Blogging

Ethics in Marketing

ethicsinmarketing

Working for a small business that attracts some amazing clients, I’ve never run into a situation where I’m asked to carry out a task or promote something that I’m morally opposed to (and, I have the freedom to politely turn down such a project). It’s a freedom I often take for granted, until I hear stories about people who don’t necessarily have such freedom.

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast (Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette) where a woman was being interviewed about her blog (Super Strength Health). Part of the podcast that I found intriguing was towards the end, when she spoke about being approached by various brands to promote their product (a fairly common occurrence for lifestyle bloggers). Usually when this happens, the brand has done a bit of research to determine if the blog’s message meshes well with the brand’s message. As a bit of background, Super Strength Health shares very raw material about eating disorder recovery. The brand that approached her had a tagline along the lines of “guilt-free snacking.” You might see the problem here.

So, the blogger was a bit frustrated. “If you spent any time on my blog, you’d know that we were not a good fit.” Which is true. The discussion goes on to discuss the slippery slope of assigning guilt to food/eating in marketing, and whether or not that is unethical. Regardless of where you or I stand on that particular issue, it made me wonder about the messages I’m putting out there. How can I be ethical (or more ethical) in what I produce?

As mentioned before, I have the freedom to turn something down if I feel it is unethical or immoral. We never really get those clients. Usually when I think “unethical marketing,” it’s the blatantly obvious not-cool marketing, like promoting unhealthy habits, tearing down a competitor’s product or service instead of focusing on why your product/service is valuable, or ignoring glaring flaws or safety concerns with a product (think recalls). These are all easy for me to avoid (in that I’ve never encountered them).

So, instead, I thought of a few little ways to be even more ethical. Here’s what I have:

Do the Research. Make sure you know your facts, especially if others are coming to you for information.
Be Objective. Do you really think this product/service would benefit other people, or do you maybe have dollar signs in your eyes?
“Is this Something I Would Do?” If you’re having a hard time being objective with the facts, ask yourself if you would follow your own advice.
Be the Good. This is my way of remembering my bottom line: whatever I put into the internet/world should make it a little better, even if in a small way.
Get Better. There’s always room for improvement, and as someone who produces content for the internet I could in theory find a rhythm and rest on my laurels. But I could also keep an open mind and look for ways to improve my work (because this isn’t just about me).

My hope is that following these five points in a more thoughtful way will help me feel even better about what I produce, and be more helpful for our clients. (I say ‘more thoughtful way’ because I usually perform research or try to be objective, but it can be reflexive).

The cool thing about marketing ethics? Marketing Schools defines it as “less of a marketing strategy and more of a philosophy that informs all marketing efforts.” It’s not a strategy or a game-plan, but more like having a Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder asking if you believe in the message you’re about to share with the world.

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

What We Can Learn From Horror Remixes

This month’s theme is creativity and that got us thinking about something that doesn’t seem very creative at all: remakes, reboots and sequels (by the way, it’s not your imagination, the number of sequels and remakes is on the rise).

Scary movies (’tis the season of Halloween) are notorious for this trick:

Nightmare on Elm Street: 9 Movies; Halloween (franchise): 10 Movies; Final Destination: 5 Movies; Check out this list from AMC that lists a lot more, half of which are Halloween-related. 

You might not think that sequels would be a source for creativity but if anything, sequels force their writers to be creative. After all, you have to get movie goers to come back for something fresh while keeping enough of what they liked about the first movies. It’s a creative art.

So what are some ways movie sequels force creativity?

Tone it Up, Tone it Down

Filmmakers wills often play with the tone of their source work. Take a look at the original Evil Dead franchise of the ’80s and ’90s, where filmmaker Sam Raimi combined splatter, camp and a healthy dollop of Three Stooges-type humor.

Fast forward to Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake, which toned down the humor and ramped up the gore, appealing to a new generation of horror fans that cut their teeth on shock-films such as the Saw franchise.

Fans of the original, meanwhile, were given an added bonus last year with the debut of the Starz series “Ash vs Evil Dead,” with the return of Bruce Campbell in the roll of Ash, and a couple of younger sidekicks. So there’s something for everyone.

