15-Word Economy Pivots, Expands Services as Virtual Marketing Agency

From one-man show to one-stop shop.

The past few months have marked a transformation at 15-Word Economy, as the copywriting boutique has shifted gears and become a virtual marketing agency.

Why one can person be a one-stop shop

The key reason for this change was to fulfill client requests for ‘more.’ Specifically, more marketing. It was something of a surprise last winter when one client asked me “Do you also do marketing?”–as marketing has been my career since the very start.

With my penchant for writing and background in marketing, it was a logical development for me to put the two together and fill in the white spaces with outside specialists thanks to the gig economy.

Successful communication across a wide range of channels in a variety of formats defines the main challenge that marketers face today.

This is the way content is headed

Since 2013 when 15-Word Economy was initially just a blog, clients have entrusted me with their investment writing and editorial projects. Recent work on several of these has led me to call upon specialists to bring design or web skills into the mix in order to produce a more complete, plug-and-play set of deliverables.

This makes a lot of sense. The written word alone doesn’t have what it takes to reach audiences in today’s attention economy. Visuals matter. Video and voice are this year’s frontiers. Successful communication across a wide range of channels in a variety of formats defines the main challenge that marketers face today.

So, what can 15-Word Economy the virtual marketing agency offer you?

The skills of one content producer/project manager/copywriter who aligns the project to your requirements and seeks outside support on the other services to ensure that you’re happy with the final result. Emphasis on result. And on happy.

In practice, your project is tailored to meet your specifications. So it may be a ‘writing plus’ or agency-lite formula, depending upon what you’d like to achieve.

1. Writing plus formula

You have an idea for your next piece of thought leadership anchor content. This is a frequent request at 15-Word Economy, and I would walk you through the positioning, brainstorm, outline and writing of a final text.

From there we could take the project a step further with design of the final print PDF, landing page mock-up and creation of a social media campaign.

2. Creative / agency-lite formula

Let’s say you already have your anchor content in hand, but you’re looking to extend the idea in new ways and get more mileage out of your key messages.

We could draw up a communications strategy that incorporates press relations and advertising options.

Or we could address a specific need for sales support material by creating a set of mock-ups for you to shop around internally before refining the one that best suits your needs.

We could even evaluate new potential communications channels or strategies that you may want to develop, and then bring those to fruition.

If you’re interested in learning more, use the contact form to get in touch.


What Is a Virtual Marketing Agency?

A virtual marketing agency is a small firm or solopreneur that uses gig economy platforms to deliver many of the same services as a full scale, traditional marketing agency at a lower cost.

In this setup, one or several marketing/creative professionals generally handle sales, account servicing and project management, while calling upon external freelancers for much of the execution.

The virtual agency model has grown more popular in recent years due to the emergence of online freelance platforms where people across the globe offer their services, including copywriting, graphic design, SEO, social media and web, at competitive rates.

Who should use a virtual marketing agency?

A virtual marketing agency can be of value to a number of clients, such as:

  • Start-ups
  • Small and medium size firms
  • Fast-growing companies without a regular marketing agency or agency of record
  • Teams or divisions within larger corporate structures looking for agency-style support

A virtual marketing agency may not be a good fit for large, established brands–particularly in the B2C space, as these typically have high requirements in terms of scale, capabilities and production value.

Different structures

A traditional agency will have an in-house team of specialists, often including a designer, copywriter, web designer and artistic director. By contrast, a virtual agency has none of these–or may have one of these skills and then farm out the other work as needed.

The benefits of a virtual marketing agency

1. Cost. Cost of services is a key consideration when it comes to traditional versus virtual marketing agencies, as the latter can offer more competitive prices.

2. Agility. By virtue of lower fixed costs and a vast potential network of project contributors, a virtual marketing agency can be more nimble and tailor their capabilities to a client’s project.

3. Custom capabilities. A clear advantage of being able to source contributors on a project basis is that you can ask for a wider range of services from a virtual agency. Personally, I’ve been on the client side a number of times and have asked “Can you do X?” then I often get the response that, “No, sorry we don’t offer that.” A virtual agency will likely say, “I haven’t done it, but let me see who I can find.” If you’re willing to hop on a learning curve, the experience can be instructive for both you and the virtual agency.

