Marketing Housekeeping During CMCO – 5 Tips for SMEs

So here we are again.

Another lockdown, albeit less restrictive, yet still is a cause for concern for the majority of businesses in the Klang Valley.

The economy is being pummelled with the 3rd wave and quite frankly the numbers are scary. The only positive is that the hotspots are isolated, but only time will tell if they are under control.

It’s strange that less than a year ago we were nonchalantly shaking hands, socialising in packed restaurants and jetting-off on our well-deserved vacations. And now we just sit around wondering if this sore throat was from too much iced water, or something more sinister.

But we shouldn’t wallow in despair. Even in a CMCO, which invariably results in some downtime for most business, it’s important to have a routine – no matter how pointless it seems.

Marketing Housekeeping

If it’s not business-as-usual, perhaps we can take the opportunity to do some marketing housekeeping, especially for cash-strapped SMEs that need to make full use of their resources.

There are countless initiatives that can be undertaken from a marketing perspective to clear the cobwebs, re-direct and refresh. And here are the top 5:

Optimise Your Website
A lot of businesses just build website, launch it, and then forget about it. But serious businesses in the digital age are constantly tweaking and improving, because they know web optimisation is neither an overnight nor finite process. Start a blog, work on backlinks or at least refresh some of the content, lot’s can be done.

Create a Social Content Backlog
In the era of too much content, we often struggle to develop engaging content for our own social media channels amidst chaos of daily demands. Use the downtime to create a stream of relevant content – customer pain points and specific needs are thought starters. And you don’t need to use them right away, it’s a content backlog for future use when things recover

Sync Your Sales & Marketing Teams
If you have a Sales and a Marketing team, then there’s always room to get them working together towards a common goal. The efforts of these two teams need to be aligned; leading to a peaceful, results-oriented coexistence. I have written at length about this in a previous post that you can read here.

Revamp All Business-critical Comms
How often have you received an e-mail – especially in B2B engagements – that felt like it was written by an 8-year old? Audit all your typical outward communications to customers, suppliers and associates and make sure they are all well-written and free of typos. This is important to exude credibility and gain confidence; there are no two ways about it.

Explore an Alternate Customer-base
If your regular leads channel or customer stream seem to have reduced to a trickle, don’t sit around waiting for miracles. No enquiries or orders on your website? Go into social media group and engage in discussions. Walk-ins all but non-existent? Do deliveries, allow to order and pick-up or reactivate dormant customers. Move on, or risk being moved over.

The list above is basic but can get you started right away with little or no outside help. Often it takes just a bit of cleaning-up to help your business de-clutter, envision with clarity and uncover untapped markets.

For now, let’s hope there will not be an extension of this darned CMCO. Happy marketing housekeeping!

 

Why So Emo, Copywriter?

You know, as a copywriter I have always felt that my profession very much resembles our day-to-day, emotion-filled lives.

I mean, the copywriting art of creating intent and thereafter convincing is certainly a skill that is needed in everyday life.

This starts very early in our lives, and right up to our senior years. Some examples:

Asking our parents to let us stay up a little longer
Convincing our siblings that there’s a monster under the bed
Influencing the teacher that it’s the other kid’s fault
Telling your friend that it’s cool to smoke this
Sweet-talk a girl/guy to go out with you
Get an employer to hire you
Persuade the bank that you’re good for it
Warning your kids not to stay up a little longer
Making your kids to get to the bed before the monster does

And these are just broadstrokes. There are countless little acts of convincing that needs to happen every single days of our lives – be it with ourselves or others – to have some semblance of being a functioning human being.

Just like convincing people to purchase, we don’t always get our way. There are failures and rejections to contend with – and most of the time it depends on the emotional connection with other person.

Emotions matter, because we want the recipient to be in a trusting, comfortable and accepting mood if we were to have any success.

Emotional Copywriter
Make the right emotional connection, or it’s eggs on your face!

