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Tradeshow Trauma: Why “booth traffic was slow” is a lame excuse and how to prepare for conference success

As a marketing and PR professional who has spent countless hours in tradeshow booths and walked more than 20,000 steps at the HIMSS conference while wearing heels, I’ve experienced both the glory and the defeat of being an exhibitor. And while there is no better feeling than packing up your boxes, tearing down the booth and heading home after a job well done, there is also no greater pain than realizing that your company’s precious time and resources were virtually wasted because your conference strategy fell short.

After every tradeshow, it’s common to speak with exhibitors who complain that “booth traffic was slow” and cite that reason as the root of their conference failure. But let’s be honest — that’s a lame excuse. It’s the easy way out to blame poor performance at the show on exhibit hall organizers rather than reflecting on how your team may be at fault, or at least largely contributed to the problem.

In fact, upon much-needed reflection, those complainers would see that they are likely committing the cardinal sin of tradeshow marketing. They’re only focused on the conference.  They’re not focused on the holistic strategy that enables the smartest, more successful companies to succeed at conferences again and again and again.

To avoid this tradeshow trauma and emerge triumphant in 2018, it’s critical for companies to have a three-pronged approach that includes not just a conference strategy where you show up and wait, but also and even more importantly a pre-conference strategy and a post-conference strategy.

Here are 4 insider secrets to help you get started:

#1 Never rely on booth traffic 

Sure, booth traffic is nice and we all want it but it’s even better to drive traffic to your booth in advance. As savvy marketing professionals know, the best tradeshow marketing strategies start early and establish a regular cadence of communication. Most companies find that implementing a targeted email campaign starting 6 weeks in advance of the show is ideal but some may find that 8 weeks or 4 weeks works best for their audience.

These emails should be geared to both sales prospects to schedule meetings or demos and current clients to have a face-to-face touchpoint and determine cross-sale opportunities. As always, the top-performing emails are brief and targeted to attendees by role and job setting. It’s also best to have a form where attendees can schedule time and then receive a confirmation with a calendar invite. Why is that so important? It gets you on attendees’ calendars before they arrive at the show and are overwhelmed. Also, then your team can send them reminders about the scheduled slot or reach out if they don’t arrive as planned.

#2 Winning is great but winning isn’t everything

Pre-conference email campaigns can also invite attendees to activities in the booth such as speaking events or games instead of just meetings and demos. They can also offer attendees “a chance to win” and highlight big prizes, but they must not rely on the allure of a gimmick alone. There are few too many promotions for your giveaway to break through the noise. A pre-conference strategy that shares quality content, in addition to touting “a trip for 100 around the world” is the safest, most effective way to not only illustrate thought leadership but also to create brand awareness of your company as leader and innovator that offers far more than just a chance to win – but rather real ROI.

#3 Think like an attendee

Spoiler alert for those many hours spent in the booth. Nobody wants your marketing brochure! It will end up in the next trash can even if they take it, and if it makes it back to their room, it will end up in the hotel trash can. They also really don’t want a folder with multiple product one-pagers and a recent press release about your new product. Please note that this realization also spares your marketing team and admin hours of folder stuffing. Yes, you’re welcome.

The big idea here is to remember why attendees are at the conference. Most attendees are there to learn, not to purchase your “ground-breaking, best in class, fully integrated solution.” So, give them what they want like client case studies with real-world insights and thought leadership that demonstrates your knowledge and unique perspective. That’s the true value proposition that won’t get throw in the trash.

#4 Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up 

It’s great to have a successful show, but it’s what companies do afterwards that matters most. It’s all about the follow-up communications, which should include a series of e-blasts, with the first prepared ahead of time and sent within 1-2 days of show close. The post-show e-blast should provide an opportunity to continue to engage with your company by downloading a new piece of content, registering for a webinar, or scheduling a full product demo for their broader team. However, the e-blast is not enough. To see results, it must be complimented by personalized follow-up from the sales team where there is even a small percentage chance of generating new pipeline. Without this timely and dedicated post-show communications, it’s impossible to reap the benefits of your hard work pre-show and at the show.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many people attend the tradeshow. Only that the right people make it to your booth.

Instead of leaving success to chance, put together a three-prong plan that will tip the odds in your favor. It sure beats coming up with lame excuses later.

 

Getting a message across to providers

3 Ways Healthcare Companies Can Lead with Empathy

There is a persistent stereotype of public relations professionals as “spin doctors.” We’re hired guns aiming to put lipstick on a pig, pull the wool over someone’s eyes, or <insert any other cliched maxim here>. The last thing we would do is tell clients to lead with empathy, telling honest stories from the heart.

In truth, PR folks want to help companies clarify, amplify and distribute their message and their mission. Often, innovators are too close their own products to effectively tell their own stories. To speak for them, PR people must first understand what drives the company—from its origin story to the everyday passions of the company’s employees.

Listening is the most important skill in PR. Empathy is the most important mindset. And nowhere is this as vital as within the healthcare industry.

Hundreds of thousands of people work across the American healthcare system with a single, shared goal: to help people. It is easy to lose sight of this. Insurers, hospitals, life sciences companies, health tech startups and other healthcare vendors struggle to respond to a buffet of financial and regulatory challenges that are amplified by the current transformation to value-based care.

One Boston hospital CEO described it best when she said that the biggest struggle for most healthcare organizations is “having one foot in the boat and one foot on the dock.” Many providers have made significant strides towards goals such as shifting to pay-for-performance contracts, launching population health programs, or modernizing their payment systems to reflect consumer-driven health plans. But extending clinical and patient experience best practices to every last patient remains an elusive goal for most.