The drawbacks of a virtual marketing agency

1. Lack of certain services. There are many tasks which a standard, full service marketing agency is well suited to perform. A virtual marketing agency –being somewhat more transient– will in all likelihood not offer media buying services, for example.

2. Less quality time. As a client you may get less ‘hand holding’ since a leaner structure is by necessity more focused on getting results for you, and less concerned about your upcoming vacation plans. (This may come as a relief to many. Personally, I know plenty of more technical and sales-oriented folks who wear marketing hats in addition to their main roles, and they can hardly tolerate the soft, fuzzy marketing blah blah that delights other marketing people and confounds everyone else).

3. Scale or consistency. Since a virtual marketing agency operates a more lean structure, high volume requests may be tricky to handle. This may be counterintuitive, since calling upon an entire freelancer platform to perform tasks should be highly scalable. However, each freelancer on a given platform operates a bit differently and with their own skill set. As a client of a virtual agency, you may find lots of variability in the results of a large scale project that has been handled by an untold number of hands. Alternatively, you may find that similar type work is done by different freelancers, with little continuity

Table 1. Weighing up a virtual marketing agency

Benefits Drawbacks
Cost advantage Not full service
Agility Less ‘quality time’ / relationship management
Custom capabilities Scalability/continuity

What to look for in a virtual marketing agency

The key in selecting a virtual marketing agency is to identify one with a successful track record that you can trust to deliver your project at or above specifications.

Also, don’t forget about non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs. When dealing with a full service agency, the NDA they sign with you covers the in-house team. If you want to keep your brand or in-progress marketing projects off the internet, make sure that your virtual marketing agency sets up an NDA with each freelancer it engages for your project.

Bottom line

Ultimately, a virtual marketing agency with the right core team can deliver many of the services of a traditional marketing agency at a lower cost. While full service agencies may be less keen on this development, in my view it brings marketing services within reach of a whole new set of companies that may have in the past been dissuaded by high fees or vague value propositions.Virtual marketing agencies will likely occupy this niche for a long time to come.


8 Advantages to Starting Your Marketing Career in Investment Management, and 2 Disadvantages

For years, you’ve honed your marketing skills in the investment management space. Sure, you’ve gazed at the greener grass of more creative or bigger-budget sectors on occasion. Keep your chin up. Your training has prepared you for success in more ways that you realize–particularly in the B2B world. Here’s 8 lessons that indicate that you’re on the right path.

Credit: epSos.de via Flicker

1. You know that time = money

You may have had to call a meeting with a portfolio manager, a trader and a product specialist for a major product launch or next quarter’s road trip. Knowing full well that some markets somewhere are open, you’ve made a habit of keeping those sessions fast and infrequent.

A friend of mine working in New York told me that each time the head of trading would call an all-hands-on-deck meeting, he always began with a simple statement. “This meeting is costing the company X hundred thousand dollars per minute, so only speak up if it’s worth it.”  Needless to say, little time was wasted.

2. You’ve got more launches under your belt than NASA

It’s true. Yes, theirs are more complex (even if it doesn’t always feel like it). But you’ve got way higher numbers. NASA launched 135 shuttle missions in 30 years. According to Statista, there were more than 110,000 open-ended funds in 2016, with somewhere between 2000 and 6000 new funds launched in each of the past 5 years. Plus, when you’re not launching, you’re working out a new or refreshed product line-up to showcase for an upcoming event or campaign. However…

Rodin’s The Thinker.
Photo credit MustangJoe via Flickr.

