Tuesday, May 7, 2019

How to Get What You Want From a Freelance Copywriter


So you've decided to hire a professional writer to help you with your marketing content. It's a no-brainer, right? Assuming you've taken the right steps to make sure you've got the right person, you're guaranteed to get whiz-bang copy that makes exactly the statement you wanted to make in exactly the way you wanted to make it. From this point forward, you can set yourself on cruise control and let the writer write. Right?

Well, not quite. No matter how much of the creative burden you offload to the writer, you still have an important task -- communicating what you need and want to your creative team. If your writer (or graphic artist, or web designer, et cetera) receives wrong or incomplete information about your mission statement, corporate values, target market or other things that make your business tick, you'll get marketing content that misses the mark. Effective communication with your writer will help ensure strong, effective copy just as effective communication with an architect helps ensure that your home ends up with the right number of bathrooms. "Hey, the house looks great now that it's built. By the way, did I mention we're a family of twelve?" Oops.

Some items you want to make sure you discuss with your writer include:

Priorities. Writers love background information, so by all means, pile it on. But at some point before the writing starts, make sure you've highlighted the talking points nearest and dearest to you. (A competent writer should ask you this right off the bat, but feel free to volunteer it.) What are the most important things your audience needs to come away with after viewing your marketing content? What must they do? How must they feel? What things about your business set you apart from your competitors? Once you've discussed these things with your writer, you can then throw an avalanche of white papers, web links or other data on his/her shoulders while resting assured that the big points will get the most "ink" in the final product.

Creative scope. Putting your writer on too long or short a creative leash will put a noose around your chances for getting the right final product. If you tell the writer, "You're the creative guy. Just come up with something," be prepared not to like what happens. The writing you get may sparkle and represent a high professional standard, but it may also cover the wrong topic or emphasize the wrong message. On the other hand, if you're mapping out every little point and sub-point down to individual phrases, you're really writing the piece yourself and using the writer as an editor. That's okay if it's the arrangement that you and the writer agreed on. But if you're paying somebody to create content and then spoon-feeding every word to them, then you're wasting time and money.

Direction. Many business owners and marketing directors bring on a new writer when they intend to make a drastic change in the direction of their marketing -- but what if you just want to continue what you've already started? That's great too. Like a session musician sitting in for a regular band member, a skilled writer can mimic a wide range of tones and styles, even while the presence of a new player adds a little jolt of fresh energy to the proceedings. Just make it very clear to the writer that it ain't broke so you don't want it fixed. Not a problem. 

Talk to your freelance writer, and you'll get writing that speaks to your customers. And that's the most important communication of all.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Is Your Marketing Content Offering Too Much Information?


If you ever see "TMI" posted on an online message board, you may know that it stands for "Too Much Information." It's usually a warning, or a complaint, that you're telling us more than we want or need to know. (Example post title: "Personal Hygiene Question (possibly TMI).") 

While "TMI" usually refers to unpleasant subject matter, it can also be applied to cases of epic rambling or brain-crushing detail. I even think of it in terms of spilling the beans unnecessarily. I recently watched a rotten old B-movie where a guy was being beaten up by a lynch mob for a murder he didn't commit. Meanwhile, the guy's friend spots the real murderer in the crowd, grabs him, and starts slapping him around. The culprit immediately falls to his knees and starts yelling, "I didn't mean it! I didn't mean to kill her!" Um, okay. Thanks for sharing. You might consider not representing yourself in court.

We sometimes offer too much in our marketing copy. It's tempting to spew out all the facts and figures, reams of testimonials, or volumes of microscopic detail about what we do. It's hard to resist posting every single conceivable question and answer on our FAQ page until it resembles an FAQ book. (Be honest, are all those questions "frequently asked?") We want to stagger our readers with our comprehensive knowledge and solutions -- but who wants to be staggered?

If you throw information at a reader until steam comes out of his ears, he can't focus on the key points that piqued his interest in the first place. Worse, you've allowed no space for the reader's imagination to roam. It takes two to communicate, and if you've created an impenetrable brick wall of information that fills every single crack, answers every question, anticipates every thought the reader might have, then your reader has no room to insert his own imagination -- which means he can't envision your product or service making his life or business better. You've blinded his mind's eye.