It is fair to say that our healthcare company clients all have one thing in common—they are all working to help healthcare providers (or insurers or employers) to get “both feet into the boat” when it comes to value-based care.  Understanding the importance of this mission, and its inherent challenges, is our first job as healthcare PR professionals.

Our second job is to help clients to lead with empathy, by guiding them back, again and again, to their core value – helping customers tackle the goals of the Triple Aim. Here are three ways healthcare companies can cut to the core of what matters, tell their company story effectively, and gain customer loyalty:

Everyone is a patient

Some of the most effective and memorable client communications I have seen draw on the healthcare experiences of CEOs, other C-suite executives, researchers, other employees, or their families. We all have stories of instances when the healthcare system has not delivered on its promise, and these experiences often drive the development of new solutions among healthcare companies. Meeting “unmet medical needs” begins with sharing what these needs are and why they are important with a variety of audiences. This is often best done through personal stories.

See the caregiver

 The decisions made by healthcare providers on a daily basis have life-changing consequences. Many of our clients aim to make those decisions easier, by offering evidence-based content support, by getting rid of background noise that can cloud judgment, or by simply shaving time off each clinician’s administrative burden. If healthcare companies can drill down further to describe how products may positively impact specific patient interactions, particular care transitions or certain data reporting processes, this is likely to spur more “aha” moments among reporters, potential customers and investors.

We’re all in this together

It’s easier to make the empathy connection when a healthcare vendor’s primary audience is patients or clinicians. But what about companies who are targeting CIOs, physician practice managers, front office staff, payers and employers? How, for instance, do revenue cycle management tools make patients’ lives better?

Connect the dots here by developing case studies, blogs and other content that drives home the value of these tools to the healthcare ecosystem, and to particular individuals. Circling back to the core mission driving the company is especially important when the success stories may not *typically* be front page news. This is key to driving continued interest among the press and potential customers, but also to fanning the passions of your workforce. Everyone within any healthcare enterprise wants to feel that they are doing good in the world. Investing in uncovering success stories will have long-term benefits both internally and externally.

The first step

To build a PR program that leads with empathy, you need to uncover the stories that help your target audience connect not only with your products, but with your company culture and your commitment to making a difference. Look for that human element and you will find your programs are far more effective.

Simple Language and Communication Success

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump continues to demonstrate some of the best – and worst – PR practices. Included in the best category: Trump’s mastery of “simple language.”

This recent article exploring the “linguistic” decline of Trump’s language got me thinking about Trump’s repetitive use of simple words and phrases. Some people theorize that Trump’s language style indicates his cognitive skills are slipping. An alternative theory is that Trump has purposively adopted a simplistic communication style because he finds it effective. Perhaps Trump has mastered the art of the deal – or at least figured out how to deal with communicating to the masses.

Trump’s simple language is easy to comprehend and his messages are easily retained. If you are in public relations, or if you are in any way motivated to promote a product, service, or even yourself, a look at Trump’s communication style reveals a few lessons.

Why simple is better in PR

We live in a complex world with a constant barrage of information that we’re expected to comprehend and retain. This is especially true in healthcare, with all its jargon and acronyms. It’s thus no wonder that we are drawn to the simple – things like Southwest Airlines’ no-hidden-fee pricing, the iPhone’s user-friendly interface, and the Keurig’s no-mess system for brewing a single cup of coffee. In the same way, our overloaded brains appreciate plain-language messaging that is clear and concise.

Whether it is a website, a press release or a speech, your audience should not have to read (or listen to) your content multiple times to comprehend its meaning. You don’t want your prospective customer to view your website and wonder what the heck you’re selling or why you’re better than the competition. When you craft your message in simple language, it’s easier to understand and remember.

Unfortunately, simple language content is not simple to create and is arguably harder to craft than jargon-filled messages with run-on sentences and $5 words.

Best practices for keeping it simple

Whether you’re writing or speaking, consider these best practices for simplifying your message:

Use simple words – As Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” It’s more important that your audience understands your message than it is to impress them with your vast vocabulary. Keep the language plain and simple.

Keep sentences and paragraphs short – Avoid trying to communicate too many ideas within a single sentence or paragraph. Target a sentence length of 20 to 30 words and limit paragraphs to two to three sentences, especially when the content is written. Readers will follow and retain your message more easily.

Eliminate the fluff – One way to keep sentences short and sweet is to eliminate unnecessary words and keep the message concise. For example, rather than say “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” Martin Luther King, Jr. could have said “I have a dream that one day all Georgians will eat together as friends.” Okay, okay, my sincere apologies to one of history’s greatest orators, as there clearly is a time and place for fluff – but it’s not within a press release.

Get rid of the jargon –Your target audience won’t assume you are an expert in your field just because you use a lot of industry jargon. In fact, the very people you are trying to impress may tune you out if they don’t understand the meaning of those terms. Replace the jargon with plain language substitutes whenever possible.

Stay active – Use an active, not passive, voice. The passive voice typically requires more words, especially the use of prepositional phrases that can create vagueness. For example, do say, “The company is exhibiting its products at HIMSS,” and avoid saying, “The products will be on exhibit by the company while at HIMSS.” Not only is the first version smoother and shorter, it is also more easily understood.

You may also want to consider running a readability index on your content. Readability indexes, such as Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog, will estimate how easy it is to read and comprehend your text based on word and sentence length, syllable counts and other factors. A message that scores a reading level of grade 7 or 8 is considered to be an easy read and in plain English. It’s also the ideal level for communicating with the masses. Interestingly, the average score for medical information designed to educate patients is a grade level of 10 or higher.

