Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Outsourcing to a Freelance Copywriter? Do It the Smart Way

Once upon a time I received a request from a business owner who needed professional-quality content for his website. I suggested my Small Website Package, a heavily discounted web content service I offer to marketing vendors and end user alike, as the most cost-efficient and time-efficient way of making that happen. Some time went by with no response to my quote. When I followed up, he told me that he had been delayed in responding because he figured he could save money by roughing out the content himself and simply letting me edit it. 

No such luck. The content I received was so rough that it took me many hours of editing to get it into acceptable shape -- more hours, in fact, than writing it from scratch would have taken. As a result, my client ended up paying more for the editing than he would have paid for the writing. And that doesn't even include all the valuable billable time (and for all I know, hair) he lost over that rough draft!

I bring this up because an increasing number of business owners have discovered the power of outsourcing, thanks in part to Timothy Ferris's popular book on the subject, The 4-Hour Workweek. Ferris has carved out a lifestyle for himself based on outsourcing an enormous portion of his daily activities to third parties while streamlining his own share of the routine for maximum productivity in a minimal amount of time. It makes perfect sense, really -- hand over a time-consuming/tedious/specialized job (such as copywriting) over to someone who can do it really well in a fraction of the time it would probably take you (such as a professional copywriter). By having that third party work while you do other things, you're "stacking" your productivity for optimal time and money savings.

But like so many other things in life, outsourcing only works if you work it. The client I mentioned didn't save himself any time or money because he did the job and then outsourced it to be fixed. The lost billable time plus the extra hours required for extensive editing just made the job more expensive to complete. 

Now, there are certainly situations where editing is all a client needs, and I will recommend that course of action if it makes sense. If the writing's already done and mostly where it needs to be, then a quick polish can do the rest quickly and affordably. But if you're starting from zero, take advantage of the power of outsourcing and let your copywriter take the whole thing off your plate. You'll breathe easier, you can go back to doing what you do best, and you'll be getting more for your money.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Back to the Well: The Art of Repeating Your Blog Content

It's every marketing content creator's nightmare. You warm up the computer (the one on your desk or the one in your head), you search for a fresh topic for a blog article, and that's when you realize that you've hit the wall. Somehow you have managed to cover every single subject possible for discussion; there's absolutely nothing left to say, or at least that's how it seems at the moment. Meanwhile, that archive of articles from years gone by beckons to you like a long-forgotten pile of gold doubloons. "Oh, but I couldn't just.... but... I mean.... could I?" Yes, you can indeed re-use, re-visit or recycle old marketing content for your blog, as long as you do it the right way.

What's the wrong way? Well, simply re-posting an old article verbatim isn't an ideal approach. Regardless of what Google may or may not think about duplicate content within the same blog (and that's a question for your web developer or SEO expert), your devoted readers may recall reading that piece before -- and if they feel you're just treading water, they won't have any reason to keep checking your blog for the latest insights. Also, relying completely on existing material means you're not generating the ever-growing body of work that increases your online authority.

But there's nothing wrong with, say, dusting off an old article, updating it and presenting it as your revised thoughts on the subject. Most of the original material can probably still stand, allowing you to add some new value and call it a day. You can also use that old post as the springboard for a different angle on the same topic, or quote big annotated chunks of it in a new article. Keep these points in mind:

  • Change happens. Your business, industry and/or target audience may have evolved over the years. The article that worked for you back then may not make the same impact now -- but with a little tweaking, its new an improved form could say exactly what needs to be said.
  • What's old is new to your new audience members. More recent additions to your blog readership may be totally unaware that you've tackled a given topic before, and they're not likely to dig through years of archives just to determine otherwise. These folks can probably benefit from a "rerun," while established readers won't mind a slightly new twist on the subject.
  • If it was worth saying once, it's worth saying again. Some of the most critical points emphasized in your marketing content deserve to be heard again and again, not as rote repetition but with intriguing new variations on the theme. The great composers felt no shame about doing this, and neither should you.

Don't assume that every single blog article you create has to be unique, unexplored and unheard of. As long as you can make older work fresh and relevant, you'll never run out of valuable things to say -- which means you'll never run out of marketing content!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Copywriting for Customer Appreciation

Now that another Thanksgiving has come and gone, you've probably had ample time to think about what you're thankful for -- and if you're in business, you're obviously thankful for your clientele. But have you actually expressed that appreciation to your customers lately? Thanking your faithful buyers  and associates not only makes them happy; it also assures them that their choices matter and encourages them to keep choosing you. Sending out the right bits of content at the right times can make all the difference in your efforts to show your appreciation in a way that yields results. Here are are a few of the forms that content might take:

Special Offers

Have your customers attained a special milestone that deserves recognition, from their very first product purchase to 10 years as a regular client? Sending out targeted thank-you emails, letters or postcards lets them know that you're thankful for their decision -- especially if those messages include a coupon, discount or other goodie they can make use of. If a local coffee house, for instance, sent me a thank-you note for my business over the past year with a "Have a free cup of coffee on us" coupon, I'd certainly do that. I might also buy a cookie, sandwich or gift certificate while I'm there.

