What should you include in a brochure for a business product or service?

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You need to use words that make sense to the customer

You may work in an established company or a startup but wherever you are, there will come a time when you need to make a case for a project, a product or a service.

The case may be a board paper, a powerpoint deck or a brochure – but it’s going to make the difference between getting your project approved or not, making a sale or not.

So it’s important. Very important. And most of us get it horribly wrong.

The Features, Advantages and Benefits or FAB model can help us get it right.

Nobody cares what you think is cool about your product or service

The problem is that most of us are far more interested in ourselves than we are in others. We also assume that others are more interested in us than they really are.

They don’t care about you. Not in an uncaring, they won’t help you if you’re comatose in the snow kind of way. Just in a they care much more about themselves and what they want kind of way.

For example, let’s say you’ve come up with an idea to create small promotional videos for customers.

You’ve got your kit – its a state of the art Canon EOS-1D SLR with 18 megapixels, 61 point AF, full HD… loads of cool features … and yada yada yada.

Some people will share your excitement about these features. Most will not.

They are mildly interested in how it compares to what they have now

Some people make the mistake of thinking that an advantage is an absolute – something that stands by itself.

For example – the advantage of the Canon EOS-1D is that you can use it to make a video.

Is that really an advantage?

An advantage is measurable. You can see how far it moves the needle compared to something else.

For example, one thing you rarely notice in films is depth of field. This is when the person or thing in the foreground of the shot is really clear and the background is out of focus.

It looks great – but you can’t get with most cheap video cameras. You could fork out a few $100k for expensive hollywood gear or you could get a EOS-1D for about $3k which lets you get that effect.

So, you can measure the cost advantage of an EOS-1D (for what you are trying to achieve) compared to a film camera.

The advantage to the customer is that instead of a poorly shot camcorder corporate video they can get a film quality one.

Only emotion endures

The poet Ezra Pound wrote that few poems still ring in my head. The ones that endured brought up feelings, and the feelings are what remain.

In the same way, a list of features and advantages doesn’t get someone to take action. They take action when they can imagine how good they’ll feel when they have your product or service – and you need to use the words that will evoke those feelings.

For example, when they can imagine their beautifully shot corporate video playing on screen during a presentation, or having photos from it printed at an extra large size hung on their walls for clients to see – then they can feel good about how professional it makes them look.

Connect the dots. Forwards and backwards

The Canon EOS-1D X page uses the features, advantages and benefits or FAB model faithfully in its copy.

Quoting them “A Canon 18.1 MP full frame CMOS sensor delivers stunning performance, producing exceptional low noise, high-resolution images even in the darkest conditions. The full frame sensor delivers optimum results from wide-angle lenses and gives you greater control over depth of field. Image resolution exceeds the quality demanded by leading photo agencies – making it ideal for extra large prints up to A2 size, even after cropping.”

  • Feature = the 18.1 MP sensor
  • Advantage = greater control over depth of field
  • Benefit = ideal for large prints

For each feature we have an advantage which means a benefit to the customer and we can put all these points in a paragraphs and include them in our brochure.

Once we make the effort to work across the table from our point of view to the customer’s point of view, the paragraphs that make their way into a brochure fall out almost automatically.

How to structure a chapter in non-fiction writing

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In an information economy, getting our point across is more important than ever

The world is exploding with information. The technology we have allows us to create more information more quickly and cheaply than ever before. And this is not a good thing.

The more we have, the more we need to sort. Or avoid. What we’re getting very good at – and the technology even better at – is filtering information to try and focus on what we think is relevant.

As a result, when we do get a chance to speak with someone else, we need to make our point quickly and clearly – and this applies for a blog post, sales message or a chapter in a non-fiction book.

Structure helps us set out our points clearly

Writing that is easy to read doesn’t happen by accident. There is a structure behind it – one that is invisible if the writing is well done.

We know what is good when we read it. And we also know when something doesn’t work. Almost always, the thing that doesn’t work is a lack of structure.

One approach to tighten things up is to use a structure funnel. Start with general statements supported by specific ones that lead step by step to your point – the thesis statement.

