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Get e-communication tips and resources, post comments, see writing samples -- contact me anytime!
"The more words are used to express an idea, the less powerful they become."
--Hazrat Inayat Khan
A wise woman once told me that, when communicating with a man, it's best to express just one idea at a time. Any other points you make will be forgotten.
Memorable content is concise. It conveys a message without being didactic or haranguing the reader. It expresses one idea succinctly, so that idea has power.
Writing tight is no easy task. You have to cull superfluous words, then smooth out the rest. This gets easier with practice.
For The Year in Infrastructure, I read the 2,000-word documents submitted by the engineering teams and wrote 125-word profiles for each project. Each profile is a mini case study: challenge, solution, result.
As the writer, I am confident that any man (or woman) who reads the yearbook will get that message.
Roll your eyes if you will--engineering technology isn't for everyone--but this stuff is pretty intriguing. For example,
Lately I've been sharpening my knives on social media, using the sites as a test kitchen for my own food stylings. I've discovered that rave reviews stoke the stove where the best confections are baked. No reviews push me to raid the pantry for more enticing ingredients, until someone likes the presentation.
In one instance, small bites hit home, dishes that were so tasty people begged for more. I laid a buffet with ever more tantalizing and forbidden delights. Then one beefy dish pushed a bit too far, and folks pushed back from the table. Lesson learned: Know when people have had enough.
In another venue, visitors' disdain for the menu pushed me to tweak the recipes again and again until I got a review, albeit a bad one. More testing -- headline, deck, body content, bullet lists -- each in their turn, until my little social media restaurant had repeat customers.
Finding the right flavors for the menu takes time. And just like the prep before a banquet, when an overripe piece of fish or a too-tart sauce must be tossed in the trash, some social media musings should be sent back to the kitchen.
Never mind the critics, your patrons will never fail to let you know -- with their absence or repeat business -- that expertly prepped ingredients from a bountiful pantry yield dishes that tell a delicious story.
Being a self-proclaimed Thought Leader isn't easy. It takes thought. And it takes leadership.
Why is it, then, that marketers are asked by managers to establish thought-leadership positions without sharing their insight into the company's original thinking on a topic?
One explanation is that the company has no original thoughts. But that seems unlikely. The more likely scenario is that the smart people who have all the new ideas are actually quite busy doing their jobs. And no one wants to bother them.
But here's a suggestion: Let's make a quick call to the person who knows the most about the so-called industry-leading idea, and ask what ONE thing customers need to know about it.
Now take this person's suggestion -- it's probably a good one -- and spin it for marketing. What pain does it alleviate? How does it work? Why is it different from everyone else's big idea? Above all, Who cares?
Then draft a short pitch for your subject matter experts -- the idea, why it needs to get out, who will listen, what action will they take, and how this will change the world.
Use the pitch in your invitation for a short interview so you can pull the thoughts from the leader's head like so much gooey brain-matter bursting from a cracked skull. Promise the interview will take less than an hour.
Prepare! Read everything you can, especially items that infringe on the new idea territory. Because if someone was there first, you can't take a leadership position on it.
Don't invite anyone to the interview who has nothing to contribute. No new ideas, not invited. No good questions, not invited. No interest other than CYA, do us a favor and stay away.
Write a solid draft and send it to the expert(s) less than 5 days after the interview. That way, everyone will remember what we talked about. And they won't have time to change their minds about it.
Set a deadline. If the reviewers don't respond after 2 reminders, tell them you're going to press (figuratively speaking) without their input. Then do it.
This actually works. And as someone I once worked for said, It's better to apologize afterward than to ask permission beforehand.
Thought leadership is not evergreen. It's a rare idea that doesn't whither on the vine or get plucked by a competitor if you wait too long to ponder it.
If marketers, managers and the experts can collaborate without wasting anyone's time, industry-leading ideas can find a voice and do some good.
