Are You Ready to Hire a Copywriter?

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What the heck is it we do so well?

The other day, a prospective client realized he wasn’t ready to hire me – or any — content marketing copywriter.

He realized as we spoke that before asking a copywriter to present his message, he and his subject matter experts needed to agree on what their message was. He asked if I had any “documentation” of what questions he and his team needed to answer before hiring a copywriter.

Here are the questions I came up with. Let me know what I missed.

Messaging Questions:

  •  What is our “elevator pitch” – the 30 second description of what we do, why we do it better than our competitors, and why it matters to customers?
  •  What is our specific differentiator vs. our top three competitors? Lower cost? Higher      quality? Better customer service? Proprietary technology? In-depth knowledge of our customers’ industries?
  •  What’s special about how we deliver our specific value? Our bonus system for sales reps tied to long-term customer satisfaction?  Our proprietary testing framework for mobile apps? The fact our CEO is a former customer?
  •  Who are the two or three customer types we need more of? How big are they, what industries are they in, what pain points do they face, what systems are they now running, what competitors are they dissatisfied with?
  •  What tone do we want each piece of content to take? i.e., very technical for lower-level influencers and users, more business-oriented for C-level execs who pay the bills?
  •  What stories can we tell about our success – either customer case studies or internal stories of lessons learned and how we improved processes internally?
  •  What similar products do we not compete with, and what markets do we not want to tackle? (This is great for cutting time, effort and cost out of the process.)

Strategy Questions:

  • What is the goal of this content marketing campaign? How many new customers, how much revenue, how many quality leads?
  • How will we use this content in our sales and marketing activity? Will we direct customers to “landing pages” teased by emails or Tweets? Which of our prospect lists will each piece of content be sent to?
  • What “call to actions” do we want each piece of content to encourage? Signing up for a newsletter, following us on Twitter, downloading a new piece of content or agreeing to a sales call?
  • How will we “score” the leads this program generates? What actions will trigger different scores (i.e., downloading “Introduction to widgets” gives them one point, “How to choose the right widget for you” gives them two points, “Three questions to ask before signing your widget contract” gets them three points.)=
  • Have we asked sales what they need from this campaign, how they would score prospects, and in what form (alerts through our CRM system) they would like to get updates on prospects and their behavior?
  • What marketing automation tools (such as email marketing services or Web site monitoring) do we have, do we need and what new skills would we need to use them more effectively?

You don’t need the final answers to all these questions. But do get enough agreement to move forward with a measurable plan and refine it from there. Let me know which questions worked, or didn’t, for you and which questions I missed.

What’s the Right Length for Marketing Copy?

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“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.

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Editorial CalendarAn editorial calendar (like this one for Computerworld, for whom I still write) is simply a list of content ideas, with a schedule for when each will be published.

This keeps everyone on schedule about what they need to produce, and when. To make an edit calendar really effective in content marketing, build it around the most important challenges facing your prospects, and the information that will keep them engaged.

When I needed editorial calendar ideas as a trade press editor, I asked myself and my other reporters:

  •  In our recent conversations with customers, what common problems have they mentioned?
  • In our recent conversations with vendors, what buzzword have they thrown around we don’t understand or believe in?
  • In our recent customer visits, what’s impressed us as so smart that our readers could learn from it?

Your sales, customer support and marketing staff aren’t paid to be reporters. But they are talking to customers and analysts and are (or should be!) following the competition. Here’s how to get them to share ideas that you can turn into great marketing content.

  • Tell them how many ideas you expect from them, and when.
  • Be specific about the type of ideas you want. “From support reps, we want two examples per month of smart workarounds customers have developed for common problems. From analyst relations, we want two of the newest/most insightful things you’ve heard this month. From sales, we want the objections you’ve heard most often during a close, and how you overcame them.”
  • Give them examples of “news” or trends you want. From a customer support rep: “A lot of mobile developers are asking for better Python documentation.” A sales rep might notice “Suddenly realtors are returning my calls. The market’s picked up and they’re willing to spend.” From analyst relations: “Analysts are really picking up on the `agile data’ theme but we think they should also be talking about the `orchestration’ layer we provide…” All of these are great grist for blog posts, white papers, videos and other content.

