Tuesday, January 19, 2021

How to Raise the Curtain on Your Marketing Content

The curtain rises on a murky, foggy night in Elsinore. A man stands a nervous guard atop a castle rampart, his lantern the only point of light in the gloom. He hears a sound, leaps to his feet and demands that the unseen figure identify himself. Fortunately, it's only his friends who have come to relieve his watch, though they appear as unsettled as he. Why the terror? Because of the ghost, of course -- the shadowy figure who has appeared on the ramparts as of late.

Obviously I'm describing a play -- Hamlet, to be precise -- and not a brochure, website or print ad. On the surface, in fact, this scene would appear to have nothing at all to do with marketing or sales copy of any kind. After all, Shakespeare's not selling anything here, is he?

Sure he is. He's selling Hamlet.

An arresting opening to a play, film or literary work sells interest in the rest of it. It must hook its audience quickly and strongly if the author wants that audience to show up for Act Two. A great opening to a gigantic epic novel can persuade a reader to wade several hundred pages deeper than he otherwise might. ("Call me Ishmael" has a lot to answer for.) Raising a brilliant opening curtain is like casting a magic spell -- it may not hold for very long, but it'll do its job long enough for you to strengthen and reinforce your command over those people for the period of time you need it.

The beginning of your marketing piece must command the "stage" -- in this case the inner stage of the mind -- just as firmly. This is especially, brutally true on the Internet, where we all have the attention span of a gnat with attention-deficit disorder. When someone lands on your homepage, you have a precious few seconds to cast your spell, so hit hard and aim true. Whether you open with an all-enveloping mood, a vivid depiction of a painful moment, a hearty laugh, an astonishing concept, or any of the other weapons in your mage's staff, make sure you point that initial moment straight at the heart, mind or funny bone of the specific people you want to enthrall. First ask yourself, "What will get my ideal customer's attention right now and hold it long enough to turn them into potential buyers?" Then fire away.

The same principle holds true for print marketing as well, though generally people will give you more time as they take in the pretty pictures or the nice slick paper. Even so, they want to hear what they want to hear, because they've got stuff to do. So tell them in a big way, right from the opening header, and then follow up on that initial promise with more goodies as you guide them through the piece.

You don't have to be Shakespeare to grab your audience's attention. You just have to know what will make their collective heart skip a beat, and then put it in front of them as the first thing they encounter.

Curtain up!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Are You a Problem Solver? Then Market Yourself That Way

Does your business fill a need? Does it help people? Does it solve a problem? 

Of course it does. And that makes you a professional problem solver. We all need professional problem solvers -- people who know way more than we do about how to resolve a given issue causing us some kind of pain, and can do so relatively quickly and effectively. Some of these professionals even share their knowledge and insights with us just because they can. These folks are the ones we really trust, the ones we go to time after time. They are our experts.

You may already have established that relationship with your clients. Now, how would you like to build the same relationship with thousands of people you've never even met?

Take Bob Vila, for example. Everyone recognizes and acknowledges him as a master craftsman, an expert in the field of home building and remodeling, and I can assure that 99% of the people who hold that opinion have never met him, hired him or worked with him. So why does everyone agree on his expertise? Because he shares it with us through his website, books and TV appearances. He's always doling out useful information, in return for which we say, "There goes a guy who knows what he's talking about. I could do worse than take his advice."

You can make yourself known as a trusted advisor too, by establishing your expertise in your field to a wide audience. Write articles, blog posts, and direct-mail or email pieces that solve common problems or answer common questions pertaining to your field (or hire a copywriter to translate your diamonds in the rough into polished gems). Hand out information. Help people. Add value. When it's time for your prospective customer to pay for deeper assistance, who will they logically choose as the provider of that assistance?

Who will we trust first -- a salesman who sends us generic monthly offers, or one who provides us with valuable insights and helpful tips on a regular basis? Which one is more likely to become our go-to guy when the time is right to do business?

