Yes, I’m a “word nerd.” Everywhere I go, I look at the words. Specific words. Oh, and the strategies behind the words. I can’t help myself.
I run with a crowd who often share this affliction.
People like me edit menus…assess signage….and look into descriptions to see the inner messaging. While this condition has its challenges, I vastly prefer this to having been a carpet expert, where everywhere I went I would look straight down and say something like, “Wow….take a look at that 22-pound, double-tuft weave, poly/wool blend!”
I owe a lot of this imprinting to John Bremner, one of my very favorite professors at The University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Today, the “Bremner Editing Center” serves as an ever present reminder of his passion for helping others develop their own writing and editing skills.
From John Bremner’s book, HTK (Head To Come — instructions to the copy editor to summarize the story headline in just a few words), I gained immense appreciation for the utmost importance of individual word selection to convey specific information and tone.
However, we all know that all good things can be taken to an extreme. I had a boss once who used to edit my drafts and would tell me “here’s a ‘happy’ to ‘glad’ change.” They were never material changes. He felt it was important to put his fingerprints on it.
C’mon, now. If “happy” works, let it be. Change for change sake is unproductive. But additional word specificity is golden.
Knowing what words to change — and what to leave alone — is often the key question.
Determining whether or not a person was “involved” in the incident or “aware” of the incident drastically changes the entire meaning.
Word specificity comes into play when we define that ubiquitous word, “brand.” We focus on the strategy and the words. Sure, “look and feel” matter a lot, but its not the closer. Early in my career for nearly five years I served as Manager of Public Information at Hallmark Cards (still a client, still an amazing company filled with terrific, bright people). I learned (from a gazillion dollars of consumer research) that all of us pick up a card because of how it looks, and either buy it or put it back because of what it says.
It’s all about the exact, specific words. Precise and purposeful. Exactly the right word.
specific precise particular intentional with your word choice. Every. Single. Time.
Mark Twain once said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” In today’s world, I’m sure he would have included blog posts, emails and reports.
All writing is not created equal. Focus on just the right words, and you’ll move people to the change in behavior or attitude that you seek.
Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, John Bremner, Morningstar Communications
My husband and I closed on our new house last week. After several years of talk and a full year of active real estate shopping, we finally found “the one.” As we now work tenaciously to make it our own, I’m struck by the similarities between this project and the strategic communications programs I work on for new clients. Sounds like a long shot from the surface, I know, but as I was cutting in the walls last night so we could get up that first coat of paint, the pieces fell together.
Typically when we start working with a new client, there is a pent-up need for marketing and communications. Businesses turn to us when they have an opportunity or challenge, and our team is eager to help. As is the case with our new home, there are many ideas and projects bubbling on the surface. It’s natural to want to move full-steam ahead into execution when the paperwork is finally signed. But I’ve found in my work and home life that having a plan, and a little patience (which is truly the hardest thing!), pays off greatly in the end.
Morningstar Communications Future Visioning™ process is one of the best ways I’ve found to steer this initial communications plan. It guides where we’re going and what goals we will accomplish. At the end of the five-step process we have a comprehensive integrated marketing and communications program to serve as our playbook. While we haven’t gone into that detail on the house, having an end-in-mind for what the house will look and feel like when we move in has gone a long way in smoothing the decision making process. By understanding what changes will have the most impact while considering our timeline and budget, we’re on the path for a successful project. However, even with a plan in place, I still want to see action and so do our clients.
To satisfy the urge to get started and see results, we always look for quick wins. What low-hanging fruit can quickly and easily make an impact? In the house, we changed out a chandelier above the kitchen island. What a difference one light can make. For clients, there may be an upcoming presentation for which we can provide coaching, or a new product launch where media relations is appropriate. The key is finding those seemingly small wins that make big impacts as they propel us toward our end-goal.
The first three days in the house were all about laying the foundation for a great end result. We spent our time cleaning baseboards, patching walls and selecting materials. Foundational work is often tedious and can take some heavy lifting, but on the surface it doesn’t always look like much got done. However, this work is critical to the success of the project. Likewise, in a client engagement we first work to lay the foundation. We build media lists, create key messages, develop processes for reporting, etc., so that when it comes time to execute the building blocks are all in place. From there projects start rolling and results become visible.