Remix The Character

Some villains leave a lasting mark on the pop culture conscience. In terms of horror, look no further than Dracula, who has been remixed, rebooted and reimagined countless times since Bram Stoker unleashed the vampire on the world nearly 120 years ago.

As originally written, ol’ Drac was not all that attractive, with a unibrow and prominent “aquiline” nose. Yet, he still possessed a certain old, old, old world charm.

In 1922, Dracula was reimagined as the rat-like Count Orlock in F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized silent film masterpiece, “Nosferatu,” swapping out the character’s pose for a more demonic presence.

The Dracula best remembered is from the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, which shows the blood sucker as a sophisticated, urbane lady’s man.

“Dracula” film remakes went on and on in the decades to come, with actors such as Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman each leaving a unique mark on the character with significant tonal differences.

Dracula, by the way, is himself a fictional remix of a re-world monster, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, a 13th-century Wallachian prince best known for — you guessed it — impaling his enemies.

Remix The Location

Taking the same cast but changing location is another way to change things up. It’s no secret that if you took, say, your office and cranked the temperature 30 degrees (or lowered it 30 degrees) the same people would act very differently.

Again, look at Dracula, or rather, works inspired by “Dracula.” “Vampire in Brooklyn” and “‘Salem’s Lot” take the same basic premise as “Dracula,” but tweak the characters and moves the action from London to New York and rural Maine, respectively.

This plot device isn’t limited to vampires. Check out both “An American Werewolf in London” and “An American Werewolf in France.”

Remix Everything

One thing most people can agree on is that a good remake can stand on its own. Sometimes the best way to do that is to completely rebuild the source material, as Stanley Kubrick did with “The Shining.” Kubrick’s film retains much of the original plot structure from the original source — Stephen King’s novel — but characters and tone differ wildly.

The conflict in King’s work involves not only the supernatural, but alcoholism, inescapable personal demons and the destruction of the family unit. The character Jack Torrence is nuanced enough so that when he finally succumbs to both the personal and supernatural demons, it’s as heartbreaking as it is frightening.

Kubrick’s vision, meanwhile, is as cold as the snow enveloping the Overlook Hotel, and Jack Nicholson portrays Torrence as a ticking time bomb. It’s not a question of if Torrence will go completely psycho on his family, but when. As a result, Kubrick’s rachets up the suspense to an almost unbearable degree.

(Spoiler alert: Ever wonder what happened to Danny Torrence, after his unfortunate state at the Overlook? King revisited him decades later in his 2013 novel, “Doctor Sleep.”)

Ten Stories: What Would You Say?

When I was 25, I read ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ As a huge fan of the self help genre, and I was in a bit of a career crossroads, so it was the perfect read.

But when I saw how many exercises there were, I only did some of them.

One of the ones I did was writing ten stories about challenges/problems I solved. The criteria were that it didn’t have to be at all work related, just situations that happened and how you solved them. The big idea was within these stories, you’d identify transferable skills and things you not only could do but probably liked to do.

Note: You can pick up a copy of this book but Page 8 in this Google Book version for teens explains it pretty well: https://books.google.com/books?id=cBQBGnBNnPkC (I just found the adult version from 2009 but I have apparently reached my viewing limit so if you find a better source for this, do link it in the comments!)

My first thought was: Ten stories, really!?! That’s so many.

But I’m pretty obedient, even to books, so I went along.

One story was about how, at a moment’s notice and almost nothing in the fridge, I produced an amazing meal.

Another was about how I got double booked for a meeting but made both parties happy.

I have to go in my files for the rest, but none of the stories were long but they started with a problem and ended with a solution and starred me.

Once the stories were written, I was supposed to look for transferrable skills in them. And in doing it for ten stories, you begin to see patterns.

(Note: I wrote three stories then got hung up. Once I realized they could be small, I somehow got unblocked and finished… so if you find yourself similarly annoyed after three, keep going.)

In making this month’s theme ‘storytelling’ at Breaking Even, I thought of how powerful this could be if we translated it to businesses. What ten stories about your business could transform your marketing or help you establish a mission statement or identify core values?