Thank-You Letters

If you just want to express your appreciation at length in a more personal manner, send thank-you letters to your top clients. While you may not have the time to craft individualized messages to each and every client, you can still write several different variations of the letter aimed at particular industries and personnel. But consider adding the personal touch of ink of paper wherever possible. Hand-signed letters make a deeper emotional impression on recipients, while hand-addressed letters are more likely to be noticed and opened promptly.


If you want to thank a vendor partner for their top-class service and assistance, write a ringing testimonial that can be posted on Yelp, LinkedIn, Twitter or included in that vendor partner's own marketing materials. A polished, eloquent testimonial that tells a compelling success story not only makes your colleague look like a million bucks; it also reflects positively on your own willingness to show your appreciation with such care and passion. If your own team is pressed for time, hire a professional copywriter to help you craft this piece into a brilliant promotional statement. Your vendor partner will feel a natural desire to reciprocate, so don't be surprised if you receive a glowing testimonial for your business in return!

Show your appreciation for your customers and associates, and they'll show their appreciation by sticking with you for many profitable years to come. If you're feeling thankful now, just wait till you see how much more you'll have to be thankful for in the future!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

4 Misconceptions About Marketing Content Creation

The quality, quantity and frequency of your marketing content creation can make all the difference in your organization's growth and success -- but it isn't always easy to know whether you're going about it the right way, especially when there are so many opportunities to mislead yourself. Here are 4 common misconceptions about marketing content creation you'll want to sidestep.

1. Your content should be about you. 

I sometimes see what I call "This Little Piggy Marketing," so named because it goes "We We We" all the way home. While it's important to provide a unique and compelling description of your organization's, history, mission and solutions, nobody's going to buy from a company that only talks about itself. The bulk of your marketing content shouldn't be about you; it should be about your audience -- the person perusing your content right this minute in search of a specific answer to a burning need.

2. Longer is better.

You may encounter so-called rules about how long a landing page or blog article should be, with longer typically portrayed as automatically being better. Take these with a few cellars of salt. Don't assume that because a web page or blog article is twice as long, it's automatically twice as good. Compact, meaningful verbiage usually carries more of a punch and makes a more memorable impression. It's true that the bigger an investment you're asking for, the more depth, detail and persuasive arguments you need to provide. But as a general rule, write only until you've made your point. Then stop.

3. SEO is everything.

I've addressed this point before, but it's all too easy to fall into the habit of writing "for SEO purposes." Yes, search engine optimization is important, and yes, regular, relevant content can help you boost yours. But keep in mind that SEO can only put your audience in front of your products and services; it can't inspire them to buy. The real power of your marketing content lies in its ability to hit your prospects and clients where they live once you've gotten their initial attention. As critical as it is to get visitors through the door, it's even more critical to convert those visitors into customers. 

4. Once you've created "enough content," you're done. 

Unfortunately, the tale told by your marketing must be a never-ending one, for the simple reason that your clientele, the business world and your own offerings are constantly changing. If you create a big pile of content and then simply stop generating more, that pile will eventually grow stale, no matter how brilliant it may be. To make matters worse, your clients may get the impression that your business has gone similarly stagnant. You must keep re-engaging your audience with fresh, relevant content that holds their attention and inspires new purchases.

Steer clear of these misconceptions, and you'll find it much easier to keep your marketing ROI on course toward your goals. Do it right -- and watch it work!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Content Marketing Revision: How to Get the Rewrite Right

H.G. Wells has been attributed with the following quote: "No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." I don't know whether Mr. Wells was speaking from some hard-earned personal bitterness (if in fact he really said this at all), but few writers can completely avoid an occasional goring with a red pen. I've been relatively lucky in that I don't usually get a lot of rewrite requests. That isn't necessarily bragging -- for all I know, the clients have rewritten my work themselves without mentioning it to me. In any case, I've found that there are certain things that both writers and their clients can do to help make the revision process less painful:

Writers: Ask questions, no matter how dumb they may seem. You may be the writing expert, but your clients are the ones with all the industry knowledge and inside data necessary for your project. Get clear on the basics and fill in the informational gaps as needed by asking questions. A quick email or phone call can prevent some major misunderstandings, not only on details but on the overall direction of the entire job.

Clients: Collect your notes -- all of them. You may be tempted to shoot some revisions requests to your writer the moment you receive the draft. But if you do, be prepared to fire off another email, and another after that. And then there's your marketing person, and your CEO, and whoever else may care to pile on with suggestions. Nothing confuses a writer worse than dozens of emails, each with different and possibly conflicting rewrite requests. Make sure you have collected everyone's comments and parsed them for consistency before sending that ONE email to your writer.

Both parties: Be prepared and responsive. For writers, that means listening closely and making detailed notes right from the initial consultation. Before launching into the first draft, go over the job with your client to make absolutely sure you're both on the same page. For clients, it means answering the writer's questions and providing additional information in a timely manner. Work together to make that first draft as compelling and accurate as possible, and you may not need to go to a second draft at all.

