Content Marketing

Are You Getting More Than Just Copy From Your Copywriter?

Meeting deadlines, delivering error-free copy, and being flexible are all things you should reasonably expect from your copywriter. But that's just the baseline of what you should be getting. Selecting just the right verb, using proper punctuation, and avoiding overused cliches are things every professional writer should be able to provide.

The true benefit of using a freelance copywriter goes beyond the proper mechanics of writing and extends into leveraging his or her experience and expertise. To provide you with a truly value-add service, your writer needs to draw from a broader pool of knowledge to create compelling copy that meets your particular needs.

Here are five areas in which your copywriter should possess a high level of skill and experience.

Interviewing

Crafting stimulating content that attracts prospects and drives action is important, but a crucial first step is gathering information. Source material is typically not simply handed out but must be developed from primary sources. Often the writer will have to spend time with subject matter experts to extract relevant information from their vast wealth of knowledge. These SME's are usually in high demand within their organizations and have limited availability, so the writer has to maximize the time allotted to the interview. That means carefully planning the questions, listening carefully to responses, and being able to pivot from the plan if new and interesting information comes up.

In my past experience as a working journalist, I've learned that not only do you need to be asking the right initial and follow up questions, but you must also establish credibility with the subject in order to achieve the best results.

Research

When the copywriter doesn't have the benefit of mining an SME for input on a topic, he or she will have to conduct research from secondary sources. Google and other online resources makes that a much easier task than it used to be, but the amount of accessible information can sometimes be overwhelming, causing the "can't see the forest for the trees" syndrome. When doing research, a copywriter must focus on what pertinent information to include, when to pursue new angles that surface, and when to avoid being dragged into a black hole of distraction. It takes a special skill to be able to unearth the valuable nuggets of information from the huge mountain of available data.

Business Strategy

When creating thought leadership content, it's important for a copywriter to understand the underlying strategy of the client. In some cases, this strategy may be inherently understood, but has never been fully articulated. A writer with experience in developing business strategies can be invaluable in helping to state the strategy clearly and succinctly. I just finished a project with a client who was creating a concept map for business planning and being able to share some ideas from my past business experience helped him sharpen the focus of the piece.

Sales and marketing

Many of the pieces your copywriter creates for you are thought leadership pieces - white papers, eBooks, articles, and blog posts. You likely also have a need for website copy, email blasts and landing pages, data sheets, and case studies - good, old fashioned selling. To make that transition and craft effective sales copy, your copywriter should have some working knowledge of the sales and marketing process.

For several years I was responsible for sales and marketing in a global manufacturing and logistics organization. Working with some outstanding sales and marketing executives taught me about the challenges of building a pipeline, nurturing leads, and closing deals. The experience has come in handy on several projects including helping to ghostwrite books on sales and marketing for two separate clients and polishing a sales presentation another client was giving to a major prospect.

Finance

Many copywriting pieces require a working knowledge of finance and financial terms. Your copywriter doesn't have to be a CPA or a financial analyst, but he or she must understand and be able to articulate the basics as it applies to your content. White papers, case studies, and blog posts often need to include a discussion of ROI and how the basic components of income statements and balance sheets affect it. If your business directly relates to finance, such knowledge is crucial. I just finished a corporate overview piece to be used in a presentation seeking a new round of investor financing. The experience from my days as an Executive VP for a venture capitalist-owned company helped me target the piece to what I know investors are looking for in such presentations.

You can't expect your copywriter to be an expert in every possible business discipline, but working with a writer with broad skills and experience in these important areas can provide you with a valued asset when it comes to collaborating on your content needs.

It's a Wonderful Content Life

by Tom Condardo

George Bailey sat slumped over his keyboard, shaking his head in despair. "Who reads this stuff?" he mumbled as he worked on the copy for a client website. "What difference does any of it make? I'll always be just a lowly copywriter. I'd be better off covering high school football for the local paper."

