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Marketing consultant Helen Hammond explains that attracting customers online starts with talking to potential clients like real people…
I’m going to nail my colours to the mast. If you aren’t prepared to invest in great website copy then you might as well not bother. Yes, the design and functionality of your website are important… but if you don’t consider presenting what people want to hear in a way that works for them, then your beautiful website will be like buying a Ferrari that has a Smart Car engine in it.
I write a lot of website copy and the same problem comes up all the time. Managers are more interested in talking about expertise, services and values than in thinking about what the reader wants to read. Most ‘buyers’ take it as read that a lawyer knows the law, or a car salesroom sells cars. But what they don’t know is whether they like those people, trust them and ‘get’ their organisational culture. Yet, those are the elements on which buying decisions are made. Great website copy triggers these buying decisions rather than just confirming the things the reader already takes for granted.
In the majority of cases, however, I’m asked to embody values put down by the management, not by their consumers, and include trade directory endorsements out of preference to customer testimonials. The real test, however, is when you remove a logo from a website. If you did this, how many companies would you be able to identify from genuinely unique copywriting?
Great web copy talks to real people. Words have the power to put as much personality across as your visual branding does. To get your copy right, start by thinking about what triggers decision-making for your customers and clients. What values do they look for when making buying decisions? Then look online through sites of businesses in your sector for examples that present themselves well.
And, rather than simply checking out similar businesses, take a look at brands such as Tyrells crisps, Innocent Drinks, Bighams, Bensons fruit juice or Graze. They may all be food brands but just look at how they talk to specific types of customer in their own language. These businesses use words to build real trust and loyalty. Importantly, they all have distinctive personalities. Writing great web copy is as much about being brave and confident as it is about delivering information.
Helen Hammond, Elephant Creative Solutions
OK, so obviously I don’t think marketing is a load of rubbish. But, I understand why so many people do. Especially small business owners, sales people, and our colleagues in finance. It’s because marketing people insist on speaking in their own language. Which is ironic, given that, as marketers, we are meant to be the masters of communication.
Imagine going into a meeting and saying something along the lines of… “We’ve nailed a really great concept, I’m totally loving the big idea, I reckon this campaign will go viral, generating excellent word-of-mouth amongst our advocates. I’m really looking forward to tracking the buzz metrics.”
Those of you who are up to your eyes in the latest “marketing thinking” day-in, day-out might think that sounds great but many more will roll your eyes in dismay.
But, what’s for sure is that most business people will have heard something like… “I’ve just spent a load of money with hand-waving creative types doing something that I think is fun, but that will generate little but hot air.”
The problem isn’t confined to marketing. It’s in any expert discipline or established community. Business disciplines, like IT, law, marketing, finance, operations and human resources all have their own jargon. It’s worth taking a moment to consider whether the people you’re talking to actually understand a word you’re saying. If not, think again. Find someone outside your area to give you some honest feedback — do your words sound like gobbledygook to them?
The message is — always consider the language your business is using because what you mean to say is not always what people hear. I’m not completely anti-jargon, but I do advise you to handle it with care.
A viral email marketing campaign uses word-of-mouth to increase awareness of a product, service or concept. The value of such a campaign lies in connecting with the right people and offering relevant content that motivates them to take action. This is done by grabbing their attention through social media channels and prompting them to forward your message.
According to EmailStatCenter: “20 per cent of Facebook, MySpace and/or Twitter users have posted or shared something from permission email to their social account(s) via a "share" option.”
Like a real virus, a campaign starts out as a single entity and uses its host and their resources to grow, replicate and double with each interaction. An individual will receive a message, which they then pass on to friends using relevant sharing tools prominently displayed in the email. These friends trust the person that sent the email so it’s more likely to get opened. They in turn do the same thing and so forth. Before you know it, the message has gone viral!
So what can you do to ensure a successful campaign?
1. Make it unique. What makes you respond to an email and take action? Is it because it’s unique, makes you laugh or inspires you? You want your campaign to have a similar effect, so try applying these reactions to your message.
