Which Customer Are You Writing For?

Among the questions I ask potential customers of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, the following ranks highest: Who is your customer? Which customer are you writing for?

All too often a company owner has thought only about what to say in marketing or technical copy, not who is going to read it. In addition, the company owner might have several potential customers in mind (“people who install our software and people who want us to manage their computers”) or, even worse, aims for the elusive and nonexistent “everybody.”

To determine which customer you are writing for:

  1. Identify and separate customers who will spend money, use the product/service, and operate/service the product. Sometimes the spender will also be either the user or the operator/service technician but very rarely are all three functions performed by one person. For example, people who install your software will often have different priorities from people who use the program–and different levels of fluency in computer jargon.
  2. Speak to the real issue each customer faces: how will you solve my problem? In our example, installers and users face different problems; different users also face different problems. Your job is to cater to those differences. Yes, your product or service may solve multiple problems for multiple customers. But no customer wants to search through pages and pages to find the solution to their problem. Think, instead, of how a car dealership website separates new car buyers from used car buyers and also has separate brochures for each car; or consider an online retailer with separate areas for books, computers, and file cabinets.
  3. Ask your customers. Interview your current or past customers to determine what they were looking for when they chose your company; why they chose your company rather than a competitor; and what you achieved for them. Do not assume you know the answers to these questions from the customer’s perspective. Information from your current customers allows you to more precisely target future customers. Plus you gain some great material for testimonials and case studies.
  4. Ask the publication. If you are writing for a publication, make sure you know who the publication’s customers are. The publication will expect you to follow their guidelines on content, style, and length and will reject any article that refuses to conform.

Once you know your audience–once you know which customer you are writing for–each marketing and technical writing project becomes easier because your writing is focused.

Need help in identifying and focusing your writing on your true audience? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Relations.

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.

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..

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.

The Who, How, & When of Hiring a Freelance Writer

As a freelance marketing and technical writer, I find that people are sometimes confused and daunted by the who, how, and when of hiring a freelancer. Here is a little information to help with the decision to hire a professional freelance writer.

The Who: How to Recognize a Professional Freelance Writer

A professional freelance writer is not anyone with a liberal arts degree. In fact, many marketing writers and technical writers have degrees in exactly those subjects. A professional freelance writer is also not a laid-off marketing or technical writer who is between jobs. You want someone who will be around for your entire project and for your next project a year from now–not someone who will abandon you for the first full-time employment offer.

So a professional freelance writer:

  • Has a degree in marketing or technical writing and/or years of experience
  • Can provide you with a portfolio of completed freelance projects
  • Is committed to being a freelancer.

The How: How to Work with a Professional Freelance Writer

Successful freelance writers have multiple clients and aim to give all of them stellar work on time and on budget–including you.

You deserve a professional freelance writer who is honest about working with:

  • Your deadlines
  • Your budget
  • Your review process
  • Your feedback.

But you need to be honest about your deadline, budget, review process, and desires before the project begins. The better you know what you want, the better and faster the writer can provide it.

Every professional freelance writer deserves to receive:

  • Reasonable expectations from you–a writer’s magic wand and mind reading abilities are extremely limited
  • Clear communication from you–which may mean limiting the number of reviewers, since review by committee always leads to chaos
  • On-time payment of every invoice.

The When: Benefits of a Professional Freelance Writer

The four main reasons business owners consider a freelance writer are (a) lack of time, (b) lack or confusion of ideas, (c) limited resources (they don’t have the budget or work to justify a full-time hire), and (d) some level of sheer panic over the task.

That’s the time to use a professional freelance writer.

A professional freelance writer relieves you of a task that is not in your primary skill set; helps spark and focus your ideas; is available exactly when needed and for no longer; and takes responsibility for a writing project that has become onerous rather than fun and exciting.

Conclusion

I hope that clears up the who, what, and when of freelance marketing and technical writing. If you need an experienced and dedicated professional freelance writer, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I work with businesses and projects of every size from sole proprietors to corporations and from single blog posts to entire websites. Contact me today at write [at] twriteplus.com.

English the Right Way

The English language is joyful–and exasperating. It provides so many ways to say what you mean, and all of them are correct. Or in other words: No matter what you want to say, there are dozens of ways to say it right.