Finally, here’s one more reason to adopt a simpler language style: it can improve your website’s SEO rank. Readability is one of the many signals that Google uses to rank websites. If you want a higher ranking, make sure your text easy to read and perceive.

Adopting a simpler language style may not be simple – but it can lead to greater communication success!

6 Tips for Making Your Customer Success Stories More Compelling

Everyone loves a great customer success story. You can talk features and benefits in the abstract all day, but nothing brings home the concept that those features and benefits will actually solve the problem you’re trying to address than hearing it already did the same for someone else. It’s the ultimate sales tool.

Of course, getting customers to agree to participate in a success story isn’t always easy. Some aren’t allowed to participate by corporate edict. Others are afraid to because they don’t want to admit that anything in their organizations was ever not hunky-dorey. Some just don’t want to spend their time that way.

So when a customer does agree to tell their story about their experience with your organization, you definitely want to make the most of the opportunity. Here are a few tips that will help you make that happen.

Start with your organization’s contact(s)

This is a step that often gets skipped. Someone fills out a form, usually in a hurry, and assumes that’s all the background the writer will need to interview the customer. Not true!

It’s always helpful to speak with the people who work with the customer every day – salespeople, customer service, tech support, trainers, or whoever is most germane to the story you want to tell. They often have perspectives to share that they wouldn’t think to add to a form but that come out in the course of a conversation. Especially if the person doing the interview is experienced at drawing out those types of thoughts.

Gather the background from the internal contact and let that help guide the customer questions.

Always speak to the customer

Some people in the organization (read: salespeople, usually) may be reluctant to have anyone speak directly to their customer for fear the new person will do something crazy that hurts the relationship. Not sure exactly what they’re expecting, but if you’re working with professionals there is very little chance of that happening.

It is important for the writer to speak to the customer because that is the best way to get the “real” story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on an interview and the story the customer tells differs substantially from what the company insider thought had happened. It’s not that either is untrue – it’s simply a matter of perspective, and what is important to each.

Ultimately, you want it to be the customer’s story, and it’s the customer who has to give final approval. Best to get the story they think you’re there to write directly from them. Trust me, it will save a lot of time on the back end.

Prepare good questions ahead of time

Once the conversation with the customer is set up, it’s important to prepare a very targeted set of questions to draw out the story in vivid detail. You can start with a template, but you really need to think about the story you’re hoping the customer tells and prepare the questions accordingly. Otherwise you may end up with a lot of uncomfortable pauses and not much information to build a success story.

While the details may vary, all great success stories consist of four basic elements: who the customer is, what their problem was, how the problem was solved, and the results. You then want to drill down to specifics of that instance within each of those sections, including why the customer chose your solution and how they liked working with your team.

You may not always be able to “stick to the script.” I’ve worked with customers who pretty much launched into the whole story after being asked what issue they were facing. But those are the exceptions.

Often you will have to draw the story out, especially if you’re talking to a technical person. They usually don’t think like marketers think; they’re more likely to recite facts. But a good set of questions can help them get beyond the black-and-white, ones-and-zeroes world they usually live in so they can add a little color to the story.

Must have results

This is another rookie mistake I see from time to time. Someone gets excited that a customer is willing to talk and wants to get him/her on the phone right away. Love the enthusiasm, but…

The credibility of a customer success story comes from results. Hard results in the form of numbers are best – money saved, hours saved, additional revenue captured, measurably improved health outcomes, etc. That’s the Holy Grail.

Unfortunately, not every customer has that information. Sometimes they failed to document the starting point, which makes it hard to measure the difference the solution made; they just know it’s better. Sometimes there is nothing to measure, or there isn’t an expedient way to measure it.

Soft results can work when no hard results are available, but those results must be something with which other organizations can identify. Employee happiness/reduction in burnout, noticeably reduced noise levels, greater collaboration between clinicians, more time to spend on patients, and other factors can be powerful statements – if that’s what your target audience wants to achieve in their own organizations.

If there are no results to report, it’s best to hold off until there are. After all, what’s the point of a customer success story if there’s no successes to report yet?

Find the human element

Some organizations really like to focus on the facts and figures of their customer success stories. They are important, but they are not the story.

The human element is the story – how what you did impacted whoever you were trying to impact. Until our robot overlords take over, the decisions are being made by people. People like stories that make them feel good.

This is true even when your audience is made up of clinicians or IT people. Yes, they are analytical, and they like their facts and figures. But they are not Vulcans making all decisions solely based on logic. If they were, luxury automobile companies and sellers of other big ticket consumer products would have more statistical information and fewer shots of attractive people doing cool things in their ads and commercials.

If they relate to your story on a human level, they are more likely to get excited and view you favorably. All else being relatively equal, they will lean toward the solution they feel best about – even if they’re not quite sure why.

Give it a great graphic treatment

Great graphics can make even a mediocre story more interesting as well as making a great story stand out.

Break up the type with pictures, or diagrams, or screen shots, or some other visual element. If you have facts and figures to highlight, make little infographic-style illustrations out of some of them. If you’re posting a written case study online, see if you can add a GIF or other video element to it, such as demonstrating the product at work.

The more attractive your final form is, the more it will draw the reader in. And the easier your success story is to read, the more likely it is the people who matter to you will read it.

Realize the full value

Customer success stories are one of the most valuable marketing tools your organization can possess. Frequently, they’re also one of the most difficult to obtain, which is why you should treat each one like it’s gold.

