Dec 16, 2011

If We’re Going to Write, Let’s Do It Well!

Business owners small and large often find themselves facing a blank page as they summon their wits to write about their business, their latest promotion, or even an important communication to a customer or partner. Experienced business writer and Service for Profit team member, Kathy Wilson, knows that writing is hard, and she’s taken the time to give all of us the following “tips of the trade” this Holiday Season:


Kathy Wilson - Writer/Editor

Whenever you find yourself composing a piece of marketing collateral, whether it’s a product brochure, white paper, case study, or customer e-mail, you want to keep your message as concise and tightly crafted as possible. At the same time, you want to deliver something that will communicate key messages effectively, hold your audience’s attention, and hopefully have the desired effect (e.g., call us, go to our website, buy our product, take advantage of this special offer).

This means making careful word choices and packing in as much rich and impactful content as possible. What you choose to include, to emphasize, and to leave out should start with what you believe will most motivate your audience. Is it general product information, competitive differentiation, ways to achieve increased efficiencies, lower costs, a better customer experience? Maybe it's some combination of these?

Once you understand your audience’s key drivers, you can get down to the job of carefully crafting your message. This can present many choices but your primary filter should always be focused on relevance, brevity, and impact.
For example, let's say that the company you're writing for offers products aimed at simplifying operations, improving the customer experience, and reducing costs. How do you write the most compelling message around these themes?

You could just use short, easy to digest bullets to summarize the company's value proposition:

·         Simplifies operations
·         Improves the customer experience
·         Improves the quality of service deliverables
·         Helps reduce costs
·         Helps optimize systems and processes
·         Improves customer satisfaction
·         Creates a more engaging customer experience

But now watch what happens when we dig a little deeper. How does the company (and its products) do these things, and what additional benefits might be gained? Here are some alternate versions that illustrate this point:

·         Automates repeat processes to reduce complexity and simplify operations (or)
·         Automates repeat processes to improve operational efficiencies and service quality
·         Lowers costs with automation and operational efficiencies to enhance ROI
·         Cuts issue resolution times with complete visibility across integrated service delivery platforms and processes
·         Supports expanded services to improve customer satisfaction and brand loyalty
·         Integrates across social media to deliver a more accessible and engaging customer experience

Finally, there is one more thing we should be thinking about as we are writing and self-editing our copy—namely, can any of our key benefits be quantified? If they can, let’s do it. The impact will be much higher, and your credibility much greater than just stating features and benefits in generic terms.

·        15% savings over competitive solution without compromising speed or quality
·         24% reduction in manual processing for improved operational efficiencies
·         33% reduction in issue resolution time with support system integration and company-wide reporting
·         50% increase in website visitors; 18% increase in conversions

Sound easy? Give it a try the next time you’re facing that blank page. Making things as concise and impactful as possible usually requires two or three passes as you tighten and refine your message. But when you find those perfect word combinations, it will have been well worth the effort.

[Kathy is an experienced business communications writer, residing in Silicon Valley and is available for marketing communication projects when you can’t summon your Muse. You can reach her at A version of this short article also appeared in the blog published by the Envision Technology Marketing Group of San Jose where Kathy is a frequent contributor]

Dec 6, 2011

All the News That's Fit to Print

Your newsletter might not be the NYT, but your customers may love it.

Do they call you and say, “I didn’t know you did that!” Do you get more referrals and inquiries within a week of your newsletter’s reaching its audience? Do you get calls for offers in newsletter issues from 2-3 months ago? Do professional partners thank you for featuring them in your newsletter by referring clients to you?
If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” then it's time to spend time tuning up your newsletter and making it more a more effective tool for boosting profits, retaining and attracting clients, and enhancing engagements. Fortunately, we can help you with those goals.

Newsletters can be difficult to produce consistently 

The only thing that most small businesses agree on about newsletters is that they can be a pain to produce month after month. The attention demanded to get out each issue, the rush to collect submissions from contributors or write and edit copy yourself, and the absence of consistently measurable results that justify all the hassle frequently combine to sound the death knell for these marketing projects after a year or so. 
To make your newsletter effective, try these ideas:

Focus on one category of readers to keep content relevant If you focus on a single target (like “customers” or “donors” or “business partners”), it’s likely that your readers will respond well to your content. After all, your content was created with your readers in mind. Of course, this may mean that, if you have multiple constituencies to keep informed, you will need multiple newsletters. Making sure you serve the unique needs of each group of readers will pay off in successfully communicating your message. One measure of such success is reader retention, or the measure of people that open, read and react to your newsletter each month. Indeed, when it comes to reader retention, content is KING. Many customers will learn about some aspect of your business they didn’t already know about and become an instant repeat buyer.

For instance, I use Express Printing in Sunnyvale California for much of my business printing. It does a great job for me. Recently I read in its newsletter that it now offers me QR codes that can be printed on my marketing materials to link them to a mobile-friendly webpage to increase my click through and conversion rate. Not only have I added the QR codes to material for my own business, but I felt great about referring the folks at Express to my clients.

