Monday, December 31, 2018

3 Copywriting "Improvements" That Can Actually Hurt Your Marketing Content

Professional copywriters and marketing experts have spilled countless ink (or pixels, or whatever) recommending tips, techniques, and best practices for creating more effective marketing content. I myself have shared plenty of advice on the subject in my years as a freelance copywriter, including a number of previous blog posts on smart strategies for choosing those words wisely and arranging them in the strongest possible way. But did you know that some of the techniques we writers constantly harp on can actually backfire on you if you overdo them? Here are three examples of how "too much of a good thing" can be a very bad thing indeed for your copywriting.

1. Too Much White Space

I've said over and over again that nobody wants to try and read a massive, undifferentiated wall of text -- especially online, where we tend to scan a page for a few seconds and the move on if we don't see what we're looking for. Breaking up your content into digestible paragraphs, lists, and sidebars gives the eyes a break and makes it much easier to read the text quickly. It also enhances the overall design of the web page or print piece by allowing plenty of room for images.

But I've seen examples of this smart practice taken to extremes. In fact, I've been asked to rewrite such examples because the page looked like nothing but one bullet point after another. Endless lists and one-sentence paragraphs may open up that coveted white space, but they also give the impression of random notes as opposed to a polished message. Bring those disconnected sentences together into short but worthwhile paragraphs. Beef out some of those bullet points with benefit statements that explain why you're making those points in the first place.

2. Too Much Enthusiasm

Selling is persuading; the more energy your copywriting contains, the more excitement you can generate in your audience. After all, if you're not enthusiastic about your product or service, why should anyone else be? But it's all too easy to take the "caffeinated approach" a little too far -- right over the edge of Hyperbole Cliff. Before you know it, you're coming across more as a breathless schoolgirl or crazed fanboy than as a professional representative of your profession or industry. You may also start to exhibit the oily sheen of the snake-oil salesman who will say anything to make a sale.

How do you reign yourself in just enough to express that energy without shooting down your credibility? First of all, be careful about using exclamation points. I had one web designer tell me that she never accepted exclamation points in her copywriting. While that viewpoint might sound extreme, I understood what she meant. If your content is compelling enough, it shouldn't need much of that kind of help. In particular, never use multiple exclamation points ("!!!!") or question marks ("?????"). We got the message the first time, thanks.

3. Too Soft a Sell

Nobody likes a pushy salesperson, either in person or on the page. There are certainly situations where you might need aggressive copywriting, such as a landing page where you have to make your entire pitch and then get that response right then and there. Generally, however, it's sound advice to back off a little and give your audience room to meet you halfway. Making intelligent points, backing them up, and wrapping them in the right emotions can result in many a "soft sell."

But there's such as thing as too soft a sell -- namely, the sell that doesn't sell. I've seen marketing content that was so passive as to be ineffectual, focusing so hard on not harassing the reader or appearing too forward that it failed to make its pitch. The biggest danger here is failing to state a clear call to action in an imperative voice. No matter how gently you choose to sell to your reader, at the end you must tell them exactly what they need to do right now, even if it's only signing up for your newsletter or emailing you with any questions.

You can make all three of these copywriting "improvements" work to your advantage, as long as you don't go overboard with them. Need help walking that fine line? Contact me and let a professional freelance copywriter walk it for you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Marketing Carol

"Bah, humbug!" If you're looking at your year-end figures and voicing that sentiment, you may have given up on the power of a cohesive, congruent marketing strategy and implementation for bringing about that happy holiday -- or you may have been stingy about feeding that marketing machine, starving your future in an obsessive effort to hang onto the here and now. Maybe what you need is a visitation from three spirits:

The Ghost of Marketing Past

This spirit forces you to take a long, perhaps painful look back at your previous marketing efforts from Day One of your company's launch. You made plenty of mistakes, didn't you? We all do. Of course you also had your share of successes. But for the most part, you probably stumbled from discovery to discovery, embracing what worked and paring away what didn't. Pay special attention to those things you should've done. Did you invest the right amount of time, effort and money into your marketing? Did you draw up an official marketing budget (as opposed to stealing from your grocery money)? Did you seek professional guidance from people who could smooth your way and help you produce better results more quickly?

The Ghost of Marketing Present

This figure stands before right now, saying, "Here you are." He compels you to view the current state of your website, social media presence, print marketing, networking partnerships and client relationships. As you stand on the cusp of a new year, what are your marketing resolutions? Are you enjoying the fruits of your current labor, or are you wishing that Christmas goose could have a little more meat on it? Well, you've learned from the past, but the past is gone -- it no longer exists, and you cannot act in it. You can only take action NOW. So take stock, make some decisions, and move on them. There's literally no time like the present.

The Ghost of Marketing Future

Finally, you take a stroll with this mysterious character down Maybe Lane. Where do your current business decisions and marketing campaigns leading you? Do you see yourself spinning your wheels year after frustrating year, or do you see yourself breaking through to the big time? The nifty thing about this vision is that it hasn't actually taken shape yet, which means you can still fashion it into whatever you want it to be. Try picturing your ideal business in terms of industry status, revenues, reputation and so on. Are you on track to make it happen? If not, you may want to start by reworking your brand messaging and marketing content to reflect the organization you want to become. Hiring a freelance copywriter to help you create this fresh content could turn out to be the best leap forward you could possibly make.

And that's no humbug!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Does Your Blog Need Freshening Up?

Do you hate blogging? Well, don't feel bad -- from time to time, we all do.

I hang on to favorite old blog posts from sites like ProBlogger, and I recently re-read a fascinating article by guest blogger Ryan Barton entitled "9 Steps to Take When You Loathe Your Own Blog." While I have to admit that I'm not at the loathing stage yet, I still found the information highly illuminating. Barton discusses issues that plague all bloggers from time -- a sense of stagnation, a lack of fresh content or new ideas, that nagging feel of obligation as opposed to inspiration. It's all too easy for a regular blog to become an annoying chore instead of an exciting opportunity. And yes, I've certainly had my moments where the thought suddenly hit me: "Oh crap, it's already time to blog AGAIN?" And I do this stuff for a living, so I can only imagine how intimidating that thought must be to a non-writer or occasional writer.

One theme that seems to permeate Barton's post is the need to change things up, from trying a new writing venue or posting schedule to varying your blog-reading habits to get a fresh perspective on things. In my (biased) opinion, this in one of the biggest advantages of hiring a ghost-blogger. Adding that extra brain to the think tank automatically helps generate new, unusual, mold-breaking ideas and topics. Hiring a generalist instead of a specialist in your industry is even better, because you're getting the outsider's point of view. 

Another suggestion of Bryan's is to re-focus on your target audience. Who is your ideal reader, and how specifically can you envision that person in your mind? We marketing folks use terms such as "target market" or "demographic," but target markets and demographics don't read articles -- people do. Not groups of people clustered around a monitor, either, but individuals. The more clearly you can aim your writing at a specific person, the easier it is to ask yourself, "What kind of article would really benefit John Doe right about now?" Talking to an individual is always easier than figuring out what kind of speech to give to a crowd, so try this technique to grease the wheels on your personal blogging engine.

Hey, you know what? I enjoyed writing this article. I bet Barton enjoyed writing his, too. (You can read it here.) Now go enjoy writing yours -- or just hire me to write it for you and go enjoy doing anything else!

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Goldilocks Question: Too Much Content, Too Little, or Just Right?

The tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears has endured in various forms since the 1830s. It's pervaded popular culture to the extent that astronomers talk about "Goldilocks planets," planets that are neither too close nor too far from their sun to support life. (They're not too hot; they're not too cold -- they're just right.) When you're creating marketing content for your business, you may find yourself wondering where that Goldilocks zone lies for your purposes. What counts as too many words, or too few, or just the right number for the particular marketing channel you're working on? It's a question worth asking, so let's look at some answers.

