Copywriting Tips Archives

Tips for writing product evaluation guides“List” stories are a staple in journalism and in marketing copy. Think “Five Things You Should Consider When Buying an SDD” (solid state drive,) “Five Things to Know about HIPAA-compliant Cloud Storage” and this five-step list from Dell Inc. on how to secure the Internet of Things.

Such “list” stories work well, if they’re done right, because they’re easy to read, deliver useful information and build your reputation as an industry expert. Done wrong, they’re clueless marketing fluff that hurts your brand.

What Not to Do

Try this list of five things to look for in a marketing writer:

  1. A decade or more in the IT trade press, which gives them in-depth knowledge of all types of technology.
  2. Extensive reporting experience, which helps them ask the right questions to understand your marketing message.
  3. Recent in-depth experience writing about the cloud, storage, security and global services.
  4. A short beard which shows maturity, yet coolness.
  5. A hard-to-spell last name, which taught them from an early age how to be accurate and double-check what they write.

So what might a “what to look for” list look like that is generic enough to be useful, but hits enough of the vendor’s strong points to ring the sales bell?

What To Do

  1. Be honest about real-world pros and cons. For example, the SSD piece pointed out that, for maximum performance, you need to keep 20-30 percent of the SSD empty. Built trust by telling the reader inconvenient truths like this before they learn them elsewhere.
  2. Show you understand your audience by focusing your advice on them. If it’s SMBs, your list might include ease of use and low cost. If it is enterprises, it might include ease of integration and scalability.
  3. Talk about human and cultural, not just technical, features. Dell’s IoT security advice, for example, includes the need to educate users on security. I doubt Dell even sells security training, but it shows their real-world experience. An added benefit: If you don’t sell training or consulting, cultural issues are the customer’s problem, not yours.
  4. Don’t make your “advice” so feature-specific it’s clear you’re describing yourself as the answer to everyone’s needs. (See my list, above.)
  5. And avoid “superlative” adjectives such as “strongest,” “fastest,” “broadest,” “most scalable,” in describing what to look for. That’s how vendors talk, not customers, who realize different products have different strengths in different areas.

Now, a question for you.  Should you include your own, or your client’s, products as examples of what to look for in such “list” stories or do they destroy credibility? Give me your best advice and it may make it into a future blog post.

(Check out these other tips for fine-tuning list stories inspired by a survey of customers done by the folks at marketing/IT support site Spiceworks.)

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

You Make Me Feel So…Optimized

We're just not leveraging our synergies, honey.

I just don’t feel we’re leveraging our synergies, honey.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, do these words set you afire?

I’m guessing not. That’s because “optimize” is a vague buzzword that could mean anything and, thus, means nothing.

I see this term every day in the raw material clients give me as prep for white papers, blog posts, bylined articles and other content marketing. I sometimes wind up using it, if making a stink with a client would just bog down the process without changing their mind.

But here’s why “optimize” is not only worthless jargon, but is actually harmful because it can lull buyer and seller into thinking they’re talking about the same goals when they’re not. Just as the buzzword “transform” can create landmines that can sink deals, confusion over “optimization” makes it harder for prospects to understand why to choose you over someone else.

Here’s why.

We’re Optimum! We’re Good!

Most folks would agree that to “optimize” something means to make it as good as it can possibly be. But “good” has very different meanings for different buyers and sellers.

One Web site I saw recently said their technology “optimizes” the Web. Does that mean reducing the cost of the Web, making it easier to use, or (as I suspect from their tagline) speeding access to it Saying “We speed your Web access” would have grabbed the attention of prospects who need that specific benefit – speed – but who might pass over a vague “optimization” promise.

Even worse is using “optimize” to convey opposing ideas. Outsourcing providers or consultants will promise, in one sentence, to “optimize costs” for customers and in the next sentence to “optimize their cash flow.” Last time I checked, you want to reduce your costs but increase your cash flow. Using the same word to mean two different things in adjacent sentences doesn’t say much for a service provider’s ability to keep you posted on progress and problems.

Optimize for What?

In other cases, “optimize” can mean too many things in content marketing. Does “optimizing” a data center mean speeding its performance or reducing its cost? If cost reduction is key, are capital (equipment) costs or operational (staffing, power, space) costs the main target?  Different data center owners will have different needs. Why not show how you can meet those specific needs rather than hiding it under overall “optimization?”

Finally, consider a consultant trying to sell a cellular carrier on its ability to “optimize” the carrier’s service and pricing plans. Does this mean “optimizing” the plans to deliver the most revenue and profit per customer (as a mature, entrenched player might want) or to sacrificing some profits to earn market share, as a hungry start-up might want?

I can hear someone out there saying “Optimizing” can mean any of these things, so we use it rather than list all the individual things we can do.”

