Roger Edwards is a marketing expert who keeps the jargon, complexity and confusion out of marketing communications. He helps his clients create SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD messages that get read, understood and acted upon.

Dylis: Hi there and welcome to the Inspired Selling Podcast with me Dylis Guyan and this is the place where business owners who sell to bigger businesses discover the fact. How to find, attract, convert and treasure more of their ideal clients without any of those nasty, sleazy, pushy sales tactics.

Once again, I have another fabulous guest for you today Roger Edwards. He’s going to talk to us about how to keep our marketing messages simple, to avoid the complicated mumbo jumbo and jargon of corporate speak. Roger has clocked up many years in the big corporate world as marketing director of several U.K. financial services brands before getting out of all of that and starting his own consultancy. Really what Roger is about is getting simple messages out there that get read, listened to and responded to. Welcome Roger, I’m delighted to have you with us today.

Roger: Hi, Dylis thank you so much for inviting me on your show.

Dylis: You are welcome. Tell us Roger, what did you do before you had started your own business and how easy was it to make that transition?

Roger: Wow, it’s quite a long story and it goes back about 25 years. I can squeeze it down into a summary.

I’m effectively a career marketing person, pretty much every job I’ve ever done has been marketing and probably for the first twenty odd years it was marketing within big corporates. I started like everybody else did, right at the bottom of the marketing ladder so, marketing assistant, I think, was my very first title that I had. As the years went by I worked my way up through the structure until I eventually became a product marketing manager and then the head of marketing and then the marketing director and I actually ran one of the companies for a few years.

I guess the thing was is that certain things happened to me early on in my career that made me realise that marketing is actually quite complicated in the way that it’s presented to the public and also presented to companies, whether there’s a vested interest in that from agencies or from academics. I almost wrestled with this whole complexity thing right the way through my career and very early on decided that it was something that I wanted to try to present in a much simpler way for both the customer, who I was communicating to, but also anybody else within the company that I might have responsibility for like employees or whatever.

I guess as time went by I worked in a variety of different companies, some were small and in small companies it’s actually quite easy to do things differently and to challenge complexity. Of course, I worked in bigger companies as well, big corporates where challenging complexity is actually really difficult because complexity is often deeply ingrained.

As time went by, as I was developing this marketing career I always have this focus on keeping things simple. I guess that at the end I found myself in a position where the world was changing, we were getting access to all this fabulous technology. It was the early days of the internet, Twitter started in 2006, 10 years ago. I started getting really into social media, I started becoming interested in blogging and content as an alternative means of marketing promotion.

I found lots of barriers being erected in front of me by big corporate, they were terrified of social media. A lot of the companies I worked in were heavily regulated and I think there was a fear that they were going to mess up somehow. Therefore, it was almost like no, no, no, no shutters down, don’t do social media. Even things like blogging “Oh, there’s no point in doing that,” content “What on earth is content?” We love advertising, we just do advertising. We should send the sales force out.

I suppose I got increasingly frustrated because I could see all these tools being developed which would allow us to communicate with our customers and, of course, now we’re moving into this space were everybody walks around with their HD TV studio in their pocket, you know you create video with your phone, you can create audio with your phone, pretty much everything with your phone and big corporate just tended to resist this.

After various discussions I just had the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy and I suppose earlier in my career that sort of thing would have been quite a scary prospect. I sort of realised, no, I spent my career trying to keep marketing simple, to avoid the complexity, maybe this is the opportunity now for me to go out and become a consultant.

Help people who want to talk about digital marketing and want to use social media and want to use content and work with them rather than spending a lot of time trying to convince corporate to change when actually I’m not sure they really wanted to. So, that’s really were I came through, career marketer, finally after probably too long, realise that I needed to get out and work with people that actually wanted to do stuff rather than people who want to procrastinate.

Dylis: Yeah, you’ve touch on something there Roger that I’d like to expand on because often people see marketing as being a marketing message to sell the product directly. So, when you talk about the corporates they like their advertising and so on; to advertise product. Marketing isn’t just about selling product is it? Marketing is about positioning yourself as the expert in your field, becoming known and attracting people to you, rather than chasing clients.

Roger: You very, very skilfully position the soap box in front of my feet that I can just climb onto my soap box again. There is one consequence of the world we live in at the moment were everything is digital, and we’ve got all access to these great apps and mobile phones and cameras and this, that and the other. There is a great big feeling at the moment that marketing is just about communications and obviously a massive part of marketing is about communications. In the past the communications were adverts and promotions, now it’s more the social media and there’s content as well.

