Warren Buffet writes his own stuff… and so should you

Warren Buffet just published his annual, legendary, letter to his shareholders. It’s 14 pages and he’s been doing this since at least 1965.

If you peer into this letter, you’ll know definitively that it was written by him. (The dead giveaway is the first-person prose throughout the writing.)

I’m a great admirer of Buffet for this reason: he communicates in a manner that is unassuming, absolutely straight-up, and honest. Whenever you read his letters or listen to him in interviews, you’ll always notice his down-to-earth, direct tone of voice.

Buffet of course is deeply passionate about what he does in running a very large business conglomerate. He’s proud of the successes of the many companies owned or invested by Berkshire Hathaway (such as Geico, Apple, and Coca-Cola).

A key part of Berkshire’s success is Buffet connecting to their shareholders. And when he does, he feels the need to communicate through his own words to convey his assessments, inner feelings, and points of view.

And that’s the very reason why Buffet writes his own letter every year.

Valuing good written communications

I really feel businesses, corporations, executives, and all working professionals can do more to appreciate the ability to communicate through writing.

A lot more, in fact.

Writing is something far too often taken for granted. Everyone says they can easily write something if they wanted to, but they just don’t have the time.

That’s an excuse.

So what’s the quick solution when written communication is needed? Hire someone on Upwork or Fiverr to do the ghostwriting. Or, push the task on a lower-level worker.

Either way, you’re just hoping for the best, but in reality there’s a high likelihood of a disconnect between what is produced and what was expected.

Warren Buffet is a billionaire. He can find the the time to write his own stuff. So can Bill Gates and many other luminaries. (Buffett has said he’ll spend many months throughout the year, writing and refining his drafts in stages.)

Good writing is simple, honest articulation of thoughts and statements. It usually comes from people that really know what they’re talking about and have a deep affinity at the same time.

Farming essential writing out to someone else is very often a cop-out. Unfortunately, I’m seeing this more nowadays with even entry to mid-level marketers who think they’re too overloaded to sit down and write something that speaks to the essential value proposition necessary to promote their products.

Or worse, that writing is something “beneath” their position within the company.

The answer of course is to turn to freelancers. That may adequately do the job in the short term, but it does nothing to build your own personal confidence. Or for that matter, your own value proposition.

At higher levels of a company, using your authentic writing to reach out to your colleagues and customers can be incredibly rewarding. You’ll make them feel valued and connected. And over time, that will feed into a virtuous cycle of positive loyalty and trust.

So what can you do?

We all need to write content from time to time. And when you do, it’s always a great opportunity to be a little more conscientious in how you express yourself through words. Just doing that alone can help hone your instinct in writing to your audience.

You can take advantage of written communication opportunities within your company. For example, if you’re a product manager, you can be proactive in posting to your company’s message boards to explain a specific feature of a new product you’ve just launched. In doing so, your sales team will feel more engaged and better informed.

Another great opportunity is to contribute to your company’s blog. It’s a great way to reach out to your customers in a more direct, informal manner than your standard array of marketing collateral (datasheet, press release, etc.).

As you write more and more over time, you’ll find your confidence and natural instincts evolving.

Beyond your professional life, you can have a personal blog to talk about your interests, and get more writing experience at the same time. Or simply be a little more deliberate in what you’re saying when posting on social media, or writing an email.

That’s a great way to share your interests with others, while also giving yourself a chance to express yourself through words. Each time you do, you’ll gain a little more mastery in your natural ability to communicate, and bring it back to your professional life.


Dealing with uncertainties in 2021

I created two videos providing some advice on how to deal with challenges possibly to come in 2021 – in relation to marketing.

We continue to work our way through the pandemic, and (hopefully) will finally see light at the end of the tunnel later this year.

But 2021 could be another bumpy ride for businesses coming out of a very challenging 2020. Last year, layoffs have largely been avoided, but things could be different this year.