You are a problem solver. Something about what you do brings people relief and makes their lives better. So share your gifts with the world -- and receive a world of gifts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

How to Take a Holiday Break Without Breaking Your Marketing Machine

I feel confident saying that just about everyone is ready to put 2020 to bed. This holiday season offers a welcome chance to disconnect (as much as possible) from accumulated stresses as you rest, recharge, and get ready for a productive 2021. But even if you're on vacation, you don't have to let your marketing efforts go on hiatus as well. If you want to keep your target audience aware of you -- and perhaps even buying from you -- all the way through the end of the year, consider adopting the following smart strategies to keep the ball rolling, not only this holiday season but whenever you decide to get away from it all.

Stockpile That Social Media Content

Internet traffic stops for no one at any time of year. Your target market will continue to communicate, search, and shop online, especially in the face of ongoing pandemic precautions and restrictions. You'll want to keep up your regular schedule of social media posts, from blog articles and Tweets to YouTube videos and Facebook updates. 

If you have a vacation coming up, make sure you've created a stockpile of extra social media content that you can keep feeding into your marketing machine. If necessary, hire a freelance copywriter, video production company, or other marketing professional to generate this surplus of material. You can stick to evergreen topics that will work for any time of year, or you can pre-plan specific items to accommodate holidays or other calendar milestones.

Automate as Much as You Can

All that ready-made marketing content won't do you much good if you fail to put it out there on schedule -- another necessary task that can impose on your rest and relaxation. The good news is that technology makes it easy to automate your marketing content distribution. For instance, most online blogging platforms allow you to pre-schedule your posts for any future dates you prefer. Twitter automation tools can provide a wide range of scheduling, sharing, social listening, bookmarking, and other helpful options to take work out of your hands.

Automation can also mean placing your marketing content in the hands of providers for distribution on a pre-arranged schedule. As long as your Web developer, social media strategist, copywriters, graphic designers, and other marketing professionals are working from a detailed editorial calendar, you should be able to count on those digital and print marketing pieces going out according to plan. Just make sure that all your providers are on the same page, with any tweaks to the editorial calendar shared by all concerned.

Outsource, Outsource, Outsource

All this discussion of third-party marketing providers points toward one other huge vacation saver for business owners and small marketing departments: outsourcing. The more marketing content creation and execution you can delegate to outsourced professionals, the less of it you have to bother with yourself. This lightened marketing workload makes holidays and other breaks much easier to accommodate.

Do you feel odd handing over the keys to the car, so to speak, to outsiders? If you've chosen skilled, trustworthy marketing experts, you may find that the quality of marketing improves dramatically even while you're sitting back and enjoying a break from that activity. You always have the option of contributing as much (or as little) as you like to the proceedings if you just can't resist getting involved.

Try these strategies on for size. You may find that they enhance your holiday enjoyment as well as the quality and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. Have fun!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Why "What Are We Going to Do Now?" Isn't a Marketing Strategy

I've always been a big fan of the late great Spike Milligan. In addition to his pioneering comedic lunacy on "The Goon Show," Milligan also stretched the boundaries of TV's sanity on his "Q" series. Many of his comedy sketches on that show didn't even bother with an ending -- an offstage director would simply announce that the sketch was over. The cast would then march toward the camera, chanting: "What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now?..."

We're used to reacting to situations as they come up, which is all well and good as an important survival trait. But many businesses are less skilled at manipulating the circumstances that create (or prevent) those situations. In other words, they fail to plan. I've written my share of articles for the facility management industry, and the big push there is always for proactive management instead of reactive management. You can fix it every time it breaks down, or you can maintain it so it breaks down less frequently. Which sounds like a smarter way of working -- or marketing, for that matter?

Marketing without a plan is like saving money without a budget or driving a car to an unknown destination. You feel like you're doing something, and maybe you even see progress to support that feeling. But you don't really know what you're doing, how long you should keep doing it, or when you should stop doing it. In the marketing world, this results in lots of time, effort and money going down the chute with little or no idea of what the return will be or even should be. You may as well burn a goat on an altar or consult bird entrails.

