How Do I Tell a Marketing Story about My Business?

Q. I’m a small business owner, and I carve gift items out of wood. Everywhere I look for marketing advice these days, the gurus tell me to tell a story. I enjoy what I do but where’s the story? I buy wood, I carve an item, people buy it. End of story, right?

The problem with doing something really well is that it’s easy to forget that other people can’t do it. When I hear that you carve gift items out of wood, I want to know more: What drove you to that business, what tools do you use, what types of wood, what advice would you give me for taking care of the item I purchase, what advice would you give me if I were interested in learning about wood carving?

Each of those questions is the gateway to a marketing story, about you, your skills, and your relationship with customers.

How do you tell your marketing story so that it resonates with potential customers? The best stories feature:

  • An appeal to the senses: Write about the smell of sawdust, the textures of different woods, or how a tool interacts with the wood.
  • Interesting characters: Write about a customer who came in searching for a gift for a special occasion. Write about your fellow woodcarvers or your own history.
  • Interesting events: Write about the journey wood makes from the forest to your workshop or the process that turns a random piece of wood into a beautiful gift.
  • A clear purpose: Motivate potential and current customers to purchase or to spread information about your business.

Stories about your small business and your customers are all around you. You may need to take a step back to see them–but they do exist and they are interesting.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes memorable marketing stories for B2C and B2B businesses, large and small. Contact us today and let us tell your story.

Exact Words Make for Stronger Writing

Your product is best-in-class; your projects are completed in a timely manner; your company is at the forefront of technology.

So what? Those claims can be made by anyone–by any competitor or even by a company in an entirely different field. Vague phrases tell your customers nothing. When you use exact words instead, you stand out.

Vague words come in two types: Generalities and bad grammar.

Generalities

What industry or internal standard did you meet to qualify as best-in-class; does “timely” means within days or within weeks; and what brought your company to the fore in technology? The answers to those questions are different for every company. They separate you from the pack.

In addition to stock phrases, such as best-in-class, companies often use words that sound specific, but aren’t. For example, they will say, “Our precision measurement …” or “Our expert engineering…” without explaining whether “precision” means to the inch or to 0.000035 cm or explaining what their engineers do that shows their expertise.

Facts, figures, examples, awards, case studies, testimonials: these all require exact words.

Testimonials are a special case. You never want to prod your customers into saying something they are not comfortable with. But you can ask them to relate a specific way in which you helped them or specific results they appreciated.

Bad Grammar

Vague words in marketing copy often confuse customers about who did what. For example, “We introduced the app to the marketplace once before but they ignored it.” Who is “we” and who are “they” and what “it” (the introduction, the app itself) did they ignore? Make sure all your pronouns have clear antecedents.

If you address the customer as “you” in your marketing copy, keep track of who that “you” is. For example: “I tell my customers that you should always update your virus protection software. You should take that advice, too.” In this case, the “you” in the first sentence (all current customers) is a different person from the “you” (the reader, a potential customer) in the second sentence.

When vague phrases take over, your marketing copy is harder to read and your message loses its zip. If you want to be sure you’re using the liveliest exact words possible, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’re experts at giving marketing material a memorable edge.

10 Reasons to Hire a Freelance Writer

  1. You have incredible ideas about your website, brochure, blog site, social media, and press releases–and no time. You need a freelance writer to execute.
  2. Your customers and staff keep asking you the same questions, over and over, taking up your time and overwhelming your help desk. You need clear, consistent information and directions for them.
  3. You have a writing project in mind but no budget or reason to hire a full-time writer. A freelance writer handles projects one-by-one as they come up.
  4. You have a great customer to interview but no idea what questions would generate a compelling story. A freelance writer with experience in interviewing not only has the right questions but the right objectivity.
  5. Your blog/website/brochure has fallen out of sync with what you actually do. You need someone to update it and keep it updated.
  6. You promised your customers a quarterly e-newsletter but the last publication was 10 months ago. You need a freelance writer to deliver fresh ideas, write the articles, and make sure the newsletter goes out on schedule.
  7. Five people contributed to your user manual/website/brochure, and now the content is inconsistent and redundant. You need one writer to create cohesive content out of chaos.
  8. No one is opening your newsletter or clicking on your online articles–no one at all! You need a professional writer to give you feedback and add some zest to your marketing copy.
  9. Every time you send marketing or technical content out for review, you get so many contradictory editorial comments that you’ve given up. You need a professional freelance writer to evaluate, prioritize, and make sense of the comments.
  10. None of your staff are confident in their English skills. Access to a freelance writer gives everyone assurance that content is written in standard and professional English.

If you are faced with any of these situations, I can help. With more than 15 years of experience as a freelance technical and marketing writer, for every size of company from Fortune 500 to sole proprietor, I deliver the content you need on schedule and on budget. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business. Contact me today.

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.

 

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.

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.

10 Biggest Writing Mistakes

As a professional writer and editor, I see many writing mistakes repeated. Here is my list of the top ten.