Before I continue, I would like to encourage health safety measures as always to protect yourselves and each other. And please take advantage of your next opportunity to get a vaccine.

This video below is aimed at people employed full-time in marketing for a company.

I explain that your best chances of protecting yourself against a headcount reduction are when you’re deeply involved at the core of the company’s business goals. For marketing, that generally means promoting and messaging products.

It’s important to be at the center of your marketing team’s efforts to connect with your customers and your sales team. Do everything you can to contribute to content creation with an eye toward best communicating the essential value proposition of your products.

Don’t just confine your day-to-day marketing activity to metrics, SEO, or social media. These are tasks re-assignable to others, or contracted out.

Solid subject matter knowledge and creative problem-solving instincts are much harder to replace.

In the second video, I take the approach from the businesses or employer point of view. Throughout 2020, companies have largely avoided mass layoffs through a series of creative cost-reduction measures.

But for 2021, it’s not certain this can continue. If layoffs do become necessary, a company will always look for areas ripe for trimming back on expenses. Marketing is a frequent target.

While it’s understandable that cutbacks may be necessary, a company may risk not being able to spring back into action for new product launches once things do get better.

And this deficiency is even more likely to be exposed as a weakness, if you have significant competitors and it becomes obvious they’re more ready to promote themselves than you.

Let’s hope drastic cutback measures never materialize, and that 2021 ends up as a year of positive recovery and a collective sigh of relief.


The 3 pillars of marketing content

The 3 pillars of marketing - collateral, web, and video

Content is always the central focus of any company’s marketing operations. Without content, marketing can’t perform its most fundamental task: communication.

There’s so many types of content you can create to engage your salesforce and your customers.

I like to think marketing content generally falls into 3 categories, or ‘pillars’ as I refer to in the title of this blog post.

Before I get into these categories, I’d first like to establish the context, since the type of content you create depends on the nature of your company or business.

  • I’m approaching this from a B2B (business-to-business) perspective, rather than B2C (business-to-consumer).
  • My experience is with technology companies, for which content is frequently necessary to properly explain products of a complex, technical nature.

Collateral

Collateral is the classic term for marketing content. Traditionally, marketing collateral is defined as material that is read on a page. This includes:

  • Customer-facing material such as product brochures, case studies, catalog pages, advertisements, and press releases. On the web, there are product pages and dedicated landing pages. Many businesses have their own blogs with regularly published articles.
  • Content specifically for technical and technology products, including white papers, datasheets (also referred to as specification sheet or cut sheets), and technical guides (sometimes known as design or technology guides).
  • Materials for sales training (or sales enablement), including product training slide decks (sometimes narrated), battlecards to help the sales team position themselves against competitors, and documents that further explain product features and customer benefits.

As part of sales enablement, marketing may be requested to create specific content to help influence a sale, lure a prospective customer away from a competitor, or better help a customer understand how a product functions or satisfies a specific requirement.

Additionally, you may need to produce collateral for customer accounts and channels. If you have distribution partners, for example, you’ll often be requested to assist with their product training and web content initiatives.

Traditionally, marketing collateral has always been printed, but now typically appears as webpages and PDFs. There is still some value in providing printed material, most notably to hand over information to a customer after a face-to-face sales meeting.

Web

In the previous section, I mentioned several types of marketing content that reside on the web. So why even talk about the web here?

The reason: when it comes to web content, there is so much more than the words and artwork on a webpage.

Someone is responsible for the overall look and feel of the company’s website – colors, fonts, navigation, user experience, accessibility, mobile-friendly responsiveness, visual designs for new landing pages and microsites, and so much more.

These all generally fall to marketing. In fact, when it comes to anything web, visible or not, that is marketing’s domain.

