4 Questions before You Start Writing

You’ve heard the maxim “know thyself”? In your rush to spread the word about your products and services, you may have forgotten an equally important maxim: Know thy customer.

All writing is written for someone to read; even a private diary is written for one’s self. So here are four questions you must answer before you start writing.

  1. Whom are you writing for? Your writing takes on a different tone for the new CEO of a company searching for a coach and the homeowner who needs emergency roof repair. Be realistic: you may want to reach the top five billionaires in the world, but is there any chance they will want to purchase a billion dollars worth of your widgets? What you write depends on who your customers are. The better you know them, the better chance you will have of grabbing their attention.
  2. Where do your customers hang out? A daily tweet might go nowhere whereas a weekly blog post catches exactly the customers you want. Your salespeople might appreciate printed brochures to leave with customers after a personal contact; they might prefer e-brochures for online contacts. What you write depends on where your audience looks for you.
  3. How much tolerance do your customers have for repeated contacts? Whether you create an online or paper campaign or both (eblasts, tweets, blog posts, postcards, brochures, newsletters), at some point your customers will become annoyed rather than intrigued. Know when to stop writing.
  4. Will they be interested in what you have to write? Customers are looking for a solution to a problem, whether it is how to etch semiconductors or where to find a prom dress. Details of your company philosophy and history, a laundry list of products and services that are irrelevant to their problem or a recap of your last sales campaign–that can wait. What you write depends on what your customers want to hear.

Are you having trouble figuring out who you are writing for, where they hang out, how much you should write and what you should write about? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and we’ll help you find the answers.

 

Does Your Website Educate Your Customers?

Your website has many goals, chief among them to introduce your company to new visitors and to convert those visitors to customers. A website that educates through blogs, case studies, e-newsletters, and dedicated website pages gives visitors a reason to return and to trust you enough to become customers. Here are the most important reasons for adding educational content to your website:

You have an opportunity to display your subject matter expertise. Even if every company in your field draws from the same body of knowledge, when you share that knowledge with customers, you establish yourself and your company as experts in their eyes.

Customers truly don’t know as much as you think they know. Customers are always looking for new information and for confirmation of the information they already have–whether that information is, yes, I am a size 8 or yes, hexafluoro-2-butene is used for dielectric etching.

The more questions you answer, the more likely customers will think of you first when they need answers: what product best fits their needs, whether a solution exists for their problem, and whether the advice they are getting elsewhere is correct. You want them to contact you for answers, not your competitor.

Visitors and customers appreciate a website that gathers into one convenient place the information they are searching for. A website that educates becomes a resource that visitors return to again and again. Each visit gives you another chance to convert visitors to customers and to remind customers why they value you.

Your website can anticipate and counter any hesitation by your customers. Your educational content provides accurate answers before customers become tangled in misinformation and before your help line is overwhelmed with repetitions of the same basic questions.

Creating a website that educates alerts you to the intellectual property in your own company. Your employees have knowledge that they have never shared because no one asked or because they mistakenly thought “everyone knows that.” When they become involved in creating educational content, their knowledge enriches your company as well as your customers.

A website that educates is constantly renewed. As information changes in your field, as you offer more details on a subject, or as customers and visitors ask for clarifications, you bring in new content–making search engines happy and increasing the chances that your website will be found.

It’s easy to create educational content. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we have created web pages, blogs, case studies, and e-newsletters that educate visitors and consumers in industries as diverse as extruded medical tubing and home renovations. Contact us today and begin to educate your customers on just how great your company is.

New Business Owners: Writing for Your Customer

New business owners often struggle to understand who their customers are and what those customers want. As a result, the business owners tend to focus their marketing content on what they can do, rather than what customers need.

This “we can do it” approach relies on the customers to identify the solution to their problem and then locate a business that offers that solution. Unfortunately, most customers are not only in the dark about the solution they need, they are barely aware of the ramifications of the problem.

A customer decides, “I need someone to paint my house” and looks for a painter who is nearby and cheap. The customer doesn’t consider, “I need someone who understands that paint may be masking structural problems and that fixing those problems is a priority or the house will need repainting again in just a year or two.”

