Are we talking past our customers? (The short answer is, "yes.")

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

The short answer is, "Yes," according to management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company.

What does "talking past" our customers mean, exactly? McKinsey defines it as: "a marked apparent divergence between the core messages companies communicate about their brands and the characteristics their customers value most."

So what do B2B customers value, and how can we connect with them?

1. Open and honest dialogue - Could open and honest conversations start with our corporate executives? Or with sales? Can we demystify our industry for our customers?

2. Act responsibly across supply chain - We have a strong ecosystem story. Are we telling it well? Is there another supply chain story we can tell?

3. Has a high level of specialist expertise - We have this in spades. How can we ensure our specialists voices are heard beyond the community?

4. Fits in well with my values and beliefs - We stand for choice, freedom, and value. Do these values align with our customers' values and beliefs?

Other values are providing a broad product portfolio, and being an industry innovator. And a huge problem with B2B companies is that they play the "me too" game and don't differentiate their brand.

How can we make sure we're talking with our customers rather than past them? McKinsey has some suggestions:

  1. Are you telling the same story as your competitors?
  2. Does your sales force say it is facing headwinds? Have an honest dialogue with your sales staff. If you hear about consistent pushback on pricing or an inability to articulate a compelling argument for the value of your products, you’ve got a problem.
  3. Do you deliver your brand in a consistent way? If anything, today’s increasingly fragmented environment calls for a more disciplined communication of values and messages across a wider range of channels, including some quite traditional ones, for a longer period of time.

I've learned a lot from this article, and would love to know what you think.

Master class

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

I just attended the Content Marketing Institute's (CMI) Content Marketing Master Class. Most of us want to master something in our lifetime. Writers, especially, know a little about a lot--so right off the bat, this class caught my attention. Also, I've seen CMI founder, Joe Pulizzi, speak before, and found him to be very humble and helpful. His new CMI partner, Robert Rose, ended up doing most of the speaking, and he kept things authentic and meaningful throughout. Definitely recommend this for several reasons:

Content - Very relevant to marketers who are trying to make content marketing programs stick. Not for beginners, but not so advanced that you feel like a loser who's behind on every level.

Time - Time is our most valuable possession. This is a one-day class, so it's an easy day trip.

Focus - I felt like I got enough info without being overwhelmed--and it was the right info for me. Also they gave us an exercise at the beginning of the class, and asked us to build on it all day. So we had something personal to show for the day away from our desk jobs.

The slides are up on SlideShare,

The best case for storytelling I've seen in a long time.

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

This is a brilliant speech from Kevin Spacey about the value of corporate storytelling. Some quotes:

We wanted to start to tell a story that would take a long time to tell. We were creating a sophisticated, multi-layered story with complex characters that would reveal themselves over time.

The audience wants the control. They want the freedom. I can't tell you how many people have stopped me on the street and said, "Thanks, you sucked three days out of my life."
It's just story. And the audience has spoken. They want stories. They are dying for them. They are rooting for us to give them the right thing. ... All we have to do is give it to them.
I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I just can't stop eating peanuts. - Orson Welles

Remember, you're a customer, too.

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

If you're like me (and a lot of marketers), you do a ton of online research. And, sometimes, you don't quite know what you're looking for. But something catches your eye, like a new article about smart phones, running tips, or travel trends. Next thing you know, you're buying a new phone or booking a trip.

I'm a marketer--I sell stuff for a living. But I'm a customer, too!

Just because you're a marketer doesn't mean you can't (or don't want to) be sold something. Just because you know all the tricks doesn't mean you're immune to nurture.

It's important to have that kind of perspective, especially when you read articles like this, from Fast Company:

Consumers are hungry for more relevant content experiences, and some want a deeper experience with their favorite brands, which would drive consumption of brand-related content within social channels.

Think about your favorite brands. You don't want to hear from them as a marketer, you want to hear from them as an expert in their field. You want them to believe so much in what they're selling that they don't have to act like a barker at a carnival competing for slim margins or selling via spectacle.

So, when you're writing, remember, you're not selling features and benefits (Smaller! Easier! Faster!?!). You're selling your expertise. You're a guide in the all-too crowded marketplace of cloud and business IT. You're giving people relevant insights in return for their time.

