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Cause Marketing Considerations

You may not be familiar with the term cause marketing, but you're probably familiar with brands of all sorts touting the Black Lives Matter hashtag or a similar cause they believe in. Brand have participated in cause marketing since 1974 when 7-11 convenience stores issued collectible cups to commemorate the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Since then, many brands seem compelled to align themselves with a cause.

When the cause is chosen with care and aligns with the company's brand positioning, mission, and vision, it can be a great boost for the company.

However, just because a cause is popular doesn't mean it's right for every brand. Before you append that hashtag, add a frame to your company's profile picture, or drape your website in blue/pink/green/black/or rainbow colors, think carefully. There are many considerations to weigh to ensure that cause marketing supports rather than detracts from your brand.

What Is Cause Marketing?

The original meaning of cause marketing was to align a for-profit brand with a non-profit to support the missions of both. The purpose of cause marketing is to showcase a brand's corporate social responsibility while simultaneously generating positive feelings in the general public.

There are several benefits that brands receive when they participate in cause-related marketing campaigns.

What Are the Benefits of Cause-Related Marketing?

  • Positive public relations. Consider the Avon 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, which almost always generates lots of positive publicity for brand. Photos of women of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages walking in solidarity to raise money for their sisters suffering from breast cancer is a powerful image and seen throughout October as walks continue across the nation. This form of cause marketing raises over $115 million annually for breast cancer research.
  • Increased visibility. Along with the positive public relations comes increased visibility, which also boosts the company's brand awareness among their target consumers.
  • Additional marketing opportunities. How many companies participate in awareness campaigns? Supermarkets are "pink washed" in October as breast cancer awareness month and the subsequent alignment of brands ranging from yogurt to frozen meals takes front and center. Affixing the cause's pink ribbon, special color, or other visual identifier to a company's public advertising and marketing helps it stand out and may lead to additional marketing opportunities.
  • Increased sales. Some people prefer doing business with companies that align themselves with specific causes. Goya Foods voices its support for President Trump, and while liberals predicted a slump in sales, the brand experienced a temporary boost as supporters poured into markets and bought canned Goya foods. PetSmart gives local animal shelters space to show pictures (or the actual pets, as in the case of cats) in their stores. If people adopt the pet, they certainly need food, toys, and other equipment for their new family members. Supporting the cause ends up supporting the brand and increasing sales.

Drawbacks to Cause-Focused Marketing Campaigns

There are also several drawbacks to cause-based campaigns.

  • Skepticism: Given how many brands rushed to declare themselves woke, equitable, and fair to all colors/creeds/sexual preferences in 2020 in the wake of the riots and other racial unrest in the United States, it's no wonder that the public can be skeptical. If a brand's values and attitudes do not align with the cause, consumers can spot it a mile away. A line of inexpensive clothing produced in Pakistan that suddenly declares itself against the exploitation of workers may get hoots of laughter instead of support because clearly, to produce a $5 t-shirt they aren't coddling their workers. Similarly, a company known for its antipathy to female workers that suddenly calls itself equitable or voices support for more women on boards of directors is also opening itself to criticism.
  • Money: Consumers also want to know exactly how much money a company does indeed give to support a cause. If they choose a more expensive brand because it supports a cause they believe in, how much of their purchase goes towards the charity?
  • Oversaturation: Too many brands leaping into cause marketing has led to consumers feeling jaded by all the colorful ribbons, slogans, and hashtags. They are overly saturated with messages about problems and how brands support, solve, or stand strong with whatever. It leads to message numbness in the marketplace.

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Choose Your Cause Carefully

Given the pros and cons of cause marketing, brand would be wise to choose their causes carefully.

When I worked for Martin Viette Nurseries, one of the top nursery and garden centers in the nation, their specific 'cause' was the local Mental Health Association. The company donated the beautiful location on Long Island to host an annual gala.

Now, there is nothing wrong with supporting this charity or another health-related charity if you're a garden center. It certainly was a great cause. But it did absolutely nothing to support the brand. A charity gala is just one step. To successfully convert the event into a cause marketing campaign, other relationships could have been developed.

