Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Three Easy and Affordable Ways to Position Your Marketing and Communications for 2009

The turning calendar year inevitably brings with it a tidal wave of retrospectives, guides, and lists about how you can do better—or differently—in the coming year. Every source purports to be expert; every “how-to” article authoritative.

Well, friends, as you’ve read in my blog, that ain’t me. I don’t pretend that what you’re about to read is the authoritative article on how to plan your marketing and communications efforts so they’ll generate measurable and quantifiable results in 2009. You can get that guesswork elsewhere; I won’t waste your precious time with it here.

What you will get are three simple ways to position your marketing and communications efforts to meet—and hopefully overcome—the challenges of 2009. Taking these three steps won’t cost a lot of money, either: Odds are some whiz-kid on your staff knows all about website coding and social networking; he or she will embrace the opportunity to implement some of “your” ideas.

Start with the assumption that the first six months of the year will remain economically moribund. We’re looking at a U-shaped bottom; the economy should start to rebound in the third quarter. Consumers will probably not regain much confidence until late in the fourth quarter—hopefully around the time the holiday spending binge kicks in.

So what do you need to do in the first 6-9 months of 2009 to prepare marketing and communications strategies and tactics that match the economy’s projected path?

Here are three simple and cost-conscious steps you can take now—-and build on in the coming months—-to position your marketing and communications for 2009:

1) PASS your web-based communications:
According to a new survey from Larstan Business Reports, the online communications market is growing at nearly 100% a year. Your web-based communications plays an increasingly critical role in marketing, communications and especially in sales.
Your website is your public face; it’s the first place potential customers interact with you and your product. Of course you know the KISS method; when it comes to websites, I advise my clients to use what I call the PASS method:

Perfection is your goal: Make sure your content is perfectly aligned with your messaging. Use short sentences and clear, compelling grammar. Make it easy to navigate. Make key information easily accessible (no more than two clicks drilling down). Eliminate spelling errors. Feature concise calls to action.

Analytics, Adhesivity, Accuracy, Attractiveness: Use Google Analytics (it’s free!) to track traffic to each page of your site. Determine what’s popular and what isn’t. Keep the popular and fix (or jettison) the unpopular. Focus not on website hits but unique visitors and time on site. Check your competitors’ numbers at sites like Compete.com, Quantcast.com, or Popuri.us. Make your site adhesive, accurate and attractive.

Simplicity is king: The more complex your site, the harder to convey your unique sales proposition. Look at your site critically: Do you have too many pages for the message(s) you’re trying to convey? If so, downsize your website. After all, you don’t spend time clicking through your favorite sites—why should you require your customers to?!

Separate your site from your competition: Yes, I know, you’re doing this already. Your content is better, your navigability simpler, your product better, blah blah blah. Well, how about doing a low- or no-cost thing like putting your company logo in the web browser’s URL window box? Or featuring your logo on every page, rather than just the home page? Leverage every opportunity to separate and distinguish your company and your product from your competition.

2) Social networking:
This one’s easy, cheap and highly effective. Remember, it doesn’t matter how great you say you are; far more meaningful are comments from others about how great you are.
Use Flickr to post photos of your customers interacting with your product; of your staff at work; etc. Use Facebook, MySpace, or Bebo to create an interest group around your product or company. Use LinkedIn to generate professional interest in your company or product. Expand your personal and professional network through Plaxo, Naymz, Brightfuse, or others. Generate content exclusively for your “friends” and “groupies”. Use social networking sites to generate loyalty and business.

3) Customer contact:
In challenging times, surveys show that nothing is more important than empathy and the quality of your communications efforts to build trust and long-term loyalty between your business and your customers. Here are just two of many suggestions to increase your contact with customers.
Make your newsletter shorter and send it more often—at least twice a month. Fill it with discounts for loyal customers—make these soft sell offers to reflect your empathy for the tough economic times. Every issue, feature a photo and Q&A with a loyal customer; repurpose that content for your website, Facebook site, LinkedIn group, etc. If your customer has a Facebook site, post the feature on his or her wall. Show your customers you care.
Advertise carefully: Revisit your advertising plan. You don’t need a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal (Bob Nardelli and Chrysler, note!) to underscore your company’s value. Advertising in niche publications is cheaper and more effective—plus more likely to reach your target audience. Online, invest in a long-term Google Adwords campaign.

Do these three things right, integrate them, and your marketing and communications efforts can generate positive results as we navigate next year’s uncharted and murky water.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Death of Even One Law Enforcement Officer is Too Many

If you know anything about me, you know that I have extensive experience working in and among law enforcement officials. As Director of Communications for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which produces an annual report on law enforcement fatalities, I followed very closely data and statistics pertaining to how many officers made the ultimate sacrifice.