It sounds like the Golden Rule, but it's true: Sell to others the way you'd like to be sold.

Just doing it. (I'm taking an online tagline writing class.)

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

Are taglines still useful? Or are they crutches we lean on to explain what we really mean? Are they relevant to today's more conversational style? Or are the even more needed because we can't retain a phrase or idea that's longer than 8 words? Should they even be called taglines?

When done well, taglines are quotable. They're memorable. And they're defining. When done poorly, they're a bad bumpersticker that you can't just peel off.

Some people I respect hate taglines. Another person I respect encouraged me to take an online tagline writing class taught by McKinney copywriter Jenny Nicholson.

No matter whether or not they're used well, taglines are very much with us, and writing a good tagline is still an art I'd like to practice. This is like a core workout for writers. We will whittle away the fat to reveal smooth, rippling short phrases.


Distiling ideas into lyrical, foreshortenend language reminds me of writing poetry, and I believe that's what good copywriting--and tagline writing--can sound like.

This Saturday Night Live Vagisil skit might make you believe in taglines again.

What I'm reading about content strategy this month

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

How many marketers use messaging documents to help support the concept of write once, publish everywhere? I've been thinking about content strategy and finding ways to make the most of the efforts of product marketing, strategy and content marketing. A messaging document is one of the best ways to create consistency and amplify our voice across all channels. Here are some articles I'm reading to help me think this through:

The five components of a core messaging document

What a writer wants from a product messaging document

Positioning vs. messaging: How to get there from here

A look at clarity in positioning

Everyone has an opinion, but I'm looking for the things that each of these articles have in common. They'll be the items that work the hardest toward creating an effective messaging document.

Citizen engagement in my town

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

I'm not sure if I can be more engaged with my town than I am right now. A few months ago, I was asked to join a technology task force created by the town of Cary. For the last few months, we've met bi-weekly to help the town map out a plan to use technology to better serve citizens.

We have about six months to hash out a plan, and time seems to fly by. Luckily, we decided to spread out responsibilities, so we split up the task into these categories:

  • Social media
  • Website
  • Video
  • Citizen engagement
  • Open data/APIs
  • Mobile apps

I am in charge of exploring citizen engagement for our task force. Actually, if you think about it, citizen engagement could be an umbrella topic covering most of the items in the list, above. Because that's true, i stayed very high-level in my research, focusing on creating a brand, focusing on specific goals, and ensuring the town follows through with feedback to the citizens they engage.

If you're familiar with sunshine laws, you'll know that some of what we're doing with out task force might be considerd groundbreaking. I know it is for the town of Cary. I mentioned before that our time is short with this project and we need to make progress quickly. Also, most of us are used to deliberating or sharing information over social media, etc. We are ued to sharing ideas with our social circles and the public at large. Sunshine laws in our state prohibit us from deliberating outside of our sanctioned meetings. And those meetings have to be publicized in advance so the public has time to make plans to attend.

So, if someone found a great article about an effective engagement tool or an incredible research resource, they'd have to save it until our next meeting. We immediately started using BaseCamp to post some of this information. At least we could share it with others even if we couldn't discuss it. That wasn't really enough, though. We also wanted to get the public's opinion, but BaseCamp is definitely not a tool for that kind of engagement. And using our own Facebook or Twitter accounts to conduct research also didn't work.

So, we created something that I'd been researching as a citizen engagement tool. I have been looking into sites like and as examples of focused ways to use a website to push and pull information publicly. I know it seems obvious, but the sunshine laws hadn't really been challenged locally before we started asking questions.Now we have a Wordpress blog where TTF members can post ideas and ask for citizen feedback (we can't deliberate in the comments section, however. So TTF members have to refrain from posting anything in the commnets that sounds like we're making decisions on something outside of our regular meetings).

I've written a few posts for the blog, and people are reading them and responding.

We also decided to open our meetings to the public. From now on, all TTF meetings will be broadcast via WebEx. And we've already gotten several folks who call in to watch the meetings in progress.

We've made so much progress, but there's still a lot to do. I definitely feel the pressure to get it right since I'm representing the citizens of Cary. Stay tuned!