2. Send to a select audience. Don’t email your campaign to everyone; you’ll look like a spammer. Rather, target those who generally respond positively to your regular campaigns. Also remember that the only way you can effectively track your email is if they use the “share” tools in the body of the message to forward it, so let them know this is how they need to go about it.
3. Offer a valuable reward. Think along the lines of a free report, white paper or even a coupon. Just ensure you’re able to deliver on your promise in good time, or you run the risk of your company getting bad-mouthed — virally.
4. Optimise your message format. It’s a good idea to have an HTML and text option that’s optimised for people who open their email on a mobile device. An eConsultancy article states that more than 20 per cent of people now do this.
5. Corporate identity. Make sure your branding, logo, website and contact details are all clearly visible. Without this, no one can identify who started the campaign, so what’s the point?
6. A call to action. This is a vital feature. Tell your customers explicitly what they need to do and how to do it. It could be along the lines of “forward to a friend now”, or “share on your social network”. Many campaigns fail because they don’t include a call to action. Don’t be one of them.
Georgia Christian is the editor of the online email marketing service Mail Blaze.
How do you market the unmarketable?
Take crime. Ever wondered how important crime is to the economy and your livelihood? How would you market the benefits of crime? Think it can’t be done?
Imagine a world without theft, criminal damage, murder, or student riots. We'd have no need for the courts, police, lawyers, security guards, prisons, prison vans, the probation service, graffiti removers or witness protection. Think of the job losses. The insurance industry would be decimated, we'd have much less use for our hospitals, window and door locks, or car trackers, and you wouldn't want to be in the house alarm or CCTV game would you?
Whole industries like speed cameras and nightclub bouncers would disappear overnight. The knock-on impacts would include major drops in the demand for vehicles, petrol, handcuffs and keys. Less petrol means less tax raised, which might mean even higher VAT. The lack of available bad news would render much of Fleet Street redundant and newspapers would almost certainly go to the wall. No Scotland Yard, no MI5, and no MI6. Not even car clampers or tax inspectors would be needed. No part of society would be left unscathed by the lack of crime.
Think about it this way and you realise how poor the criminal fraternity is at marketing the benefits their industry offers. There’s no equivalent to the Banking Association’s Angela Knight out there combating the bad press by talking up the wider benefit of crimes. Criminals don’t make the most of the positive promotion they receive on film and television through the endless detective stories from Sherlock to CSI.
So how would you market the positives of crime? How about a ticking clock on the fourth pillar in Trafalgar Square which counts its positive contribution to GDP every second? What about highlighting what would otherwise be truly horrendous crime-free unemployment statistics by sponsoring the sides of police cars? What about sponsoring the news….after all most of it is about crime anyway- “Tonight’s news is brought to you by you al-Qaeda, global sponsors of hospital and construction jobs”
The point here is that every business has a positive impact somewhere for someone, and in truth we are all guilty of assuming customers will realise it without it being made clear to them. So many benefits are hidden from the customer because of lazy marketing. In promoting your message it’s important to dig deep into what’s special about what you do and tell people about it.
This is so much more the case in these austere competitive times, times for which marketing was really made. So, rather than cut spend back to save cash, you should be investing in interesting dialogue with your customers who are, after all, the font of all of your profits. Business only really has two functions, innovation and marketing, the rest is supporting detail.
Alex Pratt OBE is founder of www.seriousreaders.com and author of Austerity Business: 39 Tips for doing More with Less.
When we talk about the business use of social media, we tend to make a few distinctions. The first is that some social marketing channels are better for talking to consumers (Twitter and Facebook) and that others are better for networking with businesses (LinkedIn, Ecademy).
Then we talk about engagement (having conversations, basically) and broadcasting (pushing out a message). Social media types generally view broadcasting as a no-no. But there’s a place for it. YouTube straddles the divide between the two - it’s a broadcast that encourages interaction via comments, shares and simply embedding the video in your own site. YouTube is great and video works really well as a promotional tool. But we’re very aware that not so many small businesses have the confidence, the time or the technical skills to make a video.
