The golden rules of writing apply whether you are writing a novel or a blog. Your purpose should be to get the reader’s attention and keep it. You want them to go away with a clear understanding of your core message and ideally, be so impressed that they spread the word about what you’ve said.
The recent death of crime writer Elmore Leonard — known as the writer’s writer — has put the spotlight on his significant contribution to the world of fiction and film. His 45 novels — he was writing his 46th when he died — include many titles made familiar on the big screen, such as Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Rum Punch (which was filmed as Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino).
Leonard shared his golden rules in an essay on writing. George Orwell did the same. Stephen King wrote a brilliant book called On Writing. So what can these great fiction writers teach us about writing marketing copy?
Elmore Leonard said “never open a book with weather”. In other words, avoid unnecessary scene-setting. So if you are writing a blog, make a bold statement at the top and then expand on it and back it up. On your website, highlight what you offer before you go into the history of your firm.
It’s good practice to wait before you send or publish something online. Read your writing back a few hours later and delete anything that deviates from your main message.
George Orwell said: “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” These are wise words.
Leonard, King and Orwell also agree — adverbs are the work of the devil and dialogue should always carry the word “said”. In the world of fiction, that means avoiding phrases such as “he admonished gravely”.
What can this teach us about copywriting? Use simple language to make your points clearly. Short sentences are better than long ones. The simplest words are the most powerful. Verbal trickery is a distraction.
Leonard said: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.” And, for good measure, he added: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip”.
Stephen King put it another way. He said: “Kill your darlings”.
It’s tempting, when you are writing a blog or white paper, to include all your knowledge and expertise. There’s so much you want to say. One way to avoid unnecessary rambling, is to think of your blog or white paper as a story and cut out anything that detracts from the plot.
Leonard said: “Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." He also said: “Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.”
Orwell said: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
The message is clear — avoid clichés and jargon. Cliches cause readers to disengage. They skim over these familiar but ultimately meaningless phrases and before you know it, you’ve lost them.
Jargon is another no-no. Sure, every industry has its acronyms and technical terms. But make life easier on your readers. No matter how clued up they are, write in plain English. And don’t forget, your in-house terminology may not be at all familiar to your customers.
Leonard said: “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”
You’re not writing an epic novel — so I would avoid exclamation marks altogether. They are a clumsy way to flag up a joke or any strong statement. It’s a bit like saying “ta da” after you’ve spoken. F Scott Fitzgerald said it was like laughing at your own joke. According to the BBC, there's a word for it — bangorrhea.
Above all, exclamation marks distract the reader. The same goes for the practice of adding quote marks to "unusual words" — much better to change the words and drop the quote marks. Similarly, avoid capitals as much as you can. Giving Some Phrases Initial Capitals is another major distraction for readers.
Happily for anyone that writes marketing and sales copy online, there are lots of additional ways to make your messages stand out — ways that novelists may not use.
Headings, sub-headings and bullet points attract readers and allow them to find their way around your writing. Summaries, handy hints, useful links, images and infographics support your messages. And social media, SEO and email give your writing rocket fuel to reach the widest possible audience.
Content marketing has become so powerful today that you can’t afford to miss a trick.
As if the process of devising an effective online marketing plan is not hard enough, small businesses also have to come up with creative approaches that will capture the attention of their target market.
Design matters — whether it’s for a website, a blog, a newsletter or a social media page. You need to use the best possible approach to ensure you get results online.
Split testing — also known as A/B testing — is a crucial part of this process. Without it, it is impossible for you to achieve an optimum online presence. If you are a small business owner and you want to effectively reach out to your consumers online, then you should use split testing to create the best online designs.
Split testing is the process of developing multiple designs and using them alternately to determine which one is more effective. Marketers aiming for the highest possible conversion rates on their websites and blogs commonly use this practice. It can determine which design works better in selling a product, generating leads, and channelling and maintaining a website’s traffic.
Above all, it’s important because it allows business owners to learn about their market’s online behaviour and taste. Pin down which creative look, design, and approach works with your market to help you sell your products and services. Split testing is the single most effective way to find out how to get potential customers and clients to convert.
Here are some of the most effective split testing tools that you can use for your business.
