Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Storytelling Podcasts and Internal Communications

Newsflash: Storytelling is popular buzzword in marketing and internal communications circles. It's also a very effective technique. Sadly, when we talk about storytelling we tend to be a little light on examples.  #ironic

Listen & Learn: Storytelling Podcast Series

From flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenamesmagenta/5832764969
Generally I prefer to read things rather than listen to podcasts, but recently I spent some time with Shawn Callahan's Putting Stories to Work series. (More accurately: I listened to the first of the 19-episode series.) 

Callahan is enthusiastic about storytelling and insists it's effective. I appreciate his enthusiasm and believe it's well-founded. That said, the first episode, at least, seemed a lot like a spoken-word version of a long-form sales letter.  

I'm going to assume the first episode serves as an introduction. In it, Callahan says the podcast series offers more and different stories about storytelling than are in the book, Putting Stories to Work

Perhaps I'll return to it at some point; I like stories and stories about Storytelling would be right up my alley. In the meantime, here are some of Callahan's tips and my reactions to them:
  • Don't use the S-Word? Callahan says while it's smart to start a meeting with a story, you should not say, "I want to tell you a story." Doing so makes the audience uncomfortable, reacting at least subconsciously by thinking, "what are we, children?" or "do we have time for this?" Instead, Callahan says your intro should engage naturally.  "I want to tell you about something important that happened yesterday..." is an example. In fact, Callahan goes so far as to say that we should "not use the S- word." My take: I think this one needs a little testing. Some people like stories. And many audiences are very practiced audiences (sadly, meetings suck up a lot of our time). So "let me tell you a story," might be the verbal clue to your audience that says, "here's a real-world example - take notes." Also, I've heard that it's good to make an audience uncomfortable - just a little - assuming you can save your listeners from their discomfort and bring them back to a relaxed state (because if they're not relaxed, they're not receptive). 
  • Do use traditional storytelling conventions. Well, by all means - employee the character development, narrative and tension necessary to make your story a story! 
  • Don't write down your stories, just take a few notes so your telling is more spontaneous. Well, maybe for the actual delivery, that will work. But if you don't have formal training as a speaker, practicing with a script is pretty important. (And of course, PRACTICING is very important.) Speaking of speaking experience, Toastmasters is hands-down the best place to get that. 

Stories Sell and Teach

While stories can be helpful in the sales process, I find they often take more time than prospects are willing to give - with the notable exception of a new-product introduction where the product really IS new, and the super-sticky-sweet Extra gum love story of Sarah and Juan.

So my advice is don't use a story just to use a story. (Duh.) Marketing is judged by results; if it doesn't sell (eventually), then it doesn't work.

One place storytelling (and even role-playing) works great is in education - in the business world, internal communications types are dropping the "S-word" liberally. And to his credit, all of Callahan's storytelling techniques (that I listened to, anyway) apply as well to internal communications and training as they do to sales/marketing situations.

The bottom line: stay tuned! Storytelling is here to stay.

Have you heard all of Callahan's storytelling podcasts? What did I miss? I'd love to hear from you! If you have something to add about storytelling and would like to see your guest blog published here (!!) please contact me

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Small Business Marketing: Unmined Data is Content, Customer Service Gold

I've worked with enough small businesses to make a generalization: most of them feel a little left out when we marketing types talk about mining the data and analytics and stuff. They're like, "yeah but that's for Pepsi-sized companies."

Not really.  The cool thing about data is that it doesn't have to be big to be helpful.

Search Engine Land neatly outlined 5 under-utilized marketing strategies in an article late last year. The three I found most useful for one small business I was working with at the time:
  1. Use your "unmined" data and 
  2. Spend a few minutes with Google+ 
  3. Check on your online reviews
The primary challenge of marketing in a very small business is just having time to think about marketing.  Small companies or organizations - let's say those with 20 or fewer employees - are often years from even writing job descriptions for their workers, let alone having a marketing position.


Marketing is for all businessesA little creativity (and a serious desire to grow, either size- or profit-wise) can give you major marketing results. Here's what that might look like, and what it might mean, for your small business marketing efforts.

Unmined Data? We Don't Even Look at Our Own Website, For God's Sake

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, 89.6% of businesses in the US have 20 or fewer employees. (For entrepreneurs and solopreneurs the figure is nearly 98%.) (Wow.) (Wow!)

So how many have a marketing staff? One employee? How 'bout a marketing budget? The right answer is not many. And, not enough. But this is reality, folks - running a business ain't easy. Hiring a marketing person, or managing marketing plans yourself, often takes a back seat to the reality of running a business. 

On the other hand, marketing is vital to your small business if you want it to survive, grow, and thrive.

The good news: there's a middle ground.