  • The garden center may have hosted workshops on how gardening improves mental health, with speakers from the mental health association
  • They may have donated gardening tools, supplies, or landscape design to the local mental health hospital
  • They may have put signs around the nursery during mental health months etc.

Just hosting the gala was one way to align with a cause but not an effective form of brand marketing.

Should You Jump on the Latest Social Cause?

As I mentioned before, many companies leaped before they looked at the cause marketing scene in 2020. They pinned hashtags to their posts, demanded that their employees forswear allegiance to organizations, and promoted their own version of social justice warriorhood to their employees and customers.

There are several problems with this (lack of) strategy, however:

  • Before trumpeting support for any cause through your corporate communications channels and aligning your brand with a cause directly or indirectly, make sure you are completely aware of all of the connotations and denotations of the cause.
  • Ask yourself: Is this cause something that my avatar or target customer would support? You'll lessen the risk of brand/cause mismatch by taking the time to understand who your target customers are and what they care about (hint: it's not what YOU care about that matters).
  • Does this cause align with my brand's mission and vision? If you don't have a stated brand mission and vision, work on that first before declaring your undying love of a cause.

Alignment Is the Key to Cause Marketing Success

Cause marketing is a powerful way to boost both a for-profit and a non-profit by aligning both together to share a value-driven message. It goes awry when there's a mismatch and it thrives when both resonate with the target customer. Consider carefully this alignment before jumping on the cause campaign train.

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Authentic Brand Communication

Authentic brand communication rings true with your target audience. When they read, hear, or see authentic messages from your brand, it resonates with them.

And if not? Then there's a major disconnect. Many brands today are focusing on timely social issues to appeal to their customers. This can be problematic on many levels

The Hallmarks of Authentic Brand Communication

I'd signed up for a writer's email list in the hopes of more of the great content I'd found online. You see, she writes about food. I love food.,cooking, healthy food.

Reading well-written foodie essays offers an escape. It's what I seek from food writing: to learn, dream, escape.

I'd been reading her columns on a website for a few weeks and finally clicked on the subscribe button at the top of her column to receive her weekly emails. The subscription box promised emails about food, cuisine, and dining - sounds great!

Who Is Your Audience?

Her first email arrived this morning with the subject line, "American Cuisine." I eagerly clicked it open, only to read a diatribe against America. Aghast, I looked for the point - wasn't this going to explain to me what American Cuisine consisted of? Or point out that America, the great melting pot of civilization, where all creeds, races, and nationalities can assimilate, doesn't have its own cuisine because everyone's cuisine is our cuisine?

Nope. She began a diatribe against the evils of Imperialistic America.

I couldn't read on. She didn't even have an unsubscribe button, by the way just something to "turn off" emails. Which means my email address is still in her files -- and against the law, by the way.

Mismatch Between Brand Persona and Personal Persona

Brand communication takes into account the target audience and their wants, needs, and desires. Brands understand their audience's personas - who is the target customer? And then their communications are aimed at the target audience.

Perhaps, being an old-school, traditionalist, patriotic America, I wasn't really her target audience. That's a fair enough point. However, when a writer pens articles about food, dining, and cooking....her brand IS food, dining, and cooking. None of her previous communications hinted at an anti-American rant lying under the surface of a bubble stew of words.

Perhaps because today is Columbus Day, or, in some parts of the United States, Indigenous Peoples Day, she felt it necessary to focus on America's imperialistic evils.

If so, she committed a huge branding faux pas.

Never sacrifice your brand communications to ride on the coattails of what is timely or in the news.

What's in the moment now? Societal ills, of course. Everywhere, brands are suddenly discovering that not all of their customers are Caucasian. Most of them knew this, of course, but consumers wouldn't have known it by their advertising. I'm still mystified why all the expensive perfume ads like Chanel and Lancome feature only blond white women. Hey, guys, rich women come in all colors, and all of them love luxury perfumes.

But I digress. I don't think the author of the offending email hopped on the hip bandwagon to stir the pot. I think she truly believed in what she wrote.

And that's where the brand communications went horribly wrong.

Message Mismatch with Audience Needs

Her brand = food.