3. You know that product launches aren’t enough

A marketing team that’s only doing product marketing is barely treading water. You know that to cut through to your audience, you have to go beyond the product and make a genuine connection. Thought leadership is the real battlefield in investment management. Investors want to be prepared for what’s to come, even if, in the words of Yogi Berra, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
4. You know how to weigh pros and cons to make a sale

Successful investing is about getting the risk/return equation right. There is no single, perfect investment for everyone. Rather, you position and pitch the product for a select investor type and give a full account of what they can expect, ‘warts and all.’ Why? Because you’ve spent countless hours with your compliance team. (Also, you believe deep down that honesty is the best policy.) Post-MiFID, you know that every communication must be ‘clear, fair and not misleading.’ Being forthright and setting proper expectations tends to translate into credibility gains down the line. Speaking of compliance…

5. You can accommodate a very robust compliance framework

All that time spent with the folks in compliance and legal? It wasn’t swapping recipes. It lead you to develop a set of terms that highlight your firm’s offer while respecting clear limits–and made your communications more deliberate and purposeful as a result. One clear downside: the phrase, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results” has been etched forever into your subconscious.

6. You understand the B2B mindset

It turns out that fixed income investors are not the only ones analyzing the breakevens. No one, no matter what business they’re in, wants to run the risk of losing money. So they look to see how much cushion there is available, and under what circumstances they would still come out without a loss. It’s the same story with maximum historic drawdown.

7. You know that decision making is a team sport

When you’re gearing up to launch the next big thing, you know that you can’t do it alone: business-to-business means bringing together your colleagues to address the client, the influencers, the gatekeepers and stakeholders to achieve maximum impact. So, of course you’ll line up RFP, consultant relations, sales and PR team to bring a consistent message to market. Anything else would just be silly.

8. You take the very long view

In this business, there is no impulse buying. You’re not trying to sell a few more candy bars at the cash register. Instead, you’re accustomed to working through a decision-making process in the 9 to 24 month range. From discussions with sales teams, you have a fairly good idea which of the largest institutional investors in your markets are due to put out requests for proposals in the next year–and you’ve quite possibly already started working on them.

While that’s all well and good, there are a couple of drawbacks. For instance…

Disadvantage 1. It’s one of the few sectors where you need a master’s degree in order to be qualified to update a slide deck.

Disadvantage 2. Regular-sized number become meaningless in a professional context. You’re either dealing with millions, billions, or basis points. Anything else is a ratio.

Did I miss anything? Add your thoughts in the comments section.



Define Thought Leadership To Get Ahead

Successful pursuit of a thought leadership strategy means first defining your ambition. Start with this sound definition.

Are we on the same page?

I approach the topic having been involved in thought leadership efforts for a number of financial service companies that had varying levels of success with their thought leadership programs, where messages worked very well or less well, and the cultural and linguistic issues were identified and managed to different degrees. Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from the experience is that a thought leadership effort requires a common understanding/definition of thought leadership. Otherwise, problems can arise.

One clear challenge for organizations that have either embraced or are intending to embrace thought leadership is to nail down exactly what kind of thought leadership they want to produce and identify their intended audience. The fact that the definition of the term ‘thought leadership’ remains elusive, and does not translate easily into foreign languages can severely hamper efforts in multinational firms to agree on a course of action. Even in situations where everyone speaks the same language, thought leadership often means different things to different people.

Also known as…

As far as business jargon goes, thought leadership is not the worst term out there. It does however lend itself to considerable confusion and misinterpretation due to its seemingly straightforward meaning. Variants on the term ‘thought leader’ exist, and range from equally serious constructs such as opinion leader or guru, to the more vernacular rock star or even ninja.

Pictured: Teenage Mutant Thought Leaders? By 専門店の即時から via Wikimedia Commons

Coming to terms

For my money, it’s hard to beat the definition provided by Clayton Christensen, professor at Harvard Business School, who in an interview stated:

“I would define a thought leader as someone who stands above subject-matter expertise and is an authority in their field. And they have to be able to prove that expertise with a track record. Think of it this way: subject-matter expertise resides within a company. Thought leadership resides within an industry. Thought leaders provide clarity, especially to industries that are in flux. They teach.”

