Crafting the Perfect Opening Sentence

You have only a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention. That makes your opening sentence very important. A great opening sentence focuses on:

  • What your customers want: Give top priority to the features and benefits your customers want most. Suppose you’ve created a brand new frozen chili. If customers long for better tasting chili, emphasize the features (quick freezing, organic rice, fresh spices) that contribute to better taste. But omit information on the medical properties of chili peppers unless your customers expect and want that information. Address the needs of different customers in different sections of your marketing material. For example, you may want one website page on Great Tasting Recipes and another on Chili Peppers and Your Health.
  • What your product or service delivers best: Give top priority to the benefits and features that you deliver best. If your chili tastes better because you cook it slowly, the words “slow cooked” belong in your opening statement.
  • What your competition does best and worst: If every chili maker in the world slow cooks chili, that feature probably doesn’t belong in your opening sentence. If no one else cooks with fresh spices, that feature deserves a top mention. If your competitors cook with fresh spices, but don’t say so? Claim that feature yourself. Your competition’s weaknesses reveal areas where customers aren’t being served or believe they aren’t being served. That’s where your product or service commands the market.
  • What type of document you’re writing: In a news release (for example), customers expect to learn what you’ve achieved recently. If you start with a long history of chili, customers stop reading before they find out about your accomplishment. In the executive summary of a proposal, customers want to know that you’ve heard and addressed their specific concerns. Your opening sentence must suit the document.

Create a decision box where you list the most important features and benefits of your product or service. Rank them by how closely they meet the criteria above: giving customers what they want; representing something you are good at; filling a real or perceived gap in the marketplace; and matching the goals of the document. The feature/benefit with the highest score should help frame your opening sentence.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications knows the value of a great opening sentence. Contact us today.

A Bill of Rights for Your Reader

Sometimes I wish there were a bill of rights governing content for customers! Readers have the right to content that addresses their problem, offers a clear solution, is written logically and clearly, and explains what to do next.

You try your best. You’ve produced reams of online and paper content describing your products and services. But sheer volume isn’t enough. Here are the four biggest reasons a marketing message violates the bill of rights:

  • Nobody cares. You’re excited by your achievements. I once had a client whose entire brochure focused on her artistic philosophy and growth. But her customers weren’t interested in her personal triumphs. Their immediate concerns were, “What are you selling, what does it cost, and why should I buy it from you?”
  • It’s confusing. When you cobble content together from old content or have multiple authors writing independently, mistakes enter. For example, I often encounter both marketing and technical content where measurements shift from metric to English and back again; in this case, I recommend giving both measurements at all times: “approximately 10 feet (3 meters).” When customers receive information that’s inconsistent, outdated, or simply wrong, they begin to mistrust whatever you tell them.
  • No one understands it. Your customers expect content written in the plainest possible English, information they can understand quickly and thoroughly. One of my clients stated that “our chemical research has created an absolutely inexhaustible wealth of forms, phenomena, and possibilities.” What they meant was this: “our research has created a wealth of chemicals and new ways to use them.” If you consistently write with 4- and 5-syllable words, business jargon, acronyms, and tech speak or if you skimp on explanations because “everybody knows that,” you’re in trouble.
  • No one can find it. If you dump everything you do or provide into one huge list–or worse, one huge sentence–for the customer to sort out, the customer gives up. I remember a client who wrote a three-chapter proposal: 10 pages in the Introduction, 5 pages in the Conclusion, and 277 endless pages of actual information in the middle. Organize your content so that customers are guided directly to the information they are looking for.

When content aligns with the bill of rights, customers recognize themselves and their problems in your message. They understand that you have the solution they need and how to acquire that solution. And they don’t have to fight for the information because your writing uses everyday, straight-forward, consistent language in a format that is easy to follow.

Having trouble establishing your own bill of rights for marketing content? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Our words mean business.

10 Things to Never Say in Your Marketing Copy

Are you looking at your marketing copy from your customers’ viewpoint–or your own? Is your marketing copy creating honest communication between you and your customer–or is it leaving them with unanswered questions?