And a few final suggestions

  • Have your “requests” for editorial calendar ideas come from the top of the company to “encourage” cooperation.
  • Make the sharing of ideas part of employees’ evaluation and compensation.
  • Aim for a mix of topics, from the tactical (bug fixes and effective sales tactics) to the strategic (big trends in technology, how macro-economic trends are affecting sales) to the fun and off-beat (video of a well-known entertainer opening a big tradeshow.)
  • Use the “water-cooler” test. If it’s worth talking about around the office, it’s worth considering for the editorial calendar.

Let me know how these trade press tips work in corporate marketing and what challenges you’re still facing.

Look, Ma, No Hands! Automated Content Curation

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Not bad for a machine: Content as “curated” by Paper.li.

I used to think that curating content – reusing content from other sources to keep your prospects engaged with you – was for wimps. Real men (and women) did the hard work of coming up with ideas, researching and writing them.

An online service called Paper.li has me reconsidering my stance.  It scans the Twitter accounts you’re following (or a list of Twitter accounts you’ve created, or Tweets found through a hashtag search.) It does a very nice job of automatically capturing the headline, image and an excerpt of each Tweet. For the price of two Starbucks’ ($9 per paper) per month you can add your own logo, decide which captured stories get the biggest play and notify your followers when a new edition is ready for publication.

I was impressed with the first such paper I found, Content With Content which covers (not surprisingly) content marketing. It shows how, by carefully choosing which accounts Paper.li scans, you can automatically create a good-looking compilation of quality content for your followers.

Add Thought Leadership and Stir

Where this content curation tool gets really interesting is the Editor’s Note feature, which allows you to add one (and only one, as far as I can tell) own story of your own to the mix. This is your opportunity to, in your given field, add your insightful comments to what would otherwise be a showcase for others in your field.

If you’re a virtualization management vendor, for example, you could use the Editor’s Note to comment on the features a competitor failed to announce in a Tweet picked up by Paper.li If there’s a rash of Tweets from VMworld (happening as I write this) you can use the Editor’s Note to explain why, for example, there’s suddenly a lot of talk about the security risks in virtualization. You can also include hyperlinks to steer your readers to stories you think they should, and shouldn’t read; tell them what they should think about them or even to a landing page on your own site.

Twitter Overload?

Such automated content creation seems like a good fit for areas where there’s a lot of quality content floating around, and a lot of “news” to keep the paper fresh. In the IT space, think for example of virtualization, storage, security, mobile or anything related to “cloud.”

I would recommend it, however, only for organizations that have the time and ability to add value by carefully choosing which Twitter accounts to sweep for content, controlling the “play” various stories get and, above all, adding their own commentary through the “Editor’s Note.” I still maintain, purist that I am, that a newspaper edited only by an algorithm will eventually look random and chaotic.

You also need to watch overloading your prospects. Do they really need a daily recapping of many of the same Tweets they may have already seen from the accounts they’re following? You also need to figure out how this fits with the other social media channels (such as email newsletters) you’re already offering them.

Services like this provide some of the collection and present functions required to provide quality content, but as I describe in my ebook on where to invest in content marketing, adding context, insight and excellent presentation requires more work.

Low-Hanging Fruit?

One client recently asked me about creating a “super-site” about their technology niche — a “must-view” Web site for potential customers. With the right amount of customization, a service like Paper.li could be the cost-effective core for such a site.

Used right, I’m starting to think there’s a place for curation in content marketing. I’m curious about whether, and how, services like this have worked for you in the B2B space.

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Just waiting for this video to load…

There’s a lot of noise out there about making video a part of your content marketing strategy. Here are five reasons why it’s a waste of time for you and your customers:

  1. Customers need to wait for the video to load and stream. B2B prospects lack the time for this.
  2. They need to sit through two, five, ten minutes or more of talking before they learn all the key points.
  3.  To capture interesting points that aren’t in the accompanying PowerPoint, the customer must take notes and enter them into a database/tickler file (rather than just cutting or pasting as they can from text.)
  4.  If the customer is interrupted or accidently closes their browser window, they have to go back, wait for the video to reload, find where they left off and resume taking notes.
  5.  Producing quality video is difficult and takes time. Low-quality video is easier but can look amateurish, especially for complex, B2B sales.