Her personal beliefs = progressive

One of the issues I see frequently with people who are their own brand (artists, writers, musicians, entrepreneurs) is that they have trouble separating their own identity from that of their brand.

If your brand is food and cooking, you appeal to a certain person. Their need is to learn, to be entertained, to dream.

If all of your articles are about comfort food, cooking from scratch, and cooking at home, your brand persona comes across as more traditional than your personal ideals.

The issue appeared when her personal beliefs clashed with her brand persona as a food writer.

Brand Persona - Focused Communications

Good brand communication is focused on the match between your brand promise and the desires of your target audience or persona.

One way to prevent your own personal bias from creeping into the products you produce (your art, for example, or writing) is to develop a target persona. The target persona is a made up person based on who you believe, to the best evidence that you have, is the audience for your work.

For my blog Home Garden Joy, for example, the demographics reveal that my target reader is female, age 65, and loves home and cooking. By imagining my friends Eni or Karel, who fit that demographic, I easily write for that audience.

But if I try to write a piece aimed at my very hip video game marketing niece for that blog, it's going to confuse many people, because my language, writing style, and even photographs will change to address a hip 30-something. And if I try to do that, my brand communications, or communicating the implicit brand promise of Home Garden Joy, will fall flat, because the concerns of a hip 30-something year old are in general quite different from that of a mature 65+ woman who loves nurturing her garden and tending her home.

Brand Clarity Through Communications

Good brand communications is clear communications. It speaks to the wants, needs, and desires of the target audience -- not to your wants, needs, and desires of expression.

There's a time and a place to express personal thoughts, but not to readers who've signed up for more articles like your wonderful piece on the perfect grilled cheese sandwich or how to successfully debone a flounder. Brand disconnects feel like promises broken, and that's exactly what they are: a bond, broken, between brand and target audience.

SEO Expert Jeanne Grunert

Jeanne Grunert is a noted expert on brand communications and one of America's top marketing writers. She is the president of Seven Oaks Consulting and may be reached at

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B2B Content Marketing Writing - Sell the Story First

When it comes to B2B content marketing writing, you must sell the story first. Here's what that means to your business and brand.

B2B Content Marketing Writing

Tell the Story First

Everyone loves a good story. From the time we're able to understand the world around us, the words "once upon a time" transport us to new worlds.

This is the power that we tap into when we tell brand stories. Unlike product descriptions or sales copy, brand stories shape perception by engaging the imagination.

Scientists tell us that information flows in different directions in the brain depending on whether we engage our imagination or reality. Sales copy which focuses on product descriptions engages the reality centers. Stories, on the other hand, engage the imaginative centers of the brain.

Despite the difference in how the information flows through the brain, imagination is perceived as reality by our minds. What this means to content marketers is that encouraging consumers to imagine themselves using a product (videos or stories) or facing a similar problem in which the product solves (case studies) brings people one step closer to actually owning the product. Engaging the imagination feels real; the next step is to make it real by owning the product.

Content Marketing Writing Storytelling Basics

Like all good writing, good B2B content marketing writing includes the basics of strong narration:

  • A hero
  • A villain
  • A challenge to overcome
  • A beginning, middle, and end

Let's look at an example: manufacturing ERP software. ERP, or enterprise resource planning software, is a business process management software. It integrates many areas of business knowledge, including accounting, finances, manufacturing, supply chain, inventory, and more.

Companies researching ERP software have a problem. Perhaps that problem is siloed information, a common problem faced by manufacturing firms that add software piecemeal over time and find that it's no longer working well for their needs.

Our hero, in this case, is the software. Let's name it Software X. Software X challenges a villain. The villain is the proliferation of software across the company. The challenge to overcome is how to synchronize information across multiple departments and plant locations.

One Narrative, Multiple Formats and Channels

I love writing B2B content marketing writing stories because one story can turn into multiple formats for a variety of channels.

Once I have the gist of the story and a hero, villain, and challenge in mind, I can then spin the story in many ways for different audiences.

