Corners

house-appartement-corner-pmg

Corners are meant for one thing – for getting around to another side. They’re made for turning.

I’ve encountered lots of corners lately, and I’ve been trying to make sense of them the last few weeks.Here are a few of them and what I’ve learned.

  • Cooking: On a limited budget, you get better at a lot of DIY things. My experience making meals from food we grow has been so great. I’m so glad we know what it’s like to know the benefits of fresh, garden-to-table food. Even for meals that don’t come from the garden, I’ve found cooking to be incredibly relaxing.
  • Sewing/Making: Something I never thought I’d take on, especially since I’m building on skills I first gained in, oh, 7th grade. Time to quilt is getting slimmer, but I am promising myself that I’ll make it work. I plan to keep that promise.
  • Writing/Blogging: One of my best experiences in recent years. For all the hiccups that can cause someone to come to a full stop when blogging, my activity has slowed a lot lately (more about why in a minute), but I have no intention of stopping. I just hope Poor Mexican Gone will keep being about learning, discovery and connecting dots.
  • Employment : You may know I’ve been freelancing for the better part of the last handful of years – something that followed me more than I pursued it. Still, I took it as a smile from God during a season of intense questioning of my identity.

Which leads me to this: I start a new job at the end of the month. As good as freelancing has been for my freedom, healing and, heck, my tennis game, I’ve truly missed the social interaction that comes with being part of a team. So I’m joining one.

It’s not just one corner that led me to this. It’s more like a long series of four corners. You might even call it a full circle.

After a busy freelance season this summer that included shotgun international travel, it’s time to settle into a job offered to me on that trip. I couldn’t be more pleased, humbled and grateful.

I fully expect to pivot around a few more corners in my lifetime, but for now, this one is a great turn at a great time and, I hope, with the potential for great impact in the lives of others.

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Audience: Don’t scratch what doesn’t itch

hand scratching what ppears to be male balding headHad a great coffee meeting with a friend the other day who is a very talented instructional designer. Not only does this woman  – I’ll call her Sandy – know the methodologies and techniques for producing great training – she understands the technology behind it all, too. What a great mix of skills.

We ended up chatting the most, however, on the topic of understanding your audience. (Fellow blogger and consultant Deb Nelson covered this recently.)

I mean, if Sandy is developing training for, let’s say, bank tellers on the front lines, the required skills, knowledge and compliance they require are very different from the body of knowledge a loan officer needs to develop.

This is just one example of how missing the target audience is crucial to accomplishing your organization’s goals – or not.

Patience, Grasshopper.

So the question, “Who’s your audience?” isn’t just a bunch of hooey from the comms nerds. It’s at the heart of whatever it is you’re creating. It is more than likely why you’re developing that message. That audience needs knowledge, and you can give it to them.

You’ll also want to have an answer ready for, “What does this [brochure, website, FAQ, training document, research study, etc] need to accomplish?”

  • Do you need to change someone’s mind or behavior?
  • Do you need to move them through your sales funnel, from Point C to Point D?
  • Perhaps educate them and deepen their understanding of a complex topic?
  • What do they think or feel now?
  • How do you want them to feel after encountering your information?
Take the time or else

Whatever it is you’re communicating, I guarantee without solid answers to these questions, the likelihood of hitting your mark is – well, let’s just say you’ve been warned.

Before starting any project that communicates an idea – copy, design, user experience, it’s crucial to know:

  • Who your audience is;
  • What you need to accomplish; and
  • What the consumer’s thinking or perception is today.

Twice in the last few days I’ve heard about someone totally missing these targets – one with a study that surveyed precisely the wrong topic; the other, a training program that equipped the wrong stakeholders with the wrong set of skills. Both epic fails — not to mention costly.

As my friend Sandy said, you have to address the specific needs of the audience – or else, you just might end up scratching an itch that doesn’t exist.

Ogilvy and great content

I need to do a better job of cleaning out my bookmarks. Found this under a pile of moth balls, so I had to dust it off and air it out.

david-ogilvy-don-draperCopyblogger’s original post was inspired by the father of all Mad Men.

No, not Don Draper (left). I’m talking about the real father of advertising, David Ogilvy — the copywriter’s copywriter and author of the creative classic, Ogilvy on Advertising.

Because before social media, there was advertising. And then social media changed everything.

Copyblogger clearly anticipated this transition, which changed one of the sexiest industries forever. (Although from experience, I can tell you: it wasn’t all that sexy. Pan Am would’ve been a lot sexier.)

Basically, good content is good content, regardless of its era or semantics. Call it advertising, blogging, whatever. It’s content no matter how you slice it.

Advertising = Information

While advertising has long been perceived as a trendsetter in pop culture, Ogilvy viewed it as content that informs.

Granted, the path to the consumer dollar today is kinder and gentler, and less linear. But the idea is the same: Make your content so useful that people want to take action.

Ogilvy summed it up like this:

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’

And we thought blogging was risky business

meerkat on yellow backgroundAs if life with social media weren’t real-time enough. I never thought I’d be curious enough to jump into video, let alone real-time video.

For the moment, I’m not. Not personally, anyway. Heck, I hardly take selfies, much less video of any kind. But I am fascinated by emerging technologies and their potential uses.

I’m sure the response to live video tweeting tools is something like it was back when blogs and social media were winding up, especially in corporate environments:

  • Too risky: Who’s gonna control outgoing content?
  • Too raw: Great. Now we need another editor.
  • Too transparent: The execs will never let us do it.