  1. Not knowing your audience. Writing is a form of communication. You need to know who you are communicating with.
  2. Giving your audience too much credit. You know your product and service better than anyone. You’re the teacher; your customers are the students. Everyone appreciates a teacher who takes the time to explain.
  3. Giving your audience too little credit. Your customers are tired of empty claims. For example, every company in the world has great customer service. Prove you deserve that claim through testimonials, case studies and awards.
  4. Using language poorly. Are you sure that’s what you meant to say? Are you sure you cannot say it clearer, more accurately, more concisely or with more conviction?
  5. Listing features before benefits. Everyone wants to know “can you solve my problem?” All the features in the world will fall flat if the customer’s problem remains a problem. Start with benefits.
  6. Burying your message. You would not read every word of a 50-page computer manual to find the ON switch. Your marketing message is the ON switch for potential buyers. Make your strongest, most important points first.
  7. Not delivering your message. Are you agonizing so long over a brochure that the opportunity is lost? Are you sending tweets to people who don’t use Twitter and writing rack cards for people who never pick them up? Marketing writing can only work for you if you send it out on time and on target.
  8. Ignoring basic grammar and spelling. Okay, I admit it: one of my pet peeves is using “that” instead of “who” to refer to people and using semicolons (;) where commas (,) are correct. But I care about those things because they actually do make a difference in how your message is perceived. When you say “people that” instead of “people who,” you turn people into things.
  9. Being concise before you are clear. People have less patience than before with long messages; but if the message isn’t clear, your customers will give up on it even faster. First be clear, then try for concise.
  10. Using a professional writer who is not a native speaker of your audience’s primary language. A professional writer will help you avoid mistakes 1-9. That writer should be a native speaker of your audience’s primary language to avoid mistakes of culture and nuance in your message.

As founder and sole proprietor of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, I have a long history of helping B2B and B2C companies deliver a clear, concise, accurate and passionate marketing content to their customers. I’m ready to help you.

Complicated Writing: What Is It/How to Avoid It

Suppose you enter a store to check out a product you’re interested in, and two salespeople approach you.

One says, “The state-of-the-art functionality of this superior, innovative product is enhanced by the unique proactive multi-tasking bidirectional aspect of the user interface element, our company’s proprietary MTBDUI.”

The other says, “Would you like me to show you the on switch?”

Which salesperson would you buy from?

Yet many websites, blogs and brochures mimic the first sales person when, face-to-face, no one would approach a customer that way. Multi-syllable words (3 syllables or more) in long sentences (over 24 words) are at the heart of complicated writing. Add to that the latest jargon and acronyms with a tendency to drop prepositions and even the most educated readers struggle to understand a company’s message.

Customers are interested in your company, but first they want to know how you will solve their immediate problem. Complicated writing embraces adjectives like “state-of-the-art” and “precisely engineered” without ever giving specifics. It goes on and on about the company’s unique products and features, its outstanding customer services and innovative founders, without ever answering the universal customer question, “What’s in it for me?”

Complicated writing is mired in jargon and acronyms. How could anyone participate in “a proactive customer engagement communication activation process (CECAP)”? But it is definitely possible for customers to understand that you “appreciate their comments”–if that’s what you mean–in direct, everyday language.

Complicated writing leaves a company with nothing to boast about except its vocabulary and its ability to generate jargon and acronyms at a moment’s notice. Clear writing, on the other hand, builds relationships with customers.

For clear writing that is accurate, concise and passionate–for writing that makes even the most complicated content approachable–please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Four Myths of Technical Writing

“All my customers are nuclear physicists,” said the company owner, “so our marketing materials have to sound like they come from a nuclear physicist.” That company owner has bought into one of the four myths that prevent technical companies from communicating with their customers.

The first myth of technical writing is that you have to write up to your audience. This myth overlooks the fact that customers don’t know your product or service. In your field, writing about your product or service, you are the teacher and they are the students. A good teacher speaks as much as possible in everyday language and slowly builds the student’s knowledge. Consider how you would explain your technical information to a brand new customer standing before you. Then write like you talk.

The second myth of technical marketing is that repetition is terrible. The fear of repetition has led some writers to call a keyboard an operator interface on page 1, a human machine interface (HMI) on page 10 and an input device on page 20. Changing the names for products, services and procedures is like spontaneously changing the names of towns on a map; the map is certainly livelier but your audience is completely lost. Instead of wondering whether the HMI on page 10 is the input device on page 20, your customers should be focusing on your technical message and value. Allow yourself to repeat standard words and phrases.

The third myth is that adjectives and adverbs convince customers to buy. Every company in the world offers exceptional customer service. Just try to find one that boasts about lousy service. Every product seems to be “state-of-the-art” or “unique.” But no one searches online for “exceptional” or “state-of-the-art” or “unique.” Those words take up room that should be devoted to details. What makes your product or service unique? What industry standards prove that your product is state-of-the-art? Try writing your marketing copy without adjectives and adverbs. The copy that results will be stronger and will set you apart from competitors.

The fourth myth of technical writing is that only the people who created the product understand it enough to write about it. Unfortunately, creators are often myopic: they market their own excitement about features and not the benefits and value to the customer. Celebrating an achievement is fine, but every customer asks, “What’s in it for me?” That’s the question your marketing materials have to answer—and answer first.

If you are bogged down in those myths of technical writing, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll give you the words you need to connect with your audience.