Monday, May 21, 2018

4 Things Your Marketing Content Should Stop Doing

You probably know the old joke about the patient who complains, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." To which the doctor replies, "Then don't do that." Stopping bad habits can benefit your physical health just as powerfully as taking up new, better habits. The same holds true for the health of your business -- and your marketing content is the pump that keeps the things flowing in your business pipeline. In my years as a freelance copywriter in Central Texas, I've seen (and corrected) plenty of missteps in various enterprises' written marketing content. Here are four common yet harmful goofs that you should stop making from this day forward.

1. Over-Explaining

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to rewrite web pages and other marketing pieces that read like user guides or industry manuals. I ended up hacking away paragraph after paragraph of detail that held more potential to confuse or intimidate than to build excitement or sell. If you had to study a wiring diagram to turn your lights on, you'd probably elect to spend a lot of time in the dark. Don't give us that diagram; show us the switch, describe the wonderful light we'll enjoy, and let the perceived benefit do the rest.

2. Under-Explaining

Even though brevity is a must in copywriting (especially for online consumption), saying too little can be just as self-sabotaging as saying too much. Are you assuming industry or product knowledge that your target audience isn't likely to have? If so, you may skip from one point to the next while your reader is still stuck on "I wonder what they meant by that?" Your prospective customers can't get excited over what they don't understand. Make sure the basic bottom-line benefit statements are all in place, and invite your audience to contact you with any questions. (More on that in a moment.)

3. Writing to Impress

Trying too hard in your marketing content can backfire on you. One of the most common mistakes I've encountered is lathering the text with impressive-sounding buzzwords and industry-speak. Many of these terms either reek of cliche due to overuse or simply don't mean much to Joe Q. Public. Showing off your vocabulary with lots of five-dollar words is another surefire way to turn off your audience; even if they know what you're talking about, they'll dismiss you as pretentious. Last but not least, avoid phony enthusiasm. Dozens of exclamation marks don't make your content more exciting -- they just paint you as excitable.

4. Neglecting the Final Action Items

You might be surprised at how many marketing content pieces lay out their pain statement, features and benefits, then simply come to a stop. If they do include a call to action, the call to action is too vague to really compel. ("Discover our product's benefits for yourself!") Give your audience concrete, specific action items such as "Call us at this phone number today," or "Fill out the online appointment maker on this page." You've brought your readers this far, so why not take them the rest of the way?

It's easy to fall into old habits in your marketing content creation, even once you know better. Contact me for professional copywriting services if you want to make sure your content is doing all the right things -- and none of the wrong ones.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Meaningful Content for Email Campaigns

Do you get occasional (or frequent) emails from some company representative you met recently? Never mind why you're on that person's email list -- your contact information was probably taken from your business card. But that's okay, because you can always opt out, right? And so you do. Or you banish the sender to your spam filter. Or you simply trash each email as it coms in.

Is the sender getting anything for the time, effort and expense he puts into sending you this steady stream of unwanted email? Obviously not. Are you getting anything out of the email? Again, obviously not; that's why you're throwing them away. But what if those emails contained information you actually wanted or needed? What if they offered nuggets of insight that made a difference in your work or personal life? You might still throw them away -- but only after you've read them thoroughly and thought about what they communicated. Over time, you might even come to rely on the sender as a trusted resource. Heck, you might even buy what he's selling.

That's the power of relevant content in an email campaign.

From time to time I've been asked to pitch in and give a client's multi-touch email campaigns a creative boost. I performed this service for a business broker who was noting a drop-off in interest from his prospects following their initial inquiries. He wanted to send a series of emails that would maintain or rekindle that initial spark of excitement they'd felt over buying or selling a business. So I wrote a bunch of little articles pertaining to the subject -- explanations of the transaction process, tips on due diligence, a "checklist" of the qualities a successful business owner needs, even a description of the beautiful part of the country they'd be inhabiting. They were all written with a positive spin and, of course, a "contact us," "learn more," or "let's get started" call to action. His prospects were now receiving mouth-watering material that not only provided valuable education but also reminded them of why they inquired in the first place. 