Web Page Content

While the maximum word count on an effective web page can vary widely, there's little doubt over the minimum. Google has made it known that it considers 250 to 300 words the least you want to put on each page. Why? It's an SEO thing. There has to be enough written content for the search engine's bots to crawl and index the page properly. The content should contain an even, sensible, relevant scattering of keywords that you want Google (and its users) to associate with your business.

Beyond that minimum word count, the general rule is to include as much information as you need to convert the visitor -- and not a word more. The more complex or pricey your product or service, the more verbiage you'll probably need to apply toward persuading your prospective buyer. But keep in mind that people have better things to do than read long, densely-packed web pages. Give them the least they need to know to get excited enough to take action.

Article Content

How many words should your article contain? That depends on what sort of article it is. Many of my clients are happy with 300-word blog posts which deliver concise, digestible, entertaining content to their clientele. For press releases, I generally get requests for about 450 to 500 words. (Remember, space is limited in printed news formats.) Feature articles can run longer, but you have to know in advance what word count your intended publisher wants from you. On the other end of the scale, a detailed report or white paper may run thousands of words, not including the list of sources.

Print Marketing Content

Print pieces can be some of the most challenging things to write simply because you have so little free space. These pieces tend to be dominated by their visual elements, and rightly so. It's your job to find just the right words, and as few of them as possible so you don't overcrowd the design. Don't fall into the trap of writing substantial content for the small panels of a typical trifold brochure -- unless you're ready to shrink the text down to an unreadable size.

Direct mail pieces can be among the most challenging of all. You only have space for a few words, so make them count. Focus on grabby headlines and a few high-level points that maximize the excitement factor while conveying only the most critical information.

The most important step in creating any kind of marketing content is making sure that it delivers the necessarily results, whatever word count that may entail. If you need compelling writing that falls comfortably into the Goldilocks zone, contact me so I can help you get those words just right!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Boiling It Down: Keys to Simple, Clear Marketing Content

I see it time and time again as a freelance marketing copywriter, not just here in Austin and San Antonio but in all the markets I serve. A client will bring me content that "just needs brushing up," when in fact it needs a lot more -- and at the same time, a lot less. I'm talking about wall-to-wall industry jargon, gigantic blocks of text, processes explained in way more detail than anyone wants or needs, and other big obstacles that push readers away instead of inviting them in.

What does this kind of content need more than anything? Clarity and simplicity. We have boil the content down to its essence:

  • Here's who we are
  • Here's what we do
  • Here's how we make your life better
  • Here's what you need to do to make it happen

Honestly, that's about it. You might feel the need to add a certain amount of detail into your supporting points, especially if you're selling a complex product or service in a highly technical industry. But even under those circumstances, it pays to remember that you're writing to create excitement and inspire trust, not to expound on every little bit and piece of what you do.

You can convey a great deal of information in a small space if you really know what you want to say. After all, Albert Einstein distilled one of the most important of all scientific theories into E=mc2. Einstein also said, "Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." In other words, say everything you absolutely must say to obtain your desired result -- and nothing else.

Minimalism doesn't come easily to us in a society of chatterboxes. I've had clients who feel uncomfortable withholding even the least important details from their marketing content. That's when I remind them that it's marketing content, not informational content. (Yes, there's a difference.)

Fewer words and more room for the imagination can do wonders for a dense, convoluted website or print marketing piece. I remember drastically paring down the content of one home page by about three-quarters. The client's comment: "You didn't do very much. " My reply: "You see all that white space? I did that."

Boil it down. Keep it simple. Be clear. Use smaller, more potent words and clear, readable sentences. Focus on bottom-line emotional impact, not justifications and explanations. If that jungle looks too thick to hack your way through, hire a copywriter to swing the machete.

Clear enough?

Monday, October 22, 2018

3 Reasons (Which May Never Have Occurred to You) to Hire a Copywriter

Most business owners understand the value of hiring a copywriter to address challenges such as building a marketing campaign from scratch, adding new content to accommodate expanding product/service lines, and keeping up with the need to produce constant streams of social media content. But there are also plenty of other ways an experienced freelance copywriter can enhance your success -- some of which you may never even have thought about. Let's take a quick look at three less-trumpeted (but smart) reasons to bring a marketing content writer on board.

1. Cleaning Up Translated Content

Do you live and work in a bilingual market? Do you do business with clients on an international scale? If so, you may find yourself needing to convert a website or other collection of marketing content from one language into another. Translators can certainly perform the basic mechanics of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary to yield English-language content -- but that content may not "sizzle" with those well-chosen rhythms and turns of phrase that actually sell. In that case, you'll need to let a copywriter go over that material and massage it back into compelling marketing content that will speak to your new target market. (More on that below.)

2. Reputation Management

Negative word of mouth can have a devastating effect on your business -- and those unflattering comments can get around digitally as well as orally. Social media platforms and review sites provide a ready soapbox for any disgruntled client to air long, loud, detailed grievances (which may be true or untrue). If you let these criticisms go unchallenged, you appear to validate them; if you fight back with angry tirades of your own, you can make your business look even worse. What's the answer? Let a professional copywriter compose thoughtful, calm, rational, genuinely helpful responses, which you can then post as gentle, constructive rebuttals. Even if you don't win the aggrieved customers over, you can still dilute the power of the complaints and come out looking like the good guy.

3. Connecting With a New Audience

Have you ever seen a brand change its entire marketing approach to cater to a new, more lucrative audience? This kind of target-market shift happens all the time -- but it takes more than a new look and logo to accomplish it. If you've crafted your written content to appeal to retirees, for instance, and now you've decided to focus on Millennials instead (or vice versa), you may have to change your tone, emphasize different points, or create new content to beef up specific marketing channels you weren't really relying on before. If you've gone from courting a B2B crowd to a B2C crowd, you may need to make your tone less corporate and more personal. A professional copywriter knows how to make these shifts and help you capture your new ideal prospects.

Think about these (and other) ways you can use a freelance copywriter to turn your marketing in the right direction. Then contact me so we can get started!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Putting the Pieces Together: Achieving Congruence in Your Marketing Content

I used to build model airplanes by the squadron -- the ones that came on big plastic "trees" that had to be glued together with model cement. I built and painted these planes with more enthusiasm than skill. When I took my time and followed all the instructions, the final result would look more or less like the illustration on the box. But all too frequently I'd be in such a hurry to get the thing finished that somewhere along the line I would skip a step (the old-school airplane glue didn't exactly sharpen my thinking in these situations either). Many times I found myself stuck with a model that didn't resemble the original because some piece or other was missing, backwards, upside-down, you name it. I've had similar problems over the years with do-it-yourself furniture, including one TV stand currently serving light duty as a supply shelf because I don't trust it to actually hold a TV.

Marketing campaigns are prone to the same trouble. If your print advertising conveys a different message than your website, and your website conveys a different message than your radio spot, and so on and so forth, you can't possibly hope to marshall the power that comes from a unified brand effort.

The word I'm looking for here is congruence. Congruence is a state of agreement. Behavioral scientists describe it as a state of internal and external consistency, with actions and appearances aligned with inner values and intentions. Consistent behaviors and actions allow you to make powerful statements and bring people around to your point of view. If, on the other hand, you speak with confidence but your handshake feels like a dead fish, that inconsistency weakens the power of your overall impression. The overall strategy may be intact, but some of the pieces are out of place or working at cross purposes.

That's why you must aim for consistency of tone and message across all your marketing channels -- website, blog, direct mail, social media, the works. Ideally, each piece of your marketing structure supports every other piece so that moving from one channel to the next feels natural and inevitable to the reader. Everything must work together to convey the same overall message, from the color of your business cards to the wording on your LinkedIn profile. All of your marketing content must display a consistent tone, attitude, and message. That's congruent marketing.