Think about the last time you willingly agreed to do something.

Let’s say for instance you were asked to dine in a place that you know is average, yet overpriced. But you still agreed.

Did you feel compelled to say yes because you’re such a nice person? Or was it because you were emotionally invested to the person making the request?

Like if my wife asked me to do something I don’t really want to do (don’t get any funny ideas), I’d still probably do it – that’s being emotionally invested, and also so I can earn extra brownie points.

Apparently, being emotionally invested makes you less critical and objectively observant. Love is the greatest emotional investment – think about all the things you did for family, good friends and loved ones… it probably didn’t take too much convincing.

Buying gifts for your nearest and dearest is an emotion-filled task as well, where budget or inconvenience are not prime concerns.

But what if there is no emotional connection, as with life’s other activities? As a copywriter, convincing strangers to purchase a product or service is often devoid of any emotion.

Perhaps chemistry has the answer.

You see, there are a few chemicals we can try to trigger – in our intended targets’ brains – that can alter their emotional state to be more, well, ‘receptive’.

Be it from a copywriter or a salesperson, inducing these chemicals can be the difference between ignoring the message or taking action.

  1. Dopamine
    Improves focus, motivation and memory with an all-round, feel-good factor. Induced by building suspense and leaving things to the imagination with a cliff-hanger. Think teaser ad campaigns and movie trailers as real-world examples. Good e-Mail marketers also use this strategy – where a potent, well-crafted prose leads to a video or landing page. 
  1. Oxytocin
    Builds trust, nurtures generosity and improved bonding. Induced by weaving empathy into the storyline. Those UNICEF, WWF or SPCA campaigns usually take this route, to get you feeling all warm and fuzzy, making you more willing to donate. 
  1. Endorphin
    Makes people laugh and automatically puts them in a good, open and comfortable mood. Think ice-breakers in client presentations or a funny quote to start an e-Mail copy. This funny business is a bit mischievous though, use sparingly or you will end up looking not-so-credible. Great for memes, but not always for marketing communications.

So the next time you encounter a marketing content that spoke to your soul – be it a sponsored post, blog article or video – it’s probably one of the chemicals above at work.

And possibly thanks to a copywriter going all emo to make that soul-warming connection.

The key ideas for this post was based on a TedTalk by David JP Phillips on the science of storytelling. Pretty interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff.

The Sales and Marketing Misalignment – 5 Trouble Signs to Lookout For

Inter-departmental clash of characters in any industry is unfortunately the norm.

In my days in the ad business, we creatives were constantly at odds with account executives. Glorified dispatch riders we used to call them, and some really lived up to the term.

Next up in the list of creatives’ enemies were coders and programmers. They could never understand why proper paragraph spacing was such a big deal. Needless to say, it drove us copywriters (and designers) to the verge of insanity.

Good times!

But these were mainly harmless feuds and competitive banter. Besides, there was a far more vicious common enemy – the client. Ok I’ll stop now.

Sales & Marketing Stat

In a typical company, the lack of synergy between Sales and Marketing departments, however, can have detrimental effects on the bottom line of a business. Misaligned direction and lack of transparent communication between the two teams can result in a nasty work environment and disjointed customer experience.

Until very recently, I was managing a sales team. Don’t ask me how or why. But in doing so – especially with more of a marketing background – I realised that the marketing and sales sync is imperative now more than ever.

A shared vision working towards common goals, along with clear understanding of each departments’ pain points results in peaceful, results-oriented coexistence that can lead to improved bottom lines and customer satisfaction.

If you suspect that your marketing and sales department are not in sync, look out for these 5 trouble signs, along with quick tips to get them back on track.

 

1. They Don’t Hang Out Together

Hey, we all need to de-stress after work. Gathering a bunch of colleagues and heading out for a bit of R&R is a great team-bonding activity that can result in improved empathy, teamwork and patience. But if your sales team does not socially mingle with your marketing team and vice versa, it is a clear sign of an invisible barrier of egos, discontent and misunderstandings.

