Apr 202016
 

blog writing tips

These blog writing tips will help you publish high-impact articles that find a relevant audience. You need more than clever content; you need good presentation that pays attention to structure, format and SEO.

1. Pick a central keyword or phrase. Think about what terms a potential reader might use to find your content. (research what people are using in searches with Google’s keyword planner). Know your main keyword and three to five variations BEFORE you start writing.

2. Structure your article; an outline helps tremendously:
• Core thesis
• Supporting point and evidence
• Supporting point and evidence
• Summary/so what/what to do next

3. Article length matters—aim for between 301 and 500 words. If your article is shorter it hurts your SEO. If it is longer, you most likely don’t have a tight, focused, high-impact idea. Consider breaking a long article into a multi-part series. That actually helps SEO and encourages reader engagement.

4. Revise with keywords. Go over your first draft and sprinkle keywords throughout. A rough rule of thumb is to use the keyword once every 100 words, and then use:
• In the headline
• In the first sentence
• In at least one subheading
• Use variations throughout as needed

5. Add a visual and make sure you have clear copyright ownership. Visuals can be photos, illustrations, graphs, icons, logos. Name the image file name isonmg the central keyword. If “naming products” is my keyword, I change my image name from IMG_20150805.jpg to Naming_Products.jpg. Make sure the alt-text also contains the keyword.

6. Add at least one outbound link to some other source or resource—with the anchor text containing the central keyword.
Example: More on naming products here>>

7. Provide metadata  that includes a title and description for Google that uses your keyword: Title of 55 characters and description of 115 characters. Be sure to use the keyword in your post URL and on all alt-tags on the page.

8. Include social media posts for Linked In, Facebook and Twitter. It makes sense to write this important content at the same time you are writing your blog. Use an active statement that invites a click.
Good example: Get advice for naming products from brand naming expert Lisa Merriam with important do’s and don’ts to avoid product naming problems.
Not so good example: Lisa Merriam offers good advice about how to name products in this month’s blog entry.

Apr 142016
 

AMA-Web-Content-Marketing-SEO-ExpertiseCopy writers MUST be search-algorithm savvy for effective content marketing. It is no long enough to be a gifted writer; you must know how Google and other search engines evaluate and serve up your copy to potential readers. If your material is not seen, no matter how good it is, it is worthless. True SEO expertise is a career in itself, but you don’t need to be a search engine optimization genius to do a good enough job with content marketing. You do need to know some of the basics.

Content Marketing Basics

The American Marketing Association has published a helpful post that explains the basics in: Web Content Checklist: 21 Ways to Publish Better Content. Author Andy Crestodina this list of easy must-dos that will generate more page views and more engagement with just a little extra knowledge and just a little extra effort.

Apr 012016
 

Brand SEO mistakes are surprisingly common. A shocking number of companies miss a critical opportunity to communicate in search engine results–and thus with customers. If they can’t find your brand, it may as well not exist. What you say in Google, Bing and Yahoo! impacts traffic to your site and your brand image.  Yet, too many companies let programmers write this marketing copy. Here are the five most common search engine results copy writing mistakes:

1) Providing no information at all. No title. No description. No reason to visit. No idea of what the company does.
Humanscale_SERP_1

2) Leaving the placeholder text from the software used to build the Web site in place. Surely the government of Massachusetts has more to say than promote Joomla! Web content management software.

MassGov-Brand-SEO-Mistake

3) Allowing random content to populate search engine results. Here is one “huh?” example from Elan Corporation, a pharmaceutical company:

Elan-Brand-SEO-Mistakes

Here is another example of random content from Healthnet:

Healthnet-Brand-SEO-Mistakes

Instead of offering directions for finding a subscriber number, Healthnet could have used the search results to talk about the “Healthnet: A better decision” brand positioning or they could have offered their company description: “Health Net, Inc. is among the nation’s largest publicly traded managed health care companies. Its mission is to help people be healthy, secure and comfortable.”

4) Just listing what you sell, packing in as many search terms as possible, runs afoul of Google search algorithms (your site gets penalized), but offers potential visitors no real compelling reason to visit the site. You lose twice.

Datacard-Brand-SEO-Mistakes

5) Allowing your description to exceed the allotted space or simply not using the space you have efficiently. In general, you have 55 characters to use for your title and 115 for your page description. Take this example from Corning:

Corning-Brand-SEO-Mistake

The title is short and generic. Instead of being just “Corning Incorporated | Home”, the title could have included branding: “Corning: The world leader in specialty glass and ceramics”. That would have left plenty of room for a succinct and compelling description: “Corning has 150 years of materials science expertise and process engineering knowledge. We turn possibilities into breakthrough realities.”

