Category Archives: content marketing

6 Ideas for Marketing Professional Services

I was recently addressing a group of management and chartered accountants and the discussion inevitably turned to marketing. All professional services providers face a significant challenge: how can businesses that provide broadly similar outputs differentiate themselves.  There’s a similar issue with law firms and, I guess, with web designers, training providers and a host of other services.

content marketing

More than just a number cruncher?

If this challenge sounds familiar here are six thoughts that might help. Including how content marketing could make all the difference.

1. Not ‘what’ but ‘how’

In the words of the song: ‘It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it.’

In many cases people will understand what your business produces. Potential customers are often not all that interested in the details of the deliverables, particularly if the detail is the same as that provided by your competitors.

People are more likely to be interested in the principles that guide the way you work. They want to know how the way you do things will deliver added value. What are you looking to achieve for your clients over and above delivering their annual accounts or whatever other service you are providing?

2. The ‘positively good’

Legendary advertising copywriter David Ogilvy wrote about the challenge advertisers face when selling a product that is similar to competing products. It isn’t credible to claim that product X is superior to product Y because consumers will be able to see for themselves that they are pretty much the same.

His belief was that in these cases the job of the advertiser was to express what he called the ‘positive good’.  The challenge is to do a clearer, more honest, and more informative job of saying what is good about their product, rather than claiming that it is superior.

Can we extend this idea to marketing professional services? Would a clear, honest and informative account of how your professional accountancy services add value to my business be more persuasive than claiming that one set of management accounts is intrinsically better than another?

Understand how the things you do create value for you clients and state this clearly and with authenticity.

3. What appeals to your customers?

Why did your customers choose your firm instead of a competitor? Do you have a clear picture of the factors that made them decide you were the best fit for their business and their needs? Are there common characteristics among the types of customers you attract?

When you have trustworthy answers to these questions you are on the road to constructing a more targeted message. It will be a message that will appeal to certain types of customer whose specific needs you know you can satisfy.

Use a similar approach if you are trying to reposition your business. If you’re failing to attract higher value clients, for example, ask yourself what they are looking for that they don’t currently see in your marketing. This may not be page after page of content telling them what you do.

4. Content Marketing

Time for a sweeping generalisation. There is a high degree of risk aversion in many professional services firms – particularly lawyers and accountants. I believe that this is the most powerful brake on these businesses embracing an approach to marketing that seems tailor-made for businesses selling expertise: content marketing.

What I’m told is that if you’re an accountant or a lawyer there are potentially serious ramifications for publishing the wrong thing. I’m also told that management structures in larger firms make it difficult to adopt nimble or novel approaches to marketing.

I also understand that we are talking about very busy people with a high opportunity cost when they are writing a blog article rather than doing billable work.

BUT

Your business is not selling a mechanical process. It is selling experience, knowledge, principles and a distinctive way of doing things. Publishing regular, personalised content is the most effective way to help potential customers understand all of this.

Which brings me to the most fundamental question:

5. What is your brand?

Do your customers engage with the sign on the outside of your building or the people inside it? Blue chip corporations might engage with the big accountancy and law forms because the scale of their business offers a perceived security. But I believe that for most businesses the relationship is more personal.

The sign over the door, your logo, strapline, even your website, are just manifestations of something more organic.

Your brand is your collective expertise, your beliefs, the way you work and the principal objectives you have on behalf of your clients.

I don’t want to get too New Age here but this ‘soul’ of your business is what you need to find and need to express through your marketing.

Brand authority and SEO

The other big reason to be investing in content is SEO. A recent article on the Stone Temple Consulting blog  focused on a discussion with Duane Forrester, Microsoft’s head of SEO. He listed listed content firmly as the top priority for businesses wanting to improve or maintain their search rankings. You can find numerous similar statements from Matt Cutts at Google

Content is rated higher than social media, link building, user experience and on-page optimisation as an SEO technique.

Google is also using the Google+ network to evaluate the authority of individual authors as it looks to present the most relevant and respected content to its users. Imagine how a team of expert authors, each with their own on-line authority could contribute to your overall digital presence and on-line brand.

Actually, do that right now. Stop and imagine the impact that could have on your marketing and on your business.

In short, you can use individual personal branding and authority to build an on-line picture of the sum of the expertise you offer.

This won’t be a trivial task and the first step is to set up authorship and Google+ profiles for your team of experts. If you want to understand how to use authorship and Google+ this article has everything you need.

6. Appreciate the value of trust

Trust is the value that runs through all of these points.  Any professional service is likely to be dealing with critical areas of their clients’ business. Ultimately you work with people you trust.

With existing customers you have established trust through your working relationship and successful service delivery. But what about the customers you don’t yet have?

Is your marketing focused on giving people reasons why they should trust you? Or is it focused on explaining services and deliverables that they probably already understand?

Ultimately this is the biggest benefit you could get from a content marketing approach. Publishing content that meets a real need, provides answers and conveys a consistent picture of a business with clear values and principles. Now that’s how you win trust AND business.

content marketing

Richard Hussey

Copywriter, Content Marketer, Trainer

01823 674167 richard@rshcopywriting.co.uk

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Persuading your Customers to do what you want

When you publish content on your website or blog your aim is to persuade somebody to do something. It might be to place an order, contact you for more information, download a guide, subscribe to your mailing list or follow you on social media.

persuasive content

An offer you can’t refuse?

There should always be an action in mind. Something you want people to do as a result of reading the content.

Which means that for on-line marketing to be successful it needs to be persuasive. But what do we mean by persuasion and how can you make your content more persuasive?

A basic truth

Let’s start with one fundamental and universal truth: people will only be persuaded to do something when they clearly perceive it to be in their interests. If you don’t build your content around this concept you are falling at the first hurdle.