Know Thy Customer, Know Thy Business, Know Thy Marketing Consultant

There are flexible marketing firms that will offer expertise on an hour-by-hour basis, and many consultants and small boutique firms are happy to help on a project basis.

When your small business is hiring marketing help, the first thing you need to know is what you can do in house and what you actually WILL DO in house. Sure, you can assign your customer service/do-everything frontline employees to update your social media channels, but can they really manage that and provide excellent customer service?

(Hint: the answer is usually "no." If you think the answer is "yes," then give your staffers a fighting chance by streamlining your operations and providing them with a checklist of posts to make each week and each month, which will serve as an editorial calendar.)

The second thing to consider as a small business looking for marketing help is, do you have the right marketing person or firm? Your marketing consultant or firm doesn't necessarily need to know everything about your industry, but they'll certainly need to understand how your business operates. There's no sense wasting your money on a firm that wants to get you into Groupons if your customers are other businesses. Or don't use smart phones.

How much should your small business spend on marketing, anyway? 

...And Know Thy Social Media Channels

The Search Engine Land article I referenced above recommended spending some time on your Google products page(s) and mining online reviews for marketing data and content.

The small company I worked with last winter got little action from Google+, however, it got a healthy number of calls and searches for directions from the sleeping giant of social media. So spending a little time with Google+ was worthwhile.

Also, while it had never solicited customer reviews, there were several nice, positive reviews out there in internet land. Sifting through them, I was able to "mine" some "data" and use it to revise some web and create some new posts on our existing channels.

So, take that, Big Data!

Last Word on Customer Data

Even if your marketing budget consists entirely of free media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), you can make the time investment really pay off. (Because there's free, as in no-money-required, and then there's the real cost, which is time-spent-on-one-thing-is-opportunity-lost-elsewhere.)

Mining your customer data can be as simple as jotting down notes at the end of the day or end of a shift about key phrases (especially objections and buying rationale) that you hear from your customers. It can also include

  • Perusing industry blogs and Q&A forums for current trends and pain points
  • Watching the competition with an eye to what they're doing and not doing (unmet needs = service opportunity)
  • Calling or emailing a handful of customers each week, just to keep in touch. 
Use the wisdom collected in those exercises to create your social media posts, and new product offerings. You might be surprised how quickly you see an improvement in your response rates (and sales!) when you start incorporating your customers' voices in your marketing efforts. 

Then, at your next small business event, you can drop into conversation about how you've increased engagement by incorporating the VOC. Go ahead. Brag a little. You've earned it. 

Then take the next step:
Get more traction with online reviews and other under-utilized social media channels

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Will I Ever Have to Write an Essay in the Real World? Hello, College Scholarships!

I've argued that the ability to write essays is actually useful in real life. (More so than calculus, even.) Whether you agree or not is no matter - if you're a college-bound student, you need to write essays. Lots of them!

Here are two essay contests with deadlines fast-approaching. Have fun.

Write a Letter to the Number 5       $1500 scholarship opportunity

Entries due 5/31/16

Do-over Scholarship      $1500 scholarship opportunity

Entries due 6/30/16

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Still Breaking the Blogging Rules (among others)

I've written recently about white papers that aren't quite white papers, and about landing pages that don't follow the rules. Crazy? Only if you think common sense is.

Folks, articles with scary headlines about content such as '5 THINGS YOU MUST DO TO GET READERS' should be taken with a grain of salt. If you know your business and your brain has had the benefit of a cup of coffee, you can make your own decisions about content marketing's MUST-FOLLOW RULES.

Below, a post I wrote about breaking the blogging rules, way back in 2014. I reviewed it and deem the info still worthy today.

The bottom line? Your content needs to work for you and your business. Consider those "rules" a list of suggestions and if you need help getting your message across, work with a writer who gets your business. < shameless plug

Excerpt from Blog Rules to Know and Break, originally published in October 2014

The Steveology Blog is always a great resource, and I found a series of interviews with Lou Hoffman was especially so. My favorite: part 3, about storytelling, highlighting some "rules" of corporate blogging that many organizations break or ignore.

And there I go again, breaking the rules. See what I did there? You and I know that you're not supposed to put an outside link in the first line of your blog. *Sigh* Go ahead, click away laughing - but know why I do this: I think writing should be more useful to readers than it is to the writer - in this case, me.

Which may explain why I don't just blog for a living. But I digress.

Engagement isn't easy, nor is it overrated

Your corporate blog needs readers and you need patience and commitment to get them.

Just because monkeys can write blogs and many blogging tools are free doesn't mean it's a good idea for monkeys to have blogs. *Ahem* Sorry, my snarkiness is showing.

If you've been charged with writing a corporate blog or any kind, don't fall into the content trap and think your task is all about writing. Blogging is copywriting, and copywriting is marketing. Or that word no one likes to say out loud anymore: advertising.