H.G. Wells would approve.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

4 Ways to Build Trust by Building Your Marketing Content

For better or worse, the current political tides have brought the word "trust" floating upward to bob prominently on the surface of the American consciousness. But for business owners and marketers, trust is a year-round essential. You know you have to grab and then build on the trust of your target audience if you hope to succeed. You may also know that presenting the right message is a critical step toward that goal. But do you know how to make your marketing content work for you in your trust-building efforts? Let's look at four smart strategies for communicating that trustworthy image.

1. State Your Case With Case Studies

You can say "Trust me" until you're blue in the face, but nobody's going to do so until you've answered the obvious next question: "Why?" Even then, you can list all kinds of features, awards and accolades, but your prospective buyer may be more powerfully persuaded with a detailed look at how your products or services helped someone else with a similar need. This is where short case studies can do a world of good. Write up a few well-chosen paragraphs describing a past client's problem, the steps you took to solve it and the results they enjoyed as a result. Post it on your website and repeat as needed until you've got a whole "gallery" of success stories representing different industries and/or solutions.

2. Tell Them Through Testimonials

You don't always have to blow your own horn -- sometimes your satisfied clients are more than happy to sing your praises publicly. That's why you should get into the habit of asking for real, verifiable testimonials. If you've got people vouching for your quality by sharing their own delight with your work, pepper your online and off-line marketing content with it. The fact that this is one kind of content you don't have to spend time and effort composing is a nice fringe benefit.

3. Flash Your Credentials

Just as flashing a badge can get a plainclothes police officer past skeptical gatekeepers and other obstacles, displaying your professional and community credentials can help lower trust barriers. If you belong to local or national chapters of well-known associations, get permission to put their logos or banners up on your site and add them to your print marketing collateral.

4. Keep Sharing Your Expertise

The more you know about your field, and the more generously you share those insights with others who need them, the more deeply you'll reinforce your reputation as a trusted expert. Keep posting those interesting, useful blog articles. Make your voice heard on your social media channels of choice. Polish your website and print content until it shines with authority.

Trust has to be earned, and your marketing content can help you earn it. Contact me if you'd like some help taking your reputation to new heights!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Creating a Need With Your Marketing Content

Here's a pretty funny Bloomberg 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're scoring 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 the"Menergy" they provide unleashes his inner Macho Man. In these cases a niche appeal has been invented from whole cloth.

Marketing Copy Makes It Cool

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.

Put Creative Copywriting to Work for You

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? Is there some sexy tag line or compelling copy out there that might gain you a whole new customer demographic? In other words, what's your "FOR DIGITAL" sticker? Contact me and let's talk about creating that need through the right marketing content -- creating new profits for your business as a result!

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.


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!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On With the Show: Content Marketing for Events

If your organization is hosting or co-hosting a big event such as a conference, trade show, networking event or fundraising gala, you may be biting your nails over whether you're going to get the hoped-for turnout. Even if you do enjoy a full house, how can you capitalize on that healthy attendance by keeping those attendees focused on what's going on -- and then keeping them interested in your ongoing endeavors long after the show's over? That's where appropriate, targeted, varied marketing content can come to your rescue. Let's look at some of the different strategies you can employ during the entire "life cycle" of your event.

Before the Event

Online invitation and notification platforms such as EventBrite and Constant Contact make it easier than ever to blast your event invitations to your target crowd, ascertain the responses and get a semi-reliable head count for the event. But as visually attractive and easy to use as these platforms are, you still have to sell the event itself. Take the time to craft a compelling message that you know will grab the attention and boost the pulse of your invitee. You may even want to create a small website or blog entirely devoted to event information and updates.

Don't forget the power of print while you're getting the word out online. Print marketing may be less cost effective than email marketing, but some people who never check their email will always take delight in receiving a colorful invitation letter or postcard -- just as others who routinely toss all junk mail will never neglect an email from a trusted organization that relates to their interests. A two-fisted digital-plus-analog approach will ensure that you get everybody's attention.

During the Event

Some events are relatively streamlined, uncomplicated affairs, while others are massive undertakings that break out across multiple sessions, rooms or even buildings. The sheer glut of possibilities in these larger events can seriously overwhelm or confuse guests to the point that they don't where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be there or what they're supposed to be paying focused on. Here's where a combination of strategically-placed marketing content, helpful banners and handheld materials such as programs or catalogs can come in handy.

Most people these days are inseparable from their mobile devices, and your attendees will likely be no exception. That's why you want to keep blogging, tweeting and using whatever other social media your organization uses throughout the event, encouraging guests to join in the online conversation. You can even make use of real-time polling programs as an interactive feature of your panels and presentations as one more means of promoting audience engagement.

After the Event

Your event may be over, but your marketing journey with the attendees has (hopefully) just begun. As guests leave, present them with goodie bags containing your organization's promotional trinkets, discount offers, brochures and other marketing materials -- including an invitation to your next big event.