Too much information will also cause you to lose queries. Once you've told the prospective client everything he needs to know, you've drastically reduced the chances of having a future conversation with that person. Sure, your prospect might call you right away to order something, but he's more likely to just file the pages away for future reference -- and keep shopping around. 

The real point of effective marketing is to get folks excited enough to want more -- and they get that by talking to you. Once you've got that conversation, you then have the opportunity to build trust, set up meetings, or point out additional products or services that lead to a bigger sale or future business. Give prospects a reason to contact you!

Just remember: TMI (Too Much Information) = NEB (Not Enough Business).

Monday, April 8, 2019

Fit to Print: The Art of Print Marketing Content

I devote a lot of electronic ink to the online copywriting experience, but rest assured that print marketing is not dead. I field plenty of requests to write content for trifold brochures, onesheets, flyers, direct mail, newsletters, door hangers -- if it involves applying ink to processed tree pulp, I've probably written for it. And just as effective web writing has its own set of rules, you can apply certain techniques and ways of thinking toward improving your print marketing content. Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you're faced with the proverbial blank page.

Thinking Collaboratively - The most effective print marketing pieces rely on an equal creative partnership between the copywriter and the graphic designer. Some items will naturally begin life as an arresting image, while others will take their cue from a grabby opening statement or final tag line. I've gotten writing ideas a designer's initial sketches, just as designers have built their visual approaches around my first drafts. Ideally, both of these individuals are working together from the beginning to create a piece that works on both levels to create an integrated expression of your message.

Painting a Picture - When you're writing for a brochure, onesheet or other print marketing piece, you find out in a big hurry that less is indeed more in the wonderful world of marketing copy. You've got to keep in mind that big chunks of the final product will be filled up with photos, charts, logos and other illustrations. Your writing must not only make make room for these aspects of design; it must acknowledge and enhance them. The last thing a mailer or other space-challenged piece needs is a wall of text in a microscopic font. Think about those TV ads that have the big mess of fine print shoved into the bottom of the screen. Ever wonder what all that stuff says? Me neither.

Breaking It Down - No matter how much or how little text your print marketing piece can accommodate, solid blocks of it create unnecessary eyestrain (and brain strain) for the reader, especially in today's "absorb it a glance or toss it" world. If the copy lends itself to subdivision, break it down into bulleted lists, statements or short paragraphs. This practice not only helps readers zoom in on the information that rocks their world the hardest, but it also adds visual variety to the layout and gives the graphic designer more options for positioning the text in clever ways.

Keep in mind that different print marketing formats will call for a different mix of information and "sizzle." While a brochure can offer a leisurely guided tour toward a final call to action, a mailer may have to nail the reader from the outset with an arresting image and/or phrase. Whatever your needs, an experienced marketing copywriter, preferably one who is used to working with graphic designers, can help you choose those words as wisely as possible. If if you feel you could use that kind of expertise -- well, you know what to do!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Is Your Marketing Machine Still on Spring Break? Get It Running Again With the Right Marketing Content


Another March is flying by, and March means fun and games. Many of the tech-savvy Central Texas entrepreneurs I know flock to SXSW every spring, tweeting madly about various events, presentations and informal get-togethers. And in the midst of all this chaos, kids suddenly have the week off. The older ones go hit the live music events or take off for whatever beach they can afford, while the younger ones need supervising at home (unless the whole family is planning a week-long excursion). In short, the entire city gets massively distracted. Question is, what happens to your business's marketing in the process?

Okay, you're on vacation, or you genuinely need to be attend trade shows and panels (where you may indeed make new connections and land new clients), or you can't leave your kids at home alone during the break. But if you haven't set up a marketing machine that keep running in your absence, then your business is taking the week off along with you. Many of us can't afford that. 

As long as there are people out there who need and want what we offer, we have to keep working to get their attention and hold it long enough to convert curiosity into sales. But too many entrepreneurs are flying by the seat of their pants, marketing-wise, putting out email offers or posting blog articles when and if they have time to do so. The problem is, if you wait until you have time, then your business suffers whenever you don't have time -- which is most of the time! You have to make time for marketing, whether it's convenient for you or not.