So here are four guidelines to help you make sure you are using English correctly:

  1. Recognize the limits of words. An engineer once asked me for a single word that meant cost-effective, high quality and efficient. No such word exists. If he tried to create one, he would be asking customers to read his mind. If you are not sure whether a word exists or you are using it properly, look it up in a dictionary. Online dictionaries are as helpful as paper ones; just make sure you rely on a dictionary and not a spell checker because spell checkers will happily let you use the wrong word, as long you spell it correctly.
  2. Follow the rules of grammar. Grammar gives writing its spine. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook is a good source. The glossary and index alone are worth the price. Do not rely on online grammar checkers. They will send you in the wrong direction; they question perfectly grammatical sentences and promote howlers like using “that” instead of “who.”
  3. Listen to your ear, and write like you talk. This is a harder rule to follow if your native language is not English. Read everything you write out loud. If it sounds stilted, pompous, long-winded and confusing, then it probably is stilted, pompous long-winded and confusing. When you talk to your customers, you use clear, familiar language that lets your excitement about your product or service shine through. Good writing is good talking. If you need help, turn to The Elements of Style by Wlliam Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. In less than 100 pages, this classic book will transform your ideas about style.
  4. Limit yourself to one or two trusted reviewers. Because English is so flexible, heated debates arise over a single comma or a single synonym. If you find yourself fighting your reviewers, then check the sources suggested above. Or find new reviewers. Writing by committee is impossible. If you must work with several authors to finish a project, place one of the authors in charge of the whole–that’s the only way to ensure consistency and clarity from page to page.

Perhaps the most important writing advice is to know when to stop revising. With the flexibility of English, you can second guess yourself into stagnation. But your website, blog post, brochure or success story can’t start working for you until you send it out.

If English is driving you (and your reviewers) crazy, you have one more resource you can count on: Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications (write at twriteplus.com). We’ll help you discover the best way to say what your customers want to hear.

 

 

How to Edit: 4 Helpful Hints for Marketing and Technical Writing

The old joke has it that in order to create a great sculpture like Michelangelo’s David, all you do is chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.

That advice may not make you another Michelangelo but it will certainly help you to edit your marketing or technical writing.

What Is Editing and When Do You Do It?

Editing is the process of pruning down your writing so that it (a) fits the space it needs to fit (for example, a magazine may have a 1000-word limit); (b) says what you need it to say clearly, concisely, and powerfully; and/or (c) is easy for readers to follow, because very few people will slog through a logical mess.

Many of us have a little voice in our heads that criticizes our writing. Many of us have no voice whatsoever and cling to our words as if they dripped with gold. Doesn’t matter. You need to edit, and the time to do that is after you are finished writing, never while.

What to Look for When You’re Editing

Editing is not the same as proofreading–although you should proofread every word you write before you send it out into the world. Proofreading concentrates on correct and consistent spelling, grammar, and formatting.

Editing concentrates on delivering a clear, concise, and interesting message that sticks to the topic. To edit your technical or marketing writing:

  1. Introduce no more than 3 ideas. People have trouble remembering more than 7 new ideas and you want to stay well below that mark. As an added incentive to limit new ideas, when doctors are testing for memory issues, they often give the patient three random words to remember until the end of the session. That’s three, not thirty. If you have trouble sticking to and organizing a few memorable ideas, please see my previous blog post.
  2. Check for unnecessary words and phrases like can or are able to and for vague adjectives like cost-effective. Precision motivates readers. Instead of “We are able to deliver cost-effective heating solutions” state “We save you 20% yearly on heating.”
  3. Never be afraid to use more words to gain clarity. In an effort to be concise, an engineer I worked with came up with the sentence, “We offer a broad portfolio of compatible knowledge components.” He meant: “Our software transfers your information smoothly from one program to another.” For two extra words, he gained tremendous clarity.
  4. Stay true to your theme and your audience. This is where you cut away anything that is not David. If you feel frustrated, then write another article, success story, insight paper, blog post, or brochure. But do not switch themes (“how to save money on heating”) or audiences (your average homeowner) in midstream or you will baffle–and lose–your reader.

Conclusion

Editing is a necessary step after you write and before you proofread; in fact, I usually edit three or four times. The first edit, I cut back; the second, I restore; and the third, I find that perfect balance between saying too much and not enough. For writing, editing, and proofreading help for your marketing or technical writing, whether a large project or very small, contact me today through LinkedIn or at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.