After your attendees have returned to their respective homes and/or offices, it's time to follow up. Checking in on them can be as innocent as sending a thoughtful thank-you note, postcard or email. You're also perfectly justified in sending out comment cards asking for the attendees' opinions on how you can make your next event even better. From there, you can start emailing them special offers, new updates and helpful little articles from time to time -- just make sure you include an opt-out link.

From initial invitations to post-event communications, the right marketing content can lead to a better experience for your attendees and more worthwhile results for your organization. Mix your methods, provide the right content for the each phase of the event and stay in touch with your target market -- and you'll have something to show for the big show you're putting on!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Copywriting 1-2-3: Which Person Best Sells Your Marketing Content?

"Which person should I be? Am I 'I' or 'we?' Or should we be 'they?' And are my clients 'you' or 'them?'"

No, this isn't a transcript from a nuthouse. I have this kind of conversation with clients all the time. It's actually a very sensible and important conversation, too, because we're discussing what kind of "person" works best for which situations.

By "person," I mean grammatical person, in the sense of first-person, second-person, or third-person pronouns. We use these pronouns a zillion times a day in everyday writing and speech, usually without giving them a second thought, and yet these simple little words contain tremendous power. 

Pronouns shift perception. You can make me, your reader, see you as an individual, as a team, or as a large, impersonal corporation by merely swapping out a word. You can address me directly or have me see things through your eyes. Powerful gadgets, pronouns. But with great power comes great responsibility, and all pronouns are not created equal depending on the task you want them to perform in your marketing content. That's when I get into mind-bending conversations with my clients about "we," "I," and "they." So which person makes the strongest impact? It depends:

First person singular: First person allows you to present yourself as an individual. If you're a sole proprietor serving as a trusted advisor for your clients, talking them directly as "I" can build trust and open an imaginary (and later, hopefully, real) dialogue between you and your reader. Many small businesses live or die by their owner's image and personality, using "I" as a powerful tool for getting that image across.

First person plural: A.k.a. the "Royal We." If you're speaking for a team, "we" presents a collective image of that team. Companies of any size can use "we" to give the impression of a unified group effort dedicated to fulfilling the customer's needs. Even sole proprietors sometimes describe themselves as "we" or "us" to puff themselves up a bit, because in some professions being the only guy at the helm makes you look non-competitive or unsuccessful. Small businesses may shift between "I" and "we" to speak as the boss occasionally while still giving the impression of teamwork.

Second person: "You." Talking from the reader's perspective shows that you understand their feelings and needs -- and remember, from their point of view it's all about them anyway. "You" enables the reader to  imagine about how the product or service impacts their quality of life. "You can have it all! Change your life today!" Et cetera.

Third person: In some cases a larger company, or a small company that wants to appear large, can opt for more formality by referring to the company employees as "they," with formal bio blurbs describing individuals in terms of "he" or "she." This works well for items such as a bio or mission statement in a fancy-pants panel program or formal business plan. It can also make for a person in a relatively sober-minded profession such as medicine or law. But I've warned clients against it on occasion, because it also puts up a kind of wall between writer and reader instead of creating the comforting bond some businesses need to establish.

So, which person does the job for you? They all can, depending on the emotional impression you want to make on your reader. Once you've know what impression you want to make, you can attach the right person to the right job.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Let Me (Not) Explain: When Your Content Marketing Says Too Much

One of the most potentially tiresome elements of any story in literature, film or theater is exposition -- the delivery of information that helps the audiences understand the plot or characters but doesn't exactly thrill. The only error worse than relying on extensive exposition is stuffing all that dramatic deadwood into the beginning of the tale. Over-explaining is a surefire way to alienate readers or viewers who are there to be emotionally grabbed up and swept away -- and it's just as ineffective when it comes to marketing your products or services.

Does this mean that detailed information is inherently bad? No! Sometimes it's those little details that make what you've got more desirable than the other guy's offerings. And if you're marketing a house, car, boat or some other high-dollar item, you'd better have reams of data on hand for the careful consideration that goes into such purchases. In other words, the harder the sell, the more explaining you have to do in your marketing content. But even then, you have to think about where and when all this content needs to come up in your audience member's journey through the sales funnel.

In another post I talked about the pitfalls of the "endless home page," in which an entire website's content seems to be shoehorned into the very first screen the viewer encounters. This is an extreme example of over-explaining, but it can and does happen. Every word of that information may be valuable -- some of it may even make a major contribution toward an eventual purchase -- but it doesn't belong here. That's partly because the home page needs to present a welcoming, non-intimidating gateway to your brand, and partly because the home page is mostly about the sizzle, not the steak. Your marketing content's first task is to engage viewers on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. The initial push of excitement, wonder and/or relief you make here will carry the viewer on to the next level of discovery, whether that involves turning a page in your pamphlet or clicking on the right link to answer a burning need to know more.

