Monday, November 13, 2017

Are You Getting the Most Value From Your Marketing Content?

For the past few Novembers, the kindly folks at have sent me friendly reminders that the window for renewing my ACA health insurance policy is now open, urging me to revisit my options for coverage. If you receive these notices too, you may have seen warnings that the premium on your current policy is expected to change, or that your current coverage levels and limits may no longer line up with new circumstances. The message? Go to the marketplace, compare the available policies and providers, and shop around to see if you can do better.

This strategy always makes good sense, not just for health insurance, but also for auto insurance, mortgage rates, apartment rental rates and terms, cable packages, and any other services or programs that might vary in their relative attractiveness to you over time. It's not about whether you're getting the lowest price; it's about whether you have the right features, arranged in the right way, to do you the most good. In short, it's about value. So maybe, while you're busy comparing the relative value of various other options, you should take another look at how well your current marketing content strategies are working. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What's the marketing ROI? What clear profit has my marketing content helped to generate in terms of direct sales, qualified leads etc? What about clear but less tangible benefits such as brand awareness, reputation management, and customer retention?
  • What are my online marketing metrics telling me about response rates, bounce rates, amount of time spent on which web pages, and exactly where my target audience is dropping out of the sales funnel? Which specific chunks of content are failing to shepherd the lead generation and sales processes along?
  • Am I really saving money by writing my own marketing content, or am I tying up valuable billable time and shooting my productivity in the foot?
  • Which social media channels are delivering the greatest value for the time, effort, and content I pump into them -- and which ones are just sapping that energy for no return?
  • Which of my marketing content activities might be better off outsourced to a third-party agency or other professional, instead of occupying a sizable percentage of my key staff on a daily basis?
  • Are my marketing videos delivering their intended message with the right combination of professionalism, relevance, authority and excitement -- or am I simply throwing stuff onto YouTube in the hopes of winning the "viral lottery?"
  • Is my marketing agency working from a detailed, well-crafted long-term plan, or do we seem to be spending all our time putting out fires and reversing the previous month's missteps?

Lots of time and money spent on marketing doesn't necessarily add up to marketing success. Stop and look at the strong points and weak links in your marketing setup. Maybe it's time to switch your current plan for one that will do you more good in the coming year!

Monday, October 30, 2017

4 Marketing Content Demons That Could Be Haunting Your Halloween

Happy Halloween -- or is it? Even if you're enjoying the parties, decorations, and trick-or-treaters associated with this time of year, your marketing content may be turning your business into something more like a house of horrors. Here are four frightening turns in your marketing content that you'll want to exorcise ASAP.

1. Mummified Marketing

Hollywood has always gotten good scare value out of mummies, even though the real thing is nothing more than the preserved husk of a human being. But if your marketing content is similarly mummified, you may indeed have cause for concern. Websites, brochures, marketing videos and other marketing pieces that sport outdated content convey the impression that your business died a long time ago, or (at the very least) that it's stuck in a kind of suspended animation. Maybe it's time to sweep away the dust and create new, vital, relevant marketing that can take your brand into the future.

2. The Blog of the Undead

The Blog of the Undead is a close cousin to mummified marketing. Like a zombie, this blog is mostly dead but refuses to stay down, rising randomly in search of fresh brains (specifically, those of your audience). But just as one glance at a zombie will confirm that you're not really looking at a living being, viewing a blog with sporadic, erratic updates will paint a picture of a business that is unhealthy at best or may even have one foot in the grave. You need to post to your blog regularly if you want your brand to retain an image of glowing good health.

3. The Ghost in the Sales Funnel

Ghosts and haunted houses are an ever-popular Halloween theme. A typical haunted house story will feature a ghost that lurks in some particular corner of a house, springing out when it wants to scare interlopers away. If you think about your sales funnel as a complex structure that sends your prospects on a one-way journey to a desired outcome (calling you, signing up for a free gift etc.), then your marketing content should be acting as a beneficial force that guides the way from one landmark to another. If any of these landmarks is disfigured by content that asks for too much too early or simply fails to compel further action, then you might as well have a ghost in your marketing machine yelling "BOO" at the worst possible moment.