Google Website Optimizer: To optimize your site, you need to develop alternate versions of your webpage and determine which one works better. Along with a conversion URL, you need to submit these pages to Google through the Google Website Optimizer. This powerful and simple tool will help you put together an optimized site free of charge.
Split Testing Pro: This desktop-based application combines all the possible tools that you need in order to test multiple versions of your website or blog. In exchange for a low-cost monthly subscription, you will be able to run multiple versions of your online marketing platforms and determine which ones will give you the conversion rate that you need.
Optimizely: Optimizely is a web-based application that copies web pages from a given URL and substitutes different variations for the script used for each one of them. After that, users are granted access to variations through an in-browser editor. Display features can get a little messed up after the substitutions, but you will be able to use this app to come up with the best copies and scripts for conversion.
There are some guidelines that you should keep in mind as you use split testing to improve the conversion rate of your blog or website.
Some people respond better to text, while others respond best to visual images. In the process of creating a high-conversion website or newsletter, split test text-heavy studies against image-heavy designs. Doing so will help you determine which text-to-image ratio will work best for your website.
While there are certain opt-in processes that are too complicated to squeeze into a single page, there are some that can sit perfectly in a single web page. For the best possible conversion rate, you have to find out whether a multiple-page opt in process works better for your consumers or whether they will respond best to one-page opt-in schemes.
If you are selling a particular product, you need to determine whether adding an image will be beneficial and which product shot will do the best job in inviting potential customers to convert. Test multiple product shots and find out which one will appeal to your market best.
Split testing can be a time consuming. However, it will pay off in the end, helping you achieve the best conversion rates. The power of effective social media marketing design is phenomenal and through using split testing you can achieve the best results possible.
Olivia Rose blogs about business and uses split testing and multivariate data analysis to conduct effective online marketing.
Having worked in B2B marketing for about 15 years for vendors and large agencies alike, about three years ago I decided to focus solely on the start-up world. Here are a few hints and tips for those thinking any business that needs to plan their start-up marketing.
As a start-up, your marketing plan has to be short both in length and in time frame. One thing you don’t have is time. At most, you are working to a six month plan — but get used to working in six week blocks. Things can change so fast you can’t let a hefty plan trap you. A strategic “pivot” can make your well thought-out plans totally redundant and you have to respond to that quick and effectively.
I had an old boss whose mantra was “results not excuses”. This is the case with start-up marketing. You have to think in terms of results; hits on the website, click-throughs, downloads, beta trialists, followers, cost of customer acquisition, open rates, views and so on. If it can’t be measured, don’t do it, even if your gut tells you it’s a good idea. If it can, the metrics must be meaningful to anyone investing in the business. All the VCs/angels want to know about is will this make money, not whether your marketing is world-beating.
When a start-up secures funding there is a tendency for the marketing part of the business to rub its hands with glee and get hiring; digital agencies, branding agencies, PR agencies. My advice: don’t, unless they can deliver quickly and are happy to work on a part pay-by-results model. Otherwise your time is wasted in endless meetings when it should be spent on delivering results. Besides, sometimes it is quicker to do it yourself than delegate to others.
You need to be really clear what the top priorities are. If the start-up is looking for investors, PR and profile-raising will be key; if it is looking for prospects, then direct marketing, lead generation, telemarketing and events will be crucial.
Whatever the priority is, you are going you have to keep the business objectives top of mind at all times. My advice: pick three or four key goals and go deliver on them, there is only one of you — sorry big marketing teams are the preserve of the well-established vendors — only so many hours in a day and only so much you can do. One final point to ponder — get used to the idea of doing everything from strategy to stapling, nothing should be beneath you. If it is, you are in the wrong place.
Don’t be seduced by marketing automation, lead nurturing and marketing software that can deliver incredible results. For a start-up, in some cases using these solutions can be akin to driving a Ferrari around to do your local grocery shopping. You have to get customers, partners and prospects moving up the funnel fast and the focus has got be to on getting to the decision-maker directly.
If you know them, great, if not use your network. LinkedIn and Google+ are priceless here to make things happen fast. Don’t think “it’s down to the sales guy”, he/she can come in to do the negotiations. In the first instance they will look at you and say “where are my leads?” and you need to have the answer before the question is asked.
