Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is Editing a Lost Art?

Working as a writer for the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of working with some great editors. Whether they know it or not, these editors played an instrumental role in molding me into the writer I am today. While their comments and suggestions often resulted in some very long evenings at the office, the result was inevitably a better written piece. The insights they shared with me were invaluable to my growth as a marketing writer. Later in my corporate career (in the late 1990's), I also had the opportunity of coaching and editing less experienced writers and hopefully was able to make a difference for them as well.

As marketing becomes more content-centric, I began to wonder whether this model of editing is still relevant. In today's socially-networked online world, it seems like everybody has become a writer, blogger, tweeter, etc. Not only are people generating and publishing content themselves, they are doing it with unprecedented immediacy. What is the role of an editor in today's online world?

With keyword-laden SEO articles being cranked out for pennies, online content is becoming commoditized. The unfortunate result is that the overall level of writing has suffered. Quantity seems to be trumping quality, as you no longer have to be a professional writer to create and publish your own content.

Ironically, just when we need good editors the most, it seems like editing has become a lost art. Today it is harder to find a skilled editor than a competent writer. This does not bode well for those of us who appreciate thoughtful written expression and delight in the pleasure of a perfectly constructed sentence.

Do you have a personal story about editing? Has editing become a lost art? Share some of your experiences working with great editors.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crafting Your Message to Drive Sales

Many companies are born around a single, brilliant idea. In the world of high-tech, the spark for a start-up is typically a new technology. Inevitably, at the outset, the company's energies and resources are dedicated to developing this idea or technology into something that can be sold (i.e., a product).

While having a great product is a definitely a good start, it's not enough by itself to succeed in today’s highly competitive market. You need to be able to communicate the distinct advantages of your product or service to the right audience in order to generate sales.

This is exactly where a professional marketing copywriter fits in. While you wouldn't hire an accountant to perform QA on your product, why would you expect your technology experts to craft the marketing message? A copywriter can help you to communicate to your potential buyers that you have the product that solves their problem or otherwise helps them improve their bottom lines (in B2B scenarios). A strong and well-built messaging platform allows your target market to understand exactly how your product addresses their specific pain points.

Working as an integral part of the marketing team, the copywriter is responsible for your company’s messaging platform. After developing this "marketing DNA," the copywriter creates focused web content and marketing materials for the product built around this core messaging. These materials include, but are not limited to, search engine optimized (SEO) web copy, product and corporate brochures, white papers, case studies, and presentations.

Your company's goal is to generate revenues. A compelling, high-impact marketing message is crucial in today's competitive, content-driven marketplace. A great product without the right message is like a vintage wine without the bottle. Presenting your product in a way that will resonate with your target markets is a key step towards monetization and meeting your business goals.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's All About the Message

Let's say you've just spent the last 18 months developing an awesome new cleantech technology. You have packaged this technology into a new product and are ready to start earning revenues. How do you communicate the value and benefits of your new product to the market?

The key to meeting your business goals is to formulate a compelling, high-impact marketing message that will hook and engage your target market. Your company’s messaging platform needs to demonstrate that your product or service uniquely addresses the specific "pain points" of your target market.

Let's assume you've done your homework and built the right message for your product. For instance: "Inexpensive, biodegradable bottles that you can throw away without harming the environment." The next step is to take this message and create a set of marketing materials that convey this message as its dominant theme.

Perhaps easier said than done, this is the essence of what a marketing copywriter does. (BTW – an experienced marketing writer can also formulate the message itself and create an internal positioning statement to share within the company.) All of your marketing materials – from the product tagline to website content, PRs, brochures, white papers and everything in between – should be built around this message.

The key message can be highlighted in different ways to take advantage of the respective medium. Here are a few examples:

  • Website - feature a graphic banner illustrating the disposable nature of your batteries
  • Press Release - the headline of your PR would highlight the message (e.g., "Acme's Biodegradable Bottles Make it Easy and Inexpensive to Protect the Environment")
  • Trade shows – Signs, rollups and posters presenting the message in bullet forma
  • Brochure – Emphasize the message in the title and subtitles of the product brochure

Be sure to drill your message home wherever you can. It's OK to be repetitive across different media. Most potential customers are going to skim – not read – and you want to be sure to catch their eye. Remember – repetition is good when it comes to marketing – think about TV commercials. Getting the message right and communicating it in the most effective and consistent way across multiple media is the key to consistent marketing that drives results.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rivet your Audience by Writing from the Inside Out

Ever had one of those moments when your "gut" told you to act in a certain way that just couldn't be explained in words? Part of the reason for this is biological – the part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making and emotion (the limbic cortex) is separate from the part of the brain responsible for language (the neocortex).

In his thought-provoking (and IMHO brilliant) presentation, Simon Sinek argues that inspired organizations (Apple), leaders (Martin Luther King) and innovators (the Wright brothers) all think, act and communicate differently from the rest of us. Their "inside out" approach enables them to focus on the "why" rather than the "what." Their rare ability to clearly communicate a deep commitment to a belief or a cause enables them to inspire and attract like-minded believers. In Sinek's words, "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." By doing business with people who believe what you believe, you will be able to inspire customers and engender loyalty (back to the limbic brain).

This simple argument has major ramifications for marketing, in general, and copywriting in particular. We've always known the importance of understanding and addressing the needs/problems of our target audience. But what if we turned this inside out as well? What if we focused our message on why we do what we do? What if we spent less time writing about the wonderful features and benefits of a given product (which may or may not trigger a positive vibe with the average customer), and instead focused on explaining why we went to the trouble of creating this new product in the first place.

An inside-out strategy would focus the messaging on the company's underlying philosophy or purpose (e.g., "we believe in simplifying your world"). It's why you do what you do that makes you different (or better) from your competitors – the product itself is much harder to differentiate. The message here should be inspiring and crafted to drive emotion. Once you have established a common emotional ground with your target audience, then it's time to delve into the "how" and "what". These details will be used to show how your product or service helps your customers to achieve the stated purpose.

Writing from the inside-out is far from being a trivial task. It forces us to think about and formulate answers to questions that we may have avoided in the past. But it also gives us the opportunity to truly connect with our customers.

Is it worth the effort? Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.

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