Think you’re doing marketing, SME? Sorry. Chances are, you’re not.

When you talk about marketing your small/SME business, do you really know what you’re talking about?

I’ve listened to people running new business startups saying, “oh, we haven’t got much money, so we’ll get a smart student or recent graduate to come in and do our marketing.”

do you know what marketing means

This misinterpretation of marketing and how it contributes to businesses is a BIG problem for them

Just how stupid is that?

Let’s take a good look: this may be something you find surprising but then – enlightening.

Marketing is NOT about writing ads, blogs, press releases, etc.

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Let’s hear it for the Ugly Duckling of marketing

Today we welcome my good friend and fellow scribe Stephen Church – a brilliant, naturally talented copywriter whose refreshing approach has gained many fans in our neck of the woods here in England. In this article Steve laments the way words have become the poor relation of website creativity – something I used to lament, too, when I was working as a copywriter. Over to Steve…

ugly duckling of marketing

Goodbye, ugly duckling. Hello, elegant swan.

Website words really matter – but no-one seems to care

Words. Do you remember them? Those little squiggly things, line after line, neatly laid out across the page. I’ll tell you something. They matter. They really do. [Read more…]

Marketing: are you a solution looking for a problem?

If you’re old enough to remember the corporate business scene back in the 1980s, one CEO’s passing comment revolutionised the entire IT caboodle when presented with another amazing new box of tricks from IBM, or ICL, or …well, it doesn’t matter who. (There were enough of them suffering from the same syndrome back then: being engineering-led, not marketing-led.)

Marketing: are you a solution looking for a problem?

“I don’t give a **** what this IS. What will it DO for my bottom line?”

The IT giant’s sales team had just plonked their engineers’ most recent brainchild down on the client CEO’s desk and told them what amazing tricks it could do, as briefed by the entire engineering team and backed by the C-Suite board wallahs.

The CEO said, “I don’t give a **** what this IS…”

…”But what will it DO for me and my business’s bottom line?”

And there fell, flat on its face, the whole perception of IT and its erstwhile role in the marketplace up until that point.
UPDATE … see the comments below for more on this, er, interesting period in the marketing of IT…
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How the SO WHAT? test can boost a lot of your business writing

Although the SO WHAT? test originally was written to test the content effectiveness of your elevator pitch, actually you can use it to test almost any promotional statement. Here’s how it works…So what test for all your marketing on HTWB

The basic idea behind the SO WHAT? test

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Business and marketing messages: think first, write later

There’s no doubt about it, clear
Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterthinking is the most important part of getting a business or marketing message right, before you even attempt to write anything down. Sure, you’ve got all your background information together. But without the benefit of your creative little grey cells, as Hercule Poirot called them, that information isn’t worth much.

To make that information morph into a powerful message, it needs to be brought alive by a clear, unobstructed thought process on your part.

Trouble is, that isn’t always easy with the pressures of modern business to contend with.  Here are some of the obstacles that can get in your way, and some ideas on how to overcome them.

We’ve got to respond NOW or lose the opportunity

Not really. There aren’t many opportunities that can’t wait five minutes, even if it means saying you’ll call right back or email them immediately with a fast message to help close a sale. You’ll benefit enormously from those five minutes even if all you do is walk over to the water cooler and back before responding.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterPeople prone to temper tantrums are told to count to ten before they say anything, and the theory behind that works here too.

To react with a knee-jerk can make you look like one, so don’t take a chance on it unless a snap decision really is unavoidable.

The deadline isn’t for another week

This is the other side of the same coin. Because you’ve got other things you have to finish before that week’s up, your deadline keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the deck.  Before you know it, it IS another week.

Of course, long lead times can be demotivating, and often if you start working on a message too early you then spend the rest of the time tinkering with it. The result is the message loses all its momentum and has about as much energy and spontaneity as a mouldy tomato.

Don’t let deadlines drive you. Take the wheel and drive them, without rushing, but with just enough time pressure to focus your mind sharply on getting your message right.

I know this subject matter backwards

Yes, and that’s the trouble. Familiarity breeds contempt. It also breeds tired, worn-out marketing messages. Don’t reach up to the top shelf in your brain and pull down last month’s solution, no matter how well it worked that time.

By all means add your past experience into the message. But remember to keep experience in its proper place – the past. No matter how many similarities there are in surrounding circumstances, never assume you can get away with producing a clone.

It’s fresh, original thinking that makes business/marketing messages work, and most things in life are only fresh and original once.

I know what the audience wants to read/see/hear

Not necessarily. Just because a message got them clicking or calling or buying in their droves last time it doesn’t mean they’ll respond the same way now. A couple of weeks or even a couple of hours can make an enormous difference to the way an audience will perceive you and receive your message.

A workforce before and after the announcement of a plant closure? Consumers before and after a media exposé about the dangers of a chemical sweetener in your chocolate bars?  Shareholders before and after a market crash?