Small stories leading to big ideas? It’s definitely happened before… and it could happen for you.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

We All Can’t Be Seth Godin

5 Long Form Bloggers And Why It Works For Them

When I hear about people aspiring to blog, people usually mention Seth Godin. Seth Godin’s blog posts are often short and sweet (and if you don’t believe me or want to see first hand, here is a link to his blog).

Because people aspire to be Seth Godin, they aspire to be brief and profound.

For most people, being brief is harder to get right than it is to take a little longer to get to your point. It requires editing, drafts, and a lot of thought.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do things because they are hard. I’m just saying people should stop trying to be like someone else and do what works for them, and in most cases, it means writing a blog that is more than two paragraphs.

I wanted some examples pointing out that long blogs don’t mean readers have short attention spans. So we have the same working definition of long form, I’ll say long form is anything you have to scroll when on a typical computer screen to see the entire blog post.

Here is a short form Seth Godin blog post:

sethgodin-shortformpost

Here is a longer form Medium blog post (screen made 50% size to screenshot and this isn’t even 20% of the whole thing):

mediumblog-longform

Here are our five bloggers in question:

Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You To Be Rich
These meaty blog posts give you scripts, workflows, and other specific ways to execute concepts. It would hard to be brief while also being so instructional. (Also this makes you think, if this is what he gives away for free, how awesome can his programs be?)
Takeaway: If you are instructional and interesting, the right people will stick around (ie those who want to learn)

Darren Rowse, Problogger
A blog about blogging seems so meta but these longer form posts are more helpful than the average ‘write and share on social media’ articles about how to get started on blogging. The guy literally wrote the book on blogging. (Honestly, it continues to blow my mind to this day.)
Takeaway: If you have specific, niche knowledge in a field, people will take the time to read what either you or authors you have vetted have to say. 

Human Parts on Medium
Described as a group of storytellers who have since disbanded, many blogs on Medium are longer form pieces that get tons of readers. (Note: Nicole clicked through tons of Medium authors for this post and found most of them had written less than 5 total posts on the site – though most were long form. For this example, I wanted to give a Medium page with a deeper history but there are lots of Medium bloggers who seem quite successful at longer form writing.)
Takeaway: Medium writes at the top of every story how long they take to read, allowing people to either read now or save for later. 

Brandon Gorell on Thought Catalog
Like Medium, Thought Catalog allows publishers/authors to have their own blog that lives on the Thought Catalog site. I am using this author as an example, though I know he uses more photos in his long form blogs than the typical Thought Catalog writer (if you’re writing about the internet, things like screenshots are helpful). Most Thought Catalog articles are long form but of the ones I looked at, most used things like pull quotes and formatting bullet points to break up the text.
Takeaway: Being thoughtful about formatting breaks can make long form writing more digestable. 

Us at Breaking Even Communications
No one will ever accuse me (Nicole) of being brief. That said, I write this blog like I speak and try to use language and examples that are fun and easy to relate to. I will also say that, compared to the previous examples that have much larger audiences, Breaking Even also has readers and subscribers that seem to enjoy what we have to say. Who else is going to tell you that whitepapers online are like man purses in France?
Takeaway: Having funny/memorable examples that take time to explain will get you a small but dedicated following.

So be brief if you want to but if you’re a chatterbox, don’t let that stop you from blogging long form. There are plenty of websites and individual bloggers who encourage this style and plenty of readers who appreciate it too.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Hey, What’s the Blog Idea?

Told with some help from Will Ferrell.

When people ask us if they should have a blog on their website, they aren’t usually expecting to hear “Well, it depends.” Do I think blogs can be beneficial to businesses and websites? Absolutely. But, not all businesses have the resources- that is, time- to blog consistently and run the business. Like anything, if you know that you don’t have the time/energy to commit, then it’s best to leave it alone. Sticking to a consistent schedule (even if it’s only once a week) is kind of important for followers. Recently, I’ve gotten hooked on this awesome podcast (it’s actually 70% of why I watch the Housewives in the first place), and it only took me a week to decipher the schedule (not that it was particularly difficult). Every Wednesday on my commute home, I look forward to listening to the podcast that discusses Real Housewives of Orange County. And, because Ronnie and Ben have a consistent schedule, it’s become part of my weekly routine. Wednesdays are my favorite days of the week. It’s going to be tough when the season ends.