This doesn't mean you have to skip all those industry events or personal breaks. It means you have to construct a marketing campaign that can operate more or less on auto-pilot. More often than not, it involves some degree of outsourcing. You might need to talk to a web marketing company about constructing a direct mail system that automatically routes specific messages to prospects in accordance with their various stages of interest. You may have to talk to a copywriter about creating a stockpile of blog articles that will hit your website at scheduled intervals. 

Whatever you do, don't let an established routine fall apart for any significant length of time. I once got an email from a client who had been AWOL for about 8 months, wanting to know if I could resume blogging for him. He hadn't come up with any articles of his own during all the time -- the blog had simply, and visibly, been left for dead. I told him that while I'd be happy to write some new articles for him, we'd have to rebuild whatever readership he'd gained from scratch. A little neglect, unfortunately, goes a long way.

Summer will be here soon enough. You and yours may be looking forward to a well-earned vacation. So do the necessary strategizing right now to make sure your marketing will keep its nose to the grindstone while you're having fun!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

When (and How) to Take Copywriting Advice

You've come to the conclusion that you need professional help crafting your website content, blog articles, print marketing collateral or email campaign. You've found an experienced marketing copywriter with an excellent reputation, and you're ready to pay his price to get the job done. So why is he telling you things you don't want to hear -- and how should you respond?

Specialists in a given field have a nasty habit of doing that. I suppose the auto shop is an example we can all relate to. If smoke is pouring out of the back end like a secret weapon in a Bond film, the gauges and indicators are screaming redly at me, or I hear noises that can't possibly occur outside of a wild animal documentary, then I know I have a car problem. So I give it to the mechanic, only to hear that I need a new this or a rebuilt that or a massive tuneup that costs more than the car's even worth on paper. Well, I didn't want to hear that, so what are my options? I can (a) ignore the mechanic's advice and hope he's wrong (or just trying to sell me stuff), (b) ask for the minimum amount of repair that will keep the car from dying completely, or (c) authorize all the work and let the mechanic do what he does best. The final choice will be determined not just by my budget, but also by my opinion of the mechanic's expertise and integrity.

It's the same when hiring a copywriter. Say you receive a draft that doesn't quite work for you, so you ask for changes. Maybe the writer will agree that the changes are necessary and happily make them without a word -- or maybe he'll advise you against some or even all of them. wait a minute, what's happening here? You're paying this guy to do what you want done, right?

Well, that depends on how much expertise you're buying along with that copy. An experienced copywriter who knows his stuff will be able to see things you can't, either because you're not a marketing expert or because you're too close to the problem. In those cases he might say, "I understand where you're coming from, but let me explain why I wrote it this way." If his explanation sounds sensible to you, you may want to re-evaluate your evaluation. If he seems to be responding out of some kind of bruised artist's ego or a simple unwillingness to cooperate, then you can safely ignore his arguments and insist in the changes (and hire a different writer next time). If, on the other hand, you really just wanted a glorified stenographer instead of a creative partner, you're probably better off engaging a junior writer or a marketing intern; you'll certainly save money by not hiring expertise you don't need.

When you interview a professional copywriter, make sure you communicate your expectations, not only for the writing but for the relationship as well. You always have option of taking or rejecting copywriting advice -- and you'll be getting what you paid for.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Original Website and Blog Content: The Art of Being Unique

I don't know if this happens to you, but I see it all the time. I'll be looking up some topic of interest or other, and I'll find myself saying, "Wait a minute. Didn't I just read this blog article or web page on another site?" And sure enough, I did. So which organization came up with the original website or blog content, and which one simply did a copy-and-paste? I have no idea -- and if your site is the one I'm looking at, that's a problem for you.

Now, of course you can't comb the Internet constantly searching for any competitors who might decide to steal your content and pass it off as their own. But you can make sure that you're creating your own original content, content that helps you stand out by expressing your individual brand image, voice and values.