Always, always take a fresh look at the circumstances of your audience, and ensure your message takes those into account.

I’d love to do something new, but it’ll never get approval

Oh, those corporate politics again. Yes, approval can be hard to obtain, especially when it involves getting through a committee of umpteen experts all with their own agendas and axes to grind. Well, no-one said being creative and original is easy. I’ll bet even the person who invented the wheel got a hard time from his or her committee to start with.

Provided you can justify your marketing message with solid evidence and common sense, most superior beings (even committees) will see the logic and give you the go-ahead. It never hurts to try, anyway, and once your message gets out there and proves itself successfully, the next time should be easier.

I can’t think straight with all this racket in here

Clear thinking is relatively easy if you happen to work in a cozy log cabin set in a verdant pasture or forest or whatever with not a single soul, cell, or cellphone for that matter, to mar the magnificence.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterGiven that large offices are to log cabins what express trains are to bicycles, clear thinking in this environment can be more of a challenge.

Here’s a trick. Go and sit quietly somewhere other than at your desk. At the risk of offending some of you, the toilet is a good choice. Yes, in a cubicle, sitting down. I’ve done some of my best thinking and got some of my most useful ideas in precisely these surroundings. (And I’ve heard all the jokes about it, too.) I think it’s because you’re cocooned in a small, plain space with absolutely no external mental stimulation. That frees your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on.

If the restroom doesn’t appeal to you, then go sit quietly somewhere else – like your car, or the staff restaurant outside of meal times, and close your eyes. Discard irrelevant thoughts one by one as they occur, and keep nudging yourself back to the project. Don’t “rack” your brain; just let it work by itself. Soon you’ll find things settling into place and you’ll be able to prioritize and organize your thoughts.

Happy thinking!

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the USA marketing site,

More good thinking for your business and marketing messages:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

photo credit: Humphrey King via photopin cc

Why we should be wary of the fashion for business storytelling

These days everyone in the business communication world seems hooked on “storytelling,” right?

And of course, this story telling phenomenon is part of the touchy-feely, let’s-get-down-to-real-human-to-human brand of communication that the internet and its associated offshoots have engendered in the last few years.

Communications experts far more qualified and experienced than me have published articles, books, blogs, speech excerpts and umpty-dump other expressions of their sincerity claiming that telling a good story about your business and its successes is the way forward in getting customers and stakeholders to uphold your values and think you’re a bunch of really good guys.

Stories for marketing purposes

I know I’m a cynical old goat, but to me much of this story telling stuff stinks to high Heaven of boring old case histories – glammed up with a bit of magic, sprinkled with a little fairy dust, and told to inspire customers, stakeholders and whoever else with what basically amounts to “this is what we achieved way back here for customer X, so we could achieve the same or better for you.”

Don’t get me wrong; I love a good story. And that’s the point. What makes a story “good” from a marketing point of view?

Stories in a marketing context, like case histories, are only of interest to existing and potential customers when they expose – and pretty damned quickly, too – what’s in it for the reader/viewer/listener. That’s because he or she wants – nay, needs, and rightly so – to know why they should be reading or listening to this story. It’s the old line – “what’s in it for me?” So if your story is going to work, it should relate itself to its audience ASAP.

Stories as part of the company folklore

Cuddly stories about companies and their histories are useful PR. For example, there is the story of what I assume was a boozy session in a pub back in 1967 when one of the UK Heinz ad agency creatives hummed up the lyric “a million housewives every day, pick up a can of beans and say, Beanz Meanz Heinz.” “Beanz Meanz Heinz”(minus the un-PC housewives bit) went on for over 30 years and became a true icon of British pop culture.

Similarly, the story of John Pemberton’s recipe for an (originally) alcoholic drink with an embarrassing connection to the naughty coca plant is a much-loved part of the Coca-Cola empire.

The bad news, though, is that unless you are Heinz, Coca-Cola, Ford, or some other humongous corporation, the story of how your grand-mammy baked hundreds of blueberry pies in her rustic kitchen and started off your local catering business isn’t going to impress more than just your friends and family.

Where these stories are potentially useful, though – in my view, anyway – is in strengthening and deepening relationships with stakeholders like employees and share(stock)holders, provided that they add value to the company’s ethos and commitment. An interesting anecdote about how the firm was founded told at the company’s AGM, or an amusing story about the company’s early beginnings told at a staff party or informal meeting, can go a long way to breaking ice and giving stakeholders a greater sense of ownership.

If you like the idea of business storytelling (and please don’t let me put you off…) there are numerous sites all over the internet which show you how to go about it … such as this one in the USA, this one in the UK …and articles such as this one in Australia.

For now, let me leave you with my own favorite business story … which reminds me how grateful I am to be self-employed…

The American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The American then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The Mexican said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.” The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The Mexican  fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should  spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you will run your ever-expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “15  to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican. The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions?…Then what?” The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Make sure  you write your business stories right:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English