And yet, just like social media, opportunities abound. If your marketing or communication needs call for the immediacy of video, it’s official: the tools are here.

The space is definitely evolving, but between Vine (edited), Meerkat and Periscope (both real-time), a few practical ideas that come to mind are:

  • Conferences, concerts, sporting events: Real-time action & “reporting” (I cringe to use the term, but hey, these tools make citizen reporters of us all, with or without contextual info)
  • Farmers (or any) markets: Stream what’s at market – today only
  • Flash sales: Discounts on new or limited inventory; viewer-only discounts
  • Restaurants/Food Trucks/Food Service/Cooking Classes: Watch it being made; drive instant traffic
  • Disaster response & fundraising: Show what it’s like “on the ground” (depends on availability of communications services, which can be a tall order in a crisis)
  • Oh and of course – law enforcement. Can’t forget that.

The possibilities are really endless and don’t necessarily have to be invasive or high-risk, although for those of us unaccustomed to putting our entire lives out there, this can feel pretty voyeuristic.

Some folks will “go there” and it will be interesting to see how responsible users will be. But I’m more excited to see how this space matures and the good things it has the potential to do. My mind’s wheels are definitely turning.

“I just want her to be somebody.”

Painting of woman in pink dress holding yellow and white flowers

Meet Esperanza*. She’s a wannabe.

Well, kind of. I believe the artist actually wanted her to be like the girl in this Fernando Botero painting. Her proportions are similar to a Botero, but Esperanza appears notably more Caribbean.

I bought her for USD$50 at the foot of the hill where the original Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used to be perched. (Here’s the Montana today, rebuilt after the massive 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 250,000 people and which I still can hardly talk about. Maybe soon.)

Anyway, that trip was my first trip to the developing world – and, surprisingly, my only trip to Haiti (hopefully not my last).

Learning to tell stories
It was where I began learning from the best — like photojournalist Chuck Bigger — things like the composition of a great photo. It’s where I learned how to gather and tell an organization’s story from the point of view of its “customers” — those who benefited from its services.

It’s where my eyes were opened to the many opportunities we take for granted in the United States and developed world. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Most of the world is not born into opportunity like Americans are.

Common ground
But parents everywhere still want the same for their children – to be healthy, to be loved, to belong, to have a better life than they had.

I can’t tell you how many mothers or caregivers I’ve interviewed who only ever wanted their children to grow up to be successful. When we would ask what their dreams were for their child, most replies inevitably included:

“I just want her to be somebody.”

I used to think that meant they thought their children weren’t “somebody” already. But I believe it’s more that the child’s potential hadn’t yet been uncovered. When it was, stories changed. Families changed. Futures changed.

For some families, it may mean a child has completed primary school and can work in the local market selling goods that help the family with income (not an ideal situation but certainly a real one). Or a high school education, which may mean a more technical vocation. A university education means a young person can become “a professional,” with a sustainable income to support even an extended family, including education for siblings and others.

Children are the key
When a child’s potential is developed, they become somebody who can bring health and hope a family hasn’t seen, lifting them out of poverty. And it doesn’t stop there. It ripples out to the community too, and sometimes even nations.

That’s why I call Esperanza a wannabe. Because I believe she wants to be somebody. Maybe somebody like a Botero – only better.

*Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. This painting was named by my talented friend Kris, who kindly stretched the canvas she’s painted on. The canvas, by the way, is reused upholstery fabric.

Got perfection? Buh-bye

“Pretending to be perfect is the perfect way to not develop a relationship.” — Donald Miller, Scary Close

Full disclosure: I’m disinclined to short reads lately, so I haven’t yet read Scary Close, but I think I might. If nothing else, than for this quote.

I mean, with our culture’s obsession with perfection – at least, cosmetically speaking – could our world be headed in any direction other than away from building real relationships?

And who takes the time to actually stop and do that work?

The idea that the gap is widening between those who are willing to risk being honest and real and …. pure …. and those who won’t or can’t drop the act is a bit unsettling.

But it’s nothing we can’t change.

Ms. Peterson and writing for mobile

Journal being written in by a hand holding a pen

Photo by ynsle @ sxc.hu

A project I worked on recently re-taught me something I learned way back in high school English – but only because I’d gotten a big, fat, red “F” on a term paper.

At the time, I was crushed.

How could it be that, after spending time reviewing my draft with me, my teacher, Ms. Peterson – who’d even told me she’d not seen some of the perspective I’d presented on that classic work – still gave me an “F”?

Ms. Peterson: Nydia, I couldn’t even read it. It was all in one paragraph.
Little, naïve me: So what’s the problem?
Ms. Pete: You can’t write a paper all in one paragraph. Every new idea starts a new paragraph. Give it back to me that way tomorrow and I’ll change your grade.

Ever had that Why-didn’t-anyone-ever-tell-me-that-before feeling? Yeah, that one.

One idea, one paragraph – or less?
These days, the one-idea-per-paragraph rule applies more than ever. With more people accessing the web via mobile, most ideas need to be broken down, sometimes to one sentence per paragraph. (I don’t do it often, but it can be helpful, especially in longer-form pieces.)

After all, what fits on a web page doesn’t necessarily look as good on the screen of a handheld device.

Chop, chop
It feels choppy to write like this sometimes, but when I look it over on my phone, for example, I know that if someone can finish a paragraph there, they’ve completed a thought. That means they’re more likely to finish the article.

So if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. Clearly, Ms. Pete gets at least partial credit for it.