There is this sort of feeling and emphasis on communication and that’s a little bit worrying, and you see it all around because all we ever hear people talk about is you need to be doing digital marketing which really means you need to be doing digital communication. You need to be doing social media marketing which really means you need to be doing social media communication.

All the big conferences, and you and I have been to a few of them, what the majority of the speakers talk about is communication. I’m not taking it away from these people, they are experts in that element of communication. You might have an incredibly influential Instagram person who knows Instagram inside out and has got millions of followers and knows how to put out a picture and make it work for them. But they are actually experts in a small part of the entire marketing mix. They’re an expert in a part of marketing communication and marketing communication on the whole is a tactic.

I think that because of this world we live in at the moment we’ve almost forgotten that marketing is much more than about communication, and marketing starts with the customer and you’ve got to understand who your customer is, really understand who your customer is. I’ve worked in loads of companies where we sat around tables and brainstormed, and somebody’ll say, “Who’s the customer?” And some bright spark will say, “Well, males between 25 and 65 living in the UK.”

Well, that’s not enough, that’s not targeted enough. You need to say, “Its males between 25 and 26 living in Basingstoke in this post code who have brown hair and light blue eyes or whatever it is.

You have to understand your customer and you have to understand exactly who they are. There are tools now that can make this targeting available to any size of business, I guess in the past to have access to that sort of data to do some proper targeting would have been beyond the budgets of smaller companies. But you’ve got to understand who your customer is, and once you’ve identified who your customer is you’ve then got to learn about what their problems are or their issues or their needs.

So, if you’re a garage setting up and you want to do something special in the way you handle cars, what are the issues that people face having their cars serviced or having their cars valeted or whatever it might be. Once you understand who your customer is and what your customer’s problems and needs are, you’ve then got to invent or put together your offer, your proposition, your product, your service or a combination of all of those. That could be a physical product, it could be a service product like a course, you were talking about the course you’ve launched recently just before we hit record before, or again it could be a combination of those things.

Once you know what your product or your service or your offer is you’ve then got to say, “Why is it better than everybody else’s product or service?” Only when you’ve got all of those elements together…and actually you should probably have a goal as well.

So, I know who my costumer is, I know what their problems are I know what my product/solution/service is, my goal is to write x amount of market share or to earn x amount of revenue or to earn x amount of profit. Whatever your measurement is have a goal, probably have a budget as well, I’m going to spend x thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions depending upon what your budget is.

Only when you’ve got all of those elements together should you even begin to start talking about, “Well, I need to use social media to communicate with my customer,” or “I need to use content or traditional advertising or billboards or TV if I’ve got the budget,” or whatever it might be.

I guess that one of the problems we have these days is that a lot of people want to dive straight into the communication and communication’s a tactic. Everything that I’ve just described there is strategy and as you know tactics without strategy very rarely work and I think there’s a little bit too much focus, these days, on the tactics of communication rather than the whole marketing strategy.

Dylis: Oh Gosh, honestly you are just lighting my fire Roger, I know you’ve heard me say, I’m sure, that I’m like an evangelist going out helping business owners and sales people to attract more of their ideal clients.  You’ve just absolutely articulated that so well,  without the strategy, the tactics are such hard work and people get so worn out and tired because they’re not getting the right message out to the right people in the right way, so, in other words, the ideal client, understanding their problems and so.

I always talk about whether you’re a sales person or a business owner, and actually as a business owner you’re a sales person, you have to be if you want to grow your business, you are the bridge. You are the bridge that connects someone from where they are now to where they want to be in terms of solving their problem or helping them achieve their objectives. But you can’t do that unless you understand the client and you understand what their problems and their challenges are. Then you can put the relevant bridge in place to help them with that but you can’t do that until you’ve got your marketing messages out in the way that you have just described.

Roger: And I can understand why we’re in this situation and I’ve been there before because let’s face it, strategy scares quite a lot of people. It has this…and this is one of the reasons why I’ve becomes so passionate about trying to make it simple. Strategy has this image of being too complicated and very intellectualised.

Especially if you’ve worked in big corporate, the word strategy will strike fear into your hearts. Strategy is that time of the year when that pack of paper which is piled high lands on your desk, you know you’re going to be off-site in some manor house somewhere surrounded by millions of post-it notes for a way day or a way week.