"Of course it makes a difference, George," a voice suddenly called out. "Your clients love what  you do. They're generating leads, finding new prospects, and converting sales. The content you provide is a big part of that."

Startled, George turned to see a shadowy figure sitting in the ergonomically designed side chair in the corner of his office.

"Who are you?" he stammered. "How did you get in here?"

"My name is Clarence," the figure answered. "In a former life I was in marketing. I was in charge of working with freelance writers. I'm here to help."

"Help how?" George replied, eyeing him warily. "And it doesn't matter anyway. I should never have started writing business content."

Clarence thought for a moment and then smiled.

"OK George, have it your way."

"You're going to find me another job?" George asked.

"No," Clarence replied. "I'm going to show you what the world would be like if you had never gone into this business."

George dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "You're crazy. Now get out of my office."

He turned back to his computer which suddenly flashed and displayed the spinning beach ball of death.

"What's going on?" George asked, sitting up straight in his chair.

"Oh, nothing," Clarence said with a twinkle in his eye.

George's screen then flashed to his Twitter home page. He noticed the first tweet from Acme Consulting, one of his bigger clients.

"Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you," it read. Followed by a second tweet which said: "I guess it wasn't meant to be."

"What's that all about?" George wondered aloud.

"Looks like they went out of business," Clarence replied.

"How is that possible?" George asked in disbelief. "They were landing clients left and right. They were looking to add staff to handle the workload."

Well it seems you weren't around to help them with that big content marketing campaign. You never wrote those eBooks and case studies that generated all those leads. They all went to the competition instead."

Facebook then popped up on George's screen. It was Sam Wainright's home page. The top entry read, "Killing it on Candy Crush. Being unemployed has some advantages."

"What???," George exclaimed. "Sam runs a huge manufacturing operation. He's a wealthy businessman. He doesn't have time for playing games online."

"He does now," Clarence answered. "He never read those white papers you wrote on the benefits of using the cloud for IT infrastructure. His costs kept rising and he never could figure out why. He couldn't compete in the global economy and went down the tubes."

"No, no," sobbed George. "Not Sam."

A Kickstarter page appeared on the screen. It was a request for contributions for Ernie the cab driver who was developing a hot new app that automatically scheduled your ride and ordered coffee from Starbucks which was ready for you when you were picked up.

"Ernie launched that app two years ago," George exclaimed. "I wrote a series of blog posts that helped it take off. He's retired and living on an island in the South Pacific."

"Nope," said Clarence. "Never happened. You weren't there to write those blogs. He's still trying to get it off the ground."

George turned and grabbed Clarence by the arms.

"Okay Clarence," George said. "I get it. I get it. Let me go back. I want to go back. I understand now."

Just then George's screen flashed to his email inbox. It was filled with new emails from several customers. The first thanked him for the email campaign he wrote that generated dozens of new leads. Another outlined how much business spiked after they released the new catalogue he wrote. A third told how a client closed a big deal thanks to an eBook he wrote for them. They emails just kept coming.

George turned to show Clarence, but he was all alone.

"Must have been a dream," he said quietly, rubbing his eyes.

He closed his inbox, went into his dropbox folder, and opened the file for the ghost feature article on data analytics he was writing.

"You know this isn't such a bad life after all," he thought as he began to type away. "In fact, it's kind of wonderful."

Outbound Marketing: Not Dead Yet

Quick, what's more important, snow boots or suntan lotion? Doesn't make much sense, does it? The answer is, it depends. When shoveling out your driveway in a howling snowstorm, you need those boots to keep your feet warm and dry. But when you're lying on the beach, you better lather up with some SPF 50 so you don't burn to a crisp.

Marketers are presented with a similar choice when they're asked which is more effective: inbound or outbound marketing.