Put in the time and effort to dig beyond the basic elements and you will be able to create compelling stories that yield huge dividends for the entire organization.

 

Facts Tell But Stories Sell

“Story telling is the oldest form of teaching,” Matt Cavallo declared when we met on May 23. I couldn’t agree more. Great story telling has always intrigued me. Maybe that’s why I’m in PR. I have always believed that behind every organization is a zealous individual with an epic story waiting to be shared. It’s usually the CEO or founder, though not always.

Matt is a passionate patient advocate who dedicates his life to the fight against multiple sclerosis. He has been named among the top 10 Social HealthMakers by WCG and his blog was selected as one of Healthline’s top multiple sclerosis picks in 2015. His story of being diagnosed and overcoming the physical and emotional challenges associated with having a chronic disease can be read in his memoir, The Dog Story: A Journey into a New Life with Multiple Sclerosis.

What started as a simple half-hour meet-and-greet with Amendola Communications agency staff turned into a 90-minute conversation. Who has that kind of time, you ask? Well, Matt knew how to keep our attention: he had us laughing one moment and fighting back tears the next. It’s a skill few people have but many aspire to. This ability to connect comes in really handy during media interviews at large trade shows (such as HIMSS) where our PR clients (health IT vendors) get to pitch their product or solution to editors who decide on the spot whether they care enough to write about them…or not.

GetWellNetwork® founder and CEO Michael O’Neil was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 28. While the medical outcome was excellent, the patient experience was challenging. After four cycles of chemotherapy, he started GetWellNetwork to help hospitals improve performance and outcomes through patient engagement. Michael and his team work tirelessly to ensure the voice of the patient is heard. Today, more than 4.6 million patients use GetWellNetwork technology to engage in their healthcare. Take a minute to watch Michael tell his story in this short video.

Growing up in a family of doctors, ClearDATA CEO Darin Brannan got a firsthand look at the challenges healthcare practitioners face in treating patients using paper and outdated technology. It made him painfully aware of the number of people who die each day as a result of medical errors long before it became national news.

Despite the availability of electronic health records and other technologies that were supposed to solve the problem, reports show that more than 1,000 people still die each day due to medical errors. At the center of this seeming disconnect is a lack of cohesiveness among advanced information technologies. Darin believes that, “Healthcare is less of a science problem, it’s more of an information problem.”

In 2011, he co-founded ClearDATA to apply his cloud computing expertise to healthcare in order to remove the technical obstacles inhibiting patient safety and costing lives. Today, ClearDATA is recognized by organizations such as CB Insights as a leading healthcare information security services company, with $54 million in funding and a customer portfolio that includes some of the largest healthcare providers in the nation.

Dave Bennett, EVP, Orion Health, is passionate about precision medicine. He often tells the story about his son, Carter, who has cystic fibrosis (CF). Here is how he tells it.

Carter’s story

About a decade ago, my oldest son, Carter, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Like most kids with CF, Carter had a host of physical problems, like lung infections due to mucous build-up and thrive issues due to pancreas blockage. In eighth grade his lungs needed a thorough cleaning, so he was hospitalized and homebound for three consecutive weeks with a PICC line.

Five years ago, Vertex Pharmaceuticals released a drug designed to address Carter’s specific genetic variation of CF, one that only four percent of patients have.

But when I told Carter’s doctor about it, he said it wouldn’t help Carter because he didn’t have that genetic variation.

Once I pressed the doctor to review 60 pages of Carter’s data, however, the doctor soon reversed his position.

“This is a game changer,” he said.

Now let’s be clear: Carter’s doctor is a great doctor. But he didn’t have the tools to help him analyze that 60 pages of data and connect my son to a promising new drug therapy that went on to stabilize his lung function, end his annual sinus surgeries, eliminate his regular bronchial scopes, made his ED visits a thing of the past, and allowed him to flourish into a six-foot-two-inch, 225-pound captain of his high-school football team. Today, Carter is a thriving college student, our payers don’t have to pay for all the procedures mentioned above anymore, and his mom and I don’t worry about him one bit.

That is the promise of precision medicine exemplified. But in the future, rather than rely on a highly interested advocate—like a parent who’s passionate about precision medicine—to provide that cognitive support, payers and providers will be able to rely on technology that synthesizes and analyzes the data (e.g., those 60 pages Carter’s doctor couldn’t effortlessly process) and utilize it in the right context at the right time.

“This is my mission,” Dave tells journalists. “I want to help doctors and patients in making decisions about what will help them. To do this work, you really need focus at the mission level, because it’s going to change healthcare for the better and make a difference in people’s lives.”

Time to pick a better name for content marketing

Why I (Still) Hate the Term “Content Marketing”

A few years back, I made a minor ripple on the internet—okay, make that a very minor ripple—when I dashed off a plaintive lament about the use of the word “content” in content marketing. As I noted at the time, the industry couldn’t have picked a more lifeless word to describe using interesting, informative, persuasive information to educate prospects and turn them into buyers.

Three years later, I feel exactly the same as I did in my original rant, reprinted below:

If there is one profession that should understand above all others that messaging matters, it’s the field of marketing. So why on earth have we all collectively agreed to label our messaging as “content” – which brings to mind nothing more than inert filler, largely there just to take up space?

If you don’t think buying into this phrase won’t have an actual effect on your messaging, just look at some of the advice out there from the “content marketing” experts.

Over and over I see the suggestion that marketers repurpose older web copy and blog posts to use for other “content marketing” pieces like brochures and white papers. Never does this recommendation remind marketers to heed the target audience’s current stage in the buying process, the audience’s level of technical understanding, or for that matter, any other qualifiers.

