This simple email is an incredible example of empathy

Take a look at this message I received from Moment, an online retailer known for its accessories for smartphone cameras.

Email from Moment (https://www.shopmoment.com/)

It’s a standout as a rare form of empathy.

We all know that the lead-up to Mother’s Day is a marketing bonanza of emails with specials and promotions. But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day very often are difficult for those of us who have lost loved ones.

For years, empathy has been a hot topic of discussion among UX and other working professionals. It’s also highly touted as one of the must-haves in a personal arsenal of essential soft skills.

But nothing really speaks more to empathy than putting it to practice.

And unfortunately, marketing initiatives too often omit the need to respect personal sentiments.

If a business can’t resist the need to blast out email promotions related to Mother’s and Father’s Days, then perhaps it might be advisable to incorporate a courteous message that acknowledges the difficulty some may be experiencing this time of year.

The message sent by Moment isn’t just a excellent example of being empathetic. It should also serve as a reminder for all of us to do our best in considering the feelings of others.

It’s something I continually aim to improve upon, each and every day.

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.

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.

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.

Being dependent on SEO can badly hurt you

In case you haven’t noticed, a typical display of Google search results these days isn’t anywhere what it used to be.

Until pretty recently, search results were a listing of relevant web links and descriptions, with paid web links (ads) displayed up top.

But now, it’s very often something wholly different. Instead of a parade of web links, you’re now fed a bunch of Google’s own generated content, whether a culling of what it’s collected across the web, or a gallery of temptations to lead you into their various properties (including e-commerce).

The result is that on mobile, depending on the popularity of the search query, you can kiss goodbye to appearing on the first page of organic search results. It’s all dominated by whatever Google is choosing to throw on it.

Typical Google search results, with their own content stuffed before organic search results
Dude, where are my search results?

(Of course, paid search results – ads – will continue to be shown before anything else – since that’s where Google’s money is made.)

Many businesses are now reporting they’re negatively impacted by the Google-imposed changes to their SEO, to the extent of even seeing their revenue “killed” over time. This is especially true for companies with products that compete with Google in some way.

Yes, there is the possibility of legal ramifications stemming from anti-competitive business behavior and the questionable practice of scraping content from other websites. But nothing is certain at this point.

The only thing that can be certain is something I’ve been saying over and over again. Put all of your eggs in one basket – in this case Google – at your own peril.

It all seems like a great success and a fruitful partnership, until you realize your partner never really cared about you to begin with.

Don’t work for a company that deceives!

News has just emerged from inside sources about ScaleFactor, a tech startup with an AI-based software solution to accounting challenges at small to mid-sized businesses.

There was a boo-boo with this company. A big one, in fact. This company wasn’t really using AI but instead was using human accountants (partly from an outsourced firm in the Philippines), despite raising $100 million in venture capital around its purported AI-driven product.

ScaleFactor had recently begun the process of winding down, supposedly due to COVID-19. But it’s now believed the underlying reason is a deceptive, unsustainable product leading to the ultimate downfall.

I mention this to caution anyone against working for a company with the knowledge of deception behind their product.

This is especially true if you’re in marketing. If your professional history includes working for a deceptive company and its reputation suffers badly as a result, then that very same reputation can follow you for the rest of your career.

Do you want to have to explain yourself out of very uncomfortable questions in job interviews for years to come? Sure, you could use the NDA as your excuse not to be transparent, but you also face the very high risk of cutting yourself off from any hiring consideration. You’re basically locked in a no-win situation.

Bottom line: if you knowingly are marketing products that are deceptive, or worse, possibly fraudulent, then get the hell out of there before you go down with the company. The risk you’re taking just isn’t worth it.