Getting traffic to your site requires that you effectively communicate who you are and why someone should visit. Brand communicators need to get actively involved in how their company appears in search engine results pages. Don’t make simple to prevent brand SEO mistakes. Make sure meta copy is “on brand”, rich in keywords, and invites people to click and visit. This communication is too important to be left by default to Web page programmers.

Mar 222016
 

Macy’s department stores has announced  store closings across the country. Are department stories still relevant? How could Macy’s change the equation? The New York American Marketing Association talked with Brian Dyches, an expert in retail design and customer experience, about the challenges Macy’s faces.

Mar 122016
 

eric-easter-urban-news-serviceCongratulations to my client Urban News Service on their historical achievement: In less than six months, they have become one of the largest distributors of news content to African-American owned newspapers in the country. Here is the the interview with one of three founding principals (the others being Andre Johnson and Joe Ruffin). Eric Easter emphasizes the importance of seasoned journalists  telling black stories in print and embedding reporters in our  communities for the long haul. Hear the Eric Easter interview on AM 900 WURD.

It is such an honor (and seriously fun) working with this team to tell their story: The concept was to supply world-class content to African-American publishers. These publishers had plenty of opinion, but original reporting and hard news was hard to come by. Urban News Service provides stories that reflect the actual African-American experience, not the crime, drugs, sex that dominate in major media. The team was able to accomplish its goals in an astonishingly short period of time. Starting from zero in April, 2015, Urban News Service were serving more than 205 black-owned newspapers with a combined circulation of 5.5 million by September—more than Ebony, Essence or Black Enterprise. It wasn’t easy. Publishers that fought the establishment for 100+ years and came through the black power movement of the 1970s had a deep distrust of anything new. Earning their trust required creating a superlative product and the hiring of hired well-known, award-winning reporters from major media with a sharp eye for stories. In January, Urban News Service inked a deal with the NNPA Black Press of America to provide content on their wire service.

Feb 082016
 

Chipotle-brand-recover-integrityCan the Chipotle brand recover with recent company marketing moves? Chipotle Mexican Grill’s sinking sales and falling share prices follow a bacterial outbreak that sickened customers in at least 11 states.

When news of widespread food poisoning at the “food with integrity” restaurants first broke, the internet filled with rumors of a chain-wide shutdown. Those rumors become true February 8, as Chipotle closes for a national food safety meeting for all staff, prior to what company calls its “biggest marketing effort ever.”

Chipotle isn’t the first restaurant chain to grapple with food poisoning, but the others don’t tout local sourcing and sophisticated software to track ingredients from farm to table. That tracking software didn’t work so well. It was months before the company could pinpoint what ingredient was responsible for making people sick. That beef from Australia—so much for the local sourcing claim—was the culprit, is a further blow to the brand’s integrity claim.

Will Chipotle’s biggest marketing effort ever work to help the Chipotle brand recover?

What do customers think? We hit the streets to find out.

Jan 082016
 

“Make your brand memorable!”  Brand experts earnestly offer this vague advice at every turn.  But what is a  memorable brand?  How can you tell if your brand is or will be memorable?

You can’t spot memorability simply by looking at your brand elements.  I’ve worked on many naming and design projects where perfectly good brand name and logo candidates are rejected out of hand because someone didn’t think they were memorable. When asked what criterion was used to detect memorability, people shrug.  They can’t articulate it.

Memorability can only be detected and proven through execution and testing over time.  A name on its own isn’t memorable.  How is the name used as or with a logo?  What graphics support it?  What story is told in communications like advertising, or brochures?  How is it marketed and sold?  Executing a marketing plan and then testing results with real customers over time is the only way to know that your brand is memorable.

Since memorability is so all-important, getting it right in the beginning is critical.  Who has the time and budget to deploy campaigns and then wait to figure out if they are good or not?  Execution, time and research are the only way of Knowing that you have a provably memorable brand. But you can move forward with reasonable assurance that your brand will be memorable if you consider the following six factors:

1. Unusual.

The more out-of-the-ordinary the brand name, logo, communications, and experience, the more likely the brand is to be remembered.  Surprising is always better than ordinary. Every feature should be distinctive. As you make brand choices, know that unusual is uncomfortable. You will need to take risks. Naming a company “Online Auction Center” probably felt safer than something off the wall like “eBay”.  A safe name that tells something about what the business does is not unusual and is less likely to be memorable.  “Oracle” is stronger than “Computer Associates” and even stronger than the new name “CA”. Risky names like Google and Amazon often turn out to be winners.