Yes, we have heroes in our armed forces who in combat zones face considerable violence and risks. Sadly, as the NLEOMF report below indicates, our heroes in blue who "ensure domestic tranquility" also face considerable violence and risks. Whenever the media interviewed me about a fallen law enforcement colleague, I said "the death of even one law enforcement officer is too many."

We've got a long way to go to reduce to zero the number of law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty, but the NLEOMF's report below is promising.

* * *

2008 is ending as one of the safest years for U.S. law enforcement in decades. The number of officers killed in the line of duty fell sharply this year when compared with 2007, and officers killed by gunfire reached a 50-year low.

Based on analysis of preliminary data, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) and Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) found that 140 officers have died in the line of duty so far this year. That is 23 percent lower than the 2007 figure of 181, and represents one of the lowest years for officer fatalities since the mid-1960s.

This year's reduction includes a steep, 40 percent drop in the number of officers who were shot and killed, from 68 in 2007 to 41 in 2008. The last time firearms-related fatalities were this low was 1956, when there were 35 such deaths. The 2008 figure is 74 percent lower than the total for 1973, when a near-record high 156 law enforcement officers were shot and killed.

"2007 was a wake-up call for law enforcement in our country, and law enforcement executives, officers, associations and trainers clearly heeded the call, with a renewed emphasis on officer safety training, equipment and procedures," said NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd. "The reduction in firearms-related deaths is especially stunning, given the tremendous firepower possessed by so many criminals today. The fact that law enforcement has been able to drive down the crime rate, and do so with increased efficiency and safety, is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of our officers," Mr. Floyd added.

"Concerns of Police Survivors is pleased to see the reduction in officer deaths for 2008 and hope this is a trend we will see year after year. But we also know that for each of the surviving families and co-workers, their one officer is one too many," said C.O.P.S. National President Jennifer Thacker. "These families, co-workers and agencies are struggling to cope with life without their officer and will need support from C.O.P.S. before, during and long after National Police Week. C.O.P.S. will continue its efforts to provide life rebuilding support and resources for 2008 surviving families and affected co-workers, as well as past year survivors to help them rebuild their shattered lives. We will embrace these families and affected co-workers and assure them there is no fee to join C.O.P.S., for the price paid is already too high," she said.

In 2008, for the 11th year in a row, more law enforcement officers, 71, died in traffic-related incidents than from gunfire or any other single cause of death. Mirroring the nationwide drop in traffic fatalities among the general public this year, the number of officers killed in traffic incidents was down 14 percent from 2007. Last year, a record high 83 officers died on our roadways. Of this year's traffic-related fatalities, 44 officers died in automobile crashes, 10 died in motorcycles crashes and 17 were struck and killed by other vehicles.

Among other causes of death, 17 officers succumbed to job-related physical illnesses, three died in aircraft accidents, two were fatally stabbed, two died in bomb-related incidents, and one each was beaten to death, drowned, accidentally electrocuted and died in a train accident.

Fifteen of the officers killed this year were women, equaling the all-time high set in 2002. 2008 marked the first time that more than 10 percent of the officers who died in a year were female. Among all officers killed in 2008, the average age was 40 and the officers had served an average of 12 years in law enforcement.

Texas, for the second year in a row, experienced the most law enforcement officer fatalities, although the state's 2008 total of 14 was down from 22 in 2007. California had 12 officer fatalities, followed by Florida and Pennsylvania, with eight each. Four of the eight Pennsylvania officers to die this year were members of the Philadelphia Police Department, which experienced the most deaths of any agency. Thirty-five states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands lost officers in 2008. Eight officers serving with federal law enforcement agencies also died this year, down from 17 in 2007.

Mr. Floyd cited a number of reasons for the sharp decline in officer fatalities this year: 1) better training and equipment, plus a realization among officers that "every assignment is potentially life-threatening, no matter how routine or benign it might seem;" 2) increased use of less-lethal weaponry, including TASER stun guns, which allow officers to apprehend resisting violent offenders with less chance of assault or injury; 3) more officers wearing bullet-resistant vests-over the past 20 years, vests have saved more than 3,000 law enforcement lives; 4) a downturn in violent crime-the Department of Justice reported that violent crime is at its lowest level since 1973; and 5) a tougher criminal justice system, with a record 2.3 million offenders in correctional facilities nationwide.

The statistics released by the NLEOMF and C.O.P.S. are preliminary and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2009. The report, "Law Enforcement Officer Deaths, Preliminary 2008 Report," is available at www.nleomf.org. For information on the programs that Concerns of Police Survivors offers to the surviving families of America's fallen law enforcement officers, visit www.nationalcops.org.