Monday, May 29, 2017

Copywriting for Your Video: The Secret's in the Script

Video is the way to go. You’ll hear that from an increasing number of web developers and social media consultants these days. Uploading your marketing or informational videos to your website, YouTube and other channels can boost your online presence and create excitement about your company. And these days it’s easier than ever. I was in video production back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and creating even a short clip required a roomful of expensive editing facilities. Today you just point your iPhone in front of your face, talk/record, and post the result. Voila! Instant marketing — for better and for worse.

Video hasn’t killed the copywriting star. Why? Because more often than not, the effectiveness of a marketing video hinges on the words coming out of the presenter’s mouth. Some business owners with the gift of gab might have a magical ability to say all the perfect things in the right order in exactly X number of seconds. The rest of you, however, will find yourselves uhh-ing and umm-ing your way through multiple frustrating takes — including, in the worst case scenario, the final one. Posting such a video can do more harm than good.

So what’s the answer? Most video producers will tell you that it’s a script — a prepared marketing statement spoken directly to the camera and/or recorded as voice-over narrative. Video scriptwriters typically handle this task by creating a two-column document, with a list of shots on one side and the corresponding spoken text on the other. This not only keeps you from sounding like a doofus when you address your audience, but it also gives the director and editor a clear written blueprint for the entire video, saving time (and therefore money) in post-production.

Do you want to appear on camera or not? The great advantage of the voice-over narrative is that it allows you to record the whole thing at your leisure without having a camera pointed at your face; the editor will simply insert the completed audio wherever it needs to go in the finished product. And since you’re not on camera while you’re delivering your spiel, you don’t have to memorize anything. This is a big deal, believe me, unless you have a TelePrompter or cue cards standing by (and even then, your eyes may betray the fact that you’re reading). 

In some cases it may be worth it to hire a professional actor to serve as the face of your company, at least on video. On the other hand, if you are already known as that face, you’ll need to find a way to deliver the text yourself. A skilled copywriter will often help an on-camera novice by scripting a series of shorter speeches taken as multiple shots, as opposed to long monologues. Believe me, I’ve seen a LOT of time and money wasted because some poor non-actor was forced to nail a demanding speech in a single take.

So while it’s fantastic that video technology is cheaper and easier to work with than ever before, remember that to some extent, you still get what you pay for. And paying for a professionally-written script can make all the difference between a glorified home video and a genuinely effective marketing presentation.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How to Create Great Marketing Content Today (That Won't Embarrass Your Brand Tomorrow)

I'm something of a connoisseur where really bad movies are concerned. Everything from cheap drive-in fodder and Z-grade science-fiction films to those bizarre educational shorts we used to watch in school holds a strange interest for me. Apart from the unintentional entertainment that occurs when sheer awfulness propels a film into a realm of its own, there's also the fascination of the what-were-they-thinking factor. Usually, of course, they were thinking to make a couple of bucks in a kind of artistic hit and run. A producer would scrape a few reels of something resembling a story together and throw it into some theaters for a couple of weeks, with the idea that it would make its money and then disappear forever.

Except that in many cases, that didn't happen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 and home video restorations have brought tons of this odd old material to light again over the years, giving it a second life and giving its creators (or their heirs) something to cringe over for decades to come. Here in the Information Age, nothing is truly temporary -- and if you're generating marketing and branding content for your company, you need to keep that in mind.

No matter how beautifully you upgrade your corporate brochure from its humble, quick-and-dirty "just something to show" beginnings, those horrible old originals are still out there, waiting to be uncovered the next time a client unloads an old storage box or cleans behind a counter. As for web content -- a quick trip through the Wayback Machine and similar archive databases will reveal all the previous version of your online presence in all their awful glory.

If you can't hide from your past, content-wise, then what can you do? That's easy -- get it right the first time. Instead of just cobbling something some text together now with the idea of improving on it later, spend the extra time and effort making the best possible creating decisions in the here and now. For instance, ask yourself:

"Is this how I want to present my brand to my target audience?" It's such an elementary question, one that anyone should always ask when creating marketing content -- but if you're in a hurry to get your brand up and running, you could be skipping over important facets of your messaging or not aiming at your target audience as precisely as you should. Why rush to release content that won't do your business any good?

"How does this content stack up against my hottest competitor's?" I've sad before that if your marketing content is as good as everyone else's, then it's better than no one else's. That may be true, but at least it's not laughable by comparison either. Make sure your print and Internet marketing efforts don't place you at a critical disadvantage from the very beginning, no matter how quickly you plan to upgrade it. You don't want to give yourself the extra burden of overcoming a bad first impression.

"Is it trendy, or is it timeless?" How evergreen are your copywriting (and design) choices? How gracefully are they likely to age? Is your text brimming over with today's slang, buzzwords and business-speak? If so, you're dramatically shortening the potential lifespan of that content's usefulness to you.

Your marketing content doesn't have to be perfect right out of the gate, and over time you will inevitably need to modify it. But get whatever professional copywriting help you may need to start out strong. You'll be less embarrassed if and when your first attempts bob up into view again -- and you'll have marketing that actually works, both now and in the future!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: Developing Your Writing Technique

A few months ago I attended an MSP Training session. MSP, which stands for Member Success Program, is a basic training course in the fine art of networking for BNI (Business Networking International) members. As a ten-year veteran of that organization, I've taken the course several times before, but we're supposed to re-take it regularly to keep our skills sharp. The agenda includes how to give an effective self-introduction, how to listen for possible referral opportunities, the difference between a genuine referral and a lukewarm "lead," and so on. This sort of training is especially useful for those of us who weren't born with a natural gift for self-promotion or confident interaction with a roomful of strangers. But I've found that the most important thing I can do to become a better networker is to network. A lot.

I guess this is true of just about any activity, particularly the ones that don't come naturally to us. Sure, you might accidentally pick up a basketball one day and discover that hitting 3-pointers is child's play for you and dumb luck for all your friends. More likely, though, you'll have to practice hour after hour, shot after shot, until you get the muscle memory down pat. That's technique, and anyone can develop some degree of it, no matter how much actual talent they have for the given task. In fact, technique can continue to serve you even when natural ability can't or won't. There are countless stories of singers, actors, athletes, musicians, you name it, who perform competently or better in the face of illness, injury or personal stress. They may be so distressed or distracted that afterward they can't even remember what they did. But's that okay, because their technique remembered for them.

Writing is another activity that benefits from constant practice and repetition. If you feel the ned to communicate your company's mission or your own expertise through writing, you don't need a journalism or marketing communications degree -- you just need to do the following things:

1) Read a lot 
2) Write a lot

If you plan to write your company's marketing content, immerse yourself in marketing content from your competitors, from unrelated industries, from your junk mail inbox, from everywhere you happen to find it. Soon you'll be able to recognize the good stuff from the bad stuff, and eventually you'll start to recognize the mediocre stuff as well. At the same time, practice whatever form of writing you intend to pursue. It's perfectly fine to mimic the masters to get a feel for what they're doing -- many great composers got their start by transcribing each other's work verbatim. After a while you'll be able to know whether a given word or phrase will work before you ever set it down, with no need to wait for "inspiration." And that's the beginning of technique, because once you can do that, you can write whatever you want, whenever you want.

Can you still have a professional copywriter go over your work and edit as needed? Of course! But if you really want to refine your own writing, I recommend that you study the copywriter's revision of your draft with a surgeon's eye. What exactly did he change, and what exactly is that change doing to make the content better? It's like getting a bonus tutoring session for the cost of an editing job, so take advantage of it. And whatever you do -- keep practicing!