So what other options are there? There’s podcasting, but the same caveats apply. This week I’ve been taking a look at something that does pretty much the same as YouTube, but using software that many business owners will already be familiar with. If you’ve ever used PowerPoint to create a sales presentation, you can use SlideShare to broadcast it to the world. SlideShare is basically the YouTube of PowerPoint. You create a presentation, download it and share the link. Other people can view it, comment on it, embed it in their own site.
Presentations may not necessarily be as immediate as videos, but think about it: how much more convenient is this than emailing a great big file to lots of people over and over? And what about the opportunity to pick up ‘floating’ prospects who just happen to be browsing in a related topic area?
So what can you use it for? Well, most people seem to use it to talk about the service they provide (there are a lot of consultants touting their expertise), particularly in social media; some people are using it to preview longer publications; some people are using it to present statistics or arguments; yet others are using SlideShare as a basic product catalogue. Personally, I think simple step-by-step guides work well and can be helpful to businesses selling products that require a degree of technical skill (being a cyclist, I rather like this one on fitting a bike tyre).
Much like YouTube, the quality of presentations is variable and they range from the trivial to the profound. But it’s fun looking at things and you might just find a useful outlet here for your own business. If you do, the same rules apply as for a presentation to an audience: be clear, be simple, illustrate your point well and don’t use loads of text, like these guys.
Anyway, the reason I was looking at SlideShare is because I’ve been reviewing some content produced by one of our sponsors, business software company SAGE. I’ve been looking specifically for material that is of use to small business owners - ie, not pushing product, but sharing knowledge. Frankly, this is something not many FTSE 100 businesses do, but Sage are a bit more savvy with their social media use than a lot of other big firms. I came across this SlideShare presentation - I like the way it intersperses the more general observations with specific tips about using social media in your business. Equally smart is that when you think of Sage, you don’t think social media - but that’s how oblique modern marketing is.
I’d be keen to hear what you think about SlideShare and whether we should produce a guide to using it effectively. I’d also like to know what type of content you like to read generally - maybe you subscribe to an e-newsletter, read a blog or always click the links from a particular business Twitter account? Post your thoughts or a link to your favourite content and we’ll make sure we look at what’s interesting to you and your business.
Packing your site with valuable content is the best way to showcase your operation – and case studies are the kings of valuable content. Demonstrating how you add value, case studies bring your website to life, and will always be clicked on by prospective buyers.
There’s an art to creating good ones – here are my tips for writing case studies that sell.
Set aside proper time to interview the client at a time that suits them. Set the agenda. Have your questions ready. Record the conversation so you have time to listen properly without scribbling like a maniac. Give the client time to say other things that might not be on your agenda. Keep asking “why?”. This can be a hugely valuable process, and you can learn a lot about what it’s like to work with you.
If the idea of this makes you uncomfortable, ask someone else to conduct the interview for you. People often find it easier to talk to a third party, so this approach has other advantages too.
Case studies are the heavy-weight proof of your expertise, but don’t treat them too reverentially. You want people to read them. So apply the usual rules of smart business writing and grab attention with a headline — don’t say “Monetizing the Web Operations of AN Company: A Case Study” — say “Profits doubled in three months — here’s how”.
Your case study is your chance to show precisely how you add value, so explain it in lovely plain language.
In the real world, projects can be fairly rambling affairs. The parameters change, people change roles, life happens. The project had a bit of a hiccup in the third month when Jane from HR went on maternity leave… But for the purposes of the case study, keep to the brief. Your aim is to show how you moved your client from A to B. Show your focus.
Use your client’s words. Speech lifts a piece of writing and makes it much lighter to read. More importantly, it adds real credibility. It’s show not tell. An advantage of getting someone else to write your case studies is it makes that harvesting of this kind of valuable information much easier. Tell me again, how great am I?
As well as using speech, use bullet points to highlight your points. Keep the busy web reader in mind and make it really easy for people to read.
Make it clear and unambiguous. How your help raised the bottom line. It’s the most important bit. Don’t let your case study dribble away at the end. End on a high.
Put your case studies up at the front of your website. Too often companies stack them at the back of their site, like dusty old volumes on the top shelf of a library. Make them grabby and appealing and stick them in the waiting room. Think glossy mag not the Encylopedia Brittanica.