No, this is standalone advice, often among the first offered, which is giving marketers the impression that as long as they put something out there for prospects to read on a regular basis, the qualified leads will follow.

That’s a perception that just cheapens the value of your marketing message. And if you don’t value your own message, do you honestly think prospects will?

Incidentally, it also makes the deadly mistake of over-estimating the ease of capturing your prospects’ interest.

Here’s another irony: one of the key jobs of a marketing communications professional is to bring clarity to a subject, yet confusion reigns in the field as to what “content” marketing actually means. Really, ask a number of marketers to define the phrase. I assure you, you’re going to get a number of different answers.

The term is just a vague and vapid generality; nothing more. And as a writer, that especially makes me shudder.

My complaint was hardly an original one; as Ryan Skinner from Forrester noted at the time, I wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to have a gripe with a term. Still, it caught some attention, and even some hearty applause from people like Jeff Molander, who emphatically agreed the term doesn’t do us marketers any favors.

So imagine my dismay when four years later, we’re still using it! Well, like I said, my ripple was just that, a ripple.

But I still hold that “content” marketing is a completely inadequate term. It implies quantity over quality, which is a serious misrepresentation of how this form of marketing works. Yes, the typical B2b prospect intensively researches before buying, and yes, having a widely-distributed library of information to satisfy that research is important.

But it’s not going to get widely read if it’s not actually readable. Quality matters. I don’t just say that as a writer, but as a buyer. I do plenty of research online before I make certain purchases, too….we all do now, for small and big ticket items alike. I’m not too likely to buy from a company that puts out badly explained “content.”

What does content marketing even mean?

It’s also worth noting that confusion still reigns on the right definition of “content” marketing. My colleague Tim Boivin does a nice job explaining it and clearing up some common misconceptions.

However, for a relatively mainstream method, it’s amazing to me that there is still a level of confusion surrounding it all these years later. I lay a good part of the blame on the meaningless name. Think about it. Is there the same widespread confusion about what public relations is? Or branding? Or even social media marketing? No—because their names are insightfully specific.

It’s a shame because content marketing really is an effective means for nurturing interest and trust in a company’s offerings – and generating good leads. It’s also one of our specialties here at Amendola. I love the strategy; it gives me a chance to write meaningful information that helps guide people to making an informed buying decision. But I think that it deserves a better name.

Some proposed replacements for the term “content marketing”

So what should we call this method of marketing instead? After making such a fuss about changing the name, I admit I understand why the word “content” was settled on—it’s a catch-all expression for the articles, infographics, guides, videos and more that are used to catch a prospect’s interest and hold this interest throughout the buying cycle.

“Demand generation” and “inbound marketing” are sometimes used interchangeably for content marketing. But they shouldn’t be – they’re not the same thing. With that, here are some substitute terms I like—but am not in love with:

  • Brand journalism
  • Editorial marketing
  • Company journalism
  • Informational marketing
  • Guided buying/Guide marketing
  • Knowledge marketing

If you have a great idea for a replacement, let me know…I will personally make it my mission to make it stick!

Tips for Social Media Success

For many, social media is a mysterious beast. In part because it’s such a new means of communication, but also because the primary social media platforms we all use and love – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – can feel like a sea of noise in which developing best practices to engage human users (as opposed to the spam bots) inherently brings with it some challenges. That said, social media marketing in today’s world is a must if you want to engage potential clients, spread the word about what your company is doing, and support your brand with a robust online presence.

Social media marketing best practices, based on measuring trends from those who have seen success, are only now developing. If you think about it, social media is the only communication medium that everyone reading this blog can remember a world without – yet, now it’s nearly impossible to imagine what news, public relations, branding and marketing would look like without it.

Your business needs a social media presence to stay competitive. But, you want to make sure to do it right, lest you risk becoming one of those accounts people ignore – or worse, block completely. Below are five tips for success on any social media platform, as well as information on all-too-common habits to avoid.

Don’t use social media as a soapbox

I have worked in public relations, marketing and branding for a number of years, and this is the most common mistake organizations make. It’s OK to promote yourself on social media, even directly. But, only about 1/3 of the content you post should ever be obviously self-promotional in nature.

The bulk of what is posted on your social media profiles should be third-party content that covers the gamut of what your organization is all about – the services you offer and the issues you’re intimately involved in – in an effort to solidify a “soft” association without being overtly promotional.

It’s awesome to be proud of your company’s solutions and brand image. But, brazen promotion on social media should be kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, no one who isn’t already supporting the work your organization does is interested solely in your brand. The subtle promotion that comes from linking to a good article, or commenting more generally on a specific topic, is what will lure people to follow your profile on social media and share the content they find, which in turn fuels further interest in your organization.

Remember, the goal of social media is largely to get others to promote your organization, and accomplishing that means posting content that is likely to be read and shared. A tweet that acts as an ad is not likely to have that effect, but a link to a great article from a reputable source is going to see some engagement, especially if you add a meaningful comment to the mix.

Know your brand, maintain your voice

The companies in any industry – including healthcare technology – have a wide variety of “voices” they express through their branding. Maybe your organization has a fun, casual image; or perhaps it is the serious type who wants to focus on education. There are no wrong answers. Unless, of course, there’s an issue with consistency.

It’s OK to join in on trending conversations and talk about current events, but you want to be mindful of the tone present in a social media post to ensure each post is supplementing the brand image you want the public to associate with your organization. If your organization has a professional business image and uses social media to highlight social issues, tweeting “Tom Brady is the GOAT! #SuperBowl” is definitely not a good idea, for a variety of reasons.

