Squelching Fluff in Writing

Fluff in writing is fairly easy to spot. You hold your hand over the contact information for the company website, blog post, newsletter, success story–and then ask yourself two questions:

  1. How can this company help me?
  2. Do I have any reason to use this company rather than its competitor?

Does the marketing content fail to answer those questions? You are reading fluff.

The Reason for Fluff

Sometimes that fluff is generated by the company because no one on board recognizes what it is or because the company is frightened that customers won’t understand its technology if more specific information is given or because the company hasn’t settled on an audience. Sometimes the fluff is bought as a package from a content-generating company or from an extremely low-cost writer who doesn’t ask important questions or research answers.

Reality is what makes content stand out: the reality of your company, your leadership, your relationship with customers, your experience. Think of it this way: if you were hiring a new employee, would you appreciate a resume full of lyrical praise and generalities or would you prefer a resume describing experience, skills, and passion clearly detailed and supported by accomplishments? Why should your customers be any different when they are hiring you?

How to Squelch Fluff

The four easiest ways for squelching fluff in writing are:

  • Watch those adjectives. If you load your writing with adjectives like “state of the art” and “unique high-value” and “finely engineered,” you are missing the opportunity to explain why your product or service is state of the art, unique, valuable, and finely engineered. You are writing fluff that any company can duplicate, even your least skilled competitor. Throw out the adjectives and rely on verbs and nouns instead.
  • Give the details. Testimonials are wonderful if they are specific. Success stories (case studies) are even better because they show exactly how you helped a customer like the customers you hope to attract. How-to instructions are always helpful to customers. Before and after photos, videos of a project in progress, examples of how your products could be used–they all connect with your customers and distinguish you from the competition.
  • Share your perspective on your industry. Share your techniques. If they are the same techniques everyone else uses, be the first to embrace transparency. Share your passion for what you do.
  • Hire the right writer. The right writer talks with you about your goals and the future of your company; researches your industry and your competitors; grows in understanding with each writing project, no matter how far apart the projects are scheduled; and absolutely hates fluff. Whether in-house or freelance, you need a professional writer like that.

Now read through this blog post and count the number of adjectives, check for details, including how-to information, consider whether you have found out anything about my priorities and passion (no fluff!), and then decide if I’m the type of freelance writer you would want to write your company’s content. I hope to hear from you soon.

Writing for Customers Who Read English as a Second Language

Major companies often write websites in the major languages of their international customers. For smaller companies, that option is too expensive, especially if they are unfamiliar with the primary languages of their readers.

Whatever your limitations, it is possible to write in English for customers who read English as a second language.The bonus? The following techniques also help your customers whose first language is English!

  1. Limit hypenation. It’s hard enough to understand a word like “fractionation” without hyphenating it as “fraction–ation.”
  2. Respect cultural differences. Others have as much pride in their heritage as you do in yours. Remember, even “football” has different meanings here and in Europe (where it refers to “soccer”). Humor is different; use humor cautiously. You should never ever mock an accent or entire group.
  3. Limit the use of synonyms for important ideas. Those who learn English as a second language often have trouble with synonyms: “chattels” seems to mean the same thing as “assets.” On the other hand, if you switch from “assets” to “property” to “effects” to “estate,” any reader might suppose you are writing about four different items.
  4. Use short sentences and paragraphs. Short sentences and paragraphs give readers time to understand one idea before moving on to the next. Sentences should stay under 24 words and paragraphs should keep to 5 sentences maximum.Breaking up text with bullets, numbered lists, and subtitles also helps.
  5. Choose the simplest word. In Item 3 above, I originally wrote “important concepts” before choosing “important ideas.” The words mean the same in this case, but “ideas” requires less knowledge of English.I stayed with “synonyms,” however, because the synonyms for “synonym” are even more difficult.
  6. Pay attention to grammar and spelling. I was once asked by colleagues from China why English needed the articles “a,” “an,” and “the.” I offered this reason: English has many words that sound exactly the same as nouns and verbs. The articles help alert us to the difference (startup and start up, vent and vent, run and run, and so on). Correct grammar and spelling help understanding.
  7. Do not mix abbreviations and expressions from other languages. Someone struggling with English is thrown off by a sudden switch to Latin (etc., e.g.) or French (c’est la vie, c’est chic). Use “and so on,” “for example,” “that’s life,” or “it’s stylish,” at least the first time.
  8. Define acronyms. You are sure you know what FDA means–Food and Drug Administration. But it is also the abbreviation for Fuji Dream Airlines of Japan, the Forest Development Agency in India, and many other companies and ideas.

