This post is more than just another rant against stock photography – man that stuff is dreadful. It’s also a cry against stealing images off the internet for use on your blog or website. Photography is an important part of your communication tactics. And anything that’s important takes a little more effort. Check out this guide to finding good photography for your website, your blog and LinkedIn posts.
Do opposites attract? I don’t like it as a cliché (I dislike nearly all clichés). Nor does it work as social relationship science (in spite of Paula Abdul’s 1988 pop-music urging). But for creative, for idea-building, for writing? Opposites are essential for communication.
When moving my daughter into college three years ago, I spotted a banner the college had printed and displayed for incoming students. I snapped a picture, and it’s been one of my favorite phrases ever since.
“Gravitate to those who think exactly unlike you.”
I impressed upon my daughter how important I found this idea. And it goes beyond just busting out of habits and doing things differently. This is about doing the opposite of what you think you like. It’s about talking with people you think you dislike. It’s “The Opposite” episode on Seinfeld where George Costanza does everything exactly opposite of his first inclination. (“My name is George, I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.” Remember that one?)
We’ve become politically and socially tribal in thought, media habits and even geography. And this is limiting our ability to communicate well, and to generate fresh ideas. I don’t want to talk politics here; I’ll keep this post to communication, from writing an email to designing a flyer to producing a video. Here are 5 benefits of opposites.
1. Clear Descriptions
I worked for years with a group of engineers for whom I created a weekly newsletter. These people were my opposites (in a “left brain v. right brain” kinda way), so I asked a lot of questions, especially when they started tossing around acronyms – pretty much all the time. I recall one meeting where an engineer kept using one particular jumble of initials. “What does that mean?” I asked. He didn’t know, nor did anyone else. But they quickly found out before the communication went any further.
2. Discover A New Audience
Did you know that martial arts enthusiasts tend to like motorcycles? Of course you didn’t. Nor did my motorcycle industry client until I also started doing a lot of work in the martial arts industry. Your potential for business will grow if you search beyond your usual neighborhood.
3. You May Learn You’re Not “Unlike” After All
The first MMA fight I saw live went down at a small but prominent training gym in Pasadena. I mention the size of the space because it meant we got quite close to the fighters, especially close with my “press” pass. Not necessarily a fight fan, I covered the business side of MMA, and I assumed I’d have little in common with the athletes or coaches. I could not have been more wrong. I learned than many MMA fighters are artists – musicians, writers, painters. I learned more from this group of “cage fighters” than I could possibly have imagined. This broadened my network as well as my brain.
4. Prove That You’re Right
If you’re trying to convince your boss, or working to prove the validity of a proposed idea, it’s good to have confidence. And it’s better to have proof. The best way to gain proof is to test with opposites. You can defend your arguments well only if you know all the possible counter arguments. Study ideas opposite to yours so you can broaden your perspective and accurately communication that you’re right.
5. Opposite Colors Make a Dramatic Impact
Communication is about more than words; it’s about pictures, designs and especially colors. Color theory places the spectrum of colors on a color wheel. Picture all colors – ROY G BIV – displayed counter clockwise in a circle. Two colors are “opposite” if they’re across the circle from one another. And color theorists will tell you that opposite colors are complementary. Red and Green are opposites – is there a better example? Blue and Orange also. Purple and Yellow, right Minnesota Vikings fans? The contrast of complementary colors can help your communication pop.
Opposites attract better ideas and improved communication.
... And I can't wait to photograph the next one. I drove 900 miles, one way, to watch a 150-second event in the sky. I would do it again tomorrow if I could. That "tomorrow" is in 2024. I will be there.
For this solar eclipse, I had the distinct advantage of having relatives who live directly in the path ... wait, why don't they name eclipses? ... with a dreamy and roomy home in eastern Idaho. I just had to get there and point my camera to the north and east.
But I shouldn't have photographed it. I did not have the right lens. Mine was only a 200mm zoom; I needed a 400mm or 600mm zoom. I did, however, purchase the special “White Light Solar Filter” for about $140 for this one-time event. Will I be able to find that little cardboard box in April 2024? There were three of us shooting this eclipse; I should have simply left it to the other two so I could fully enjoy the craziness.
I photograph a lot of things, so there is no way I was NOT going to photograph this solar eclipse. I’ve seen a lunar eclipse or two, we all have. And while I didn’t know what to expect from this total solar eclipse event, I struggle to describe it now even after witnessing it. Like I said at the start, the 900-mile road trip to and from was worth it – and we did the drive non-stop on the way home.