The difference in those two lines of thought equals a major difference in a business owner’s approach to marketing. Are you competing with the zillion other businesses who offer the same laundry list of services and who are nearby and cheap? Or are you different from those competitors, someone who understands the customer’s problem and looks out for the customer’s best interests? Are you someone who always reaches into the same grab-bag of solutions or do you tailor your approach based on your long-term concern for the customer?

Even online retail stores, with no brick-and-mortar customer contact, thrive best when their website narrows down a customer’s preferences and concerns. That ability to customize your offering to your customer–to create a relationship with the customer–is even more important when you do have customer contact. You never want to sacrifice that relationship because you have a limited understanding of who your customer is and what that customer needs.

If you are a new business owner who needs help identifying your customer and writing focused, appealing content, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

 

Are You Undermining Your Marketing Message?

One of the best pieces of writing advice I received from a VP of sales was to search marketing copy for the word “can”–and delete it. Nine times out of ten, the word “can” unnecessarily weakens a marketing message. For example, compare these two sentences:

  • Our software can reduce your project development time by 15 to 20 percent.
  • Our software reduces your project development time by 15 to 20 percent.

If you hesitate to commit yourself to a marketing message unless the word “can” appears, maybe it’s time to rethink the message. Would “10 to 20 percent” or “up to 20 percent” make you more comfortable in the second sentence? If the “can” is absolutely necessary in that sentence, where else might you omit it?

I often call “can” one of the weasel words: a way to weasel out of a written commitment to the customer. The most severe case of weaseling I ever came across was by an engineer who wrote that an improvement “averaged approximately in the range of about 15 percent.” The word “averaged” said all that needed to be said about the precision of “15 percent”–those extra words (approximately, in the range of, about) merely emphasized the engineer’s fear.

Marketing copy that is high on adjectives (state-of-the-art, proactive, results-oriented, customer-focused) and low on specific examples, numbers, and photos also undermines your marketing message. Find me a business that is not customer focused, and I’ll show you a truly unique business model. Otherwise, let testimonials, case studies, awards, and photos of happy customers prove your claims of superior customer service.

Multiple uses of “can,” a refusal to commit to a certain standard of excellence, and a reliance on adjectives instead of proof, all have the same effect on the customer: a growing doubt that you know whereof you speak.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications helps businesses develop a strong, focused marketing message they and their customers believe in. Contact us today and consider us your can-do writers.

Write for Today–and Make It Positive

If you want your marketing material to have a long life, then write for today. Let’s say your website or brochure talks about what you will do next year or what product or service is coming. Then the moment that future arrives–next year or whenever the product or service becomes available–your website content or brochure is outdated and must be rewritten.

The simple past and present are also much easier to both write and understand. People who write in the future tend to tangle themselves into weird sentences: “We would have been offering this service earlier if we had known how many clients might have been interested should we have offered it.” Those convoluted sentences make it difficult for customers to know what you are driving at.

Moreover, writing in the future leaves you vulnerable to negatives. If you spend too much time on all the bad things that could happen (in the future) if customers do not use your product or service, you are likely to turn them off.

Everyone likes to feel they have a choice. Fear tactics (“if you don’t use our product, your house will fall down and your teeth will fall out”) lose their power pretty quickly. People hate to be badgered and would rather deny the problem. Hope has a much longer shelf life.

So the better, present tense, positive message is: Our product keeps your house structurally sound and your teeth healthy.

When you rewrite sentences to emphasize the present and the positive, you guide your readers to immediate, positive action. Every salesman knows that you want your customers to be thinking “yes” long before you ask them for the buy.

Finding the positive words to motivate customers now is one of the specialties of TWP Marketing and Technical Communications. Contact us today.