At this point you can start introducing more and more detailed information because you know you've already got your visitors half sold. If you've done it right, they'll now focus on the data with the goal of confirming their initial hopes and excitement. Even the skeptics will come at the information hoping that it will prove them wrong about their doubts. Bear in mind that some of the many details you provide may provide certain visitors with reasons not to buy your product or service. If you haven't already got them on your side emotionally, you'll lose them then and there. But if you have, then they might keep pushing forward anyway to find other data that outweighs their objections.

So more often than not, "over-explaining" is really a matter of "premature explaining," or putting the intellectual cart before the emotional horse. You or your copywriter may compose marketing content bursting with sound, sensible, logical reasons to buy something -- but ultimately it's the primitive, emotional "I want this" impulse that compels the actual decision. Before you appeal to the brain, make sure you've already appealed to the trigger finger!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Role of Negativity in Your Marketing Content

Does complaining have a place in marketing? Sure it does! In fact, complaining about some problem or other is a time-honored tradition, especially in your pain statement.  ("You scrubbed those dishes till your hands were raw and the plates are still filthy. Don't you wish there was a dishwashing liquid that really made things easier?") But as with most copywriting techniques, there's a right way and wrong way to go about it.

Tearing down the other guy has its downside. If you want to position yourself as better than competition, go right ahead -- but I wouldn't make a whole campaign about it. Your audience might wonder why you're feeling that insecure about Brand X. The reader of your content may ask,"Why doesn't this brand talk about its own positive qualities more?" Even your pain statement can work against you if you hammer away at it like Debbie Downer. Present the problem, yes, but then leap into the solution in time to salvage the reader's mood and get them excited about the solution -- you.

The occasional rant can add a little spice to your blog among the many other kinds of articles you post there. But tread carefully. Just as too much spice can ruin a meal, too much ranting can ruin your online presence. Negativity in large doses will simply drive readers away. I follow a certain well-known copywriter's blog less frequently than I once did for this very reason -- I got tired of reading complaints about this or that bad experience with a client, how the industry isn't what it used to be, etc. If a blog can be said to take on a persona, this one had become a cranky old fart. Don't you do the same, unless your business expressly caters to the "You kids get off my lawn" crowd.

What about replies to complaints? Perhaps your business has a listing on Citysearch or some similar local-search directory for products and services. If so, hopefully your listing collects rave reviews from satisfied customers -- but the occasional angry, name-calling criticism can go a long way toward wiping out your good reputation. The urge to post an equally vicious rebuttal may seem natural. Don't do it! Instead of descending to the level of the complaining post, to take some time to cool off and devise a rational, polite, professional-sounding response. If you can't manage to do that in a timely manner, hire a copywriter to do it for you. I've actually written several such rebuttals in the past for business owners who didn't trust themselves to respond in the right tone.

Too much negative verbiage in a marketing piece is like too much negative space in a painting -- in both cases, you risk ending up with nothing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

4 Things Your Business Website Content Should Never Include

"What's wrong with my website content?" In my many years of fielding this question and many variations of it, I've gotten pretty good at pinpointing certain traps that business owners tend to fall into when they write their own online content. Here are four errors you want to avoid.

1. The Endless Home Page

This is a mistake that I encounter from time to time when I'm asked to redo the content for a commercial website. The client is mystified because visitors are bouncing off the home page without exploring the rest of site, "even though we give them tons of great information right from the beginning." It usually turns out that those tons of information are exactly what's wrong with the home page -- because they don't belong there.

Website visitors don't want to hack their way through a jungle of words, paragraph after endless paragraph, just to figure out where they stuff they actually care about is located on the site. I had to rewrite a home page once that read like an "About the Doctor" page -- and by "about," I mean "about 5,000 words." At first I thought the physician had accidentally pasted the content from her bio page onto her home page. But no, I found a separate, even longer description of the good doctor's life story on that page!

The home page is the front entrance to your site. Dress it with content the way you might dress the front of a brick-and-mortar store: with just enough sizzle to make visitors want to explore the aisles. Nobody buys anything while standing in the doorway.

2. "We We We" All the Way Home

Another recent website writing job posed a different kind of problem. This business owner was in the health and beauty industry and wanted his web content refreshed and updated. Once I took a look at it, I realized that it needed more than that -- it needed a change of perspective. Every sentence, it seemed, was about the company's services, the owner's expertise, the staff's training, "our this" and "my that" and "we provide" the other.

I call this problem "We We We Syndrome" because it's all about the business, when of course it should be all about the visitor. It should recognize the visitor's pain points and describe the products and services in terms of what they mean for the visitor's quality of life. Let's face it, the only question most prospective customers have when they read any kind of pitch is, "What's in it for me?" Focus on that.

3. Keyword Soup

Remember the alphabet soup of your childhood? As fun as it may have been to spell words with your lunch, a some point you probably realized that the stuff was nothing more than a thin, watery broth with lots of letter-shaped noodles in it -- at which point you could be forgiven for moving on to more nutritious fare. Well, lots of website content reads like a bowl of keyword soup, featuring unsubtle, often ungrammatical piles of keyword phrases surrounded by empty words.

