Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How to Create Great Marketing Content Today (That Won't Embarrass Your Brand Tomorrow)

I'm something of a connoisseur where really bad movies are concerned. Everything from cheap drive-in fodder and Z-grade science-fiction films to those bizarre educational shorts we used to watch in school holds a strange interest for me. Apart from the unintentional entertainment that occurs when sheer awfulness propels a film into a realm of its own, there's also the fascination of the what-were-they-thinking factor. Usually, of course, they were thinking to make a couple of bucks in a kind of artistic hit and run. A producer would scrape a few reels of something resembling a story together and throw it into some theaters for a couple of weeks, with the idea that it would make its money and then disappear forever.

Except that in many cases, that didn't happen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 and home video restorations have brought tons of this odd old material to light again over the years, giving it a second life and giving its creators (or their heirs) something to cringe over for decades to come. Here in the Information Age, nothing is truly temporary -- and if you're generating marketing and branding content for your company, you need to keep that in mind.

No matter how beautifully you upgrade your corporate brochure from its humble, quick-and-dirty "just something to show" beginnings, those horrible old originals are still out there, waiting to be uncovered the next time a client unloads an old storage box or cleans behind a counter. As for web content -- a quick trip through the Wayback Machine and similar archive databases will reveal all the previous version of your online presence in all their awful glory.

If you can't hide from your past, content-wise, then what can you do? That's easy -- get it right the first time. Instead of just cobbling something some text together now with the idea of improving on it later, spend the extra time and effort making the best possible creating decisions in the here and now. For instance, ask yourself:

"Is this how I want to present my brand to my target audience?" It's such an elementary question, one that anyone should always ask when creating marketing content -- but if you're in a hurry to get your brand up and running, you could be skipping over important facets of your messaging or not aiming at your target audience as precisely as you should. Why rush to release content that won't do your business any good?

"How does this content stack up against my hottest competitor's?" I've sad before that if your marketing content is as good as everyone else's, then it's better than no one else's. That may be true, but at least it's not laughable by comparison either. Make sure your print and Internet marketing efforts don't place you at a critical disadvantage from the very beginning, no matter how quickly you plan to upgrade it. You don't want to give yourself the extra burden of overcoming a bad first impression.

"Is it trendy, or is it timeless?" How evergreen are your copywriting (and design) choices? How gracefully are they likely to age? Is your text brimming over with today's slang, buzzwords and business-speak? If so, you're dramatically shortening the potential lifespan of that content's usefulness to you.

Your marketing content doesn't have to be perfect right out of the gate, and over time you will inevitably need to modify it. But get whatever professional copywriting help you may need to start out strong. You'll be less embarrassed if and when your first attempts bob up into view again -- and you'll have marketing that actually works, both now and in the future!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: Developing Your Writing Technique

A few months ago I attended an MSP Training session. MSP, which stands for Member Success Program, is a basic training course in the fine art of networking for BNI (Business Networking International) members. As a ten-year veteran of that organization, I've taken the course several times before, but we're supposed to re-take it regularly to keep our skills sharp. The agenda includes how to give an effective self-introduction, how to listen for possible referral opportunities, the difference between a genuine referral and a lukewarm "lead," and so on. This sort of training is especially useful for those of us who weren't born with a natural gift for self-promotion or confident interaction with a roomful of strangers. But I've found that the most important thing I can do to become a better networker is to network. A lot.

I guess this is true of just about any activity, particularly the ones that don't come naturally to us. Sure, you might accidentally pick up a basketball one day and discover that hitting 3-pointers is child's play for you and dumb luck for all your friends. More likely, though, you'll have to practice hour after hour, shot after shot, until you get the muscle memory down pat. That's technique, and anyone can develop some degree of it, no matter how much actual talent they have for the given task. In fact, technique can continue to serve you even when natural ability can't or won't. There are countless stories of singers, actors, athletes, musicians, you name it, who perform competently or better in the face of illness, injury or personal stress. They may be so distressed or distracted that afterward they can't even remember what they did. But's that okay, because their technique remembered for them.

Writing is another activity that benefits from constant practice and repetition. If you feel the ned to communicate your company's mission or your own expertise through writing, you don't need a journalism or marketing communications degree -- you just need to do the following things:

1) Read a lot 
2) Write a lot

If you plan to write your company's marketing content, immerse yourself in marketing content from your competitors, from unrelated industries, from your junk mail inbox, from everywhere you happen to find it. Soon you'll be able to recognize the good stuff from the bad stuff, and eventually you'll start to recognize the mediocre stuff as well. At the same time, practice whatever form of writing you intend to pursue. It's perfectly fine to mimic the masters to get a feel for what they're doing -- many great composers got their start by transcribing each other's work verbatim. After a while you'll be able to know whether a given word or phrase will work before you ever set it down, with no need to wait for "inspiration." And that's the beginning of technique, because once you can do that, you can write whatever you want, whenever you want.