We need to introduce concepts in the right order for them to resonate with the reader

Rudyard Kipling’s poem has the names of his six honest helpers, who taught him all he knew: What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

Three of them, what, why and how are important in a non-fiction chapter.

What will the reader learn to do, why is it important and how are the steps that the reader needs to follow set out?

The order in which they are introduced depends on the point you want to make – but the how usually comes after the what and the why.

Facts and figures – evidence – show that we have a reasoned and logical argument

An accountant at a job interview was asked to work out the taxable profit due given a set of figures. The candidate got up, shut the door, stepped close to the interviewer and in a low voice said, “What do you want it to be?”

Numbers can be deceptive. But not using them can be disastrous. We like to see evidence for statements – proof that supports why an assertion should be believed.

89% of readers say that they don’t believe everything they read. The remaining 11% say they don’t read.

Telling stories and anecdotes creates pictures in the reader’s mind

Facts alone are dry, and reason and logic doesn’t change minds.

If someone has a point of view, no amount of logical reasoning will get them to change their opinion and back down.

Telling a story, however, can get them to see how someone else approached a situation. It might unlock feelings and emotions, evoke memories and associations that don’t come out any other way.

It’s one thing to read a list of benefits of being self employed. It’s another to imagine how different the day of a person is who has control over when and how work gets done.

A well designed chapter is a self contained block of goodness

A non-fiction chapter holds a thought – the answer to a question the reader might have.

You should be able to set out that answer in a few sentences – the subheadings of the chapter – that move from a general statement to specific points to end at your thesis statement.

The statements you write need to help the reader understand what is going to be explained, why it is important and how it works.

You need to sprinkle your sentences with facts and figures and build in stories to persuade the reader to believe in what you are writing.

The end result will be a well-designed chapter that takes the reader from beginning to end without getting lost or confused.

The test your chapter needs to pass is whether the reader found it easy to read or not – and you need to revise and rewrite until it passes that test.

Why it takes me a long time to get things

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I’ve never been the person who gets things quickly – the smart one that can figure out the answer in the middle of a tense situation while a riot takes place outside.

It takes me time – time to have a go at things, be terrible, keep going and eventually be less terrible.

The irony is that the things I find easy, I don’t stick to. The ones I find tough, I do – which seems a little strange when I look back at things.

For example, a long time ago, I couldn’t figure out chemistry. The equations didn’t make sense. And as far as I was concerned the lab work was just pouring stuff from one jar into a test tube and wondering what the point of it all was.

I was pretty sure I was going to fail the exams in chemistry.

And then salvation came in the form of one particular teacher who taught me how to use flashcards. I copied all the information in the textbooks needed for the exam onto index cards, carried them around all the time, flipped through to see if I remembered them every time I had a spare minute and eventually had memorised the textbook.

I still didn’t understand what it was all about… I could just answer questions about it.

Until the day of the lab exam. Sat outside, waiting to enter, I felt a mental block suddenly shift and realised what was going on in the lab. How chemistry was like detective work – trying to figure out what something we didn’t know was by seeing how it reacted with things that we did know.

Why am I telling you this?

It’s because many of the posts in this blog have to do with strategy – with what we are trying to achieve. And often that is a vague and fuzzy thing hidden in the mists.

To actually succeed – to achieve the aims of a strategy – we need to do things – and those things are tactics.

Tactics are about the application of resources – our time, energy and money.

The tactic I used to pass chemistry – the use of flashcards – helped me overcome my own limitations and mental blocks about the subject.

So, how can we select and deploy effective tactics?

All too often when we look for information on how to do something – a tactic we can follow – we are given lists of things to do.

30 ways to do this. 9 foolproof methods to do that, and so on.

These may be useful ideas – but they are simply building blocks.

For example, a tactic to get in front of a company may be to make a cold call. An alternative might be to ask a mutual friend for an introduction.

Other tactics include advertising, direct mail and buying the company outright.

The key is looking at what we can do and identifying building block activities – self contained pieces of work that will help us achieve our strategy.