It should go without saying that Google doesn't think highly of duplicate content. Contrary to what some people think, the search engine doesn't usually slap any major penalties on companies that post the occasional copy of someone else's (or even their own) written content. That's partly because it's accepted that accidental duplication will happen to the best of us; it really can't be helped in the immense digital cosmos of the Information Superhighway. But you can forget about that duplicate content helping you to rank more highly. It confuses the search engines so that they don't know which site's version to index, re-index, or rank for query results.

But the problem of duplicate content doesn't begin and end with Google's reactions. How will visitors to your site react when they see an article or web page that they just read on someone else's site? If you don't assume that you're simply a thief, they'll at least get the impression that you have nothing original to offer compared to your competitors. Your brand will appear generic, and you'll become just another possible choice, as good as any other, in a crowded field of options.

That's the real reason you need to populate your digital marketing content with original material. Original content helps you stand out so that your message "pops" in comparison with all the other pages and posts your prospective customers are viewing as they seek solutions. There's no denying that you'll have to cover much of the same ground, topic-wise, as everyone else. But by putting your brand's unique spin on the subject, you can demonstrate that you've got something special to offer -- and isn't that what marketing is all about?

Don't fall into the comfortable trap of "borrowing" content from around the Web. Take the time to custom-craft your own original material, or bring a professional copywriter on board to help you. You're already one of a kind, so make sure that your target audience knows it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Marketing Content for Events: Do You Know What You Need?

Here in Central Texas, events abound at this time of year. Over the next several months, Austin will be bustling with such notable public gatherings as SXSW, the Pecan Street Festival and Eeyore's Birthday, while San Antonio hosts Fiesta San Antonio and a variety of other very visible celebrations. These events all represent opportunities for getting your brand out there and promoting your products and services. But do you have the necessary marketing content to take full advantage of the gold mine that lies before you? Let's run through some of the different marketing pieces you'll want to add to your to-do list.

Blog articles - If you want to catch prospective attendees' attention well ahead of the event in question, why not post some blog articles that specifically reference that event in the context of what you offer? Make sure they know that you'll have a presence at the event, and invite them to visit your booth and chat with you.

Direct mail - "We'll Be at [Such-and-So Event]!" screams the header on those direct mail postcards filling your prospective customers' mailboxes. Better yet, you're including a special coupon or discount that they can claim if they come visit your booth or table. Make it a sufficiently mouth-watering deal, and they'll be there.

Brochures or catalogs - Once you've got people coming to see you at a given event, you'd better have a proper "leave-behind" to hand them. A well-written brochure could be all you need to help you stand out inside that swag bag. If you really want to offer comprehensive information to your event visitors, take the time to craft (or update) a full-color catalog featuring professional content describing your company's history, mission, values, and full range of offerings.

Promotional videos - Will you be occupying a table or booth at an event such as SXSW Interactive?If so, you may find it hard to get attendee's attention amidst the sprawl of noise, banners, and sign-up tables. That's when you need to set up a giant-sized monitor displaying an exciting, funny, startling, or dramatic promotional video. But keep in mind that a video isn't just as series of images -- it's a structured presentation built on a rock-solid script that tells your story.

You see where I'm going with this. It's time to plan your event marketing strategies and tactics across multiple channels. Contact me today so you can get the top-quality print, blog, or video writing you need to turn yourself into the biggest event of them all!






Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Hiring a Copywriter: What Are Your Options?


So you need to hire a copywriter to bolster your blog, whip your website into shape or perfect your print marketing. Let's assume your business actually has a marketing budget, and that you actually have allocated some funding toward this solution. The next question is: How will your hire your copywriter? You can engage this essential marketing content creation specialist under whatever kind of working arrangement both of you find workable. Let's take a look at some common copywriter hiring options.

Per Project


I've almost always offered this setup. Most of the people who have contacted my for writing work express relief over the fact that they know exactly what they're getting a for a flat fee. It's just like making a purchase at a shop: Product X costs Y dollars, and that's that. Companies with skimpy marketing budgets can't commit to a vague estimate, so knowing exactly what they're getting for their money allows them to breathe easier. It's also a recommended method when you're hiring a writer for the first time. Is he a fast writer, or is he a pokey one? Are his estimates accurate, or will you receive an ugly surprise at the end of the job? flat per-project rates eliminate that uncertainty. They also eliminate some uncertainty on the writer's part -- if I know what I'll be earning on this project, I can plug that number into my earnings without having to adjust it (possibly to my regret) later.

