Proper Presentation

What good is data to prove a point if your audience can’t make sense of it? The obvious answer is: not much. The answer is so obvious that we often spend an inordinate amount of time trying to present our data in the most graphically attention-getting way figuring this will get our point across! Lots of colors, annotations, call-outs, 3D bars and pies. I freely admit to agonizing over just the proper angle of my 3D pie chart and just the right size of my vertical 3D bars.

Until now. Having read “Storytelling with data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, I now know that I was probably doing more to confuse my audience than enlighten them. Probably the single most striking advice she gives is: NO 3D. She is adamant about it. Why? Because to render a 3D graph, programs like Excel must make certain sacrifices in accurate placement of the bars and scales on the X and Y axes, which show misleading results.

I always thought one of my great failings when creating presentations about data was that I was not a very good graphic designer (like, not a graphic designer at all). Suddenly I find I don’t need to be, in fact the temptation to make a graph super stylized tends to decrease the effectiveness of what you are presenting.

If you are frequently making presentations that include graphs (or worse, you are just dumping out tabular data) I urge you to check out this book. The author’s sense of simplifying the presentation to make the most impact is dead-on.

The belief that we must present data in almost an artistic manner because it just “feels” that is the correct way is shattered by the reality of how this can actually mislead or even confuse the very people we are trying to convince. Nice to know my lack of artistic sense can be overcome with just a little common sense and the most basic functions of presentation software. Data doesn’t lie, but it sure can be made extremely confusing. Let’s make sure our point gets across simply and effectively.

Are you sure about that?

factsYou probably have some cherished beliefs about how your business works, how marketing works, and how you can make more money. If you really want to change things, you need to open your mind to what data can tell you, even if it destroys some of the those cherished beliefs.

Let’s take a very common belief (at least amongst us older people) these days: Millennials as a group are selfish, lazy, entitled, and have no work ethic (at least not as strong as mine!) Now, let’s look at some data:

And that is just a few things from just one source – who sourced all of his statements. You can see the original blog post from Dan Schwabel.) While this is hardly definitive, it makes you pause when you consider your own beliefs.

We often get our information anecdotally, for millennials it might be from a friend who had a friend who had a cousin who knew someone who owned a business and had trouble with some younger workers, and then form an opinion.

My point here is not whether millennials are lazy and entitled or not, but rather “beliefs” need to be evaluated against data. How many of your beliefs about your business might change is you started looking at some cold hard data?

Phone Marketing Fail

Oops Word on Big Red Button Correct MistakeIf you know me personally or have been following me for a while, you’re aware that my specialty is data, and the technology you can use to leverage that data. Given that, lets see if you can guess pretty quickly what could have been done to make this fail a potential success.

The other day my cell phone starting ringing near 10:00 PM. I personally never call any of my friends or family much past 9:00 or 9:30 PM, unless it is an emergency, so I grabbed my phone feeling a little apprehensive. When I looked at the number, it wasn’t one I recognized, so I figured that it was a wrong number, and just let it go.

I didn’t look at my phone again until the next morning. That’s when I noticed I had a voice mail message. The message was from someone (actually their assistant) who I had met at a recent event in Las Vegas., reminding me about something I had signed up for at that event. The message was time stamped around 10:00 PM.

I became a little irritated when I realized last night’s call had simply been part of someone’s phone marketing. I tried to figure out why they thought it was a good idea to call someone that late at night. Then I realized, they hadn’t thought that at all. Realizing that most of their contacts from the event would be solo-entrepreneurs, I believe they  thought (quite correctly) that the best time to reach these people was in the early evening… assuming of course that the people they were calling were on the West Coast, where they were calling from.

The fail should be obvious to you now. Rather than look at their data, and divide up their list into the various time zones – a little bit time-consuming, but we’re probably talking only a few hundred leads at most, they just started calling. They didn’t pause to think that maybe some east coasters came out for a west coast event.  Can they recover with some of these prospects? Probably. But they just made their job harder.

When people think of data analysis, they think of the hard stuff. Checking an area code for the time zone is data analysis too and isn’t terribly hard. The money is in the data, even with something this simple.