This means that you have to tap into the needs, wants and desires of your target audience. And you have to do this at the start of the process. Fail to establish this connection and all else fails.

As copywriting guru Victor Schwab put it when talking about headlines: you have to convey how  readers will gain a meaningful benefit, or avoid loss, risk or something deeply unpleasant.

Put another way, you will engage somebody’s attention and get them to do what you want by starting with something they believe or want; not by talking about what you believe or what you do.

How dictators happen

Here’s a couple of non-marketing examples to illustrate. The reason that Hitler was able to seize power in Germany was because he identified what people wanted to hear at that point in history. Following the humiliating defeat in WWI they wanted to hear that their national pride could be rebuilt and that the situation they were in was not their fault. At any other point in history he would have been just another hate-filled crank.

Throw in a global financial crisis and hyper-inflation and people were even more ready for the message. Stir in a bit of civil unrest and the case for strong, authoritarian government seems compelling. Normal people got swept along because there were answers being offered to things that troubled them very deeply, not because they were inherently bad people.

Also, while I’ve never studied the speeches of Lenin and Trotsky in the run up to the 1917 revolution, I suspect they had more to do with not being hungry or pushed around by a remote aristocracy than they had with Marx’s theories of the relationship between labour and capital.

Understanding what matters to people, and framing your argument around those concerns, challenges and desires is a powerful force.

Back to marketing

Hopefully that diversion has convinced you about the power of tapping into the needs of your audience. You persuade people partly by focusing on what they want and showing them how they can get it, or by understanding what they most want to avoid and showing them how to prevent it.

I wouldn’t waste one more penny on marketing until you’ve put in the hard yards to really get to grips with the interests and needs of the people you want to sell to. Talking to existing customers to clarify exactly what convinced them to buy from you can also be revealing. The reasons might not be what you think they are.

A persuasive argument

Understanding what your audience needs to hear about is only part of the story. Your argument still has to be persuasive.

And despite what most people who call radio phone-ins seem to think, persuasion doesn’t mean repeating what you believe to be true, over and over, in an increasingly loud voice.

Persuasion has a number of elements:

  • The story: taking people on a journey from a promise (what they want to achieve), to a solution. Here’s what you need, here’s how you can get it.
  • Proof: why should people believe what you say?
  • Trust: why people should trust you to satisfy their needs rather than somebody else.
  • Objections: what questions and concerns will people have that need to be answered?
  • Being succinct: just tell people what they need to know. This doesn’t necessarily mean short, it just means taking out everything that doesn’t need to be there.
  • Seizing the advantage: why people should do what you want now rather than later.

Before going on, reflect for a second or two on the content on your website.  Would any of these elements be recognisable, or do you just have a description of what you do? If it’s the latter them I’m guessing that you’re not happy with the number of leads and enquiries it generates. Am I right?

The story

Every website project I’ve been involved with has started with some kind of statement about customer needs. These might be emotional or health related if I’m working in therapy or healthcare, or they might be operational, efficiency  or profit related if I’m doing something for business software or services.

Whatever the business does is always explained in relation to meeting those needs. Often this means taking out loads of detail that businesses think is really important and fascinating but frankly doesn’t influence their customers’ decision to buy in any way.

The content then takes people on the journey from their needs and issues to solutions.

Proof

Saying something doesn’t make it true, no matter how many times you say it. People are looking for proof and for reasons why they should believe what you say.  Statistics, testimonials, quotations from respected sources: all of these will help support your argument.

Trust

In the age of content and social media, the trust you have built by investing in content creation and publishing is a powerful asset. Through content you can establish your organisation as one that knows what it is doing, one that understands customers’ issues and one that offers workable solutions.

By turning your brand into a publisher you can establish the trust that you need to be persuasive.  You can turn the collective knowledge and on-line authority of your team into your biggest on-line marketing asset. I explored these issues in this recent article.

Other routes to trust include customer feedback, testimonials and statistical evidence of the results you have achieved.

Objections and questions

People will not just be swept along by the force of your prose.  While they are discovering more about how your product or service will help them they’ll have practical questions and concerns. If they still have some of these questions and concerns at the end of the piece then they are not persuaded.

Understand the thought processes and the critical questions. Try to look at what you do as though you were encountering it for the first time and never kid yourself that people will work out the answers to their questions for themselves.

Being succinct

Understand who you are selling to and what their real interests are, and focus on those.

Here’s an example based on a real situation. Say you are being asked to create content for a business that sells renewable energy technology to other businesses, schools, care homes, hospitals and so on.  The business providing the renewable energy solutions is largely driven by enthusiasm for the technology and by the environmental benefits it offers.

The people they are selling to, however, have different concerns. They want to save money, they want to be reassured about reliability and maintenance costs and they want security over their future energy costs.

Faced with this scenario, how much effort would you put into discussing global warming or the technology behind the solution?

And, once again, go back to your own marketing and see how much of it is really focused on your customers’ interests rather than yours. How much of your content is just a distraction from the things they want and need to know?

Seizing the advantage

Customers may have understood the benefits of your solution and may even be convinced that you can deliver the advantages they are seeking. But they will still need a final push.

Finish the argument by bringing everything together. Paint a picture of them using your product or service and feeling the benefits, summarise the proof you have offered, and then tell them how easy it is to make it all happen.

This will then lead naturally to your call to action. Which means, of, course, you need to start the process by understanding what that desired action is.

Every business needs persuasive content

There are many businesses that struggle to generate leads and enquiries through their websites and on-line marketing. The good news is that it can be fixed. By applying these principles you can take people on that journey from getting attention, through interest and consideration, and through to the point where they decide to take the next step.

persuasive content

Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger, Content Marketer

Content that persuades rather than describes

call me on 01823 674167 or email richard@rshcopywriting.co.uk

 

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5 Counter-Intuitive Habits of the Modern B2B Marketer

Social media and content marketing are arguably revolutionising the way businesses think about marketing and the ways in which they act. The most successful B2B marketers are now doing things that not so long ago were unthinkable and even today can seem counter-intuitive.