Strong, consistent messaging builds your brand and inspires confidence. Little inconsistencies are like cracks in the facade, weakening and eroding your brand-castle until visitors hesitate to venture inside. In the worst case, your brand becomes so all over the place that it ceases to be a brand at all. And then you have to start over. So check to see if your marketing structure has a few pieces missing or out of place -- and fix it (or hire a freelance copywriter to fix it for you) before the glue sets!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Writing Marketing Content for Different Generations

Who do you want to convince and persuade through your marketing content? Your target audience may fall into a particular industry, skill set, activity or need -- but it may also correspond to a particular generation. The American experience has varied greatly from one generation to the next, with each generation molded by its own cultural biases and social circumstances. This means that you may need to tailor your marketing message and writing style to make its maximum impact on a specific age demographic. Even if your target market spans multiple generations, you need to know how to aim the right content at each of them. Let's take a look at how you might write market content for each of the following recognized generations.


Traditionalists, members of the age group born before world War II, are sometimes called "Silents" because they did their jobs silently and uncomplainingly. Loyalty, commitment, honesty, and consistency mean a great deal to Traditionalists. Growing up in the Depression taught them the value of a dollar, so they'll hold onto their money unless they have a really sound reason to do otherwise. If you aim your products and services at retirees, chances are that you're addressing many Traditionalists. While these folks do make use of online platforms, they're also very open to more traditional marketing channels such as direct mail and flyers.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are the Traditionalists' children, representing the postwar population boom that gave us the first generation of TV-watching kids. As you might expect, television (and its advertising) still makes an impact on this generation. Baby Boomers grew up experiencing a unique combination of cultural stability and political instability -- Howdy Doody and Father Knows Best vs. the Cold War and "duck and cover" nuclear drills. Many of them turned on social norms when they became young adults in the 1960s, developing a degree of skepticism that compels them to try before they buy. These prospective customers must be won over with free offers, money-back guarantees, and loyalty programs. The majority of them use both the Internet and some form of social media, but their social media use is more about personal connections than shopping or professional gain.

Generation X

Generation X-ers were born between 1965 and 1980. Although they gained the nickname "Slackers" somewhere along the way, this title refers more to their values than to their work ethic. Generation X is the adaptable generation, with its willingness to change jobs, careers, and locations in the pursuit of a healthy work/life balance. Aiming your marketing message along these lines can help you get and hold these individuals' attention. X-ers were the first generation of adults to make heavy use of the World Wide Web, so the Internet has always felt like home to them. Hone your website content and work your Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other social media channels hard to land this fish.

Generation Y

Generation Y members are also called "Millennials," since they were born between 1980 and 2000. This generation is the first one born into a truly Web-savvy world in which blogs, YouTube, and other channels serve as primary sources of information. Their life in the virtual world, with its endless possibilities, fuels their desire to shape their own lives with as much flexibility and diversity as possible. You may find that they respond to marketing content that emphasizes diversity and optimism, taking a global approach rather than a more localized focus. Millennials are also used to easy access, interaction and teamwork, so emphasize these points as well. It goes without saying that the digital realm is the place to target this generation.

The most recent generation, Generation Z, is still in its formative years. If you're marketing to children and teenagers, bear in mind that this age group is obsessed with technology -- and watch them carefully to see how today's trends produce tomorrow's crop of consumers.

These categories are kind of arbitrary, of course. Still, thinking along generational lines can help you craft your marketing content to specific age groups more accurately and effectively. Give it a try -- and contact a professional marketing copywriter if you need help saying the right things to the right generation!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Which "Person" Sells Best? Choosing the Right Pronouns for 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 readers to imagine about how the product or service impacts their quality of life. "You can have it all! Change your life today!" Et cetera.

Once you've know what impression you want to make in your readers, you'll know which "person" to use for different marketing pieces and audiences. But if you're still feeling uncertain, you always make use of one other person -- a professional copywriter!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Beyond Copywriting: The Key Players on Your Marketing Team

In my many years as a freelance copywriter in Austin and San Antonio, I've received plenty of requests to write for clients who didn't have all their marketing ducks in a row. They knew they needed top-quality marketing content from an experienced copywriter, but they hadn't engaged the other members of their marketing team. It's pretty hard to write content that will integrate flawlessly with an imaginary website or non-existent visual design, or without any clue what the most important keywords will be, or without knowing how the content will be implemented across multiple marketing channels. That's why I urge clients to gather their entire go-to team of marketing professionals before commissioning marketing content. Let's look at some of the key players you'll want to include in your lineup.

The Copywriter

Your copywriter serves as your written content resource. The right words make an enormous difference in persuading your target audience of your message as quickly and efficiently as possible. Since Google's algorithm has made relevant, professional-sounding content a top priority in recent years, the days of simple "keyword stuffing" are long gone -- you actually have to tell your story, and tell it well. That's a job for a professional. Your copywriter can also contribute to the conceptual stage of your marketing campaign through creative brainstorming, or make fixes to any existing content that just doesn't get the job done.

The Graphic Designer

What your copywriter is to your words, your graphic designer is to your pictures. The graphic designer is the architect of your brand's look. From creating original logos and determining your company color scheme to crafting individual marketing pieces, this artist understands how images influence potential buyers. Look for a graphic designer who feels equally at home in both print and digital media, since these two forms make their own specific visual demands.

The Web Designer/Developer

Web designers create the appearance and layout of your website and its various pages, working in collaboration with graphic designers as needed. Effective web design not only makes your website look compelling and professional; it also ensures a good user experience to improve retention and conversion. The web developer takes those designs and codes them expertly into the site, using state-of--the-art programming languages. When hiring these professionals, make sure they'll grant you some degree of user customization and administrative access to it. You don't want to be "locked out" of your own website if you ever happen to lose the people who put it together.

The SEO Expert

Search engine optimization makes the online marketing world go round. SEO strategies and tactics can take a variety of forms, from the sensible, elegant use of keywords in your written content (organic SEO) to the "under-the-hood" SEO achieved through meta-tags and other subtle website features. Some website providers include SEO among their services, while some SEO experts double as web design/development professionals.

The Social Media Coordinator

Today's marketing campaigns must embrace not only traditional print and website activities but the wide world of social media as well. Unfortunately, there are so many social media channels to choose from that you could easily spend most of your waking hours keeping track of them all. It's all too easy to neglect one important channel in favor of another, or to upload content in such a haphazard manner that your audience can't follow you easily. Your social media coordinator can focus on this activity exclusively, making sure that the right content is going onto the right channel at the right time.

The Printer

Print marketing is alive and well -- and most businesses need some form of it just as much as they need its digital equivalent. It's great to have close ties to a professional printing company that can make any kind of print marketing materials you might need, from 3D signage to event banners and vehicle wraps. A fully-equipped printer offers both traditional offset printing and advanced digital printing options. Some also have on-site graphic designers, thus filling two spots on your go-to marketing team roster while ensuring visual consistency across all your print marketing pieces.

The Marketing Strategist

The marketing strategist has the most important job of all: designing your company's marketing plan and supervising that plan's implementation. This expert is the first professional you want to talk to. Your marketing strategist can help you understand exactly who your audience is, where that audience tends to hang out, and what kinds of messaging that audience tends to respond to. A well-connected marketing strategist may even be able to find the other members of your marketing team for you, giving each of them their marching orders and coordinating their activities.

So there you have it -- the key players in your quest for brilliant marketing. Go get 'em!

Monday, August 13, 2018

3 Rebranding Steps You Need to Consider

Are you thinking about reinventing your brand? Maybe your current brand has some negative stigma attached to it. Maybe it seems outdated in an ever-changing marketplace. Maybe it no longer reflects your values, focus, and offerings. Rebranding can make a great deal of sense for recharging and repurposing your business -- but simply slapping a new name or logo onto your current marketing efforts isn't going to get you where you need to go. Here are four important steps in any rebranding process that you need to think about.