I even listened to a podcast by an experienced eclipse photographer who said "don't photograph this eclipse if it's the first solar eclipse you've seen." Did I listen? Instead I struggled to find focus and tape the lens in place to keep that focus. I messed with ISO settings. And when "totality" hit and our small group of family erupted with oohs and aaahs, I was carefully packing away my over-priced solar filter and re-adjusting to get that famed "wedding ring" photo - check below to see if I got it. Yes, I would - I will - do it again.
Check out a few photos of the event captured with my Canon 6D.
So, Cleveland, we’ll see you in 2024.
Check out a few shots. I hope I can remember the better camera settings in seven years.
"Notable shifts in our company have taken place in the last month." That's the opening line in an email I received today from a huge software company.
So I'm wondering, "what shifted," and I read on thinking I'll see something negative, like intrusive government regulations or a big change in executive management. Right? When you write, "notable shifts ... have taken place," it sounds like stuff you don't want to talk about but you need to so make it sound distant and impersonal.
The second sentence, however, said, "[The company] has acquired two new companies." Okay, that sentence alone has problems, but let's consider the two together, rewritten. "We acquired [Company 1] and [Company 2] in July, making our own company fireworks. This keeps [The Company] on a path to creating a more diverse organization that will better serve our employees, partners, and end users. Read the details here [link]."
It's not even about making the communication more interesting or enticing (though that helps). It's about taking ownership of and responsibility for the things your company does. Activate your writing.
I wrote a weekly newsletter for an engineering firm for several years, and my main focus (not "a focus of mine," see?) was to activate their language in internal communication. I shared stories recognizing employees and their top-notch efforts and efficiency-improving best practices. And I'd get story submissions from managers saying, "The problem was found and the solution was implemented by (insert engineering process here)."
Our shared goal - the client's and mine - was to showcase employees who made great choices, and to share that behavior to encourage others to do the same. Here's how I would improve that manager's submission: "The ABCD engineering group, including (employee names here), discovered (brief description of issue) while prepping tools for the day's work. Using (state a company process here), this team corrected the problem which allowed us to (insert benefit to company here)."
Here are the 5 ways to make your business writing move:
- Use active phrasing: "We did this." Not, "This was done."
- Make it personal: People, not just departments, do things at your company, and you can give them credit for it.
- Focus on the outcome: Your readers don't necessarily want or need all the details. "Acquiring these companies, we can now (do something)."
- Keep it brief: You might need to write a detailed description. But you probably don't. So don't.
- Do it again: Repeat steps 1 through 4 often.
Instagram provides a great tool with “Stories,” but what are you saying with that tool. Email automation lets you respond instantly, but does saving time improve communication? Emojis show more facial expressions than we’ve seen in human form, but is there a human ear listening for a response?
"That is when AI (artificial intelligence) meets AI (artificial insemination," is indeed one of my favorite parts of this book. The author is quoting a Microsoft VP who's telling a story about data collection from dairy cows in Japan - it's one of several illuminating examples of how our world is changing faster than we can keep up. And, no, you won't find this book in my Little Free Library. I'm hanging on to "Thank You For Being Late", Thomas Friedman's latest book.
I was visiting my 85-year-old parents when I started reading this, and I stopped so many times to share bits with my dad that I thought I might never finish the first 100 pages of this 450+ hardcover. Part modern tech history and part visionary ... it's always personal and memorable. You could read the first half or so and get more than your money's worth.
The book grabs you like a web video featuring puppies and babies. Friedman tells a tale that's both philosophically optimistic and intellectually pessimistic. That oversimplifies a complicated non-fiction piece that outlines how we reached this current information age, and how we're handling its evolution and ours.
From the first chapter: "Indeed, there is a mismatch between the change in the pace of change and our ability to develop the learning systems, training systems, management systems, social safety nets, and government regulations that would enable citizens to get the most out of these accelerations and cushion their worst impacts. This mismatch, as we will see, is at the center of much of the turmoil roiling politics and society in both developed and developing countries. It now constitutes probably the most important governance challenge across the globe."
"Thank You For Being Late" is packed with historical reference, international insight, and personal reflection that left me better informed and better equipped for global citizenship. A bit too much? Well, Friedman does take on a great deal in this book, and it's not without his own political slant. Since his mostly matches mine, I'm good with that.