If you follow these seven rules, your marketing writing will become clearer for customers who read English as a second language–and for all your customers. Need help with clear, accurate, concise, and creative writing? Please contact me at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

 

 

The Curse of the Grammar Checker–and How to Avoid It

I was just re-reading one of my favorite books on grammar, punctuation, and style: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. If you ever want to learn about great writing–clear, concise, interesting, and accurate–then this slim book (less than 100 pages) is the one to read.

Why should you care? Because clear, concise, and interesting writing engages customers, prevents confusion, and reinforces your professionalism.

And guess what: online grammar checkers (including Word and Grammerly) will foul up your sentences every time. Here are the major problems to look out for:

  1. Online grammar checkers overuse capital letters. In fact, Word believes that any phrase with “company” in it must be capitalized. So if you write, “Our insurance company is known for its integrity,” Word will advise you to write, “Our Insurance Company is know for its integrity.” Overused capital letters become annoying and lose their impact: think “Dick and Jane ran after the Cat. See the Cat run!” Save capitals for proper names (Alpha Beta Chi Company) and acronyms (ABC Company).
  2. Online grammar checkers mistakenly believe that any sentence with a “how,” “who,” or “what” in it is a question. But this sentence, for example, is not a question: “What you know is more important than who you know.”
  3. Online grammar checkers regularly violate agreement between subject and verb because they struggle with complex sentences. The rule is that a plural subject takes a plural verb; a singular subject takes a singular verb.
  4. Online grammar checkers fail to realize that people are not things. They will tell you to change “who” to “that” or will accept “that” in sentences like the following: “Do you know someone that is interested in marketing?” The word “that” is wrong: “that” refers to things; “who” refers to people.

If your grammar checker is leading you astray, please contact me. I’ll be glad to help.

Newsletters That Rock

A newsletter–published at set times every week, month, or quarter–is a great way to remind your customers, clients, donors, or volunteers that you are grateful for their patronage and have valuable expertise to share. If you want your newsletter to rock:

  • Offer original stories, not generic stories offered by your industry association or some other group. Your newsletter should highlight what your organization is doing and what you know, not information that anyone can find in exact duplicate by searching the internet.
  • But share your research. Part of being an expert in your field is passing on information that your clients, customers, donors, or volunteers don’t have time to research themselves. So if an interesting fact comes to light, write a story around it. If an interesting story grabs your attention, give your readers a link to the story.
  • Pay attention to graphics. Include photos of your staff or volunteers; photos of projects you’ve completed; before-and-after pictures; infographics; or just really cool designs. Your newsletter is part of your brand and should reflect the styles, colors, and fonts you use in your website and other publications. If design isn’t your strong point, hire a graphic designer to create a template.
  • Work on the headlines. Simple headlines are fine (“New Z-100 Barbecue Arrives August 1”) but select verbs that give them punch (“New Z-100 Barbecue Sizzles with Summer Fun”). Proofread headlines carefully; if you make an embarrassing mistake, it will occur in the bold, italicized, 20 point headline. Trust me.
  • Link to detailed information. Instead of sending out a long newsletter, provide a link to your most recent blog post, white paper, campaign, or offer. People want a quick read, not an exposition.

Worried about content? Turn to TWP Marketing & Technical Communications ; I’ll make sure that your newsletter attracts and keeps the attention of your customers issue after issue.

 

Writing the Perfect Proposal

I’ve worked on many proposals and executive summaries for industries as diverse as oil & gas and green products. I’m always impressed by the amount of information offered–and depressed by the problems.

Problems That Undermine Proposals

Two problems stand out in imperfect proposals.

The writers are so close to the product (or service) and so enthusiastic that they no longer see the proposal through the customers’ eyes. Belief in your product or service is an excellent trait and should inform any proposal. However, you yourself wouldn’t make a purchase based solely on someone else’s enthusiasms; neither will your customers. They don’t want a sales pitch; they want you to solve their problem.

Because multiple writers are assigned to a proposal, it doesn’t hang together and important information is either left out or repeated so often that it becomes annoying. Proposals take teamwork, but at some point one person should be assigned to ensure consistency, clarity, and conciseness throughout the proposal.

Characteristics of the Perfect Proposal

Your potential customer has a specific issue that you need to resolve. The perfect proposal assures the customer that you understand the problem and have a solution–one that the customer can understand quickly in easily understood terms. The perfect proposal:

  • Identifies the problem or mission of the customer.
  • Explains (in everyday words) how your particular product or service resolves the problem.
  • Focuses initially on the benefits, not the features, of the product or service.
  • Differentiates the product or service to ease the customer’s process of choosing.
  • Delivers the message clearly and efficiently, keeping overall length (including attachments and links) to a minimum.
  • Gives clear contact information, including a specific person’s name, so that the customer doesn’t have to plow through your entire company directory for someone familiar enough with the product/service to answer questions.

