I confess — I don’t write these posts on my own

Circled spelling mistakes in grade school paperI have a confession to make. I don’t write my blog posts on my own. I’m just not a good enough writer. And I’m even worse at proofreading.

That’s why I use Grammarly’s proofreading software because, with my luck, public would become pubic without its keen eye keeping me on the G-rated side of the tracks.

When I started in the business, every time we drafted anything, it immediately went to the proofers. Over the course of an ad’s creation or a brochure’s multiple drafts — the proofer was there at every turn, making sure we writers didn’t embarrass ourselves or our clients.

Think of Grammerly as a much less intrusive, less time-intensive insurance policy for today’s much faster paced world.

So much of the content we create is either live — tweets, Facebook updates, etc. or done on the fly like blog posts that we’d better have a back up plan. All you have to do is drag and drop your copy into the Grammerly editing window and voila — it catches all of your mistakes and even suggests alternatives.

Here are some of my other “try not to embarrass yourself Drew” writing/editing proofreading tips:

I read my posts out loud.  Some people suggest reading your content backwards, but I want to hear how it sounds so I know how the readers hear it in their head.

When possible, let it sit overnight. I’m always astonished and disappointed at all the errors I find when I go back the following day to something I’ve written.

Know your own bad habits. My brain moves faster than my fingers so many of my errors are just sloppy typing.  Maybe you struggle with then/than or to/too/two.  Whatever it is…watch for the repeat offenders.

Never forget to spellcheck. It’s fast and free. But don’t count on it to catch everything.

We create content to demonstrate our expertise and to encourage people to trust that we’re capable and qualified. Don’t let silly mistakes or sloppy writing undo your efforts.

Note:  The folks at Grammerly gave me a trial subscription to their software and asked me to test it out.  They invited me to write a blog post in exchange for a gift card.  I want you to know — I now choose to pay for a subscription because the tool is valuable and I wouldn’t be writing about it if that weren’t the case.

4 tips for writing a strong case study

Story Everyone loves a good story.  And there’s a reason why Aesop and others opted to teach their life lessons through stories that have been told and re-told for many years.

Case Studies are the marketing version of Aesop’s Fables. Stories told to make a point or teach a lesson that demonstrates the value of your product or service.  So how do create a good case study?

CS Tip #1:  Structure it like a story. Make sure there’s a logical flow.  Explain the problem (identify the villain).  Introduce your company/product (bring in the hero). Describe how the challenge was overcome (tell of the battle). Sum it up (give it a happy ending).

CS Tip #2: Include lots of details. Don’t just say, “We were losing customers.” Give specifics.  Our sales were down over 42%.  Be sure to give details in describing both the problem and the solution. If your client isn’t willing to let you use their company’s name and information, choose a different example. This isn’t the place to be generic or vague. Your credibility goes hand in hand with the level of disclosure.

CS Tip #3: Use quotes to give your case study its authenticity. Be careful not to dumb them down so they sound generic.

CS Tip #4: Make sure everyone signs off on it before it goes public.  The power of a case study is that it reveals an actual problem and its solution. Some businesses may be reticent to air their dirty laundry. Before you pitch your case study to a reporter or post it on your website, get everyone’s blessing.

Case studies are incredibly compelling when done right.  If you’re lucky, you’ll tell a story that people will tell over and over.

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Write so they will hear you

Tin can communication deviceMost people, when faced with the blank screen on their computer and a deadline for a new marketing piece looming, get a little uptight.

It’s intimidating to capture everything you want a prospect to know and share it in a compelling way. Your product or service is superb and you have so much to say — how will you do it justice?

Which is why most marketing copy is dreadful. Here are the most common mistakes:

  • We do a brain dump, sharing everything we know.
  • We want to demonstrate that we’re experts so we use impressive words and jargon that shows that we’re in the know.
  • We cram way too many words into the piece because it’s all important.
  • We talk about our company, our product, and our people…but not about the customer.

If you make even one of those mistakes, odds are your prospect is taking a glance at your first two or three sentences and then moving on. You haven’t invited them into the conversation – you’re just talking about you.

Remember, you are trying to start a conversation. Who would you rather talk to – someone who walks up to you and asks a question about you or a person who walks up and starts telling you all about them?

So how do we avoid those mistakes?  We can ask ourselves these questions.

How do they talk?
I can have the best deal in the world, but if I tell you about it in Japanese and you don’t speak Japanese – you can’t possibly want what I am selling.

You need to know your prospect well enough that you know how they talk.

  • Are they engineers who use very precise, detailed language and acronyms?
  • Are they teachers who speak about their students with affection and pride?
  • Are they purchasing agents who need to squeeze every penny from the deal and deliver the highest ROI possible?

Understanding the language they use and how they’re going to have to sell your offering up/down the food chain, will allow you to craft your message in their native tongue.

Your prospects are busy and won’t take the time to translate your marketing messages. If they don’t instantly understand it and see that you’re talking to them, they’ll pass it by every time.

Do they know they need you?
No one wants to buy something they don’t need or want. That sounds like a duh, but many times businesses try to sell solutions to a client who doesn’t realize they have a problem.

Often, we just go right to the solution without even mentioning the problem. Let’s say that I want to sell my home in the next 12 months. You own a landscape business and send me information about how good your work is, showing me pictures of gorgeous yards, etc.

But I dismiss it, because I’m not going to live in my house much longer so why spend money on something I won’t get to enjoy?

You’ve lost the sale, because I don’t know I need you. But if one of your marketing pieces was titled “5 landscaping tricks to sell your house faster” now you have my attention.