Can you still have a professional copywriter go over your work and edit as needed? Of course! But if you really want to refine your own writing, I recommend that you study the copywriter's revision of your draft with a surgeon's eye. What exactly did he change, and what exactly is that change doing to make the content better? It's like getting a bonus tutoring session for the cost of an editing job, so take advantage of it. And whatever you do -- keep practicing!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

This Is Your (Target Audience's) Brain on Copywriting

Do you recall the old TV ad that showed a frying egg with a voiceover proclaiming, "This is your brain on drugs?" As dumb as the analogy may seem, that ad was remembered, quoted and even parodied for years. Why? Because it used certain psychological hooks for engraving itself on the minds of viewers. Let's face it, marketing is largely the art of psychological manipulation. So let's look at how your marketing content can employ specific techniques to place your target audience "under the influence."

The Bizarreness Effect

The Bizarreness Effect holds that creating bizarre images out of otherwise-mundane ones can help lodge those images in the memory. Let's go back to our opening example -- an image of an egg in a frying pan, paired to the idea of a brain on drugs. These two incompatible, less-than-memorable notions form an unforgettable metaphor when you put them together.

Appealing to Both Sides of the Brain

You probably know that the left side of the brain is considered the more rational of the two hemispheres. It's one that responds to facts, reasons and logic -- but it's not the one that makes your target customer buy. That impulse comes from the right side of the brain, which is commonly associated with creativity, emotion and intuitive thought. Ideally, your marketing content appeals to both hemispheres. Your feature statements pile on fact after fact in support of your products or services, while your benefit statements hit readers where they live emotionally by helping them envision how their lives will be improved by those products or services.

Repetition, Rhythm and Rhyme

Just as the major search engines take notice of repeated, relevant keywords in your marketing content, the brains of your target audience will respond to repetition. The more you repeat a statement, the more convincing it becomes--simply because it's being constantly reinforced in the brain. Rhythm and rhyme can then make that statement more memorable, just as they tend to make song lyrics stick in your head. Think about all the great catchphrases you've heard over the years. Still thinking about them? Exactly.

Reticular Activation

If familiarity breeds recognition, then specificity breeds familiarity. If you try to appeal to everybody in the world, in every possible scenario, your message is probably so generic that it has no strong psychological effect on any individual. But if you paint a specific "How many times has this happened to you?" kind of picture, your ideal customer may think, "Wow, I'm having that exact problem right now. These people are talking to me!" That reaction is coming from a bundle of neural fibers called the reticular network, which acts as a kind of high-level "lookout" that waits for stimuli it recognizes as something we need to pay attention to right now, as opposed to the mass of more generic information the brain doesn't have time to bother with. Target your message as precisely as possible, and you'll be targeting that reticular network.

Persuasive copywriting is as much about psychology as it is about sheer writing skill. An experienced marketing copywriter can help you apply both for maximum effect. Contact me today and let's talk about how we can influence your target market!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How to Save Money on Copywriting (Without Sacrificing Quality)

If you can't set aside a zillion-dollar budget for marketing copy creation, then you're in the same boat as the vast majority of enterprises. Does that mean you have to settle for insufficient marketing efforts or weak content from inexperienced, skill-challenged writers? Certainly not -- sometimes you just have to make sure you're getting the best value out of your professional copywriter. Here are a few tips for doing just that:

Know what you want to say (before you ask a copywriter to say it). I recently edited a rough draft that someone had sent me for a real estate brochure. My rewrite was approved by the person who requested it -- who apparently hadn't checked with another head honcho in the company, who had wanted something significantly different right from the beginning. So they had to create another draft, with a completely different focus, and send that to me for editing as well. Don't get wrong, I'm happy to have the work. But if you don't have tons of writing or editing funds burning a hole in your pocket, get totally clear on what you want done before you give your copywriter his marching orders.

Establish a single point of contact for your copywriter. This is related to the above point, but it applies to how you communicate with your copywriter. Even if your team is agreed on the main points, style and tone of the piece to be written, too many cooks can still spoil the content. If Executive A is requesting changes that Executive B doesn't know about and Executive C hates, your copywriter may end up reworking that content multiple times -- billing you each time, by the way, since it was your disorganization, not his incompetence, that made the fixes necessary. The easiest way to prevent all this chaos is to designate one point of contact between the company and the copywriter, with all requests, notes, comments and questions passing that individual's desk for final consolidation and review before the writer ever sees it.

Make your content marketing strategies more efficient. When you see the bottomless well of the Internet demanding more and more content, it's easy to make the assumption that more is always better, or at least necessary. But before you engage your writer to pump out tons of articles, landing pages and other copy on every possible topic related to your industry for every available social media channel, take a careful look at which of those channels actually matter to you. For instance, do you really need to be posting hundreds of articles on Facebook when your primary target market prefers to use LinkedIn, or vice versa? If your audience does follow you across multiple platforms, might it make good sense simply to post the same article on those various platforms simultaneously to make sure you don't miss anyone? How about your website -- does it really require a hundred pages of content that try to address everybody in the world, or could it make do with ten pages aimed directly at your ideal buyers? Don't buy more content than you actually need.

Don't go with the cheapest copywriter. This last point may sound counterintuitive, but I've seen it demonstrated with painful clarity by clients who sought out the cheapest rate from the cheapest writer they could find. You can guess how the results turned out, which is usually why I would then be hired to rewrite the first writer's work (in some cases, large quantities of it). So the client ended up paying twice when they could have hired the right professional, paid one reasonable rate, and gotten high-quality work the first time.