B2B marketing

 

 

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So, what are the emerging new habits of successful B2B marketing and why are they so successful?

1. It’s healthy to give away your expertise

For any business that survives by selling things  to other businesses your expertise is often your greatest asset – particularly if you sell services.  Traditionally, jealously guarding your expertise was vital. Keeping things to yourself was how you maintained your competitive advantage.  Expertise is also a commodity that can be traded through consultancy services, so why  would you want to give it away?

Successful modern marketers know that publishing content that is freely available is a great way to get yourself noticed.  Giving away at least some of your expertise through blog articles, videos and social media comments, plants your expertise and credentials in the minds of people who might not have heard of you or might not have considered talking to you.

The more meaningful and significant the information you give away for nothing, the more likely you are to achieve the desired results. Your free content can also be a gateway to deeper content that people have to subscribe to receive, so that they elect to join your lead generation and nurturing process.

However you capitalise on these contacts, you have to start by giving away something meaningful and of genuine value – something you would have billed for in the past.

2. It’s OK to help your competitors

Traditionally we kept competitors at arm’s length. And for some businesses there will always be cut-throat competitors where any type of constructive dialogue would be impossible – let’s be realistic. But, increasingly, I see examples of businesses you might think would be competitors commenting on, re-posting and liking each other’s content.

I think there are a couple of drivers behind this: one is mutual benefit; if I see somebody post a really good article on the benefits of business blogging I’m highly likely to re-post it because it helps make the case for content marketing.  If more businesses understand the potential of content then there should be more work for all of us who are involved in content creation.

I see the same thing going on with SEOs and social media experts where they quite commonly blog on each other’s sites and share each other’s content. The other point about sharing other people’s content is that it shows confidence in your own ability:

We’re not going to pretend that there’s nobody else out there who does what we do – here’s what they have to say, here’s what we have to say.’ 

If you have a clear sense of your strengths and USP and a clear understanding of where you add unique value, is acknowledging the reality that there are similar (but not identical) businesses such a big deal? People can always find this out on Google and LinkedIn anyway.

Talking to our competitors also opens up opportunities for collaboration. In reality expertise and experience are hardly ever matched exactly and opportunities often emerge for serving a wider range of clients.

Finally, by engaging with potential competitors through social media you are also engaging with their networks.  I see this spirit on Google+ in particular, and from what I see everyone seems to be benefiting.

Starting a discussion on LinkedIn could be an opportunity for a competitor to jump in and hijack the conversation; and I suspect this is what puts some businesses off engaging. But the ensuing debate can also be an opportunity for you to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Openness and authenticity

b2b marketing

What’s on the inside?

The net effect of points 1 and 2 is B2B marketing based on openness and authenticity.

In the old days a potential customer would have to research potential suppliers on Google or another directory. They would then have to try to penetrate the glossy shell of traditional marketing content on company websites to try to work out what each supplier was really like.

They might then organise a dog and pony show where potential suppliers roll up and give a traditional marketing presentation.

Now everything is laid bare. From the content a business publishes people can see who they are, what they think and what really drives them.  It’s easier for businesses to identify suppliers that best match their needs, philosophy and objectives. The discussion is then much more about details and price rather than: are you the right people for us to work with?

3. Don’t get obsessed with SEO

Or to be more precise, don’t get obsessed with individual page rankings. So much of on-line marketing has been about making sure your site ranks on page 1 for targeted keywords. As a result people have over-optimised their sites and acquired back-links that are now defeating the very goal they set out to achieve.

Successful modern marketers understand that part of the secret to succeeding on Google is to act as though it didn’t exist. Building vibrant on-line communities will reinforce your trust, reputation and authority. Your communities will earn you traffic that doesn’t depend on search; and your content and social media activity will make you less dependent on Google’s strategy and algorithms.

And guess what – all this on-line authority will ultimately help you get found by relevant people through Google searches too.

4. It’s not all about the message

Brand publishing

A traditional view of marketing has been heavily focused on getting the message out – the brand-centric approach of telling people what we do and why people need what we sell. This is usually accompanied by the sort of marketing communication that sells, persuades and attempts to force people through a sales funnel – isn’t that what marketing departments are for?

An alternative approach is to construct your strategy around building an audience, through creating content that they choose to engage with. Some experts like Brian Clark at Coppyblogger maintain that modern marketing is all about the media and not the message: build the audience and they will tell you what they want.

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 I recommend having a look at Brian’s New Rainmaker series of podcasts. You might not agree with every word (I don’t if it comes to that) but he will challenge all of your assumptions about marketing and make you re-evaluate what you are doing. That’s everything I want from a piece of content.

Perhaps that’s a bit too radical for some but it illustrates a fundamental difference in thinking: rather than marketing being something that we do to people it becomes a process that they are actively engaged in and feel in control of.

Which brings me to my final bit of ‘difficult thinking’…

5. Marketers are no longer in control

Should Marketing be in control of marketing? Until not so long ago it would seem self-evident that Marketing and PR should control everything that is published or communicated in a company’s name. Without that control how could you have consistency in the messages that are put across and how can you ensure that published material meets the required standards of professionalism and identity?

These are still very real concerns, by the way. I recently explored some of the challenges associated with brand publishing.  But, in 2014, with the opportunities created by content publishing and social media, are centralised control and micro-management of marketing still advisable or even tenable? Or does the effective modern marketer learn to let go and trust people a bit more?

Expertise and authenticity are the new currencies in on-line B2B marketing.