This practice is called keyword stuffing. Nobody likes it, least of all Google, who penalizes site owners for the obvious repetition of city names, phone numbers and other key phrases that don't have much to do with the main body of the text. I've had some serious disagreements with web developers over the use of incorrect, stupid-sounding phrases for the sake of SEO. Yes, you'll get more people viewing your content (assuming you escape Google's watchful eye). But do you really want to leave all those extra viewers with the impression that your marketing is written by morons?

4. Double Trouble

Duplicate content is generally looked on as a no-no in the world of online marketing, but I've seen countless instances of it. Some businesses think nothing of simply lifting entire pages of web content from another organization and pasting them, intact and without attribution, on their own sites. This is a dumb move, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

There are those who claim that Google will penalize your duplicate content and others who maintain that it won't hurt your search rankings. But there's another, arguably more serious problem with it. If someone is searching for what you do, chances are that he or she will browse through a pile of search results, including yours. If your content is an exact copy of someone else's, then who's the author? Who's the real expert, and who's the copycat too lazy or unqualified to post an original spin on the subject? Keep in mind, too, that as long as your content is as good as everybody else's, then it's better than nobody else's. Keep it unique!

Step away from these four potential pitfalls and you'll be a step ahead of many of your competitors. And if you want to gain leaps and bounds on them, take one more step -- hire a professional copywriter who can get that web content just right the first time!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

4 Ways to Build Trust Through Your Marketing Content

Which brands you trust in the "Wild West" of the Internet, and why? Which businesses automatically make you feel like you're in the right place, dealing with the right folks? These are the questions you must answer for your own business if you want to have the same effect on customers, prospects, your industry and the public at large. Of course, even the most established brand didn't suddenly win the trust of the world overnight -- these winners worked hard to present an image that makes people turn to them every time for answers to specific needs. And if they can do it, so can you. Here are four marketing content strategies you can start employing right now to inspire trust in your business.

1. Be Human

Remember the image of the traveling snake oil salesman hawking his Miracle Potion as the cure for everything from head colds to insanity? There's a reason those guys got out of town as soon as they made a few quick bucks off a gullible public. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," goes the popular saying. Don't let them say it about your brand!

The bigger the claims a person makes, the harder they are to believe -- especially if all the news is good news. Some companies fill their websites with bold proclamations about they're the best or only solution to every possible problem their target audience may have -- exuding a whiff of Ye Olde Snake Oil in the process. That's why admitting your limitations can actually serve as a strong trust-building measure. Point out that you're not perfect, but add that you listen to your customers in an ongoing effort to refine your products and services, no matter how terrific your offerings already are. A few human imperfections can go a long way toward humanizing your image.

2. Display Endorsements

Nothing beats word of mouth for sheer marketing power. A staggering 89 percent of customers regard testimonials as the most persuasive marketing strategy of all, and 70 percent of them look for customer reviews before they'll even consider a given brand. You've guessed the next logical step -- post positive reviews and testimonials! It's a simple matter to post text excerpts or links to longer testimonials on your website and social media channels. (It might even be possible to talk a few of them into giving video testimonials for posting on YouTube.)

If your business has a presence on Yelp or some other high-profile business review channel, be aware that you may attract both positive and negative statements. But don't let those critical comments just lie there and fester -- respond to them with the appropriate mix of genuine concern, professional courtesy and (where applicable) gentle rebuttal. The company that seems to care about what its customers say will gain more trust than one that apparently doesn't.

3. Stay in Touch

What are your own trusted advisors currently up to? Chances are that you know because they routinely check in with you to brief you on their newest service, answer any questions you've put to them and generally keep the information pipeline running smoothly. That's part of the reason they've earned your trust -- and it's something you should do to cultivate trust in others. You can present a more transparent, public-oriented image by issuing press releases, publishing white papers, uploading case studies and blogging regularly on all the latest doings in your company and industry. This gives the impression of an organization that genuinely wants to stay in touch with the world around it and keep its clientele as informed as possible.

Of course you can also reach out and touch your customers and prospects even more directly through the use of targeted emails and print marketing pieces. The smartest, most precise way to do this is by creating a "drip" campaign that automatically sends specific pieces based on a recipient's previous action (purchase, web page visit, abandoning a shopping cart, etc.) If you don't have that mechanism in place just yet, consider sending out periodic tidbits such as monthly email tips or quarterly postcard reminders to keep you top of mind and in communication.

4. Offer Added Value

How much easier is it to place your trust in someone who delivers even more than promised? Going above and beyond the call of duty is a great way to build trust, and your business can achieve that goal by added value in the form of extra content marketing goodies. Maybe you can send a thank-you discount coupon for every X amount of dollars spent, for example, or offer a helpful e-book or white paper absolutely free to anyone who fills out a simple contact form. Sending thank-you and holiday cards is another great way to give your customers something extra to smile about -- and those smiles are worth their weight in trust.