I can usually tell when a business lacks a firm marketing plan, because that's when the owner starts asking me basic strategy questions: "Who do you think we should be aiming this web content at?" or "What tone do you think this content should adopt?" or "What kinds of print marketing should we try?" This tells me that the company hasn't done sufficient research into who they want to sell to, where those people are, and what those people like. This requires analyzing all the big data you can get your hands on to see how customers have discovered your business in the past, whether or not they bought something, and why they bought that thing. Until you have that data, you can't create a long-term marketing plan with any hope of delivering a predictable ROI.

Another thing I hear all the time is, "Well, we figured it was time to talk to a copywriter because we're thinking about maybe giving [blogging, a new website, an email campaign, a sales letter] a try." Well, these folks thought wrong. Why are you thinking about giving it a try? What solid indicators do you have that your target audience will respond to it? What other tactics have you tried in the past, and what results did you get? And how do those results factor into this latest notion?You would never think of just giving a new financial plan a whirl, just to see what happens. Since your marketing plan is a big part of your business plan, you shouldn't just spin the big wheel with it either.

My advice? Before you even talk to a professional copywriter, work out a detailed marketing plan with your core team. If you don't have a marketing team in place, then align yourself with an experienced turnkey marketing firm that can provide you with the data analysis, strategic planning, and reliable implementation you need for optimal success. Since I write for these kinds of companies all the time, who knows -- we might end up chatting after all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Want to Optimize Your Marketing Copy? Keep It Short and Sweet

I once had a client for whom I'd written a 300-word mini-article ask me, "On second thought, a 600-word article would fit my template better. Can we just pad this piece out to 600 words?"
I also recall my response: "Can we? Yes. Should we? Not necessarily."

If brevity is indeed the soul of wit, then you want your marketing content to be the life of the party -- not the guy reeling off some rambling epic tale with apparent beginning or ending as he blocks your way to the bathroom. Effective, powerful, entertaining writing makes its point and then gets out of the way, instead of monopolizing the reader's time and patience.

Brevity doesn't necessarily entail squishing everything you write down into soundbites, though the runaway success of Twitter has proven that 140 characters can go a long way. But it does mean adopting a "less is more" approach and viewing your writing with a surgeon's eye. Here are some advantages to concise writing:

It's easier on the eye. The eye gets fatigued as it pores over massive blocks of text, and the more text the page contains, the less of it actually seems to matter. Clear, concise writing is easier for the eye and brain to handle, giving you better odds that your reader will actually want to keep reading.

It packs more of a punch. I find that my writing always turns out better when I've overwritten and have to reduce the word count. This kind of forced edit requires me to condense and purify my work, cutting out digressions and extra phrases until the writing becomes airtight. What's left is all muscle -- a lean, mean content machine.

It's more versatile. A 500-word article will prove easier than a thousand-worder to integrate into a variety of situations, formats and templates. A few short paragraphs of website content leave you more room for other page elements than an elephantine chunk of writing that has to hog center stage.

Is there still room for longer-form copy? Absolutely. In fact, your web developer or SEO specialist may advise you to go a thousand words or longer on certain anchor posts, web pages, or other mainstays of your marketing content. But if you're going to write those thousand words, make sure the piece you're writing needs every one of those words to convey its ideas and emotions with maximum impact. In other words, let the length fit the depth and vice-versa.

If your written content feels flabby, fails to hold the attention or just makes your eyes hurt, take out your red editing pen (or hire mine) and start cutting away the fat. You may love what you find underneath!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

4 Benefits of Partnership Marketing

Do you sometimes feel as if it's your brand against the world? Marketing your products and services can seem forbidding when you're trying to shine in a galaxy of businesses, whether they compete with you directly or not. If you're tired of going it alone, why not hitch your star to a partner organization?

Partnership marketing is nothing new; you see it all around you in the form of affiliations, co-sponsorships, charitable efforts, and cross-marketed promotions. but have you ever really thought about how this approach might benefit your business? Here are four advantages that may merit your consideration.

1. Visibility Benefits

Two brands working together will naturally make a bigger footprint on the public consciousness than either of those brands working separately. When your visibility increases, so does your perceived success and importance as a brand. There's also the benefit of success by association. If another notable brand clearly thinks highly enough of you to want to cross-market themselves with you, then a bit of their own prestige rubs off on you (and presumably vice-versa).