If expertise lies with the people ‘doing the job’ and centralised control and standardisation act against authenticity and spontaneity, does a traditional marketing approach help or hinder the process? People will not engage with content if it comes across as yet another bit of faceless marketing (even if it does have a picture of somebody’s face attached to it).

I would argue, therefore, that a modern B2B marketer shouldn’t try to control everything that looks like marketing.

A healthy debate

While I’m typing this I’m heavily conscious that this final point (indeed all of these points) might be controversial and far from a trivial debate. But a good debate is always healthy.

And if successful marketing is going to be so topsy-turvy and counter-intuitive, what is the role of the marketer? In my view marketers will deliver more value by learning to become enablers rather than controllers of a company’s marketing efforts.

Here are some invaluable things that professional marketers are best able to contribute:

  • Identifying the audience and creating customer personas. Whoever creates the content, it really helps to understand who it’s for.
  • Creating marketing themes that can be used to guide content creation.
  • Managing the assets, particularly owned media such as the website and blog, and the social media channels.
  • Strategy and metrics.
  • Advice and coaching – helping people create better content but not telling them what to write or telling them off when they get it wrong (whatever that means).
  • PR – identifying influencers and channels to amplify the content.

These are some critical tasks and I’m sure you can identify others. But what they shouldn’t do in my opinion is insist on writing, editing or approving every piece of content that gets published, which is the change they may find hardest of all.

B2B marketing

 

Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger and Content Marketer

01823 674167 richard@rshcopywriting.co.uk

 

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So, Should CEOs Blog or Not?

There are some fascinating discussions going on at present about the extent to which CEOs and other employees should publish content on company blogs and social media platforms.  Respected commentators and SEO experts like David Amerland and Mark Traphagen are strong proponents of key employees and CEOs becoming authors and presenting a human face for their brand through content and social media. Some are not so sure.

blogging

Other, equally respected sources have very strong and entirely understandable reservations. Some corporate communications professionals throw up their hands in horror at the thought of untrained CEOs sounding off about anything that takes their fancy with no regard for the brand identity or message.

There are some really absorbing Google+ Hangouts On Air like this one if you want to know a bit more of the background.

Making brands ‘human’

The thrust of the argument is that there are solid marketing and SEO benefits from encouraging wider participation in a brand’s content creation. For one thing, people like to understand who is behind the logo. And as Google moves towards a semantic search environment, having a wide range of experts contributing their individual authority through Google authorship to that of the brand, should be a big boost for SEO.

If you want to understand more about semantic search, how it is affected by authority, and what this means for the future of SEO and on-line marketing I suggest you get hold of David Amerland’s book Google Semantic Search.

I have to say that I am heavily inclined towards the view that CEOs and key employees should be regular bloggers. In fact, I would say that it is essential and possibly inescapable.  But, as a business writer and frequent ghost writer, I can also see the potential pitfalls.

Writing is not easy

For one thing we know that company executives and specialists often don’t have the time or the skills to put together a well-structured and well-reasoned article; one that informs and leads to some sort of purposeful conclusion. As writers, we spent years learning how to do this. And even where the skills exist, operational issues and client priorities are always likely to take precedence.

The other difficulty that every copywriter and ghost blogger will have experienced is that business owners and CEOs sometimes struggle to distinguish between their interests and passions, and the content needs of their customers. Some get it and some don’t.  I’m sure this was the sentiment behind a comment I saw in a Google+ discussion about CEOs blogging: ‘They can, but nobody will read it.’

A very real concern would be about how a disparate team of non-professional authors, possibly with a passing knowledge of marketing disciplines, could be expected to produce content that engages readers  and reinforces consistent brand messages and themes. You can produce all the editorial guidelines you want, but will people stick to them? How do you get some discipline and consistency into the process without corporate comms and PR strangling the life out of it? There are some big practical issues for brands to address.

None of these difficulties, of course, discredits the view that effective content creation by a wide range of individuals, and CEOs in particular, has the potential to ‘humanise’ and strengthen a brand, and could ultimately be crucial for SEO.

Can the circle be squared?

Some CEOs and employees will take to the task like a duck to water and will instinctively see the link between the brand message and the interests, needs and questions of their customers. They may struggle with crafting polished prose and their grammar might be a bit ragged, but I don’t think that’s a problem.  (I think I hear a crowd of copywriters and grammar pedants approaching my door with flaming torches at this point, but carry on).

Authenticity and meaning is the name of the game, not finely honed copy.

But in many other cases ghost writing or significant editing seems to be inevitable. But, can ghost-written content ever be considered authentic and can it ever appear as such to readers? That’s a debate that will rage, I’m sure, and it is a really big issue.

corporate blogging

Whose words. whose thoughts?

As David Amerland points out, it certainly puts a premium on brands finding writers who can represent an authentic voice (or possibly voices) for their organisation. But other than a possible supply-side issue, I don’t see a problem with this. When I’m writing on behalf of clients I can think no higher praise than: ‘that content is us’ or ‘that’s exactly what I would have said if I could have found the right words’.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that every good writer can be a good ghost-writer for a business.

Blogging on behalf of a business isn’t about expressing our opinions or world view, it’s about getting inside the soul of the company and seeing things the way they do – and the way their customers do. I wonder how many of the writers with a mainly journalistic background who are becoming bloggers can really empathize with the culture of a business in the way they need to. Clearly ghost blogging works better when we see things in similar ways and there’s a natural affinity between the writer and the business. And maybe that’s the big challenge.

So what do I think?

First, I don’t think I’m going to have to put away the laptop and seek an alternative career handing out baskets at the DIY store anytime soon.  Even if brands accept the need to become large scale content creators, I think they’ll need some professional help.