Directions For The New Year

Change Vs. SameI subscribe to more email lists than I care to think about. Part of the reason is I like to see what people are offering and what the trends are going to be. I have noticed more and more that the emphasis is engagement. This makes sense because first you have to get someone’s attention (with a cool video or neat thing to do) to start a relationship. The key word in that last sentence wasn’t “attention” (although that is important,) it was “relationship”.

Relationships are hard to start and harder to maintain. That is why so many of us prefer to try to get someone to buy something now. The problem is that there are so many things vying for people’s attention, and the percentage of immediate buyers for our particular product or service is very small, that it is really an uphill battle.

On top of this is the changing patterns of what works and what doesn’t. Things that worked today won’t work tomorrow, and things that stopped working years ago start coming back.

To that end, check out this article from Inc. Magazine. While they are described as trends in Internet Marketing, several of them apply directly to most any kind of marketing. You’ll see that the emphasis is on engagement and relationship building. Ads, which were never great, but had some usefulness to smaller businesses are going to get harder to use for engagement. Content will need to be richer and more useful.

None of this is bad news. It is simply the way things go. The one New Years resolution you should have is to plan to bring your prospects and customers closer to you, not through ad bombardment, but through relationship building. Make them feel you understand their problem. You don’t need to be their best friend, just a trusted advisor.


Naughty Networking

naughty-or-niceIt has happened to all of us. We meet someone at a networking event, we give them our card, and a week later we get their ezine in our inbox. When it comes to being naughty or nice when networking, one action stands out among the naughty: signing people up for your list just because they gave you their business card.

Now be honest, have you done this to people you have met? Maybe you rationalized it away by saying, “But they were interested!” Let’s look at this and come up with a better way.

It is easy to look at your list, see you need to grow it, then look at those business cards you collected at last night’s networking event and figure, hey, these people need to hear what we have to say! The problem is you didn’t ask for their permission. But EVERYONE says we must grow our list, so we add anyone that gives us a business card.

What we really need are interested and engaged people on our list. The person that politely listened to us at last night’s event (possibly partially anesthetized with alcohol) isn’t necessarily really interested in what we have to say.

So for the rest of the year, at the remaining holiday networking meetings you will be going to, try one of these methods (or both!)

  1. Ask for permission. Simply say, hey, if what I have been saying sounds good to you, can I add you to my newsletter list? If they say no, then don’t add them. If they say yes, add them before your next ezine or weekly tip goes out.
  2. Do this even if they gave you permission – consider it a bonus technique! Call them a few days after the event to tell them how much you enjoyed speaking with them, and that you would appreciate setting up a time for them to tell you more about themselves or their business. If you forgot to ask for permission before, now would be a good time.

It is all about relationships. Don’t try to start one by signing people up for your list without their permission. Would you want to begin a relationship with someone who starts off by violating your trust?


Avoiding Holiday Dead Time

Sparkly blue

I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, “no one does business over the winter holidays.”

Yep, we know this for an absolute fact, that from Thanksgiving to New Years, things are dead.

Except that isn’t a “fact” it’s a business urban legend.

Sure, if your market is individuals and what you are selling isn’t exactly something that can be gifted, you might be up against the holiday budget – you know the one: I will only spend this much on presents this year, and of course they spend way more, leaving that much less for you. Of course that is assuming that everyone in the world is a serious spendthrift. Not everybody is. You won’t know unless you ask.

Businesses may be low on budget, but then again, if they have budget left, or they are trying to keep their tax burden down, they may be willing to invest in a small project or two. Maybe not the $10,000 6 month contract you were hoping for, but a quick and dirty $500 or $1,000 project that gets your foot in the door, and starts – or maintains, the trust relationship.

I can tell you this time of year is always my busiest. Sometimes I don’t even need to ask for more business, my clients just know I am available, and they jump on it.

The question is really do you want to do the work? Do you want to think of special offers to entice customers to buy – even if maybe they receive the product or service in January? Can you offer some quick short project that they can get immediate benefit from without making them double-check their wallet? Are you willing to do the work? That I am afraid is up to you!

How fast is your list spinning?

Spinning top with motion blur showing rotation

One metric about email that always gets mentioned is “open rate.” Simply defined, this is the percentage of your total list that opens any particular email. Open rates have a slight accuracy problem due to the ways people can review their email in the various email clients out there, but let’s go with them as they are.