Copywriting vs. Content 

Copywriting, of course, is not just writing, or even storytelling. It's advertising. Meaning, before you write, you have to know your product (or service), your target audience, and how to reach them quickly and effectively.

Sounds a lot like content management, doesn't it?  Coincidence? I don't think so. Nor is that external link placed at the end of this post. Another rule arbitrarily broken? Or valuable content, offered in trust? It's your call.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Corporatese and Other Dialects I Avoid

Graphics first appeared at Contentedly.com
I'm not just being stubborn; I have a hard time understanding a lot of Corporate-speak. And I'm in the word business!

Why would you use weird phrases to sound "smart" when what you're more likely to do is lose your audience?

Contentedly's wonderful infographic of 50 Terrible Phases we should stop using at work (and everywhere!) really resonated with me.

Translation: I agree!

Say What You Mean to Say

Sometimes, we have to put on a dog-and-pony show. We have to play in the sandbox with people we'd rather not play with, or work with, at all.

And certainly, there are worse offenses than speaking (or double-speaking) in euphemisms that sound more like a secret code or a party game than ... well, good communication.

I gravitate toward clients who speak in plain English to their partners, to their employees, and to their customers. One of the joys of freelancing is that (usually) I can be a little bit choosey about my clients. And for those who relish their game-changing, kimono-opening dialogs .... well, I find I don't always have the bandwidth to handle those jobs.

It is what it is.

But Seriously, Folks - Let's Make Sense

Here's a compelling reason to avoid using those obsfucating phrases: they don't translate well on the world stage.

Image from Contentedly.com
English may one day be the universal language. Maybe it is already. Either way, it's not an easy one to learn. When you toss some cultural oddities into the mix, then top it off with a sprinkle of business-speak, the result can be an unintelligible concoction.

Sure, it resembles English. But chances are that mess isn't communicating what you want it to.

And isn't communicating what you want to do?

Isn't it what you need to do?

I think it is.

If you'd like to get some marketing content that gets your point across to prospects, customers, employees, and other business partners, please contact me. I bet I speak your language ;)

Read More About the Value of Good Communication

Sam Falletta of Northeast Ohio's Incept Communications gets it. He explained to Smart Business Magazine how good communication - conversation, really - makes good organizations better. Read the article or contact Incept to find out how your company can get, and keep, the conversation going.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

White Papers: More than Just Sales Brochures. Or Not.

Ah, the current darling of content, the revered White Paper.

I've written quite a few and have read a lot more.

You know what? Some of them are outstanding. A lot of them are ... well, they're kind of like baloney. Not entirely bad, but not very meaty.

White Paper or Sales Brochure?

Apparently, the term white paper was derived from a type of government document that was intended to explain and solicit opinions on a particular policy or process. Depending upon the weightiness of the reading material, the cover was either blue or white. (To read about the Winston Churchill connection, see Wikipedia.) 

White papers have been through a lot since then - and the term blue paper is all but extinct - but the bottom line is that white papers are hot. What are they exactly? There seem to be a lot of different answers.

Once upon a time - in the early days of "content marketing" -  a white paper was a lengthy, heavily researched and fairly balanced report intended to help readers make thoughtful purchasing decisions (about high ticket goods or services).

Today they're marketing tools to be sure, and they've morphed a bit - but I think they're still long-form journalism at heart.

Purdue's Online Writing Lab offers a nice description of today's white paper formats.

White Paper or Report?

Content has been morphing just about since movable type started moving. Case in point: did you ever research a auto purchase by studying Consumer Reports magazines?

Detailing the best and worst of recent car models, it had everything a savvy shopper could want - crash test reports, average repair costs, the most-common problems with specific models, owner satisfaction information, recall history, pages upon pages of well-researched, detailed information. From a (mostly) unbiased source.

The first white papers I wrote were along those lines. At the very end of the annotated report was a lovely two-to-three paragraph summary, gently guiding the reader to ask for more information, or a demo, or a sample of a (typically high-ticket) product or service.

Few reports published today are so thorough. Or subtle. Who has time, right? Today's decision maker - for better or for worse - is more likely to want a link to an infographic than a report. And a call to action? If it's missing, everyone's confused - including the reader.

Don't get me wrong - the old school white paper still exists. But there's a broadening middle ground, which I argue is packed with sales brochures masquerading as white papers.

I'm not sure what we should call them, but that doesn't matter much, because they do what they're designed to do. They're intended to explain more about a product and get leads and email addresses from prospects in the early stages of the sales cycle. Whether you call them light white papers or long-form sales brochures, they're part of the landscape in today's content-marketing world.

Most importantly: they work.

What Does Your Marketing Content Need to Do for You?

As a copywriter and business writing consultant, I've found the first challenge in most client relationships is understanding what the client wants and needs.