4. The Wrong Costume

You can't have Halloween without Halloween costumes, which enable you to transform yourself into a demon, witch, ghoul, or any other persona you wish. But is the face you're showing to your target audience the right one for the reaction you want to get? If you want to scare the daylights out of someone, you don't dress up as a happy bunny (unless, of course, you happen to know about that person's severe bunny phobia). By the same token, your brand is the face of your business, and your marketing content must support the persona that you want your brand to project. If your content's tone, style and vocabulary aren't supporting and reinforcing your image, then you might as well be topping off your devil costume with a happy bunny mask.

Take a hard, unflinching look at these marketing gremlins, and get whatever marketing content assistance you may need to help overcome them. It's a surefire path toward more treats and fewer tricks for your business this Halloween!

Monday, October 16, 2017

4 Signs That Your Blog Is Busted

You may have come to blogging for all kinds of reasons. Maybe your social media guru told you that you should be blogging, or maybe you decided to pursue blogging as a revenue stream. Maybe you just want to cement your authority as an expert in your industry. So you got the blog up and running, and now you feel like you might as well not have bothered. What are you doing wrong? Here are four possibilities to look for.

1. Your Posting Schedule Is All Over the Place

How regularly do you post your blog articles -- once a day, once a week, once a month, or whenever you feel like dealing with it? A haphazard posting schedule impairs your ability to develop a loyal readership. You have to train people to know when the newest article is likely to go up so they'll turn your attention in your direction on a regular basis. In the worst-case scenario, a neglected blog might cause your audience to give upon you altogether. Whatever schedule you set, stick to it.

2. Your Content Is All Over the Place

Even if you're posting like clockwork, your blog could still be coming across as a scattered mess of ideas, especially if every article is aimed at a different audience segment. Stop and ask yourself, "Who am I writing for? Who is my ideal reader?" Most likely, it's also your ideal customer. Focus on addressing that customer's needs, concerns and questions, and your blog will instantly come into sharper, clearer focus -- and make a more concentrated impact.

3. Your Sales Pitch Is Turning People Off

Whether you're trying to monetize your blog through affiliate links or you're simply trying to promote your own products and services, it's all too easy to accidentally turn your blog into something that feels like an infomercial. Sure, infomercials can and do work, but at the risk of conveying a sleaze factor you probably don't want associated with your brand. Many web users have already lost patience with hosted content and other sales pitches masquerading as serious content -- so if you do want to sell through your blog, be upfront about what you're doing.

4. No One Knows Your Blog Exists

Did you create your blog with an "If you build it, they will come" attitude? If you have a brilliant blog that only receives a few sporadic hits with each new post, the problem may lie with the fact that you're not promoting the thing. Sure, people searching for specific answers to their problems stumble onto helpful, compelling blog articles all the time, but you can't rely 100 percent on this passive approach to inbound marketing. Get the word out by announcing your latest magnum opus on your key social media channels, complete with links. Talk up your blog at networking events or in your other marketing endeavors. Hook up with other bloggers and share their posts with your audience; they just might return the favor.

If your blog is busted, don't write it off as a bust. See if you need to fix any of the above issues -- and then do it!

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's the Fourth Quarter for Preparing Your 2018 Marketing Content

Here in the middle of football season, you have have already seen your share of heart-stopping fourth quarters. Fans, players and coaches alike know the adrenaline rush that accompanies the knowledge that you've got one more quarter of play to do whatever must be done to walk off the field a winner. Well, the same holds true for many aspects of the business world at this time of year. You've got this one remaining quarter of the year to get your tax information in order, get those receivables into your coffers -- and prepare the next year's marketing content.

Isn't marketing a year-round activity? Yes, it should be. But you'd be surprised how many small business owners put their mindsets into "end-of-year"mode, concentrating solely on cleaning things up, shutting things down, and generally putting the year to bed. That's all well and good, but next year starts on January 1st -- and with it, a fresh push toward new goals. Will your marketing efforts be in position to support those efforts right from Day One, or will you waste the first part of the year slowly and painfully bringing your business back up to speed?