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communication, we have over 25 years of experience writing proposals that give customers the information they want in words that clearly differentiate the product and service while exciting the customer’s interest. We can do the same for your proposals. Contact us today.

4 Habits of Really Successful Websites

Your website is your introduction to people, and first impressions are just as important online as face-to-face. So here are the 4 habits of really successful websites:

  1. Successful websites deliver what they promise. Does the entire website follow through with the same emphasis on certain products or services–or have you changed product and service names, added or omitted some, or gone off on another tangent entirely? If you have a page with a generic name like “locations” or “industries,” have you provided more content than a simple list? Real people are reading and they want compelling copy.
  2. Successful websites solve a problem. Whatever your customer’s problem–a comfortable pair of shoes or training to operate a fractionator–you need to address it, show through videos or case studies or testimonials that you have successfully solved the problem before, and establish your credentials through awards, metrics, blog posts, articles, or insight papers.
  3. Successful websites are careful with acronyms. Technical websites are particularly apt to throw around acronyms as if everyone should automatically know what they mean. Even worse, often the website’s own search function fails to recognize the acronym, a customer’s last hope for a definition. But non-technical websites are also prone to acronym problems, especially when the company has created its own acronym for a process or program (e.g., “our ABAFIN financial program”) without ever defining it.
  4. Successful websites are kind to their readers. Successful websites get to the main point right away, use everyday language, and break up text so that the customer can scan quickly and go back, if desired, to read more. As more and more content is viewed on mobile devices, successful websites will adapt to the smaller screen by making every word and image count. That means boosting nouns and verbs, not adjectives (“wonderful,” “unique”) and adverbs. Creative is important (color, video, formatting) but clear and concise must come first.

Want to boost the success of your website? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and visit NHBusinessBlog for more advice on delivering content that connects with your customers..

White Paper? Insight Paper? Which Do You Need Most?

White papers and insight papers establish your company and you as a subject matter expert.

A white paper usually summarizes current industry ideas or solutions with a view to clearing up misinformation and improving a reader’s understanding. An insight paper, on the other hand, offers a unique perspective on an industry problem, presenting alternatives to current industry thinking. The two types of papers have a few elements in common.

  • The white paper or insight paper should deliver what it promises. The introduction should always be written last and the conclusion should always summarize the content–all ideas in the introduction and conclusion should be covered in the body of the paper.
  • The big insights should be easy to find, preferably in subheadings or bullet points. Your readers won’t go hunting for the main points in your white paper or insight paper. .
  • The connection to the reader should be clear (“you”) and positive. Most companies know if they have a problem; they are looking for solutions.
  • Examples should be real world and based on actual experience. Interviews are a great way to establish real world expertise.
  • Links to other research and background data are excellent–but the links should actually work. Make sure readers can access the papers or articles you cite and be careful about linking to so many outside sites that readers lose the thread of your own argument.
  • The paper should end with a call-to-action. The call could consist of a summary of the services the company offers or a form for requesting more data or a give-away in exchange for contact information.

As a professional writer and editor, I have decades of experience researching and writing white papers and insight papers for a broad range of industries. Let me know how I can help you can establish yourself or your company as a subject matter expert.

4 Marketing Tips for Manufacturers

Some marketing sites will urge manufacturers to use phrases like “state of the art” and “precision engineered” in their marketing copy. Unfortunately, no one searching for manufactured products or manufacturing services ever searches on “state of the art” or “precision engineered” or any other vague term: they search for what they want, whether that’s a Phillips head screwdriver or an industrial generator.

Here are 4 marketing tips for manufacturers that actually work:

  1. Use Long Tail Keywords. These are search terms that are very precise and usually several words long (for example, “150 watt portable generator”). Long tail keywords in your marketing copy attract people who are actively looking for what you are selling–and are well on their way to becoming buyers.
  2. Keep Your Website and Social Media Active. The more reasons you create for people to click onto your site, the better. But if your website has become stagnant, without new blog posts, videos,news releases, or case studies, you have nothing to link to with your social media posts and your customers have no reason to return. According to one survey, 82% of manufacturing marketers attribute more content creation for an increase in success over last year.
  3. Write in Clear Language Focused on the Customer. Yes, your customers may be experts in their field but they aren’t experts in your field; that’s why they are coming to you for what they need. If your just-in-time, flexible manufacturing system is worth boasting about, let customers know how it helps them. Define acronyms, even if you believe everyone knows them, and do not ever invent your own jargon (“advanced processing system application scenario”).
  4. Use photos and video liberally. The Content Marketing Institute discovered in its 2018 survey that the top three successful content marketing approaches were social media, email newsletters, and video. Post videos showing your manufacturing processes, use or maintenance of your product, or your equipment working at a customer’s site, to create an instant connection to potential customers.