The publication, which we fondly refer to as the "project yearbook," showcases the extraordinary work of engineers and architects who use Bentley software to design sustainable infrastructure.
For the 2009 Edition, I wrote the more than 250 project descriptions and recapped all 50+ award-winners and finalists for the Be Inspired! awards program. For the 2010 Edition, I managed a team of three writers to deliver more than 350 project summaries in less than 6 weeks--then went on to write the awards profiles.
Bentley has since repurposed the content of the Year in Infrastructure into market-specific special editions, such the Water Project Showcase, which include both project summaries and in-depth case studies about projects in each market. The case studies are also repurposed content that I wrote for Bentley's Be Current magazine.
As one Bentley executive said, "This is packaged collateral that sells."
The timely reminder will serve as incentive to plow through hundreds of Be Inspired! award submissions, distilling pages of detail about each project into 125-word profiles. Wish me luck!
Freelance newbies often take any and all assignments -- for cash flow and a portfolio. But to get from novice to expert status in this competitive market, you have to select projects in the areas where you excel.
For me, that has meant graduating from writing small-business brochures and newsletters (the meat and potatoes of marketing), to journalism with a marketing twist. As an expert storyteller, I help clients tell compelling true stories that illustrate their brand benefits.
To further narrow the funnel, excellent writers need a market niche where their subject matter knowledge can save time and shorten review-and-revision cycles. For most of my career, I've worked with engineers, architects and contractors to illustrate their value proposition in the markets they serve.
The sweet spot is where a writer's skill set uniquely qualifies him/her for a project that few others could do. It's the intersection of ability, experience and expertise that enables a writer to deliver an assignment in the time-quality-budget triangle.
I discovered that sweet spot in engineering technology for the A/E/C industry. I first started writing about technology applications for infrastructure in 1989 and have built a strong portfolio. (See the Content by Cathy sidebar.). Since then, I've diversified my specialty to write about applied technology that delivers business benefits in other industries.
In the end, it's about getting the client's story out in the best way possible. For corporate marketing professionals working for their demanding business units, this may mean making the case for outsourcing special projects. But honing your own writing skills and developing a diverse specialty can also secure you a position as the go-to resource in your own organization.
In "Heart & Mind Branding," you feel an emotional connection to the brand, then make logical conclusions about what the brand means. This powerful approach is the brainchild (and registered trademark) of HEASLEY&PARTNERS, but I learned about it from Laura Cunningham of Charlotte Pelton & Associates. Laura talked about re-branding--"it's not just a new logo"--with the Treasure Coast Chapter of FPRA.
Done right, re-branding can take months to prepare and years to roll-out and evaluate. It starts with a brand inventory, cataloging every item emblazoned with the logo, tagline and colors that represent your organization. This task usually reveals appalling breaches of brand etiquette.
A strategic planning process discovers how stakeholders experience the brand now, and explores how and why re-branding should change that experience. The creative process is more than an exercise in artistic expression. It also envisions the marketing and PR tactics that can introduce stakeholders to the new brand in a positive way. This means testing concepts on real people in surveys, focus groups or one-on-one interviews.
When you execute the brand roll-out, you're selling a new interpretation of the old brand. If you've done your homework, people will buy-in to the idea that the re-brand embodies the current company culture and articulates the brand promise to its stakeholders.
Of course, everyone's a critic, and there will be some (including media) who pooh-pooh the new look and feel. Laura gave several notorious examples, including Gap (which rolled back a new logo), the Y (formerly YMCA, now taking international heat) and Xfinity (formerly Comcast, no longer just a cable company).
When circumstances dictate a re-branding, be prepared to spend the time and money it takes to do it right. If you don't, your biggest fans could become your most vocal hecklers.
B2B marketers are optimizing their sales funnels with compelling content -- that's my take on the 2011 MarketingSherpa B2B Marketing Benchmark Survey. Check out the funnel infographic, and note these trends:
The common thread is content that reaches customers where they are, and "creates value propositions that differentiate and resonate."