Quality of content matters just as much to an email campaign as it does to your regular blog or newsletter. Don't just sell; give, by providing useful and captivating information and compels action. Leave the spam box to your competition!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Consistent Marketing Keeps Them Coming Back for More

One February day I went out to the mailbox as usual. I didn't see any mail, but I figured that I might've hit it too early, so a couple hours later I went out and check it again. Still nothing. That's not unheard of, naturally, but I couldn't help thinking, "Maybe he's just running slow today. I'll try once more time later on." So about 5pm I checked one more time. Well, I guess I just wasn't fated to receive any mail today....

Then it hit me: nobody got any mail that day. It was Presidents' Day.

The funny thing, I'd known it was Presidents' Day, and I'd known that mail didn't go out on federal holidays. What's more, I'll bet the other dozen or so people who were out there checking their mail along with me also knew it was a no-mail day. 

So what were we doing out there? Obeying habit. We robotically went to the mailbox because we had been programmed to do that. Most of us have even learned to count on the postman showing up around the same time of day every day. We've been trained to respond through the sheer consistency of the post office, and it trips us up completely when something breaks that routine.

That's why you want the same kind of consistency in your marketing schedule. Whether you're blogging, publishing a newsletter, pumping out podcasts, mailing out print pieces, or working any other channels in your overall marketing strategies -- you must repeat that process regularly and consistently if you want to (1) get noticed, (2) develop interest, and (3) train your target market to look forward to more. Nobody sends out a single flyer or direct mail postcard and expects the phone to start ringing; it takes multiple touches, often with the exact same piece, to get any kind of response. Your client may throw the first few postcards in the trash, but as long as you get that eventual "Okay, let's see what these people are so wound up about" response, then you've succeeded.

These schedules aren't so hard to work out. (How often does a monthly newsletter or weekly blog post appear?) It's simply a matter of scheduling the content preparation and distribution. However often you decide to blog, keep up that routine, rain or shine, and before long you'll see that spike of anticipation in your web traffic -- loyal readers trained to come back for the next round of insight, special offer, or whatever other goodie you've got for them. 

Yes, consistency requires commitment and responsibility. But if you're pressed for time or you don't have the necessary personnel on staff, you can always outsource the content creation or other necessary grunt work. Don't let your audience start wandering away in disinterest -- keep them coming back for more!

Monday, April 9, 2018

4 Key Questions When Choosing a Freelance Copywriter

So you've finally decided that it's time to engage a freelance copywriter for your business's marketing efforts. Maybe you're tired of going it alone, trying to hack out your own content word by exhausting word, instead of spending your valuable time actually running your enterprise. Maybe your marketing team feels overwhelmed and needs assistance. Maybe you're just looking for a fresh perspective. In any case, you may find yourself wondering where to start, what to look for, and how to tell you're getting the right writer for your needs. Here are four key questions you'll want to ask every candidate on your list before you actually schedule that first assignment.

1. "What are your rates and terms?"

You might as well get this question out of the way ASAP, for both of your sakes. You need to know how you're going to plug this professional into your budget, and the writer needs to know whether this job will be worth the bother. It's helpful if the writer offers fixed per-project rates; if not, find out how you can secure a reliable estimate based on hourly rates. You also need to know whether the entire amount if due up front, whether you need to put up a deposit, or whether you're simply billed after the fact. Don't immediately reject a writer who insists on full payment in advance, though -- you may be allowed to break a large job into multiple pre-paid batches or phases.

2. "What kind of writing do you specialize in?"

Different writers typically specialize in different things, especially in larger metropolitan areas where there are lots of writers staking out their respective slices of the market. It's not unusual for a writer to focus on one type of writing project, one narrow range of industries, or one particular form of writing. For instance, I'm a generalist in terms of industry -- I can write for pretty much anybody -- but I focus on "short-form" marketing content such as website pages, blog articles, brochure content and so on. Don't feel limited if your writer says, "I only do such-and-so type for writing." The beauty of hiring freelancers is that you can keep several of them on hand, attaching the appropriate writer to the appropriate project as needed, without any impact on your full-time payroll.