2. Cross-Audience Benefits

Do see other companies out there whose target market overlaps with yours to some degree? If so, both of you can benefit from partnering up on certain marketing efforts. Sometimes these partnerships make obvious sense. For example, if you've ever noticed the sea of MacBooks at your nearest coffeehouse, you can easily see why Apple and Starbucks had every reason to hook up. But even when the association is relatively subtle, you can still use this strategy to trigger prospective buyers to think of you more frequently.

3. Reputation Benefits

Reputation doesn't just mean size or success -- it can also apply to values and virtues. By partnering with a good cause that naturally aligns with your company's established values or priorities, you can genuinely help individuals or groups in need while also helping your own brand image. Unless you feel strongly about doing all your good deeds anonymously, this form of partnership marketing just makes good sense.

4. Product/Service Collaboration Benefits

You don't have to stop at simply cross-promoting your products or services with those of another business. Why not collaborate with that business to create a cross-branded product or service? This collaboration could range from licensing one part of the product or service to creating a white-label offering or even a full-blown project merger. Now you have something that you can sell with the power of two marketing departments working together.

Of course, you'll have to create new marketing content to support these efforts -- but heck, you can always hire a professional copywriter or other talent to help you with that. It's well worth it if it enables you to explore the full potential of partnership marketing!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

This Halloween, Avoid These 4 Scary Marketing Gremlins

Halloween is coming, although 2020 has already given it a tough act to follow. In the spirit of this holiday, let's look at four ghoulish gremlins you want to exorcise from your marketing content and strategies.

The Cobwebbed Website

Countless horror stories and films place a spooky old abandoned house at the center of the proceedings. You've seen the characters shuffling up creaking stairs, pushing cobwebs out of the way with every step. (Who knew spiders could be so industrious?) The house presents a cold, dead, unwelcoming environment. Does your ancient website do the same? Many of the old-school sites built in the days before mobile shopping took over the world can seem as ugly, antiquated, and hard to navigate as any haunted house.

If you have an old static website, you need to get that relic brought up to code, so to speak. Invest in a new responsive design or dedicated mobile site that looks just as good (and works just as well) on small devices as it does on large monitors. At the same, pull up all that creaky old web content and refresh it with new, better-optimized verbiage.

The Ghosts of Content Past

Your website may not be the only part of your marketing array that suffers from a case of the cobwebs. If you haven't updated your LinkedIn bio, company brochure, sales letters, direct mail offers, or other marketing pieces in a while, those pieces could be haunted by the ghosts of long-dead, long-irrelevant features, benefits, and brand messaging. No matter how frequently you issue and reissue this marketing content, it will miss the mark because it represents the past, not the present.

Set a new goal to keep all your marketing tools consistently up to date. Make sure that they all complement each other with relevant, congruent information that supports what you are now, not what you were once upon a time. 

The Invisible Call to Action

Congratulations -- your marketing content has lured your prey into your parlor. As your prospective buyers absorb that print or digital marketing piece, their eyes inevitably reach the point where they're supposed to receive a command to do something: the call to action. But where is it? you've somehow managed to exclude it or make it unclear, leaving your audience adrift and releasing them from the spell you created.

Don't suffer the effects of an invisible call to action. Clothe it in clarity by placing it at the end of your spiel and issuing clear, simple, easily-obeyed instructions to your readers. 

The Blog of the Undead

Legends tell of an ancient blog -- a blog page that once thrived, only to hover lifelessly in an uncertain state today. Is it alive, or is it dead? It still exists on your website, but it hasn't seen any fresh blood (in the form of updates) for months or years. Does this lack of interest and information mean that its owner is equally moribund? Has your brand joined the ranks of the undead?

You know full well how to breathe life back into your blog and other forms of inbound content marketing. Create content. Write articles. Create videos. Post news updates. Do these things on a regular basis so that your clientele can see that your business still has a pulse. If you need help, hire a freelance copywriter or other qualified marketing professional.

Have a happy -- and profitable -- Halloween!