1. Creating a New Identity (Without Torching the Old One)

While it might be wise to totally invent yourself if your brand has gone totally toxic, in most cases it makes sense to build on whatever name recognition you've achieved in the past. That's why you so often see announcements like "X company is now Y company!" You probably want to make a graceful transition to your new brand that leverages whatever positive power your old brand still possesses. At the same time, you want don't want to convey a sense that nothing meaningful has changed. Your marketing content should emphasize the new advantages, capabilities, and benefits included in this brand change so your target market will get excited about it and want to know more.

Just don't fall into the trap of bad-mouthing your previous brand; "We got this and that wrong, but we're better now." Honesty is good, but you don't want your audience thinking, "Yeah, guys, but you used to be all enthused about the old version, so why should I trust this new pitch?"

2. Rewriting Your Website

If you were rebranding a "brick-and-mortar" business's identity from top to bottom, you would no doubt remodel your stores so shoppers would experience that new identity as they browse. Well, the same goes for your virtual storefront. Your website will be entrusted with the task of presenting your new products or services, telling the story behind your new brand, and guiding visitors through the sales funnel until they're in a position to be converted into buyers.

Resist the temptation to do a patch job on your website content. By the time you've finished massaging individual bits of text to fit the new brand message, you'll be grumbling obscenities and wishing you'd just started over with a fresh new approach. You might even spend less time, money and effort by beginning with a clean slate.

3. Broadcasting the "New You" Through Social Media

Now that you've built your new brand, along with a new website to back it up, how do you let the world know that you're better than ever? In this day and age, of course you'll need to take to social media -- but don't reinvent the wheel. Remodel and rename your existing social media channels, instead of simply opening new ones, so you can carry all your existing followers with you in this transition. Fill up those channels with as many "Coming Soon" announcements, special offers, and interactive conversations as you can to get the buzz focused on your re-branding.

Don't hinge your social media success on little Tweets and Facebook one-liners. Blog your head off (with multi-channel links to and from the articles) to elaborate on all your exciting changes and keep building that wealth of relevant content Google seems to love.

These rebranding steps may sound intimidating, but you don't have to take them alone. In addition to hiring a professional copywriter for your new brand content, make use of graphic designers, digital marketing agencies, and marketing strategists to help you brand yourself for the better!

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Most Important Question in Copywriting: "What's in It for Me?"

I don't have the world's longest attention span. When I receive a direct-mail piece or an email blast, however, I tend to skim over the veneer of cleverness and the endless lists of what a product does or how many years the company has served Satisfied Customers Just Like Me. I cut to the chase -- and as far as I'm concerned, the chase ends with the answer to one simple question: "What's in it for me?"

I've rewritten countless websites and print marketing campaigns for clients who simply took too long to get to that crucial question, or in some cases never got to it at all amidst the personal trumpet blowing and back patting. It's wonderful to take pride in your work, your track record in your industry or dominance of that industry. And yes, you do have to explain the features of your products or services sooner or later. But that's not what we, the prospective buyers, are looking for. We're interested in how you will improve your lives by solving a specific problem, and the longer you take to get around to that little detail, the less chance you have of avoiding a one-way trip to the circular file. 

You've heard it a million times: Push the benefits, not the features. While I wouldn't suggest dumping the features, I would recommend allowing the benefits to leap-frog over them to grab your audience's attention from the git-go. One simple way to do this is by playing the "What If" game right from the beginning -- an arresting opening statement that dares us to dream. "What if you could guarantee your family's financial security for life, starting today?" "Imagine getting the best night's sleep you ever had -- every night!" Determine what your ideal clients' ideal outcome would be, get them excited by making them envision that ideal outcome, and then offer it to them. Closed sale.

If you feel the need to paint even more of a picture for your prospects, or to remind them of the problem that needs solving, you can lead off with a pain statement. If you offer a more efficient lawn mower, for instance, make your reader picture another hot, horrible summer battling that broken-down behemoth in the garage, laying out money for frequent repairs, et cetera. THEN flip the emotional state with a "What If" that describes the fast, effortless mowing experience possible with your super-reliable new MegaCut 3000. Our hero!

Whatever approach you use, make those benefits leap off the page so your readers don't have to search for them. If you need a reminder, put a drawing or photo of a typical customer up on your wall with a caption underneath it reading, "WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?" If your answer to that question is compelling enough, we will keep reading -- and we will buy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Honest Copywriting: Accentuate the Positive -- but Don't Eliminate the Negative

Fans of Futurama will remember Professor Farnsworth hobbling into the room and proclaiming "Good news, everybody!" before informing the Planet Express team that were going to go deliver toxic waste or some other lovely task. To this day, I hear that voice in my head when I hear or read suspiciously optimistic announcements. For instance, my apartment management company recently posted a cheerful little note on my door, to the effect of, "Good news! [Can't you just hear him? Me too.] Our complex has arranged to install fiber-optic cable for all buildings. This will provide our tenants with faster online speeds than ever before!" The announcement then goes to make an oblique mention of certain construction activities that may require our patience and cooperation....

Yes, it's nice to be getting speedier Internet service. But us non-technical types are bound to wonder how much digging and installing will have to be performed, what sort of glitches may occur during installation, and whether this project will even be completed while many of the current tenants are still living here. These are all legitimate questions -- but hey, speedier Internet!

I applaud this example of putting one's best foot forward. Let's face it, there are upsides and downsides to just about any transition, venture, product, or service. In your marketing content, you obviously want to push the positive and downplay the negative. But it really is possible to offer too much of a good thing.

Your target audience may be understandably skeptical if you offer the greatest thing since sliced bread with absolutely no qualifications whatsoever. For instance, if you read an ad for a used car which includes nothing but positivity, your first question is likely to be "What's wrong with it?" What are you not being told? By contrast, a used-car ad that includes little qualifiers such as "Some minor hail damage but mechanically perfect" explains why the vehicle's price is so good, reassures you that it will get you from Point A to Point B, prepares you to encounter some imperfections, and adds a touch of transparency that encourages trust.

Providing a balanced, detailed, honest mix of content can actually help you nip specific objections in the bud. Let's say your prospective buyer reads about the efficiency of your new ultra-lightweight vacuum cleaner and is about to scoff, "I'll bet it can't handle ground-in dirt or deep pile." Fortunately, you've already added an FAQ section or a little disclaimer in your content saying, "This lightweight vacuum cleaner is specifically designed for light jobs, reducing the need to lug your heavy vacuum cleaner around." You've now clarified that your little cleaner isn't meant to be a full-time replacement for that 40-pound monster, just a welcome relief for casual cleaning applications.

A little self-effacement can work in your favor. "We may not be your ideal solution, but we'd happy to discuss your needs and tell you what we can do for you." "No weight loss plan is effort-free or equally effective for everybody, but if you're serious about shedding the pounds, this system could be just what you need." "Are we the right dental clinic for your needs? We can't answer that question for you. There's only one way to find out -- visit us." Tempering your promises and admitting your limitations doesn't just present an honest picture; it also presents you as an honest brand.

By all means, give your clients the good news first, wrap it up in a pretty bow, and let enthusiasm carry the day. Just remember that first-time buyers become repeat buyers only when their initial expectations are met. If you want to build customer relationships, make sure your marketing content sets a trustworthy tone.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Selling Is Educating (and Vice Versa)

Are you a teacher? If you're in sales (and who isn't, really, when you think about it), then the answer is yes.

Think of it this way: Would you buy something -- anything -- when you didn't know what it was, what it was for, or how it could benefit you? If so, then you've probably purchased enough swamp land over the years to start your own mosquito ranch. Most of us would just stare blankly at the item in question, and then redirect our attention to something more recognizably useful. Your business has to educate its prospective customers on its products and services, and that's where skillful, focused, specific content marketing comes in.