  • Website management and maintenance. Marketing is usually accountable for making sure the company’s website is fast at all times, secure, and all essential components up to date. The responsibility includes working with IT and developers to resolve issues promptly.
  • Website content development. Marketing creates wireframes and mockups as the first step in creating new webpages. Some may proceed to final production with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript or PHP, or collaborate with in-house or outsourced developers.
  • Web applications. Many businesses face the challenge of selling complex, technical products. Custom-built web applications can help customers better understand them by way of interactive product demos, configuration tools, and even system design assistance. For further convenience, some applications allow a user to export a BOM (bill of materials) and specification documents.

Web apps are the newest and most important frontier for web-related content, offering new and novel capabilities to facilitate understanding of products and streamlining critical buying decisions.

Video

Some people like to associate videos as part of web content. That’s partly understandable since videos predominantly reside on the web.

But I strongly believe videos belong in their own category. Video production is altogether a distinct domain from the web.

Creating videos is a lot of work and really time-consuming – especially for a business!

When is comes to making a new video, there are a lot of moving parts to take into account.

It all begins with the initial scope, followed by detailed planning and coordination, then proceeding with filming primary and B-roll footage. Sometimes you need to generate animated content as well, usually with Adobe After Effects.

Afterward, it’s the long, exhaustive post-production processes such as editing and color grading – and then finally, generating the final render and publishing onto the web and (usually) YouTube or Vimeo.

Let’s summarize the general types of video content commonly associated with a company or business.

  • Product introduction videos. These are almost always part of a product launch. Most people today prefer to learn about a new product by watching a video, rather than reading paragraphs of text on a product page or datasheet.
  • Product information videos. It’s often necessary to follow up an introduction video with additional content to cover specific features and capabilities. Additionally, these videos are sometimes created to help drive more demand for a product.
  • Short video clips. These are often created for a product or landing page, or social media posts. They can be effective in illustrating a key feature, for example, or provide a quick digest in place of a formal product intro video. It’s not uncommon to create clips as animations without any camera footage.
  • Live / recorded streaming content. This includes webinars and customer-centric events with the intent to present naturally to customers (as if in an event with a live audience). They’re frequently used for product training, part of a new launch campaign, and to help keep customers up to date on a company’s most recent product offerings.
  • Sales training videos. These are perhaps the easiest to create, since they’re made for internal purposes and don’t necessarily require high production quality. In fact, it’s possible to generate an effective training video using PowerPoint.

Putting the focus on content

Over the years I’ve found it very challenging to blog about marketing.

The truth is, I absolutely love what I do as a marketing professional. I really enjoy what I do on a daily basis.

But as a subject matter in itself, I find marketing ABSOLUTELY boring to talk about. It’s mostly common sense stuff that’s nothing new.

Just thinking about marketing as a generic subject makes me want to sleep.

It’s been difficult to blog consistently on topic, and as a result I’ve often diverted to subjects somewhat, but not necessarily relevant to marketing.

Topics that interest me more than just marketing, notably technology.

Now, why is it that I really like what I do for a living as a marketing professional, but despise talking about marketing as a general topic?

Here are the reasons:

  • I work in an industry that piques my interest every day. I’m always curious to stay on top of what’s happening from our peers, customers, and competitors.
  • I crave the opportunity to create new marketing content to help solve important business objectives and challenges.
  • I always appreciate playing a significant role in bringing a new product to market.

Basically, I don’t do marketing purely for the sake of marketing. That’s boring and meaningless.

I do marketing as my contribution to helping generate more business.

Content is what marketing is all about

The second point above is really the heart of the matter when it comes to marketing: content creation.

To be successful and make an impact to our company, you’ve got to be dedicated to communicating through the content you envision and ultimately produce.

Content is what allows sales team members to learn about products. Content is what telegraphs to customers and channel partners what they could benefit from using (or adopting) your products.

I’ve noticed over the years this dramatic shift away from focusing on creating high quality content – toward tangential things like SaaS marketing tools, and Google Analytics reports created just to impress management (and to goose up a resume or LinkedIn profile).

But to really make an impact to your company, you’ve got to be playing a prominent role in communicating, both internally and externally. That can only happen through effective content.