I admit video IS great for:

  1. Adding credibility to B2B customer case studies IF the customer is articulate and enthused about what you did for them. (The same goes for showcasing the quality of your workforce or your facilities.)
  2. Explaining complicated concepts with pictures as well as words.
  3. Showing, rather than telling, how a product or process works.

My advice is NOT to throw a video up on your B2B site without adding a brief, but complete, written summary of it for those who lack the time or interest to sit through it. Video is a sequential learning tool, for those with the time and motivation to devote to it. A brief written summary is a random-access alternative for those time-pressed, B2B customers who want to scan quickly and pick out the key points.

Subscribe to my free Editor’s Notes newsletter for more tips, or email me if you have other content marketing strategy or implentation questions.

Quick Tip: How to Ensure Content Is Reader Focused

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There’s a customer angle in here somewhere…

In content marketing for lead generation we know we should focus on the customer and their needs, and not about ourselves and what we’re trying to sell. Here are four questions that help ensure every blog post, white paper, bylined article or other marketing content focuses on what the reader needs.

1)     Have I told the reader why they should care? In the B2B market the customer needs to either sell more or save more. All the latest buzzwords (the “agility” of cloud computing, the “insights” of big data, the “innovation” generated by social media) are new, technology-enabled ways of reaching either or both these goals.

When you announce multi-cloud support in your storage virtualization “solution,” describe how it lets customers shop for the lowest-priced cloud provider. When you proudly announce a new reseller or OEM distribution agreement, explain how this makes it possible, for the first time, for businesses in the upper Midwest to get overnight support for your products.

And if you can’t explain why the reader should care, don’t tell them. It only trains them not to listen the next time you come calling with marketing content, and hurts your lead generation.

2)     Have I told the reader what action to take, or not take? Like you, your customers are doing two or three jobs at the same time and need the advice or insight you have to offer – quickly. The best place to describe it is near the beginning of each piece of marketing content, and in clear, simple terms.

Examples:

  • “When starting an enterprise architecture program, talk to the business managers to be sure you’re meeting their critical, short-term needs. Otherwise, you’ll produce a useless ‘science project’ that will hurt your career.”
  • “If your outsourcer is doing a lousy job, it can be less expensive and easier to fix the relationship than to replace them. Make sure you’re doing a good enough job clarifying your expectations, and are treating them fairly on pricing and other terms as your needs unexpectedly change.”
  • “To see how different configurations of solid-state disk would improve your database performance, click through to our on-line estimator.”

3)     Does your marketing content tell the reader something new, or given them a new way of thinking about a subject?

With so many vendors self-publishing on the Web, you can’t afford to repeat what the reader already knows, or that is self-evident, in your marketing content.

  • Instead of: “We listen to your needs and develop a custom solution backed by our factory-trained technicians.”
  • Try: “Unlike mere “resellers” we give you the home and cell phone number of a dedicated account rep who’s paid based on your online ranking of his performance.”
  • Instead of: “Cloud storage can help enterprises cope with the cost and management challenges posted by the exponential growth in application data.”
  • Try: “While some tout the `cloud” as a cure-all for your data storage problems, it’s actually best-suited for non-regulated applications where latency is not an issue.”

4)     Does every piece of marketing content refer to terms, problems, examples the reader will recognize?

Improve your lead generation by showing you understand the unique needs and everyday concerns of your target market. Replacing buzzwords with specific examples is a great way to do this.

  • Instead of: “Automated storage provisioning reduces the cost and delay of meeting enterprise storage needs.”
  • How about: “Tired of getting yelled at by the development staff asking `Where are my test systems?’ Automated provisioning lets you close out those service tickets with a click of the mouse.”
  • Not so good: Proper involvement of the legal staff can assure the proper negotiation of outsourcing contracts.
  • More specific and real world: Your corporate attorney should not just say “no” to every outsourcing contract clause they don’t understand. They should focus instead on the areas that make or break deals, such as carefully defining service levels, assuring change control so the outsourcer isn’t overwhelmed with unexpected work, and creating a partnership instead of an adversarial relationship.”

For more tips on creating customer-focused marketing content for lead generation based on my 20+ years of IT writing, subscribe to my email newsletter or email bob@scheierassociates.com.