Writers know that "doing" verbs (runs, creates, proves, energizes) make more of an impact than "being" verbs (am, are, is, has). Well, that goes for marketing content as well. Joe Client cares less about what a thing is than what that thing does. Specifically, he wants to know what it does for him. This is just another way of thinking about the tired old rule, "Push the benefits, not the features," but it works. When you shift your marketing focus from "What It Is" to "What It Does," the product's attractiveness suddenly leaps out at the average person who couldn't care less about its technical specifications. 

One of my favorite examples of this is the blogging I did for a company that specialized in metric screws, bolts and other fasteners. Fascinating stuff, right? But as I learned more about the various fasteners, I began to see that they each had different (and interesting) real-world applications:

  • Building a boat? You'll want zinc-tipped or silicon bronze screws for corrosion resistance. 
  • Preparing a commercial construction project? You need a ready source for sturdy bolts and rivets in a wide range of sizes. 
  • Assembling electronic components? Let's talk about non-conductive fasteners. 

Et cetera. So I created a series of blog articles along those lines, conjuring up images of construction crews enjoying greater productivity, manufacturing floors purring away productively, boat enthusiasts enjoying summer on the lake and so on. Now we had something exciting to talk about -- the bottom-line benefits of purchasing those metric fasteners.

As you can see, educating your customer involves more than just throwing a bunch of numbers at them. Unless that person understands how those numbers translate into benefits, you're wasting your time. Instead, focus on explaining how your product or service solves a specific need. That's educating to sell -- so make your curriculum compelling (with the aid of a professional copywriter), and aim for a graduating class of A-plus clients!

Monday, June 18, 2018

4 Tips for a Smoother Content Creation Process

Hiring a freelance copywriter can do wonders for your ability to generate the marketing content your business desperately needs -- but getting that professional copywriter on board is only one of the necessary steps. You also need to make sure you're putting your copywriter's skills and expertise to good advantage, and you can't do that without a smart, efficient content creation process. Let's look at four smart practices that can help you smooth out that process.

1. Assemble All the Pieces in Advance

Some businesses may have a clear marketing strategy but no content to put toward toward, or a content writer but no clear strategy for putting that writer to work. Or maybe they have both the content creator and the marketing strategy, but no system in place to implement that strategy through everyday social media, print marketing or website tasks.

Don't just hire a copywriter; put an entire team together, like assembling the engine of a car so all the pieces perform in unison. I would recommend starting with the marketing strategist, because this professional can then point you toward the other experts your system needs.

2. Don't Rely on Last-Minute Brainstorms

This one applies mainly to the generation of blog articles, drip-marketing email articles, and other pieces that need to go out on a regular basis. You know you have to create them, and you know when you're likely to need them, but it's all too easy to fool yourself into thinking that you can wait until the last minute to address the issue.

Unfortunately, even the most brilliant copywriter needs a little heads-up and ideation time to craft high-quality work. If you wait until too late to request the latest pieces, you may find your copywriter otherwise engaged, out sick, or otherwise unable to leap into action. Plan ahead, ideally with the aid of a permanent editorial calendar, so you'll have the content you need when you need it.

3. Decide on a Voice Before You Draft

I've been in situations where clients weren't entirely sure what the style and tone of their marketing content should be. "Try something, and we'll adjust it as we go," they said. This approach is like the part of your vision test where the optometrist keeps saying,"Is it better like this or better like this?" Dialing the tone and style into a work in progress isn't impossible, but it is a waste of time and effort (and money, if you're being charged by the revision).

Take the time to sit down with your marketing strategist and settle on a voice for your brand, something aimed specifically at the target market you want (which may be markedly different from the audience your current content is attracting). Once you've nailed that voice, your writer can apply it consistently across all your marketing channels.

4. Avoid "Too Many Cooks" Syndrome

Do you have too many cooks in your content marketing kitchen? I can't tell you how many times I've gotten 90 percent of the way through a requested revision, only to have another set of requests come in that directly contradict everything I just did. Do I bill extra for that fresh headache? You bet I do, and so will just about any other freelance copywriter. The main cause of this disconnect stems from the draft going through multiple reviewers, none of which are aware of (or in agreement with) the others' remarks.

Make absolutely certain that your content creation process is wrangled by one designated individual -- a liaison who receives any and all comments, checks them for consistency, and approves the final set of comments that go to the writer. This important step could make all the difference between two quick, easy drafts and a dozen confusing, sloppily-coordinated ones.

Want more tips for optimizing your content creation process? Contact me and tell me about your current challenges!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Smart Money: Why Hiring a Freelance Copywriter Makes Sense

I sometimes receive offers from marketing agencies and other business who are looking to fill a full-time opening for a marketing copywriter. While I'm always flattered to get such requests, I always end up turning them down.

Yes, it may sound crazy to choose the topsy-turvy life of "variable employment" over a guaranteed salary at an established enterprise. Still, freelancing does hold attractions of its own for individuals attuned to the lifestyle (and it is a lifestyle choice, not just a money-making decision). But even as I pass on those offers, I'm always quick to point out to businesses why it might actually be a more sensible move to engage a freelance copywriter in San Antonio, Austin, or wherever they happen to find the right person. Take these perks under consideration:

You Can Run a Tighter Ship

Controlling your business finances means controlling your overhead. Full-time, on-site employees require desk space; the more of these employees you have, the more you're going to shell out in commercial rental space and utility bills. Don't forget the health insurance, retirement accounts, and other benefits you'll be expected to cover. Independent contractors who work from their homes make none of these demands on your budget.

You Can Get the Most Work for Your Money

How much actual work occurs in a 9-to-5 workday, as opposed to water cooler talk, bathroom breaks, and seeing how many pencils can be embedded in the ceiling? When you engage a salaried employee, you'll probably be paying for a fair amount of idleness on top of whatever work actually gets done. When you hire a freelancer, you're paying only for the work -- which only motivates the freelancer to work harder.

You Can Scale Up or Scale Down Easily

How much of a regular writing load can your staff copywriters handle? Do plus-sized projects overwhelm them? Do quiet periods find them looking for things to do? When you have a go-to "stable" of freelancers at your disposal, you can engage as many of them, or as few, as you need for any given project, allowing for optimal cost efficiency. You don't have to worry your one-and-only staff writer calling in sick or going on vacation, either. If you need a writer, just grab one out of your freelance bullpen. Your production schedule won't miss a beat.

You Can Assign Different Writers to Different Jobs

When you're stuck with a full-time writer or writing staff, you're stuck whatever that person or team brings to the table in terms of style, tone, industry knowledge, experience level, and specialized techniques. But when you can pick and choose from various freelancers as needed, you're always able to match the perfect writer up with each assignment. That means fewer rounds of revisions, less time spent on each job, and more free time for you to devote to various money-making pursuits (such as finding and cultivating new clients).

As you can see, it pays to hire a freelance copywriter. Let's talk about how you can put this sensible strategy to work for your business!

Monday, May 21, 2018

4 Things Your Marketing Content Should Stop Doing

You probably know the old joke about the patient who complains, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." To which the doctor replies, "Then don't do that." Stopping bad habits can benefit your physical health just as powerfully as taking up new, better habits. The same holds true for the health of your business -- and your marketing content is the pump that keeps the things flowing in your business pipeline. In my years as a freelance copywriter in Central Texas, I've seen (and corrected) plenty of missteps in various enterprises' written marketing content. Here are four common yet harmful goofs that you should stop making from this day forward.

1. Over-Explaining

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to rewrite web pages and other marketing pieces that read like user guides or industry manuals. I ended up hacking away paragraph after paragraph of detail that held more potential to confuse or intimidate than to build excitement or sell. If you had to study a wiring diagram to turn your lights on, you'd probably elect to spend a lot of time in the dark. Don't give us that diagram; show us the switch, describe the wonderful light we'll enjoy, and let the perceived benefit do the rest.