Marketing campaigns take time to conceptualize, plan and implement. You need to work out your marketing strategy, assign the content creation to your team (copywriter, graphic designer, social media coordinator, website provider etc.), and then allow these professionals the time they need to get the job done. You then need to approve the job and make sure your shiny new campaign is ready to roll out right at the beginning of an equally shiny new year.

Now is the time to get your marketing content in good shape for 2018. We're in the fourth quarter, and the clock is running out. Fortunately, you have access to a freelance copywriter who can help you generate much of that marketing content quickly, painlessly and professionally. Make the right calls, right now, so you can know you're ready for the next "big game" as soon as the final whistle blows on this one!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Creating a Need: The Key to Effective Copywriting

Here in Central Texas, the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey may be most noticeable in the lines of cars waiting patiently (or not-so-patiently) to fill up at the limited number of gas stations currently carrying fuel. It's not actually a lack of gasoline as such; the fuel is out there, but distributors are having trouble getting it to the public, and the small amounts that are making it to the pumps get gobbled up fast. The situation would probably be resolved sooner if people weren't also buying 2.5 times as much gas as they normally purchase. No, they didn't purchase 1.5 more cars when nobody was looking. They're just responding to what they perceive as a strong, immediate need.

Now, you may not sell gas for a living -- but wouldn't it be amazing to see people lined up along the block, either literally or figuratively, to buy what you do sell? It's certainly possible to achieve that result if you convey a strong sense of need to your target market. Let's look at some types of need you can instill in your copywriting.

Practical Urgency

Before the widespread adoption of the automobile in American life, gasoline was nothing more than just another fuel. People lived their entire lives in one town, while kids trudged several miles to school in the snow (or so your great-grandparents claimed) without complaint. But once Henry Ford placed affordable, sturdy, gas-burning Model Ts in everybody's driveway, gasoline quickly turned into a must-have item. Gasoline allows people to work far from home, take kids to and from school, deliver commercial products to warehouses -- in short, it generally keeps everybody moving. As we became dependent on cars, we became equally dependent on gas for those bottom-line benefits. Which bottom-line benefits do your customers not just want but genuinely need? Or if they don't genuinely need it, what can you say to convince them that they do?

Emotional Need

Cars don't just represent utility; they also represent freedom, independence and flexibility. It's emotionally reassuring to know that your car can take you where you need to go at any given moment -- but by the same token, if you've grown accustomed to this feeling, the sudden prospect of not having transportation can be unsettling in the extreme. That's what turns "Oh, the gas supply will be tight for a while" into "OH NO, THERE'S NO MORE GAS IN THE WORLD EVER!" Rationally, we may know better, but emotionally, we're itching to grab our place at the pump. So ask yourself what your target market is used to. What products and services have they grown to love, and how would they feel without those products and services? What negative emotions can you evoke in your content to create a feeling of need -- emotions which are then eased by your solution?

Unique Solutions

To some extent, gas is gas -- a commodity, with one tankful no better or worse than another. The leading brands try to make their products stand out by trumpeting this cleaning agent or that performance additive, but most of us would be willing to take whatever's out there when gas is short. Even so, there are some high-performance vehicles that call for a particular octane, and the owners of these prized possessions will shell out the additional money for that octane. Does your business offer a better solution that the others? Are your services unique or especially well suited for a particular situation? If so, write to that need and you might well corner the market on a niche audience.

Remember, it's all about the perception and feeling of need -- from "I desperately need gas to get to work" to "I desperately need a jelly donut right now" -- and your unique ability to fulfill that need. And if you have a need of your own for some skilled copywriting assistance to help you achieve that effect, let me know!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bending the Rules of Copywriting: When the Wrong Words Are Right

One of the things I hear most often from business owners who engage my freelance copywriting services is, "I never do my own writing because I just know I'll get the spelling and grammar all wring." Well, of course effective copywriting requires a lot more than just a firm grasp of spelling and grammar. In fact, some of the most powerful marketing content deliberately plays fast and loose with those rules. Let's take a look at those instances in which breaking the rules can be good.