Open rates are relatively useful to see the general popularity of your emails, and of course how any one email “performed.” However there is a simple metric that you can get from just about any email marketing system that will give you a sharper picture about audience behavior. I call that metric “List rotation.” What is it? Simple. List rotation is the percentage of your list that opened at least one email in some defined time period (3-6 months are pretty good periods.)  What this metric tells you is just how bad or well your list is performing overall (I know, the actual metric of performance is how much did you make off your list, but let’s play with this a bit.)

Let’s say that you find 50% of your list opened at least one email over 6 months. Yet you might only be averaging a 10-12% open rate. What is going on here?  Depending on the demographic makeup of your list, what content is interesting or engaging may vary from person to person, which causes the rotation: “That looks cool, I’ll open that one, but that one… ehh.” People get a ton of email, and it has become a chore picking and choosing which emails should be opened on any given day. The good news is they are interested in what you have to say, the bad news is they aren’t interested enough every time. You can never find content that appeals to everyone, and it is even harder when you have a diverse list built from many different sources and list build techniques. When you start noticing a lower open rate, before you panic, take a look at your rotation rate – it may not be as bad as you think!


Bad News About Online Ads

Seth Godin recently had an interesting post about ad blockers and advertising in general. Based on the timing, I think his post might have been in response to Apple’s announcement that with the release of IOS9 that they were going to allow ad blockers in the App store. Seth, as usual, had a rather philosophical view on things, discussing how advertisers had failed to change their ways in the way they communicated with their potential customers (at least through advertising,) making the use of ad blockers all but inevitable.

Seth’s post made me think about what all of this means to the smaller business – the smaller on-line advertiser, and what can be done. Regarding the latter, ads will be seen less and there isn’t much you can do to change that. Regarding the former, the medium to long-term effect will be that the price of a click will increase. Since ads will be seen less, you can pretty much bank on Google, Facebook, and everyone else that charges by the click will charge more, since there will be less clicks; making pay-per-click advertising a less desirable way to attract prospects. So do we as small business people give up on online advertising just as so many turned away from television, radio, and a host of other types of advertising because the return on investment simply isn’t there?

Perhaps. I have never been a fan of using Facebook or Google ads when you are just starting out or when you are still fairly small. While you can still get some pretty good pricing on some clicks, the actual conversion rate is pretty low, and you can rapidly eat up your budget. Wait, I hear the hue and cry of “social media will save us!” Well, not really. If ad revenues start to fall, companies like Facebook will make sure that all of that wonderful free traffic will dry up. Actually it is already starting to. Facebook deliberately keeps engagement rates low on posts to business pages.

So what to do? Returning to Seth’s post, we have to earn people’s trust, and their attention. Advertising will be harder and more expensive so we better make every ad count. We need to provide good content that our audiences actually want.

Recently I’ve heard that content marketing is dying as well. Certainly the age of advertising masquerading as content is starting to end. Or content promised to change your life, that consistently fails to live up to its hype. People want content they can use. That is relevant to their situation.

There is a fine line between giving away the farm and intriguing people sufficiently to get them to invest in your products and services. I’d start working on that line sooner rather than later.

If you’d like to see Seth Godin’s take on this, here is the URL:

A Simple Tweak When Posting Blogs And Ezines To Twitter

“What are your thoughts on Twitter, sir,” it having been a week where not a lot of thought had been given to various subjectshashtag, I decided to throw something out and see if I could get a reaction from The Effective Detective.

“I have relatively few thoughts on the subject Watson,” he initially replied. “However, I have found something that I am sure many of the Twitter fanatics have been acting on for years.”

“Really? I am all ears, sir,” I perked up at this news, wondering if this was going to be some long-winded explanation or perhaps if our conversation might be a little more direct today.

“Let me qualify that a bit. What I found was actually something related to our ezine activity. I am still unsure of the marketing efficacy of Twitter and other such social media platforms, but I do believe that getting your message out in multiple ways can do nothing but help – as long as you don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the project,” The Detective paused, allowing me to jump in.

“The thing you found about Twitter sir?” I prompted, hoping not to get lost in a discussion on the failings of social media.