Full of Fun—Better Than “Strictly Business” Don’t just focus only on yourself and your business; include some content that’s fun to read. Newsletter expert Jim Palmer said is a recent seminar, “Adding fun content is a great way to extend the shelf life of your newsletter. People keep it around if it is fun.” Types of “non-business content” he recommends are:
  • Calendar items
  • Work tips
  • Articles on The Work/Life Balance
  • Healthy living
  • Vacation tips
Of course, you don’t have to write this additional content yourself. Jim offers it for syndication, as do other vendors.

Dual distribution -- paper and electronic For most of my clients, I produce my regular eNewsletter and they like it just fine. But for some who don’t work in front of a computer every day or might be more open to receiving the communication in a different format, I also distribute a limited number of copies printed in paper, mailed bulk mail. While paper newsletters have less competition in the mail box than do emails in the INBOX, 1-6 pieces vs. 50 electronic emails/day, and tend to have a longer shelf life, they are more expensive for me to send since I must pay for printing and postage. I let my customers choose which they want to receive.

Consider using a BLOG as your electronic newsletter distribution vehicle Many of us use an email content management system to mail out our eNewsletters. Tools like Swiftpage or Constant Content are handy for this since we can be alerted to who opened the attachments and which ones bounce, and our opt ins and opt outs are automatically tracked for us. But Howard Sewell, of Spear Marketing, recommends using a blog tool, like Wordpress, as your distribution vehicle for eNewsletters:

“It allows you to post content on a more timely basis, so that news items aren’t always weeks old by the time someone reads them in newsletter form. It permits comments, likes, social sharing, and other interactive functionality that you don’t get with a simple email newsletter. It allows for greater flexibility in how people choose to subscribe: via email, Twitter, RSS, or Facebook. And perhaps most importantly, it extends the shelf life of newsletter content well beyond the inbox, by allowing it to live on in search results where it can continue to generate traffic, subscribers, and sales leads.”

Share the pain to increase the gain. Sounds catchy, doesn’t it? What I mean is that you should not take on the total responsibility for writing, editing, fact checking, and posting or formatting for printing all the content yourself. Try to identify sources for content (experts within your company or organization, guest contributors, and even customers, i.e., testimonials or case studies). Setting up an editorial calendar, with major and minor articles slotted 3-4 months in advance, will help you solicit guest submissions with plenty of lead time. You can also get help producing your newsletter. Check your Chamber of Commerce for marketing communication vendors in your area. 

Newletters are worth it! They can make you money and help your service business grow. Now’s a great time to revitalize the newsletter you have or take steps to start publishing one.

Nov 29, 2011

Your Marketing Plan: Make 2012 a Successful Year!

When I was growing up in Connecticut, I would always know when my family was about to take a trip: My dad would announce that he had received the TripTikR. This customized set of maps from AAA, still used today, had been assembled in a package of easily “flipable  pages” to guide our auto travel. These maps would keep us on the right road, help us choose excellent stopping points, and help us avoid hazards like road construction and speed traps. To Dad, it was unthinkable to take a long road trip without his TripTik.

You business needs a TripTik, too. Your thoughtfully prepared marketing plan fills the same function for your business. Just as a TripTik links your starting point with your destination, your marketing plan requires identifying your specific business goals for the year.  The process of creating a marketing plan then fills in the blanks by answering these questions: how will you get there? What strategies and techniques will you employ? How will you spend your resources” Who will assist you?  If you want to achieve your objectives—and you do!--It is just smart business to invest in your own success by spending giving some time and thought to how your marketing plan for next year will enable you to achieve them. 

Start by asking and answering questions.

Identify your goals. Goal setting can be hard, especially if they required that you must reach a consensus with others. Professional facilitators frequently use a technique called “back casting” to surface ideas from groups that have trouble formulating goals. Here’s how it might work:

 Imagine it is Thanksgiving Day 2014. A full 2 years have passed!  We’re all a little greyer or a little wider in all the wrong places. We’re going around the table talking about what has gone well and how much we appreciate the breaks we’ve had. When it is your turn, you rise and begin describing the specifics in your life, particularly in your business. How have things improved? What has changed for the good? What new challenges are you convinced you can surmount? 

Psychologists tell us that we always underestimate how fast things can change and that the more we can use our imagination; the easier it is for us to come up with new ideas.  By focusing on a future date that seems far into the future, we allow out imagination to seek out-of-the-box ideas. Yet the reality is that, once unleashed, our businesses are capable of moving quickly to achieve new goals and dreams: A goal for 2014 frequently becomes a plan for 2012.

Goals are important, as are the traditional Who, What, When and Where – and “how much” questions. A SWOT (Strengths,Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis is always part of the marketing plan that I develop for clients. This is also where competitive research can be helpful. Are other companies serving similar markets or making a similar product? What do their offerings look like? How are they priced? Is their marketing working for them?  It used to be very difficult to get this information, but the Internet makes collecting this info easier. What about data that you can’t get on the internet or by interviewing customers?  There are still ways to collect and use competitive information that are affordable and practical for small businesses. I recommend the Entrepreneurs Guide to Market Research by Anne Wenzel, which will be available in January 2012.