We've all seen examples of riotously incorrect ad slogans over the years. Half a century ago, Winston offered up the famous declaration "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," sparking immediate controversy over its misuse of "like" as a conjunction. Would it have been more correct to say "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should?" Certainly. But would the slogan have been swept into the public consciousness to anywhere near the same degree? No way!

(The tobacco industry seems to have had ongoing issues with grammar. "Us Tarrytown smokers would rather fight than switch!" was another faux pas that nevertheless caught on with the public. Perhaps a new medical study is in order....)

Geeks worldwide know and love (or hate) Apple's encouragement to "Think Different." I was just beginning my writing career when that campaign first launched, and I remember some English majors sneering about how Apple's proofreader was asleep on the job. Surely the company meant "Think Differently!" But they missed the point entirely: Apple was using "different" as a concept -- a way of life, not a modifier. 

My various writing instructors used to insist that you have to know the rules before you can break them. In other words, if you understand a rule and then break it intentionally, you're creating a deliberate effect and not an ordinary screw-up. If you're quoting a certain famous cartoon bird, for instance, you can't correct his speech to read "I thought I saw a pussycat," because you'll lose the whole pop-cultural context and you won't be making your point (whatever that is).

So, yes, you can break the rules. You may even want to. But let us know, somehow, that you know what you're doing and why you're doing it -- and make sure the result is genuinely compelling. Heed the wise words of the members of Spinal Tap: "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

Monday, August 7, 2017

On Vacation? Keep On Marketing!

Many years ago, an underground cartoon character by R. Crumb made a big stride into mainstream popularity. You may remember him as that dude sticking a big giant foot out in front of him, accompanied by the immortal slogan "KEEP ON TRUCKIN'" (which was also the name of the comic). Here was a guy who was going keep making his forward steadily, no matter what the circumstances. Many of us entrepreneurs and one-person shops promise to put that kind of persistence into our own marketing efforts -- until vacation time ambles along, when we gladly pack our bags and run off to enjoy a well-earned vacation. Unfortunately, when we stop marketing, we find ourselves "on vacation" even after we return from vacation.Why? Because we weren't marketing our products and services while we were gone.

Now, that doesn't mean you have adopt a life of servitude to your business, laboring away 365 days a year. But it does mean that you'll want to think about ways you can keep promoting your brand even while you're out relaxing and enjoying yourself. Here are some strategies to consider:

Network on the road. Surely there's enough room left in your overstuffed suitcase for a stack of business cards. Take them along with you, and be ready to hand them out when you get into a potentially-lucrative conversation en route to (or at) your destination. Seek out casual networking opportunities such as mixers and Meetup groups. Food, drink, and interesting chats are always welcome additions to any vacation -- and they're also pretty good for greasing the wheels of commerce.

Stockpile your marketing content. If you want to stop thinking about business entirely during your vacation, put a little extra thought and effort into your marketing content before you take off. For example, you may want to pre-write a stockpile of blog articles (or outsource them to a freelance copywriter) so you or you team can simply post them (manually or automatically) according to your usual schedule. Those steady updates will help maintain interest and enthusiasm from your target market, while also helping you avoid giving the impression that you totally abandoned your online marketing efforts.

Keep your social media activity business-centric. Business owners seem to love posting tweets and Facebook pictures of their feet stretched out on a beachfront lounge chair: "Ha ha, you're working and I'm not!" But bragging about your laziness isn't necessarily a brilliant marketing move. At the very least, it certainly doesn't communicate the image of a present, fully-engaged professional. And if you're obviously the heart and soul of your company, your audience may decide that there's no point in even contacting your enterprise for the time being. Keep in mind, too, that no matter how much fun you may be having, any social media posts via your official channels need to remain aligned with your brand image and values.

Have a great vacation -- and do some great marketing at the same time!