Sending out a post about the Super Bowl to join a larger conversation is acceptable for any organization, as it’s always good to remind people there are very real people behind corporate walls. However, this should be done in a way that is in harmony with everything else your organization posts on social media, and joining in on trending topics should be done without being controversial and inflammatory. Most importantly, avoid slang and “Internet speak” whenever possible, as this will be seen as disingenuous by those who follow your profile, especially if most of the content you post is of a serious nature.

Don’t #abuse #the #hashtag

If you can naturally fit a #hashtag into a sentence, do it. But never rewrite a good post just to shove some extra hashtags in there. Not only does this fail to fool the automated algorithms that rank posts for display when a certain hashtag is clicked, but you risk looking like spam.

If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you know it’s overrun with spam bots and fake accounts that exist only to gain impressions. Don’t find your organization wrongly associated with that plague by overdoing the hashtags or adding off-topic hashtags to your posts. It won’t work.

Stick with one or two hashtags per post, and if you can’t put them into a sentence without forcing the issue, simply add them to the end, and separate hashtags from your primary message with a “|” whenever possible. For example, “#Ransomware is getting cleverer, not to mention more frightening. This one turns PCs into evil clowns! (Link) | #Cybersecurity”. The hashtag at the end is relevant to post and fine to include, and we avoid a “cluttered” look by separating it with a vertical line.

As for developing custom hashtags for self-promotion: These are crucial to better understanding what people are saying about your organization on social media and driving your own trends. However, the same rules above still apply – don’t overdo it, and make sure hashtags are relevant and fit cleanly into every post.

Avoid private and direct messages

The real title of this tip should probably read “be a social media user yourself,” because if you use social media, you know that direct messages are almost always spam. And regardless of how a private message is worded to a follower, it will be seen as an annoyance.

The act of opening a message box takes away from the natural flow of social media, where someone scrolls on their phone to read a variety of messages. It’s frustrating to have to have to open a box just to make an alert notification go way, especially since 90 percent of the time doing so is going to result in being subjected to spam.

This is not to be confused with an “@” message or a tagging another profile. These practices are fine. Sending someone a message of “thanks” for a follow, or including a media outlet’s Twitter handle when sharing a link to their content, is a great idea. In fact, it’s often the best way to garner more engagement. But, stay away from private messages completely. Since these can’t be shared with others on social media and are such a nuisance, there are few good arguments for sending them.

Engagement is key

Direct and private messages may be a bad idea, but engaging your followers is crucial to success. You want your organization’s profile to feel as if an actual person is behind the keyboard making the posts, and doing that can be as simple as “liking” a reply from a follower, or acknowledging when someone tags your profile by offering a quick “@(Name) Thank you.”
Honestly, little touches like this go a long way in keeping followers and encouraging people to visit your profile, click links, and engage your posts. It fuels a personal connection between followers and your social media profile, one that contains the human touch necessary to make that connection meaningful.

Your engagement level needs to match or exceed that of your profile’s followers. As mentioned previously, social media is loaded with fake accounts and spam bots (Twitter in particular).
Social media users are numb to superficial engagement, such as a tweet directed at them that contains an ad. Avoid that practice.

When you engage followers, keep promotion out of it. And most important of all, if people are directing questions, comments, and concerns towards your profile – answer them. Social media connects the world in a way that is slowly replacing phone support and written feedback.

People like when your organization responds to them, engages them, and interacts with them on a person-to-person basis. Never doubt the power of a reply or a quick acknowledgment of a message, as they could be the key to separating your organization from all of the noise on social media and building a strong presence on any platform.

The 4 P's to be a successful marketer

The 4 P’s to Think Like a Marketer

You may have heard of the 4 P’s of marketing: price, product, place, promotion. It’s a broad view to the marketing puzzle of taking a product or service from concept to consumer. Sometimes, businesses gain ground without thinking through these 4 Ps. Rapid growth is bound to plateau at some point and that when it is the perfect time to take a step back.

So, what’s next? Now, you just need to solidify how you can take your company to the next level. The next step may need to be more targeted and work quickly to reach the rapid growth you were projecting.

Nowadays marketing options are everywhere. You could pick multiple paths or you could home in on one big trend. The key is to find balance on the scale: Not spending too much time on one effort and not stretching resources too thin across multiple efforts.

Marketing efforts work best when they work together, with similar power across a range of efforts – much like a crew of rowers all working at the same time to move. When one oar is doing all the work, you’re not going anywhere. The same thing happens in marketing and PR. It needs to be strategic and comprehensive to “move the boat.”

Carrying on the alliteration fun of the 4 p’s, here are 4 ways to start thinking like a marketer in your next strategic campaign. Use this process to focus your efforts for maximum results!

1. Picture
If you could picture your perfect marketing strategy plan what would it be? List all items or initiatives that you would like to see happen. This is the time to be a little unrealistic. Think of all the efforts that would make a difference in reaching your end goals. Include stretch goals, SMART goals, and even some ideas you know you don’t have the resources to complete.

Think of a variety of goals and efforts. For example maybe you want to increase your social media engagement or maybe you just want to better target a specific demographic.

Get your ideas out and on paper to discus with your team or your agency. The benefit to adding all of your goals in the discussion phase is that there might be options that are more plausible than you thought. This can also help generate new ideas from your team.

Don’t limit yourself in the initial brainstorm, or you might find yourself feeling some regret down the road. Prevent this by letting the creative juices flow early on in the process!