Yes, I'm a big fan of Friedman's work. It began with "The World is Flat," and expanded with this latest which includes a closing section that ties his youth in Minnesota to a bigger worldview. It's like two, maybe three, books in one. You might skip the Minnesota part, but I didn't. I spent my first 40 years living near Friedman's birthplace of St. Louis Park. He connects his Minnesota memories to current people and work in the state, and it all fits well with the past-present-future themes in the book.
You can borrow my copy, just don't look for it in my library.
Buddy the man-sized elf (Will Ferrell) spots the “World’s Best Cup Of Coffee” neon sign and rushes in to the Manhattan diner to congratulate the business owner. It’s a classic scene in the 2003 Movie “Elf”, showing the absurdity of a too-common marketing strategy.
I thought of this while skiing recently in July in California. Not water skiing. Downhill skiing at Mammoth Mountain, in July. Thanks to one of the snowiest winters ever recorded, California’s largest ski resort was able to keep a few ski runs open into August.
I tried to convince a couple different friends to join me for this bucket-list event. The weekend would also include mountain biking on the snowless sections of the same slopes. One friend appeared interested but said, “I heard the snow is not that good.”
He was looking for the World’s Best Cup of Coffee. Meanwhile, I was planning to enjoy an honest cup of coffee that was amazing and unique and rare and unforgettable.
When I approached the gondola Saturday morning, the Mammoth Mtn. marketing team did not display the “World’s Best” neon sign. And I’ve schussed through far better ski conditions. Still, I’d never seen a happier and more satisfied group of skiers – or customers – anywhere.
Marketers, here’s where this hits you like an old bamboo slalom gate: Do not post a sign that says “World’s Best” anything. It looks absurd, you can’t prove it, and your customers don’t want that.
What DO customers want? They want honesty. They want an experience. They want to be treated well. As long as your product or service can deliver, then your marketing communication needs to promise that.
People don’t need or want “world’s best” product or service. They want you to provide the best experience you can at the time and place. And if you’re good, unique and rare, they’ll be as happy as a skier in July in California. Communicate that.
I love politics for two reasons. First, I actually enjoy the process and the debates. Second, and most important, the presidential-campaign season in particular is ripe with lessons for business communicators - and that includes you!
Let me be clear, this is not about red or blue, though the graphic above might tell you my subject is the Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump. But I'm writing about only his communication habits, not the issues. This is a case study for business people about staying on message. So how is Mr. Trump scoring considering the stay-on-message target? Let's analyze his recent performance with less than 100 days to go before the vote.
First, does Mr. Trump have a message, an actual communication target? That's the first question for any candidate and any business. Do you have a communication target to shoot for? Mr. Trump surely does. Look at his website, and you'll see seven ideas listed under the "Positions" tab. Good targets for his messaging. But even they're secondary to "Make America Great Again," his umbrella message. First goal: target spotted.
Second, is Mr. Trump's communication hitting the target, is he talking about those positions? No, actually. He's spent several days reacting to off-target items. He's talked about the Democratic Convention. He's talked about a crying baby. He's talked about a video that didn't really exist. He's talked about what he sees as a rigged election process. Nobody forced him to talk about these things, to miss his communication targets.
What's worse, the media has followed him off target, broadcasting his poorly focused messaging. It's well known that Mr. Trump is good at gaining media attention. He needs to remember that this can work to his advantage, or his disadvantage. Every business owner and marketer needs to remember the same thing. You can work with media to deliver your messages - on target or off.
It's not difficult to stay on message - the hard part is crafting the message in the first place, and Mr. Trump has that down already. He just seems unable to keep focused on his targets.
UPDATE: I wrote this post prior to Mr. Trump's speech Monday at the Detroit Economic Club. This is a great opportunity to see if he - like any business communicator - can stay on message now and continue telling the story he wants to tell.
If you're tired of hearing about "content marketing," and you wonder about the actual value of content, let me give you a couple numbers. 4 billion. And 1 billion. As in $$.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship recently sold itself for $4 Billion, mainly on the value of its content (New York Times report). The other big $B story comes from the world of shaving, that's right. Multinational consumer goods giant Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for $1 Billion. That quirky marketing company that doesn't even make anything, including a profit, did have valuable content, at least according to Unilever (story from The Content Strategist).
Content - and the fans who follow it - is worth big money. It's not necessarily about fighting as a sport. Nor is it about a better way to shave. It's about the creation and distribution of appealing content.
Two key words in that sentence above: appealing, content. The UFC didn't always get its content right. It was not always appealing. But they tested and measured and kept creating content until they knew it was appealing to huge numbers of people. Dollar Shave Club meanwhile connected with men (not me, I don't shave often) and grew a huge following that Unilever clearly found appealing.