At face value, the term ‘thought leadership’ suggests being at the forefront of innovation and the ability to offer new ideas. But this is a narrow view that–while fairly clear for an individual–hinges too much on a single person and thus makes it harder to apply to an entire company. To anchor thought leadership in a wider organizational context, I offer the following definition:

Thought leadership (n): the practice of achieving an ongoing dialogue using educational content that influences how your audience thinks in order to achieve recognition as a trusted expert in your field.

A thought leader plays 3 roles: 1) recognized expert, 2) valued communicator and 3) muse.

1. Recognized expert

It’s widely agreed that the designation of ‘thought leader’ is socially defined–that is, it’s a function of being perceived by others as such. The definition calls out the social nature of the concept by identifying an audience along with the role to which one aspires–that of trusted expert. It implies a relationship just as leadership does between leader and follower(s). Note that obtaining recognition as a trusted expert is the goal or stated objective here (‘in order to achieve’) which gives it a sense of purpose.

2. Valued communicator

This definition also offers an indication of how this occurs: through an exchange of ideas–educational content–that are both helpful (people find a use for it) and compelling–meaning that the audience values it so highly that they  strongly embrace and even shared it with other. It’s important to distinguish the kind of content that’s transmitted as thought leadership content from more garden-variety content such as product specifications or advertising which companies produce in abundance.

3. A muse

Describing the nature and impact of the type of content that is transmitted defines what kind of thought that we’re dealing with here. The message must be formulated in such a way that it leads the audience to change their way of thinking (influences or significantly alters the way they think)–that is, in receiving the message the audience cannot help but react, though how this is accomplished will vary. It may be done by re-framing a familiar issue and portraying solutions in a new light, offering up data that shocks or surprises, advocating actions that run counter to current practice, etc.

Now head that direction

This definition provides guidelines as to the actors, mechanics and purpose of thought leadership. As you can see, this interpretation strips away the sheen of thought leader as innovator or contemporary Einstein that consistently churns out groundbreaking ideas one after the other–a difficult if not impossible task.  By highlighting the audience and the nature of the content, it shifts the focus to that of a strategic communicator acting as a guide to prospective and existing clients. It also places thought leadership squarely in the realm of content marketing.

Leverage Your Market Sizing to Raise Your Profile in 5 Steps

If you already do market sizing, use that as fuel for content that raises your firm’s profile.

When it comes to business, certain bits of information are essential for us to put a firm or its products into context. The size of the market is one such tidbit. It allows us to grasp how a firm ranks versus its competitors, shows whether its share of the pie is growing or shrinking, and how the pie itself is growing or shrinking.

Picture of pie
Pictured: The pie (that I made myself that was every bit as delicious as it looks)

Show me the pie

Market sizing is curious activity. It can consume a lot of resources and serve as a key input for strategy and investment discussions. It’s also closely guarded and rarely communicated outside of the company. There is, however, a reason to use key figures from the exercise: namely, to gain credibility with stakeholders including clients, prospects and the media.

Minimum required information

In some cases, the size of the market is a basic data point that you have to provide prospects in order to gain their custom. In financial services, investors will want to know how an asset class compares to what they already hold in their portfolio. Institutional investors are looking to gauge capacity issues. Any basic case for investment type of material will detail both the primary and secondary market volumes: the first in total outstanding and the second in yearly amounts. In other sectors, clients may be completely indifferent to these considerations–though you can still leverage the data to gain an advantage.

Here are a few tips for turning market size figures into thought leadership:

1. Choose the market

You have 2 options: either size the market for your product (choose 1 category) or for your clients’ products (again, choose 1 category). With the former, you position yourself as being knowledgeable about your own activity–a step down the path of demonstrating expertise and later thought leadership. With the latter, where your clients compete globally and their production volumes (supply) have an impact on prices (demand)–you’re offering them a kind of customer service to help them better understand their industry and competitive context (B2B service).

Pick one. I’ve seen either work for different firms.

2. Confirm the target

I meant to do that.

Is there a common understanding of annual market turnover? For a product such as smartphones, the answer is clearly yes. Those manufacturers release regular reports on the number of products sold. For public firms, it’s a clear factor for revenue and earnings projections closely followed by analysts. No mystery there.