2. Under-Explaining

Even though brevity is a must in copywriting (especially for online consumption), saying too little can be just as self-sabotaging as saying too much. Are you assuming industry or product knowledge that your target audience isn't likely to have? If so, you may skip from one point to the next while your reader is still stuck on "I wonder what they meant by that?" Your prospective customers can't get excited over what they don't understand. Make sure the basic bottom-line benefit statements are all in place, and invite your audience to contact you with any questions. (More on that in a moment.)

3. Writing to Impress

Trying too hard in your marketing content can backfire on you. One of the most common mistakes I've encountered is lathering the text with impressive-sounding buzzwords and industry-speak. Many of these terms either reek of cliche due to overuse or simply don't mean much to Joe Q. Public. Showing off your vocabulary with lots of five-dollar words is another surefire way to turn off your audience; even if they know what you're talking about, they'll dismiss you as pretentious. Last but not least, avoid phony enthusiasm. Dozens of exclamation marks don't make your content more exciting -- they just paint you as excitable.

4. Neglecting the Final Action Items

You might be surprised at how many marketing content pieces lay out their pain statement, features and benefits, then simply come to a stop. If they do include a call to action, the call to action is too vague to really compel. ("Discover our product's benefits for yourself!") Give your audience concrete, specific action items such as "Call us at this phone number today," or "Fill out the online appointment maker on this page." You've brought your readers this far, so why not take them the rest of the way?

It's easy to fall into old habits in your marketing content creation, even once you know better. Contact me for professional copywriting services if you want to make sure your content is doing all the right things -- and none of the wrong ones.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Meaningful Content for Email Campaigns

Do you get occasional (or frequent) emails from some company representative you met recently? Never mind why you're on that person's email list -- your contact information was probably taken from your business card. But that's okay, because you can always opt out, right? And so you do. Or you banish the sender to your spam filter. Or you simply trash each email as it coms in.

Is the sender getting anything for the time, effort and expense he puts into sending you this steady stream of unwanted email? Obviously not. Are you getting anything out of the email? Again, obviously not; that's why you're throwing them away. But what if those emails contained information you actually wanted or needed? What if they offered nuggets of insight that made a difference in your work or personal life? You might still throw them away -- but only after you've read them thoroughly and thought about what they communicated. Over time, you might even come to rely on the sender as a trusted resource. Heck, you might even buy what he's selling.

That's the power of relevant content in an email campaign.

From time to time I've been asked to pitch in and give a client's multi-touch email campaigns a creative boost. I performed this service for a business broker who was noting a drop-off in interest from his prospects following their initial inquiries. He wanted to send a series of emails that would maintain or rekindle that initial spark of excitement they'd felt over buying or selling a business. So I wrote a bunch of little articles pertaining to the subject -- explanations of the transaction process, tips on due diligence, a "checklist" of the qualities a successful business owner needs, even a description of the beautiful part of the country they'd be inhabiting. They were all written with a positive spin and, of course, a "contact us," "learn more," or "let's get started" call to action. His prospects were now receiving mouth-watering material that not only provided valuable education but also reminded them of why they inquired in the first place. 

Quality of content matters just as much to an email campaign as it does to your regular blog or newsletter. Don't just sell; give, by providing useful and captivating information and compels action. Leave the spam box to your competition!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Consistent Marketing Keeps Them Coming Back for More

One February day I went out to the mailbox as usual. I didn't see any mail, but I figured that I might've hit it too early, so a couple hours later I went out and check it again. Still nothing. That's not unheard of, naturally, but I couldn't help thinking, "Maybe he's just running slow today. I'll try once more time later on." So about 5pm I checked one more time. Well, I guess I just wasn't fated to receive any mail today....

Then it hit me: nobody got any mail that day. It was Presidents' Day.

The funny thing, I'd known it was Presidents' Day, and I'd known that mail didn't go out on federal holidays. What's more, I'll bet the other dozen or so people who were out there checking their mail along with me also knew it was a no-mail day. 

So what were we doing out there? Obeying habit. We robotically went to the mailbox because we had been programmed to do that. Most of us have even learned to count on the postman showing up around the same time of day every day. We've been trained to respond through the sheer consistency of the post office, and it trips us up completely when something breaks that routine.

That's why you want the same kind of consistency in your marketing schedule. Whether you're blogging, publishing a newsletter, pumping out podcasts, mailing out print pieces, or working any other channels in your overall marketing strategies -- you must repeat that process regularly and consistently if you want to (1) get noticed, (2) develop interest, and (3) train your target market to look forward to more. Nobody sends out a single flyer or direct mail postcard and expects the phone to start ringing; it takes multiple touches, often with the exact same piece, to get any kind of response. Your client may throw the first few postcards in the trash, but as long as you get that eventual "Okay, let's see what these people are so wound up about" response, then you've succeeded.

These schedules aren't so hard to work out. (How often does a monthly newsletter or weekly blog post appear?) It's simply a matter of scheduling the content preparation and distribution. However often you decide to blog, keep up that routine, rain or shine, and before long you'll see that spike of anticipation in your web traffic -- loyal readers trained to come back for the next round of insight, special offer, or whatever other goodie you've got for them. 

Yes, consistency requires commitment and responsibility. But if you're pressed for time or you don't have the necessary personnel on staff, you can always outsource the content creation or other necessary grunt work. Don't let your audience start wandering away in disinterest -- keep them coming back for more!

Monday, April 9, 2018

4 Key Questions When Choosing a Freelance Copywriter

So you've finally decided that it's time to engage a freelance copywriter for your business's marketing efforts. Maybe you're tired of going it alone, trying to hack out your own content word by exhausting word, instead of spending your valuable time actually running your enterprise. Maybe your marketing team feels overwhelmed and needs assistance. Maybe you're just looking for a fresh perspective. In any case, you may find yourself wondering where to start, what to look for, and how to tell you're getting the right writer for your needs. Here are four key questions you'll want to ask every candidate on your list before you actually schedule that first assignment.

1. "What are your rates and terms?"

You might as well get this question out of the way ASAP, for both of your sakes. You need to know how you're going to plug this professional into your budget, and the writer needs to know whether this job will be worth the bother. It's helpful if the writer offers fixed per-project rates; if not, find out how you can secure a reliable estimate based on hourly rates. You also need to know whether the entire amount if due up front, whether you need to put up a deposit, or whether you're simply billed after the fact. Don't immediately reject a writer who insists on full payment in advance, though -- you may be allowed to break a large job into multiple pre-paid batches or phases.

2. "What kind of writing do you specialize in?"

Different writers typically specialize in different things, especially in larger metropolitan areas where there are lots of writers staking out their respective slices of the market. It's not unusual for a writer to focus on one type of writing project, one narrow range of industries, or one particular form of writing. For instance, I'm a generalist in terms of industry -- I can write for pretty much anybody -- but I focus on "short-form" marketing content such as website pages, blog articles, brochure content and so on. Don't feel limited if your writer says, "I only do such-and-so type for writing." The beauty of hiring freelancers is that you can keep several of them on hand, attaching the appropriate writer to the appropriate project as needed, without any impact on your full-time payroll.

3. "How well established are you?"

This is an important question because it can help predict the experience you're going to have with your writer. While rookies can and do create brilliant work, they haven't reached the point where they can point to a performance track record. It's not a matter of having written for every big name in the business world; it's an assurance that your writer has coped with a wide range of situations, worked with a variety of clients, and has developed a certain amount of professional wisdom that could prove invaluable to you for years to come. In other words, buy writing expertise, not just writing. Don't forget to ask about professional references, associations and/or certifications that can help reinforce your writer's credibility.

4. "What are your turnaround times?"