Then, we need to select the ones that matter most.

Which tactics are likely to have the greatest impact? Which ones have worked for us in the past? Which ones do others say work for them?

The last step is getting the sequence right.

Which block should we do first, which one next?

We’ll need to try a few iterations and refine and improve our process.

The point is we have to implement tactics to actually make progress.

Some will work, some won’t.

But if we identify what we need to do, choose the tasks with the most impact and execute effectively, we increase the odds of succeeding.

And that’s the whole point of having a strategy and tactics in the first place.

What would you do now, knowing what you know

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Bryan Tracy writes about zero-based thinking, asking the question knowing what I now know, is there anything I would do differently?

That is a hard question to think about.

We know what we know. We don’t know how things might have turned out if we had made different choices along the way. We may think they may have turned out better – but doesn’t make today any less real.

Take knowledge, for example. What’s the point of it?

Some people study situations and come up with theories. Others work with real world problems and try to solve them.

A good application of knowledge is when we find a theory that can be applied to solve real world problems.

But things are hardly ever this direct – and that’s because the people involved want different things.

The people who generate knowledge – who sit at their desks and think through ideas and come up with theories – have a system of rewards and incentives based on the respect of their peers.

The people who solve problems have the satisfaction of improving things and knowing that they have created a better situation for others.

Clearly the two are linked – although the connections are not always easy to see.

Keynes wrote “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

There’s another thing that can pass us by – it’s almost invisible.

Why is it that there are so many books on management – on everything really these days?

It’s because one way of standing out is to come up with a new way of doing something – which is usually a new way of packaging an old way of doing something.

In marketing, for example, we always need to spend some time working out who our customers are – who wants what we have more than they want the money in their pocket?

Whether we use segmentation or psychographics or personas, what we’re trying to do is get a better picture of who these customers are – and then we can try and get to know them better.

So, what writers and consultants do is come up with tools – ways of turning knowledge into methods that can be applied to a problem.

This link between the generation of knowledge, creation of tools and application in a problem situation forms a value chain, according to John H.Roberts, Ujwal Kayande and Stefan Stremersch, who found that when it comes to marketing there is a good link between knowledge and practice – the tools are being applied on the whole.

They found that when the people doing the thinking are also doing some doing, it seems to work better.

Once again – it’s obvious.

That doesn’t mean its easy to do or commonly done.

We need to work to get such three such simple concepts aligned and working in practice in our businesses.

Has technology made us more or less productive?

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Every generation probably feels that it is living through the most profound changes that have ever happened since the dawn of time.

From the printing press to the industrial revolution, from world wars to the world wide web, things have changed – and the most visible part of that change is the technology that enables the modern world and, in particular, the technology that affects how we live and work.

So, is it helping us or not? Are we more productive or not?

It’s hard to tell – and that’s because an abundance of something always results in a shortage of something else.

So, take how modern technology has transformed the world of work, making it easier for us to collaborate, have everything everywhere and communicate with others. How are these working out in practice?

Is it easier to work with others?

Many new companies and startups are delighted by how easy it is to collaborate with others on projects now.

Take Google docs, for example. We can share and work on a document at the same time – something impossible in the days when we had to write a draft, send it to someone else, wait for comments, rewrite and repeat the process until everyone was satisfied.

Now we can work together quickly, come to a consensus and publish anything we want pretty fast.

So why is that anything less than perfect?

For two reasons…

First, if two of us can collaborate, then so can others. If it’s easy to have five, ten, fifteen people all providing their input, then we can quickly get locked into a cycle of never ending comments, suggestions and changes.

Procurement is one area where such delays can increase delays massively. It takes much longer to get five buyers to agree than two and the trend towards decision by committee slows things down and doesn’t necessarily improve quality.

The second reason is that when it’s quick and easy to collaborate and produce something, the result is probably going to be of less quality.

That’s why we’re taught to be suspicious of things we read on the internet and to be more accepting of things we read in peer-reviewed journals.

Is it good having everything everywhere?

