Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Breaking Through Burnout: How to Keep Your Marketing Content Fresh

What's your definition of the term "burnout?" For many workers, it's that sense of mindless routine that long ago replaced any genuine enthusiasm or novelty. For some longtime employees, it's counting the days until retirement so they can be freed from a career they never really wanted in the first place. In the marketing world, burnout is often associated with a kind of creative exhaustion -- the dreaded blank you draw when you know you must produce a new piece of critical content within a set timeframe for the umpteenth time.

Creative burnout can afflict not only individuals but entire departments. If you or your marketing team find it a struggle to meet your content creation deadlines these days, you may have your own case of burnout to break through. Here are some tips for re-invigorating your imagination and refreshing your marketing content.

Tune in to your competitors. 

If your eyes glaze over whenever you review your own marketing for new ideas, splash some cold water on them by checking out your direct competitors' stuff. I don't mean steal from them; I mean let their styles, sensibilities and viewpoint nudge your out of your complacency -- even if only to respond, "Oh, come on, get real! This is why we get it and they don't." Being reminded of what sets your own brand apart could set off some new creative sparks on how to communicate that uniqueness.

Practice creative repurposing. 

If you find yourselves saying, "Oh, we've said that already," stop and think about whether that's actually a problem. It's possible to repurpose content in fascinating ways simply by folding it into a new format or using it to support a new angle on the subject. Finding a new context for old content can give you a launching point for fresh perspectives or even inspire totally new concepts.

Get your audience into the act. 

Maybe you're worn out from constantly trying to second-guess what your target audience wants or needs to hear. There's a relatively simple way to remove that burden: ask them. Run interactive contests, include questions that prompt responses or conduct interviews with some of your prime clients for future blog posts. You might be gifted with some fabulous nugget of insight that can be polished into powerful new marketing content.

When in doubt, sub it out.

Sometimes there's simply more marketing content to be created than there are hours in the day or marketing professionals in the office. Don't be afraid to expand your tent as needed by engaging freelance marketing professionals to take the extra load off your schedule. That's what we're here for!

Don't let the demands of marketing content creation drag you into the doldrums of creative burnout. Try the ideas listed above and see if you don't start feeling better fast!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

3 Signs That It's Time to Update Your Website Content

Your website content is a thing of beauty, if you do say so yourself. Maybe you spent long hours polishing every turn of phrase and positioning the right keywords just so, or maybe you invested in the expertise of a professional copywriter and/or marketing agency to make sure everything was perfect. So it may seem odd to think about tearing all that wonderfulness apart and reconstructing it from scratch; even the idea of adding to it or modifying bits and pieces of it gives you pause. When, and how frequently, is it necessary to make updates to your current website content? Here are three indicators that the right time is right now.


1. Your Website Content Doesn't Reflect the Current You


Business change, brands evolve and new products and services proliferate. These are all healthy signs of growth and adaptation -- but if your web content doesn't change to encompass these new directions, you can create quite a cognitive disconnect, not only with your customers but also with the major search engines. Remember, Google rewards relevance. The more directly your content reflects exactly what you offer and the target market it's intended for, the more effectively you'll attract (and retain) the right traffic, and the higher you'll rank in those people's search results. Google also likes to see a fresh infusion of new content every so often as a sign that you're still actively building your online authority.


2. Your Numbers Are Down


Hopefully you're using some sort of analytics tool to measure and monitor your incoming web traffic over time. If your numbers have plunged recently for no obvious reason, maybe it's time to take another look at how your website content uses keywords. The keywords that drew so many eyes to your site a few years ago may have given way to other, hotter ones in your industry. You may want to evaluate your keyword strategies to see whether a shift in emphasis would be welcome. Adding fresh content that applies directly to your target market's needs, concerns and requests will naturally steer you toward a more optimized site; in fact, it's pretty hard not to address those issues without employing the very keywords they're using to search for solutions.


3. You Never Got Your Website Content Right in the First Place


If your website has never been an income generator for you, then anytime is a good time to update the content. This is especially true for organizations that hastily threw a site together back in the day and populated it with the text from their company brochure or a few basic, generic paragraphs from whichever team member could spare the time to write them. Now's the time to ask a web marketing specialist which keywords your content should focus on, how heavily those keywords should be distributed throughout the text, how much content each page ought to include and so on. This investment could pay off in a big way if it transforms your online presence from a "brochure site" into a healthy revenue stream.

Last but not least, don't forget to blog. Regular blogging (within your site's domain, of course) counts as updated content. Businesses that blog regularly get 55 percent more site visitors and 67 percent more leads than business that don't. That's a great way to update your bottom line, so contact me if you need an endless resource of relevant, engaging, top-quality content!



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.

Training


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.

Discipline


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.

Quality


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.