Integrated campaings are most effective, with consistent brand messaging and content creation across channels. As one marketer said, "When tactics have been done individually, the ROI has been significantly lower."
Here's a newsflash for companies posting writing projects on Guru.com: Payment rates for freelance writing services have NOT bottomed out. Those of us who are, in fact, "gurus" (meaning expert writers) charge rates that are commensurate with our experience.
So please, stop posting projects with a $250 budget for "10 high quality articles (450-650 words)" or -- my personal favorite -- "10 articles (500 words per article) on the topic of tonsil stones. The budget for this small writing project is $25 for 10 articles."
That's .005 cents per word.
I posted a profile on Guru.com with the mistaken impression that companies who looked there are serious about finding expert writers. At the very least, I'd get some visibility in the searchable database. But searches by employers surface vendors who pay top dollar for their accounts (fair enough).
At least the time it took to complete the basic profile made me think about where I excel, and select the writing samples to prove it.
In the July 20th web clinic, MarketingExperiments Director Flint McGlaughlin expounded on the idea that copywriting is fast and easy when marketers tell a story in three acts.
Noting that most marketers don't have the time to craft compelling copy -- or the money to hire someone who can -- he presented three steps for effective storytelling and, by extension, effective marketing.
"Copywriting on Tight Deadlines: How ordinary marketers are achieving 200% gains with a step-by-step framework" introduced this "framework:"
STEP 1: Exposition captures attention, makes a promise and identifies a problem that motivates prospects to read on.
STEP 2: Rising Action intensifies the problem with five intensifiers that appeal to the need to resolve the problem: proof points, features, benefits, incentives and urgency.
STEP 3: Climax makes the call to action that implies value, immediacy or urgency. Falling Action and Resolution ensure follow through, achieving the marketing goal and ending the story.
MECLABs are a boundless resource for optimization metrics, so I hesitate to complain. But I believe it takes more than a template like this to tell a compelling story and craft effective copy. I'm just sayin'.
"Here’s what we believe are the keys to success:
The V3 "voice, vision and values" are inspiring. And Shelly Kramer's 5 tips for revamping a marketing plan are just what I need. So glad I found the V3 blog on the Forbes list of top 20 women bloggers (marketing & social media)!
MarketingExperiments Blog has devoted a category to copywriting and how to write marketing copy that works. Thanks!
In a post that sets the stage for their free webinar about Copywriting on Tight Deadlines, the bloggers present 7 mistakes markets commonly make. I've turned it around to offer 7 tips for copy that works:
Of course, testing copy to see what works is always recommended (by MarketingExperiments).
In a recap of MarketingSherpa 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition, Adam Sutton gives a quick analysis of the most effective SEO tactics according to a survey of SEO marketers. Here are the top 5 very effective / somewhat effective tactics for achieving objectives:
Blogging can be a stream of compelling content that engages customers, and yet only 31% of SEO marketers said it was very effective -- and only 60% use it. Surprising.
Here's one reason: They don't know what to say in twice weekly posts -- the minimum to keep readers engaged. One tip from a successful blogger: Answer people's questions. No. Matter. What.
When you commit to blogging twice a week, you'll amass at least 52 posts in just 6 months. That's 52 keyword-rich pieces of content with descriptive titles -- the top three SEO tactics in one campaign. Sweet!
I do not speak Chinese. And Google Translate is good, but not that good.
For detailed answers to specific questions about environmentally friendly hydroelectric power generation in China, I needed a translator. My client's marketing manager in China translated the questions into Chinese, sent them to people in the know at HydroChina Huadong Engineering Corp., then translated their responses back into English.
That is going above and beyond, if you ask me.
The insights into their design strategies and engineering information management made for a fascinating case study. Without that first-hand perspective, the story would have been sketchy indeed.