Team Bonding

TIP: Organise a monthly social gathering that includes all team members across all departments, especially sales and marketing. Make sure it’s out-of-office and with minimal management intervention so they can be themselves and open opportunities for discourse.

 

2. Marketing Work Lacks Insights

Ask marketing and they say not briefed properly. Ask sales and they say it’s not their job. In the end, it’s the business that suffers as marketing communications that lack insight is not optimised to convince and convert.

No Insight

TIP: Include marketing team members in sales meetings – albeit just as observers. Understanding the customer journey – from a prospect to repeat purchaser – along with their pain points will help with crafting more relevant, timely communication.  

 

3. Dismal New Leads Generation

The lifeline of any business is not the products, resources or even sales. You can have all the sales pouring-in now, but what about in the medium to long term? Properly aligned sales and marketing teams work together to create a lead generation, optimisation and conversion system so that every opportunity is given due attention. It’s the recipe for a successful, sustainable business.

Lean Gen

TIP: Make it rewarding – set a desired lead conversion ratio, say 20 customers converted from every 100 new leads. Reward both the sales and marketing teams if achieved. A simple trick to get the team working together towards a common goal.

 

4. Recurring Misunderstandings

Salespersons are relationship builders who like to be in the thick of things. Whereas marketing team members are generally methodological, focused and outcome-driven. Naturally, the differences in mindset and personalities can trigger the occasional clash of characters. But if there is more clashing than problem-solving, then it’s possible there’s a deeper root cause.

Misunderstanding

TIP: Usually there is only one or two persons causing the friction, which unfortunately affects everyone. Identify the ‘troublemakers’ and do an intervention to establish a transparent, respectful culture with open communication.

 

5. Group Meetings are One-sided

Well-synced sales and marketing divisions often contribute, comment, and even disagree equally in meetings, all for the greater good. But if only one side is doing all the talking and the other side look like they rather be elsewhere then this could be a sign of animosity and divisiveness.

Group Meeting

TIP: Let the quiet lead the way – let the quieter of the two sides run the meeting once in a while as an avenue to be heard and add value. This also provides the alpha side a different perspective to things and may lead to increased collaboration and inter-departmental teamwork.

 

According to stats from the Precision Marketing Group, companies with good sales and marketing synergy can expect up to 208% more ROI from marketing efforts. Pretty eye-opening.

Especially now, with the global economy ravaged, ensuring your sales and marketing teams are aligning their efforts could be the best way to get more from existing resources. Every little effort counts, especially when both sales and marketing skills are needed at every stage of the customer journey.

With bottom lines at stake – it’s truly time to sync-up and quite possibly sink the competition. Good luck!

 

Rest or React?

The one lesson that us marketers should learn from this pandemic is this:

Nothing is guaranteed

No matter how well-strategised, thoroughly planned and carefully crafted your marketing efforts are, external elements are only a sneeze away to put a bug in the system.

Over these few unprecedented months, I have personally seen businesses fold, budgets dry up and projections cut. It’s all doom and gloom with lowered optimism and rising depression. I guess the only comfort (in a way) is knowing that no one is spared as the impact is far and wide across the entire world.

Lesson one is learned, yes? Fortunately, there is also another lesson from all of this:

Reaction is everything

Yeah, we’re down. But definitely not out. In this same few months, I’ve also seen businesses (and average folks) rise to the challenge. One of the clients I work with pivoted to a completely unfamiliar territory of selling face masks and PPEs – a reaction that was needed to keep salaries and overheads taken care of.

While most of us were ‘zooming’ during the lockdown, many people began their journey into online and social selling. I’ve been asked to join so many Facebook groups and pages that all I see in my newsfeed now are products that can be delivered to my doorstep. A small price to pay for supporting acquaintances I suppose.

