What are your audience’s biggest questions?
What your clients need should be obvious in your content.
Are you keeping in your content lane? Image: Alex Wong, Unsplash
If you can answer the questions on people’s minds you will reduce fears, and you will build trust. People will remember you as a great source of information. They will return.
A content strategy could save your business. This is exactly the approach Marcus Sheridan took when in the recession of 2008, the fortunes of the fibreglass pool company he worked with plunged. Sheridan listed the hundreds of questions potential purchasers then answered then via content. The business site became the most popular site in his niche, globally!
If you have a production method or a niche that’s specialised, people will have questions. If you don’t anticipate those questions someone else will capture your corner.
Business is an ocean, you can own your corner. Do you need help to get your content in lane and to make a splash?
Shower for your best ideas Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash
I have my best ideas while in the sea or the shower. Persuasive, flowing stories like no other has written channel through me lighting my soul And then with soapy water they rotate down the plughole.
It happened to me today.
Has anyone invented a waterproof voice recorder?
By recalling the event here, I hope that the fragments in my memory form a coherent replica. They were words for a client. I usually don’t think about my dear clients while in the shower but you can’t halt inspiration.
Could the waterproof recorder work like an underwater camera? Or, how about a spray to retains your finger writing on a foggy shower screen until you capture the notes.
Send Ideas on a postcard please but try not to be in the shower when writing them.
I am badass Brooke Lark, Unsplash
A couple or so years ago I signed up to an online fitness program that overcame a lifetime of excuses that I am not a gym person. I was tennis and a beach person and at various phases a hockey, windsurfing, dragon boating, cricket, squash and cycling person. The gym program was tough but brilliant. The word badass came up in the videos a lot. I had never used the word.
Badass doctors and lawyers
The fitness program has closed but still going is the private online group where members exchange gym selfies, compliments and encouragement. The word badass came up a lot there but rarely about me. I did not self-identify as badass. Yet the doctors, dentists, lawyers, executives, designers, and pilots in the program did. The feeling was forged by achieving seemingly impossible goals that changed their body shapes. While I made my own modest transformation, I started to feel badass. The gym I attended then had a weights room in the basement, and when I went there and lifted my (admittedly small) weights among serious mostly male lifters, I felt badass being seen as just another person lifting. It’s time I did again.
Is being badass really you?
The word badass appears on a lot of sites of copywriters and other creatives. There are some I really dig too. Pia Silva! But it can seem like everyone is so badass. I can’t pull off the badass image in branding. It fails first at the photo shoot (especially if the aim is to attract business) and then in my semantics. I am old school-ish. Other words entice me.
But I can be badass any time I want. All it takes is lifting weights and a vocabulary transplant.
What kind of badass are you? Do tell!
Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash
Readers are entering forts and pulling up the drawbridge to escape modern content
The success of content is about keywords, low bounce rates, the average time of page view, shares and rankings, conversion. But is that all? Even if you get the metrics correct, many readers are entering forts and pulling up the drawbridge to escape modern content.
A gazillion links make people save articles often to never return
A 23-minute post with a gazillion links might be helpful and awesome, but it’s tiring to read, and impersonal. You lose the point… So you save the article and say you will come back later, but you probably don’t. Yes?
I like to read content shaped by a beginning, middle and end — a story. And yes, before you ask, more content is being generated through Artificial Intelligence never mind content mills. We will be talking about that here another day soon.
Follow business journalists for concise, insightful writing
Business journalism feature writing techniques have a lot to offer content marketing. I have written hundreds of business features on everything from architectural design to dredging, BRIC finance to regional development, CRM, customer loyalty, dentistry, industrial hemp, banana skin recycling, tropical medicine, infrastructure to IT, power, property and (my long-time specialism) the global travel and tourism sectors including hospitality management, booking technology, travel loyalty, airline security and destination management. That list was not meant to bore you. It is to say how it’s possible for you to write about your topic, whatever it is. And yes, you will have preferences just like you do for dinners or weights versus cardio.
Write about (almost) any topic using feature writer tricks
Adopt a clear feature structure for preparing and writing content:
- When you are commissioned by an editor or yourself, research past published stories, study these, list all of the key points that may need to be covered, list the names of all the key people involved in the topic or whom lead discussions, and note who is most affected.
- Refine to choose one question and central theme, and 1-2 sub-themes
- Identify the top 3-4 talents for interview. (Yes, interview, I said, the magical extra that feature writing has over most content) Choose talent from diverse perspectives and experience
- From the talent identify someone who could give you a great overview. Sometimes that might be someone who you may not mention in the story. Approach the talent. If they can’t help, ask if they know someone else who can. Sometimes this Step No. 4 goes before Step No.3.
- Arrange interviews. Remember it is usually the talent doing you a good turn so you need to fit in with their schedules. Send a brief list of questions prior to the interview so they are prepared. (This is not an expose where you are seeking to catch them out! However, you can be encouraging them through your questions to think in new ways about their topic.)
- Put the talent’s answer through your personal BS checker. If it doesn’t sound quite right reframe or read back to them the answer they have given.