Giving thought to where you want to end up—your business goals—will inform the next steps, which determine how you make your journey – that is, how you execute your marketing plan. Planning obviously involves more than just setting direction. It also is the time to decide to focus on one or more target markets, the strategy to be employed, and the techniques that you will use to carry out that strategy.  By “strategies” I mean, given a particular target market, how you will implement your goals.  Typical strategies include Thought leadership, Pricing adjustment (Impact Pricing), or service productization. Once you have developed a working strategy, typically it is important to plan for a variety of techniques to realize your goal; these can include trade shows, websites, telemarketing, and email, to name a few. It is important to employ a mix a techniques since not all customers respond well to the same technique .

“How Much” can only be answered once you know the “where,” “who,” and  “what.” Understanding the value of a new customer and the underlying cost of what you are selling (in labor or materials) will allow you to judge what you should “pay” to acquire a new customer.  
Finally, it is important to build into your marketing plan certain “check-in” points.  These represent opportunities to correct mistakes, revise assumptions, and correct for drift away from your objective. My dad’s TripTik consisted of specific pre-printed pages. Although it, too, is your guide to achieving your business destination, your marketing plan is a living document and will need to change with events that affect your market and the lives your customers are living.

Oct 21, 2011

Push, Pull and a Hand Shake: The Importance of Mix in Marketing

“We’ve got a killer website. I don’t understand why we aren’t doing well!”  If I had a nickel for every time I have heard that complaint . . . 

Most people going into business for the first time don’t understand that marketing and business development necessarily involve a mix of approaches. While the idea that one single silver bullet will hit the target is understandably appealing, it’s NOT going to work because the target is never one individual who always has the same feelings and needs.  Putting it that way makes obvious the need for multiple techniques and avenues to gain customer awareness and trust.

When I begin helping clients with their marketing plans, I always tell them that we need to plan for a mix of marketing techniques and investment. I use a mnemonic to help them remember the idea: Push, Pull and a Hand Shake.  They need to blend Push marketing techniques with Pull Marketing investment and use personal marketing—that Handshake—for outreach and message correction.

Push Marketing – the Virtual Tap on the Shoulder

When marketers talk about push marketing, they are referring to the wide variety of techniques that can be used to attract the attention of potential customers and motivate them to take the first step in doing business with their clients. Telemarketing, advertising, direct mail—all are examples of this type of “interrupt” activity designed to call attention to a business and responsive action from potential customers.

Although all of these techniques have their quirks: some are more effective for certain products and services than others. But as a rule of thumb, the more you spend, the greater your success: frequency plus good execution yields desired outcome.  Most of these techniques have the advantage of producing results fairly quickly.  

But marketing campaigns based solely on Push, or Interrupt, marketing techniques inevitably fail. Why? This year, the average consumer will see or hear 1 million marketing messages, almost 3,000 daily.  Since most automatically screen out most “interrupt messages,” other techniques must be used to get our attention. 

Pull Marketing Investment

Many marketing tools do not interrupt the customer but, rather, support his intention when he seeks a product or service. The best example is search marketing, which is enabled by a website or blog that, when searched by a search engine, leads your prospect to your online information. You can also pay a fee to have him directed to your online information (pay for click). The more information you put online, on your website, your blog, your social media outlets, the more likely you will be found by a prospect interested in your business. Creating this online footprint can be expensive, and you must shoulder some of the cost before you sell your first widget. 

Why assume the cost of implementing a Pull strategy? Simple: it works.  MediaPost recently reported that U.S. spending on search engine marketing (another pull marketing technique) will grow from $12.2 billion in 2008 to $22.4 billion in 2013.  Indeed, companies are embracing the idea of building entire campaigns around content that is shared through a variety of online and social media platforms. But just like efforts based solely on Push techniques, using Pull techniques in isolation may be self-limiting. For one thing, the expense of investing in and perpetually refreshing content in the absence of immediate demand (and business) is risky. Without continuing feedback from the target market in the form of measurable traffic, engagement, and commitment to the buying process, companies will be hard-pressed to continue to invest in Pull marketing. 

Pressing the Flesh

The least expensive and the most effective marketing technique is personal marketing. It  has long been employed by the smallest businesses. From the business card and referral swapping in networking groups to the attention-getting and positive reinforcement from public speaking events, actually meeting and touching your potential customers can be very gratifying. It provides a level of information and affirmation about you and your offerings that cannot be equaled.  A little time spent honing your 30-second commercial can garner you new business in a single afternoon of networking.  It also gives you immediate feedback about what parts of your message seem relevant and which parts don’t resonate with your prospects. You can also use that information to tweak your push and pull campaigns if they are running at the same time.

Marketing efforts that embody all three of these marketing modalities stand a good chance of being successful. They generate needed immediacy, higher conversion, and lower cost per lead.