With every start-up there is an end point; either it’s securing more funding, a trade sale or even an IPO (less fashionable these days but still an option), and yes there is the other real prospect that the venture fails (although from my experience you learn lots from failure however unpleasant at the time).
As a marketer you must have these scenarios in your sights. For the disaster fold scenario, make sure your internal comms is handled properly and that suppliers and customers are treated in the right way. As one of my old bosses used to say, “be nice to the people on the way up as you might meet them on the way down”.
For an IPO there is a lot of investor and regulatory work to do and for a trade sale your communications have to be perfect as well as the integration plan. Whatever the outcome, one thing’s for sure — start-up marketing is never dull.
Marc Duke is a marketing consultant.
Communication is so important for businesses to succeed. Imagine a world without order confirmations, delivery updates or any acknowledgement you even exist. We’d be forever wondering if we did actually buy those skinny-fit trousers in coral red and if they’ll even arrive tomorrow, or perhaps, next Thursday. The thing is, the better the communication, the better your customers feel about your brand.
Organising an event can be really exciting. However, it can be quite nerve-racking wondering if anyone will show or if the canapés will be delivered in time. Your company’s image can be mistakenly forgotten.
Pre-event communication can have a serious boost to attendance whilst showcasing your excellent customer service. Let me show you how SMS text messages can significantly increase your engagement, allow you to fill seats and crucially help make your event a success.
Maximising attendance can be a real challenge for event organisers. A free event is sometimes forgotten; emails are quickly scanned or missed entirely; even an honest “don’t think I’ll bother” is often to blame.
More and more of us receive reminder messages from our dentist or a prompt prior to a hair appointment. A “useful” reminder can also demonstrate your thoughtfulness towards your customers. Sending a message with the time, venue, a Google Maps link or even the closest car park may sound simple, but is often overlooked.
This communication is a perfect excuse to excite your attendees and demonstrate your business ethos before they’ve even arrived. Adding some personality or even a sneak preview to the message can really highlight your brand.
Let me show you an actual recent example:
Hey Kate. The red carpet is out! The premiere of Collaborate Cornwall 2012 is showing tomorrow at the Lighthouse Cinema, Newquay and you are on the guest list. We look forward to welcoming you from 9am-9.30am. Map to Mount Wise Car Park. The Partner to Succeed team.
Your attendees are sure to be impressed.
And relax, your event is over! Time to grab a cuppa... Well, maybe just not quite yet. You probably have a ton of attendees with the thoughts of your event whizzing around their heads. This is a perfect opportunity to leave a positive image of your company. Show them you care with a willingness to listen. All this can be achieved with a simple acknowledgement follow-up. You may even get some crucial feedback for your next event — after all a quick reply by text is so easy!
Here’s the follow-up message:
Wow — what a day? We hope you found Collaborate Cornwall 2012 a useful and informative event. We’d love to get your feedback — please feel free to send your comments by replying to this message. Thanks for attending! The Partner to Succeed team.
All of this for less than the price of a few crisps and sausage rolls.
Value Based Pricing means charging what your customers are willing to pay (WTP).
The other day I was describing this to a successful, self-employed businesswoman and she kept asking, “How do I know what my customers are willing to pay?”.
I mentioned how she should put herself in her customers’ shoes, compare her offering to the competition. She said, “I don’t always know who else my customer is considering, and I certainly don’t know what he thinks about our offers.”
I told her she could use win/loss data to narrow down the possibilities. “I don’t have that many data points. Will this be significant?”
I described how she could use conjoint analysis to determine what types of customers are willing to pay for which features. “But that doesn’t tell me about the customer I’m talking to right now.”
I suggested she learn from her customers during the sales cycle. “Sure, but they aren’t going to tell me the most they are willing to pay, even if they know it.”
Finally, I conceded with an Aha! of my own. We will never know how much a specific customer is willing to pay in a specific situation. We can’t read his mind and he’s not going to volunteer that information. If we can’t know his true willingness to pay, what good is value based pricing?
Think of value based pricing as an attitude. We know we won’t always be right, but we are doing our best to estimate what our customers are willing to pay and charging as close to that as possible.
We can use experience (and statistics if possible) to guide our estimating methods. For example, if we continually lose, then we are estimating too high and need to lower our pricing. If we always win, we are pricing too low and need to estimate higher.