But if you can commit to something consistent and relatively frequent (once a month probably won’t cut it), then yes, a blog can do wonders for you. Here are some unique ways that a blog can do wonders for your business:

Prove you know things.

"...People know me."

“…People know me.”

I don’t mean this in a “I’m kind of a big deal…People know me” way or by spontaneously shouting things like “I party with John-John Kennedy!“, to go back to the Housewives (get it together, Sonja). Sharing industry knowledge shows that as a business, you know what’s what (even if, like Sonja, you may not always know who’s who). Employ the Internet has an excellent, easy to digest article all about this subject. If you’re in the tech industry, sharing information about new releases, recalls, or innovative ways for people to use devices demonstrates that hey, you know a thing or two about this whole technology business. Plus, you’re even willing to share that knowledge with other people.

But hey, won’t people just take my information and do their own thing? There is always that possibility. But, most of the time, people will read your blog and feel a bit daunted about going out and winging it on their own. Or, feeling confident with the wealth of information they’ve acquired, they roll up their sleeves and realize “Oh wait…this isn’t nearly as easy as I thought.” Either way, they’ll most likely remember you as the original source of their information and contact you for help.

Who knows, you might totally blow people's minds with all your knowledge.

Who knows, you might totally blow people’s minds with all your knowledge.

They aren’t just a “one and done” deal. You may think that nothing on the internet is permanent, but as this lesson in Twitter shows, old content that you may thing has disappeared isn’t necessarily gone forever. A more relevant example comes from our own blog. The posts that gain the most attention are those that were written a couple years ago (and this is without any extra sharing or extra promoting on our part). Nicole’s 2010 post on Mailchimp vs. Constant Contact is still in our top 10 most visited pages. This particular breed of posts (referred to in this Hubspot article as “compounding blog posts“) are basically golden eggs of a blog. While they may not directly be making you any money, they have a snowball effect that picks up as time goes on. That being said, blogs are not necessarily the place to go for instant gratification. Compounding blog posts start off handheld snowball size- you aren’t coming out of the gates with a boulder sized snowball.

Not all of your blog posts are going to compound. According to Hubspot, 1 in 10 blog posts will compound rather than decay. Generally, a compounding blog post has a title that mimics something people would search for (think about it: people trying to decide between Mailchimp and Constant Contact are probably going to search for something like “Mailchimp vs. Constant Contact” in a search engine) and cover topics that are “evergreen.” There should be a balance between hot topic ideas (those that are highly relevant now but will probably fizzle out within a month) and those that’ll withstand the test of time.

Mugatu-So-Hot-Right-Now

But will he be hot next season?

People feel like they know you already. Curious people visit websites to do some research prior to making a purchase. In fact, according to this article from Forbes, 33% of millennials consult blogs before purchasing decisions (unclear whether this is a blog written within a business itself or by third parties offering reviews). According to this article from Hubspot, blogs are in the top 5 for trusted online sources. As time goes on, people view advertisements as quick stories or clips, while blogs are seen as more authentic, like a peek behind the mask. When in perusal mode, a blog is often something potential customers use to put out feelers for a business. Speaking from personal experience, I’m usually on the lookout for things like tone (Is it friendly or didactic? Does it match what one would expect for their particular industry? Do they seem like they’d be approachable in real life?), topics (Do they write about the same thing all the time? Are they providing helpful material?), frequency (When was their most recent post?), and of course, the writing itself (words, syntax, the whole nine yards).

bestfriends

I like to imagine that this is how people feel when they read our blog.

We’ve gotten emails from people saying “Hey, we’d really love to work with you on X. I read your blog, and you seem like you’re fun to work with!” Oh…and we know what we’re doing. My point is, many of these people have never met us in real life, so they went to our blog for recon.