Then there are those with reduced or sudden loss of income that have become e-hailing drivers, food deliverers, personal shoppers, home-based caterers, part-time bakers and the most novel yet – magician turned durian seller.

Such resilience, adaptability and dogged persistence is something that we can emulate as marketers.

Marketing Reaction

But first, you need to have a strong brand foundation, insightful market knowledge and a sound communication strategy that considers every aspect of your business. Because I am pretty sure the ones that are surviving in the face of the current adversity, are those who are firmly grounded and strong in character to begin with.

While click-through-rates or the number of likes and shares do provide great metrics, they are not the end all be all. Building a synergistic and holistic marketing blueprint – though time consuming and tedious – is an investment that all businesses must consider, especially in these lean and uncertain times. I know, budgets may be as slim as the government’s majority in parliament, but there are always methods to do more with less.

Granted, we may not see pre-Covid levels of economic activity for at least a year, or possibly two. So why bother? It may seem logical to take a cautious approach until things somewhat recover and only then start to pay attention to your marketing efforts again.

But while you rest, there may be others in your market segment that are building alternate lead generation, sales and fulfilment channels. They perhaps may be putting efforts into improving page rank by revamping and optimising their websites. Essentially, they could be seizing the opportunities that are abound in the digital, social and interactive ecosystems.

These efforts may not bear fruit now. But once the market is mask-free, those who made a head start will be the ones to reap the rewards first.

One of the largest pharmaceutical companies Pfizer just a couple of days ago announced that they have successfully concluded initial trials for a Covid19 vaccine. In fact, there are 8 other vaccines being developed independently by other countries and pharmas, all showing good promise.

It seems like it is only a matter of time before the pandemic ends – I know, this sound like bold optimism because we have acclamatised to all the doom and gloom.

Nevertheless, the question now is do we rest and recuperate or react and take charge?

 

The Call-ing

I got a call recently confirming a fact I discovered some time ago, something I knew about around the time I set off as a freelance copywriter.

The call I received was from one of the creative talent agencies. Yes, I was being headhunted, even though I have no idea how they have my details in their database.

Anyway, to have a talent agency contact someone who’s not been actively looking for a job for the last 4 years or so means either one of two things:

  1. They have absolutely no idea who they are calling, which from a talent agency specializing in advertising talents is in my book an epic fail
  2. The ad industry is really, really desperate for copywriters and have instructed their recruiters to go all out in search of candidates

To confirm the situation, I prodded the person on the other end of the call. “How’s the market for copywriters these days?” I asked. She replied, and I quote “agencies are looking left, right and centre for copywriters”.

The reply made me feel I had prophetic powers. I knew it, I knew it all along!

Copybox
So many things to write, so little copywriters left…

Yes, the lack of copywriters in Malaysia, especially good ones, has been one of the contributing factors in my relative success a freelancer for the last 3 years or so.

It is a trend that I noticed even when I was employed, gentle winds of change that has now culminated in an imperfect storm.  Imperfect for agencies, perfect for me… I’m actually in demand.

So let’s celebrate, yes? No.

I believe the Malaysian ad industry truly had this situation coming. In fact, a lot of people in the higher-ups knew about the scarcity of good writers, but just didn’t do anything about it.

Here’s some advise ala gratis to all agencies out there. Hey, I’m a 16-year veteran who has written for everything from TVCs to T&Cs, so listen up:

  1. Don’t treat our work as fillers to art. We are not just caption writers spoiling nice images with those ugly words. Yes, nice images attract attention, but solid and sometimes lengthy copy retains interest and helps convert.
  2. We may make it look easy, but it isn’t. While the demands of advertising have evolved, we copywriters still work with the basics; our thoughts and a keyboard. There are no apps, software or tools for us. Give us time, and respect.
  3. Don’t let us fly solo all the time. While there could be an art director and two designers in a team, copywriters are often left to fend for themselves. Dedicate more hands for copy development, two copy heads are better than one… right?