 

10 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Content Right Now

Website, success story, blog, press release, or brochure, these 10 steps will immediately jazz up your content and help draw in prospects:

  1. Write like you talk. Marketing copy is not a vocabulary test, and no real human being ever talks about “proactively conceptualizing the forward momentum of innovative technological advances.” Write like a real human being.
  2. Start anywhere in any marketing document, count 18 words, and if you don’t find a period or colon–re-write. Your sentences are too long. The average length of a readable sentence is 18 words.
  3. Stop using “ing” constructions in your marketing content, as in “we are capable of manufacturing” or “we are planning to develop.” Go for the snappier “we manufacture” and “we plan to develop.”
  4. Be kind to your customers. Just like you, your customers are bored by a monologue. They come to you with a specific problem, they want it fixed, and they want to know how you plan to fix it.
  5. Show, don’t tell. Use photos (real life if you can), illustrations, videos, and graphics to engage your customers quickly. Testimonials, case studies, certifications, and awards say more about your abilities than pages of bragging (see #3).
  6. Avoid jargon and acronyms in your marketing content. Even if all your customers know all the acronym in your field (a big “if”), why should they have to puzzle out what you mean?
  7. Count the number of 4- and 5- syllable words in a paragraph, and if you find more than two–rewrite. No matter how technical your information or how educated your customers, no one wants to plow through strings of multi-syllable words (see #1).
  8. Proofread. Don’t rely on your spell checker, which can’t tell the difference between fiance and finance or manager and manger. And never, ever rely on your grammar checker, which is guaranteed to be consistently wrong.
  9. Keep the adjectives to a minimum. Instead, provide details that help differentiate you from the competition. What makes your facility state-of-the-art? What makes your service exceptional? Who says you are the best in the county?
  10. Be specific. Delivery in 24 hours is much more impressive than “fast delivery” and “precision to 0.0004%” is much more impressive than “ultra-precise.”

When you need marketing content that is clear, accurate, concise, and passionate, contact Sharon Bailly at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Need the proof behind those adjectives? Read the recommendations on LinkedIn.

Story-Telling: The World’s Best Marketing Content

From The Three Bears to The Hunger Games to Julie & Julia, good stories grab our attention. When we remember our story-telling roots, our marketing efforts take wing. Good stories appear in many guises:

  • Case studies celebrate a hero (your company) saving a customer in distress. A good interviewer draws out your customer’s original fears and frustrations, details the efforts of your company, and celebrates your success.
  • Videos are like love stories. Video testimonials give customers, employees, vendors, and subcontractors a chance to show appreciation for your company. Informational videos give you a chance to show appreciation for your customers, including sharing some of your subject matter expertise.
  • Photographs, graphs, and line drawings fall into the comic book or graphic novel tradition. They tell a good story that is quickly and accurately “read.”

Hearing stories about your business not only entertains prospective customers, it reassures them. Great marketing stories teach prospects about your company in a relaxed, appealing format. Reading or hearing about the problems you solved for previous customers gives prospects an incentive to call you. Each new story enlivens your marketing content and keeps old, new, and potential customers engaged.

An example of a story: I was once asked to edit the manual for software that helps private airplane pilots fly into airports. Three geographically dispersed software engineers had developed the software and each had drafted information about their portion of the project. But without consulting each other, they had also each decided to use Ctrl F for a function. One engineer used Ctrl F to scroll through a screen; another used it to switch screens; and the third used it to shut down the system completely. I was the first and only person who read through the entire draft manual–so I was the first person to notice that a pilot who hit Ctrl F and expected to simply scroll through a screen might end up shutting down his entire system just when he needed it to land! The moral of the story? Always have one writer for a project involving many people.

Whether you are writing website content, blogs, press releases, video scripts, or case studies, keep looking for and sharing the story. Your stories are one of the biggest differentiators between your company and the competition: No one shares your exact same story.

If you need help finding and telling your story, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Writing Marketing Content: When to Stop

Today’s trend in websites and other marketing content is to pare words down and make quick connections with customers and their problems. That’s a trend I welcome and support. How do you know when you are writing too much marketing content and need to stop?

  1. If you find yourself writing list after list
  2. If you repeat the same information (other than contact information) on several pages
  3. If you read the content aloud and get tired of speaking
  4. If adjectives take up more than 10% of the content
  5. If acronyms take up more than 10% of the content
  6. If you could distill everything to a few tweets–but you haven’t done that
  7. If you can’t figure out where to add subheadings or how to name pages on the navigation bar (an indication that the content is confusing)
  8. If you can’t remember where or if you wrote something important to your business
  9. If you haven’t looked for opportunities to explain content visually, with tables, graphs, photographs, and videos or with downloads.