You know you’ve got to do S.W.O.T. analysis. I can’t even remember what S.W.O.T. means, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and P.E.S.T. analysis which is political, economic, social and technology, and you’ll talk about Boston grids and Ansoff matrices and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Everybody’s glazing over…you hanged millions of post-it notes on that wall over there then the facilitator says, “Right, we’re going to put some flip charts over here and we want everybody to get into teams and rearrange the post-it notes”

You know people are just saying, “I’ve got all this work going on back at the office, I hate this, I want to get back there.” That’s what they think, that’s what they perceive strategy to be. Sadly, if you go onto the web and Google marketing strategy you often find yourself reading articles that talk about all of these things like S.W.O.T. and P.E.S.T. and so on.

People tend to…because they read that, they think, “No, I’m not interested in that.” “Oh, look at this amazing article about using Twitter,” or “Look at this amazing article about using digital video and content. I want to get straight into that, I want to do that.” I can understand because I’m a bit of a tech geek as well myself and I like creating video, I like doing podcast like this. It is so easy to become seduced by the tactics.

I guess that what I’ve tried to do since I left corporate and what I tried to do when I was within corporate was to say, “We’ve got to do this strategy but let’s try and make this as painless as possible.” You know, you can genuinely do it by saying, “Who’s your customer, what’s their problem? How do we solve their problem better than anybody else? What’s our goal and what’s our budget?” Then we can do the communications.

That’s all you need to do seriously, you don’t need to get into all that complicated stuff. But a lot of people read about the complicated stuff or they’ve been to university and professors have thrust it down their throat and they back off from it. I’m probably being a little bit simplistic there and a bit overemphasising it, but I think that we need to make the strategy simple enough to allow people to get it done. Let’s not even call it strategy, I don’t know what we should call it; it’s the marketing plan if you like.

Dylis: I was just going to say, it’s the plan isn’t it? It just…this is what we’re going to do and here is how we’re going to do it and the how is the tactics really. You have to know who your message is going out to and understanding that person and then writing messages that resonate so that the people who are reading them go, “Gosh, you can read my mind, that’s exactly me I need to know more.” That’s really the key isn’t it?

Roger: Absolutely and once you have your product/service/solution whatever it is, I mean, traditionally a marketing…part of the marketing process will be to come up with something they call the value proposition. Again, some people might call it by the jargon term, elevator pitch, or something like that, but you should be able to articulate why you’re better than everybody else in a sentence. Sometimes some companies have massive, massive positioning statements that are several pages long with lots of different layers and different messages for different days of the week and you don’t need to be as complicate as that.

Dylis: Can you give us some examples Roger of really good, solid, whether you want to call it value proposition or elevator pitch or strap line that helps you stand out?

Roger: I think, I mean, the example I always use in my own presentations is actually a fictitious one but it sort of puts the example across quite nicely and you’ve seen me do this presentation on stage Dylis. I imagine the people, I imagine the company that puts together things for pets, alright? So, you’ve got a company and that company could be called something like the Cat Mat Company or something like that. So it’s obvious that that company makes mats for cats to sit on. Their strap line could be something like, “Your cat sat on our mat.” So, that embodies everything, so we make mats for your cats and we want your cats to sit on our mats.

Now, that’s a very simple example, the problem is, is that corporates would probably turn that into…there’d be 15 different definitions of what a cat is, different definitions of what a mat is and they’d have to describe whether it’s coarse material or whether it’s soft material because they don’t want to upset the health and safety people. There’d be different…they’d probably include some of the technical features as well that it was fire retardant or whatever it is, and the strap line would then end up being a whole page of stuff.

I can remember one really famous example, which sort of follows the same argument and that’s probably where I got the idea of the cat sat on the mat thing, was instant mash potato; Smash. Their strap line is, “For mash get Smash.” “For mash get Smash.”

Now, I mean, that was amazing, and I remember watching a TV program about how they came up with that strap line and they we’re all in a room and they actually have a jingle guy as well because they wanted it to be usable on radio and TV. I believe from reading that, that they pretty much came up with “For mash get smash” within the first five minutes of the meeting and I think the guy even got his electric piano out and went, “For mash get Smash,”

Then they spent weeks after that with agencies and brainstorming, coming up with “Our mash transcends the heights of mashdom” or whatever it might have been or “Take potatoes put them in a smasher and get Smash,” or something like that and then eventually they all said that, “You know what? We should’ve just stuck with what we started with,” “For mash get smash.” I always remembered that.