I might:

  • Write a series of blog posts about the "villain" or problem of older software not communicating with one another. The bad guy in this scenario is lost profits and time.
  • Narrate it as a story using illustrations of a child's game of telephone where messages get lost as they are passed along. Removing steps in the transfer of information maintain data integrity and accuracy.
  • Choose a different angle on the problem, such as how much time is wasted by gathering raw data and inputting it into spreadsheets in order to make it usable by the organization.

Once the basic story format is known, you can spin so many narratives and formats from it that it starts to fill an editorial calendar by itself!

In every case, the B2B content marketing writing begins with figuring out the story angle.

Every brand tells a story. The implicit promise, the problem solved, the villain conquered. Figure out the characters in your story and you'll engage the imagination of your customers, motivating them to take action.


SEO Expert Reveals 3 Secret Optimization Tips

As an SEO expert, especially in the realm of marketing writing, I have my 'secret optimization' tips that I use to really grab Google's attention in the SERPs.

These are my three most powerful SEO tips.

SEO Expert Tips

These secrets aren't some arcane knowledge available only to a powerful few. They aren't really secrets, either -- just search engine optimization techniques that the average site owner or blogger doesn't bother with using.

  1. Optimize your images
  2. Use plenty of internal links
  3. Write in a natural, conversational style

1. Optimize Your Images

Images are the unsung heroes of search engine optimization. Many people use Google Images to find out more about a topic of interest. Just the other day, I used Google's Image search to identify a bug, check on a rash on my cat, and find a map of a city I used to live in. Okay, weird searches to be sure, but a Cooperative Extension website, veterinary hospital site, and a town website each received search engine traffic from those images.

When optimizing images, be sure to incorporate several best practices:

  • License images properly and be sure to follow use and attribution requirements or take your own pictures
  • Resize images from your camera to minimize the file size! This is super important. Big images slow down your website and Google hates slow sites. Resize as JPGs to the proper size for your site.
  • Use a compression tool such as the Smush WordPress plugin to further shrink image file size and make them load faster.
  • Rename the file with your keyword phrase.
  • Add an alt tag that accurately describes the image and utilizes a keyword phrase or synonym if appropriate

SEO experts agree that optimizing images may help boost your posts!

2. Use plenty of internal links

I love internal links for SEO for a variety of reasons. Not only do they link to other content on your site as a helpful resource to readers but they give Google's crawls more pathways to follow to find and index additional pages.

Use plenty of internal links but be sure to link from a keyword phrase or at least a useful phrase. Avoid "click here" and "learn more." Yes, I know, this SEP expert has indeed done that on this website, but I do so only when it is a simple call to action. Blog posts like this one are linked from within to juicy keyword phrases.

3. Write in a natural, conversational style

Have you heard of BERT? BERT is Google's new natural language processing code and it is driving an enormous change throughout many industries. It's an open-source code, which means that Google has shared it with other companies, too.

BERT processes language in context. It can read the words both before and after a phrase to understand a search query better. Unlike other artificial intelligence language processors that look at words in sequence, BERT can understand everything in it knows when you mean the past or present tense of the verb "read" for example.

More people search using voice-activated tools than ever before and that trend is likely to continue in the future. The more natural your online content sounds, the better.

Avoid stilted, outdated SEO writing that uses rigid rules to infuse keyword phrases into the content. The days of writing X keywords Y number of times into the content and calling it a day are over and have been since 2012.

Natural writing, conversational writing, and writing that matches a user's query exactly carry more weight with Google than ever before.

Revise, Refresh, Keep Writing

Revise and refresh old blog posts. Keep writing new ones.

One of the beautiful things about the internet and search engine optimization is that it's never-ending. I used to think of it as "once and done" but it's really an ongoing, evolutionary process.

As you learn more about SEO, use what you have learned to improve old posts..

If you need help, we're running a Winter Blogging Special to help you produce SEO blog writing that gets your blog noticed.


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Should You Start a Blog?

Did you know that February 7 is international Start a Blog day? Plan now to begin the blog that's been on your to-do list forever!

It may seem crazy to encourage people to start a blog. After all, there's a ton of blogs out there covering almost every topic you can imagine. Mom blogs, cooking blogs, business blogs, gardening blogs, you name it, there is a blog for it.

Even though the internet seems saturated with blog content, there's still room for more blogs. If you have an original idea and are willing to invest the time and energy into creating unique content, blogging may be a good way to generate site traffic and content for your digital advertising programs.

5 Reasons to Start a Blog

  1. Search visibility - blogs enable site owners to post multiple pages with keywords associated with their site. Think of each blog post like a page and you'll see what I mean. Each post acts as a potential entry point into your website, adding plenty of places for Google to find, index, and serve your site to searchers.
  2. Branding - a blog provides your company with a unique opportunity to share your perspective on business issues. A well-constructed blog filled with content that supports your brand style offers another excellent branding opportunity.
  3. Social shares - blogging provides fresh content links to share across multiple social media platforms. Such links may reach new audiences, people who may not otherwise have found your site.
  4. Expertise - sharing your expertise on a topic helps boost your digital persona. A digital persona is an online impression people receive from all of your online interactions. Blogging around a topic of interest provides a focus to find experts on such a topic, and others may seek you out based on your posts.
  5. Profit - yes, blogging can be profitable. A good blog can earn money through advertising, affiliate programs, product sales, and more. Some bloggers do earn their living solely from their blogging work and related products, such as books and courses, they sell from their blogs. How profitable a blog can be depends upon the skill of the blogger, the audience, and the topic, of course, but I do know two people who make their living solely through blogging. It can be done.

Two Popular Free Blogging Platforms to Try

Today on this "start a blog day" check out the two most popular blogging platforms.

WordPress: WordPress remains the most popular blogging platform despite a steeper learning curve than its competitor, Blogger. A free WordPress blog offers an excellent starting point for any content and can be upgraded to a paid site. (We recommend Web Design of Palm Beach if you want to upgrade. They host our sites and do a great job.)

Blogger: I started most of my blogs on Blogger. It used to be independent but is now owned by Google. It's difficult to create pretty blogs using their outdated templates but it is an easy, intuitive way to start a blog. Plus because it is owned by Google it is easy to incorporate Google AdSense and track your posts.

Now is the time to start a blog. If you'd like help starting a blog or creating unique content for your blog, please contact Seven Oaks Consulting. We provide consultation and writing services with an emphasis on SEO writing, including blogging.


Facebook Business Pages: The Dangers

Many small business owners rely on Facebook business pages for their online presence. "I don't need a website," they tell me. "See, I get this free Facebook business page and I can promote my company as well as share information with my customers."

Our local health food store has a business page...the dog trainer I follow for tips to train Zeke has a website and a Facebook page, but he rarely updates his website. Local companies often spend time and effort on their Facebook presence without a website.

It's a huge mistake. Marketing misinformation is rampant, especially around setting up a presence online. Be smart and avoid these mistakes.

She Lost Everything When Her Facebook Business Page Was Hacked

I felt like a broken record telling small business clients, "Don't do this" but it wasn't until an email reached my desk today from fellow marketing consultant Sandra Martini that I saw firsthand the chilling effects of what happens when a Facebook page is hacked.

Sandra's email detailed a nightmarish story unfolding on her Facebook account. Sandra's business account generated $50,000 of sales (her business books and consulting packages) yet she lost it all in one day.

Here's what happened.

Someone hacked her Facebook account. That person began charging advertising to her account to the tune of $1,600. Then, they reversed the charges and took the money. Facebook immediately canceled her accounts -- all of them -- for suspicious activity.

Sandra lost:

  • Her business Facebook page, which she had spent a decade building
  • Her personal Facebook account, which she used to keep in touch with family and friends
  • Access to several clients' Facebook pages which she was responsible for managing

Her words of advice: Never have only one administrator on the account. Always have a backup. And never rely solely on Facebook pages for revenue, customer contact, or your business presence.

Why Have a Backup Administrator on a Facebook Business Page?

When Sandra's account was hacked, the company notified her of suspicious activity. Since she was the only person on the account, however, when they locked the account, she had no way of recovering the information.

A second administrator unlinked to her personal page may have been able to salvage the account and with it the decade of hard work that she'd put into building her social media presence.

Granting someone else in your company admin rights to your Facebook business page is a smart idea.

Websites Are Essential for ALL Businesses

It sounds strange to have to say this but yes, a website is essential for all small businesses today. It should be built for mobile-first as the majority of people now use mobile devices to access the web. It should also be properly optimized for search engines. Even if your business relies on local traffic only, people still search online for your address, phone number, menu, hours, or other information.

When you build your own website, you own it. Unlike a Facebook business page, which can disappear at the whim of Facebook, your website is your own property and a valuable asset for your company. Purchasing the domain name and setting up a simple hosted WordPress site may take a few days, but it is well worth the effort and gives you a prime piece of 'online real estate' to call your own.

If you're not sure how to set up a website, please contact Seven Oaks Consulting. We'd be delighted to help you build a permanent online "home" for your business - aka, a website.

More Free Marketing Articles for You


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Customer Service and Product Development

Customer service can be one of your best marketing allies. Listening to customer complaints can help you adjust your product marketing strategy.

Listen to Complaints

A young friend of mine launched an Etsy business this month. I watched from a distance as she carefully photographed and listed her products. She celebrated her first sales...and then came hot on the heels of those first transactions, her very first return.

She was devastated. She took to social media to share her disgust with the person who didn't read her listing. The customer thought they were purchasing one type of item, when in fact she did not sell that item.

Customer Service: The Underused Product Development Strategy

I don't know what the final outcome was of that transaction, but knowing my honest young friend, I suspected she eventually refunded the customer's money and moved on. However, a few things stood out for me in the story, and I thought I'd take a moment to share my perspective on customer service, particularly in an ecommerce or retail environment.

(A note from me first: I worked in retail, in the trenches so to speak, for two years. I ran a successful ecommerce business for over a decade. I managed marketing for an upscale retail store. I have a peculiar love of retail. It's exhausting. It's exhilarating. It's my thing. What can I say?)

4 Tips for Better Customer Service

  1. Respect: The customer may not always be right, but should always be treated as if THEY believe they are right. In other words, you may have done nothing wrong. You may have provided the exact service they requested. You may have listed the product clearly on your Etsy store. But if they are unhappy, they are unhappy. That is the fact you must deal with - their unhappiness. Try to make them happy, even if they are not right.
  2. Consideration: Issuing returns should be rare. If you find you are constantly issuing returns, it's time to check your marketing. There's a gap somewhere between customer expectations and what you are offering.
  3. Integrity: NEVER take your frustrations out on social media. The second you start posting about your customers in any way, the second someone, somewhere, is going to read those comments. I don't care if you set your privacy status to super-duper lock down mode. Word will get out that you talk trash about customers, and they won't shop with you anymore. Don't do it. Just walk away from your computer before you share something you'll regret.
  4. Marketing: You know the old chestnut about how you get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers? It's pretty accurate. If your customers aren't repeat customers because what you sell isn't conducive to repeat business, they tell others about their experience, and that brings more business to you. Be always on your guard against poor customer service. It can kill your business faster than you think.

Good customer service is often what sets apart similar products. People choose to do business with companies that treat them like valued customers, not like an annoyance. If you have any unhappy customer, accept graciously their feedback, take what you can and leave the rest.

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Why Are Stock Photos for Business Websites So Boring?

Stock photos for business websites are boring. I don’t care which website you’re looking at; most feature one or more of the following

  • People in gray or black business attire around a conference table
  • Hands at a keyboard/calculator
  • Desks
  • Office buildings
  • Binary code to make you think of “high tech”
  • Two people shaking hands

Yes, stock images for business sites are boring.

Stock Images for Business Sites Are Boring!

Looking at this list, I notice one thing: a lack. A lack of zest, of creativity, of energy, of daring!

Unless your business is super conservative – and there are few of those left in this world – these photos are boring, clichéd, and (shudder) safe. So safe they blend into the woodwork like beige-painted walls.

Let’s not play it safe, shall we? Let’s be daring. Let’s talk like pirates. Let’s be bold, free, and most importantly – ourselves when it comes to images for our business websites!

Branding Through Images

Branding is more than the logo and colors chosen for your business. Branding actually consists of the spaces in between the tangible, the feelings and emotions evoked by a business. Diving deeply into your business through the feedback from your customers is the surest way I know to find your true brand image. Often what you believe is your brand isn’t your brand, but someone else’s ideas about your brand.

We carry with us the images of all of the things we have encountered throughout our lives, and this colors our perception of “what a business should look like.” Most of us are numb to the images we see daily around us. The billboards, the websites, the signs. We are used to what others think a bakery should look like, or a pet grooming service, or a marketing agency.

My own business suffered from this for years. I had vowed a long time ago not to resort to the old-typewriter look on my website. Too many copywriters, marketing writers and freelance writers use the typewriter as a metaphor for writing. But truly, how many companies hiring us these days even remember what a typewriter was, never mind realize it’s a symbol of a writer? The only industry still clinging to its ancient symbolic roots like this is the caduceus in medicine or the draft horses on the teamsters union sign.

Computer keyboards are, alas, a typical stand-in to demonstrate our finesse as writers, but does this truly exemplify what we do? I am no more a typist than I am a red-pen artist; I write and I edit, I create and I craft, I define and I refine.

But how do you visually express create, craft, define, refine?

My customers tell me they love working with me for the solid, dependable experience I bring to the encounter, the warmth of our working relationships, the feeling that I “get” their business and am able to express what’s in their hearts and minds about their own work. How do you express that visually?

Storytelling Includes Metaphors. So Should Can Your Brand Images.

Storytellers often use metaphors to express feelings. When metaphors become clichéd, they are boring and detract from the writing.

Visual storytellers or web designers must reach for metaphors, too. It’s easy to fall back on boring and clichéd visual metaphors such as hands hovering over a keyboard or concerned people seated around a conference table. Visual and verbal metaphors remain part of the common consciousness because they work, at least on the superficial level.

To truly stand out, however, you must dig deeply for your next metaphor. Your visual images should convey your brand attributes in ways that feel right for your business. My own brand visual includes references to nature; I am at home in nature, whether walking the woodland trails near my home or tending to my garden. It is in nature that I am myself, and in nature that I am most creative, so in nature do I place my business.

The metaphors I’ve chosen echo what clients say and what our company name reflects: oak, a solid wood, one of the strongest, symbol of the great Norse gods and of strength, durability, and power.

As you choose images for your website, consider your brand attributes.

Creativity? Reach for the creative. Think big! Black and white with splashes of color, interesting angles, close-ups or panoramas. Give your audience the unexpected, the jarring, the unique.

Attention to detail is your brand attribute? Think tiny, intricate photos of the weave of cloth, of frost on a windowpane, or cells in a leaf. All of these are available as stock photos you can license.

Professional? Ditch the men in business suits, please. Consider abstract prints, artistic swirls, or something fun. Consider unusual images that reflect your bright shining personality, not the personality of Big Corporate Culture.

Choosing and defining your brand takes time. Once you’ve figured it out, however, you’re well on your way to avoiding the stock photos for business websites that make you sleep syndrome. Be the wake-up call for your industry. Be the leader.

Why Customer Service Matters

We've all experienced awful service. We've all experienced good service.

As business people, we all know - or should know- the value of excellent customer service.

How valuable is good customer service? If you improve service by just 5%, according to Bain & Company, profits can increase 25 to 90%.

So with just a little effort, training, and better hiring practices, you may be able to increase profits. Who wouldn't want that?

In this article written for Medium, I share not just the facts about why good customer service matters, but how to achieve it without spending a fortunate on fancy loyalty programs, punch cards, free gift with purchase items and so on.

Enacting a strong customer service policy isn't expensive, but it's not easy. It takes thought, effort, and consistency. When it's done well, however, it can reduce customer attrition (churn) and boost profits.

Again, I ask: Who wouldn't want that?

Read the full article here: The Customer Pays Your Salary - Why Excellent Customer Service Is Vital for Client Retention

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Content Marketing Mistakes

I really liked this post from Amy Gynn on Content Marketing mistakes. I see so many of these mistakes, and most of them are easily prevented or corrected. Besides, a good infographic on content marketing deserves to be shared.