The best freelance copywriters aren't just the most skilled writers -- they're also the most professional ones. Make sure your copywriter can guarantee a specific turnaround window for each job, and don't put up with a freelancer who is all "free" and no "lance." At the same time, however, make sure your expectations are realistic ones. The busiest writers may not be able to squeeze in that rush job; some of us don't have time to accept rush jobs at all. Understand in advance what your writer can and can't realistically do for you, and you'll know you should realistically ask of your writer. The result will be high-quality work, turned in on time, every time.

Try these four questions on for size the next time you're interviewing freelance copywriters. You'll find that most of us will be happy to answer them!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Creating a Need Through Your Marketing Content

I found a pretty funny old 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 struck home 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 their "Menergy" unleashes his inner Macho Man. In these cases a niche appeal has been invented out of thin air.

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.

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? Could you create a sexy tag line or other compelling marketing content that might gain you a whole new customer demographic? 

In other words -- what's your "FOR DIGITAL" sticker? 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Writing for Your Particular Profession

Imagine for a moment that you're sitting in a typical examination room, waiting to meet your new doctor for the first time. When the door opens and the doctor steps in to say hello, how will you feel if he's wearing bib overalls and a Larry the Cable Guy cap? Or a butcher's apron? Or black mourning attire? Most of us would rather see a a polished-looking individual in a white lab coat -- because that's what we expect from a legitimate healthcare professional. Well, if you're promoting your services in a professional field, how you craft your marketing content, from tone to terminology, makes all the difference in how your clients perceive you. But some professional pose special hurdles of their own, and you may find yourself struggling to strike the right balance. Let's look at how you can optimize your marketing writing for your particular profession.

Emotional Tone

Setting the right emotional tone is a critical first step for anyone in the "trust business." If you want people to entrust you with their general health, teeth, personal finances, legal issues, business security or whatever, you have to write content that projects a mix of reassurance, encouragement, and empathy. For instance, have you ever scared yourself to death looking up Internet articles on this or that health symptom? You probably uncovered a blizzard of articles that took a severe, alarmist, worst-case scenario attitude to the subject. Just as a doctor understands the value of a proper bedside manner, you must emphasize that you understand the client's problem, you sympathize with his situation, and you can apply your skill and expertise to help ease that discomfort.

Intellectual Level

Consider the intellectual "mood music" you're including in your content. Of course you want to assure the world that you're intelligent, well-educated, and knowledgable in your field. But as I pointed out in a previous post, overly-technical terminology can put up obstacles instead of getting readers on your side. I've written for attorneys who wanted me to refer readers to specific court decisions -- citation numbers and all. Unless their clients are aspiring lawyers, that strategy is more likely to drive ordinary people away than to draw them in. On the other end of the scale, if you make an obvious attempt to "dumb down" your content, you're potentially insulting your readers. Keep it simple, keep it clear, and let the knowledge shine through.

Professional Protocols

Last but not least, think about whether your content reflects honorably on your chosen profession. For example, are you making inappropriate promises? There's a huge range of commitment between "we will," "we can," and "we may" in a piece of marketing content. Depending on the rules of your profession, you may be highly limited in what you're allowed to offer or how you're allowed to offer it. On the other hand, if your content has no backbone at all, your reader may wonder why you even bothered stating anything. Make sure you know the rules of the game, whatever those may be for your field, and stay inside the lines. But commit to the bottom line: doing everything in  your power to help those who need your professional expertise.

Choose the right "suit of clothes" for your professional marketing content, and you'll make it a lot easier for people to trust you, understand you, and take you seriously. If you need a professional writer's expertise to help you make that happen, you know who to contact!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Beyond Spell Check: The Proof Is in the Reading

Did you take a nice long drive during the winter holidays? Do you find yourself making extended road trips on business? Many of us do -- which means that many of us find ourselves reading roadside billboards and other signage to stave off the boredom of the road. Even those of us who spend all our days in our offices are likely to encounter countless ads online and in print. We may create some of that content ourselves. If we're in a real hurry to beat a deadline, we may rush the copy to the printer after a quick run through a spell-checker. Then we see the final results, and we wish we hadn't done that.

Proofreading matters, if only because the errors you pump out will live forever on the Internet. Even if you're producing a sign or advertisement in a language most of your viewing public doesn't understand, somebody, somewhere, has devoted a humorous website to you.

Yes, your spell-checking tool catches lots of errors. But what about that misused word it doesn't recognize or that proper name it doesn't have in its database? That's why you must always give your marketing content a once-over with your own eyeballs. If your eyeballs are tired, put the content away and proofread it later. But proofread it.

Of course, you can dot every I and cross every T and still end up with a ludicrous misstatement. Somewhere along U.S. Highway 83 (I forget where) stands a roadside sign for a combination gas station and restaurant. The sign proclaims proudly -- and quite seriously -- "EAT HERE! GET GAS!" 

You may encounter entire concepts that needed one more pass through the marketing department. How about that billboard that always seems to pop up in or around small towns -- the one for the BBQ place that depicts a cute cartoon pig squealing in terror as he runs from a guy with a butcher knife? Sure, it's funny if you're into that sort of thing, but does it really pull people off the highway with their stomachs growling? "Hey, you know that pig you were slashing to death on the billboard? I'd like some of that, with a side of slaw."

So consider this post a public service announcement. Don't just run your marketing content through a spell checker and call it done. Use human eyes and human brains. If you want some additional quality control, don't stop with your own evaluation. Have someone else look at it so you can get a second opinion, both on the mechanics and on the content itself. If you really want some quality assurance, hire a professional writer to proofread and edit your content. Better yet, let that professional writer create your content from scratch -- and lock in the quality from the very first word!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Technically Speaking: Marketing Content for Technical Products and Services

I've mentioned before how I once walked into a manufacturing company where the owner greeted me with, "Ah, you're here to rescue us!" This company boasted some truly remarkable new processes and systems, but their target audience received those technical explanations as if they were being gifted with a dead fish. Why? Because the manufacturing people were writing technical content instead of marketing content, and then aiming that content at the non-technical people who actually needed their services. Not a recipe for successful promotion, is it?

But you're facing a dilemma if you sell highly-technical products and services. The very aspects of your offerings that make you stand out may also be the ones least understandable to your target market. So how do you craft marketing content that makes your point with your intended audience?

My first suggestion? Ditch the five-dollar words, starting with your industry's standard buzzwords. If it's a word or phrase you don't hear outside of your industry or workplace, use it with care and/or be ready to explain it in simple terms. This not only prevents confusion among the rank-and-file businesspeople or consumers who view your marketing content; it also streamlines and energizes that content. Sleek, simple, and direct is the way to go when you want to grab human emotions and imaginations -- especially on the Internet, where a few extra seconds of head-scratching can kill whatever impact you'd hoped to make.

Talking to the right person matters just as much as using the right language. Who will actually make the decision to order your product or service? What position does that person hold? What daily tasks and challenges does that person confront, and what background or training is that person likely to have? You're probably not aiming your message at a fellow technician or inventor. The rank-and-file manager or purchasing officer who needs your super-sophisticated device may have no clue, or interest, in how that device actually works -- they only want to know that it does work.

Which leads us to the next major point, which is selling the end result instead of the process. Call me a barbarian, but I don't really care how electrons move through specific circuits, wires, sockets, bulbs and filaments. All I care about is having light at the flick of a switch. So don't sell me an electrical diagram or a list of voltage and current statistics; sell me a bright, cheerful environment that enhances my quality of life. If your technology does things that make me happier or more productive or healthier or wealthier or whatever, place that rosy end result front and center in your marketing message. You can can always create more detailed supporting material to back up your promises --but it's the promises that excite me into action.

These strategies aren't about "dumbing down" your content. There's nothing dumb about communicating simply, clearly, and directly, with a focus on what you do instead of how you do it. So play it smart, get whatever professional copywriting help you may need, and start selling instead of explaining!