Second, I can’t help feeling that within a couple of years we’ll have stopped talking about content marketing as if it’s something new and strange. It will be something that brands do, quite naturally, to build relationships and trust with their customers. I have little doubt that this will help SEO in the age of the semantic web and I have even less doubt that this is a really smart thing for brands to be doing anyway, right now.

content marketing

 

Richard Hussey, Copywriter and Blogger

01823 674167 richard@rshcopywriting.co.uk

 

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One guaranteed way make more people read your content

Producing content that appeals to a specific audience is difficult and time consuming. And it’s sad to see so much of that effort go to waste time and time again. Why? because the person publishing the content didn’t appreciate that the headline demands just as much attention as the rest of the article.

headlines and content

Got Your Attention?

OK then, the last time you wrote a blog article or started a discussion in LinkedIn or Google+, how much time and effort did you devote to the headline? How many different versions did you write before deciding which one to use? And how many people were involved in the decision?

Your answers to those questions could determine the success or failure of your entire content marketing strategy.

What would make you click?

Here’s an exercise I use in content marketing seminars. I have a list of 10 headlines taken at random from my LinkedIn discussion group feeds. I show these and ask people how many of them they would have clicked on and why. Typically, people would click on no more than 1 or 2.

There’s no trick involved, I didn’t pick 10 headlines notable for their awfulness. I believe they represent a reasonable cross-section of the sort of thing we all see every day.  What’s interesting is that  people are highly discerning when it comes to clicking on somebody else’s content, but they don’t always appreciate that the same rules apply to their own articles.

What makes somebody else click?

The fact is that headlines are probably the most critical feature of your content.  There’s a reason that top content marketing agency Copyblogger has 4 people involved in approving every headline they use. And their reputation means they don’t have the same level of challenge as the rest of us in getting people to click through to the article.

So, if you accept that your headlines possibly need a bit more attention than you’ve given them, how can you go about improving them?

When you write a headline, email subject line or post a discussion on social media here are the questions you need to ask:

  • Who do I want to read this?
  • What will make them see that this content is for them?
  • What will persuade them to open it?

Your headline has one job: getting the attention of the people you want to access your content and convincing them that it’s worth investing the time to read it.

Is there a magic formula?

Coming back to Copyblogger they have a principle known as the 4 U’s that they apply when evaluating headlines. And I’m going to add a refinement which you should also find helpful.

According to the 4 U’s principle your headline should aim to hit at least 3 of the following criteria:

  • Ultra-specific (bit of a cheat there I think)
  • Useful
  • Unique
  • Urgent

Specific means understanding who your content is aimed at and crafting your headline to make it clear that the content is relevant to them.

Useful has to convey that time invested in reading the content is going to be worthwhile.

Unique is largely to do with reflecting your brand voice and not writing the same style of headline that everybody else is.

Urgent means that your headline should make people want to read the content immediately rather than later (we all know what happens then).

I think this is sound advice. And I’m willing to bet that if you go back over some of your recent headlines and tried to use these criteria you will identify ways you could improve them.

What do people need?

The other factor to introduce is to think about the state of mind of the person you want to read the content. The customer personas you have developed and their stage in the buying process will determine whether people are likely to be looking for advice, information, help, guidance, or whether they are so desperate for answers that they want somebody to tell them exactly what to do.

The way you write your headline could have a significantly different impact depending on the state of mind of somebody reading it.

Here’s an example of a headline, also from a LinkedIn discussion:

‘Don’t submit your proposal before you do these 3 things!’
How else could you write this? Here are 3 alternatives that have a different approach and would probably appeal to different people:
  • Three techniques guaranteed to improve your proposal success rate.
  • How three simple changes to your proposal could win you your next contract.
  • 3 things you are probably doing that are losing you business
Without knowing something about the target readership or the specific objectives for that piece of content I couldn’t guess which is most likely to be successful. And without testing different approaches over a period of time I couldn’t be certain.

Attracting the right people

The other point to remember is that your aim is not to get as many people as possible to click on your link – it’s getting the right people to click on it! In the words of copywriting pioneer Claude Hopkins: ‘The purpose of a headline is to pick out people you can interest’
He was making a comparison with face to face sales where a salesperson can talk to many people before finding somebody who is genuinely interested. A good headline will make sure you are talking to people who are interested in what you do and have a need for what you sell – which has to be worth a bit of effort.

content marketing
Richard Hussey,
I’m a copywriter, blogger and content marketer based in South West England.  Subscribe to my blog using the box above to get more updates like this.

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Content Marketing: Passing Fad? Over-Hyped? Or Essential Marketing for the 21st Century? Read this before you Decide

Everyone’s talking about content, or so it seems. Here’s what we are told: you need content to connect with your customers and to build trust in your business; and increasingly, so we’re told, the quality of the content you publish will determine your visibility to Google and the performance of your site in searches.

But does this view represent reality? Can any business really make an impact through publishing content? Here’s a real-life example that might help convince you. It will also give you some vital pointers if you want to content strategy that delivers results.

When search traffic falls off a cliff

content marketing

And suddenly there was nothing – what do you do when your search traffic disappears?

Imagine if the following happened to your business. For many years you have ‘owned‘ important keywords; your business has consistently ranked at or near the top of Google searches for those terms for as long as you can remember. You’ve actually invested quite a lot of money with SEO specialists to maintain that position. And then, overnight, your site disappears from page one and gets relegated back to the pages nobody looks at.

This is something that happened to one of my clients during last year. Google decided that links back to their site, that had taken years to build and which contributed significantly to their high rankings, were unnatural. The so-called Penguin update to its ranking algorithm relegated the site from page 1 and organic search traffic fell around 75%.

Here’s what the daily search performance looked like in Google Analytics for late September to early October. Note the steep drop in the number of times their site appeared in search results:

content marketing search

The cause was the Penguin 2.1 update that Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed on October 5. A total disaster you might think. And yet, here’s what the total traffic to the site looked like:

content marketing - traffic

No change! So what happened? How could such a marked change in search visibility have no impact on site visits?