- Write the story starting with the fascinating question but don’t reveal the answer or the latest development there. Start with the challenge faced by the company or sector.
- One of the most effective ways is to start with colour, i.e from the viewpoint of an individual directly impacted by this story.
- Interweave the anecdotes and facts gathered from each source making contrasting points through the story. Don’t state the contrast. Simply state the facts. Let them speak. The truth will show. Trust the reader’s intelligence and your own writing that the reader will go along with you.
- Write an ending that brings the streams and themes of the story together and that also reveals where the individual or group you started the story about is at now. What’s changed for them? Like good fiction, the most interesting stories show progress.
- Take a break from editing your story or better yet, have it edited by an experienced features editor.
Want to build authority through your writing?
Do you need more tips or help so you can write content just like a professional journalist? Email! The aim is that your reader — a client or prospect — has gained insight and trusted.
P.S. Your aim is to be the trusted authority. Are you?
Marian Edmunds is a writer, editor & mentor helping writers and non-writers.
Press for Writer!
No. Let’s NOT do that.
People have been asking me about storytelling.
When writing for clients or mentoring people wanting to write I do not ask them to reveal their history and ambitions. Not at first. That will come out soon enough.
First I will provide a writing prompt. For creative writing workshops, it might be a prompt about a local landmark and their first or strongest memory of that place. It’s amazing what comes from this and how much and how quickly we all learn about each other. The exercise also reveals where each person is at with their writing and their feelings about their writing.
Prompts are only that. Some students bend my prompts far out of shape. I don’t care.
A writing prompt is a catalyst not an English exam! ME
For clients I am helping with business copy, one of the most important things for me to discover is not only what their services are but what sparked them to go into this business. Yes, they want to make money but there is always a moment, often way back, that set them on this path. Discovering that answers many other questions and opens even more.
For a property agent, the question might be what was the third house you sold? As they answering that we will learn about other properties sold and what they learned.
For a trucking firm, it might be ‘what was the first truck you remember as a child?’
For me, it was a love of stories. In primary school, I read a book a day from the library in primary school and I wanted a job telling stories where no day would be the same = Journalist, my original career.
I’ve also been asked for recommendations for reading on storytelling.
Tristine Rainer’s Your Life As Story reveals that the arc of writing a novel is helpful for writing memoir and how the autobiographic process will open a memory chain reaction. She discusses The Nine Essential Elements of Story Structure. It is a brilliant list and a book I dip back into time and time again.
The other is Hegarty on Advertising. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful this book and how I turn to it every time I am working on a project that I fear, secretly, is beyond me.
Want to work together on one of those?
In reality, a brand only ever exists in the mind of consumers Hegarty.
And a brand exists in the stories we live and share.
P.S. What’s the brand story you remember best from your teens?
Simple writing structures 1
If I try to answer how to outline or structure a story or to give ideas for constraints on writing as exercises, it opens up so much in my mind. It’s like setting down my work of 20 years.
If writing for content marketing stick to one idea/thought per paragraph and decide which 1-3 points you want your story to say. Number one will be the main focus with sub-themes of 2 and 3.
How long would you like the post to be? Play with 200, 400, 600 or 1200 word. You need to test.
My rule is to write to the length a topic deserves or ideally a little less!
Constraints. Have some fun!!!
- Write a story that is 10 sentences of 10 words. Write a post that starts with a number on each sentence.
- Write a post in the style of Dr. Seuss by writing a story using a list of only 50 words. Write a post where a colo(u)r must feature in every sentence.
- Scribble for 10 solid minutes on a notepad sitting on a step in the sunshine and stop when time’s up.
I love constraints as they always take my ideas and writing where they would not otherwise go.
If you focus on the constraint, other inhibitions about your writing will fall away.
What structures and constraints do you use?
The topic of messaging is close to my heart having given my life to personalizing content and storytelling. I stand against anything that diminishes content; I embrace advances. Is RightMessage an advance? It can be an incredible advance.
Brennan Dunn and Shai Schechter are the founders of RightMessage. I met them both at the Double Your Freelancing Conference in Sweden last June, and on again soon.
This new software can personalize copy to every reader of your email campaign and websites. Changing copy in real time to suit every reader is invaluable. But it means original copy has to be sharper and clearer than ever so that it presents smoothly for the reader wherever they may be.
Content Teardown: RightMessage.io
I prepared a teardown (well, my own version) of the RightMessage website. Right messaging is essential for this product. The main areas I worked on :
- Where copy was waffly and old-fashioned.
- The impact of not personalizing needed sharpening (and needs more).
- It doesn’t need coding but it’s unclear how it works. i.e what do I need to know to use this? This needs personalizing!
Sell more by personalizing your website for every visitor.
Personalizing your website to your visitors’ unique needs is ‘critical’ to sales. That’s according to 94% of businesses we surveyed.
Yet most companies do little, or nothing, to personalize their website. They create a monoculture for the masses.
What do customers and prospects do when they experience a bland web environment? They click away and they don’t buy.