3. "How well established are you?"

This is an important question because it can help predict the experience you're going to have with your writer. While rookies can and do create brilliant work, they haven't reached the point where they can point to a performance track record. It's not a matter of having written for every big name in the business world; it's an assurance that your writer has coped with a wide range of situations, worked with a variety of clients, and has developed a certain amount of professional wisdom that could prove invaluable to you for years to come. In other words, buy writing expertise, not just writing. Don't forget to ask about professional references, associations and/or certifications that can help reinforce your writer's credibility.

4. "What are your turnaround times?"

The best freelance copywriters aren't just the most skilled writers -- they're also the most professional ones. Make sure your copywriter can guarantee a specific turnaround window for each job, and don't put up with a freelancer who is all "free" and no "lance." At the same time, however, make sure your expectations are realistic ones. The busiest writers may not be able to squeeze in that rush job; some of us don't have time to accept rush jobs at all. Understand in advance what your writer can and can't realistically do for you, and you'll know you should realistically ask of your writer. The result will be high-quality work, turned in on time, every time.

Try these four questions on for size the next time you're interviewing freelance copywriters. You'll find that most of us will be happy to answer them!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Creating a Need Through Your Marketing Content

I found a pretty funny old article about how some companies try to put a gender spin on some puzzlingly genderless products. Check out that first item, for example, the Bic Pens "For Her." I don't know what's inherently feminine about these pens,  but apparently they struck home with their target market. Oh, and check out the "Tools for Women" toolbox (You guessed it: a pink hammer, a pink drill, a pink level...) You'll also see "manly" products such as Slim Jim beef jerky and Just for Men hair color (which offers what appears to be the exact same product under a different name for women).

I'm not going after the gender angle here. I'm marveling at advertisers' ability to create the need for a product out of thin air, even when that product already existed. Here Jane doe's been buying pens all her life, and then suddenly she sees Pens for Her and thinks, "Finally, a product aimed at my sensibilities and style." Um, they're pens. Or the guy buys Slim Jims because their "Menergy" unleashes his inner Macho Man. In these cases a niche appeal has been invented out of thin air.

Even a buzzword can be sufficient to snap up that segment of the population who melts at the sound of it. One of my favorite examples of this sort of thing is my old pair of computer headphones, the Sony MDR-V6. This model has gone unchanged for decades and has made a forever home in many a recording studio and TV production house, mainly because of its ability to reproduce fine audio detail. 

But I think there's another reason they caught on with home listeners as well as professionals -- namely, the sticker on each ear pad proudly proclaiming, "FOR DIGITAL." Digital what? Beats me. Digital equipment, presumably, or maybe digitally-recorded music, which was the hot new thing back in the'80s when the MDR-V6 first came out. Never mind what it means; these are obviously extraordinary headphones and I must have them right now because they're FOR DIGITAL.

Steve Jobs famously opined that people don't know what they want until you show it to them. Henry Ford once said, "Before the automobile existed, if I'd asked what people wanted, they'd have said faster horses.” 

So my question to you is: Do you have a product or service that might appeal to a niche audience you never considered even remotely reachable? Does your new toy have uses for the heavy equipment industry? Does your scientific tool do things that kids would love? Could you create a sexy tag line or other compelling marketing content that might gain you a whole new customer demographic? 

In other words -- what's your "FOR DIGITAL" sticker? 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Writing for Your Particular Profession

Imagine for a moment that you're sitting in a typical examination room, waiting to meet your new doctor for the first time. When the door opens and the doctor steps in to say hello, how will you feel if he's wearing bib overalls and a Larry the Cable Guy cap? Or a butcher's apron? Or black mourning attire? Most of us would rather see a a polished-looking individual in a white lab coat -- because that's what we expect from a legitimate healthcare professional. Well, if you're promoting your services in a professional field, how you craft your marketing content, from tone to terminology, makes all the difference in how your clients perceive you. But some professional pose special hurdles of their own, and you may find yourself struggling to strike the right balance. Let's look at how you can optimize your marketing writing for your particular profession.