As it happened, shortly before the Penguin took a bite out of search traffic I had started working with my client on a blogging strategy. From late summer we began publishing regular in-depth articles (3 per week) exploring different topics related to their business. The website traffic we generated through this content outweighed what was lost through search.

Not only that, the number of sales enquiries increased and enquiries from people with unrealistic expectations for what they could get for their budget all but disappeared. In other words, the traffic generated by the content appears to be of a higher quality. We need a bit longer and a bit more analysis to quantify this but the indications are highly positive.

Possibly this reflects the fact that the motivation behind starting regular content publishing wasn’t actually traffic generation. It was part of a strategy to move the business towards working with higher value clients.

So I just need to start a blog?

Before anyone gets the impression that just starting a blog will automatically put you on the road to Eldorado, there were some important features of what we did that you need to appreciate.

Focus

Before we published any content we formed a clear idea of who we wanted to target and had a clearly articulated understanding of the core values of the business. We had a clear view of the type of customers we wanted to attract and a vision of why the customers we wanted would be attracted to the business. We also had a clear understanding of the issues and challenges they faced and used this to drive the content themes and the plan.

Substance

The articles we publish have substance and depth.  They are typically around 1000 words or longer. They are based around commonly understood values within the business and they aim to offer interpretation, insight and helpful advice. Interestingly, the business had experimented with blogging in the past and had published a series of articles of the ‘you could read the same thing anywhere’ type. These made no impact. Also, and really importantly, there is no overt selling going on in the content.

Process

We developed a process that made full use of the client’s technical and market-specific knowledge and my content marketing and editorial skills. We have set days when parts of the process are scheduled to happen and everyone involved has clear responsibilities.  We use Google Drive to move work through the creation and publishing process so everyone can keep track of what’s happening.

Promotion

Once articles are published we have mechanisms in place to promote them on social media platforms and to encourage engagement and comment.

What next?

Having proved the point that investing in good quality content pays dividends we’re planning to build on the successes.  The frequency of the articles will be reducing but their length and their value to readers will be increasing – we are reinforcing the quality over quantity approach!

We are also developing more sophisticated and strategic approaches to content amplification, using social media and influencer networks and through PR to maximise both visibility and engagement.

We are also implementing improved monitoring and tracking so that we can better understand the influence of the content on enquiries and eventually sales. We are also using this to refine the content model to get a better idea of the most productive topics and treatments.

And finally

Publishing content is already starting to rebuild the performance in searches and will achieve this in a sustainable way. Google wants to base its ranking decisions more and more on the quality and value of content. As Google moves from being keyword driven to the more natural semantic search environment we are investing in creating the quality of content that they want to serve up to its users.

The trust, reputation and authority created through the content will be the cornerstone of this business’s online presence and marketing. Meeting Google’s needs while also making the business less dependent on Google at the same time.

So, content marketing does seem to work. You have to invest time, energy and money but it will deliver results.

content marketing

 

Richard Hussey, copywriter and content marketing specialist

Want to see what on-line content could do for your business?

Call me on 01823 674167 or email richard@rshcopywriting.co.uk

 

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Attracting Customers through their Interests

What’s the surest way of engaging somebody in a conversation? Talking about yourself, or talking about the other person and the things that interest them? At its most basic level, that is what content marketing is all about – engaging customers through their interests.

content marketing

Some people are uncertain about adopting a content marketing approach for their business. I know some eye it with suspicion as the latest fad dreamed up by marketing consultants in order to make money. The very fact that it has its own terminology suggests that content marketing requires businesses to master a new set of techniques and practices. 

But at the core are some simple principles that businesses know all about and some simple truths that good networkers understand and use to good effect. Of course there are challenges and I’ll talk about some of those. But content marketing also offers huge opportunities to expand your business opportunities at relatively low cost.

There are also potential risks for businesses who continue to ignore the importance that publishing on-line content will have in the future of digital marketing and their potential to get found in searches. I’m going to talk a bit about this too.

The basics

Whatever style of marketing you go in for, you won’t get far unless you have a clear picture of what makes your business different and the values that your business stands for. And this means more than just being ‘innovative’ or ‘customer-focused’ or any of the things that every one of your competitors would say.

It makes sense if your USP is defined in a way that is relevant to your customers and genuinely represents a difference that they would experience and appreciate. Understanding the link between your USP, the characteristics of the customers for whom that USP is relevant and attractive, AND the interests and concerns of those particular customers is where the magic starts to happen.

USP or UBP?

I sometimes think it would be more helpful to talk about a Unique Buying Proposition – to put the focus on the needs of the customer rather than the seller. But, we are where we are, so let’s think about what USP means and how that might influence the content a business needs to create to attract more customers.

Say for the sake of argument that you are running a pub with a restaurant and B&B in Exmoor. How are you going to differentiate yourself from the dozens of similar establishments? There’s only so much you can say about how comfortable and distinctive your rooms are or how tasty your food is. And, frankly, everyone else is probably saying much the same.

Clearly your web content needs to include these things; it would be a bit perverse if it didn’t. But will this really win you more business?

Of course it has always been possible to win more business (or more website hits, at least) by manipulating keywords and ‘acquiring’ links to your site to ensure that you hit the top listing in Google searches. But this route is becoming less certain and eventually may not work at all (more of that later).

What do customers appreciate?

My first question would be this: what do your customers find the most enjoyable features of their stay and what do they most appreciate? If you ask the question this way you might find, for example, that your accommodation was incidental.  What people really appreciate is the town where you are located, or the access to facilities and attractions.

If people were really interested in hunting, fishing, walking or bird-watching and found your hotel a convenient base for these pursuits, wouldn’t that give you some clues about the sort of content you could create and how to focus your marketing?