I love working with our new and established clients to help them grow. This house is equally addicting. I’m looking forward to seeing great results both at home and at work in the days, weeks and years ahead.Tagged Future Visioning, Integrated Marketing Communications, Morningstar Communications, Tricia McKim
I had knee surgery a few weeks ago and have been bemoaning the fact I’m on crutches for six weeks. Not exactly my style to go slow and be forced into asking for help. I’m forever thankful to my family, colleagues and friends for their extra kindness, tremendous help, and willingness to listen to me complain. I even got a little lift from a company I never heard of before.
Of course, I couldn’t go through six weeks on plain, gray crutches. One of the first things I did was Google search “crutch accessories.” That’s when I found CastCoverz. I immediately ordered crutch pads and a handy crutch pocket for carrying things — all in a very fashionable zebra stripe pattern. My customer experience was seamless from the start. The simple website, host of options and easy ordering were great. The guarantee to receive my crutch bling within two business days? Even better.
And my experience continued to improve. I received countless compliments on my cool crutches, sparking some fun conversations with friends, other patients and medical providers I’ve seen, and even complete strangers. Way more fun than weeks of pitying looks!
Because of this lasting, engaging customer experience CastCoverz delivered, I’m a true advocate. The company provided me with an incredibly positive, emotional experience when I needed it. Just the kind of enriching experience our client, Hallmark Business Connections believes will help businesses succeed over the long term.
Have you ever had a customer experience you’d rave about? What kicked it over the top for you?Tagged customer engagement, Morningstar Communications, Sheri Johnson
Every business leader yearns to have everyone on their team row in the same direction. Alignment is a holy grail for executives.
The answer, quite simply, is The Three Clarities.
I had the privilege of providing strategic communications for Marion Laboratories throughout the 1980s and early ’90s. Its success and subsequent sale ultimately led to Mr. K and his family buying the KC Royals, establishing the Kauffman Foundation, and building the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. They also spun off dozens of successful businesses, and planted seeds (the Uncommon company was their credo) with hundreds more. It was a great ride, and I learned a lot.
They experienced tremendous growth. They were a Wall Street darling. And they never stopped growing right through their acquisition by Merrill Dow in 1989.
Fred Lyons, its CEO, was often asked how he kept such a dynamic and growing organization aligned. Ensuring everyone is working together is a continual challenge for all leaders. Fred often referenced the “Three Clarities” as his key. I’ve always kept them in mind, and am happy to share his simple and brilliant approach with you now.
The three key clarities are the answers to these profound questions:
• Where are we going?
• What is my responsibility, specifically?
• How is score kept?
Yes, it’s really that simple. For example, lets say your team is taking a road trip. Here’s how it would work: We’re going to Minneapolis (direction). You are in charge of lunches on the road (responsibility). If we arrive with full stomachs, that’s success (score). This approach applies to all people, in all organizations.
As we all know where we are going, what’s our specific role and how will my success be judged — with those three key questions answered — I’ve seen teams accomplish amazing things.
If you’re the leader, be sure your team knows all three. If you’re working for someone, ask. With those three clarities fully understood, alignment and manageable growth are sure to follow.
Onward and upward.Tagged company success, Eric Morgenstern, Fred Lyons, Leadership, Marion Laboratories, Morningstar Communications, team alignment, Three Clarities
It’s hard to believe nearly a decade has passed since I began my journey at Morningstar Communications. Those first years I learned the ins and outs of public relations and account management. Like a sponge I soaked up knowledge from my teammates and mentors. There were successes and failures. Without both I wouldn’t know what I know today. And while many of my colleagues moved on to new challenges at different companies, I found new challenges within our company.
Asking for what I wanted in my professional career helped me gain these experiences. From taking lead on accounts to management experience to participating in the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Centurions Leadership Program, I’m lucky to work for a company that gave and still gives me opportunities to grow and supports me in these endeavors.
Along the way I formed friendships with colleagues, professional contacts and clients. This past June, as I looked at the current and ex-Morningstarians sitting around tables at my wedding, it hit home how much this group of people has impacted my life. Some of my fondest memories throughout the years involve these individuals. I would go above and beyond to help all of them, and I know they’d do the same for me.
As I look toward the future I’m excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. As a firm believer in lifelong learning I look forward to continually growing my skills and helping my colleagues experience the same sense of value and growth opportunity I’ve enjoyed.Tagged Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Centurions Leadership Program, Morningstar Communications, Professional Development, Tricia McKim, vice president
Mass market beer consumers have proven they don’t have the most discriminating taste. But I think they’re smarter than this.