Most business owners over-write from fear; they’ve heard that customers have short attention spans so they try to cram as many words as they can into that first minute when customers find the website. Unfortunately, customers are more likely to leave a website if they have to search through a mountain of words for the one diamond of information they are seeking.

Another motivation for writing too much is confusion over the business’ strengths and primary focus. If a business is defined too broadly (“we fix cars, weave textiles, and write operas”), then naturally the website content will be confused and unfocused.

Finally, some business owners believe that customers cannot possibly understand their business unless it is described in minute detail. Most customers have one primary interest: finding someone to solve their problem. If you approach your website from a problem/solution viewpoint, you will naturally tighten up the language.

Clear, concise, and customer-focused are the gold standards for marketing content. If you need help with any one or all three, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Writing is what I do and I know exactly when to stop.

 

Marketing Content, Person-to-Person

Your customers–whether other businesses or individuals–are online all the time, sharing personal information, telling their business stories, making connections. If your website, brochure, newsletter, and other marketing content still sound as if they were written as a term paper, you need to change to a human voice, person-to-person. How do you do that?

  1. Address your customers as “you,” not “they” and talk about your company as “we” and “our,” not a remote “ABC Corporation and its products and services.”
  2. Tell a story that illustrates your company values, successes, and goals. People love stories. Write the story as you would to a friend–not your investors.
  3. Take delight in the quirky. Has someone made a hack of your product? Were you able to help a 12-year-old with information about your industry? Did you discover a fact that intrigued you? Write about it!
  4. Show photos of your employees at work. Yes, you’ll have turnover. But real people working at real jobs–that’s who your customers are. Show them your real side.
  5. Address problems first. Don’t jump in with solutions. You gain trust when people realize you understand their problem. That’s what humans do when they want to help each other: they listen to the problem first.
  6. Write like you talk. I cannot emphasize this enough. Every word you write should be a word you would use in conversation with a customer standing in front of you. And every sentence should be short, just as it is in normal conversation.
  7. Be sensitive and tolerant. Your sense of humor, your principles, your patience with fools are all part of what makes you human. But relationships require sensitivity and tolerance, and they last longer when we approach them with open minds.

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, my goal is to find the words that let businesses connect person-to-person with their customers. Let’s talk together and see if that approach works for you.

Video Instructions: 5 Golden Rules

Many companies have now turned to video for showing customers how to use their product. Videos are an excellent way to connect with customers. However, they should still follow the five golden rules for good instructions.

  1. Never assume. Start your instructions from the very beginning–that might mean showing the viewer or reader how to plug in the product or where to find the start button. If you are offering a series of videos, building in complexity or detail, make sure you refer to the previous videos for viewers who are not aware they are starting in the middle.
  2. Be consistent. Always refer to buttons, menu items, the names of previous videos (or chapters), operations, processes, and so on using the same exact terms. Your viewer will quickly become confused if the same screen shot is called the “home page,” the “opening screen,” or “screen 1” in different videos or different parts of the same video.
  3. Be thorough. Before your release a video or written procedures, follow the instructions using only the steps in the video or on the page. If you find your hands doing something else, revise. You overlooked a step and you are in danger of losing your audience.
  4. Be exact. It’s easy to tell a customer “click here” or “see this” or “move this way” without ever defining here” or “this.” But your customers may have no idea what you’re referring to no matter how carefully they watch or read. In addition, customers often try to follow directions while actually working on the product. How can video viewers tell what “click here” means unless they are looking directly at the screen?
  5. Go slow. The best instructions are divided into discrete steps that viewers or readers can master at their own speed. Readers have a lot of control over speed; viewers have very little. If video instructions come at viewers too fast, they have to pause and backtrack and pause and backtrack. All that backtracking interferes with their learning and enjoyment.

You may want to provide written procedures that customers can download based on your videos. The written procedures and videos should at least complement each other even if they aren’t exact duplicates. It they contradict each other, you have a major problem.

Would you benefit from help in creating clear scripts and written procedures for your customers? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today.