Marketing works in the wooing game

February 14th, 2014

 | by Therese Beale

With more than 40 million American adults using online dating, romance is a serious business. In sheer numbers the competition is daunting. It’s no wonder the Pew Research Center reports one in five online daters seek help in developing their profile.

How do you send the right message to thousands of complete strangers, hoping to catch the attention of ONE who will make a perfect match? I propose that finding a mate is like wooing a customer. Lonely hearts would do well to borrow a few pages from the business world to snare the attention and win the heart of that perfect Mr. or Ms. Right.

Teaching economics for two decades led a Stanford University professor to apply those principles to his own online dating experience. Amy Webb, a data analyst, created 10 male archetypes and posed as a man to evaluate responses online before finding her match. And Yours Truly tested her marketing skills by placing a personals ad in the back pages of the Chicago Reader. While I can’t remember the exact wording of that ad, my strategy was similar to Amy’s: I considered which women’s ads would catch my attention if I were a man. Then I deconstructed those ads for language, voice and tone to construct my own.

Here are five tips to speed up the matchmaking process:

  1. Market research: Get to know the competition.
  2. Target audience analysis: What do they care about?
  3. Short & sweet messaging: Craft a message that compels them to want to know more.
  4. Feedback: Listen carefully. Read between the lines.
  5. Values assessment: No one’s perfect so decide what really matters for a lifelong match.

We celebrated our 20th anniversary last year. Want to know more?

Posted in: Sales Messages | No comments

Communicate instantly with visuals that POP

March 19th, 2013

 | by Therese Beale

Teasing text splashed against captivating images. The preference toward visual communication is clearly gaining momentum. As one of those people who “think visually,” I was eager to try Haiku, an iPad application that streamlines slideshow production.

The selling point? Constraint. Every page has a single idea communicated in one or two lines of text along with a dynamic image drawn from more than 35 million Creative Commons-licensed images. Haiku allows you to insert pages of bullet points and charts, but the overall effect is minimalistic.

I test-drove Haiku with a quick overview of common flaws in messaging. It was fun and done, simply and fast. How’s that for instant messaging that POPS?

Email like a human

March 13th, 2012

 | by Therese Beale

Consider this: Even an auto-generated email can be brightened with a touch of humanity.

Dear therese beale,

Thanks for contacting the MOO Print Team.

I’m sending this email to confirm that your enquiry is in our customer service queue, and that a real, human MOO Service Agent will get back to you by the end of the next business day (that’s Monday-Friday, excluding Public Holidays).

Remember, I’m just a bit of software, so please don’t reply to this email. You’ll find our Service Agents far more conversational.

Best wishes,

Little MOO
Tireless Print Robot

Between the lines is a sensibility that connects the company to its customers.  I read that the company will respond (expected), and feel that they care about how I perceive the email (surprising).

And it only took a few seconds to forge that connection in a simple email.  Brilliant!

How to keep messages from going sideways

March 6th, 2012

 | by Therese Beale

The minute I stepped into the fishmonger’s shop I could sense what was about to happen. It was the last day to redeem a 50% discount offered by a popular daily-deal website. Customers lined up, coupons in hand. A stack of coupons processed throughout the day was sitting on the counter. The business owner hustled to fill orders. His usually pleasant demeanor was strained, his tone terse.

Detour - Therese Beale Photo @ Message Gap on Flickr

“You all love the deals. So, what will you do when the local fish market closes and all you have is the supermarkets?”

No one said a word. As I paid for my purchase, the owner pushed further.

“So where do you usually buy your fish?”

My response of “here” and the nearby grocer cued a ready response. “Oh sure, that market may have been good in the past, but not now,” the owner said, shaking his head.

I felt a tinge of resentment. Missing were the conversational niceties with loyal customers. Gone was the chance to rebuild a relationship with a sporadic customer. Our conversation had taken a detour.  It felt like a dead-end.

In his frustration with the crush of last-day coupon redemptions, the owner missed the opportunity to reinforce his brand.  He could have delivered a memorable marketing message. Instead, he expressed his irritation with the web promotion.

In spite of the economics at stake that day, the owner had committed long ago to the marketing promotion. How could our normally friendly fishmonger have stayed on track?  In fact, how do any of us stay on message when the day’s events threaten to take us off course?  Here are two ways:

  • Focus on your strengths — The owner lost touch with the very strengths that differentiate his business. The store is known for its superior product quality and normally congenial service. Daily-deal day is as good a day as any to reinforce those strengths through positive messages that keep customers coming back.
  • Remain true to your intentions – That daily-deal promotion sounded like a good idea at some point. It would have served the owner well to revisit his intentions behind the promotion, perhaps to build sales, renew old customer relationships.  Staying true to original goals helps buffer emotional reactions to challenges as they arise.