Sometimes sticking with the very, very simplest thing is the way you want to be. Again, I think it has to be relevant. It has to be relevant to the customer and possibly you look at some of the big brands these day like Starbucks. Now to me Starbucks is all about coffee so their value proposition should be, “Amazing tasting coffee on pretty much every street corner,” would be a great proposition for them to have but they’ve sort of elevated it up to some sort of world, evagination thing where it’s pulling together communities or…I’d have to Google exactly what it is, but it just sounds a little bit too…

Dylis: I just happen to have…

Roger: You happen to have a Starbucks…

Dylis: I’ve just got a Starbucks card.

Roger: Does it actually say on the back?

Dylis: Oh, I would have to put my glasses on Rodger. I’m almost 50. It doesn’t in fact, no it doesn’t but it’s got this sort of…this image here, let me see if I can get that really close. It is, it’s sort of an evangelistic looking lady with a crown on and such. It doesn’t really shout coffee does it?

Roger: That’s right and you know sometimes those brands can get really big and they feel that they have to make contributions to world peace and they need to make contributions to this, that and the other and that’s fine but sometimes you can take it too far. So, I would always use the “For mash get Smash” or “Your cat sat on our mat,” as a…can you describe what you do and why you do it better than anybody else in a sentence; not even an elevator pitch let’s not even call it an elevator pitch. Can you explain what it is you do and why it’s better than everybody else and can you explain that in a sentence?

If you can, that’s pretty much what you need. And then once you’ve got that sentence which describes what you do…because you know what you do is better than everybody elses, you can think of all the questions that people might ask you about your product or service. So list those questions out, write them down.

There could be 25 questions, there could be 50, and there could be 100. Now, let’s stick with the coffee theme given that I brought that in with Starbucks saying, “What sort of coffee beans do you use?” “How long does it take to make an Americano verses a cappuccino verses a Mocha verses a flat white?” Indeed, what is a flat white? I have no idea what a flat white is.

All of the answers to those questions can then become part of your overall marketing messages and especially if you’re using content marketing, the answers to all of those questions could be…well, each answer could be a video or a blog or a podcast like this or an article or something; a collection of answers to all of those questions again, could be a video or a podcast or an eBook or something like that.

Again, if you focus in on that one sentence proposition statement or whatever you want to call it, value proposition, and then what are the questions that people are asking about your product. Again, always remember that a lot of people, most people, haven’t got the same level of knowledge about what you do, as you do. So, think of the most basic questions that people might have and answer those questions as well. “What is coffee?”

You think, well that’s a stupid question, everybody knows what coffee is, well maybe they don’t exactly know what coffee is. They know it’s made out of beans but just give them a basic definition and think of every question they may have no matter how basic those questions are and if you think about it the more complicated the industry becomes, the more important that is to give people the very, very basic answers.

Dylis: Do you know that that’s so true Roger? Two weeks ago, I changed my phone, I dropped it and had smashed the glass and it was due for a renewal anyway and he started talking to me about all of this technical stuff. Now, I know you’re a techy and technology and I were not best friends we’re just sort of distant acquaintances, and he was talking to me in this jargon and I said to him, “Technology and I are just distant acquaintances not best friends,” I said, “Could you just talk to me as if I was if I was six?”

Roger: Yes.

Dylis: Seriously because I couldn’t understand what he was talking about, it was way over my head and once he started to talk to me in simple terms I got it. It wasn’t patronising and actually, if he had…maybe even if he had asked me how much I knew, then he could’ve gauged but generally speaking your marketing needs to be simple doesn’t it?

Roger: Absolutely and that’s a perfect example. I feel the same when I go to get my car serviced. Now, the mechanics invariably come out of the workshop with their list of things on the clipboard and they think, oh, it’s a bloke he obviously knows about cars but I’m not Jeremy Clarkson, I’m not a petrol head, I don’t know what carburettor does, I don’t know what a spark plug does.

So, he’ll come out and starts wheeling off all this petrol head jargon and I say, “Hey, hold on tell me what the problem is,” and then he’ll say something like, “Well, actually if you don’t get these brake pads fixed then you might not be able to stop at the traffic light and you might crash.” I can understand that.

So the rules about…once you’ve done your strategy, once you’ve decided how you’re going to communicate and you’ve got that positioning statement, the three rules that I tend to come up with after that in terms of putting your messages out there are: One assume that your customer knows nothing and if you assume they know nothing then no question that you answer can be too simple.

Secondly, talk in their own language. So, imagine that you’re having that conversation about the phone or about the car or about the coffee in the pub face-to-face with somebody. Don’t baffle them with long words and big sentences and complicated technical stuff.