For a quick refresher, inbound marketing is "attractive," conversation based, and tends to involve general topics surrounding an industry. Think a blog post about a hot topic in technology that someone will want to read because it's of interest to them. It's more about promoting thought leadership than touting a product or service. This blog post is inbound content. Of course I want you to hire me to write your copy, but the specific point of this post is to help you understand how both inbound and outbound content are important.

Outbound marking is "intrusive," one sided, focused on the message the marketer wants to get out, and involves specific information on the company product or service. Think television commercials or radio ads. It is branded copy meant to encourage customers to purchase a specific product or service.

Inbound is getting all the love these days while outbound tends to get treated like last week's fish dinner, but both have a place in a comprehensive marketing plan.

Bring out your dead

You may actually read that outbound marketing is now dead. Whenever I see that, I'm reminded of the scene in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Eric Idle is collecting dead bodies during the plague and one of them keeps protesting: "But I'm not dead!"

Don't get me wrong. The bulk of the work that I do for my clients is inbound marketing content: white papers, eBooks, ghost articles, and blog posts. In fact, I've been Inbound Certified by Hubspot. But I still do a fair amount of traditional outbound marketing as well: brochures, data sheets, case studies, websites, and email campaigns.

Inbound has grown tremendously in the past few years because businesses have learned that it's cheaper and faster to get prospects to come to them rather than going out and hunting them down. The quality of leads tends to be better since the people who are attracted are voluntarily seeking you out and are already somewhat interested in your product or service.

Ah, but there's more to the sales process than just the top of the funnel. As prospects get deeper into the buying journey, they need to be nurtured and converted. Accepted practice is that it takes 7 to 10 touches to convert a lead into a sale. Many of those early touches should be inbound marketing content. As prospects proceed down the funnel, they usually want and need more information to make their decision. That's where a good outbound marketing program comes into play. A well crafted data sheet or brochure along with a compelling case study can be crucial in closing the deal.

Outbound still works

A survey by DiscoverOrg revealed that 60% of IT executives reported an outbound call or email led to a vendor being evaluated. Almost three quarters said they attended an event or took an appointment after receiving a cold call or email. Outbound still works.

The bottom line? You don't have to choose. You need both inbound and outbound content in your marketing program. They just need to be used in the right place and at the right time.

What about you? How are you balancing the two?

Ring in the New Year with a Content Review

The hectic run-up to the holiday season is usually a time of finishing up projects before the end of year lull. Once through the festivities, activity ramps up again and the new year can sometimes present a blank slate - perhaps even a clean desk - and offers a perfect opportunity to start a few new projects. One of the more productive things you might consider is taking a look at your content. Start by reviewing what you have and then determine what you might need in the coming months. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Take advantage of untapped resources

Coming up with content ideas can sometimes be a struggle, especially with a bulging to-do list of other priorities. The solution may not be as difficult as you think. domain owner . You're likely surrounded by several fertile sources that you may not have considered - your resident subject matter experts.

Most companies, especially those in the technology space, have SME's who are carrying around valuable knowledge about your industry, business, and customers. Unfortunately they probably lack the time to get that information down on paper where you can share it with current and prospective clients. Why not arrange to tap that extensive knowledge and put together an eBook or white paper on a topic relevant to your business?

Not only will this provide you with an outstanding content piece for lead generation or thought leadership, but it'll also allow the SME to share his or her valuable insight - something they may be eager to do.

2. Document a customer success story

The end of the year is always a good time to look back to last year to find situations where your product or service helped one of your clients. Crafting several compelling case studies fills two needs: It provides your customer with some always welcome publicity and it also gives you an effective proof of concept piece.

One of the biggest influencers with potential clients is evidence that your product or service does what you say it will. Demonstrating it with a real world example from an existing customer is one of the most powerful sales tools.

3. Refresh your blog

Spend a minute going through your list of blog posts. If the most recent one is three or four months old, you're sending a message that either you have nothing new to say or you've abandoned the blog section entirely. This could be the right time to reach out to customers and prospects with a series of posts to refresh that area of your site.