Emotional Tone

Setting the right emotional tone is a critical first step for anyone in the "trust business." If you want people to entrust you with their general health, teeth, personal finances, legal issues, business security or whatever, you have to write content that projects a mix of reassurance, encouragement, and empathy. For instance, have you ever scared yourself to death looking up Internet articles on this or that health symptom? You probably uncovered a blizzard of articles that took a severe, alarmist, worst-case scenario attitude to the subject. Just as a doctor understands the value of a proper bedside manner, you must emphasize that you understand the client's problem, you sympathize with his situation, and you can apply your skill and expertise to help ease that discomfort.

Intellectual Level

Consider the intellectual "mood music" you're including in your content. Of course you want to assure the world that you're intelligent, well-educated, and knowledgable in your field. But as I pointed out in a previous post, overly-technical terminology can put up obstacles instead of getting readers on your side. I've written for attorneys who wanted me to refer readers to specific court decisions -- citation numbers and all. Unless their clients are aspiring lawyers, that strategy is more likely to drive ordinary people away than to draw them in. On the other end of the scale, if you make an obvious attempt to "dumb down" your content, you're potentially insulting your readers. Keep it simple, keep it clear, and let the knowledge shine through.

Professional Protocols

Last but not least, think about whether your content reflects honorably on your chosen profession. For example, are you making inappropriate promises? There's a huge range of commitment between "we will," "we can," and "we may" in a piece of marketing content. Depending on the rules of your profession, you may be highly limited in what you're allowed to offer or how you're allowed to offer it. On the other hand, if your content has no backbone at all, your reader may wonder why you even bothered stating anything. Make sure you know the rules of the game, whatever those may be for your field, and stay inside the lines. But commit to the bottom line: doing everything in  your power to help those who need your professional expertise.

Choose the right "suit of clothes" for your professional marketing content, and you'll make it a lot easier for people to trust you, understand you, and take you seriously. If you need a professional writer's expertise to help you make that happen, you know who to contact!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Beyond Spell Check: The Proof Is in the Reading

Did you take a nice long drive during the winter holidays? Do you find yourself making extended road trips on business? Many of us do -- which means that many of us find ourselves reading roadside billboards and other signage to stave off the boredom of the road. Even those of us who spend all our days in our offices are likely to encounter countless ads online and in print. We may create some of that content ourselves. If we're in a real hurry to beat a deadline, we may rush the copy to the printer after a quick run through a spell-checker. Then we see the final results, and we wish we hadn't done that.

Proofreading matters, if only because the errors you pump out will live forever on the Internet. Even if you're producing a sign or advertisement in a language most of your viewing public doesn't understand, somebody, somewhere, has devoted a humorous website to you.

Yes, your spell-checking tool catches lots of errors. But what about that misused word it doesn't recognize or that proper name it doesn't have in its database? That's why you must always give your marketing content a once-over with your own eyeballs. If your eyeballs are tired, put the content away and proofread it later. But proofread it.

Of course, you can dot every I and cross every T and still end up with a ludicrous misstatement. Somewhere along U.S. Highway 83 (I forget where) stands a roadside sign for a combination gas station and restaurant. The sign proclaims proudly -- and quite seriously -- "EAT HERE! GET GAS!" 

You may encounter entire concepts that needed one more pass through the marketing department. How about that billboard that always seems to pop up in or around small towns -- the one for the BBQ place that depicts a cute cartoon pig squealing in terror as he runs from a guy with a butcher knife? Sure, it's funny if you're into that sort of thing, but does it really pull people off the highway with their stomachs growling? "Hey, you know that pig you were slashing to death on the billboard? I'd like some of that, with a side of slaw."

So consider this post a public service announcement. Don't just run your marketing content through a spell checker and call it done. Use human eyes and human brains. If you want some additional quality control, don't stop with your own evaluation. Have someone else look at it so you can get a second opinion, both on the mechanics and on the content itself. If you really want some quality assurance, hire a professional writer to proofread and edit your content. Better yet, let that professional writer create your content from scratch -- and lock in the quality from the very first word!