Thirdly, try to keep the jargon out of it as well, every industry has its own type of jargon and again the customers don’t understand that, they don’t. The only time jargon, I guess, is probably acceptable if you are marketing directly to a specific industry, so business to business. If you’re marketing directly to I.T. people you who understand the specific sort of jargon you can probably get away with it, but I would still argue still don’t use the jargon.

So, those three rules, assume they know nothing, talk in their language and don’t use jargon. If you have that in your head all the time, then you can start crafting the messages and they’ll be so much more engaging because people will be able to understand them.

Dylis: Excellent, and I don’t know if you would agree with this but for me when I’m writing I also use sort of a process of what, why and how. I find that flows very well for me. Now, I don’t know whether that’s something that you would advocate?

Roger: Absolutely, absolutely. What-this is what we do, why-and this is how we do it. I guess you can take it to a higher level which we probably haven’t got time to discuss. You’ve got the why you do it as well, why we as a company, you know Simon Sinek is very hot on that.

There’s a couple of little models that I quite like to use which again I suppose are traditional marketing structures, but there’s two of them, I’ll very quickly tell you about them and they’re similar sort of thing that you’ve just described there, it’s slightly orientates it towards the customer. So, you’ve got one method which is called problem agitate solution, you’ve probably heard it, it’s used in sales meeting as well.

So, articulate the problem and you know what the problem is because you did all that customer research at the very beginning, agitate it a little bit, so make it sound…tell people what the consequences of that problem are and then you tell them what the solution is. So, thinking back to the coffee example, the problem could be, “Oh, do you know what? All those chained coffee shops that are appearing all over the high street they’re all very well but it all taste the same doesn’t it? And sometimes you just want that really nice, strong, tasty coffee. Well, the solution is Cafe Renroc down Montgomery Street is your independent coffee shop where we roast the beans personal” or whatever it is. So, what’s the problem, agitate it a bit. And if you actually watch any advert on TV if you ever do watch adverts on TV.

Dylis: Not very often.

Roger: You can…shampoo adverts are often this sort of dank, drab hair, doesn’t look good when you’re out on the town does it? Solution? SeramidR or whatever it is and the technical bit within the…a lot of adverts follow that problem agitate solution. The other one is the acronym…I hate acronyms by the way but its A.I.D.A. attract, interest, desire, action. So, the attraction, again, could be the headline then you’ve got to create interest, so why should I be interested in that and then the desire and then finally the action you want people to take whether it’s to buy your stuff.

I think that if you use one of those templates along with your how, why, what, it’s effectively doing the same thing. It’s just tipping it into more of a promotional message I guess. It is surprising how engaging that can be. The problem ,agitate, solution model, you can use that everywhere, I often use that in tweets because you can do that in…well, it use to be 140 characters now it’s 280 obviously but you know. “Are you having a bad day? Do you want to put…you might want to relax, put your feet up, have a coffee, listen to this podcast.” That’s problem agitate solution I’ve just articulated it and tried to draw people in. That sounds a bit snake oily doesn’t it? And that’s what we didn’t want to get to.

Dylis: Roger that is been fantastic, thank you so much for those insights and I hope that the people who are watching or listening to this have their pen and paper and have taken some notes. But if they want to know more, how might they get in touch with you?

Roger: My website is  so dead easy to find and you can contact me through the website, there’s a contact form there, and the email address is on the website. I do use Twitter a lot Dylis, it’s Roger_Edwards so if you want to hit me up on Twitter, you can find me there and I’ll probably reply pretty much straight away because the mobile phone is almost grafted to my hand.

Dylis: Do you have any free resources on your website Roger?

Roger: At the moment I do, I have a book, an eBook, which is all about how to write simple business copy. So, I guess that this is for people who’ve been through the strategy process we described and then perhaps in that situation where they maybe want to write some blogging or articles or that sort of thing. And there’s an eBook there which is effectively seven rules that you can use to make sure that you keep your copy simple. So, for example, don’t use passive sentences and again, don’t use the management jargon and that sort of thing.

So, yeah, all you need to do is to give me your email address and you’ll get access to that free book and of course G.D.P.R.’s coming in soon, so you can download it and then you can immediately unsubscribe, and I won’t be upset. But I hope that you will stay. I also have a podcast which you’ve been on Dylis in the past, it’s the Marketing and Finance Podcast and you can get that through the website as well.

Dylis: Fantastic, thank you so much Roger, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Roger: Great to talk to you again Dylis and I’ll see you soon.

Dylis: I’m sure you will, bye for now. Bye.

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