You don't need to commit to a daily blog blitz, but presenting one post a week for the next few months will show that you're making an effort to communicate with your audience.

4. Update your web site

While you're on the site, take a look at other copy that may need updating. Is your bio page still relevant? Does it include new hires and has it been edited to delete those no longer with the company? How long has it been since you posted a new entry in your press release section? Does the main message on your home page still accurately reflect the company's direction?

I'm not suggesting you invest heavily in an all-new design. Sometimes revisiting and updating some of your key content elements is all you need to breath some life into your site.

5. Get published

One of the best - and most cost effective - ways to get publicity for your company is to publish an article in an industry magazine or newsletter. Those publications are always looking for content so they'll likely welcome your reaching out to offer your expertise. This is an excellent way to share your thoughts on a hot industry topic and get some props for your organization at the same time.

After the article is published, you then have a solid marketing piece you can share with prospects and customers to reinforce your thought leadership profile.

Lots of resolutions are made at this time of year and many of them wither and die before too long. Reviewing and upgrading your content program doesn't have to be one of them. By taking a few simple steps now, you can establish a year long program that can yield significant benefits.

What are your content plans for 2015?

 

9 Steps To Get The Content You Want From Your Copywriter

Summer is over and you’re back from vacation. Remember all those things you told yourself you’d get to after Labor Day? Welcome to “after Labor Day.” Some of those tasks growling on your desk involve creating content – an eBook, white paper, or series of blog posts. If you and your staff are buried with other priorities, you may decide to contract with a freelance copywriter to help break the logjam of work you’re facing.

Probably a smart choice, but only if you get the result you want. Here are nine tips to get maximum value with minimum management time.

1. Clearly define what you need

Be precise on what you want in a final product. Determine the topic, content vehicle, target audience, and focus of the piece. If you need help defining some of these points, reach out to your writer for assistance. An experienced professional can help crystallize your need.

2. Get the right stakeholders involved

If someone else in the organization is going to approve the copy, make sure he or she is involved before you and your copywriter begin working on the project. I once had a case where my client and I were totally in concert on what he wanted. We went from concept to outline to first draft and were both happy with the result. Unfortunately the CEO who had final say didn't share our feeling. It wasn’t what HE wanted. We were striving for an objective thought leadership piece and the CEO wanted a sales brochure. We needed to know that up front. Instead, my contact looked bad to his boss and my credibility took a hit as well - even though I delivered precisely what was requested.

To avoid that costly disconnect, make sure you’ve circulated the concept and outline to everyone who might have a say in the piece. Know your relevant stakeholders and engage them from the start.

3. Get off on the right foot

Once you have consensus from your stakeholders on what you're trying to accomplish, communicate the basics of the project to your copywriter in a kickoff call. Agree on the voice, tone, and style of the piece. Will it be an informal second person approach where you address the reader directly or a more formal style using the third person objective case? Do you prefer footnotes, endnotes, or links? Discuss the scheduling requirements as well. Nailing down these issues early saves a lot of confusion, delays, and time-consuming back-and-forth communication later.

4. Agree on source material

Let your writer know what you'll be providing for source material and what he or she will need to research separately. In most cases, this will need to be discussed before your writer can provide pricing on the project. Identify any SME’s your writer might have to contact and do a virtual email introduction. Communicate any source materials you DO NOT want used.

5.  Approve an outline

Review and approve an outline before your writer begins the first draft.  This will ensure the piece is going in the direction you want. If it’s a short piece – a blog post for instance – you may only need to see a title and a few bullet points. For a longer piece like an eBook or white paper, reviewing a detailed outline before writing begins is a must.

6. Get a Sneak Preview

Especially on longer pieces, request an early look before your writer gets too far along. Reviewing the opening and perhaps a slice of the first section will confirm that your writer is following the agreed upon tone and style. That isn't something you can determine from the outline alone.