Make a true connection by never saying these 10 things in your marketing copy:

  1. Never simply say you’re the best; prove you’re the best. It is far better to show your achievements, through testimonials, case studies, photographs, awards, achievements, and examples.
  2. Never use your marketing copy to disparage other companies. Why give your competitors free publicity? Instead, use that space to educate customers about what they should expect from a truly great provider (like you).
  3. Never threaten your customers with the dire consequences of not using your services. They know they have a problem; what they need are solutions.
  4. Never be vague about what you can and cannot deliver. Rather than saying you finish projects in “about” three weeks, provide a range or increase the time to a definite four weeks and make customers ecstatic when you deliver ahead of schedule.
  5. Never start your marketing copy with features when you can start with benefits; never drown your customer in a long list of capabilities when you can excite them with potential results.
  6. Never switch your audience in mid-stream. Talk to “you” (the customer) and make sure you (the business) know who that customer is at all times.
  7. Never make disparaging remarks about individuals who refused–or eventually accepted–your services. Customers shy away from a mean spirited provider.
  8. Never fill your marketing copy with 10-dollar words, jargon, and acronyms under the mistaken belief that they make you sound more knowledgeable. Your customers are already depending on you to be knowledgeable. Use everyday language they understand to explain what you do and why it works.
  9. Never allow typos, inconsistencies, or grammatical errors in your marketing copy. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
  10. Never write solely for search engines. Your customers are people. Write for people.

Marketing copy that is clear, precise, interesting, and focused on your customers will always be read. That’s the type of copy we write at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Contact us today.

When Marketing Copy Confuses Customers: What Next?

As much as business owners try to communicate clearly, sometimes customers still find marketing copy confusing.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize four basic ways that marketing copy confuses customers:

  • Confusion over the message. One of my clients began by helping her clients work through financial issues and then found herself offering advice on straightening out their staff and customer relations. Her background and education made her a gifted consultant in all three areas; but her marketing copy stayed focused on finance, creating confusion for potential clients and referrals. We worked together to sharpen her mission and suddenly everything she offered fell into place.
  • Confusion over the audience. Another client, a website developer, never quite defined his customers’ level of expertise. Part of the time his marketing copy assumed customers recognized high-tech jargon and acronyms; part of the time his copy defined basic concepts in excruciating detail. Customers were either baffled or bored. We settled on a middle course, cutting back on the jargon, acronyms, and explanations to focus on benefits to all his customers. After all, what customers want to know most is: What do I get out of it?
  • Confusion over organization. A company started its marketing copy by listing the products it manufactured–but then the rest of the marketing copy ignored those products entirely and focused on the manufacturing process. Customers want to know where marketing copy is headed. If you say you have four products, they want to read about four products, not three products and a process. If you say regulatory compliance is important, they want to hear about compliance. Guide them carefully along or you’ll lose them in poor organization.
  • Confusion over individual words. Sometimes marketing copy uses the wrong word (for example, “intransient problem” instead of “intransigent problem”). Sometimes it piles on adjectives (“this extraordinary, unparalleled, unique opportunity”) as if more adjectives equal more information. In either case, I always advise clients to use the simplest and most precise language they can–to write like they talk when they are talking to their favorite customers.

Let’s make sure your marketing copy never confuses customers. I’ll help you define your message, audience, and organization, and then choose the right words to grab and keep their attention. Contact TWP today.

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.

My Customers Won’t Talk to Me!

Q. My customers must love my products and services because they keep returning. But they don’t send thank you letters, they don’t compliment me or my staff, and if I ask them how we did, they say “Great!” That doesn’t tell potential new customers anything. What’s with them?

A. Customers are only human. They know they are talking to the head of a business they like, so they want to give you what you want. But they aren’t sure exactly what to say (they expect you want marketing jargon and they don’t know how to speak jargon); are shy about revealing their ignorance of the specifics of what you did; and feel resentful about having to invent something right now or about confronting endless surveys. The wise approach is to put a third party into the mix.

Strong Interviews Lead to Strong Testimonials

Here’s how I handle customer interviews to make sure they deliver testimonials and information you can use to market, align, and improve your business.

  • First, I interview you to find out what you think you accomplished for that customer and how how that particular job reflects your overall business and its goals.
  • Then, I contact your customer (after you’ve prepared the way with a brief email or phone call) to ask for a 15-minute interview at the customer’s convenience. That time limit is most important.

