Monday, February 20, 2017

When Your Audience Isn't You

Many years ago I wrote a website for a client in one of the technical fields. The products and services were rather complex in nature, and the owners understood that their own technical backgrounds put them a bit out of touch with their non-technical target market. They asked me to write a set of marketing pieces that would work as a selling tool by sidestepping all the jargon and making the ideas accessible and attractive.

I'm usually a good choice for these "jargon-specific" jobs precisely because of my lack of technical, medical, or legal background. I come to the project as Joe Q. Public. If I can put the concepts into words that I can not only understand but respond to positively, I know I'm on the right track toward attracting that mainstream audience. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it can be highly practical in selective applications.

So I got to work and crafted some clear, simple (but not mindless) copy that stressed the bottom-line benefits of the products, appealing to readers' desire for ease, convenience, and value. A sensible approach, right?

But the owners were uncomfortable with what I'd done and took it around the offices (this was one of those "decision by committee" things), with each decision maker adding his share of comments and notes for the rewrite. Not surprisingly, there were practically no requested cuts -- only additions: "Let's talk more about the specs of this product line." "We need to be really clear about exactly what this does." And so on. I was still fairly new in the writing game at this point, so I didn't feel I had the gravitas to speak with authority against these suggestions (and truthfully, I was just grateful to have a lucrative gig, so I would've gone along with anything). So I employed every single "improvement" the client requested.

The client was delighted with the final result. But to this day, I've never displayed it in my portfolio, and I never will. It's a bloated mass of over-explanation that would put a ferret on amphetamines to sleep. I can't imagine the intended audience responded as the client had hoped; I don't even know for sure if the company is still in business. If it is, those marketing pieces weren't the deciding factor, I can guarantee that much.

So what went wrong, other than Yours Truly lacking the backbone to to correct his benefactors' corrections? Quite simply, the business owners abandoned their initial goals, and they ended up with writing that they liked, instead of what their audience would respond to. The first draft took them out of their comfort zone as technicians because it wasn't written for them.

It's one of the trickiest problems in copywriting, yet also one of the most crucial things to understand: You don't necessarily want writing that appeals to you; you want writing that appeals to your target market. If you are not your target market, then you may need marketing content that would underwhelm an engineer or an attorney or a neurosurgeon but tells your potential customers all they want and need to know.

Be honest -- if your marketing content is drawing web traffic to your site, lighting up your phone switchboard with inquiries or sending new customers through your doors, will you like it then? I'm betting you will!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

4 Ways to Work Valentine's Day Into Your Marketing

We're coming up on another Valentine's Day. If you sell gourmet foods, champagne or flowers, this particular holiday is obviously right up your alley. But any business can use this special day as a springboard for a variety of marketing opportunities. Let's look at four ways you can sweet-talk your target audience.

1. Thank-You Notes


There's no easier way to let your clients know how much you appreciate them than by writing and sending out thank-you notes. While you and your team may not have time to pen each of these meaningful messages by hand, you don't have to take completely generic approach either. Think about what kinds of messages would appeal directly to each specific segment of your clientele -- then write a few different variations on the theme of your heartfelt appreciation of them. For a really personal touch (and to help ensure that the letters get opened), you might even consider hand-signing and hand-addressing the envelopes; if that's not possible on a massive scale, you can at least do it for your VIP clients.

2. Special Offers


Valentine's Day is a time for giving gifts that show your sentiments, so why not give your beloved customers something nice that also happens to help drive more business your way? A Valentine's Day coupon, discount, gift certificate or other special offer can serve as the centerpiece for a "We Love Our Customers" campaign. If you can turn your products and services toward the theme of romance, from chocolates to spa days, so much the better.


3. "Share the Love" Contests


Love isn't just a one-way street, you know; hopefully, your customers think as highly of you as you do of them! Why not give them an opportunity to express their love for your products and services through some sort of "Share the Love" competition? Post the announcement (on your website, blog, social media channels et cetera) that you're looking for videos, photos or other submissions that show your customers using your product or service, standing next to your company signage or otherwise showing their support for your brand. You can even appeal to the writers in the crowd by asking them to include you in a poem or short story. Give out prizes for the most creative entries -- while coasting on a wave of positive buzz!


4. Valentine-Related Blog Articles


I've written before about the benefits of crafting seasonal blog articles, and Valentine's Day is no exception. You may be thinking that there's nothing remotely "romantic" about what you offer, but think again. As a professional ghost-blogger I've composed countless Valentine-centric articles about everything from life insurance (showing your family how much you care) to health services (February is American Heart Month). There are countless ways to turn this time of year toward any business or industry -- especially when you have the assistance of an imaginative, experienced copywriter.

Here's to a perfectly lovely -- and profitable -- Valentine's Day!


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Yes, "I Don't Want to Write It" Is a Good Reason to Hire a Freelance Copywriter

I was talking to a health and wellness professional today about helping her fill out the content on her website -- and at one point she put on a somewhat sheepish expression and said, lowering her voice, "I could do it myself, because I'm actually a pretty good writer. But I, uh...I don't want to." But you know what? That's okay. She shouldn't feel apologetic about her resistance to writing her own marketing content -- and for that matter, neither should you.