If you’re tackling more of a niche sector that may be highly fragmented and there doesn’t appear to be a trusted source of this data, that’s a sign you have an opportunity to build a common reference point for the industry. (Bear in mind that consultants and market research firms will also be fishing in these waters).

3. Pull back the curtain

Is anybody out there?

Share some of your key figures with the outside world. Start with where you’re at today, or perhaps fill in the past few quarters or years to provide context and show a trend. Be descriptive. From there, you can begin to discuss trends and factors that influence them. It’s an opportunity to speak to clients about those trends, and for you to solicit their views. For highly regulated or compliance-sensitive sectors, it gives you the chance to talk about something other than product when you have a public platform (live event, webinar, etc.).

4. Be bold

If you’ve got the courage and internal support, give your views on where the market is headed in the future. Make a projection. Caution: this one can be intimidating for many folks. If you can stomach it, you’ll benefit from the anchoring effect. In essence,  Being the first to put a number out will tie the discussion around your reference point. Clients and journalists may go around asking your competitors for their views/estimates, but largely to compare with your figure. You gain the lead.

5. Rinse, repeat

The source of all marketing strategy, less dandruff

Marketing basically follows the instructions on your shampoo bottle. Repetition is key, so insert your market figures into discussions with clients, journalists, etc. And if you gain traction, plan to repeat the exercise on a regular basis (probably quarterly or yearly). Good luck.


Copycat Marketing Drives Uniformity within Industries

Recent observations of companies all copying the leader in their field suggest that bland marketing will haunt some sectors for decades.

What’s the first rule of marketing? It’s hard to say. But differentiation clearly goes to the heart of the matter. If brands and products are all alike, then they’re commodities. Customers then buy strictly based on price, personal relationship, or other considerations. When that happens, you can drop your marketing budget to zero and let your team go (just make sure someone’s left to stock the shelves or maintain your e-commerce presence to keep product moving). Margins suffer. Followers become vulnerable.

So, why do some companies try so hard to mimic exactly what their competitors do?

Copy & paste strategy spotted

When I developed an editorial style guide for a particular company–a clear leader in its industry–I thought that it would help the firm’s employees to produce more consistent and grammatically correct content for their audience. That worked. Within a few months, however, one of the firm’s competitors began using many of the conventions that were being applied to external communications: rather unusual, brand-specific ones that would not otherwise find their way into written materials. What’s more, several competitors began to ape the key messages the firm had honed in recent years. The materials from various outfits became similar as to be indistinguishable. The firm’s sales force even mistook competitors’ media pieces for their own.

Not by the book: herd mentality over differentiation

As any student of business will tell you, standing out from the herd is key to competing successfully. If you can’t be the leader, find a niche and excel. While there will always be a cost-cutter trying to undermine the market on price, that’s a losing strategy (at least in theory).

Following the leader may save a company money in terms of R&D and marketing innovative new products to the world, but ultimately leaves those firms vulnerable, having considerably weaker margins. There are plenty examples of dominant leaders. Think Apple, Amazon, Google. Who’s second to those firms? Don’t worry if names don’t come to mind. An industry-leading firm arguably commands a higher market share and margin today than in previous decades.

Copycat survival: long zombie march

If the copycats are vulnerable, how long can they survive? I would contend that these follow-the-leader types can hang on for decades. The greatest risk lies in periods of market consolidation. (The activities of companies such as 3G Capital, known for swallowing big fish and implementing strict cost-cutting, suggest that even publicly-listed leaders are at risk.) If they can navigate that difficulty, the future looks pretty bright. In high-trajectory industries with habitual double-digit growth (yes, they exist), there’s enough money to be made that simply aping the number one can be a profitable business. From what I’ve seen, this entails offering the same product/service claims at a somewhat lower cost. From a marketing perspective, I can only lament the lack of excitement and creativity when companies eagerly play “me too” to exhaustion. Creativity, please!

Please add your comments. Have you seen any egregious copycat marketing?