Content marketing – make it personal

If fly-fishing was the big draw I would write (or get written for me) some first-hand accounts of visits to local fly-fishing spots saying what was special about them. By giving a personal account as opposed to links to websites of local attractions, you are creating empathy. You are demonstrating that you understand what potential guests are looking for and they can trust you to make sure they have a great time during their visit.

If you know how to promote your content effectively, then people can find you through their interests. Demonstrate that you understand their interests and needs, and you start building trust. This is what content marketing is about.

You can use the same process pro-actively. If you believe you have an opportunity to attract more customers with a slightly different profile or set of interests, and your business is able to satisfy their needs, then you can focus on content that would attract them in the same way.

Think Red Bull

Possibly the most extreme example of reaching customers through their interests is Red Bull. I’ve heard Demian Farnworth, Chief Copywriter at Copyblogger describe them as a content marketing company that sells a fizzy drink.

If you look at their website you will hardly find the drink mentioned (how much can you say about fizzy water laced with copious amounts of sugar and caffeine). But you’ll find plenty about cliff diving, motorsports and skateboarding. While much of the content is focused on building brand loyalty, it demonstrates the point about connecting with customers through content and the things that interest them.

On-line clothes retailer ASOS is a slightly less extreme example. As well as selling clothes the site offers ‘Trend Guides’ to help inspire shoppers to find their look and understand what is happening in the world of fashion. Users (or members) can submit their own photos of ensembles that they’ve put together. There are also daily magazine style content marketing features targeted at male and female customers as you can see on this page.

While I’m clearly not their target demographic I can see how fashion-conscious young people would find this helpful and appealing.  I can also see how it builds the value of the brand, encourages loyalty and provides reasons to visit the site even when you are not intending to make a purchase.

B2B

For businesses selling to other businesses, coming up with content ideas is usually less of a challenge – so long as you have a crystal clear picture of the people you want to connect with.

At the heart of this is the understanding that your products, services and expertise are no more than a means by which other businesses can solve problems and achieve their objectives.  As soon as you understand what those problems and objectives are, content ideas should bloom like crocuses in the Spring.

I think this is partly what Peter Drucker meant when he said: “Business has only two functions — marketing and innovation.”

Content and search

I touched on the subject of search engine optimisation above.  Getting your business to rank highly for specific keywords has always been a good way to get more traffic to your website. But we are going to see significant changes in how this process works over the next couple of years – some of which have already started to take effect.

Increasingly, ranking for specific keywords will become a redundant concept. Google is getting more intelligent at understanding what your content is about and matching that to its interpretation of what somebody was really trying to find.

It will be much less important if the keywords in the search don’t exactly match what you have in your content.  Google will want to show the best quality content that does the best job of answering what the searcher was looking for. The results displayed will also take into consideration the context of the person making the search.

In the past Google hasn’t been able to make a reliable association between somebody researching ‘fly-fishing in Exmoor’ and places to stay if you want to go fly-fishing in Exmoor. In the future it probably will. And that’s why your content is going to matter so much more.

And as a final point of focus I’ll leave you with another Drucker quote: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

content marketing

Richard Hussey

Helping your business stand out from the crowd. Keep up to date by subscribing using the box above.

01823 674167 richard@rshcopywriting.co.uk
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Digest of last week’s SEO revelations

I’m just wondering how many revelations we’ll see this week about SEO techniques that we should or shouldn’t be using. There were certainly a few last week with guest blogging and social media signals coming under the spotlight.
Here’s my quick and basic summary of what I think we learned last week, taking on board announcements from Google’s Matt Cutts and a few experts whose opinions I respect.
1. Google is concerned about guest blogging being used to create back-links. If your primary motivation for guest blogging is to improve your SEO and generate as many links as possible, you should probably stop or refocus.
2. Google doesn’t directly use Facebook and Twitter signals to determine your search ranking but they do seem to affect ‘visibility’ to Google. Significantly (possibly) Matt Cutts didn’t say whether Google +1s counted, but the consensus is that they are not a direct ranking factor. Again, though, active participation on Google+ will help Google to take a coherent view of your web presence and will indirectly make you more visible.
3. Albeit slowly, the internet is becoming more intelligent and intuitive and Google is determined to get better at serving us up the best and most relevant content – even if the specific string of words we used in our query doesn’t appear anywhere in the content.

And here’s what I think this all means for on-line marketing

1. You still need a well-structured website that is easy for Google to crawl.
2. You should still use relevant keywords in the right places, if only to help Google understand what your site is about.
3. Don’t use social media tools to improve SEO – use them to build networks and relationships. And get on board with G+ sooner rather than later.
4. Continue posting relevant and valuable content on external sites to build your profile and influence – but don’t do it for the links.
5. If you don’t have a plan for creating regular content, of the highest possible quality, that answers your customers’ questions and problems – get working on it now.

content marketingRIchard Hussey, Copywriter, blogger and content marketer.
Need help putting a content strategy together for your business? Get on track with a Content Masterclass.

It’s Content, but is it Marketing?

I am honestly losing count of the number of SEO agencies that are producing articles extolling the virtues of content marketing.  Fancy that! There’s more to on-line marketing than search rankings and organic traffic.

content marketing

Are you telling me content has always mattered?

Just be be clear, I’m not saying that rankings and traffic don’t matter. And a good technical SEO expert can still help your business – a lot! And I know that many SEOs do understand content marketing and the bigger picture of digital marketing. But, I do have some concerns about how the content ‘solution’ is being presented.

What worries me about some of the latest converts to the cause is that they can create the impression that content marketing is a substitute for SEO tactics that Google has started to frown on. Some of this possibly stems from SEO agencies being led into the world of content via link building initiatives or by a historical view of web content as a vehicle for keywords.