The promotion attracted customers old and new. Every transaction was an opportunity to create or restore a customer relationship. Odds are this business owner will have plenty of chances to redeem himself. His fish, after all, is the best in town!

Posted in: Sales Messages | No comments

A dreamy way to open up communication

February 29th, 2012

 | by Therese Beale

“Any questions?” Those two simple words serve a basic communication purpose. We’re ticking off our mental checklist to see if the listener is on the same page. Did I ask for feedback? Yep. Does everyone understand what we’re doing? Sure. Okay, then, let’s move on.

The hitch? Not everyone is ready or willing to ask a question especially if they’re still digesting the details of a complex topic. Lingering uncertainty can cause a listener to stall. Recently I encountered a conversation  footnote that not only welcomed questions but prompted us to move past that gray area of hidden resistance:

“Any questions, concerns, hopes, dreams?”

Lest you think this approach is a bit sappy, consider the source: An expert guide with NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School. Christian is accustomed to leading people of all abilities to face their limits in the wilderness. He’s also responsible for keeping the expedition on schedule, regardless of the weather conditions and the relative skill levels of the people in his group.

Baja _ Therese Beale photo

Dreaming of the perfect paddle stroke? Just ask.

I met Christian on a weeklong kayak trip in Baja. Our mission? Paddle 46 miles to circumnavigate an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Each morning Christian briefed us on wind conditions and our route for the day. About three hours of paddling was required to take us to our next designated camping spot. We were a capable group, but sometimes we had reservations. How do we manage “bio breaks” from the boats? Will the wind push us offshore? Will we have time for a hike this afternoon?

The questions seemed trivial, but Christian’s daily offer of “any questions, concerns, hopes, dreams?” made it easy to ask. It reminded me of the importance of removing mental barriers that interfere with effective communication. When the listener is distracted by competing interests, they’re not likely to be open to our messages.

In our case, Christian needed to know our concerns to ensure our safety. He also wanted to know our desires to make sure we had a good time. It was a vacation, after all.

The next time you want to know if someone has any questions or concerns, why not ask them about their hopes and dreams too?  What’s their vision of where they want to be at the end of a project? Or perhaps just at the end of the week? They might be surprised by the question, but it takes the edge off uncertainty. And they’ll appreciate that you cared enough to ask.

Human interest stories matter

February 16th, 2011

 | by Therese Beale

Consider the impact of the spoken word. What would happen if you read a story only for the quotes?

Quotes tell the story at Michael Graves' studio

Years ago my first editor shared a bit of advice I’ve never forgotten: Fill your story with quotes. She suggested a reader experiences the essence of any article from whatever transpires between quotation marks.

It was a challenge I embraced. Back then, as a journalist, I relished the opportunity to write human interest stories. I looked for the human face behind even the most tedious hard news issue. I knew a strong interview can break a story wide open. When people talk about what they do and why they do it, there’s often a subtle invitation: “Come closer, I have more to share.”

I was reminded how the human side of a story connects us in unexpected ways when hearing Tim Girvin speak recently. Girvin notes “every brand is for a human. Brands are made by humans for humans.”

Consider Michael Graves. His brand is rooted in architecture. It shows up through products sold at Target and Disney World. It is expressed now in art where we come to know Graves more intimately. His story unfolds in a recent New York Times profile through quotes from the subject and his observers:

“The paintings just go on and on.”

“I think it will surprise people. There’s his beautiful color sense, but it’s also interesting how his space is almost cubist, rahter than going back in classical Renaissance perspective.”

“I thought it would be interesting for me to arrange my buildings in a landscape that would be not unlike [Giorgio] Morandi rearranging his bottles every week to paint them.”

“These are my memories of things seen and reinventions of things seen and understood.”

“Quite a few architects have painting up their sleeves … and for Michael, because color is so important to him, it’s especially appropriate.  At the same time, his architecture has become hugely popular on the global scene — he’s achieved a measure of international fame that, quite honestly, takes him out of the architectural sphere altogether.”

“When you’re painting, you start with the sweep of the landscape, but then as you start to recompose it and fill it in, you often find yourself painted into a corner.  The escape from the corner — that’s the best part of it, the most exciting moment.”

Listen for how people describe the value of the work they do. Listen for the quotes that tell the story. At the beginning and end of every thing made is a human. What happens in between is a story. Keeping the story human makes it worth telling.

Posted in: Branding, Storytelling | No comments


Messages build great expectations

December 8th, 2010

 | by Therese Beale

Imagine if your customer could see you through the words you write. Routine business communication need not be always perfunctory. Even a short note is an opportunity to deliver messages that paint a picture in the reader’s mind.

