next PowerPoint presentation:

PowerPoint process

Your turn

Do you write your script before you design your PowerPoint presentations? If so, how well has that worked for you?

“Oh, you didn’t know that?”

September 1, 2011

Closed sign on doorHow many times have you heard somebody say, “Oh, everybody knows that!” If you happen to belong to the lucky group that “knows that,” you may smile and nod sagely. But if you’re out of the loop it can make you feel foolish to hear these words. Something happened to me recently that clearly demonstrates that depending on one’s perspective, common knowledge isn’t always universal.

I brought my oldest son to an orthodontist appointment one Friday morning in July. We arrived early, but the office door was locked and all the lights were out. A sign on the door said that the office was closed for renovation and that the orthodontist would be seeing patients in one of two offices, each of which is about 20 minutes away from where we currently were.

I called the number on the sign to confirm that we had an appointment and the receptionist assured me that it was still on. “But I’m at your office and it says you’re closed.” “Oh, we’re never at that office on Fridays! The doctor always works out of this office on Fridays.” We were able to arrive at the other office only 15 minutes later than the original appointment time, so luckily we didn’t need to reschedule. But the experience was an excellent lesson about making assumptions.

The receptionist lives with the fact that she works out of a particular office on Fridays and a different office on other days — she has to change where she shows up to work from day to day. My son is a new patient and this was our second visit, the first having been several months earlier. I had no idea that there were any locations other than where we’d been before, and we’d had no contact from the office in that time.

Something similar happened to me earlier this year, when a salesperson from the auto dealership my family and I have been doing business with for six years casually mentioned the fact that they would be moving to a different town. Old hat to them, news to me! (Read about this exchange.)

How does all of this relate to PowerPoint? Well it shows that you can’t make assumptions about what your audience knows about the subject you’re presenting. An annual shareholder meeting is a perfect example; this audience convenes once a year, so the presenters must communicate all the developments that have occurred in that time. Even if your company has been working day and night to get Product X out the door, your clients probably don’t know about it, so you shouldn’t talk about it like it’s old news. It makes people feel neglected, not a good feeling to instill in one’s clients!

If you don’t know what your audience doesn’t know…ask. That’s how you can determine whether you need to explain things step by step or launch right into your subject. Don’t waste people’s time either by presenting confusing information or boring them with needless explanations. It’s like they say, never assume or you’ll make an ASS out of U and ME.

Photo credit: keyseeker from

Free Photo Resources for PowerPoint

July 20, 2011

We all know by now that pictures can often help you to communicate better than words. And that people hate, hate, HATE text-heavy PowerPoint slides. So armed with that knowledge, you set out to transform your boring deck into a beautiful gallery of effective photography. But where do you go for pictures? And what if you’re a big cheapskate frugal and you don’t want to pay for them? There are plenty of free photo resources available to the savvy PowerPoint Ranger.

Clip art windowPowerPoint Clip Art Panel

In an earlier blog post, I told you about PowerPoint’s vast clip art collection. Although it’s called “clip art” there’s more here than just cheesy drawings and animated GIFs. There are plenty of photographs to choose from, and of course they are all free to use.

Not only that, you can edit these pictures in Photoshop or Microsoft Paint to suit your own needs. Follow these simple steps to get an editable picture file:

  1. Place the image you want to edit on a blank slide.
  2. Enlarge it to fit the whole slide.
  3. Right-click on the image and select “Save as Picture.”
  4. Give it a memorable name and save it.
  5. Open this file in Photoshop and edit away!

Free Photo Web SitesEmpty purse

There are many Web sites that offer high-resolution photographs suitable for PowerPoint that are free for commercial or personal use. Here are some of my favorites:

MorgueFile: This site “for creatives, by creatives” offers a dizzying variety of photographs and a decent search engine. They ask only that you share the love by uploading some of your own copyright-free work once in a while.

Wikimedia Commons: With over 10 million photos, sounds, and videos, this is a great resource for all kinds of media. Some media are in the public domain and are free to use practically any way you like. Other media require an attribution, which is as simple as including “Image (c) Joe Blow via Wikimedia Commons” somewhere on the slide.

FreeRange Stock: Again, loads of photos here but be careful because when you search for images the ones at the top of the list are from Shutterstock and will cost you. Not much, but the focus of this blog is on free not cheap.

NASA Images: If you’re doing a space or aeronautics themed deck, then this site is for you! The images are gorgeous and can be used commercially or for personal use.