Take these ideas to heart and put your content marketing to work to raise your brand's trust factor. It's easier than you might think -- and more powerful than you can imagine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How Big Is Your Marketing Team? As Big As You Need It to Be!

The first quarter of a business year is a time when many businesses take a hard look at their hiring needs and practices. Are they equipped with the right core team of skilled workers to handle the demands of the coming months or years? This can be a tricky question if their needs revolve around occasional projects instead of a predictable flow of activity. Keeping a full-time staff on payroll often results in businesses paying certain employees to do next to nothing at certain times of year.

That's why cost-conscious businesses are increasingly adopting a nimble business model that relies heavily on outsourcing. The benefits are obvious: Bring independent contractors on board only when you need their services, and you can effectively expand or contract your operation as needed for optimal efficiency. Outsourcing is the new normal for many industries and fields of endeavor -- including (I'm happy to say) marketing content creation and distribution.

Outsourcing Your Marketing Efforts

It's always been a bit of a mystery to me why businesses who feel the need to tighten their belts start by slashing their marketing operations. Of all departments and functions you could eliminate, this is the one most likely to bring in more customers and boost revenue, right? And yet somehow it isn't seen as one of those areas critical for helping to "keep the lights on," so organizations either pull back on it or under-invest in it from the beginning. But if you're outsourcing your marketing to a team of skilled professionals, then you can have it both ways. Hire those freelance marketing specialists on a seasonal or per-project basis and won't have to pay out regular salaries to these individuals. Along the way you'll also save on:

  • Payroll operations expenses
  • Workers compensation premiums
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Social Security and Medicare payments

Outsourcing for Marketing Agencies

The outsourcing model makes even more sense for small marketing agencies. If your agency is just starting out and needs to keep its operations as cost effective as humanly possible, why not outsource the bulk of the "heavy lifting" (copywriting, graphic layout, coding, social media management etc.) to a small group of trusted, experienced freelancers? The longer these folks collaborate with each other (and with you) on various projects, the more solid a team they'll eventually form. Once you're flush with new clients and you're ready to bring on a permanent creative bullpen, invite these professionals into the fold full-time -- or if everyone's happy with the status quo, keep on outsourcing and saving. If a couple of members aren't working out, it's easy enough to swap them out for others until you have the ideal mix.

Don't let your business revenues stall because you're afraid to invest in your marketing engine; instead, take an attractive financial shortcut without selling your marketing quality short. Hire a freelance copywriter, designer or other pros to obtain all the marketing effort you need -- and none that you don't!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Past, Present and Future of Business Blogging

Twenty years ago, the word "blog" didn't exist. Think about that. In the two decades that the Web has grown from a quaint but useful academic aid to a global commercial necessity, blogging has pursued its own dynamic evolution from personal soapbox to marketing must. Where did blogging come from, why it so critical for your business right now, and where can you expect blogging to take you in years to come? Hop into your mental time machine and let's take a quick guided tour.

In the Beginning: Electronic Journalism for (and by) the Masses

The World Wide Web was still in its infancy when Justin Hall set up a personal home page called Links.net in 1994 (and yes, it's still up and running today). As the name implied, it was made of primarily of links to various categories of online content that Hall found fascinating enough to share with the public, strung together by bits and pieces of editorial content. This is pretty much what blogging was for the first couple of years of its existence -- a combination bulletin board and editorial column created by individuals who wanted to share their favorite stuff. But things took a decidedly more professional (and journalistic) turn in 1998, when the Charlotte Observer used its blog to cover Hurricane Bonnie, demonstrating the potential power of this communications medium.

The next logical step was using blog posts to promote products and services. I actually got in on the cutting edge of this trend, even though I didn't realize it at the time, when a promotional products company asked me to write a series of case study articles that they could post on their website's blog page. That was around 1999 or 2000, I think, when businesses were still laboriously hand-posting directly onto their web pages. Soon afterward came the debut of blogging programs and platforms that made it easy for any business to post regular blog entries and get their brands circulating throughout cyberspace.

The Rise of the Thought Leaders: Business Blogging Gets Real (and Social)

Today, blogging is considered an essential method for maintaining a steady stream of marketing content on the vast virtual shopping mall/newsroom/entertainment center that the modern Web has become. Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media have created a voracious hunger for engaging, enlightening blogs that genuinely fulfill needs and solve problems. The days of insipid, keyword-stuffed filler are long gone; today's search engines reward relevance, authenticity and trustworthiness of content with higher search result rankings. This is the age of "thought leadership" or "expert" articles -- meaningful editorial pieces that address specific issues while referring readers toward a specific brand or company as the place to go for the solutions. And the more you blog, the better it works; companies that boost their output from 3-5 posts per month to 6-8 posts, for example, enjoy nearly twice as many online leads.

Whither the Business Blog?

Will the humble blog get buried underneath all the other distractions created by so many online media channels, from podcasts to videos? Not likely. Instead, your blog content will see more targeted distribution than ever as online analytics engines get smarter and more powerful. Audio and video presentations can be thought of as just another form of blogging -- and even if you take full advantage of those media, you'll still want to serve the segment of your target audience that prefers reading to watching or listening. I predict that I'll be blogging for all kinds of businesses for many years to come -- and I'll be happy to add you to my client roster!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Want More Timely Marketing Content? Think Seasonally!