Hourly


Some projects and working arrangements can benefit from hiring a writer by the hour. If your writer has a track record of accurate estimates, or if he's willing to eat the extra hours on an underestimated job, then the client has nothing to lose. Large or ongoing writing needs are particularly suitable for hourly billing

Retainer


A monthly retainer is a type of contract that "retains" your copywriter of choice for a specified amount of work or number of hours. For instance, you might retain my services for $600 a month. That $600 could buy you X number of writing hours, or it could pre-pay for X number of blog articles or web pages or whatever. Retainer contracts make sense if your business needs a steady stream of writing work and you don't feel like bouncing from writer to writer to get it. They're also handy if you're trying to reduce your administrative paperwork, because you're processing one invoice a month instead of a new invoice for every single project. Marketing firms and web development companies can really benefit from putting writers on retainer.

Permanent Hire


If you're a big marketing or advertising agency, it may be worth the investment of time, money and energy to hire one or more copywriters as full-time permanent staff. Or maybe not. The business world has moved away from the massive, megalithic corporate model of the past. "Nimble" is the new normal as businesses rely increasingly on outsourcing to minimize their payroll, overhead and HR headaches. Many companies, even the ones with a bottomless need for written content, find that a reliable bullpen of contractors can get the job done just fine.

Which option is right for you? I can't answer that question without learning more about your business, your marketing efforts and your writing needs. But if you'd like to talk about it, you know where to find me!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Don't Just Create Marketing Content -- Create Your Audience!


Ever think of starting a media juggernaut that exists solely to support your business? In the past, that idea would have been dismissed as vain, over-ambitious, or just plain laughable. These days, it's considered Smart Marketing 101.

Steve Jobs famously said, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them." In other words, it's up to you to create the demand for a product or service by introducing it to your target audience within the larger context of how this product or service can enhance their lives. Proctor & Gamble demonstrated this concept by creating a whole new form of entertainment as a marketing tool. The soap company (and that's pretty much all it was, back in the 1930s) needed a way to present its products to a specific audience -- homemakers. It did so by inventing the soap opera.

Daytime drama reached into millions of households via radio and eventually television, giving the lady of the house a daily feast of "stories" accompanied by, of course, commercials for detergent products. Proctor & Gamble had become more than a product manufacturer -- it was now a media producer. If you spent your afternoon doing the laundry, chances were you were also caught up in the latest brain tumor diagnosis, adulterous affair or discovery of an evil twin. Meanwhile, you'd hear about how and why a particular detergent got the job better than Brand X, more often than not from the characters themselves. If your favorite radio or TV character is singing the praises of a new dandruff shampoo day in and day out, eventually you're going to buy some just to see what all the fuss is about.

This same approach is alive and well today. We call it content marketing -- a combined delivery of advertising and other information that a specific audience genuinely needs or enjoys. An effective modern marketing campaign might achieve this in the form of drip marketing, a series of direct-mail or email "touches" that collectively build the reader's trust in your company until the urge to buy or at least contact you for more information becomes overpowering. And just as soap opera audiences come to think of the characters they see as living, breathing people, your target market comes to rely on you as the trusted resource for your industry of field of expertise.

Blogging can prove especially valuable for building an audience that relies on your expert point of view on the subject at hand. Say you're a tax attorney trying to establish your credibility and convert prospects who need what you have to offer. By posting authoritative, genuinely helpful articles on a wide range of topics related to taxes, the people searching for that information online -- who obviously need and want such information -- come to rely on you as their own personal guru on the subject. And who better to work on their taxes than someone they already trust? That's content marketing.

Now it's your turn to create your own business's media channels. Build your own buzz through the power of content marketing. Who knows? With the aid of a skilled professional copywriter, your product or service could become the hottest show in town -- with your target market serving as the town.