For another story, the client's customer was the team player. I emailed questions about the ROI for a software integration project, and he forwarded them to his team for input. The follow-up phone interview delved into more detail than would otherwise have been possible.
Happy customers make great stories.
I work alone, mostly. But working as a team sometimes produces better writing.
"The Role of Feedback in Brand Loyalty," a white paper by the survey software company Vovici, recently caught my eye. (I was skimming.) I've been thinking about how social media marketing invites customers to have a conversation with you.
In the same way that surveys pose questions to elicit feedback, your social networking site can initiate dialog about brand perceptions, product preferences, customer experiences and complaints. You can use the question tool to create a poll, or simply ask a conversation starter with a status update.
When you "hear the voice of the customer," Vovici says, you can:
When customers think they are being heard, they stay with you. I guess building brand loyalty is just a new way to talk about gaining and retaining customers.
Learn how the email marketing program at King Arthur Flour Company has increased open rates from 30% to up to 50%, and clickthrough rates from 27% to up to 35%. The secret ingredients are content contributed by internal business stakeholders and templates that save design time.
Read the MarketingSherpa article here:
Email Marketing: Segmenting a database and delivering more targeted content without overwhelming your team.
The Appum Group's new "short attention" marketing white paper and newsletter pitch the benefits of cutting the crap out of the ponderous papers typically used to position companies as leaders in their fields.
Having written a few of these myself, I have to admit it's tough to get buy-in from all the internal stakeholders if you don't talk about all their points of view in the paper. I am relieved to see a few helpful pointers from white paper expert Jonathan Kantor on how to focus a paper so that it actually gets read.
"Ensuring That Your White Papers Appeal to Busy Executive Readers" illustrates six techniques -- in both content and visual design of this paper. In short, the six principles are:
This approach assumes business readers skim, speed read or fully digest an article based on how rewarding each step is. By making it easy for readers to see the highlights, Kantor's short, visual approach improves the odds that a white paper will be consumed with gusto.
(Join the Short Attention Span newsletter mailing list to download the paper.)
SEO Logic's free guide, Search Engine Optimization 101, presents SEO basics on one page. For answers to your lingering questions, go to the SEO FAQ. That's where I found some tips on how to optimize title tags.
TItle tags do some heavy lifting to raise the rank of your website in search results. The title tells search engines what your website is about, which affects where the site appears in search results. (Other factors also feed the complex search algorithms.)
The website title is displayed in search results, so it's the first thing searchers see when they skim the results and decide what to click on. If they clickthrough, the title is displayed at the top of the browser. This is also the name of the bookmark (unless the user changes it).
Finally, people who index sites read the titles to quickly decide if a site is worth listing and linking. (Yes, real people do that -- at the Montague Institute, for example.)
You can optimize title tags so they do their jobs better by following a few rules of thumb:
Google displays just the first 66 characters of a title, then cuts the rest. Yahoo's limit is 120 characters. Each web browser also has its limit -- e.g., 95 for Explorer.
Don't underestimate the power of proper keywords. Research keywords your customers are most likely to use and, when it makes sense, include these words in titles, meta tags and content.
This is synchronicity. Today's MarketingSherpa features a case study about how HP created an online and offline campaign to build relationships with customers in a niche market. The summary recaps the goals:
"Your current offerings might not be enough to attract a new group of prospects. Highly valuable niche communities might prefer a tailored experience and targeted content that you don't have -- but that you can deliver via email.
"See how Hewlett-Packard created an email database, website and content to connect with a niche audience. The effort increased sales to the subscribers by 2,050%. Learn how the marketers built the list, nurtured subscribers, and focused on driving sales."
My next steps are to prioritize the market by category, create a database with email and postal addresses, and develop more interactive content.
Packed with proven techniques for optimizing every aspect of e-marketing campaigns -- value propositions, email messages, landing pages, websites, PPC ads, sales leads ... . You name it, it's in there.
Skim the esoteric research protocols if you must and read the succinct intros, conclusions and key principles.