No matter what your industry, blogs can bring in business. You just have to think a little outside the box…and be patient.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Ghostwriting: Not Done by Actual Ghosts

When I was a kid, there was a PBS show called “Ghostwriter” that aired sometime between Reading Rainbow and Kratt’s Kreatures/Arthur. From what I gathered, it was about a group of meddling kids who solved mysteries with the help of a ghost-like orb that communicated by bopping around on a typewriter. In my very literal 5 year old way of thinking, “ghostwriting” was writing done by a ghost, usually in a haunted house (obviously). I also was not an avid viewer of this particular show.

This show frustrated me more than "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" ...have you tried "San Diego"? Sheesh.

This show frustrated me more than “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” …have you tried “San Diego”? Sheesh.

Fast forward a couple decades, and here I am, a ghostwriter- that is, a person whose writes something that gets attributed to someone else (I didn’t become a ghost for this gig, and I already have other plans for my future-ghost-self). Ghostwriting is probably my favorite role at Breaking Even. When my family and friends ask the obligatory “how’s work going” question, this is what I bring up most. In fact, I was in the middle of stacking wood the other night and was randomly struck by the joy ghostwriting brings me, and I thought about the reasons why I enjoy ghostwriting. And that’s the story of how this blog post was conceived. Here’s the slightly more polished version of my yard-work musings:

Why do I like ghostwriting?

It’s like a game of dress up. In order to adapt someone else’s voice, I have to first strip away my own opinions, biases, experiences, etc. It’s important to get in the right head-space-in order to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you should first take your own off. Once I’ve done that, it’s easy to become almost anyone. Of course, I usually go through older content a client has produced to get a feel for tone, commonly used words or phrases, etc. to get a feel for what this person would typically write, and then tweak based on the assignment (maybe they are hoping to sound more funny and approachable, or are trying to target a different demographic). It’s challenging, but I get to pretend to be someone else for a bit, and it’s kind of amazing.

When I explain this part of the process, people often ask: Doesn’t it feel like you’re selling your soul? Nope. If anything, ghostwriting is fuel for my soul. It’s a unique opportunity to temporarily see the world through another’s eyes. It’s a way to empathize with their experience. Marketing isn’t all about creating the perfect combination of words to get people to buy in. There’s a deeper level of connection involved. Plus, people used to believe the same thing about actors back in the day.

Probably the most common question I get asked is “But don’t you want credit for what you write?” Well, I do get credit- just not in the sense of being able to say a certain article was written by yours truly. The best form of compliment a ghostwriter can receive: “I can’t even tell you wrote this.” Perfect- that’s the point. As this Hubspot article so eloquently puts it: “Your opinion is moot, and therefore should be mute.” I “appear” in these projects for matters concerning structure and organization and crafting a cohesive, interesting piece (generally that’s what the job hinges on).

Who hires ghostwriters, anyway?

So, yes, ghostwriting is fun for us. But, why do businesses hire ghostwriters in the first place? It might be a matter of skill- some people enjoy the running of the business and engaging with customers, but find it difficult to sit down at a computer and write. It could also be a matter of time- there are only so many hours in a day, and blogging/emailing/marketing might occupy a lower space on the to-do list. It’s comforting to know that while you’re out and about working on the “hustle” portion of your business, people like us are taking care of the other stuff (email newsletters, blog posts, etc). Businesses of all shapes and sizes can benefit from ghost writers. Start-ups can use ghost-writers to market for them while focusing energy on other areas of growth and getting into a groove. Established businesses might use ghost writers every now and then when employees have bigger fish to fry and don’t have time to spare, during a busy season or transition period. They may not require it full time, but there’s some peace of mind knowing that resource is there to tag in when you need it.

Other times, it can be helpful to have a ghostwriter act as a liason between a business/person with very specialized, extensive knowledge on a topic and the laymen. When you’re incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about a topic, you sometimes forget that not everyone shares this knowledge, and end up accidentally losing people. Instead, you can dump all this knowledge on a ghostwriter, who will ask follow up questions and do a bit of extra research, and he/she will craft a piece that will inform your customers without overwhelming them. In other words, ghostwriters can serve as translators.

If we went back and time and told 5 year-old me that I’d be a ghostwriter, I’d probably cry and wonder why my ghost wasn’t up to more interesting shenanigans. Present day me loves ghostwriting, and probably wouldn’t mind writing from beyond the grave, either.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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