In a digital world, your greatest marketer is no longer you. Rather, it is the community of customers, prospects, suppliers, partners and industry experts who engage with your business. They share links, give you mentions and, in turn, prompt others to engage with your business.
In other words, marketing today is no longer a means to an end; it is an end in itself. Effective marketing provides value, regardless of whether someone purchases from you or not.
Content is a major mechanism for providing that value for prospects and customers. It can come in all sorts of guises — competitions, top tips, games, insights, white papers, videos, articles, podcasts and more. However, the common theme is that it should provide value for the audience regardless of whether they make a purchase or not.
Ultimately though, a commercial business requires marketing to lead to purchasing somewhere down the line. The logic is simple — the more people who are engaged with your business, the more attention you will have in the marketplace. So, when people are looking to purchase, this visibility should lead to your company being one of the suppliers considered.
If your value proposition and the other aspects of your offering are attractive, this should lead to business. Moreover, in the digital world, if it is clickable it is trackable. Therefore, businesses can be tracking all the data to ascertain what marketing is effective and what is not. In this way, an organisation can be constantly striving to improve results.
So far so good; but is there more a company should be doing? The short answer is... yes.
In most markets, prospects use information to learn about the different products and services available, latest trends, the experiences of others and so on. Your business should be providing content of real value — insightful, educational and which prospects will share, not overtly promotional.
You can use this material to create competitive advantage when the moment to choose a supplier occurs. Content can influence how a buyer thinks about a product or service — use yours to emphasise the importance of the particular criteria that differentiates your business from your rivals.
Of course, different criteria will appeal to different buyers — which is why there is often room for a number of suppliers in any particular market.
Criteria of purchase is vital in deciding the supplier a customer will eventually choose. It is the ability to influence the criteria of purchase, while at the same time providing real insight and value, which gives every business an opportunity to tip the scales in its favour when a buyer is making a purchasing decision.
This is an aspect of content marketing too often ignored by businesses. So, ask yourself, how effective is your content marketing? Could you make it better?
Most of us are pretty clear about the importance of design when brand building, but we are often less sure about which words to choose to bring our brands to life.
But every time you put pen to paper you either engage or disengage your customers. Words matter and brands that tell their stories as well as showing them win hands down. Successful brands like Apple and Volkswagen match the words to the visuals to create a strong voice.
Twitter, instant messaging, texts, online chat — they’re all proof of the power of words. How many times have we heard about people forming long distance relationships online, with only words at their disposal?
And think of how much information we find on the web before purchasing just about anything nowadays. Reviews, descriptions, listings and websites all contribute to our decisions to buy.
Finally, assess your writing capabilities honestly and if writing isn’t your thing, get help. You can keep costs down by doing as much groundwork as possible, putting all the content together in one document. Most copywriters charge by the hour.
I read the 2014 Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index with interest. Its findings broadly corroborate our own research conducted at the London Business Show into SMEs’ attitudes to online marketing — although the Browser Media survey found that most small firms do in fact have websites, compared to the 50% in the Lloyds study.
However, both reports found that SMEs generally have a laissez-faire attitude to digital marketing. Many small businesses build their website and sit back and wait for clients to arrive, instead of actively promoting themselves online.
It’s not that SMEs think their website is working for them — many admit to being unhappy with their Google rankings and online presence — but they aren’t investing in marketing to improve the situation.
I initially thought this was a financial issue and still believe that’s a big part of the problem. Any small business will tell you they have to cut their cloth according to their means and can’t invest in everything on their wish list.
However, I also think there may be a certain “Britishness” behind these attitudes as well. Many small businesses start up because the owner has already worked in a particular field or has a particular personal interest. Either way, the business tends to focus on a small group of prospects at first; and, let’s face it, promoting yourself is just not a very British thing to do.
Our research also found that those companies that were using an external agency for digital marketing were happier with the results than those who were undertaking this in-house. This may be partly because the external agencies have more expertise but it is also much easier to market someone else than market yourself.
We also looked at SMEs’ understanding of various marketing disciplines: most had heard of social media marketing and email marketing but few were aware of content or inbound marketing (although more were familiar with the related field of SEO).
In fact, small businesses can really make an impact with content and inbound marketing as they’ve usually got a lot of niche expertise. Building up a loyal customer base by providing useful content is an excellent way to create a long-term business.
