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.

5 Pet Writing Peeves

My five pet writing peeves may not be identical to your own top 5–but I think you’ll agree that they are “peeve-worthy.”

  1. People that need people. No, no, no. For once, a song lyric has the grammar right: people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. However, people that need people are probably robots. “That” is appropriate for a thing. “Who” is the only word appropriate for people.
  2. Entitlement. If I could ban one word, I would ban entitlement. It has become so warped in meaning that people use it as a generalized insult. “Kids today, they feel so entitled.” Entitled to what? Food, clothing, education, muscle cars–what?
  3. Rampant semicolons. I’m not sure when everyone decided that semicolons are the same as commas, but I’m here to assure you that they aren’t. Try a comma first.
  4. Electronic online grammar checkers. They are useless. They are worse than useless because they are generally 100% wrong and yet people believe them.
  5. i.e., e.g., and etc. No one speaks Latin anymore, which hasn’t stopped us from using it. “Id est” (i.e.) means “that is” or “to clarify what I said previously” while “exempli gratia” (e.g.) means “for example.” They are not interchangeable. “Et cetera” (etc.) means “and other things” or “and so on.” Do not use “and etc.”; it translates to “and and so on.” Please note the use of periods.

I remember when my pet peeve was the use of “data” (many pieces of information) to mean “datum” (one piece of information). Boy, did I lose that battle. So maybe there’s no hope to reverse the trends indicated by my pet peeves.

Do you have a pet writing peeve? I’d enjoy hearing about it. Maybe it will make my top 5 next year!

For clear, concise, accurate, writing with passion, contact Sharon at 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.

A Website Review Leads to Great Content

Let’s call them ABC Company. ABC’s new website looked wonderful–attractive pictures, clear navigation, opportunities to update through blogs, news, and videos. They had written their own content, however, and were a little nervous about launching. They asked me to conduct a website review.

During a website review, I don’t write new content. Instead, I concentrate on the existing content: every link and every word. I look for typos and grammatical mistakes; check for consistency from page to page; consider my first impression as a visitor; make suggestions about strengthening message; and search for lost opportunities to connect with customers. On the surface, every new website looks perfect, so I’m always nervous about starting a website review. Will I actually find a problem?

My job isn’t to nitpick ABC’s website content into oblivion. My job is to make the content as good as the company thinks it is–and to help ABC engage its customers. Once my detailed analysis is complete, the company is free to follow through themselves with rewrites and edits. They are the final judge of what to update and what to leave be.

What did my analysis of ABC’s website turn up?

  • Inconsistencies in the names of navigation buttons (Service, Services, Our Services) and the pages they led to (“page not found”)
  • Misspellings (productivty)
  • Grammatical mistakes and inconsistencies (serial comma or no serial comma?)
  • A blog that stopped being active in June 2016 and a news page where the most recent item promised a new product launch in 2015
  • A major statement about an Important Product on the home page; but no further reference to that product in the entire website except for a minor footnote (is it an Important Product or not?)
  • Statements that hedged on what the company provides (“we are capable of delivering…” rather than “we deliver…”)
  • An announcement of an additional location but no corresponding change in the contact information
  • Photos that did not show what the caption said they showed.

On other occasions for other clients, I’ve found pages dedicated to products or services that were no longer offered; changes in how the customer was addressed or perceived (technically savvy on one page and a complete novice on the next); price schedules that changed from page to page; and other problems.

ABC embraced the website review and its own team is currently revising the website.

If you have a new website or are wondering whether a new website is in your future, please contact me about a website content review.

 

 

Little Words That Change Content in Big Ways

Once upon a very real time in New York City, an environmental official removed the word “not” from a report determining whether a road should be built along a river. The report emphasized this project should not be allowed because it would pollute the water; but the official said, “I’m not going to stop this project because of one little word.” So he deleted “not.”

Little, simple words can have a lot of power. In fact, the word “simple” itself is one of those words. The actions or instructions that you tell your customers are “simple” will baffle at least some of them. Then they have to decide if they are too dumb to follow simple instructions or if your instructions and product are terrible. Guess what choice they make? To check whether your instructions are clear, accurate and complete, follow what you’ve written down to the letter. If you find your hands doing something that is not written down, then you have to add that step to your instructions. And avoid saying anything is “simple.”