I’m all for keeping things brief, but not at the expense of precision. If “optimize” really means “increase,” “reduce” or “speed” replacing it with those words is a draw. Adding the words “optimizing for cost (or speed, or market share, or whatever)” adds so much precision it’s worth the extra length.

Sweet nothings are fine for passionate moments, but marketing to time-starved B2B professionals requires clarity. I intend to scrub “optimize” from my marketing lingo wherever possible and replacing it with clear explanations of what my clients offer. Your thoughts?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
One of the few who really have no competitors.

One of the few who really have no competitors.

During my years hearing vendor pitches as an editor, I’d always ask “Who are your competitors?” to help position the pitch in my mind.

It was a standing joke among reporters that the marketing folks would always respond “Well, we HAVE no competitors…” The reason: their product or service was so full-featured, easy to use, affordable, scalable, flexible, or whatever that no one could hope to compete.

Is claiming you have no competitors clever marketing that highlights how unique you are? Or is it a self-defeating lie that insults the intelligence of your prospects and shows you’re only interested in selling to them, not listening to their needs?

As you can tell by how I phrased the question, I come down on the “self-defeating lie” side. But to be fair, here are the pros and cons of using this line. Let me know what you think after reading them.

Arguments in Favor:

  1. Heck, we really are unique. No one else offers the same mix of features, quality, customer support and price, not to mention our corporate culture of serving the customer and our leadership role in the industry. We have a more complete and far-reaching understanding of where the market is going than anyone else. Why shouldn’t we tout that?
  2. Naming other companies as competitors only gives these incompetent sleazebags credibility. We know they can’t match our capabilities, and we also know about their funding, channel, management and customer churn problems because we hear about them from prospects. Elevating them to our level in the marketplace is not only unfair to us, but misleading to our customers.
  3. Hey, we’re only kidding! People know we don’t mean this literally. Of course there are other companies claiming to do what we do, but this is our way of blowing them out of the water. Prospects are savvy enough to understand this.

Arguments Opposed

  1. Everyone has competitors, even a company near the top of its revenue, profits and market share game like Apple. Yes, you may offer more functions, higher quality, better pricing or better customer service than others. But you probably can’t do all of that at the same time for every customer. And even if you can now, someone will beat you in one or more areas in six months. This is what is known as the free enterprise system.
  2. Your prospects know you’re lying about having no competitors, because they have competitors. (See point above re: free enterprise system.) They also know you have competitors because they’re hearing from them, and can judge whether their offerings are better or worse than yours. Is lying to someone who knows you’re lying a good way to show them you’re trying to help them and not just meet your sales quota?
  3. Claiming you have no competitors hides your real value proposition – that you have created an offering that matches your specific customers’ needs for a unique mix of features, functions, quality, service and price. No one offering, from smart phones to SUVs to storage hypervisors can meet every customer’s needs, not should it. Claiming “We have no competitors” signals you care less about meeting the needs of your market niche than forcing a sale down their throat.

And the Verdict Is…?

How was that for an unbiased setup? Now, for your vote. State-run broadcasting companies from North Korea, or others whose competitors would be shot, need not respond.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

The best reporters and editors are those who can step outside what they think is important and focus on what their readers care about most.

It’s a basic lesson but one that’s frightfully hard to keep in mind, whether you’re doing content marketing or covering Hurricane Sandy, the supposed “Frankenstorm” hitting the East Coast today (October 29, 2012.) As of 11:12 AM, an hour after my local paper said the “most damaging winds” were supposed to hit, I’m seeing only light rain and mild breezes out my window.

What happened to the storm, besides a healthy dose of hype? A look at a weather map (above, which I had to drill into the New York Times site to find) shows the storm took a sharp left turn and, it seems, will pass to the west of Boston.

Whoever was updating the Globe Web site could have looked out the window at the calm scene, realized, “Gee, it doesn’t look so bad,” and written a lead something like:

“With Hurricane Sandy taking a sharp left turn inland, Greater Boston should miss the heaviest winds and rains, with the storm hitting 12 hours later than originally thought, forecasters said Monday. The area is expected to still get winds gusts as high as 75 M.P.H., but not until late Monday or early Tuesday, forecasters said.”

Your customers and prospects are caught in a hurricane of their own: Wind-driven hype and torrents of blog posts, white papers, Tweets and news stories about the technology they need to do their jobs. Just like a homeowner wondering if they should bring in the lawn furniture, all they care about is the latest news and how it affects them.