This display of embarrassment comes up from time to time, and what I find so interesting about it is that clients who acknowledge that they can't write their own material often seem less hesitant about engaging my services than those who could write their own material but choose not to. Their hesitation may be due to feelings of:

  1. Guilt - "I should be doing this, since I have the ability. Delegating it is irresponsible and lazy of me."
  2. Concern - "An outside party can't understand my business, industry or unique value as well I can."
  3. Frugality - "I don't need to be paying a writer for something I could be doing myself."

Let me address each of these pain points in turn. First, there's nothing lazy or irresponsible about outsourcing; it's just good business. You're no doubt exhausted enough by all the other issues you have to deal with on a daily basis -- issues that demand your attention and no one else's. Writing takes time, effort and mental energy you may not be able to spare, so outsource it and apply your strength where it's truly needed.

Second, it's understandable that you might worry whether your writer can grasp your products, services and corporate mission as well as you do. But a skilled professional has mastered the art, not only of writing, but also of listening and absorbing information. Better yet, as relative outsiders we can view your business from the standpoint of the general public -- possibly even better than you can.

Third, the frugality argument doesn't hold up when you think about the value of your billable time. Should you spend that time selling your wares, growing your business relationships and making the smartest possible decisions to steer your company into the future, or should you spend it writing marketing content -- and which scenario is more likely to help you make money instead of losing it?

Okay, so maybe Bartleby, Herman Melville's famous scrivener whose response to every request is "I would prefer not to," takes this too far. But "I don't want to write this" is a perfectly sound reason (among others) to put that content writing burden aside -- by handing it to me!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why You Might Not Be Ready to Hire a Copywriter

I'd love it if every business owner out there contacted me and requested my writing services for that next big marketing project on the boards. The only snag is, I'd have to turn down most of those requests -- and not necessarily due to my own creative bandwidth limitations. Believe me, I stuff my calendar like Uncle Bob at an all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving buffet whenever I can, even though my brain sometimes cries out for a brief fasting period. But many times I encounter prospects who simply aren't ready to become clients because they haven't yet arrived at the point where hiring a copywriter makes the best sense for their current needs and situation. So how can you tell if you're jumping the gun? Here are a couple of major indicators:


You don't have a budget in place. 


It alarms me when I see clients paying me cash out their wallet or purse. Why? Because marketing payments should come out of a business's marketing budget, not somebody's grocery money. If you don't have an official marketing budget, you need to make one that fits into your overall business plan, just like any other corporate expense. Save your grocery money for groceries, and pay your business expenses with corporate funds. If you don't have any corporate funds, than your business problems most likely lie deeper than the marketing level.

You don't have a strategy in place.


Just as you need a marketing budget to fund any copywriting or other marketing expenses, you need a marketing strategy that dictates the most sensible way to spend that money. What are your long-term marketing goals for your brand? Which media channels can help you achieve those goals, and how should you use each of them in a way that strengthens your overall message? What is your Plan B if Plan A should spring a leak? These are questions for a marketing strategist, not a copywriter. If I get called in to write a press release and the client asks me, "What do you think we should say? Who should we write this for?" and so on, I gently steer them toward a marketing consultant who can help them figure those things out. Once you know how you'll market yourself, then you can figure out whether you need a copywriter's services.

If you're not whether you're ready to hire a copywriter -- just ask. Most experienced writers are astute and honest enough to point out any preliminary measures you may need to take first. I'm always happy to refer my prospective clients to other marketing experts who can lend a helping hand. And if you know you are ready to pull the trigger, I'm right over here holding up the big red target!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Outsourcing to a Freelance Copywriter? Do It the Smart Way

Once upon a time I received a request from a business owner who needed professional-quality content for his website. I suggested my Small Website Package, a heavily discounted web content service I offer to marketing vendors and end user alike, as the most cost-efficient and time-efficient way of making that happen. Some time went by with no response to my quote. When I followed up, he told me that he had been delayed in responding because he figured he could save money by roughing out the content himself and simply letting me edit it. 

No such luck. The content I received was so rough that it took me many hours of editing to get it into acceptable shape -- more hours, in fact, than writing it from scratch would have taken. As a result, my client ended up paying more for the editing than he would have paid for the writing. And that doesn't even include all the valuable billable time (and for all I know, hair) he lost over that rough draft!

I bring this up because an increasing number of business owners have discovered the power of outsourcing, thanks in part to Timothy Ferris's popular book on the subject, The 4-Hour Workweek. Ferris has carved out a lifestyle for himself based on outsourcing an enormous portion of his daily activities to third parties while streamlining his own share of the routine for maximum productivity in a minimal amount of time. It makes perfect sense, really -- hand over a time-consuming/tedious/specialized job (such as copywriting) over to someone who can do it really well in a fraction of the time it would probably take you (such as a professional copywriter). By having that third party work while you do other things, you're "stacking" your productivity for optimal time and money savings.