Dropbox, Google Docs, Office 365 – all these tools have changed the way in which we store information – taking us from a world of USB drives to being able to work on any computer anywhere.

It’s also meant that we can store everything – never lose a thing.

And so many of us pile on the gigs of storage, like the pounds we put on every year since college. It’s gradual, but it grows and, after some time, it shows.

Not every picture we take is worth saving. Not everything we write is worth preserving.

When we had limited space, we had to choose what to keep. So what we had was worth having. Now we have everything, but it’s hard to find what matters.

At some point we’ll probably wake up to the need for a digital diet. Just because its cheap to keep everything doesn’t mean we should, because it makes it more expensive for us to find what is important.

And it’s also annoying that when we get a phone call it could be one of seven contacts that system has scraped from all our accounts – although it’s just the one person…

We never apologise for sending a long letter these days

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher is credited with writing a long letter with an apology for not having had the time to make it shorter.

When we had to write to each other, we probably took care to express our thoughts clearly and concisely so that we wouldn’t have to fix it weeks later when the replies came back.

With email, we can write to someone so quickly that we no longer need to think about our words and how they might be interpreted – after all we can follow up with a clarification immediately.

And that means we probably take less care – and it shows up in the increased number of emails we need to send to get things done.

It’s easy to communicate – and because it’s so easy we spend more time doing it. It’s also easy to get a meeting in the diary – and that’s why more managers spend their time in meetings than ever before.

But – sitting in a meeting and sending emails is not work – it’s stuff that gets in the way of doing real, useful work – like thinking about strategy, improving operations, recruiting or expanding.

If we all got together less often and interrupted each other less we might get more done.

The problem isn’t technology… it’s us

What we come back to is that the way use technology better is to understand how we humans use stuff. Make it easy for us and we’ll do it more – but something else suffers at the same time.

Technology can help us – but it can also hinder us.

To get the most out of it, we need to remember who is in control – it or us.

Why we’re don’t get noticed as much as we think

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Thomas Gilovitch, Victoria Medvec and Kenneth Savitsky carried out research to show that people overestimate how much others note what they do.

This is called the spotlight effect – the feeling we have that everyone is watching us, sitting in judgement or appreciation.

There’s a simple reason for that – it’s normal to feel that way – but it can also mean we’re too scared or embarrassed to do some things or are overoptimistic about our ability to make other things work.

Gilovitch et al point out that we’re at the centre of our own little worlds – and because we focus so much on us it’s hard to appreciate how much others actually see.

What’s inside us is not easy to see

The feelings and thoughts we have are private – but we often think others see them to a greater extent than they really do.

This can make us more anxious than we need to be. There’s no reason to assume that when we walk into a room, the people there will automatically notice things about us that are off – whether it’s a bad hair day or a stain on our clothes.

Some will… most won’t.

We shouldn’t assume others know what we know

Because we’re so focused on ourselves and what we know, we often assume that everyone else knows it as well.

This means that we might think we’re explaining something well, but because the listener doesn’t have the knowledge we’re assuming they have, they don’t really understand us.

Let’s say we’re in a sales meeting. If we spend all our time talking about ourselves and our product before we understand just how familiar the other people in the room are with the topic, our chances of moving things on falls off massively.

We’re probably having less impact than we think

It’s easy in group situations to think that we’re being noticed more than we are – that we’ll be singled out because of something we’ve noticed.

Conversely, it’s easy to assume that what we’re saying is important – and that other people think it’s important.

That often isn’t the case.

Listening to someone else is hard. Listening to a group is harder. And it’s almost impossible to really listen to someone else when we’re spending all our time thinking about what we’re going to say next.

The formula for moving on

Joe Gebbia, the co-founder of Airbnb has a formula that might help us overcome the spotlight effect – especially when we’re not being noticed as much as we want to.

SW2 + WC = MO

SW squared stands for some will love it, some won’t. Putting it together with the others, we get some will love it, some won’t plus who cares equals move on.

We just need to keep working, and eventually we’ll get noticed.

How entrepreneurial are you really?

