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.