If you’re a small business, don’t make the mistake that other SMEs may be making of sitting back and admiring your shiny new website — use content as an online megaphone and spread the word about your business to the digital universe. If recent survey findings are anything to go by, you’ll already be one step ahead of the competition.
Ali Cort is the PR director at digital marketing agency, Browser Media.
It’s good to be able to vary your copy style — different styles for different tasks.
Deep level service pages or white papers, for example, are a place where people will be looking for detail, and will expect to find copy that lays out your process or explains the nitty gritty of how your products work.
Your home page and blogs, however, are a different matter. Here you’re after copy that grabs people quickly, and packs a real punch.
So how do you do that?
The quickest way to pack a punch with your copy is to address the reader directly. Putting “you” into whatever you’re writing is your short circuit to making a connection. How do you feel about that? More connected, I’ll bet than if I had written how does the person reading this feel about that?
Direct from me to you is the shortest way to hit home fast. Imagine your ideal reader, and forget about everything else, just write it to them.
Short sentences are another way to keep people moving so quickly through the copy in a way that doesn’t feel like a long hard read. Keep sentences short. That way people won’t drift off. They’ll stick with you.
Of course not every sentence needs to be super short. You want to pack a punch, not make the reader feel under fire. So vary the sentence length sometimes, so it feels conversational, but not like gunfire.
Active verbs make writing punchier. Seeing, running, jumping are all pacier than saw, ran or jumped. Similarly cutting out unnecessary “wills” and “cans” make your writing more direct. So don’t say, we can deliver solutions. Say, we deliver solutions. (Except avoid the word solutions at all costs. Find some real words that describe things people can picture instead).
Metaphors and analogies can help pack power into your writing. I could tell you that last night in an Aberdeen hotel surprised me, because there seemed to be no women anywhere, except those working as waitresses, and that all the men seemed to be sizing each other up, and you might get the picture. If I told you it was like the Wild West, you’d get a quicker and sharper image of the place, and that picture will stay with you for longer. Metaphors add colour and vision to whatever you’re writing.
To summarise, the key to writing copy that packs a punch is to make it resonate with the reader. Put them at the heart of whatever you’re writing, keep the writing pacey and colourful, and get creative with your comparisons. It will knock them out!
Keeping your website updated is important for encouraging traffic that brings in business. If your team has got in the habit of adding to the business website regularly, you’re on the right track. A website that’s continually updated will pull better results from search engines and it demonstrates to customers that your business is doing well.
It’s also worth trying to come up with “evergreen” content. Evergreen content doesn’t become outdated or irrelevant. Rather, it always reads and appears as relevant whether it’s viewed the day you upload it or three years later. While all content that’s fresh and enticing doesn’t have to be evergreen, this kind of long-life content is very useful.
Blog about new products, share a tutorial with your subscribers or write about what’s going on in your business. It’s not necessary to blog daily, but add one or two blog posts per week to keep visitors coming back for more.
What are people talking about in your industry? Is there an event coming up or a new product launch? Fresh content includes news that’s current. To keep it evergreen, use dates instead of time frames. For example, say “on May 29th, 2014” instead of “in a few weeks”.
Current client testimonials show potential customers that your business is thriving and clients are happy with your services or products. Seek testimonials from satisfied customers, add them to a specific page and intersperse them amongst relevant product or service information. One of the best ways to convert a would-be customer is to provide them with previous customer reviews.
Know your customers and subscribers to provide content that is relevant and enticing. If you understand your demographics, you’ll be able to focus on your niche market to cater to the specific needs, personalities and interests of your customer base.
Update your readers on past stories or news items, especially if they elicited a large number of “likes” or shares. There’s nothing wrong with flying on the coat-tails of a previously popular post if you have a fresh update to add.
Tap into the interest in current events — national or local — through your blog; and promote products and services that customers would find useful in relation to those events.
All the fresh content tips in the world won’t amount to anything if they’re being applied to a website that is clunky to navigate and unpleasant to look at. Before adding a blog to your business website or hiring a professional writer to create content, ensure that your website is attractive to viewers and easy to use. Avoid cramming too much onto one page or overwhelming the viewer’s senses with music or flashing pictures. Keep your website clean so viewers can easily focus on the fresh content you’ve created for them.
Mary Ylisela is part of the writing team at TouchpointDigital.co.uk.