(Hopefully) a consistent direction going forward

I’ve thought long and hard about what it is that really matters and what really interests me. It’s creating content.

Last year, after giving it a lot of thought and reflection, I’ve decided I should be blogging a lot more about content creation.

It’s a topic I can easily write about on a consistent basis – from writing marketing copy, to creating white papers, to producing videos.

And it just so happens that content is what matters most to effectively market and sell products.

Having enough content is one of the biggest challenges any company faces – the never-ending need for more to help create more business.

I’ve produced a whole lot of marketing content over the past 15 years. I’ve learned a lot during that time. And I continue to learn more almost every day to help enable better and more effective communication.

I have a lot to offer, both from years of insight, as well as what I just picked up yesterday while learning about something on YouTube.

If you’re a content creator, or actively work with those who do…

… hopefully I can offer something of value through this blog, and videos I plan to create over the course of 2021.

Tune in… there’s plenty more to come.


Looking for a better Adobe CC deal?

Try canceling first.

Currently the cost for an Adobe Create Cloud subscription is $52.99 per month. That is pretty steep for many, including myself.

In 2019, just before Black Friday Adobe offered a smoking deal of $29.99 monthly for one year. I took advantage of that deal and enjoyed the discount until it expired November 2020.

For this Black Friday season there was no such deal available, just a $39.99 per month special for new subscribers only.

I felt stuck until I remembered that companies often will dangle last-minute offers if you decide to cancel your subscription. So I tried that, and it worked – discount for another year!

To see if you can get score a discount, first go into your Adobe account and look at the details of your CC plan. Then click the option to cancel.

You’ll first need to enter your password to confirm your identity, and then you’ll be greeted with this screen.

You’ll need to answer whether you’re sure you want to cancel, and then you’ll get the warnings about what will happen to your files and access when you cancel.

Then you should see some offers, like this for me.

Note that Adobe tried to lure me into what was labeled as the “best offer” when it really wasn’t.

What you’ll see is likely to vary. But nonetheless it’s well worth looking into any available deals.

If your subscription is currently discounted, it may be better to wait until just after that has elapsed. Any offer you choose will apply immediately, and if applicable you’ll receive a pro-rated refund for the current month. If the offers you see aren’t appealing, you can always quit the cancellation process and go back.

P.S. Creative Bloq regularly posts Adobe CC deals on a dedicated page. It’s definitely worth monitoring, especially around the Black Friday / Cyber Monday period.


Was the AWS outage a big deal?

When relying on the public cloud, the health of your business could be beyond your control.

On November 25, 2020, Amazon’s AWS operations in North America were extensively disrupted, impacting wide swaths of businesses and in turn, their customers.

The outage hit AWS clients for a very large part of the day and even into the evening. Ultimately, Amazon reported complete problem resolution early the next morning.

AWS service health dashboard on November 25, 2020

High-profile companies such as Adobe, Twilio, and Roku were affected, along with countless smaller business operations that rely on AWS to keep themselves humming along.

If you had problems signing on to one of your online accounts, or trying to make an online transaction, or noticed a smart device in your home wasn’t functioning properly, then chances are you were directly affected (as I believe I was).

Just imagine a vaguely similar but far larger-scale impact to a manufacturing facility’s sensitive software systems reliant on AWS. Think about the hours or even a full day’s worth of lost productivity and business revenue!

Is this really a big deal?

In the grand scheme of things, IT system-related outages are not unusual at all. They happen all the time, whether public cloud infrastructure, an on-premises data center, or an individual server.

While multi-hour service disruptions are not uncommon with cloud or online services, they’re also not exactly desirable, either. In the IT world, “five nines” or 99.999% reliability is the gold standard. But achieving high availability on that level would mean downtime of no more than 5.5 minutes per year.

“Three nines” or 99.9% is more achievable with up to about 9 hours of allowable downtime. This is probably close to realistic expectations for AWS’s uptime reliability.