That means your content marketing efforts should tell them:

  • What just happened: New regulations hit small businesses; the iPad gets traction among business users; a critical flaw is found in software that controls many industrial systems. Each of these stories passes the “Gee, I didn’t know that!” and tells the reader what steps they should take as a result.
  • What it all means: Explain what a news event means to your customers or prospects and the resulting action they should take. A great example was a pitch from way back in 2007 explained the implications of Microsoft’s release of Windows Vista for its Network Access Control. Here, the pitch told me as an editor something I didn’t know and what it meant, at least according to one vendor.
  • And not just what you care about! “Jambo Software today announced an OEM agreement with MegaSystems under which Jambo’s IP-Sec enablement module will be integrated with MegaSystems Wasteful ERP solution. `We are pleased and honored to be included in MegaSystems’ industry-leading scalable, robust platform.” Explain instead what a Mega Systems customer can do as a result of this integration and you have a story.

Before posting that content on your blog, promoting it on Twitter or teasing it an email, look up from your screen and out the window at the world your customers are seeing. Make sure everything you do in text, video, podcast or Webinar is not only new, but most relevant to their immediate needs.

And, no, as of 11:51 AM the winds still haven’t picked up.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

We’ve all read them: The “Five Questions to Ask When Buying XYZ” stories. For trade press editors, they’re a guaranteed draw for readers. They’re easy to digest, practical and, done right, geared to the problems or questions readers are facing right now.

This trade press staple is also a great standby for your content marketing efforts. But getting the maximum lead generation from them requires watching out for a few potholes I discovered as an editor.

  • Boring the reader with the same advice they can get everywhere else on the Web. To avoid this, scan existing stories in trade pubs and your competitor’s Web sites. Then go a step further than they did with a new angle, more detail or more precise advice. For example, in a piece for Computerworld on tough security questions to ask a cloud provider, I didn’t just advise readers to “Ensure proper authentication and access control.” I described the differences between the ideal but expensive “federated” identity management and the less secure, but less expensive, “synchronized” identity management. I mentioned several vendors and their approaches to authentication and access control, along with some best practices for implementing it.
  • Ignoring the real world: Don’t settle for offering high-minded but obvious advice like “Consult all stakeholders about their cloud security needs.” What should a prospect do faced with the messy reality of a hugely public data breach that has every business unit running scared and insisting on more security than anyone, in or out of the cloud, can provide? This is where your real-world experience can turn a good story great. If you’re a cloud provider you could, for example, tell the story of a real-world engagement where you proved to a customer (anonymous, of course) exactly where your cloud-based security is actually better than what the customer was doing in-house.
  • Confusing “evaluators” with those “ready to buy.” An “evaluation” story about, say, digital cameras would talk about megapixels, image stabilization, facial recognition, and image quality. A “ready to buy” story would instead focus on whether to take the “buyer protection” plan the cashier always pushes, what to look for in return policies and which Web sites to check for last-minute discounts. For the IT products and services you sell, your sales and marketing staff should know which questions to answer for both types of stories. This fine-tuning can give you two compelling pieces of content instead of one. Furthermore, tracking who reads the “evaluator” story vs. the “ready to buy” story helps you score their readiness to buy.

“Top questions before you buy” stories are almost always a good bet. But they work best if you go beyond the obvious advice, address the tough issues customers face in the real world, and tailor your advice to the reader’s specific place in the buying cycle.

For more tips, subscribe to “Editor’s Notes,” by regular newsletter of content marketing and PR tips for IT marketing pros.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

What’s the Right Length for Marketing Copy?

“How long should this (white paper, Web page, case study, etc.) be is a question I still get surprisingly often from content marketing clients. The answer an editor would give is: As long as it needs to be, and not a word longer.

We all know the conventional wisdom that a case study shouldn’t be more than two to three pages, a blog post no more than 500-700 words and a white paper no more than four to five pages. But how do you decide specifically how long to make each piece of content to get the most buzz with prospects and on social media?

When I edit marketing copy I make sure it is long enough to:

  •  Say everything important and new you have to say about the subject. If the piece is getting too long, refocus on one idea more closely.
  •  Explain things clearly enough that everyone can understand. If I doubt, overexplain. Spell out acronyms; explain jargon with short explainers. Remember to explain why the reader should care.
  •  Include enough “gold coins” to keep prospects involved. These might be great quotes, fun statistics, videos – whatever.

But short enough to:

  • Contain no extra words.  Trim redundancies such as “first began,” “joined together,” “split up,” and overlong long introductions like “CEO John Smith comments on the product launch…”
  • Hold no unnecessary quotes: Your CEO’s exact words describing how thrilled and honored he is about his latest OEM agreement is snoozeville. Use those precious words to instead describe the impact on customers.
  • Say everything only once. I recently edited a product brochure that made the same point, in different words, in three different places. Decide where it makes sense to say something and say it — once!

Follow these rules and you’ll be “close enough” to the right length. What’s more important than the number of words (or minutes of podcast or video) is that you make every word or second count.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.