2. Prioritize
Now it’s time to get realistic. Until artificial intelligence (AI) and biorobotics are developed enough for us to be highly-productive cyborgs, we are going to have to live with the fact that we are human. There are only so many things that we can do at one time, and only so many things we can do well. Not to mention the budget we have to execute them.

There are also limitations as to how many or what type of marketing and PR efforts will benefit your company. You don’t want to waste your time creating a great marketing effort that falls on deaf ears. Like an Instagram campaign for Medicare, when only 15% of Instagram users are above the age of 50.

Do your research, ask others for their opinions, and see what efforts will make the most impact on your target market. You want to think of immediate lead generation, long-term lead generation and customer loyalty.

3. Plan Ahead
Now that you have a prioritized list of what you want to accomplish, its time to decide when things need to be completed. A thrown-together effort isn’t going to have much of an effect. In fact, if it’s sloppy it may have an adverse effect on your potential customers.

My favorite example of this happening, all too often, is the holidays. It seems every year I hear people say, “Oh the holidays just snuck up on me!” While I understand this, and may have said it myself, it’s just not true. We know the exact date years in advance. You may not be able to finish your personal holiday shopping before Thanksgiving every year, but it is important to stay ahead of schedule for your business.

It’s tempting to throw together a cool initiative after seeing another company perfectly execute one, but will it be valuable to your target market? If you think of a great idea for a Thanksgiving email at 9:00 pm on Thanksgiving eve and you can’t complete it, don’t scrap it! You can use it next year.

Train yourself to think like a retailer. Have you ever been annoyed at the sight of Christmas decorations for sale in August? Use that as your reminder to start thinking about holiday marketing efforts. Or other annual events related to your business.

4. Pull
Your efforts should pull your audience in. Every effort, regardless of how much power you have behind your strategy, should be focused on the end goal. When you go to execute your plan all efforts should be relevant to your customers and their pain point that you solve.

Your social media strategy should be targeted at your ideal customer, digital marketing efforts should all center on your customer and your article placements should be in publications your targets are reading. It’s easy to get caught up in something that looks cool or to fit in somewhere you have a connection. However, if it has nothing to do with your brand, what’s the point?

You know your customers’ pain points, but do your marketing efforts show your customers you want to alleviate them? For example: fitness gyms have an extreme increase of patrons and new memberships in the months of Jan- March, as many make their New Year’s resolution to get healthy. Let’s say your business is a solution for an automated member check in system that makes going to the gym easier for patrons and puts less strain on staff during rushes. You want to start marketing to gyms as they are preparing for this rush, not in the middle of the painful rush.
There are so many ways to incorporate your brand into something funky that isn’t a direct sell. But it should all point to you and your brand’s values in some way.

Set your business up for long term success by dreaming big, selecting what you can do, acting on it in a timely manner and using every effort to engage with your customer.

Word of mouth marketing is still one of the most effective ways of spreading your message

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! 5 Steps for Utilizing Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth is arguably the most efficient and beneficial form of marketing. A recent Nielsen’s Harris Poll Online found that more than 80% of Americans seek recommendations when making any kind of purchase. Also, a Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising report showed that 84 percent of consumers say they value recommendations from friends and family above other types of advertising. Most people trust their peers more than corporate advertising, so hearing the virtues of your solution from a colleague will go far in establishing your credibility.

What does this information mean for your business and how do you incorporate word of mouth into your overall marketing strategy?

Nurture Happy Customers

Happy customers require a solid solution, first and foremost. Addressing the vulnerabilities of your product and services will increase your customers’ confidence in your company, helping develop customer advocates and extending word of mouth. Many people are happy to be an expert and discuss how they have solved a problem. By delivering a solid solution, exceptional customer service and conducting business as a true partner, customers will be open to acting as brand ambassadors. Build and engage a captive audience of your customers, partners and thought leaders.

Communicate to Your Customers

Collaborative relationships offer benefits to both sides. To have customers and prospects believe you are on their side, it is essential that marketing efforts speak to their motivations. Regardless of how beautifully crafted your campaign or message is, any project that does not speak to what influences your customer will fall flat. What keeps your clients up at night? What inspires them? You need to understand these motivators before you can make the link to how your offerings can help.

Simplify your messaging for the benefit of all involved. Someone outside of your company is not as immersed in the key take-aways as your executives. They will be asked about or offer information about your company, communicating the points they believe. Clear, concise messaging will make it easier for your customers to convey the benefits you want others to understand.

Make Their Voices Heard

You have happy customers who are willing to share their experiences. Now what? These stories and successes should be shared where people can learn from them. This can be through a variety of channels, including case studies, media interviews, social media interactions, presentations at tradeshows. The point is to have your customer’s voice heard where potential prospects and industry influencers could be listening. Having your success stories out there also keeps them alive long after they are told.

Create Targeted Campaigns

Not all messages will resonate with everyone and not all customers are created equal. Segmentation will vary depending on your company and what matters to your customers. Factors can include location, industry, customer size, solutions they are using or problem they are trying to solve. The audience should be able to relate to the customer’s experience. Match the client and message to the correct audience for maximum return.

 Pick the Correct Channel

Similar to all customers not created equal, neither are channels. Businesses are made up of people that are using sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. You need to get your message to the people where they are and where they will be receptive to hearing your customer’s story. That said, tread carefully to put your efforts in the channels that can offer the greatest reward as some may be a better fit than others. A channel that makes sense for one industry may not work for another. Also, focus on the message and desired outcome and not the trendy tool.