Another word with a lot of power is “only.” When you misplace the word “only,” you also change the meaning of your content. Consider “we only designed one product” versus “we designed only one product.” In the first instance, you only designed (you didn’t manufacture or distribute); in the second instance, you designed only one product (instead of many products). The difference in meaning is significant. Be careful where you place your “only.”

I once heard a story about lawmakers who wanted to ban the importation of fruit trees. However, they placed a comma between “fruit” and “trees” and thereby went without fruit for months before they could change the bill. A misplaced comma can drastically change your content. Consider the difference between “we pay attention to details, generating quality” and “we pay attention to details generating quality.” In the first instance, the act of paying attention to ideas generates quality; in the second instance, you’re paying attention to just those details that generate quality–all the other details you ignore. Where you place commas, periods, semicolons, and colons is important.

If you are worrying whether your content is saying exactly what you mean, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We make sure content is clear, accurate, and compelling, down to the smallest detail.

 

Tolerant and Inclusive Writing

Happy Holidays everyone!

I happen to be Jewish, so my holiday is Chanukah. When casual friends wish me a Merry Christmas, I enjoy the spirit in which the wish was given and thank them.

But when companies focus all their marketing copy on Christmas, I wonder why they refuse to recognize those customers who do not celebrate that particular holiday. No one is asking for twenty ads for twenty different religious observances; but a simple “Happy Holidays” reaches out to everyone. The expression is respectful to your beliefs and mine.

Some organizations are created to provide products and services solely for one group of people (one religion, one gender, one difference) and that’s fine. For the rest, being inclusive and tolerant should be an easy choice.

Some of the women in my family have names that are appropriate for either male or female. If someone hearing their name mistakes their gender, that’s a very excusable mistake.

But when an entire company writes marketing copy as if women (or men) do not exist, I wonder why they exclude at least half their potential customers. Several alternatives exist to a universal “he” (or “she”): the marketing copy can address customers directly as “you”; or alternate “he” and “she” in examples; or use the plural (“customers,” “they”).

I happen to be short; in fact most of my family, including some of the men, stopped growing around 5’1″. Our shortness is a minor challenge, and we are very grateful to all those who are 5’6″ and over, who help us load carry-ons into overhead bins and select the spaghetti sauce we want from the top shelf in the market.

But when an entire company refuses to recognize differences among people in their marketing copy–when all their photos show trim, gorgeous, 6-foot models in luxury settings instead of real people having real interactions–then I wonder who exactly are they appealing to?

When you are inclusive and tolerant, your world expands. When you are exclusive and intolerant–even by accident–your world contracts. As a business owner, you want as many customers in the largest world possible. The choice of inclusion and tolerance falls in the category of enlightened self-interest.

If you are struggling with ways to say and show your message in a welcoming, inclusive manner, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Services.

Strong Clear Writing Starts with Short Words

Are you an advocate of brevity in vocabulary selection for optimum communication? That is: do you write with short words?

The main trouble with long words (three or more syllables) is that they are seldom as clear as short words (three or fewer syllables). They also take longer to read. At a time when readers are overwhelmed with content and want to quickly reach the point of a message, long words slow them down. It simply takes longer to read “utilize” instead of “use.” The words mean exactly the same thing. Why not choose the shorter word?

Long words are habit forming. Once a long word worms its way into a sentence, three or four or more long words will follow it whether they are needed or not. In the end, the writer’s brilliant vocabulary becomes more important than the brilliant message customers are really looking for.

Another drawback is that longer words are often misused by the writer or at best represent a poor choice. Take the business owner who wrote that two product lines were “no longer congruent.” He meant that they no longer worked together but he chose an odd, seldom-used word (“congruent”) to deliver that message. His audience had to come to a full stop while they figured out his meaning.

Strong, clear writing starts with one and two syllable words.

Here is a challenge: Chose any marketing piece at your company and try to rewrite it using only one- or two-syllable words. You might not succeed. Some longer words cannot be replaced (for example, enjoyable or liability). But the attempt should show you that the right small words contain the greatest energy, power and passion.

You might also try that challenge with technical content, which becomes a real chore to read when multi-syllable words that are truly needed (like fractionation) are surrounded by multi-syllable words that aren’t at all needed (like utilization). If you are giving directions or explaining a process, you want to be clear. Your choice of words could make the difference between directions that are easy to follow and directions that explode.

As always, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications for clear, direct writing and editing.