Content marketing takes a variety of forms. You should try it. It could be worth billions.
“How Can I Stand Out in My Crowded Industry?"
Some branding experts will say your marketing focus should be on “differentiation.” What makes you different than the competition? What makes you stand out in a room full of bankers, realtors, or marketing people?
My differentiation secret? Focus on Why, not What. I wear bow ties but not to be different. I wear bow ties because I wear bow ties! I’m not doing it to be different. I’m doing it to be me.
Customers don’t choose you because you’re different (or because you wear a bow tie). Your customers didn’t look at a group of professionals similar to you and say, “Which one is different?” And if they did decide that way, they’re likely to quickly choose the next different thing that comes along. (I had a client like that. In spite of my proven successful marketing campaigns, she just wanted the next different thing.)
Customers choose you because you’re better, or at least they hope you’ll be better. They choose you because you’re YOU. That makes you different; you’re the only one.
Focus on Your “Why”, not on Your Competition
As a “differentiation” strategy, this may get you to the same place, but it’s a different thought process, one that is more positive, more engaging and more consistent for your long-term goals. If you build a strategy around your unique story of “why” you do what you do - and it will be unique - you’ll have a more powerful marketing foundation.
Yes, it’s wise to be aware of your market competitors. You should know their strengths and weaknesses. But it’s better to stay aware of your own positives and your unique reason for being. If your main focus is “being different” then you must constantly adjust as others do.
Don’t waste time comparing yourself or your business to others when you can be showing your passion (not just telling what you do) and delivering your unique professional story.
You’re already different; it’s time to show people why you’re different and better. Create your marketing strategy around your reason why, and you are guaranteed to stand out from the crowd.
Did you know ... ?
- 56% of online content is now consumed via smartphones (44%) and tablets (12%) while just 44% is read on desktop computers.
What does that mean? It could mean your audience is on the move, not sitting at a desk focused on the messages you’re delivering. It could mean that your message is improperly formatted if you didn’t factor in mobile (phone or tablet) screen sizes. Have you checked your own website on your phone or table?
Did you know ... ?
- 55% of B2B buyers say they search for product or vendor information on social media. Yet, more than half of the B2B marketers who’ve created social media accounts don’t keep them active.
What does this mean? Social media is not just teenagers talking about this evening’s plans. It’s a convenient communication platform used increasingly by adults and business professionals. That doesn't mean all business owners are required to maintain Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. But you can't ignore these platforms either.
Did you know ... ?
- 59% of Chief Marketing Officers say print marketing is an effective channel, 64% of buyers cite print among their trusted sources of information, and 51% still see value in direct mail.
What does this mean? It means that the best way to reach your audience is to to use the method through which they want to be reached! Simple? Maybe. Measurable? Absolutely! You can (you must!) test and measure your marketing communication methods for best efficiency and cost savings. Don’t guess.
Did you know ... ?
- Information gained from news articles is more trustworthy than similar info gained from an advertisement.
What does that mean? It means that marketers and business owners should be using PR and media relations strategies as much or more than traditional advertising tactics to deliver your stories.
First, don’t say, “I’m not a writer.” Writing is a skill that takes practice. Work at it, read more, and you’ll become a better writer. Or call a professional.
Never use a long word where a short one will do. No need to write “utilize” when “use” works. Nor should you say “general consensus of opinion,” when “consensus” will do.
Use active instead of passive verbs. Instead of writing “The meeting was led by Tom”, write “Tom led the meeting.” Similarly, “There are three things we can do to improve sales” should be changed to “We can do three things to improve sales.”
Delete unnecessary words and phrases, such as
- As I said before
- In other words
Avoid acronyms. These shortcuts lead to confusion.
Never use cliches, and don’t use foreign phrases if you can use an English equivalent. Avoid jargon such as “actionable,” “core competency,” “incentivize,” among others.
Before you write an e-mail, ask yourself what you want the recipient to do as a result of your e-mail. Simplify your writing around that goal.
Don’t be afraid to use “me;” it’s often the correct choice. Is this sentence correct? “Please reply to John and I,” or “… to John and myself.” No. Read the sentence again after removing mentions of other people. “Reply to me” (not I or myself) is correct, and it sounds correct, too.
It’s = it is (not a possessive)
They’re = they are
Spelling counts, always. If in doubt, choose a different word.
No emojis in business writing. These are fun tools for texting, but should not be used in professional communication.