If You Can’t Profile Right, Don’t Bother

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There’s an old saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” That’s sure true when it comes to profiling customers, or scoring leads, based on their digital profiles. Just ask travel site Orbitz, which is getting a lot of grief for reportedly steering Mac users to higher-priced fares than it does PC users.

Maybe Orbitz assumes Mac users have higher incomes than PC users, or are more likely to spend more for a perceived “quality” experience. Unless Orbitz has some nifty purchase pattern data about Mac users the rest of us haven’t seen, this not only is lousy PR for Orbitz but a lousy way to determine how much a given user has to spend, and how likely they are to spend it.

I Use a PC and I Have Money…Honest…

Any one digital clue (such as choice of operating system) is too small a sample to be meaningful when scoring leads. How about, for example, all those modestly-paid teachers whose school districts use Macs? Or all those starving artists and graphic designers who insist on using only Macs? Or poor college students who got an educational discount on one? And all those high-priced consultants and middle to upper management types who use PCs because of the enterprise applications available for them. They probably book more last-minute, high-priced fares than your average teacher or free-lance designer.

What’s worst, this single-metric profiling (if it did actually happen) is not how profiling should be done if you aim is to get the most maximum lifetime value out of a customer, rather than wringing every last dollar from every transaction. The real aim of profiling should be to give every prospect the information they need when they need it to make an informed choice. Give the customer more, and better information they can trust, and they’re more likely to trust and buy from you.

Profile Me. Please

This is especially true in more complex sales where you’re comparing more than departure, arrival and layover times. I, for example, am considering a solid state drive for my aging ThinkPad. I would love it if an online retailer could (with my permission, of course) analyze my system and honestly tell me which would provide the most bang for the buck based on my combination of processor, RAM, current disk, etc. Based on that, would I pay another 20 to 30 percent for the best performing drive? Absolutely.

The further up the cost and complexity scale you go (think IaaS providers, databases, service providers) the more carefully you should choose the digital “clues” you should follow. Unsure how to score prospects based on your current “one-size-fits-all” content? Carefully craft content designed to attract specific customer types so they score themselves based on what they read. (Watch a two-minute video example.)

When done well, customer profiling is not only acceptable but a benefit. Think of when Amazon gets it right and tells you about a cool book or musician you otherwise wouldn’t know about. Doing it right takes a lot more time and effort, but (if focused on your most attractive customers) pays off big-time.

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Got any product road maps you'd care to share?

Way back in November 2010, I asked “How Much Rope Should You Give a Corporate Reporter?”  The question just hit uncomfortably close to home, with a blog post (now on hold) that would have required me to get comment from one of my client’s competitors.

The topic is the effects of mergers and acquisitions on well-known product in my client’s market space. The post would have raised the question of what will happen to a well-known group of products, widely used by customers, as a result of their being bought by larger companies. Will the acquiring companies keep selling and supporting them? Will they continue to OEM them, as their former owners did, to multiple other vendors, or kill them off in favor of the acquiring company’s own offerings?

Trust Me, I’m the Competition

These are all great questions, which have formed the basis for countless stories and columns in the trade press down through the ages. As a reporter for a trade pub, I would call the acquiring companies, their customers, their competitors, resellers and industry analysts to ask if there have been or will be any layoffs in the development groups for those products? Will the acquired products be merged into existing product lines, and, if so, how? How long will the acquiring company support any “orphaned” products?

But as a paid representative of a competitor, would any of these folks – should they – take my call as a representative of a competitor? Is a competitor’s Web site an appropriate place to lay out your post-acquisition product strategy, or to defend it? Can you trust a paid representative of a competitor to quote you accurately, and not spin your comments into an ad for their products?

The easy way out is to just pose the questions in an “open letter to the industry,” calling righteously on your competitor, or customers, or someone else in a “legitimate” position to get to the truth. But that is misleading the reader by raising urgent and important questions, but not doing all you can to answer them. That, in my opinion, is lying to the reader, pretending to report the news while only sowing fear, confusion and doubt to boost your employer’s sales.

Morality? What’s That?

There are obviously moral implications here, and the practical need to not compromise my “reporter” reputation by putting my name to blatant marketing material. But there’s also a more practical content marketing question: How far should we go using traditional journalistic tools (like getting the other side of the story) to meet the business need of attracting and keeping readers on our client’s sites?

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