Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Generally Speaking: The Copywriting Generalist

Sometimes prospective clients will ask me if I specialize in their particular industry: "Do you have experience writing for the automated-widget industry?" Many times I can truthfully answer, "Yes." Other times I can just as truthfully say, "No, and here's why it doesn't matter."

So here's why it doesn't matter.

Most of us copywriters consider ourselves generalists -- professionals adept at the art of absorbing and understanding whatever information we need to write on the widest possible range of subject matter.

Specializing in a particular industry or subject has its points, of course, both for clients and for writers. Specialists usually require less intake on the subject from the client, eliminating much of the learning curve on the front end of the project. From the writer's perspective, a more specialized niche is easier to market to because that target market makes up a more cohesive group -- people who tend to belong to the same organizations and speak the same lingo.

As a generalist myself, I think general-subject writers have the edge in some notable ways. For one thing, the sheer cross-pollination of concepts, information and resources that we generalists sift through on a daily basis, year after year, enables us to see the broad view of how your particular industry relates to others. If you work in the "green" industry, for instance, your product or service may impact the manufacturing, real estate, health and wellness, energy, electronics and other industries. Well, guess what? I've written for all of those industries and many others, so I can see the connections between them -- which means that I can help your audience see them as well.

At the same time, the outsider's perspective counts for much. People who live and think in one field 24/7 start to assume that the rest of us know as much about it as they do, and they start speaking in buzzwords and technobabble without even realizing it. A writer who can step in as Joe Q. Public and say, "What's the bottom line on this stuff?" can see your products or services from a mainstream audience's point of view.

Of course, everyone specializes in some way or other. Even though I write on every topic under the sun, for instance, I focus on marketing pieces, or as I like to call it, "writing for short attention spans." The work I do has a specific mission -- to grab and hold someone who's ready to flit off to some other distraction, and then nail a point home quickly and engagingly enough that the reader makes a purchase or requests more information. But as a general-subject writer, I can do that for any industry, product or service. Generally speaking.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Marketing Like an Olympian

As you are no doubt aware, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games are now underway. I say "no doubt" because TV and online channels are carrying hours and hours of every event imaginable, and because the sheer wealth of stories associated with any Olympiad never fails to flood the print, TV and online news media. But when you've got the greatest athletes in the world assembled in one city competing against each other for medals, it's pretty hard not to generate excitement. Your own organization may not have the whole world's attention (at least for now), but you can still achieve greatness in your marketing by doing what the champions do. Here are some winning strategies for playing at the top of your marketing game.


Even if some of the greatest athletes are naturals at their chosen events, they still have to train hard to get to the Games. They may have to force themselves to exceed their own expectations and expand their range of capabilities, especially if they're participating in a multi-faceted field such as gymnastics, with its multitude of events. Those same athletes may find future Olympiads progressively more demanding as they get older and older while the competition seems younger and younger. Marketing poses similar challenges because it's such a dynamic field. New technologies, new tactics, new platforms, new directions -- the marketing world is continually changing. That's why it's so critical to keep up your training. Learn new programs and options, follow marketing trends and projections, and keep strengthening yourself so you don't fall behind your competitors.


All the drills and exercises in the world won't help athletes who no-show qualifying events, eat whatever they want and substitute partying for sleep. A top-quality athlete may live what we would consider a monk-like existence of rigorous discipline to ensure an efficient forward path toward success. Marketing requires discipline too. The business that fires off a haphazard blizzard of press releases with no underlying marketing plan in place isn't going to make it to the proverbial finish line. Neither is the industry expert who blogs only when it's convenient instead of following a consistent schedule. Making a marketing plan, obeying that plan's instructions, and adjusting the plan to suit changing times or directions can help your brand stay on message and in front of its target market.


When it comes to expectations of quality, an Olympian starts at the point where most of us would have long ago declared victory. Medals are won and lost on fractions of points from the judges. Records are made to be broken, not tied. The insistence on excellence fuels the Olympic athlete's jets -- and it's also the "secret sauce" in champion-level marketing. Don't settle for adequacy in your marketing content or deployment. Remember, if your marketing is as good as everybody else's, it's no better than anybody else's. Aim to stand out from the crowd through sheer quality of execution.