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We live in a world where we increasingly have to take responsibility for our own careers. The ladders that used to be around are getting old and have missing rungs.

For some of us, the ladders weren’t ever there. We had to make our own and clamber up as best we could.

The problem is knowing where to go and what to do next. What do we do if we’ve just entered the workforce? What do we do after twenty years? After forty?

Knowing ourselves better may help answer such questions. In particular, knowing how we’re oriented when it comes to entrepreneurial activity may help us make some tough choices.

Jeff Covin and Dennis Prescott introduced the concept of Entrepreneurial Orientation (EO) in 1985 and came up with a scale to measure it.

The model has been tested over time and is well accepted and essentially measures three aspects of a firm:

  1. How innovative it is.
  2. How proactive it is.
  3. How much of a risk taker is it?

How innovative are you?

Managers at an entrepreneurial company emphasises research and development and its technological lead over competitors. It has many products and changes them quite quickly.

At the opposite end, a company might prefer proven products, bringing out nothing new or making minor changes.

How proactive are you?

Entrepreneurial companies strike first – doing things that their competitors have to respond to. The bring in new products, services, processes, ways of doing things – and have an attacking mindset when it comes to the competition.

Their opposite numbers prefer harmony and carving up the market, responding to change and usually introducing anything new later.

How much risk do you take?

Entrepreneurial companies are willing to take bold, aggressive steps and make decisions that have a high risk but associated with high reward.

Less entrepreneurial companies prefer low risk opportunities, believe in caution and incremental progress and wait to see what happens before committing themselves.

So, does being innovative, acting first and taking risk work?

Entrepreneurial firms do better – but as a whole many fail as well.

Firms that tilt towards the high end of an EO scale are entrepreneurial in the sense that some people on the OCEAN scale are agreeable.

It clearly helps to be innovative when small because people meet us because they see the prospect of something new and shiny- but sometimes large firms only want to work with firms that are low risk.

It’s better to be proactive than not – many a salesperson has been told that they’ll find a million dollars under their shoes if they get going.

Risk is perhaps the tricky one. It’s easy come up with cliches – swing for the fences – go hard or go home.

The entrepreneurs that succeed are probably good at maximising the upside while limiting the downside.

And there are lessons for us as individuals as well – being innovative, proactive and being willing to take risk will get us further this century than looking for ladders to climb.

How do we know when we’re doing things right?

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It’s an inconvenient fact of life that people often want us to account for what we do. Especially when they’re giving us money to do something.

In these situations they’d like us to do something – grow their money, help a community, eradicate a disease – in other words, make an impact of some kind.

They ask, quite reasonably perhaps, that we measure and show what impact we’re having.

Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan argue that we need to be careful when doing this because we could end up spending more trying to measure things than it’s worth doing – the money could be better spent making an impact.

The problem is that there is lots of data that we can collect. How can we tell what’s worth collecting and what isn’t?

They argue that a good system has the right-fit – giving the people with the money reassurance that the work is having an impact and the people with the responsibility for decisions information that they can act on.

In particular, they say that we need to think about five kinds of data – two that we probably already do, and three that we need to think about some more.

1. Financial information

Most organisations will have some kind of overall financial reporting, if only for tax reasons. They’ll have a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet.

What they might not have is good quality costing that tells them whether they’re spending money wisely or whether certain programs have a better return than others.

When thinking about spending money, being able to work out where it will make the most difference could make the difference between spending wisely or just spending.

2. Activity or implementation information

The second thing we can tell fairly easily is how busy we are. How many tents have been sent out, how many doctors are working in the field or how many servers are in the office.

We can count the busy bees and what they’re doing.

The point is whether what they’re doing is worth doing – does it advance the aims of the organisation?

In some cases, if it’s not worth doing well, it’s not worth doing at all.

3. Targeting information

Then we need to think about whether what we’re doing is helping the right people.

Whether its an aid program or a new computer system – who are the people that will be affected? Is it a large number or will it help a small fraction of a population?

The more we know about who we’re doing something for, the more likely it is we’ll do it right.