I'm writing this post about a week after Martin Luther King Day, and about three weeks after New Year's Day. Did these holidays offer particular opportunities for your business? Did they at least align themselves nicely with your organization's brand identity, mission, values or goals -- and if so, did your marketing content reflect or comment on them?

Of course you want to populate your blog, social media channels and other inbound marketing platforms with timeless or "evergreen" content that will always matter to your target audience (and always help you rank higher in search results). But national, state or local observances of all kinds make an impact on our daily lives. The seasons themselves can play a huge role in how consumers behave, what they search for and what they buy. Take Valentine's Day, which is coming up in just under three weeks. If you're a candy maker, a confectionary retailer, an upscale restaurant or a florist, does this holiday matter to you? Of course it does, so you'll advertise special discounts, storewide sales or other promotions accordingly. It would also make good sense to blog on the topic, if only to jog your potential customers' memories on the subject and push them into action.

But seasonal behaviors are often much less obvious than that -- which is where online analytic tools and savvy can come in handy. For example, if you have a particular product you want to promote, try running that keyword through Google Keyword Planner or Google Trends to see how the numbers for that product spike or drop at specific times of year. You may find that the search timing appears disconnected to the relevant time of year; people planning a June wedding, for instance, aren't going to wait until June to engage all the necessary services. Analytics help you understand when and how fast the "gears" of the consumer decision-making process actually turn -- and this enables you to time your marketing content to reach them at just the right moment.

Get imaginative with your seasonal approach to content marketing. Yes, Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day and President's Day tend to grab all the media attention in February, but what about Groundhog Day? Doesn't this goofy minor holiday have something to say about the advent of warmer springtime weather -- and might those weather changes (for better or worse) influence your audience's buying behaviors? If you're in the health and wellness industry, what about all the national health awareness days that occur in February, such as American Heart Month, National Children's Dental Health Month and African Heritage & Health Week? Or what about state and local holidays such as Texas Independence Day or Maryland Day? 

All of the observances mentioned above -- and many, many others -- represent golden opportunities for touching your target market with especially timely and relevant information. So get ahold of a skilled, experienced marketing copywriter and start seasoning your marketing calendar with seasonal content!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Improving Your Ideation Skills for More Brilliant Blog Posts

Most great accomplishments begin with a great idea. That may give a distinct edge to the world's certifiable geniuses, but it's likely to drive the rest of us, well, certifiable, especially when it comes to creating fresh, original blog posts and other forms of marketing content. Nothing can cause more frustration and mental agony that ransacking every resource you possess for that insanely great topic idea that's somehow escaped you in scores or hundreds of previous articles. If you're a business owner not in the habit of creating marketing content, you may find this aspect of the process overwhelming; if you're tasked with hammering out tons of client content for a marketing agency, you're probably aghast at the amount of time it's taking you. Here are some smart strategies for more effective ideation.

Ask Yourself What the Reader Needs

Inbound marketing is all about getting your content in front of people in response to their demonstrated needs and interests. You want your brilliant, entertaining article to pop up when a prospective buyer searches online for help with a specific challenge or question. So it's not enough simply to populate the Web with general-purpose explanations of your products and services -- you have to ask yourself, "What is my reader likely to need some help with right now?" For instance, many of you probably reached this article because you had questions or concerns about ideation for your blog posts. (And here we are, examining that specific challenges and its possible solutions. Mission accomplished!) Focusing on specific issues will help you identify focused, relevant ideas to write on.

Expand Your Scope

Sometimes your ideation process actually needs to become less focused to generate fresh results. This was the case when I was ghost-blogging for a company that sold metric screws and bolts. We discovered very quickly that discussing the various features of the products themselves was a fast track to boredom, not to mention the fact that there were a finite number of products to discuss. So I expanded the ideation focus outward to include applications for these different items. What do screws and bolts go into? Boats! Motorcycles and bicycles! Sports cars! Cutting-edge computing devices! Cool stuff that pertains directly to users' everyday needs. (See above.) We even got into the history of screws and bolts, metric versus Imperial measurements and other "fringe" topics that nevertheless fed real-world interests.

Use Springboards

A famous comedian once held his audience spellbound for several minutes -- only to say, "I told you that story to tell you this one," at which point he began telling the anecdote that actually contained the joke. Do major news events, customer success stories, famous fables or other existing tales hold the kernel of your next great article? Is it analogous to some specific aspect of what you do? Does it illustrate a point that you want your audience to absorb and respond to? Amazing developments are floating in the air (or on your browser's news feeds) all the time. Grab one and run with it.

Compelling, unusual, specific topics can take your inbound marketing content to a whole new level, whether you're coming up with them yourself or getting help from the experienced creative mind of a professional marketing copywriter. Don't shy away from the challenges of ideation -- conquer them!