Take these tips to heart when you're about to engage that professional copywriter for your next project. When your marketing efforts take off, you'll know you got your money's worth!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

4 Surefire Blog Article Options for Your Business

Successful online marketing hinges on the creation of high-quality marketing content disseminated on a regular basis to your target audience. The simplest way to keep that content train rolling along the track is by posting a steady stream of blog articles on your website and other social media channels. But even if you have a professional copywriter on hand to turn your ideas into text, somebody still has to come up with the ideas in the first place -- and that's where the content train often screeches to a halt. Fortunately, you don't have to re-invent the wheel every time you have to produce a new post. Here are four tried-and-true types of blog articles you can always turn (or return) to.

1. The Spotlight

Do you have something about your business you want to talk about, such as a branding change, new product line, new client or exciting upcoming development? Write a blog article about it! Your blog can throw the spotlight on a variety of buzz-worthy happenings, from a case study of a major problem you recently solved for a customer to that big charity event you're hosting in a few weeks. This option is especially attractive if you don't also have a dedicated news page on your site.

2. The Editorial

If you're an authority in your field, then your opinion matters -- or at least you want it to matter to those who encounter it online. An editorial piece on some aspect of your industry, or recent events that relate to your industry, can put your experience, expertise, and insights on display to powerful effect. You'll want to walk a fairly careful line, of course, because an overly inflammatory approach could easily alienate a lucrative segment of your audience, while a sour or grumpy tone may also prove a turn-off.

3. The How-To Guide

Everybody loves free guidance on how to solve a particular problem, especially if that advice is coming from someone who really knows his stuff. Well, every business on the planet meets some kind of need -- and a need is a problem looking for a solution. Dispensing valuable free advice is never time or effort wasted. Brighten a few lives with your expert how-to articles, and you can expect those folks to come back to you when it's time to pay for more complex solutions.

4. The List

People love to click on list articles. They're neatly organized, easy to read and easy to digest. Bloggers also love list articles because they provide a handy, ready-made format -- which naturally guides the brain into producing relevant talking points to fill those lists. For best results, give your list article a title that will compel your target audience to check it out, such as...oh, I don't know..."4 Surefire Blog Article Options for Your Business." See how that works?

When you're flailing around for blog topics, fall back on any of these categories and see if you don't suddenly get ideas. Happy blogging!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

4 Ways to Use Copywriting for Reputation Management

The issue of reputation seems to be on everyone's mind these days. Who can you trust? What should you believe? Which institutions or individuals are telling the truth, and which ones aren't? If you want your own brand to be trusted, you have to establish and maintain a sterling reputation in an increasingly skeptical world -- especially when that skeptical world is armed with the tools of modern social media. Fortunately, you've got some tools at your disposal as well, including the strategic use of strong, convincing marketing content. Here are four ways you can employ copywriting to strengthen your brand's reputation.

1. Building Your Online Authority

Your marketing content may do a good job of selling your products and services, but are you also leveraging its power to sell your reputation? As important as it is to create brilliant, exciting copy for your sales and benefits pages, don't neglect your About Us page. If you have decades of experience as a trusted provider, extraordinary training or special skills, make them known and stress their value. Then demonstrate that value by posting authoritative blog articles that provide genuinely helpful information.

2. Outweighing the Negative With the Positive

Did you know that negative statements and feeling are processed more quickly and have far greater impact than their positive equivalents? This negative bias means that a few bad reviews can influence your target market more profoundly than several good ones. That's why you need to keeping pumping out positive content over a variety of channels. Regular press releases and feature articles spotlighting your latest achievements, an ever-growing collection of testimonials from satisfied customers, white papers and case studies explaining how you solved specific problems for various clients -- and these other forms of copywriting can help you achieve the necessary weight of positive buzz to push back against any negative tide.

3. Answering Objections in Advance

One not-uncommon complaint that tends to come up in negative reviews is, "They claim to do such-and-such, but they don't actually tell you how they can achieve such miracles." If you leave gaping holes in your marketing arguments, you're inviting skepticism or even scorn from a jaded public. Anticipate your prospects' questions and concerns by addressing and defusing them in your written copy. The FAQ page of your website is an ideal place to do this, but you should always be mindful of objections that might occur at any point in other areas of your marketing content as well.

4. Responding With the Right Rebuttals

Despite your best efforts to serve your customers and put the right foot forward in your marketing content, negative reviews or comments will inevitably surface. Nobody's perfect, and your dissatisfied (and vocal) customers may take to social media or other channels to express their frustration. Their feelings may even be based on incorrect expectations or even sheer delusion on their part. You can't leave these complaints flapping in the wind unchallenged, but you can't stoop to anger or insults, either. As I've mentioned before, a professional copywriter can help you craft sensitive, sympathetic responses that also succeed in defending your point of view and your commitment to quality.

Expert copywriting can help you rise to the top of the trust game by securing and growing your brand's most valuable asset, its reputation. It's the truth -- believe me!

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!