If the first line of body copy told me that 34% of buyers passed on at least one home because the landscaping was disappointing – you have just converted a “no” into an interested prospect.
Now you have my attention.

By paying attention to these two elements – you can effectively avoid all four of the mistakes I mentioned.

You’ll speak in their language and only talk about what matters to them – their problems and how you can solve them.

 

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Content that your audience loves

I saw this on Scott Monty’s Facebook status…and loved it.  I couldn’t track down the creator but if I do, I’ll update the post.

Just wanted to give you something to chew on over the weekend.

Start with Why

One of the 20 most watched TED talks of 2010 was given by Simon Sinek and speaks directly to anyone who is trying to market or sell something. Sinek’s premise is simple.

Always start with why.

Sinek began his adult life as a student of anthropology. His fascination with people led him to a career in advertising and he found himself combining his chosen work with his earlier studies to try and understand what motivated people.

All of that pondering led to his book Start With Why*, his focus on how leaders motivate companies and customers and his famous TED talk.

His findings are very applicable to us as we market our products and services.

In the vast majority of marketing today, the lion’s share of the language and imagery we use is self-focused. We talk about ourselves, our products, our services and our organizations. When we don’t think that is enough, we dissect even deeper, breaking down the facts into bullet pointed lists of features that detail and justify the claims we make.

It’s not that anything we are saying is inaccurate. In most cases, it’s spot on. But we are blathering on about facts and figures. That’s the what. We know that people buy base don emotions and justify that purchase with the facts…but all too often we just feed them the justification with first holding up the emotion.

We rarely get into the why of something.

The why of something inspires. It makes a consumer want to believe in you. It leads them to want to give your product a try. It makes them feel as though you’re on the same team.

I’ll give you an example. I never really paid much attention to which brand of dishwashing soap was on my sink. My theory was – they’re all pretty much the same so I’ll buy whichever is the cheapest. I’ve probably seen hundreds of commercials for dishwashing soap over the course of my adult life. But they all talked about how well they cleaned dishes. The facts. And it all sounded pretty much the same to me, so not one of them stuck in terms of brand loyalty or preference.

But when Dawn started showing the commercials of the oil spill rescue workers using donated Dawn to clean up the wildlife covered with oil – all of a sudden, we had a common why. We love animals.

Did you see what happened? It went from them and me to we. And now, when I go to buy dishwashing soap, I don’t think about getting clean dishes. I think about ducks covered with oil and how Dawn is going to make a donation if I buy their product.

All the other dish soaps are still talking to me about removing grease or their aromatherapy scents. They’re talking what. And they are talking to me. But Dawn talks about how we are going to protect and care for the world’s wildlife.

You don’t have to align yourself with a cause move from what to why. You just have to re-frame the way you think about and talk about what it is you market.

This gets back to a question we asked a few months ago. What do you really sell? If your answer is your product or service – you’re in trouble. Whether it’s insurance, a boat or a complicated piece of equipment – you’re a commodity. Someone else out there does (or will do) what you do.

Harley Davidson creating a community of bikers that rule the road, have plenty of attitude and join together at rallies, rides and for causes. People don’t buy their motorcycles. They buy being a part of the Harley community.

You need to find your why and own it.

*Affiliate lnk
Photo courtesy of BigStockPhoto
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Find newsletter content in a flash

Drew’s note:  Here’s a guest post by Patrick Carver on a relevant topic — how do you create and sustain the creation of an enewsletter.

Don’t you just hate writing newsletters?  We all know the feeling. It’s Saturday afternoon and you realize the company newsletter is due to go out on Monday.  You can feel the blood start to boil when you remember how long it ACTUALLY takes to write all that content.  Don’t you just wish your newsletter would just write itself?

A great option is creating a ‘hybrid’ newsletter using a mix of original and curated content. Curation is a fancy name for finding relevant content (articles, videos, white papers, etc.), qualifying it, and then sharing it with your audience.

Using curated material is a great way to complement your own message and save a lot of time ‘thinking of what to say’.  You can use the outside content as a jumping-off point and establish yourself as a thought leader in your niche at the same time.

The first place to look for free content is through one of the these tools.  Google Reader let’s you add your favorite websites to a list and then view all their most recent posts in one place. A great way to monitor your sites without having to bounce around.  Google Alerts is another free tool that lets you add specific keywords to a list and then will email once a day with relevant links and stories.

There are a handful of social bookmarking sites out there like DeliciousReddit, and Digg  that will help you find material but these aren’t always terribly useful.  Without a human curation element, there is way too much automated/aggregated content on there to really find what you’re looking for.

One of the best options for finding free content is using a ‘personal newspaper’ service.  The gist is that you add some topics that you’re interested in and then the software produces a personalized digest of the ‘best’ stories on that subject for you.  Some of the more popular products are paper.liscoop.it , and Flipboard  but there are lots of these sites out there.  AllTop  is a great resource that will list all of the relevant blogs on a topic and display their latest 5 posts.

Now you just have to incorporate all that great content with your newsletter template. People often use an email marketing tool like Constant Contact, MailChimp or InfusionSoft for this. But, if you don’t like messing around with templates, you might consider trying FlashIssue  (it’s Free).

Newsletters can be a lot of work but it’s definitely worth the effort.  Don’t get deterred if your first try doesn’t come out amazing and go viral.  Stick with a core theme but experiment as much possible with different story-lines until you find something that really sticks.  If you can figure out how to speak to your customers in a way that makes them want to listen, you’re on to something big.

Patrick Carver is the Director of Marketing for FlashIssue, the newsletter solution.  You can follow him @FlashIssue or read more of his stuff on the FlashIssue Blog.

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