7. Be Available to Communicate

Although the point of outsourcing the piece is to free you up for other tasks, there are times when your writer will need you for clarification or direction. If you've hired an experienced professional, it won't happen often, but when you are contacted, make an effort to answer promptly. It may take you only a couple of minutes, but your writer could be at a standstill until you respond.

8. Review and Revise

If you’ve followed the process to this point, you'll likely receive a first draft that will be close to a final version. There may be a quote or fact that needs to be revised, or a paragraph or two you want reworded, but there shouldn't be a need for any major revisions. Usually a brief review call with your writer and one revision cycle should be all that’s needed to get you the final product.

9. Provide Feedback

Once the project is complete, let your writer know how you feel it went. Whether you have some comments about the process or the writing itself, communicate that to your writer so he or she can incorporate the feedback into the next project you do together. Developing an ongoing relationship with a reliable, seasoned copywriter can streamline the process considerably. The more your writer knows about you, your audience, and your product or service, the better he or she is able to deliver the desired final product - the first time - with minimal intervention from you.

How do you manage your outsourced writing projects? What process have you found most effective?

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Vacation Time? Not for Your Content

Summertime and the living is easy, as the old song goes. It's true that between vacations, half day Fridays, and long weekends, things tend to slow down in July and August. That doesn't mean you should stop communicating with your prospects and customers all summer. When I was in the corporate world, I was amazed by the amount of time businesses let slip away. Starting around Thanksgiving people would begin their "we'll pick it up after the holidays" mantra. Things got going again in January for a few months but by June everyone would talk about doing things "in the fall." Add it up and you'd be looking at losing three or four months of productive work a year.

In today's competitive environment, that's a luxury most businesses shouldn't tolerate - especially when it comes to your content marketing program. Several studies estimate that 60% of the buyer's journey is completed before a prospect reaches out to a vendor. If a buying cycle is four months, that means prospects are out there making preliminary decisions for two and a half months before they even contact you. If that time frame falls during the summer and your content is lying in a beach chair somewhere, chances are you've already lost the business.

Taking time off is necessary to recharge your batteries but you need to make an exception when it comes to your content. This is no time to shut that down. Not only is it a bad idea to go dark with your inbound marketing for a few months, it might actually be the perfect time to do the opposite.

Here are a few reasons you should make sure your content is alert and on the job all summer.

Stand out from the crowd. The fact that so many companies let their content go stagnant during the summer months can work to your advantage. It will highlight the fact that you are up and running. Prospects in the early stages of the buying process can get frustrated if they don't find the information they need. Providing the fresh content they're looking for puts you on the fast track to a potential new customer.

Downtime means more time. Things do slow down in the summer but that actually can work in your favor. People that are in the office during vacation season may find additional time in their schedules. Freed from the normal hectic pace and never ending meetings, they may actually dig deep into their "to do" list to get to things they've put on the back burner. Some of those could require spending extra time researching a product or service they're considering. This is the perfect time to get fresh, longer content pieces - an eBook or white paper - into their hands.

Prospects are mobile. You might even reach those prospects that are out of the office at the beach or in the mountains. Unfortunately the days of completely unplugging from the business world are long gone. Smartphones and tablets are too hard to resist and most people will take the opportunity to tune into some work related reading while they're away. Advertising Age states that the average US adult spends almost two and a half hours a day using a mobile device. Chances are the number's even longer during a vacation. You should have some content out there ready for them when they start doing some business related surfing.

Front Load Your Fall. The problem with "holding off until after vacations" is that eventually summer ends. All those "to do's" you've been "holding off" on - including your content schedule - continue to build and then explode on your desk right after Labor Day. Summer is the perfect time to get a head start on those content needs so they won't get lost as the early fall activity ramps up.

Go ahead and enjoy yourself this summer. Just make sure your content is still hard at work while you're gone.

What are your content plans for the summer months? Can you afford to unplug from your customers for 20-25% of the year?

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