Messaging that seeks to reach everyone reaches no one. That’s right. No one!
So if personalizing the visitor experience is critical, why does it happen on so few websites?
Well, personalization is hard. Content management systems are inflexible. They offer no easy way to change the content depending on who’s looking. Until now!
If you wanted to personalize your company content in the past, you had to build your own system from scratch. Customizing your content to every type of visitor demanded a ton of writing.
According to Mark Yolton, Senior VP of Digital at Cisco, targeting just three types of buyers requires the creation of 30 times more content!
Let’s say you have five types of core customer that fall into three groups:
- Knowledgeable about your products
- Little knowledge of your products but an understanding of the problems they solve
- No knowledge of your products or why people need what you offer.
To reach all types and groups of customers with three levels of knowledge, you’d need to create 15 pieces of content. And with more than one page needed on your website, you could need at least 15x more content than you have now!
“Screw it. I don’t have the time for this.”
Little wonder companies that personalize content are the exception!
But if you accept this conclusion, you are saying it’s OK to lose out on sales. Seriously?! Is that really OK?
With RightMessage you can personalize your website — without coding!
Our software sits on top of your website’s template tailoring your content (copy and images) to each visitor, we take into account information the viewer’s browser shares with us such as:
- The website your visitor came from
- Interests based on the kind of content your viewers have engaged with before
- Subscriber data that you store in 3rd party apps.
Best of all, RightMessage needs no programming. It works with any content management system, and even if there is no CMS.
You simply point to the element you want to change, click the option you want to change, and tell us how you want it to change. That’s it!
RightMessage will never slow down your website. All personalization happens within your client’s browser. So even in the unlikely event our site goes down, yours stays up. The only difference to the end user is that general (bland!) copy will display until normal personalized service resumes.
Sell more by personalizing the experience visitors have on your website.
94% of surveyed businesses say that personalizing their website to suit each visitor’s unique needs is “critical” to success. But most companies do little to personalize the experience of their prospects and customers.
If personalizing a website visitor’s experience is so critical, why do so few companies invest in it?
The simple truth is that personalizing is hard. Content management systemsdon’t include a way to change the content loaded into the website depending on who’s looking, so companies that do personalize need to invest in building their own system from scratch.
Customizing your website to speak directly to each visitor often requires writing a ton of content. Mark Yolton, Senior VP of Digital at Cisco, said that trying to target just three types of buyers required Cisco to create 30x more material.
Let’s say you have 5 types of core customers. Each of these customers falls into 3 different groups: highly knowledgeable about your products; little knowledge about your products, but an understanding of the problems your products solve; or no knowledge of your products or why people need what you offer.
If you wanted to speak to each of these types of potential customers (5 types of customers, each with 3 levels of knowledge about your product) you’d end up needing to create 15 pieces of content. And since you have more than one page on your website, you’re looking at 15x more content than you have now!
“Screw it. This is hard. I don’t have the time or energy to personalize my content.”
Unfortunately, this is the conclusion a lot of companies have come to—and it’s why so few personalize.
But by accepting this conclusion, you force yourself to be OK with losing out on sales of your products. Why? Because people want content written for them, and if you’re speaking to everyone you’re speaking to no one. And when there’s a disconnect between what people want and what you tell them, you’re losing people and sales.
RightMessage allows you to personalize your website directly from the browser—no coding required.
Here’s what our software does:
It sits on top of your website’s template and dynamically tailors your content (copy, imagery, etc.) depending on who’s visiting. We take into account:
- Information the viewer’s browser shares with us (like what website they came from.)
- Interests based on the kind of content of yours the viewer has engaged with in the past.
- Subscriber data that you store in 3rd party apps.
Best of all, no programming is required and it works with any content management system (or lack thereof). Point on the element you want to change, tell us who you want it to change for, and tell us how you want it to change. That’s it.
And because RightMessage personalizes within the client’s browser, your site won’t slow down and if we were to go down, the end user wouldn’t notice anything (except that they’d be reading bland content written for a general audience.)
Copy Verdict: RightMessage.io promises an exciting future. Content personalization and how it might work is new so it needs to be explained clearly. The site left me with questions about how it works. Will RightMessage reduce your need for creating original content? As a writer who has spent three decades personalizing copy, I am saying no. Obviously!
People are perceptive. They responded to authentic stories and messaging specifically for you. Readers switch off copy that:
- Rambles on
- Is all about features and not benefits
- Is about a generalized user
- Is bland.
Good writing and editing were always the answer so software like Right Message puts even greater onus on us to script original and creative copy from the outset. We don’t want poor content going out to every viewer’s individual browser. Every piece of content, every story starts with empathy for your reader or end user.
This is where I help.
Image: RightMessage, Section 1 on Word Doc with Hemingway App edits. Yellow denotes somewhat difficult to read. Pink denotes very it is difficult to read. Blue shows adverbs and words that are not needed or could be omitted.
These edits are ‘amazing’ — the most common adjective I hear! I (show you how to) slice through the waffle to personalize copy for your readers. Let’s get ‘personalized’ together!.