If you have trouble finding the time and resources to create content–whether for website, newsletter,  videos, or social media posts–you may want to hire a freelance writer with experience writing for both international and local manufacturers, including manufacturers of medical equipment, borewelders, and cables. TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is ready to help.

For a Long Life, Read This…

If you want your customers to live a long life, give them something to read. A recent article in AARP’s Bulletin states that book readers have a 20% lower chance of dying than nonreaders, according to a study of over 3,600 adults.

Good writing makes for good reading, and evidently good reading makes for good living.

Blog posts, success stories, and Q&As fall easily into the “good reading” category. People love hearing about others in their same situation, and they appreciate answers to their questions about your products and services. Even a short injection of information–like my Friday #writingtips–can engage customers and, who knew?, keep them healthy.

If you have problems organizing writing resources, consider hiring a freelance writer like me to take over the writing duties for you. Afraid that I can’t possibly understand and represent your business as well as you do? Keep in mind that:

  • A professional freelance writer is your partner, not your replacement. I will work with you to make sure that everything I write has the tone, direction, and format that works best for you and your business.
  • A professional freelance writer has years of experience partnering with many different businesses, some exactly like your own. My current client roster includes manufacturers, educators, executive coaches, resume writers, and healthcare professionals. In the past, I’ve worked with many other companies, including nonprofits, banks, and clinical research organizations.
  • A professional freelance writer is passionate about communicating. That means I’ll make every effort to ensure that my words not only clearly represent what you want to say but resonate with the customers you want to reach.
  • A professional freelance writer reads and researches. If reading extends a life by 20%, I’ve earned my 20% over and over. If you run out of ideas, I will research new ones; if your customers raise questions, I’ll research answers; and if your competitors seem to have closed all the doors to interesting content, I’ll open new doors.

Contact me today at write [at] twriteplus.com and let’s get started on your writing project.

Blogs: Finding the Ideas You Didn’t Think You Had

What will I write in my blog today, this week, this month? That question can freeze anyone, preventing them from ever beginning.If you are ready to write about insights from your business or career on LinkedIn or other social media, then you need content. You need to find the ideas you didn’t think you had.

Let’s say you sell security devices, specifically locks for both home and commercial customers. Your first blog post explains what you do. But then what? Here are ten ideas for writing new blog posts:

  1. Separate and compare. Write separate blogs on home locks and on commercial locks and explain the ways each type of lock is different (or the same)–maybe they are different because the doors, quality, amount of use, or styles are different. Each difference could itself become a separate blog post.
  2. Delve into the choices. We’ve now established that home locks have certain characteristics. What choices do those characteristics create and why would a homeowner choose one over the other? Ask the same question about commercial locks in another blog post.
  3. Describe how it works. What are the mechanics of locks? What makes a lock more or less likely to fail or be picked? What is the difference between locks that use keypads and those that use physical keys?
  4. Explain the evolution. Why did home locks end up looking/working the way they do? Why do commercial locks look/work the way the do? What decisions were made long ago that affect purchases today.
  5. Explain the trends. Is artificial intelligence affecting the way people secure their doors? Are new types of materials used to build doors or buildings affecting the materials for locks?
  6. Consider the worst. What happens if someone locks themselves out of or into a room or building?  What is the correct response? What if a lock fails? Can and should locks be repaired?
  7. Enjoy the history. What types of locks were used on dungeons? Is Ali Baba’s “Open Sesame” the first Alexa-type lock? Where did the concept come from of a locked heart opening with a key?
  8. Interview a customer. Ask a customer: why they decided on a better/bigger/different lock; how did they choose their first lock; why did they come to your business for a lock; what do they want the lock to accomplish? Create a Q&A using a “virtual” customer to ask the questions customers should be asking.
  9. Provide 10 reasons. Rank locks from best to worst for certain tasks. List the reasons why someone should consider a new or different type of lock. List the top factors that contribute to lock failure and how to avoid them.
  10. Describe how to prepare for a buy. What information will a lock salesperson need about the home or business and how should the home or business owner decide whether to buy a lock from that salesperson or another?

These ten ways of finding ideas for a blog all involve sifting through information you already have but may not have realized your customers need. The ideas root deeper and deeper into very basic questions: what are locks, how are they used, and how do I know what lock to buy? But if you begin and end your posts by answering only those three questions, you are doing a disservice to yourself and your customers.

You can apply these ten categories of ideas to any business to create a year’s worth of blog posts. If you are having trouble finding ideas and writing an ongoing blog, please contact me through LinkedIn or at write at twriteplus.com.