When you go to buy a car from a dealership, the salesman is looking you over, trying to determine how price sensitive you are. In other words, he is estimating your willingness to pay. He’s looking at the car you arrived in. He studies your clothes and your jewellery. Once you give him your address he will look up the value of your house. He can never know exactly what you will pay, but he can make estimates based on observable criteria.
This is what Value Based Pricing really is, estimating willingness to pay. If you know which competitor your customer is considering, that can help you know how much to charge. If you know which market segment your customer is in, you will price more appropriately. The more you know about this customer and this situation, the better.
This lack of precision is probably one reason companies like and use cost plus pricing. They know their costs (at least they think they do). If you always charge two times your cost, then there is no uncertainty. In fact, no thought is needed.
However, if you want to be more profitable, if you want to capture more of the value you create, then adopt value based pricing. Value based pricing enables more powerful pricing strategies, like price segmentation and product portfolio pricing. It has the power to focus the entire company on creating more value. Value Based Pricing may not be precise, but it is powerful.
Adopt the attitude.
Mark Stiving is a pricing strategist, runs Pragmatic Pricing, and is the author of Impact Pricing: Your Blueprint for Driving Profits.
Although the history of the internet can be traced back to the 1950s, it was during the 0s when the concept of an interconnected world wide network —the internet — was introduced. However, it was in the mid 1990s, with the widespread use of email, Voice over Internet Protocol phone calls, and the maturing of the world wide web, when the internet started to have a revolutionary impact on the way we all live and work.
When people started to use the internet, it was something people “dialed into” in order to access information. In many ways, therefore, it was no different from accessing a book, catalogue, newspaper or some other form of information. In fact, in the days of dial-up connections, it was often slower and more challenging than using more traditional media.
However, as the internet has matured, together with the fast pace of innovation in digital technology, the whole nature of these channels has changed.
The onset of broadband means the web is “always on”. With the introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007, the first smartphone to really capture the public imagination, mobile has increasingly become our primary access point to the internet and web. In other words, it is not just always on, but with us all the time.
The creation of social platforms, adopted by the masses, such as LinkedIn and Facebook means the web has transitioned from a “web of things” to a “web of people”. As this has occurred, more of our social interactions, including making arrangements and sharing stories and information, has migrated to these platforms.
Today, the world wide web has become the major access points for many of our daily activities including shopping, accessing information, watching programmes and films, reading books and interacting with business colleagues, family and friends. We are seamlessly dipping in and out of the web during the course of our busy day without giving it much thought.
It is this integration which companies need to start thinking about, in order to ensure they serve their customers and prospects in the best way possible. In so doing, of course, they will be able to maximise their own commercial opportunities. Businesses in all sectors and sections of the market need to ask themselves:
For example, as I walk through a store looking at “real life” products, can I access more information on my phone, about the product, simply by using the camera on my phone and hovering my device over the product. Moreover, does augmented reality, the ability to enhance the physical environment with digital technology, allow me to see what a product would look like in my home by being able to hover my camera over the product with the backdrop of a picture I took of my living room?
The point is, companies need to start thinking about how their online information, which we can access 24/7, can help us engage in the physical world; in other words, taking the “online” and making it part of our “offline” experience. This is the idea of the “Outernet”. In other words, it is a way of thinking.
Location-based social platforms already allow us to see online which friends may be available for a drink in our current locality offline. These same networks as well as many other platforms, will allow us to identify local restaurants, cinemas and other local activities that can be decided upon in the moment.
It is this idea that some have termed “SoLoMo”, the concept of social, local and mobile all coming together providing consumers with a richer experience and companies with commercial opportunities. However, it is not simply the accessing of information at the relevant time, but how that information integrates between the physical and digital world. In many ways, Google Glass is Google’s first attempt at integrating these two worlds in a more seamless way.
Ultimately, it is about understanding the context in which people are likely to search or want to find out about your products or services. This is regardless of whether your business operates in a business-to-consumer or business-to-business environment. Opportunities can be created for a business, and better experiences offered to customers, by understanding how any company can integrate their offline with their online, in a world where people use the two together seamlessly all the time.
So the Outernet is a concept, a way of thinking. Increasingly, the best companies will be asking themselves how they can merge the digital with the physical in order to create a richer and more engaging experience for their customers.