Monday, January 29, 2018

3 Powerful Ways to Make Your Marketing Content "Pop"

Many years ago, I helped the owner of a local shipping service create a print marketing onesheet to boost his business. He had a fascinating personal story and a compelling value proposition, with plenty of written detail to back them up. Even so, he was frustrated that prospective customers didn't seem to respond to his marketing message. I explained to him that I could take this body of material and employ my copywriting skills to make his marketing content "pop." The next time I saw him after submitting the draft, he smiled ear to ear and yelled across the room, "I SAW THE POP!"

Does your own marketing content fly off the page and demand the attention of your target audience? Does it pop, or does just sort of lie there silently like soda gone flat? If you're not happy with the results you get from your website or print marketing, here are three things you can do to put some extra "wow factor" into your words.

1. Ask Questions

One of the easiest yet most powerful methods for grabbing readers' attention involves asking them questions. "Are you tired of floor cleaners that don't clean?" "Are you ready for a totally new taste sensation?" "If you could have twice the Internet speeds for half the price, would you go for it?" Questions simulate a conversation by forcing the reader to concoct answers, if only in their own minds. This degree of engagement can make all the difference between keeping and losing your audience within the first few seconds.

By the way, make sure the answer to each of your questions is "Yes." Eliciting this magic word from your audience doesn't just keep the emotional tone of the conversation more positive -- it also gets them agreeing with you, which makes life a lot easier when you finally ask them if they're ready to buy.

2. Use Your Reader's Imagination

Products and services usually aren't that exciting in and of themselves; it's what they can do for people that creates excitement. If you sell personal financial solutions, you could easily bore readers to tears by focusing on stuff like interest rates, stock diversification strategies, or retirement account contribution limits. These issues may be important, but they don't captivate the imagination.

But what about the outcomes of successful personal financial strategies? That dream vacation for your family, the summer home you've always wanted but never dreamed you could afford, a stress-free early retirement -- these and other images will get your audience listening to what you have to say. Dream building is a powerful content marketing tool, and it's as simple as painting the picture your ideal customer has always wanted (but perhaps never dared) to visualize.

Your reader's imagination can conjure negative images as well as positive ones -- and this is a good thing. Make them see in their mind's eye that dreary, painful, or frustrating scenario they currently live through on a daily basis, that problem that keeps them from being happy. Make it as sharp and vivid as possible. Then dispel those clouds by offering the path to a sunnier future.

3. Keep It Simple

"The more I say, and the fancier I get with it, the more convincing I'll be." This all-too-common strategy usually backfires when you're creating marketing content. First of all, most people can't be bothered to read a solid wall of text about anything, no matter what the end reward might be. Second, you can't assume that everyone in your target audience shares the same reading level. Last but not least, short, simple words pack more punch -- and they'll give your content more pop, especially when you include plenty of empty space around them. Less is more.

Taking your audience on a journey is another important technique for keeping your message simple, straightforward, and effective. Give your pitch a shape, starting with your leading questions, pain statement, or dream building imagery and then moving on to your proposed solutions. Once you've given the reader both the problem and the answer, hand them the key to happiness by ending with a strong call to action. Tell them what they need to do right now to make the dream come true.

Don't settle for marketing content that barely fizzes. Get your marketing team or freelance copywriter to put these techniques to good use. With any luck you, too, will "see the pop!"

Monday, January 15, 2018

4 Reasons You Should Let a Pro Write Your Profile

Have you ever been stuck with the job of writing your own bio profile for a social media page, professional directory listing, or your website's About Us section? Fun, isn't it? Although entering that text can be as simple as typing into a box, you may feel utterly boxed in when it comes to making that profile leap off the page as it should. Even so, many professionals think they have to go it alone and write up their own profiles, for better or for worse. Here are four good reasons to let a professional copywriter create that content for you instead.

1. The Wrong Impression Will Be the Last Impression

For the countless people who pull up LinkedIn Facebook, or professional directory bio pages in their search for a particular kind of professional, your profile may be their first impression of you -- and possibly the last, if you blow it. Clunky language, misspellings, grammatical errors, and other wrong notes can reduce a visitor's idea of you in a hurry, despite your impressive list of skills, clients, and  achievements. Not screwing up your profile is the first hurdle toward credibility, so don't disqualify yourself right out of the gate.

2. Your Profile Counts as Marketing Content

Some professionals are perfectly willing to invest time, money and effort into several types of marketing content -- from web pages and blog articles to print marketing copy -- without recognizing profile text as another important piece in the marketing puzzle. All your marketing content should integrate seamlessly to produce a single, congruent, compelling presentation of your brand. That can't happen if you just cobble together bits and pieces of your resume and throw them up on your social media profile page or directory listing.

3. Your Uniqueness Needs to Shine

If someone is searching for the products and services you provide, they're probably looking at more profiles than just yours. If you're in a crowded market or a super-competitive industry, it's especially easy to get lost in the shuffle -- unless your profile stops viewers in their tracks. To achieve this goal, you have to state, in no uncertain terms, exactly what sets you apart from the competition. Do you have more experience? Do you bring special skills or training to the table? Are your products or services better than the other guy's? If you're having trouble isolating or expressing that unique value proposition, a professional writer can offer some helpful outside perspective as well as the necessary eloquence.

4. You've Got Better Things to Do

Even if you have the golden combination of basic writing skills, marketing expertise, and the ability to put your unique spin on your profile -- why would you spend hours laboring away at this task when  you've got business to conduct? Some of my best clients are brilliant, articulate individuals who recognize the value of handing this work over to a trusted professional while they focus on more profitable and/or enjoyable activities. Ask yourself what your time is worth -- and then contact me. I can help you put the "pro" in your profile!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Your New Marketing Year Starts Now

You know that powerful new marketing campaign you've been wanting to unveil in 2018 -- the one that will help you turn your business's fortunes around, build upon current successes, or establish you as a new player in your industry? Well, here we are in 2018, so your magnificent marketing push starts today, in a flurry of activity to rival that New Year's Eve fireworks display that blossomed so excitingly over your community last evening. 


Or maybe, just maybe, you awoke with a kind of entrepreneurial hangover, that sinking feeling of having missed the boat. Too many other tasks ate up your schedule and demanded your attention, so that fresh start you'd intended to apply your business's marketing efforts isn't quite ready to leap out of bed, get dressed, and go attack the world.

Does this mean you've already blown it for 2018? Certainly not. If your dreams ran ahead and left your execution behind as we enter a new year, all is not lost, so don't panic. You can still assemble your creative team and produce some interim or "pilot" marketing pieces to keep your brand afloat while that bigger machine powers up. Remember, a professional copywriter or graphic designer can dream up brilliant content in a fraction of the time you'd spend at the drawing board yourself. For example, you could order a bunch of timely, topical blog articles to keep your online presence active and your audience paying attention. If you have major announcements for the coming year, what better way to get the word out than through some quick, compelling social media posts? A good copywriter can also refer you to plenty of other marketing pros to help you get moving. Ask me how I know this.

While you're buying yourself some time, however, make sure you put that time to good use by completing and implementing a real long-range plan. A strong, comprehensive 12-month marketing campaign typically involves some combination of several individual elements -- copywriting, graphic design, web development, social media, video, et cetera. Your marketing coordinator (or you, if you're in the hot seat) coordinates all of these tools to create a coherent, cohesive statement about who you are and what you do. As you're now all too aware, this stuff doesn't fall together overnight. You have research to do, strategies to implement, and several skilled professionals to corral. You can still make your marketing dreams for 2018 come true, but you'd better start right now, before January turns into February, and then March, and then April....

A new year should mean new opportunities, new dedication, and new growth for your business. Don't let this exciting moment go as flat on you as yesterday's half-consumed glass of champagne. Even if you didn't get your full-scale marketing blitz going by January 1st, you can still do something. So -- do something!