Duh, right? In any professional relationship, you have to understand your client's expectations and goals. But when you and your client have two different ideas about what a white paper is, someone is bound to be disappointed.

If by "white paper," you mean that you want a few blog posts and web pages rewritten into a 3-to- 7 page 'report' on your industry, I'm not going to argue about what you call it. I might think of it as a long-form sales brochure, or a customer education piece, but if you want to call it a white paper, I'm fine with that. And if what you're looking for is a 3-to- 7 page finished product, chances are it will be ready sooner, and for less, than the first white papers I wrote way back when.

If you're hoping to get a longer piece, covering research from several different sources, it will take longer, and cost more.

So What Kind of "White Paper" Does Your Business Need?

Your business may not need a "real" white paper. If your business model, product or service isn't truly new or unusual - or highly technical - perhaps what you need is an introduction to your prospects or customers.

If your business has a broad base of established customers, but only a relatively few are taking advantage of certain services you offer, a case study or customer spotlight can spur interest in your business's broader offerings.

A case study, long-form brochure or customer education piece can be very useful. It can, for example:
  • Highlight a product or service currently misunderstood (or underused) by current customers 
  • Introduce a new product or ballyhoo research putting your company or product in a good light
  • Generate great PR - particularly when a customer highlighted in your case study (or "success story") shares the piece with other business associates
  • And customer profiles make great story pitches to trade magazines...
The point is that every long form piece of business copy is not a white paper. And what you call it matters little. What matters is understanding what your business needs, and getting that in front of your prospects.

Want to talk about your content needs?

Free 30 minute consultation when booked by May 5, 2016.  < Sorry; I've been swamped since this offer expired. I may re-issue this offer in July 2016. Please check back then. Thanks ~ Diane

Friday, April 22, 2016

Can Landing Pages Multitask? Should They?

If you've talked to me or read what I've written about good web copy, SEO and marketing communications in general, you know I see many shades of gray in our online world, and one of my favorite answers - regardless of the question - is "it depends."

Should Landing Pages Stick to a Single Message?

YES! Except when... well, at least I didn't start with "it depends."

If your offer is cut-and-dried, if it's as easy as a yes or no question, then yes. Yes, your landing page should stick to a single, sweet and simple message. A blog post from Collective provides some of the best examples (of good and bad landing pages) that I've seen recently. Here, have a look:

landing page examples
On the other hand, what's the point of your landing page? Maybe it has several points to make. That's OK too.

Call me crazy (wouldn't be the first time) - I contend that a Landing Page can serve several purposes. 

I don't write landing pages for Coke or Pepsi. I write landing pages for companies with far smaller marketing budgets. In those companies, the owners wear a lot of hats, and quite often, their marketing programs need to multitask, too. 

Like any other good business decision, the best way to approach spending money on web content is to look at your goals and your budget and do the best you can with what you've got. Then, analyze the results and go from there. This isn't rocket science, folks. It's marketing, and it's your business. 

Web Content Rules: Of Course It's OK to Break Them

Knowing the rules is important. Knowing that sometimes it's OK to break them will keep you sane. 

When it comes to writing for the web, it's really important to remember that we are writing for customers, who happen to be human beings. (Really; they're living breathing people! not search engines! And whenever you have a chance to talk to one, you should!)

If you're writing a landing page, with a single, simple purpose (convert - download - sign up - buy) then by all means, follow the rules. One message for you and your page! Test it, and convert away.

The Multitasking Landing Page

With apologies to Sigmund Freud, sometimes a landing page isn't "just" a landing page.  

If you're writing with a purpose that's a little more involved, hey, that's a different marketing animal. You didn't grow your business by just following all the rules, did you? 

Maybe your landing page should serve as an introduction to your site, with a link to a virtual tour of your store - and (gasp!) it's a video. It's OK. I promise, the Online Marketing Police will NOT come after you. 

It's YOUR landing page. Create it to serve your purpose - or multiple purposes. Then track your visitor data, talk to your (real, live) customers, and run your business. By your rules.

Some more rules - or, more accurately, best practices - can be found in a helpful article Search Engine Journal published way back in 2015.  

Should You Use Video in Your Landing Page? 

Yes, with care...if you have the right video...and it doesn't mess with your message or make the page load too slowly or...

OK, in this case the answer is yes and it depends. ;D

Earlier this month, Unbounce blogged about using video as background and also discussed what to avoid when using video on landing pages.

Here ya go:
Shutterstock image - golden web copy

Why Are You Still Reading This?

I included several links above, inviting you to leave the page. Maybe you did, and of course, if you're still reading this, maybe you didn't - or you came back. 

Those links up there are proof that I break the rules. Why? This is supposed to be a helpful post for real, live (reading) people, on landing pages and making marketing content that really works, for you and your business.

I hope you found it so.