4. Engagement information

The next thing to look at is whether people are actually spending time with the thing we’ve put in front of them.

Take mobile apps, for example. The thing that makes an app live or die is whether it gets used.

An interesting experiment on the iPhone is to check the option that says download apps when used. Of the thirty on my screen there are about five I use all the time.

And arguably, all of them could wait till I get to a computer instead of spending my time distracted by the screen.

5. Feedback information

The final thing we need to do is ask people how we’re doing.

Do they like what we do, could we do anything better?

We’ll work harder to deliver better service when we know that we’re going to ask users how we did.

In summary… just collecting data isn’t enough.

Measuring lots of things or creating complicated calculations isn’t going to help.

We’ve got to get better at getting the right kind of information that tells us if we’re on track or way off.

Then, we need to act on what we’ve learned to make things better.

How some companies are creating opportunities from CO2

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Many of us see emissions as a problem to be resolved – at some time – by someone else.

Yes, there is the Paris accord and, in theory, the world is going to try and keep carbon dioxide levels to a safe level, although it appears that we are already past those levels, according to some models and measurements.

So, is there anything that can actually be done, or is being done?

It turns out there is, and an article by R.P Siegal pulls together some interesting and innovative work being done by companies out there.

It turns out there are three main ways these companies are trying to make carbon work for them:

  1. Putting it somewhere where it is more useful
  2. Creating raw materials out of it
  3. Creating products

1. Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

The first approach is the one that most people are familiar with and, in the UK, has had money thrown at it.

The CCS association says that the main components of CCS are extracting the CO2 from the atmosphere, transporting and then storing it underground in depleted oil and gas fields or aquifer formations.

Another approach is to inject the CO2 into rock formations, where it becomes part of the rock eventually.

2. Creating raw materials

Some companies reuse materials – in effect reusing the CO2 that went into making them in the first place rather than creating new emissions – creating things like carpet tiles.

A more direct approach, however, extracts CO2 from the air and turns it into plastics or fuel.

3. Creating products

Siegel then points to companies that turn pollution into products – such as an Indian company that turns exhaust particles into carbon black for ink.

Other companies create concrete, cement and bricks.

Early stages – but a promising start

It’s still early days for these kinds of innovations – but they are coming. Smart people are spotting opportunities and creating companies to take advantage of the pollution in the air.

As the saying goes – where there’s muck, there’s brass.

Why we should charge for reading free stuff

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In 1971 – 1971! – Herbert A. Simon – participated in a discussion about the problems of an information rich world.

He reminded the audience of how economics works. Let’s say we have rabbits – and we end up with lots of little rabbits as a result.

Our world has an abundance of rabbits – we’re literally swamped by them.

But, abundance is always accompanied by scarcity.

In our rabbit rich world, there isn’t enough lettuce to go around – so we have a lettuce poor world.

And it’s the same with information. In a world where there is lots of information there will be a lack of something – the something that information consumes.

And what is that? Information consumes attention.

So, to properly value our attention, we should really price up how much our time costs and charge ourselves for the lost attention.

In simple terms, if we make $20 an hour – reading a magazine costs the $5 it takes to buy it and the $20 it takes to read it.

Even if the information is free, it isn’t costless, using this approach.

So, the second point Simon makes is that we should choose how we allocate our attention very carefully. We need filters. We need ways of taking lots of information and only paying attention to what matters.

That means we need processes to filter information. Analysts who take it all and put out only what matters.

Too many analysts thing that their job is to feed people with information. That’s just wrong.

Their job is to hack away at the information and leave only what matters.

And the same thing applies to how we store information.

In a world where we can find information on almost anything on the internet, there is simply no need to keep it.

We need to move from storing information to being able to find it when needed.

That’s where computers come in. Used properly, they help us. Used poorly they become gigantic sinks of unprocessed, unfiltered information.

According to Simon, we need to make a simple change.

We need to change from thinking that we need more information – that more information is better – to thinking of our attention as being a scarce resource that must be preserved.

Our focus should be on less but better.