There hasn’t been notable disruption to AWS’s reliability or service for about two years. But when it does occur, it always should serve as an important reminder:

AWS, by far the largest cloud computing provider by market share, has the remote but non-zero probability of taking down tens if not hundreds of thousands of clients along with it – including corporations valued at billions of dollars.

Many companies have, or are seriously considering, distributing their operations between multiple cloud providers for redundancy and fail-safe reasons.

Another common approach is to have at least some of the system architecture housed within the on-premises data center.

It’s vital to remember that if your business runs on the public cloud, and something happens to it, your customers don’t care that it was the cloud’s fault – or that it’s beyond your control.

All they think about is the fact that your company screwed them over in some way.


A special case of branding with two logos

Last April 2020, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) made the notable decision to bring back its “worm” logo, first introduced in 1975 to replace its original logo (known affectionately as the “meatball”).

NASA "worm" logo and photo montage featuring this logo
The NASA “worm” logo. (Image credit: NASA)

The worm was subsequently retired in 1992, when NASA decided to bring back the meatball to replace it.

Original NASA "meatball" logo
The original NASA “meatball” logo. (Image credit: NASA)

The worm had always been a cult favorite among NASA fans, adorned on clothing and other memorabilia. Now, NASA has officially readopted the logo after an 18-year hiatus.

Interestingly, the worm now serves as a secondary branding alongside the original meatball, which continues to serve as the organization’s primary insignia.

What made the worm significant back then

For myself as an American, and surely many, many others, the introduction of the new worm logo in the 1970s signified an exciting new rebirth in the US space program with development of the Space Shuttle, and the eager anticipation toward its eventual deployment into space. Its introduction also marked the conclusion of a highly successful chapter in US space history with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo rocket missions.

The worm logo continued to serve as a significant branding element with the historic first launch of the Space Shuttle in 1981, and the many subsequent launch missions throughout the 1980s.

However, the worm logo wasn’t really popular internally within NASA, and eventually it was retired in 1992 in favor bringing back the original meatball – part of a broader measure to boost morale which had suffered since the 1980s.

What makes the worm significant today

NASA’s decision to bring back the worm in 2020 signals another rebirth of US space missions with the introduction of Commercial Crew and future programs to bring astronauts back into space – ending a nine-year gap dating back to the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

You now can see the worm prominently on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as well as the astronaut uniforms.

NASA SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew-1 spacecraft
NASA meatball and worm logos on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. (Credit: NASA)

It’s highly unusual for any organization or company to rationalize a dual-branding approach. Here’s a rare example of adopting two different logos to great effect!

If you’re still curious, NASA has made available, for your reading pleasure, the original graphics standards manual for the worm logo.


Being data-driven isn’t necessarily helpful

In fact, being overly reliant on data can be a great setback and a tremendous waste of time and resources, both for you and your company.

At the very least, leaning blindly on data can really lead you astray in your design or marketing efforts.

The bad news to all this is that data by itself is at best meaningless, and at its worse, misleading. In most cases it will tell you very little or nothing about what to do.

Bill Pardi

I tend to be of the very strong opinion that too many people use data as a crutch to compensate for a lack of competency in essential skills such as content creation, as well as the motivation to carefully analyze and critique what they’re doing.

Let’s consider an example: customer personas. Personally, I despise the term “persona” as it implies a simplified, hypothetical assumption of the buyer profile based purely on data collected from customers (usually via surveys).

In tech-driven companies, especially startups, collection and usage of data is all the rage. Send out surveys to your customers and entice them to respond to a series of pointed questions about themselves.

Then collect the data and use that the basis for creating your so-called “personas,” the presumption of your understanding about the customer and how to best market or create a product for them.

The critical point of failure is that you’re not combining data without sufficient understanding of your products, how they’re sold, and how they’re adopted by your customers.

In other words, you’re using data without proper context and insight – along with some creativity and instinct to help solve problems that benefit your sales team. That’s not only just plain wrong, it’s also likely to make your efforts meaningless to your company.