But like so many other things in life, outsourcing only works if you work it. The client I mentioned didn't save himself any time or money because he did the job and then outsourced it to be fixed. The lost billable time plus the extra hours required for extensive editing just made the job more expensive to complete. 

Now, there are certainly situations where editing is all a client needs, and I will recommend that course of action if it makes sense. If the writing's already done and mostly where it needs to be, then a quick polish can do the rest quickly and affordably. But if you're starting from zero, take advantage of the power of outsourcing and let your copywriter take the whole thing off your plate. You'll breathe easier, you can go back to doing what you do best, and you'll be getting more for your money.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Back to the Well: The Art of Repeating Your Blog Content

It's every marketing content creator's nightmare. You warm up the computer (the one on your desk or the one in your head), you search for a fresh topic for a blog article, and that's when you realize that you've hit the wall. Somehow you have managed to cover every single subject possible for discussion; there's absolutely nothing left to say, or at least that's how it seems at the moment. Meanwhile, that archive of articles from years gone by beckons to you like a long-forgotten pile of gold doubloons. "Oh, but I couldn't just.... but... I mean.... could I?" Yes, you can indeed re-use, re-visit or recycle old marketing content for your blog, as long as you do it the right way.

What's the wrong way? Well, simply re-posting an old article verbatim isn't an ideal approach. Regardless of what Google may or may not think about duplicate content within the same blog (and that's a question for your web developer or SEO expert), your devoted readers may recall reading that piece before -- and if they feel you're just treading water, they won't have any reason to keep checking your blog for the latest insights. Also, relying completely on existing material means you're not generating the ever-growing body of work that increases your online authority.

But there's nothing wrong with, say, dusting off an old article, updating it and presenting it as your revised thoughts on the subject. Most of the original material can probably still stand, allowing you to add some new value and call it a day. You can also use that old post as the springboard for a different angle on the same topic, or quote big annotated chunks of it in a new article. Keep these points in mind:

  • Change happens. Your business, industry and/or target audience may have evolved over the years. The article that worked for you back then may not make the same impact now -- but with a little tweaking, its new an improved form could say exactly what needs to be said.
  • What's old is new to your new audience members. More recent additions to your blog readership may be totally unaware that you've tackled a given topic before, and they're not likely to dig through years of archives just to determine otherwise. These folks can probably benefit from a "rerun," while established readers won't mind a slightly new twist on the subject.
  • If it was worth saying once, it's worth saying again. Some of the most critical points emphasized in your marketing content deserve to be heard again and again, not as rote repetition but with intriguing new variations on the theme. The great composers felt no shame about doing this, and neither should you.

Don't assume that every single blog article you create has to be unique, unexplored and unheard of. As long as you can make older work fresh and relevant, you'll never run out of valuable things to say -- which means you'll never run out of marketing content!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Copywriting for Customer Appreciation

Now that another Thanksgiving has come and gone, you've probably had ample time to think about what you're thankful for -- and if you're in business, you're obviously thankful for your clientele. But have you actually expressed that appreciation to your customers lately? Thanking your faithful buyers  and associates not only makes them happy; it also assures them that their choices matter and encourages them to keep choosing you. Sending out the right bits of content at the right times can make all the difference in your efforts to show your appreciation in a way that yields results. Here are are a few of the forms that content might take:


Special Offers

Have your customers attained a special milestone that deserves recognition, from their very first product purchase to 10 years as a regular client? Sending out targeted thank-you emails, letters or postcards lets them know that you're thankful for their decision -- especially if those messages include a coupon, discount or other goodie they can make use of. If a local coffee house, for instance, sent me a thank-you note for my business over the past year with a "Have a free cup of coffee on us" coupon, I'd certainly do that. I might also buy a cookie, sandwich or gift certificate while I'm there.

Thank-You Letters

If you just want to express your appreciation at length in a more personal manner, send thank-you letters to your top clients. While you may not have the time to craft individualized messages to each and every client, you can still write several different variations of the letter aimed at particular industries and personnel. But consider adding the personal touch of ink of paper wherever possible. Hand-signed letters make a deeper emotional impression on recipients, while hand-addressed letters are more likely to be noticed and opened promptly.


Testimonials

If you want to thank a vendor partner for their top-class service and assistance, write a ringing testimonial that can be posted on Yelp, LinkedIn, Twitter or included in that vendor partner's own marketing materials. A polished, eloquent testimonial that tells a compelling success story not only makes your colleague look like a million bucks; it also reflects positively on your own willingness to show your appreciation with such care and passion. If your own team is pressed for time, hire a professional copywriter to help you craft this piece into a brilliant promotional statement. Your vendor partner will feel a natural desire to reciprocate, so don't be surprised if you receive a glowing testimonial for your business in return!

Show your appreciation for your customers and associates, and they'll show their appreciation by sticking with you for many profitable years to come. If you're feeling thankful now, just wait till you see how much more you'll have to be thankful for in the future!