Last week I received an email from a holiday card website about my recent order. Typically I’d scan such an email and then file it quickly for future reference if needed.  This time I did a double take. Here’s the message with a few thoughts on why it worked:

Create great expectations with just the right words

“This is just a quick little note to let you know that I have completed your order and submitted it for printing. As you may know, our designers work on every single order with care instead of sending them straight from the computer to our presses.”

This company packs a punch within two sentences to set the tone of our relationship. The familiar voice caught my attention. I didn’t know the designers were so hands-on with the product. That’s a nice reminder, making me wonder about the competitors I had considered before placing the order.

“To help ensure that your finished product looks great, I have reviewed your photo(s) to ensure they will print well, reviewed the layout of the design to best suit your personalized order and proofread the text for grammar and spelling.”

This is where I saw the designer at work, checklist in hand, looking at my photo and layout with genuine care. I could picture people, not machines, processing my order.

“Thank you for entrusting xxx with your special moment. We hope you love the finished product as much as we do!”

With four sentences in a routine yet thoughtfully constructed note, the company built my expectations for a superior product. Upon opening the box I could see they delivered.

I placed another order. I bet they’re not surprised.

The power of answering “Why?”

November 24th, 2010

 | by Therese Beale

Do you know why you do what you do?

The power of purpose gets lots of bandwidth on the talk show circuit, in book titles, with motivational bloggers on the web. Perhaps it’s because “why” is an easy question to pose. Anyone with young children certainly has heard it often. But answering “why” at the office is not so easy unless you’ve done some good hard thinking about why you show up for work everyday.


The season's first snow beckons -- "Get Outside!"

That brings up a story on the issue of answering  “why” a business exists:

A few years ago a group of us interviewed Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, as part of a leadership project. Sally recalled a management exercise in which groups of executives were asked the reason for REI’s existence.  The input was distilled into a purpose statement you’ll see REI share on the web: “To inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” But Sally recalled that statement grew from a singular passion: To help people get outside and play. “Get Outside” is an anthem in REI’s advertising, store signage and even in an email I recently received:  “Get outdoors with REI …”

Sally’s words came back to me recently when a colleague in Oregon told me a story about a family road trip through the Northwest. The vacation took an abrupt turn after a stop at the REI flagship store in Seattle, a building as widely known for its spectacular architecture as for its offerings of gear and apparel. After a shopping binge, the family loaded up the car and returned to Oregon. They decided to go camping with their new purchases for the rest of their vacation.

Determining the “why” of your business need not be a tiring existential exercise. There’s power in distilling the answer into a simple memorable phrase. It becomes an anthem for why you do what you do — a simple idea that attaches itself to everyone you meet, every person who works on your behalf.

The “why” keeps working long after you’ve put it into words. That photo above? It was taken on our walk in the woods this week. We welcomed the first snow of season with an inclination to grab our gear and “get outside!”

Simplicity – a familiar refrain in messaging best practices

November 4th, 2010

 | by Therese Beale

In our complex world, it’s far easier to construct a complicated message than a simple one.

There’s no doubt message development is a vital skill in every marketer’s toolkit. Well-constructed messages communicate business strategy, inspire the workforce and drive sales. The process of assembling a strategic message appears simple, yet all too often every brand attribute, solution and market differentiator is bundled into a jumble of words that fails to stick. Another lost opportunity to connect with the intended audience.

LEARN – Law 4. “Knowledge makes everything simpler.”

This year I hit the books to refresh my research on best practices in message development. This body of research is the foundation of a training program I originally created for the marketing communications practice of a global consulting firm. Over the years this training program has been streamlined. The models have become simpler, yet I found the core principles of message development remain unchanged:  Clarity, consistency and credibility are essential if you want your message to be heard.

To update the research I compiled a list of 11 favored references, both old and new, to help address this ongoing dilemma. At the top of the list is:

The Laws of Simplicity (Design, Technology, Business, Life) by John Maeda

The MIT Press, 2006

John Maeda is the founder of the SIMPLICITY Consortium at the MIT Media Lab.  He’s a graphic designer, visual artist and computer scientist who developed a helpful construct for distilling complex concepts into simple imperatives. He offers Ten Laws and Three Keys to achieve Simplicity (otherwise known as Sanity!).

REDUCE – Law 1 – “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

Creating messages is like that trick we use in packing for a trip: Lay out everything you think you need — clothing, shoes, accessories, toiletries. And then pack half.  Or less. Once you’re on the trip, you’ll never miss the rest. So it goes with messages. Strip out all the superfluous words. Keep the essential, memorable phrases. You end up with a stronger message, just enough to get your point across.

How simple is that?

Can trust be orchestrated?

March 9th, 2010

 | by Therese Beale

Trust is one of those concepts that defies prescription. It’s in our minds but how about our bodies? Bobby McFerrin has a way of engendering trust quickly and intimately with his audiences. Watch how Bobby nurtures audience participation at a science conference, using his body to encourage the group to follow along: