Tag: buzz phrase


Differentiate or perish

It is really interesting to spend many years in this industry, pitching sets of pots and pans and trying to win over prospective customers … and then stepping back from the contest and realizing what’s going on.

Damn near everyone is using the same sales pitch.

I am talking suppliers. And I am talking operators.

When you manage to escape from the bubble that is your company, or the larger bubble that is your general technology or media proposition, you start to realize the sales and marketing pitch – those bullet points that people use to excite prospects – is pretty much the same one the next guys are using. And the next guys. And the next guys.

Everyone is the industry leader. What they do is the next generation. They’re the best in class. The audience is premium. Their medium is highly targeted.

My work now gives me the blissful perspective of looking from the outside in at the industry, functioning as a smarty-pants consultant and communications specialist. I get asked now to help companies pull together their marketing copy and strategy, and enable them to stand out from the many other companies that offer variations on essentially the same products, services or audience.

The problem is … most companies are so busy getting everything else done — to organize, launch and run a technology or media company — that the actual time spent developing a compelling set of marketing messages is minimal. It’s one of those, “Oh crap, we need a sell sheet and some stuff for the Website!” situations, that usually involves someone who shouldn’t be doing marketing pulling together a few points during spare moments.

I have done a couple of competitive analyses for technology companies lately, and what really struck me was how similar the value propositions are between technology companies. Go through 15 company sites and you will find most of them highlighting the things that everybody else is highlighting, like flexibility and scalability and support for most media formats.

Ad network operators are not as bad, but the same issues apply.

Volkswagen markets itself on statements like “The art of rocket science.” It does not plaster signs on its windows reading, “Tires on our cars are filled with air!”

So why, when I go to many Websites for vendors, do I read excited bullet points about Day-part scheduling!!!

Well, woohoo! Peddling features and benefits that just about all your prospective customers already assume you have is not the path to glory.

There are clear indications much of what gets written and trumpeted is a variation on what a competitor has on its site. Chances are, that copy was ‘inspired’ by another competitor’s copy. And so on. Companies need to spend more time thinking about how they set themselves apart from the mob, and far less worrying about how their competitors market themselves.

What is it that you guys do, or have, that makes you different? Are you particularly strong in a vertical market? Does your technology have some whiz-bang component that’s rare or unique? Is there something you are doing that others can’t touch?

There are companies I won’t name who market themselves on technology offers that aren’t even unique, but they’ve nonetheless made that gadgetry their own. They’re the guys who do (insert not terribly unique thing here) and they let people know. Compare that to what most companies go out with, which is essentially: “We’re one of countless industry leaders and we offer the same dynamic, flexible and cost-effective stuff for digital signage networks that you’ll find on the next 14 sites you browse and sell sheets you read!!!”

Try this exercise: Print off your main Web pages and sell sheets and grab some Hi-Liter pens. Underline in yellow those phrases and features you’ll admit are common across many companies, and in another colour highlight those features that are unique or more compelling than common. If there’s a lot of yellow, you need to get to work.

There are many, many reasons why a company might prosper or fail, but a really strong predictor for failure is a company that can’t put into words how it is different and why that matters. The same disciplined work that goes into product development, budgets and staffing needs to also go into how your company goes to market and sets itself apart.

If you can’t differentiate, you perish.


Fine-tuning your message so that prospective customers notice, and care

This post was also recently posted on the Website of the Digital Signage Association ...

How digital signage and digital out of home companies craft their communications on their Websites, handouts and in press releases is critical to their success.

So why is so much of it so bad?

The industry executives I speak with almost uniformly admit they know they could and should do better, but don’t have the time or resources. Coming from technology, ad sales and retail backgrounds, they also haven’t the insight or experience to recognize the good from the bad.

In the interest of helping better shape the message, here are a few tips:

Figure out what makes your company unique, and go hard with it

For whatever reason this is a “me, too” business, with most vendors marketing themselves on the same general range of features and capabilities that their competitors are also trumpeting. It’s hard to stand out from the pack if all you have to half-heartedly report is the written equivalent of, “Yeah, ummm, we do that stuff, too.”

There will be something your firm has developed, or work your team has done with a client, that is at least uncommon and worthy of a little marketing noise. Maybe your company had to figure out a solution that involved GPS and mass transit? That experience and capability is far more intriguing than telling the world your platform does all that stuff everybody else does, too.

Get to the point

Anyone who has been involved in this sector for a while knows how important it is to have good programming that quickly captures the attention of viewers. The same thing applies with a company’s written communications. Between emails, RSS feeds, tweets and texts, people are carpet-bombed all day with marketing messages. That means your message better make its point quickly, or it will be passed by.

Empty phrases that clutter the opening lines of announcements need to be dropped. The point of your communication can’t be buried somewhere in the third paragraph of your e-mailer. You can’t write something that people need to read twice just to figure out, because they won’t .

Put your key messages in context

When you are banging out your key features and benefits messages, and announcements about new gadgets and gizmos, make sure you do the extra work to explain what that means for your prospective customers.

When your company celebrates the release of a new energy efficient combination of PC and display panel in an all-in-one package, don’t stop there. It’s better described as a technology combination capable of dropping energy consumption for a signage deployment by as much as 25%.

Adding 250 more screens and locations doesn’t mean your ad network is now in 600 locations in five states. The message for prospective advertisers, the ones you’re after, is that the addition of 250 sites means your highly-targeted digital out of home media network is now reaching 200,000 affluent consumers every week.

Think through the whole communications chain

How many times have you read a press release, or the news story that spilled out of it, that was effective enough to send you to the company Website to find out more, only to find there was no “more” to be found?

Marketing and media communications have to be carried through the whole chain. If there’s an announcement, it needs to already be up on the Website and easy to find. The sales people need to be briefed on what it is about so that they can respond knowledgeably and not feel like doofuses. They also need material, ready to go, they can send out as follow-ups to calls, and it shouldn’t be just the same thing the prospects just read.

Meanwhile, existing clients need and expect to get early word of new goodies from their vendor, and to first learn of it on some blog.

Choose your words with care

There are powerful phrases, and there are empty phrases. Good writers choose their words carefully, and think about things like the rhythm and emotion of the message. Most of the people writing copy for Websites, email updates and press releases are doing so not because they like writing, but because they have to … so even if takes forever to prepare, those people spend little time actually thinking about the message.

That’s how the industry has ended up with a vast sea of empty phrases and buzzwords about leading, turnkey solutions and revolutionary, state of the art development. If someone only has to write copy every now and then, there’s a natural tendency to look around and borrow on what other companies are doing. They read three press releases starting off with “leading provider” and figure they better get that in there, too. They see Websites that talk “turnkey” and figure that needs to get in there. The result, every day and everywhere, is yet more of the same blabber.

Whether it’s Website copy, email blasts or press releases, whoever gets charged with doing the writing should ignore what else is out there, forget they ever read phrases like “best of breed” and “taken to the next level”, and think through the messages that would actually resonate with prospective customers and partners.

It’s an after-thought for a lot of companies, but developing the right message that helps drive product awareness, build credibility and boost sales needs the same attention to detail as product and market development. You can have a kickass product, a fabulous network footprint, or do amazing creative, but if you do a bad job of getting the word out, few people will know.


How to write a digital signage press release: Step 4 – Body copy

The headline and the summary and leading paragraphs have hopefully done their jobs of drawing people into your news release. Now it’s time to fully explain what you are up to, why people should care, and get into the nitty-gritty of how or what’s being done.

You want to be sure the five W questions are covered off – who, what, when, where and why – as well as any other Ws that matter, like which.

This is your chance to provide accurate detail on the project or product, and when you can make statements about the impact. Those statements are things like driving sales lift, enhancing navigation, making a task easier, allowing people to work in their native language, any number of potential benefits.

The body copy is where you can also go into more detail about your company and market position, and use one or two tight quotes from the appropriate representative for the company. The person quoted should be someone who, if pressed, could actually speak with some degree of knowledge about the project, product or service.

This is not critical, but I really like quotes that read naturally, like they really are quotes. Almost all quotes in press releases are planted words, and most of them read that way. You can dilute the credibility of a message if people reading it are marveling at how stilted the quote is instead of taking in what it says. If you are creating a quote, just read it back and ask yourself if it sounds even remotely natural. If not, that’s easily tweaked.

Keep it tight. Your press release is ideally only seven or eight paragraphs in length. You will start losing readers if you go much longer. If there is a lot of technical detail to go through, consider attachments or a Web link where the propellerheads can go to get a jargon fix.

Paragraphs should be reasonably uniform in size and sentences should not run on and on. Have a look at newspaper articles to get some sense of how information is broken up. If you write overly long paragraphs, they look like intimidating walls of characters that people don’t even want to start on.

Some fundamentals:

  • be honest and accurate
  • you are selling your company and goods though useful information, not hype and lots of exclamation points
  • if there are other parties mentioned in the release, ensure they approve what is written and asserted
  • it should read easily all the way through

Next – Step 5 – footer and contact information


How to write a digital signage press release: Step 1 – Define your objective

I spend a lot of time with this blog slapping around companies that do a truly terrible job of media communications, and by pointing out the mistakes, trying to educate them and others.

But I don’t want to dwell on the negative stuff, and thought it might be useful to put readers through the basics of writing a press release to distribute in this industry.

This is not done through the lens of someone who took formal public relations training and has some certification to that effect. My background is daily newspaper journalism, as down and dirty as investigative reporting, and I have been reading press releases for 30 years because I had to. There may well be a formula that’s been laid out in textbooks, but here’s what I think actually works in getting the attention of editors and bloggers, and readers who get things direct through news readers and filters.

I’m going to break this up in parts, so that the post is not too long and I can drill a little deeper into the process and then the components.

The very first thing you need to sort out is why you are doing a press release.

What has happened, or will happen, that compels your company to issue information about it? Is what you are about to tell the world actually interesting or valuable to anyone beyond the walls of your company? Or are you issuing a press release because, as is common, it’s been a while and you want to keep the company name out there?

For example, a press release about your company’s new Website is only relevant if the facelift changes the way your clients do business with you. If it’s the online equivalent of a new hairdo, forget it. Changing office locations isn’t PR-worthy, unless you are hiring a bunch of people or adding new facilities like a lab or hosting center.

New product developments that advance the company or the industry, or big deals, milestones or hires, that’s cause for press. If your company trades on an exchange, you may be legally required to issue press releases on any business dealings or status changes.

The point here: if you have nothing, really, to announce … or don’t have to be law … just don’t do a press release.

If you do, develop an angle for your story to make it more compelling. Announcing your advertising network has added some new venues is nice, but not overly compelling. Announcing that a new set of venues added this month to the WhizBang Media Network means ads are now being delivered to a weekly audience of more than 250,000 affluent, gourmet food-loving consumers is another matter entirely. That’s reminding your target advertisers you just got to a big number and might get you to whatever it is that constitutes critical mass.

Think about what you want and need to announce, and how you’ll spin it to make it interesting to your target readers.

Keep in mind spin is one view of the facts, but is still, hopefully, maintaining some grip on reality.  You should be able to defend your spin, so if your angle is that your service is the first of its kind, is it? Can you defend assertions that what you’re doing is the best? Is what’s going out some largely empty and indefensible chest-beating exercise (common), or something people will read and send to friends because it looks like what your company is doing is something they and others will want to know about.

If it’s just hype, most people see through it. People don’t like being “sold” in press releases. They expect worthwhile information. Press releases are an opportunity to talk about good work you’re doing, and the successes  you’ve had or are coming. You want people to read what you’re doing and conclude they either need to know more, or have reinforced that these guys are busy and clearly making a mark. Press releases can show market momentum and corporate excellence.

But bad press releases can have all the wrong effects. If they are written poorly that reflects on the company’s smarts and ability to communicate. If the releases are nothing but empty phrases and unsubstantiated assertions wrapped around a small hint of news, your company is telling people you’re really not up to much. And companies that announce relentlessly, with near constant releases about pretty much anything, can create reader fatigue – the equivalent of hearing someone drone on and on and wishing they’d please just stop.

The audience for press releases has changed dramatically in the last decade. For scores of years, press releases were only ever seen by journalists, since they were distributed in one way or another only to media outlets. Releases were written entirely for the editors, with the expectation that if a press release was noticed and picked up, it would be seriously filtered, with the BS removed and the story recast from the perspective of the assigned journalist.

The Internet means press releases go everywhere, immediately, and there are now several target recipients.  Mainstream journalists may see  a release and pursue a full story, but the more common scenario now is for releases to get noticed and largely repurposed by online industry publications, and sector bloggers. Some of these writers get their hands dirty and filter and repackage stories, or even take the releases in unintended directions. But most just pass the releases though largely unfiltered, the contents re-formatted more than edited.

That means the plan and the wording of the release you put together is that much more important, because while it may pass through other hands, it can easily go through pretty much untouched. It will be rare when a journalist comes back to you and asks what you were trying to go on about in the release. You won’t find out it’s really bad until someone reads it and tells you. Someone like your now unhappy CEO.

NEXT – Step 2 – Headlines


DS PR 101: Dispense with the opening Blah Blah Blah and get to the point


Give yourself a little mental test …

Read this:

Brand X, a leading provider of design and development of content rich solutions for self-service, digital merchandising and digital signage applications, today unveiled its WhizBang™ digital signage offering, designed for banking institutions to easily localize and communicate updated rates and new product information to customers in real time. Utilizing “off the shelf” digital photo frame hardware, the bank’s brand messages, content and interest rates can be displayed at individual teller stations or on larger format screens strategically placed in different areas of the branch.

Were I not asking you, would you have made it much past the “a leading provider of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” stuff to get to the actual point of the release that went out today? Maybe. Maybe not.

You can bore the pants and skirts off people with the “yeah, yeah whatever” stuff and hope they hang in there, or you can get to the point with a press release.

How about: “Localized bank content, real-time interest rates and brand messaging  can now be displayed right down to individual teller stations using a new WhizBang Digital Signage for Banks product developed and announced today by Big City-based interactive firm, Brand X.”

Or something like that. The point is: companies need to jump right to the core value proposition of the product. If they insist on boring people with all the chest-beating nonsense about being leaders, do it later on.

The rest of the release, by the way, is on balance not too bad. It hits the key points and backs them up. The writer just could not resist sticking to that deadly boring opening formula of establishing whoever is a leader. As stated before, the leader phrase is meaningless, and you need to get readers interested in your service or product, and THEN provide your credibility message.


When good lines get overused …

Maybe three years ago, give or take a bit, the company I was with then was wrestling with a good tag line to use for its products and services. Ultimately they went with something that made me cross-eyed and therefore even funnier looking than  normal, and decided against the other option that I liked: “Right message. Right Place. Right time.”

Sound familiar? Sure it does. Because several companies use variations of it as one of their key messaging points. I just saw it used again today by a software company, and this was after seeing it in a couple of new places last week.

This is not a tired or meaningless buzz phrase like all those ones we’re advocating to see banished. I actually think it’s pretty good in explaning what well designed software can do for clients. It’s just that a lot of people now use it.

Is that a bad thing? Not as part of the narrative of marketing materials or press releases, because that simple message beats the hell out of blabbering away about “business rules-based message targeting” and the glories of meta data.

I just wouldn’t lead with it or put it in bold on marketing materials. Intended or not, the Right Message thing is going to read like Borrowed Message.


Has the term broadcast quality reached its expiry date?

I had a marketing email blast sent to me by one of the industry portals today, the vendor going with the line: “Broadcast-quality digital signage: Why Settle for Less?”

I perceive something tagged as broadcast-quality to be of high quality, and not some shaky, grainy piece of crap video that might come off an old camcorder. The guys issuing the piece definitely have a product that delivers high-quality motion graphics, as it is their whole background. So they are in no way stretching the truth.

But as I was reading  the piece, I was immediately thinking “broadcast-quality” is a fairly empty assertion.

With the exception of some little flash card-driven sneakernet appliances that can only do standard definition video, just about any PC or even media appliance will push out 720P or higher video and motion graphics that are probably better than the supposed HD signals we pay for from our cablecos. I have definitely seen some platforms that push crappy signals, but the vast majority of solutions out there will push out a broadcast-quality signal.

It’s certainly not wrong to celebrate the high quality of your product, but it’s hardly a unique selling point. I’m thinking “broadcast-quality” is one of those heavily traded phrases that has reached or is getting really close to its expiry date.


BuzzPhrase Alert: Cloud computing

I just had my first sighting of what I think will be one of those buzz phrases that will get liberally lobbed into PR and marketing material in the weeks and months to come. It was used this morning in the loopy assertion that a central download portal for public service videos was “essentially delivering ‘cloud computing’ for PSAs.”

Well, no.

Cloud computing is mostly known as managed server farms set up under a business and operating model that allows IT people to  increase capacity or add new capabilities pretty much on the fly, without buying iron (servers) or new software, and without adding bodies. The many companies in the DS space who do Software as a Service kinda, sorta do cloud computing, but only kinda, sorta. The SaaS comapnies tend to more be the customers of heavy-duty IT hosting companies that do the work, like Rackspace and ThinkGrid.

The propeller-heads can argue what the real pure definition of cloud computing is, but it is definitely not about simple tasks such as putting up some files in a central spot so people can download them.

Some gentle advice: don’t just throw buzz phrases in to your pitch because they are popular. They should also be appropriate, and your company will come off better if it appears you might actually know what you are going on about.