Whether your audience is the entire world or a specific, narrow niche of lucrative prospects and clients, you can make your organization a winner in their eyes -- with increased revenue as your "medal." So market yourself like an Olympian, and go for the gold!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The FAQ Page: Content Marketing's Neglected Gem

Many times when a client and I are discussing content creation for a new website, the client will list many of the "must haves" such as the home page, the "About Us" page and various product or service pages. At some point or other I'll ask them, "What about an FAQ page?" And they'll mumble something along the lines of "Well, maybe later, I don't know, possibly, if it turns out we need one, sometime down the road...." blah blah. The notion seems to be that the only reason to build and populate an FAQ page on a website is to straighten out hopelessly confused buyers and prospective buyers. Okay, that's a good reason -- but it's hardly the only one.

Your FAQ page isn't just an online troubleshooting guide or information kiosk; it can also serve a powerful piece of marketing content in its own right. Here are some specific actions your FAQ page can perform to help you sell.

De-Cluttering Other Pages

Countless organizations pack their websites hip-deep in details, turning critical top-level pages like the home page into dense, unreadable, uninteresting messes. That's not to say that the details don't matter -- in fact, the right detail presented at the right time can help clinch a sale. The home page just isn't the place for it, but the FAQ page frequently is. By breaking these important specific into paragraph-sized chunks preceded by fairly open-ended questions ("What other chronic ailments can this therapy treat successfully?" etc.), you can lay out these details in manner that makes them easy to spot and absorb while freeing up other pages to do their work more effectively.

Spinning Your Side of the Story

At some point or other you may need to defend your products, your services, your company or even your entire industry against negative press or rumors. Even when all is generally well, there will be instances where you need to relieve prospective buyer's concerns over particular aspects of your offerings or processes. Hence the need for FAQs such as "Why does your product cost more than competing brands?" or "Is it true that some people have had allergic reactions to this item?" Your FAQ page can double as both a natural place to address any lingering concerns and as a positive-spin zone for shooting down false accusations and getting the best possible face on genuine shortcomings.

Guiding the Reader From Pain Point to Final Pitch

An FAQ page can act just like a landing page if you arrange the questions in the right sequence. Start with general introductory questions that include pain points (a literal example would be "What is sciatica?" "What symptoms does it cause?" "How debilitating can this problem become?"). Then go into questions and answers directly related to resolving that pain ("How fast does this therapy yield results?" or "Can this technique eliminate the need for surgery?"). Finally, wrap up the FAQ with a section that compels a call to action ("Why do you recommend that I schedule my first treatment as soon as possible?" and so on).

An FAQ page can do a lot for your online content marketing, no matter how knowledgeable your target market might seem to be. Ask the questions you want to provide the answers to -- and aim those answers right at your audience's sales triggers.

Any questions?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Features and Benefits: Your Marketing Content's One-Two Punch

You may have heard the following phrase, or some variation on it, over and over again: "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." In other words, emphasize the benefits of your products and services in your marketing copy instead of simply trotting out a laundry list of features and expecting those features to get your target audience excited enough to buy from you. I've made similar statements myself from time to time, and the basic principle is a sound one. But there's more it to than that, because features and benefits actually make a great tag team when they're used in the service of each other.

Common marketing wisdom holds that no matter how much compelling data people receive, their decision to buy is ultimately an emotional one. As impressed as they might be by a lengthy set of features, their purchase is fueled by a desire to experience some great end result that replaces their current distress or frustration and with a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. If you're just going on and on about all the things your product or service can do instead of describing the benefits of those actions, you're likely to slam up against what I call the So-What Factor. Readers are scanning your marketing content with the overriding thought, "What's in it for me -- how will this make my life better?" Answer that question with the right benefit statements, and you've got genuine sales content (and hopefully sales) instead of just information.

So are features unimportant? Hardly! Obviously you wouldn't have a business without features, since they represent the specific things you provide and the specific tasks those things perform. If you claim to provide a bunch of benefits without illustrating how you can make those benefits happen, you've got no credibility. So features are definitely important for lending legitimacy to your marketing content -- but they're not what you're really selling. What you're really selling is the promise those features provide, from a fresher-smelling home to a more productive workplace. The features are a means to an end for the buyer; the benefits are that end.