The current campaigns from Miller and Coors tout – wait for it – another hole in the can. Really? The product pours better. Period. Unless you’re in a beer chugging contest, is this really a better beer experience?
Miller says, “everything flows more smoothly…” with a punch top can that features two, not one, air holes.
Coors touts “the world’s most refreshing can” with two holes.
We all know that we buy more than just the pure product: It’s all about the entire “User Experience.” Customers must feel an emotional draw for products and services to create brand preference. This is true for consumer products, and for B-to-B marketers. There are legions of consultants and experts all focused on improving the user experience.
Take a quick look at how Wikipedia defines User Experience: User experience (UX) involves a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and new innovations.
But adding another hole in the beer can? (BTW, it’s not that hard for anyone to make another hole. It is, after all, an aluminum can!)
So are beer buyers enticed by the new packaging? And is that (obviously!) the only thing these marketers have left to discuss?
This all seems pretty silly to me. It reminds me of the kid who rips off the gift wrap and then tosses the toy aside so he can play with the empty box.
These beer makers are talking about their new packages while saying absolutely nothing about their product. Literally, this is the old joke about putting “old wine in a new bottle.” Except that now “the bottle” has an extra hole.
Another hole. That’s it.
We all need to know what we’re really selling, and know how to package and sell your products and services in a truly meaningful manner. Or all you’ll be left with is a hole in your approach.
Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, Morningstar Communications, user experience
We create content for our clients on daily basis. We write blog posts, webinar scripts, tweets, byline articles, presentations, podcasts, e-books and more. As a result, when it comes to determining a topic for our Morningstar Communications blog, I feel tapped out. Especially when so much content exists out there on strategic marketing, effective content marketing programs, public relations, revenue marketing, etc. I sometimes wonder what I can possibly add to the conversation.
Today was just such a day. So, I started by clicking on a link on my iGoogle page (yes, I know it’s going away, but I still like it and plan to use it to the bitter end) to an article from TopRank. Because it’s been a long day, I decided to take advantage of the very first tip: curate.
After conducting a few additional searches, I uncovered other great thought-starter resources and tools to challenge your writing process, including this ultimate blog challenge and this advice on how to turn a single idea into a wealth of content.
It’s true, content is king. And original content can be even more compelling. But sometimes, just helping people find resources at their fingertips fits the bill.
How do you come up with blog topics and content? Give me your ideas and maybe for my next post I’ll be able to use another one of Lee Odden’s tips: explode comments. Thanks in advance for your help!Tagged blogging ideas, Content Marketing, creating blog content, Executive Insights, Morningstar Communications, Sheri Johnson
Really, aren’t you just talking about a bottle of water?
Euphemisms are ALWAYS a bad way of communicating.
We all know the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). Unnecessary complications should be avoided. This construct dates back to the US Navy in 1960. And now, more than 50 years later, this cornerstone principle is even more true in the context of today’s communications overload.
How many times do we make things more complicated because we got “that memo” a long time ago that said selling “Personal, Portable, Hydrating Solutions” sounds fancier, and lets us charge more and sound smarter than selling just a bottle of water.
Always remember that the purpose of communications is to have the message received, not just sent. Otherwise, you’re just talking.
Think about American football for a moment. When the quarterback floats a beautiful, 60-yard, spiral pass that is just out of reach of the receiver…yup, that goes down as an incomplete pass. However, on the next play, the quarterback scrambles, and just before he is tackled for a loss, he flips a really ugly-looking toss to the fullback, who catches it in a crowd, and falls forward for a one-yard gain. Yup, that’s in the record books as a completed pass.
If they don’t “receive” your message, you’re just talking…not communicating.
People are incredibly lazy readers
People don’t read much anymore. They scan. They glimpse. And they expect you to clearly communicate, or they will simply stop paying attention.
Since 1982, USA Today has taught us that all we need to know is the one paragraph story summary box on the cover of each section. And, if that’s too much reading, just go for the bold phrase that starts each article.
If you don’t adhere to each of the six steps we recommend in The Pathway to Great Messaging, then I’m pretty sure your beautiful passes will go uncaught.
Let’s take simple to a higher level: brevity.
Mark Twain once apologized and said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” He got it. Be brief, and you’ll communicate more effectively.
For all of you who text, here’s another one of my favorites examples:
Have you ever sent a one-letter text as a reply, “K”?