Before you use an image in a presentation it’s always a good idea to check the terms and conditions of use. Often these vary depending on the image chosen, and can even vary within the same site. Keeping on top of copyright issues is one of the things that separates the PowerPoint pros from the amateurs.

You Can’t Taste PowerPoint

May 24, 2011

scrambled eggs in a panSome people are so hung up on PowerPoint for giving presentations that they forget that in the olden days before thumb drives, projectors, and laptops there was such a thing as an engaging public speaker. I often reference the PowerPoint Gettysburg Address as a shining example of how PowerPoint can often bring down even the most brilliant speech. PowerPoint is meant to be a tool that helps to elevate a presentation; it should never be used as the entire presentation.

Mike Consol is a California-based coach who specializes in helping professionals to become better communicators. His recent blog post, Adding the “Touch Factor” to Your PowerPoint Presentation, addresses moving away from strictly PowerPoint-based presentations and engaging the senses. For example, for a presentation about a durable and comfortable new fabric that is going to enhance the clothing industry, the presenter should put a swatch of the material in audience members’ hands so that they can feel it for themselves.

The head of sales at The Country Hen, a Central Massachusetts egg farm, takes a similar approach on sales calls to potential distributors. Rather than rely on a PowerPoint deck that extolls the virtues of his organically farmed, Omega 3-rich eggs, he lets the product sell itself. During the meeting, he takes out a portable cookstove, frying pan, and a case of eggs and starts cooking. He hands a plate of scrambled eggs to each person in the meeting so that everyone can see, smell, touch, and (most importantly) taste the eggs. After everyone has eaten, he closes the sale.

It’s easy to slip into bad habits, communicating your entire message with a PowerPoint slide deck. But if you want your presentations to have more impact, a little extra effort can yield memorable results.

Some Social Media Tips

May 4, 2011

Social Media collageSocial Media. This is the latest in a series of sure-fire marketing tools that every business person Has To Do. Social media’s great, because a lot of it doesn’t cost a thing or is dirt cheap, so it seems like a wonderful way to market one’s business. On the other hand, it can be a huge time sink that can eat up large chunks of your day. How do you maximize your efforts?

Here are a few tips that I’ve used over the past year or so that help me to streamline my marketing and to use social media to my best advantage:

  • Set aside 15 minutes a day for browsing social media. If you are constantly checking Facebook and Twitter to see what kind of sandwiches your friends had for lunch, you’re obviously wasting time. But if you follow an interesting business-related link that leads to an interesting diagram that leads to a great quote from a thought leader that leads to… You can see how it can get out of hand. Allocate a set amount of time to participate in the online conversation, then get to work!
  • Update your LinkedIn profile. A person’s LinkedIn profile is a golden marketing opportunity that is often overlooked. Rather than having a “I’m an expert in this and I have 10 years experience in that,” why not treat it as marketing copy? Here are a couple of examples to get you started:
    Natalia Botero
    Stephen Hadley
    Laura Foley (Hey, what kind of marketing pro would I be without including my own profile?) 
  • Join your target markets’ LinkedIn groups. This one was so obvious that I literally smacked my forehead. When you join the conversation, offer advice and insight, and learn your clients’ and prospects’ concerns, you position yourself as an expert. Be careful, though, because this can backfire wildly if you lead with, “My name is Joe Blow, and I sell the most amazing widgets you ever saw in your life!” People will see that you are just there to troll for clients and will shut you out or flag your posts as being inappropriate.
  • Search for specific topics in Twitter. Need to find out if anybody’s talking about you, your product or service, or something of interest? Twitter Search allows you to do keyword searches, whether or not they use hashtags. And you can set up TweetDeck so that each flagged keyword ends up in its own column, which makes it easier to review all the information. Even better, once you’ve found some interesting Tweets, you can respond. Think of how powerful a marketing tool that is. You could reply to a Tweet such as, “I’ve just about had it with this #BrandXYZ #Coffeemaker. I’m returning it!” with “Hey, this is Bob Smith from #BrandXYZ. What’s the problem, and how can I make it right?”
  • Keep a blog journal. Just about any business transaction can become a good blog post if you think someone could learn from it. Or if you have some kind of an “Aha!” moment with a problem you’ve had, that can be good, too. Keep a list of these big ideas so that you can blog about them during your scheduled blogging time or just when things are a little slow. It’s much better than staring at a blank computer screen at a loss for ideas.

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