How do you make these two great tastes taste great together? Wherever possible in your marketing content, a feature should be tied to a benefit. For example: "Our new mop has [feature] nano-tubular microfiber static-cling head strands for [benefit] quicker, easier cleaning." Whenever you spout out a feature, be quick to follow up with an explanation of what that feature really means in terms of making your target audience's life better. By addressing the So-What Factor right away, you're keeping your readers' eyes on the prize and helping them envision the final result of owning that product or using that service in everyday life. This approach is especially critical if you offer jargon-heavy features such as legal services, high-tech equipment or medical procedures that require clarification foe the average Joe.

Can you introduce the benefits first and then tie them to features? Of course you can -- and in fact, that's probably the most effective order in which to proceed. Start with the emotional hook of "How much better would your life be if...." or "Imagine solving X problem more easily than ever before" or "Wouldn't you love to have...." This whets the reader's appetite to find out just how such a Shangri-La is possible, at which point you back up your promises with the features that turn them into a reality.

Anyway, don't think in terms of features vs. benefits. Think features and benefits -- because with the aid of this dynamic duo, your marketing content will pack a powerful one-two-punch!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When You and Your Marketing Expert Disagree

As you may already know, I regularly work with marketing agencies, providing that much-needed extra pair of hands for their efforts to produce the steady stream of online and print content that their clients need. Since the marketing provider is already (hopefully) in synch with the clients' brand identity, message, objectives and unique value proposition, I generally communicate through that professional instead of conversing with the client directly. This can be very helpful, partly for ensuring that the marketing provider remains firmly in control of the entire process, and partly because the marketing expert and I already speak the same lingo. I can't tell you how many times the marketing provider has said to me, "Okay, here's what the client says he wants -- but here's what we're actually giving him."

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Would you be outraged if your marketing provider took your ideas and requests and wove them into a completely different entity than you were envisioning? Or would you react with delight to realize that the final result actually surpassed your expectations? The answers to these questions depend on whether there's really a conceptual disconnect between you and your marketing provider -- and if so, where and why it's occurring. Ask yourself the following questions:

Are you clear on your own message?

You may feel that you know exactly what your brand is all about and who it serves -- but do you really? Many entrepreneurs who "just know" these things have never really sat down and sweated out the specifics. What do your buyer personas tell you? What demographics are you trying to cater to? What are your business's stated core values? The clearer you can get on these big questions within your organization, the more clearly you can express that message to your marketing provider.

Does your marketing expert get your needs and concerns?

Even if your marketing goals, challenges and needs are as clear as text on a page, your marketing expert must be ready, willing and able to assimilate that information. Bigger marketing agencies can have lots of people working on lots of accounts. Do you know who your point of contact is? Can you get that person on the phone when you have questions or concerns? Does the marketing agency promise personalized service, or are you just another account number? If you feel like you're talking to the proverbial brick wall, maybe you are -- and maybe it's time you talked to somebody else.

Is your marketing expert right?

When that marketing provider says to me, "Okay, here's what the client says he wants -- but here's what we're actually giving him," that's usually a good thing for the client. Remember, marketing professionals are in the business of helping you generate more revenue, and your preferred way of marketing yourself isn't necessarily the best path to that end. I once had a retailer complain to me that the ad I'd written "didn't speak to him." To which I replied, "I'm not trying to speak to you. I'm trying to speak to your audience." Sometimes it's best to let the marketing experts practice their expertise. As long as their efforts result in more customers and more revenue for you, they're getting the job done.

Whether you've engaged a turnkey marketing provider or a freelance marketing copywriter, communication is key to greater success for all involved. Clarify your own position, make sure your provider is listening -- and if everyone's on the same page, then trust those experienced professionals to make your marketing work.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Optimal Content for Optimized Websites: SEO Doesn't Mean "Search Engines Only"

Many of my copywriting clients are very busy bees indeed -- business owners and entrepreneurs who are struggling to pump out large quantities of online content as a means of attracting business and making themselves even busier. So I understand completely when one of them contacts me for assistance with "refreshing" old content instead of creating new content from scratch. Sometimes it makes great sense to revisit an old article angle or web page and rework the text to give it a new perspective or tweak it for an evolving audience. But if you're taking articles from across the wide expanse of the Internet and simply paraphrasing them "for SEO," you could be either making problems for yourself or missing out on some key benefits of marketing content creation -- benefits that go beyond search engine optimization.

