Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How to "Friendly Up" Your Marketing Content Like a Pro

"Their website doesn't reflect their personality at all," said the marketing provider committed to revamping a small financial company's online presence. As this marketing provider's go-to writing subcontractor, my mission was clear -- rewrite competent but dry-sounding text to give it a warmer, friendlier tone. But would I be able to do that without sacrificing the sense of clear-eyed professionalism and wisdom so important for a financial firm?

The answer, happily, was yes, but the question certainly bears asking. If you're a medical clinic, accounting firm, insurance agent or some other type of B2C consultant, you must tread a thin line between conveying your expertise and projecting a genuine sense of humanness. You want people to feel comfortable and familiar with you, but not to the point of adopting such a down-home, aw-shucks tone that you torpedo your professional image. Here are some ways you can negotiate that tightrope successfully.

Use direct address. Many business make the mistake of falling mostly into the third person in their marketing content: "XYZ Corporation helps homeowners with the following problems...." Yes, the results can seem impressively professional -- but also cold and alienating. You don't want to read about what some company out there does for its target market; you want to know what our company can do for you. You can't come across as friendly unless you're addressing the reader directly. Making this change can be as simple as adjusting, say, your employee bios from third person (in which you're describing them) to first person (in which they're describing themselves).

Limit your vocabulary. You don't have to dumb down your content for an audience that expects a certain degree of skill and knowledge from your company. But you do need to go through that content and replace the five-dollar words with shorter, simpler ones wherever possible. Clear, simple word choices make the content easier to read -- a friendly gesture in itself -- while making you appear less intimidating and more approachable. The concepts are still there, the solutions are still sophisticated, but the language is that of your reader, not "business speak" or "tech speak."

Keep it other-directed. Every marketing student knows that you're supposed to emphasize benefits instead of features in your content. By staying focused on the reader's everyday pains, needs, and wishes, you show a genuine concern for their situation even as you explain how you provide the solutions that make their lives better. This emphasis alone can help transform cold, forbidding lists of "What We Do" into a comforting reassurance from a new friend who wants to help. Even if you have to throw out some of the details of your services, that's okay if it prompts the reader to contact their new trusted advisor (you) you for more information.

So never fear -- you can sound like a real person and an expert at what you do. Your products, services, and experience will continue to speak for themselves. Just make sure you're addressing your ideal clients or customers on the issues they care about, in terms they can understand, and then offer the solution they need. That's what friends are for, right?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It's Not Just the Content -- It's What You Do With It

I'd been blogging for a client in the home remodeling industry for several months when one day I noticed something strange. (Bear in mind that I don't usually visit client websites to check out my own writing; I already know what I did, and I don't feel a compulsion to see my every word "up in lights.") On this particular occasion, I had a sneaking suspicion that something was up, since the client hadn't voiced approval or even acknowledged receipt of the articles. So I went to the site, and sure enough, he hadn't posted what was supposed to be the previous two month's worth of material. Nor had he substituted anything of his own -- the blog had simply gone untouched the whole time. 

Any good writer's gut will sink a bit at such a revelation. Were the articles inferior or unacceptable for some reason? If so, why wouldn't the client let me know so I could make fixes? Had I done something to blow the gig entirely? I knew these thoughts would nag at me until I got to the bottom of the situation. 

So I asked the client what was going on, and he replied that things had been really busy lately and he'd let the whole blog thing slip his mind.

Well, there's not much I can do about that. I can take most of the pain out of the blog-writing process, but I can't make the client use the materials I supply. In this case, there was even a virtual assistant standing by to post the articles; the client had just never bothered to open them and read them, much less forward them to the assistant.

You hear the phrase "The fortune is in the followup" all the time in the world of sales and marketing. Usually, it refers to the need to keep pursuing your prospective buyers through multiple touches to snag a sale. But I'd say that it applies equally well to making full use of blog articles and other written content. There's no point in writing this stuff -- or paying someone else to write it -- if you don't put it work to work for you. 

You might be surprised at how often this sort of lapse occurs. I remember once being hired to write a big pile of marketing content for one client, who then proceeded to forget that he'd ever hired (and paid!) me. On another occasion, I asked a local client whether the onesheet I'd written for him the previous year had been useful in drumming up new business for him. 

Him: No, it didn't really help my marketing, actually.
Me: Wow, sorry to hear that. Do we need to make some revisions to it?
Him: Oh no, the content is fine. I just never printed it up and handed it out.

Again -- nothing I can do about that.

Before you decide that your marketing content isn't working for you, ask yourself whether you've given it a chance to do that work. Are you promoting your website via social media? Do your blog articles get posted regularly and frequently enough to build a readership that could turn into a clientele? Are you putting your print marketing collateral into enough people's hands? You may discover that your content really does work after all -- but only if you work it!