I ask the customer leading questions, listen to the answers, and base my next question(s) on those answers. We take a journey together through the customer’s experience, with no previous expectations. I ask the hard questions, too; for example, what would you do differently next time to solve your problem? What should the company do differently? I can ask those questions because I am not the business owner, and I can negotiate confidentiality if that’s necessary. I keep the interview on target and deep dive for differentiators.

Finally, I create one or more strong testimonials, which I then submit to the customer for the customer’s approval. Or I create an entire case study, which I submit to you first (to make sure the content matches your goals) and then to the customer for approval. Because I listen well and ask insightful, respectful questions, most testimonials and case studies return from the customer with minor if any changes.

Strong Testimonials Connect with Potential Customers

The result: You have testimonials that actually say something in clear, everyday language that speaks to potential customers. You learn facts about your business and the customer experience that you may never have expected. You have the basis for or a complete case study that explains exactly what you do and how you do it.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has over a decade of experience in interviewing business owners and their customers. If you want testimonials that work hard for your business in the marketplace, contact us today.

Telling the Truth When You Write

I began my career as a technical writer and for years I thought of marketing as the evil empire. Technical writers are concerned with accuracy, clarity, and consistency. Marketing writers? As far as I could see, they would say anything to sell–they knew little about the product or service and cared less.

Then I discovered something: customers like the truth. They like the truth as much as I do. They look askance at promises that might never be delivered or at claims that have nothing to back them up. They are tired of hearing empty phrases, like “state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service” because everyone, from the airline they fly to the local coffee shop, promises state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service.

How do your customers know if you are telling the truth? You provide photos, testimonials, case studies (I love case studies!), awards, and details on industry standards that you meet. You describe continuing education, certifications, and participation or leadership in industry events. You share your expert advice and experience.

The truth is also revealed by the way you write: with accuracy, clarity, consistency and a focus on the information customers want mostdo you understand my problem and how will you solve it? Every customer problem and question is worthy of consideration. Your goal is to find and share answers to the most pressing customer questions. And admit when you don’t have the answer.

Every company has something that makes it uniquely qualified to help its customers, because every company is the result of someone’s unique vision. Let customers know about you. The truth about your company is a major differentiator. Did you start or build your company because you identified a lack in your region, took a different approach in your field, recognized an opportunity that others missed, wanted a chance to help others, found an outlet for your creativity, discovered a neglected customer need? All or none of the above?

My background as a technical writer means that I have worked in fields as diverse as construction, coaching, manufacturing, healthcare, software development, and retail. Regardless of the industry, I have kept and verified my belief that customers appreciate the truth as much as I do. After all, aren’t we all customers of someone?

When you tell the truth about your company, you enable customers to connect with you. You build a relationship based on a firm foundation, which means customers will return again and again. Let me help.

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.

 

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.

Finding & Telling Your Marketing Story: Part II

In a previous blog, I wrote about the importance of appealing to the senses and using visuals (photographs, videos) in marketing stories. In this blog, I’d like to focus on another aspect of great story telling: characters.

All stories have characters, even if the only character is the narrator. But as a business owner you have access to a slew of characters:

  • Yourself
  • Your staff
  • Your former customers
  • The audience you are writing for (past, future and/or current customers).

As I’ve often mentioned before, the most powerful phrase in marketing is “we can solve your problem.” That one phrase includes two strong characters, the “we” (the business owner and staff) and the “you” (the customer). Give that “we” more personality by writing blog posts or articles or online biographies that introduce you and your staff. Let your character shine forth in Q&A (FAQ) pages. Even if they aren’t customer-facing, let your staff make their presence known in photos and Meet the Team pages.

As for your former customers, they are truly “well rounded characters” and a great source of marketing stories, especially case studies and success stories. Please interview them! When I interview customers for my clients, I am always amazed at the generosity of the interviewees in sharing their time and their experiences to help another business. They recount experiences that make more positive, more detailed and more compelling stories than the business owner could have imagined.

Every story benefits from characters that seem to step right off the page; and your customers, staff and you are just such characters. Let your marketing story benefit from characters that lift your dry recital of facts to another level, where people are communicating directly with each other. I’ll be happy to help.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications provides freelance writing services for companies in New Hampshire and throughout the US.