Why Your Next Investment Writer Will Be a Machine

The next time you need an investment writer, don’t bother calling HR. That was BEFORE. Before a firm in Chicago made software to report out baseball game stats. Before artificial intelligence began writing stories. Before AI went from sports to finance. Before algorithms jumped from high-frequency trading to monthly reports.

Generating stories at the click of a bottom based on deep data sets–that’s NOW–and Chicago-based Narrative Science has been a pioneer and the most visible face of this fin tech gadgetry since 2010. ‘Gadgetry’ might be the wrong term, since this development promises to upend asset managers’ reporting processes and force a rethink of the investment writing function, along with the need to hire an actual human being for an investment writer role.

 An umbrella for reporting season

With this new tool, Narrative Science CEO Stuart Frankel says producing something like an investment strategy [pooled fund or SMA] report “goes from the job of a small army of people over weeks to just a few seconds.” As anyone familiar with the month-end and quarter-end rush periods knows, this represents a dramatic improvement over the status quo.  The firm says that their asset manager clients have been able to ‘reduce the number of days spent producing portfolio commentaries by 50% to 75%’ delivering reports that are marketing-approved and compliance compliant.

If it all sounds to good to be true, that’s not the word I would use. In my opinion, it’s something else entirely: eery. I actually got chills watching the 3-minute video below on how Narrative Science’s Quill is being used to expand Credit Suisse’s investment research coverage. The algorithms identify trends and report in plain (analyst) language what’s going on with a given company (eBay in this case).


(For website owners, you can enjoy Quill Engage –their Google Analytics app for site analytics– for free.)

 The new wave

Turning data and analytics into stories clearly has momentum. In March 2014 the Financial Times reported that Fidelity was testing technologies offered by Narrative Science and Kensho, among others. Narrative Science counts American Century Investments and Nuveen Investments along with T. Rowe Price, Credit Suisse, and USAA among its clients. The firm’s portfolio commentary tool for equity strategies had 15 clients by November 2014. A fixed income version was recently made available. (Personally, I’m curious how the package handles non-benchmarked strategies in either asset class).

 Welcome, our new robotic overlords

Kensho’s software, Warren, may be more ambitious in that it allows investment firms to test ideas by unleashing what CEO Daniel Nadler calls ‘a quant army.’ With these technologies, it would seem to follow that the need for flesh-and-blood investment analysts, writers and editors would be reduced significantly. That’s a bit premature. Adoption will take time. Piecing together the headline story on a stock from a bunch of data is impressive, but it doesn’t provide a buy/sell/hold value judgment. It will clearly reduce the need for manual low value-added tasks such as number crunching and descriptive writing considerably. It appears that Narrative Science has for several years been combating the perception that their technology will enable firms to kick workers to the curb. In 2013 Frankel said “It’s less about replacing people, and more about leveraging those folks that are already there.” To be fair, I know some veteran writers and analysts who are overworked and looking for more challenging, creative tasks. Perhaps these new tools will help them make that shift.

Tomorrow, the world

No doubt the AI technology will improve as time goes on, and there are several areas for development. For one, I have yet to see any information about multi-asset or alternative strategy capabilities, though that’s probably just a matter of time. Second, while English is hands down the lingua franca of finance, asset managers highly active in Europe and Asia would have a hard time refusing a reporting tool that delivers material in multiple languages with speed and precision. Once the technology overcomes these hurdles, you can expect to see it implemented everywhere. The question will then become whether these tools become victims of their own success. For reporting, it’s easy to imagine the entire industry racing to reduce cost pressures and improve competitivity. But when it comes to testing investment ideas, it’s hard to believe that firms will be willing to use the same testing environment as their competitors and run the risk of all using the same playbook.

Considering an Investment Firm Merchandising Strategy? Really?

It’s not uncommon for consumer-oriented firms to launch a merchandising strategy. People who purchase a shirt or a hat and wear your company’s logo pay for the right to advertise, something you probably shouldn’t discourage. But it’s nearly unheard of in the investment industry.