I feel copywriting has always been second fiddle to art direction, at least in the Malaysian context. Much emphasis is given to art; with art directors and designers enjoying better career prospects compared to copywriters.

Then there’s no wonder why the influx of copywriters have stagnated over recent years. Not many people can handle the merciless, under-appreciated and often underpaid nature of the profession.

But no disrespect to the art-based players in the industry. I’ve worked with many exceptional ones and truly believe they are creative wizards given the constraints, deadlines and demands of a fast-evolving ad scene.

I just wish – now that the year is drawing to a close – the decisions makers pay more attention to the development of great copywriting talents.

A rather cerebral New Year wish, but for the good of the game, I hope it becomes a reality.

Cheers to all the copywriters out there – employed or otherwise – you do it because it is your calling.

Happy New Year!

Can Advertising Salvage a Bad Product?

Not surprisingly, politics and advertising are considered to be the two least trusted professions in the world.

Every 4 years or so, these two groups of professionals often team up to create misleading… errr… I mean awe-inspiring ads about how everything is hunky dory in the country.

You may have seen these politically-driven ads recently, which I assume are supposed to instill nationalistic pride and encourage us to support the status quo.

Shouting Man
Advertising a bad product can be a real pain

But more and more people now realise that what these ads are ‘selling’ aren’t that good, sometimes just plain bad.

That’s because the boom in alternative views from independent news sites and blogs often discredit efforts by the mainstream players. And of course social media helps spread alternative news very effectively.

William Bernbach – one of the pioneers of modern advertising – once said:

“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad”.

It’s like watching an awesome movie trailer, where a combination of fast-paced editing, a stirring soundtrack and teasing dialogues is delivered in two minutes. And then you go watch the movie and realise you might as well been watching paint dry for the last two hours.

Sure enough, when any of your friends wants to watch the same movie, you’d probably not recommend it. This ripple of ‘thumbs-down’ will almost certainly make this movie a flop.

There are many ‘trailers’ on TV these days illustrating a progressive, modern and united Malaysia, provided our votes are cast to oppose change. While I’m not writing the creators of these ads off, I just hope I’m not forced to watch the actual drama for the next four years either.

Let the mud-slinging begin!

Whoa! Top 3…

A lot of things have been said – by many people – about Search Engine Optimization or SEO for blogs. Now is my turn, and here they are:

  1. Content is really king, especially if it is shareable content. Also, please stick to your context or keywords and never ramble.
  2. Never, ever employ black or grey-hat techniques. Goggle is extremely smart these days, you’ll regret it.
  3. Be persistent… keep those blog posts coming. If you write insightful, relevant and shareable content, your ranking will rise.
  4. Have patience. It takes time to get onto the first page… usually years. And years more to have Top Half presence.
  5. Believe in yourself. A lot of people will laugh at your efforts, sometimes to the point of ridicule. Give them the finger!

Now, I am not an SEO expert. But I have been running a blog close to 3 years. And truth be told this blog has generated more leads that anything else for my copywriting business.

Although I’m not the type to trumpet myself, check these out:

Google Ranking 1
For the keyword 'Copywriter' in Google.com.my - Click to Enlarge >
Google Ranking 2
For the keywords 'Freelance Copywriter Malaysia' in Google.com.my - Click to Enlarge >
Google Ranking 3
For the keywords 'Malaysia Copywriter' in Google.com - Click to Enlarge >

And that’s my 2 cents about SEO. Cheers to micro businesses!

Un-Creative Malaysia

Many of us in the Malaysian advertising industry always lament about the lack of creative license afforded to us by clients – including me, occasionally.

Compared to our regional counterparts in Thailand, Indonesia, India and even our ‘friends’ separated by just a waterway in Singapore; we Malaysians addies aren’t that creative to be honest.

CreativeSkull

I am not trying to blame anyone here. Whether clients give us the creative freedom or not should not be used as an excuse. It is how creatively we work within the constraints that matter.