Roundtable discussion: (re)Work

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

A few weeks ago, I attended my second roundtable discussion in Durham hosted by Orangutan Swing. (My first is covered here.) The beauty of their talks is that they gather people together without imposing a strong agenda and allow conversations to surface naturally. They just asked us to bring a personal totem and to be prepared to talk about work [or, to be more specific, they asked us to talk about "(re)Work".]. We don’t normally find a solution, but that’s not really the goal.

The process is what’s fascinating. Meeting the person sitting next to you. Seeing a table full of totems. Talking about work with total strangers. Finding sometihng in common that surprises you.

Here are a few observations from our second meeting:

The "see no evil" monkey in the middle of the photo, above, was one of the most popular totems. It represented different things for different people: anxiety over a new job, the pressure of starting a new business or the fear of leaving behind something familiar for something more undefined. During the course of the conversation, we realized that change has set up permanent shop in our lives and our workplaces.

Your work environment directly affects what you do.

We were sitting in a circular assortment of office chairs in Bull City Coworking, a new space that has high ceilings, lofts, closed meeting rooms and lots of light. We wondered what would happen to workers in a bank or investment firm if they moved to a more open, space. Would they panic over loss of privacy? Would they collaborate more? Would their pecking order and hierarchies become less important?

My favorite quote from the session:

We’re not adapting to change, we’re aligning with it.

I loved this quote. Change can be really overwhelming. And it can make you feel powerless to stop it. The truth is, you are. Aligning yourself to change can be as simple as having a focus and sticking with it. When change happens, you only need to pay attention to how it affects your focus. When you are aligned with change, you aren't resisting it. And you aren't getting left behind, either.

The more diverse the group, the more you find you have in common.

This is a really good message for writers. We are typically given lots of research and target audience data and we sift through it for insights. I think we were pleasantly surprised to find common concerns or beliefs in our group. Our differences bring out nuances in writing. But our similarities are the real foundation for creating.

Thinking about it another way - the process of writing is the process of giving. And when we give, it helps to know what people actually want. Most people want to be respected, liked, challenged, informed, entertained and inspired. That's what we have in common. The nuances of the way we do that come from our differences.

Looking forward to the next roundtable.


The medium vs. the message

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

I was recently asked to participate in an "unpanel" discussion about the way we communicate, and the value of the medium versus message. Questions (below) were sent to me ahead of time to help facilitate the discussion. That discussion will happen tomorrow in Durham, NC's Central Park. So I'm going to formulate some answers here:


1. What has changed our relationship with each other now that social media have quantified it, made it visible, and pushed it into the public domain? Social media creates more connections that last after the physical ones disappear. We don't have to make as much of an effort to create relationships in person, because we know the discussion and connection will be made (or be continued) online. We are able to touch more people in less time, but our relationships suffer because we are either unlearning -- or never learning -- how to scratch beneath the surface and go beyond the "what" and "how" to the "why" of the people we meet. And if we don't watch it, we will all become broadcasters instead of conversationalists.




2. What remains invisible/unquantified? Emotions are not expressed well online. Just as in email, happy/sad conversations work better in person or on the phone.


3. Does the message matter? Or the form/medium? Today, the medium dictactes the message more than ever. The more popular mediums reflect the ways we "prefer" to communicate. If you believe, like Marshall McLuhan that a lightbulb is a medium, then your surroundings dictate much of how you interact and communicate and we should focus more on the "medium" than ever to mold how we communicate. (When you think about it - planning the physical layout/decor of an office might be one of the most important business decisions a CEO can make.)


Marshall McLuhan


4. How do we know whether someone who is listening is actively receiving what we say? How do we know whether the person listening "gets" what we say? Because we are all mostly broadcasters online, we have more to say and share it more publically. If we focus on a theme, we are probably more likely to be heard because people will seek us out for our expertise. We are more narrow in our focus and our reach. I often realize I'm actually touching more people than I thought I was. People sometimes come out of the woodwork to comment on something I've said or done, and it makes me feel like people are observing me rather than interacting with me.


5. Do you feel more in control, or aware, of this exchange/communication (or the breakdown thereof), online? Offline? In groups? One-on-one? Written? Spoken? I see a breakdown of  one-on-one communication in person. I don't see us writing well or in a way that celebrates language. I think we are overrun with buzz words.



Aether gathering