2. Consequential.

For your brand to be memorable, it needs to have personal significance to your target market. Take the example of two competing airlines. Jet Blue focuses on a superior flying experience.  Jet travel today can be a harrowing experience, so focusing on making flying easier and more pleasant is relevant and consequential.  Delta has positioned itself around “service to more destinations than any global airline”.  That positioning is not consequential to most flyers. How relevant is the fact that Delta flies to Abidjan when all you want to do is get to Atlanta? Stonyfields yogurt stands out by appealing to people who care about organic food and supporting individual farmers–causes that are consequential to their customers. Dannon, on the other hand, just claims it is “the top-selling yogurt worldwide”.  How is that important to a customer? At most, the fact that Dannon sell six million cups of yogurt a day in almost 100 flavors, styles and sizes is just trivia. Find something important and build your brand on that.

3. Emotional.

Brands that connect to the heart and invite people to have a close relationship are more memorable.  Any brand can have emotional appeal.  Consider the case of Sodexo.  The company provides janitorial and catering services to hospitals. Pretty modest and even boring stuff–not the least bit heart-warming.  Sodexo launched a patient experience program that focused on the quality and comfort that their humble services provide to patients and their families.  They elevated mopping the floors to something with emotional power by telling the specific stories of how their employees have touched individuals in times of need.

4. Vivid.

The more vivid you can make your brand, the more apt people will be to remember it.  A vivid name, possibly one that conveys imagery or personality is makes for a memorable brand.  As for logos, please, please, PLEASE, no swooshes, no globes. Take time to develop a visual style that carries across all your communications from business cards to brochures to your Web site.  In our multimedia age, don’t neglect movement and sound.  The more your brand appeals to all the senses, the more vivid and memorable it becomes.

5. Detailed.

Be specific about your brand claim or you will never stand out.  Take the company ISS:  It says it “provides cutting edge solutions development based on the latest advances in open software design and integration.”  Couldn’t that be said of dozens, if not hundreds of companies?  If ISS is staking its brand on being cutting-edge, it is better to show that fact with details that give that claim dimension and make it come alive.  You can’t simply claim it.  Instead of investing in detailing their cutting edge solutions, ISS piles on vague claims about “understanding customers”, “exceeding expectations”, “consistently growing”, and being “diverse and experienced”.  Such claims blur into the blah-blah-blah babble of millions of other companies.  Ten minutes after reading this article, you probably won’t be able to remember a single ISS brand claim.

6. Repeated.

Repetition is the key to memory.  Unless you are Mozart, you won’t remember how to play a tune by hearing it once.  Most people can’t remember names after hearing them just once.  Yet many people can sing commercial jingles they heard as children and recite from memory favorite stories because these were repeated time and time again.  Repetition creates familiarity, understanding and connection. Make sure your brand story is told frequently and consistently.  Your Web site can’t say something different from your brochures, and you can’t change your brand story every year.  Consistently repeat your brand story for a memorable brand.

Memorability is the key to a strong brand.  Paying attention to these six factors will set you on the right path. After executing and testing, it will come as no surprise that, indeed, your brand is memorable.

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

Companies and Products:

MSNBC vs. msnbc.com and The Bigger Naming Problem
Macy’s Blunder with Marshall Field’s Name Change
Banks and the Name Game from Bank Marketing Magazine
AIG Name Change to AIU
Breaking Up the Motorola Brand
Google’s Speedbook Disaster
Renaming a Small Business
Proxios CEO Talks About Renaming Process
Naming a Green Sportswear Company
Unintentionally Funny Names-BARF
Unintentionally Funny Names-Putzmeister
Unintentionally Funny Names-Bimbo
Renaming a $2 Billion IPG Agency
Renaming Iraqi Freedom
Selected Naming Portfolio

Dec 082015
 

Chipotle-brand-failure-backfireThe Chipotle brand failure brand gives new meaning to a brand backfire with 30 more people reported sick in Boston today. It turns out, the “food with integrity” branding idea looks better in the advertising than it does in reality.

“Aspirational branding” is a ticking time bomb

Building a brand about what you want to be rather than what you opens the door to catastrophic brand failure. Dressing a brand in pretty design and heart-lifting words is easy. Operational realities can often make it impossible to deliver on the aspirational promise. (see BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” claim)

Restaurants battle e. coli all the time and are a leading source of food-borne illnesses (some restaurant food poisoning stats for you). Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Subway* and others have survived outbreaks, yet Chipotle’s brand is taking a serious dive.