Here are a few of the issues you need to consider if you're repurposing marketing content created by other individuals for their own organizations:

Paraphrasing or Plagiarism?

Paraphrasing another entity's content isn't a shady practice as such, but participating in blatant plagiarism is. If the original author notices, you might be slapped with an order to take down the offending item -- and if Google notices, your company may sink in the search rankings. What's the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism? It really comes down to how much of the original verbiage you use. If you must paraphrase, you must take the time and effort to completely rewrite the passage in question (by which point you might as well have created your own original content). Any word-for-word sections need to be placed in quotes or least attributed to their source.

Unique or More of the Same?

Your paraphrased piece may be as brilliantly stated as the original, or even more so -- but it won't be different in the ways that matter. If you're simply parroting what other industry experts had to say on the subject before you arrived on the scene, you won't make much impact in the sea of similar content. The right keywords might make your article or web page pop up in front of your target audience, but if the content surrounding them is nothing your prospects haven't read before elsewhere, don't expect to close any sales. Where's the original spin, the fresh approach? What's the "you factor?" Are you a thought leader -- or a thought follower?

Targeted or Generic?

A piece of marketing content originally created for one audience may hold little relevance for yours. If the piece originally referred to particular geographic areas or other details that appealed to their crowd, you'll have to take those out unless that author just happens to have the exact same target market as you. What's left is bland, generic text that doesn't clearly target anybody. Whatever the source of your material, you must always spin it so that it pertains directly to your clientele -- which usually means creating a big chunk of it entirely on your own.

As you can see, there's little to be gained by "flipping" existing materials from other organizations once you have to do all the extra work to make it yours -- especially when you could outsource your original writing tasks to a freelance marketing copywriter. True content optimization includes originality and creativity alongside the nuts and bolts of keyword placement, winning new customers as well as higher rankings. SEO stands for search engine optimization, not "search engines only!"

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

3 Steps Toward More Memorable Marketing Content

As of this writing, another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. Before we know it, we'll be celebrating Independence Day, followed not too long after that by Labor Day. Then of course there's Earth Day, Arbor Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, and a whole calendar's worth of other days we deem important enough to mark their arrival. While Memorial Day is specifically a day of remembrance, each of these days is memorable in its own way and for its own reasons. With that in mind, it's as good a time as any to examine whether your organization's marketing is engraving itself on the minds and in the memory banks of your target audience -- and if not, why not. If you're struggling to make your message as memorable as possible, here are three tips that can help.

1. Express Your Uniqueness

Everybody is unique; so is every business owner, and by extension every business. The particular set of qualities you bring to the table make up your unique value proposition. You have something that sets you apart from your competitors, whether you recognize it or not, and that something needs to be identified and emphasized in your marketing content. I once did an intake interview with a maker of commercial air conditioning products in which the owner insisted that nothing they had or did differentiated them from others in the industry -- until he let it slip that 30 years ago his company actually invented the product that everyone else in his industry was now selling. Was that something worth mentioning in their marketing materials? You bet it was. And you bet we did.

2. Tell a Story

How did your organization get where it is today? What obstacles did you overcome, and what handful of fateful moments changed your destiny in critical ways? What awards and other recognitions have you attained? Whose lives have you changed for the better, and how did you do it? All of these questions have one thing in common: they're stories waiting to be told. People love a good story well told -- so tell your stories as well as you can. Give them a beginning, middle and, peppering them with suspense, drama, emotion and energy. While you're at it, don't forget to let your clientele tell their stories as well, in the form of authentic, compelling testimonials.

3. Drive It Home

Even after you've established your unique "hook" and captured your audience's imagination with a strong, interesting narrative, there's still one more step you need to take to ensure the memorability of your message -- demonstrating its relevance to the reader. "Okay, you've proved to me that you have something special over your competitors and that you've done some amazing things, but how does that impact me?" Remind your audience members that this message applies directly to their own needs, fears, hopes and desires. Explain your uniqueness in the context of your superior ability to help them. Tell the story of your achievements in terms of what you can achieve for them as well. Drive that message home, and your target market will remember your words.

A memorable brand starts with memorable marketing content. So let's talk about these and other techniques for carving out your on special place on your clients' calendars!