In texting, that stands for “OK.” OK is actually an abbreviation for a word in the dictionary, “okay.” Can you eliminate 75 percent of the content from your communications and not lose anything in the meaning?
Can you make your communications even more simple…more concise? Less is truly more, when it comes to effective communications.
And please stop selling Personal, Portable, Hydrating Solutions.
Onward and upward.Tagged Communication, Eric Morgenstern, KISS, Morningstar Communications, Pathway to Great Messaging
As the number of social networks continues to rise and the ability to reach consumers on their mobile devices becomes more relevant, businesses are scrambling to figure out how to take advantage of all the new platforms and delivery channels. And in the B2B arena, where the sales cycle is less transactional and far more sophisticated, business leaders need to be even more strategic and focused when implementing social media programs as part of their marketing mixes.
In addition to traditional marketing tools, social media can prove very effective in the B2B space. It’s all about finding the right platform and mix for your business, then ensuring your traditional tools – like your website – integrate and complement these new channels. Is your website optimized for mobile viewing? Can you effectively track what’s working?
The rising use of content marketing platforms helps move businesses from tracking clicks and “likes” to building relationships and measuring conversion rates. Still, without the right strategy, these fall short as well – especially because the number one challenge B2B marketers face is content development. From white papers to tweets to infographics, delivering relevant content to your target audiences takes foresight, effective planning, consistent implementation, and constant monitoring and tweaking.
As more opportunities arise in the social media space, marketers will continue to find ways to customize the best of these new tools for the unique needs of B2B companies.Tagged B2B marketing, Content Marketing, social media, social media marketing, strategic marketing
Channeling the wisdom of others, I’ve incorporated the following seven quotes into my everyday worldview. I hope you enjoy each one, and that they inspire you as well.
To frame this blogpost, I honor my Mom who used to say to me, “Learn something new everyday.” To which I would irreverently reply, “…so that I’m really smart when I die?” Mom would simply smile, and say, “yes.”
Here we go:
I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” – Michael J. Fox
I am fixated on excellence. Think Excellence, Not Difference continues to serve as my foundation philosophy for building an enterprise. We all want excellence, in all aspects of our lives. That’s what we should expect, of most people and most actions, most of the time. Leave your standards of perfection to the almighty, but always reach for excellence.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Phil Condit
If you and I always agree, one of us isn’t needed. Together, we’ll accomplish much more than any of us on our own. Life is a team sport; get on board.
Do, or do not…there is no try.” – Yoda
I do not believe in giving every child a “participation” trophy. There are winners, and there are losers. Winners need to learn humility; losers need to learn to work harder to become winners. In the real world, effort alone isn’t enough. Never confuse activity for productivity. Get it done.
“You can’t build your reputation on what you’re going to do.” – Henry Ford
I wish all of our elected leaders truly embraced this fundamental concept. We all build our personal brands through our rearview mirror…it’s a reflection of what you’ve already accomplished, not a promise of the future. Do it now. We frequently say, “do good, and get caught.”
“People have been misnamed. We’re called ‘human beings.’ But aren’t we almost always ‘human doings?’” We need more time just to ‘be.’” – Rabbi Mark Levin
This is so true. How much time in your day is spent simply “being” and absorbing everything around you? If we turn down life’s noise, we can hear and see so much. Try to be a “being” for 15 minutes everyday. Find a place, and go there. To be or not to be…yup, ol’ Bill Shakespeare had it right.
“If you think you can do a thing, or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
I’m always amazed at the downhill skiers at the Olympics. They train for most of their lives for a one-minute run on the brink of disaster. Watch them before they start…you can see in their faces how they are visualizing their run. Each turn. Every dip. We are all our own worst enemy…or best friend. The only thing we can ever truly control is our attitude. Make it a good one, with a positive inclination. Nobody wants to be around Negative Nancy or Downer David. Envision success, and you’ll achieve it.
“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point-of-view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
The person I call a terrorist, others call a freedom fighter. Was Darth Vadar a good or bad guy? Is Obama a good president? Is the economy “good” right now? Was that meal worth the cost? All of our “truths” are rooted in our point-of-view. As a communications professional, I’ve learned one of the most important aspects of effective communication is focusing on the recipient, not the sender. Essentially, it’s not what I WANT you to know; it’s what you NEED to hear. Everyone owns their own point-of-view.
What are your favorite quotes, and why? What inspires your worldview?
Here’s to “ever better” as we all move through the journey we call life. Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, Executive Insights