… data is meaningless only if we are expecting objective truth from it without factoring in our perceptions and assumptions and getting past those with our creativity.

Bill Pardi

And when that happens, you’re also not adding to your authentic value proposition for your company.

The problem is that so many of the younger generation of marketers want to “cut to the chase” and deliver vanity metrics with very short-term goals of making themselves look good to management.

To them, understanding the product and business functions of the company is but a secondary priority behind generating flashy metrics. It’s something on a “I’ll get to it when I have time” basis.

That’s a half-ass backward way of doing marketing, and boy, what an incredible waste of resources and spend for the companies that employ them. But it’s what so many have been able to get way with in a free-spending environment with gobs of investor capital to burn.


The ad industry is hitting major speed bumps

2020 has been really tough on many industries, advertising well among them. But the ad industry has already been in the midst of a series of unfavorable changes – aimed at curbing abuse and protecting user privacy.

It sucks to be in the ad business.

Big corrections are here… and continuing

Signs of looming cutbacks are widespread. There is talk of 25 percent downturns in ad business revenue, prompting substantial layoffs and budget trimming. Forrester is predicting as many as 52,000 job losses among ad agencies in 2020 and 2021, with half of them never returning.

Twitter is even considering the idea of paid subscriptions to make up for lost revenue. And there’s growing acknowledgement that marketing operations are generally way too big and way too inefficient.

“They’re now having the realization that they can do twice as much with half as many people,” said someone in a New York Times report.

iOS 14 has a major stinger in store

The next release of iOS is very likely to have significant effects rippling across the digital ad ecosystem. Specifically, it’s a new feature that will greet users with a pop-up modal asking for permission to be tracked across apps and websites.

The modal states that user data will be used for delivering personalized ads. The user will be granted the choice of allowing or blocking the ability to be tracked.

This change could really hit Google and Facebook and their networks of digital ad purveyors. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if their execs are in a state of constant lobbying to try and win concessions from Apple.

Facebook’s CFO openly admitted that material effects of this change are expected to hit the social media giant by the fourth quarter of 2020.

A silver lining may be in store

If you’re a marketing or content creation freelancer, or a small / boutique agency, you could stand to benefit plenty as companies look to slim down their budgets and reduce their marketing spend with big-time agencies.


Creating content requires great effort and time

I’ve been working in marketing for 16 years. I can tell you that by far, the greatest challenge in marketing is…

… creating quality content.

Content creation is the single most important aspect of any company’s marketing initiatives.

It always takes more time than you think, and involves more effort than you might have imagined. Everyone believes they’re able to create content, but few do so on a regular basis.

Because of this, most of us don’t have good visibility into what it takes to create content, and very good quality content at that.

As content creators we all go into a project thinking it will take maybe a few days, when it ends up taking a week or more. We all think, “it just takes 3 or 4 steps to complete” when it’s really more like 10 to 15.

Recently, I’ve been hearing some YouTubers lament about the time and sheer amount of work it takes to create a polished video.

A video production requires planning, scripting, shooting, editing, color grading, creating B-roll content, and bringing it all together for the final rendering with transitions, opening and closing titles, bed track for background music, etc.

All that can add up to as much as 40 hours for a start-to-finish production for a 10 to 15 minute video clip. That’s in the range of what I’ve actually heard from some YouTube creators.

Even an 800- 1,000 word copywriting project can take the better part of a day. I know this darn well, being a professional copywriter for many years.

If you don’t create content regularly, you think of the process as beginning with typing your first word and continuing, linearly and consecutively, to your 1,000th. No interruptions in between.

Try sitting down and writing a 1,000 word piece on your own. It has to be something related to your business, not one of your hobbies in which you can just ramble on with casual babble.

If you can consistently type away from start to finish with no editing, re-reading, refining, iteration, or re-scoping – and the final result is always perfectly structured and business communication-worthy – then congratulate yourself as an incredible genius.

You’re clearly in the wrong career.