Chipotle  brand failure: Not delivering on integrity promise

The problem is Chipotle has built is brand on “food with integrity,” and now it can’t deliver. Sales are falling for the first time in company history and share prices are sinking fast. Here is a short list of “food with integrity” Chipotle brand failure examples:

  • Traceable Ingredients: Chipotle says it can trace every ingredient from farm to table in real time with software from FoodLogiQ. How can that claim be true, when a month and a half into the Chipotle e. coli outbreak, they still haven’t discovered the contamination source and customers are still getting sick?
  • Local Sourcing: This brand “stretch” that has proven to be a stretcher. Chipotle says: “The less distance food has to travel the better,” yet many of its ingredients are sent through centralized facilities in Chicago run by companies such as OSI or Miniat before shipping to restaurants. Chipotle’s “grass-fed beef” comes from Australia. That puts a lot of miles on your burrito bowl! The company recently removed the claim, “We serve more local produce than any restaurant company in the US” from its Web site.
  • PR Spin: Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold announced: “There are no confirmed cases of E. coli connected to Chipotle in Massachusetts.”  Yet it temporarily closed it’s the Boston restaurant where some thirty people fell ill this weekend. It closed 43 stores in nine other states, but in Boston, there were no confirmed cases of e. coli?
  • No GMO Food: Chipotle ballyhooed is ban on genetically modified ingredients in a move some called bold and others saw as a cynical appeal to customer fear. Either way, with  nearly 70 ingredients in a single burrito, eliminating GMO foods is nearly impossible. Chipotle’s meat comes from animals that eat genetically modified food and such ingredients “lurk in baking powder, cornstarch, and a variety of ingredients used as preservatives, coloring agents, and added vitamins, as well as in commodities like canola and soy oils, corn meal, and sugar,” according to the New York Times. Chipotle takes an anti-GMO stance in the name of health while lading out 1,600 calories of salt-laden food per meal.

When a brand makes integrity a central promise, it better be absolutely certain to delivery. If not, it can very dramatically backfire–like the Chipotle brand failure.
* I have done branding work with Subway in the past.

Dec 072015
 

Choosing a brand name is an early and difficult step when starting a company or creating a brand. Getting hung up on all the wrong issues can turn a tough task into an impossible one.

“I’ll know it when I see it”

Without defining your standard for a good name at the outset, you can easily find yourself frustrated when your naming team comes up with many ideas that are off the mark. You will be lost when it comes to evaluating name candidates and making a decision.

“Let’s vote on our favorites”

Likeability is poor criteria for a name. Chances are you’ll like names that are wrong for a number of strategic reasons. For one thing, likeability is strongly linked with familiarity. A likable name is not going to stand out.

“I want a name like ____”

When someone says they want a name like Microsoft or Intel, it’s time to cringe. Looking for a name that is similar to one that already exists defeats the purpose of branding, that is creating a distinctive identity. Stay away from name clichés in your category. Telecommunications companies should not have names that have “tele” or “com” in them.

“The name has to define us”

That challenge puts too much weight on a single word. Meaning in a name isn’t an instant proposition. Meaning is built carefully over time. Ebay is now synonymous with online auctions, but that meaning is not inherent in the name. It was built over time. The company had the wisdom to choose the name with the potential to become iconic. Ebay, with its strange pig-Latin sound is exponentially better than the original generic name for the service: “Auction Web”. Purely descriptive names are hard to turn into brands. That is why Amazon.com is a powerhouse and books.com is nothing.

“I heard the name has to be memorable”

Naming consultants blather on about criteria for a good name and spell-able. The problem is, these criteria aren’t easy to evaluate. You simply can’t tell by looking. Memorability and spellability require expensive research time (at least to test memorability). Being very different isn’t necessarily memorable. Asking people to repeat back name candidates after an interval of time means nothing-they’ve been given no other supporting communication. Memorability (see article) is created over time and must be measured over time. Similarly, spell-ability isn’t something you can determine with just a look. A short name isn’t always easier to spell than a long one. How many people spell Tommy Hilfiger as Tommy Hilfinger? Again, you’ll have to test.

More naming resources for choosing a brand name:

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

Companies and Products:

MSNBC vs. msnbc.com and The Bigger Naming Problem
Macy’s Blunder with Marshall Field’s Name Change
Banks and the Name Game from Bank Marketing Magazine
AIG Name Change to AIU
Breaking Up the Motorola Brand
Google’s Speedbook Disaster
Renaming a Small Business
Proxios CEO Talks About Renaming Process
Naming a Green Sportswear Company
Unintentionally Funny Names-BARF
Unintentionally Funny Names-Putzmeister
Unintentionally Funny Names-Bimbo
Renaming a $2 Billion IPG Agency
Renaming Iraqi Freedom
Selected Naming Portfolio

 

Dec 052015
 

Adopting a visual system for branding everything, including web site, brochures, business cards, videos, even airplanes, will dramatically strengthen the power of your brand while cutting your production costs.

Creating a tool kit of graphics, typography, color palette, and imagery will turbo-charge the visual impact of your communications. Instead of each piece standing alone, they will work together, build on each other, and create a unified and consistent brand across media, products, audiences, cultures, functions, and parts of the your organization.

Example: UPS Visual System

When UPS rebranded, they created a complete visual system for their brand:
Visual-System-Elements

UPS has used the system for ten years and counting for everything from their envelopes to their web site to trucks and race cars.

Visual-System-UPS

© 2014 Lisa Merriam