Ensure your online presence is optimized for mobile channels. According to an April 27, 2016 post by Smart Insights, mobile use grows an average of 58% year over year. Viewers should be able to move seamlessly between devices and have a consistent experience regardless of whether they find you on a desktop, tablet or phone.

Word of mouth marketing can be a cost-effective and credible way to extend your voice. These steps will increase the value of these efforts. Now, get your customers’ achievements heard!

 

Health IT Marketing - Tell the Time

When it Comes to Health IT Marketing, Tell the Time

Long before I entered the world of health IT marketing, I remember my father telling me “Ask an engineer what time it is and he’ll tell you how the clock was made.” I don’t actually recall the reason he said it – although there must’ve been one since he wasn’t one to speak in adages normally – but I do recall the lesson.

The adage has taken on new meaning today. One of the cool things about working at Amendola Communications is that I regularly meet brilliant people doing brilliant things to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare. I’m frequently amazed that they can not only think of innovative products and services to develop but also can put them together.

Yet therein lies the rub, so to speak. They are so justifiably proud of the thinking, work and effort that went into their products that they forget the average user isn’t interested in all the inner workings or how they got to where they are. They just want to “know the time.” They care more about the ‘why’ than the ‘how.’

Jargon and technobabble

One of the biggest challenges these engineering-oriented folks face when it comes to health IT marketing is the technologist’s love of jargon and technobabble. Throw in the healthcare world’s love of acronyms and abbreviations and pretty soon you’ll have an incompressible communique that might even baffle Alan Turing. (For those not familiar with Turing, he’s the man who led the British efforts to break the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma codes in WWII, which helped shorten the war by several years. The movie about that effort, The Imitation Game, is an excellent watch by the way.)

One popular phrase that seems to have accompanied most health IT marketing announcements over the past 15 years is “open and interoperable.” Given the healthcare industry’s well-documented and ongoing challenges with interoperability, at first glance that would seem like an important benefit. But in reality, the phrase has been so over-used and mis-used that it has really lost all meaning. Besides, if every technology that made that claim actually was open and interoperable, health IT wouldn’t be in the state it’s in right now.

The same goes for many of the facts, figures and specifications often touted in press releases, data sheets and other materials. While this information has its value, that value is not in leading the discussion. It’s more support to assure potential buyers that a product they are now convinced solves their problem will also work within its existing infrastructure.

This difference between facts and useful information really came home to me a few months ago when I was asked to look at a press release and data sheet to determine how much editing would be required to make them effective for health IT marketing. I diligently read through the press release. I then diligently read through the data sheet.

Finally I gave my response. I thought they both needed a lot of work because after all that reading I wasn’t quite sure what the product did or why anyone in healthcare would want it. I knew what sorts of protocols had been used in its creation, and the alphabet soup of standards it met. I’m fairly certain I even knew what type of software development was used in its creation and what they people who worked on it liked to eat for lunch.

The only thing I didn’t know is exactly what it did. Or why I should care.

The Imitation Game

This time I’m not referencing the movie, but instead the way organizations seem to like to imitate the language used by competitors or big players in the industry to make their marketing materials seem more “official” and important. This is especially true on websites.

When we start with a new client, or are pitching a new prospect, one of the first things I and most of my colleagues do is go to the client’s/prospect’s website to learn something about them. Sometimes this is a very fruitful venture that provides great background and insight into the organization’s purpose and objectives.

But there are definitely times when I come away less informed than I was before I went onto the site. Platitudes, clichés and marketingspeak picked up and (slightly) repackaged from the websites of companies someone on the team admires rule the day. It makes me think that the company has no idea what it does and who its audience is. Or that it has a solution that’s in search of a problem to solve.

Rather than trying to sound like everyone else, and one-up the competition in the use of meaningless phrases, smart marketers will understand who they’re trying to reach and what problem(s) they have. They will then craft their messages to address those audiences and their issues directly. And simply.

It’s like a FedEx Super Bowl commercial from the last decade. A group of underlings in suits are trying to explain to the CEO why they need to switch to FedEx. They start out with an MBA-level discussion which goes right over the head of the CEO. Then they simplify it to more of an undergrad-level explanation. Still nothing but crickets.

Finally someone says, “For every dollar we spend we’ll get two back.” Sold!
If all your competitors are trying to outdo each other with technical information and complex explanations, don’t look at it as a guideline. Look at it as an opportunity.

Remember Apple didn’t get to be the world’s valuable company by selling technology and specs. That’s what their competitors tried to do. Instead, Apple sold solutions and simplicity. In fact, their whole brand was based on making their technology so easy to use and un-intimidating that you didn’t even need an owner’s manual. You could figure it out for yourself.

Keep it simple

Whether you’re creating a press release, white paper, collateral piece, video or some other form of communication it’s important to focus first on the benefits to the user. Even the most technical audience needs you to identify what problem(s) you solve or improvements you deliver before they will invest any more time. Answer the question: “Why should I care?”

If they don’t understand what the product or service does immediately, and why it will make their jobs easier/lives better, all the rest is unnecessary detail. Especially if your audience is clinicians; they already have enough inner workings to worry about in the human body.

It’s great to be proud of the technological breakthroughs you have created; celebrate them fully. But when it comes to PR and marketing, remember to focus on the WHY. Being able to tell time is WHY we buy a clock.

To learn more about how to communicate technology benefits more effectively, click here.

What has your experience been? Have you ever gone to a website or read a brochure and left more confused about what the company did than when you started? How do you address the people within your own organization who want to stuff marketing materials full of jargon and marketingspeak?