Now, Vanguard has made a merch strategy a thing for investment firms–and the Valley Forge, PA-based company is quite likely the first-mover in this space. As announced on Twitter today:

Financial firms have been throwing goodies and giveaways at clients for decades. But never (to my knowledge) have they opened an online store like the one Vanguard has. It’s brilliant because every firm already has a gift procurement function–this move allows for a bit more volume buying to offset at least a tiny bit of the cost of all that free stuff.

Of course, it’ll never be a money maker–but that’s not the point. It demonstrates the ridiculous strength of their brand in a sector with hundreds of players that struggle to differentiate themselves from one another. So for most firms, a merch strategy falls way down on the list of marketing priorities.



Scaremongers, Be Afraid

A lot of B2B sales pitches boil down to the traditional problem/solution framework. While most firms put their focus on differentiating their solutions from competitors, some take another route and choose to embellish the problem. Portraying a client’s problem as treacherous, insurmountable and otherwise extreme leads to certain and horrible doom. The really awful kind of doom that’s bad for business.

One company’s claim jumped out at me today: in 97.5% of all cases worldwide the problem (for which they happen to offer a product) is present. That’s a ridiculously large number. I can’t even think of a problem so common that is essentially impacts everyone on the planet. (Not that everything is perfect: nearly a quarter of the global population is considered impoverished according to one multidimensional measure). It baffles me to try to understand why someone would depict a problem as so omnipresent. The probable answer: the company feels outgunned in terms of their product offering vis-à-vis the competition, so they turn to scaremongering in hopes of drumming up greater and more urgent demand.

Scared CTA-less

A big issue I have with the scaremonger approach is that it, by definition, incites fear–a stress response. There’s already enough of this in the press and elsewhere polluting society. It can also be counterproductive. While a little bit of anxiety or concern can motivate people to take action, faced with something REALLY big and REALLY frightening, people tend to freeze. Think deer in the headlights. No one wants to try and tackle a problem that cannot be solved. Think global warming. So instead of driving people with a call-to-action, scaremongers actually sow inaction.

Oddball perspective

The reality is that scaremongering can work really well in just one circumstance: when the entire market does it. If every player in the industry tells clients that tomorrow is a hopeless wasteland, there’s a chance that after enough time and repetition, they’ll start to believe it. But if most firms define the problem in narrow, realistic terms that clients understand and can themselves quantify then the doomsayer quickly earns a shiny, new tinfoil hat and is discredited in the marketplace. The more you insist that everything is terrible and clients’ experience dispels that myth, then the more credibility you lose in the eyes of your audience.

Be very afraid

Over the long term, scaremongering is a losing strategy. Firms that use this tactic may garner more attention initially, only to see their brand’s credibility plummet. Engaging clients based on their real situations and an honest appraisal may not always be easy, but it builds a brand reputation that people will value.

Don’t Differentiate Yourself Into Irrelevance

Most companies strive to prove how they’re different from the competition. Sometimes, the impulse to be different eclipses the need to be something much more important for clients: relevant.

A while back a marketing exec from the fund industry recounted her firm’s efforts to set their new product apart from similar ones in what was, at the time, a relatively new category. First observation: the whole thing was very product-centric. There’s nothing wrong with selling product–it pays the bills. But after enough years of content marketing, going out with a message like “buy this now” makes me a tad bit nauseous.

Making a list

Second observation: she rattled off a laundry list of product features that separately and taken together were expected to make their product different. This is where things began to disconnect. On a technical level, each of the features was sufficiently unlike what the competition had. But those features didn’t matter because they didn’t connect to clients’ needs.

An answer

“Different’ doesn’t sell. It doesn’t sell because it doesn’t get to where it should go: to the customer. Differentiation at the product feature level is great, when you can get it (not everyone can–and there brand and client service can prove pivotal). But what really matters is the outcome. Think better, not different.

In the end

Customers need reasons to purchase, so firms toss up unique selling points (USPs) in hopes that something sticks. Better performance, better client outcomes–cheaper, longer lasting, more effective–what have you–these are differences that count. It’s about time that firms stop drawing distinctions without difference, and focus on what matters to clients.