But let’s look at it this way. Creativity is subjective; and is not the kind of waters you want to thread, especially when millions in media budget is at stake.

And the biggest question is this – even if audiences get an idea that is creative, do they remember the product?

I have friends who sometimes comment on ads they’ve seen. They will rave about how creative it was, and when asked about the product that the ad was supposed to sell, go totally blank.

So it is quite understandable when Malaysian clients take a more direct route in communicating to their target market. If a mind-blowing creative campaign doesn’t ring in the sales or even improve brand awareness; then what’s the point?

As a copywriter, I always believed creativity in advertising is a balancing act. A campaign must be equally memorable and be able to compel action at the same time.

Finding that equilibrium is where the magic of advertising happens.

We Are Humans

As a copywriter, I always thought I was a Jaguh Kampung, loosely translated from Malay to mean ‘Village Champion’.

It is a term normally used in sports, referring to the inability of Malaysian sportsmen and women to compete in an international level, even though they are champions locally; hence Jaguh Kampung.

Well we are waiting for our first Olympic gold medal aren’t we? I wish they would just introduce squash in the next Olympics so we can really kick some ass.

World View
The global village, and we are all champions

Since I became a copywriter about 13 years ago, I have only written for the local markets. Maybe there is an exception of a couple of odd jobs here and there, but nothing too serious to dent my Village Champion reputation.

But copywriting is like that. You need to be in-tune with the local markets; constantly observing trends, gathering native knowledge and be able to communicate to the masses in a simple, localized manner.

Writing in a foreign market changes the rules for a village champion like me. Though the fundamentals remain the same, local insight is critical to help ensure a message is effectively delivered and understood.

Or so I thought.

When I was in South Korea recently on a job, I had absolutely no knowledge of the local markets. What motivates the Koreans? What compels them? What are their taboos? And how the hell was I going to translate my local Malaysian knowledge in a country where even English is hardly spoken?

Then I realized something. Even if I was tasked to communicate and appeal to Koreans, they are after all, humans. While I looked very different (bordering on exotic), I realized that Koreans are motivated, inspired, awed and surprised by the same things.

All it took was to keep things clear and simple; with a little bit of reward thrown in to compel action. Yes, translating everything into Korean also helped, but we translate pretty much everything into Chinese and Malay here as well.

So it doesn’t really matter where you’re from; all it takes is a little bit of human insight.

Copywriter Abroad

As someone who’s been a freelance copywriter for the past year; this last 2 weeks or so has been absolute chaos.

I had to go from what-to-do-now? to what-the-freak? in a matter of days. But my time in Yeosu, Korea, for the World Expo 2012 so far has been eye-opening.

Malaysia Pavilion
An-nyeong-ha-se-yo... welcome to the Malaysia Pavilion

There are representatives from 110 countries at the Expo site promoting their nations. Each country has its own hall – also known as a Pavilion – for visitors to explore.

The crowds are massive. Some days, up to 100,000 people visit the expo. The Malaysia Pavilion alone has received up to 40,000 visitors in a day, from 9am to 9pm. It’s a sea of people everywhere you look; with performances, showcases and parades happening around every corner.

The Malaysia Pavilion – where I’m tasked with Publicity & Promotions – is actually one of the best pavilions around. Yes, I actually mean it. This is not a publicity post, it’s just the honest truth.

Dome
180-degree undersea dome projection in the Malaysia Pavilion... it rocks!

As Malaysians, we are often very quick to dismiss anything Malaysian. We tend to disregard our own capabilities and rave about what the Mat Sallehs are doing. But truth be told, we Malaysians are quite good at what we do; I suppose it’s just a matter of commitment.

Hmmm… I’m feeling patriotic all of the sudden, maybe because it is the month of Merdeka or maybe I just miss home.

But either way, I’m proud to represent Malaysia here. 2 more weeks to go… and more pictures to follow soon, when I find the time.