“Quite so, Watson. It involves the use of hashtags, Watson,” The Detective began again, and I could not help but interrupt.

“Hashtags are hardly anything new, sir,”

“Yes, Watson you are quite correct and if you will stop interrupting me,” The Detective shot back, then continued before I could apologize or argue further.

“As I was saying it involves the use of hashtags. I really don’t see that an enormous amount of information can be conveyed in a statement of 140 or so characters, and if you include hashtags that number is reduced. However, there is plenty of room for a link to a blog entry or the latest release of one’s ezine, along with multiple hashtags. The trick is what should those hashtags be? What I have often seen are hashtags that people make up, like #EmailMarketingIsWonderful which of course no one is following, and will most likely never will be followed. Are they trying to start something? Who knows.  Yet #EmailMarketing is flourishing, as are several other marketing or product related tags. The point is, I have seen multiple people who would have never heard of me or seen anything I have written, follow, retweet, and favorite my ezine tweets.  Simply by using a truly related hashtag rather than trying to be cute or start something. All it requires is logging on to Twitter and checking for some active, relevant hashtags,” The Detective finished and looked at me expectantly.

“I would imagine that if someone were very familiar with Twitter or already had scads of followers this is old news, but for the more casual Twitter user, you may have a point, sir,” I replied thoughtfully.

“‘May’ have a point, Watson? Hmmm, let us move on to other matters,” The Detective said, with a slight smile.

The Most Important Post… Ever

Crushed It

“Sir, do you think it wise to make such a bold claim?” I nervously asked The Effective Detective upon seeing the subject line he was considering.

“Eh? Watson, to what are you referring to?” he replied.

“This being the most important post ever, sir,” I began.

“What exactly makes you uncomfortable with it Watson?” The Detective interrupted.

“It seems to be a bit of hyperbole, sir,” I finished my thought.

“Precisely Watson! It is meant to be a tad hyperbolic. The better to cut through the clutter,” The Detective exclaimed.


“Watson, don’t be so dense. The average person is bombarded with thousands of messages each day. You are assaulted via email, television, the phone, radio, magazines, and lets not even get started on the various types of social media. The point is the average person is drowning in noise. We as marketeers need to break through that noise. Using hyperbole is simply one method of doing that,” The Detective paused in his explanation and I chose to jump in and interrupt.

“But sir, everyone knows it is hyperbole, they have seen so much of it they are immune to it!” I exclaimed.

“Nonsense Watson. Hyperbole has been with us pretty much since humans started trying to impress each other. I assure you there was a Greek olive oil dealer back in ancient Greece telling all of the passerby that his olive oil would make the skin glow and hair glisten in ways that rivaled the gods! Why? Because it works. People buy hope. They want to think they can make their lives or businesses better by doing some set of things. We all say we hate hyperbole and aren’t fooled by it, and yet we still tune into the webinars that promise to teach a method that will have leads raining down upon our heads, and some of us buy the package being presented at the end of the webinar.” The Detective explained.

“But isn’t it dishonest to make such claims, using such language?” I asked, still a tad confused.

“Not really, Watson. No, you can’t spell out how much money someone will make using your techniques, and I would be wary of cancer cures, but in general, the people advertising these methods, programs, what have you, have either gotten those results for themselves, or know someone – probably one of their clients, that has. As for our own pronouncement, how do you know that someone won’t consider this the most important post ever? It certainly is important to me. It may give someone the inspiration they need to push their message up a few notches and start landing sales.

“With more specific tag or headlines, like “generate scads of leads in no time.” as long as you are not promising specific results – exactly how many is a “scad” after all?, and honestly explaining how people can achieve similar results – without giving the whole process away for free, then people can make their own buying decisions; of course their mileage will vary. The key is to not lie or be openly deceitful about what you are promoting.

“The alternative of course is to be low-key, boring, and purely informative. You will most likely get a few clients, but you will most certainly starve along the way,” The Detective concluded.

“So boast a little, paint a wonderful picture that will differentiate you and break through the noise, but never make claims you could not back up in good faith,” I offered.

“A bit poetic Watson, but I think that will do for today. You see – this truly was an important post for you!”, The Detective said with a smile.

“Just so, sir.”