Content marketing is so much more than an optimisation and traffic generation tactic. It’s also so much more than just publishing content!

Which takes me to my second concern: there’s a danger that businesses get the message that publishing content is the answer. In fact, with the number of articles, seminars and discussions on the subject it could be hard to avoid getting this message.

As a result businesses could easily start publishing content without really thinking through what they’re trying to achieve: no objectives, no clear targets, and no clear messages.

So, how do you know if what you are doing is content marketing, or just ‘publishing content’? Here are a few ways you can tell the difference.

1. Know your customers

How clear is your picture of the people you want to engage? If you had to write down 5 characteristics of each of  ’persona’ you want to reach could you do it?

If you had to list the things that matter most to these personae, (purists will love that plural) could you do it?

If you can’t do this, you are almost certainly just publishing content.

2. Know yourself

What does your business stand for? What are the unique values and characteristics of your business that will appeal to your target market? What is it that drives you to do what you do? Have you really understood where your expertise overlaps the needs of your potential customers?

Have you developed your values into consistent themes and messages that you weave into your content and throughout your on-line presence?

If you haven’t identified these values and you’re not using them consistently in what you publish, you are probably just publishing content.

3. Know your voice

Every organisation needs a voice or ‘tone’. It has to be representative of your business and it has to appeal to your target audience.  You have to think about the impression and the emotional reaction you want people to experience through your content and how your voice reflects that.

If you don’t understand how your voice needs to sound, you are probably just publishing content.

4. Know the journey

Content marketing has a clear picture of potential customers at each stage of the journey from awareness, interest, active consideration and through to the decision to purchase.  It understands the questions that have to be answered and the objections that have to be overcome at each stage.

Content marketing has a schedule for publishing content that addresses these critical issues and decisions at each stage of the process. Content marketing is configured to move people through the process by gentle persuasion.

If you haven’t mapped out the journey and haven’t addressed the needs of your potential customers at each stage, you are probably just publishing content.

5. Know where it fits

Content is one part of a marketing jigsaw.  How is your content publishing integrated with your activities to build your on-line reputation and influence? Is your social media strategy part of your content marketing strategy, or is that managed somewhere else? Do you have a plan to build your on-line networks and influence to promote your content?

Is your content strategy aligned with your other sales and marketing plans, including email marketing? Is your sales team fully engaged in the process and using the content you produce to cultivate leads, opportunities and relationships?

If content stands on its own, you are probably just publishing content.

6. Know what works

Not everything goes the way you planned or has the effect you intended. Content marketers review what works and what delivers the results they were after. Measurement and refinement is part of the process.

If you don’t know the subjects, headlines and approaches that are most effective at engaging and converting your audience, you are probably just … well you know the rest.

How can you move from publishing to marketing?

I’m pooling my knowledge and experience with fellow content marketing specialist Stephen Bateman to deliver a series of 1-day, intensive courses to help you get from publishing content to productive content marketing.

Training is delivered to small groups with a structured process to take you through all of the issues above. You’ll come out full of ideas and inspiration, and with a workable plan to market your business through content publishing. Click on the link below for more details.

Content Masterclasses

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How much is your email address worth?

Do you ever abandon the signing-in process to ‘free’ WiFi in a cafe when they ask for your email address? I know I do. Often I don’t need the free WiFi enough to risk another load of email marketing spam. Our email addresses have a value and most of us won’t give them up without seeing a clear benefit.

email marketing lists

Spam is spam – however you dress it up.

But, as businesses, we also want to get email addresses that we can use in our on-line marketing. What frequently mystifies me is why some businesses think that people will be prepared to trade their email address for not much in return.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the concept; dangle the carrot of a free e-book, a how-to video or some other piece of content – just give us your email address and you can download it. As is usually the case with on-line marketing, there’s nothing wrong with the concept, it’s just the way that people sometimes go about it that causes a problem.

The email address is not the goal!

If you are using content to harvest email addresses so you can bombard people with marketing messages, you are missing the point. The purpose of content marketing is to build relationships that lead to sales.

Email marketing is one of the ways, along with social media engagement, that you maintain and strengthen those relationships and gradually convince people to make a purchase. What you have to demonstrate consistently is that the people who give up their email details will get more out of the transaction than you do.

Give me your email address and I’ll use it to send you loads of information that you’ll find genuinely helpful! This might include some targeted special offers, but not every time.

If your e-book turns out to be a collection of platitudes with all the insight of the average football pundit you have fallen at the first hurdle. Your aim should be to give up some of your expertise; to offer genuine value that will make people hungry for more of your content.

A healthy mindset

I have a real difficulty with terms like web-bait and squeeze pages. Why? Because they sound cynical and de-humanise the approach to on-line marketing.  See potential customers as individuals and not as faceless ‘leads’ and I think you’re on the road to more successful email and content marketing.

I have a bit of a problem with ‘sales-funnel’ for the same reason. Yes, people will be at different stages in the transition from awareness to ‘ready-to-buy’, and they need different content for each stage; but the imagery of tipping them all into a big funnel always seems unhelpful to me.

We buy from people when we trust them. And we earn trust by demonstrating consistently that we know what we are doing and that we care about the needs of the people we want to connect with.  Does your approach to content an email marketing reflect that reality?

Your customers are not stupid

People understand the game. They know when they click on a download link that you are after their email address. What they want to be confident about is what you’re going to do with it and what they get in return. If you think that you can trick people, or get away with offering paper-thin or shoddy content in order to build an email marketing list you are deluding yourself.

So, if you know how much your email address is worth to you, don’t assume that the potential customers you want to reach will guard theirs any less jealously.

B2B marketing

 

Richard Hussey

Copywriter, Blogger and Content Marketing Specialist

Content Marketing the Smart Way

I will be delivering a one-day masterclass with Stephen Bateman of Concentric Dots in Exeter on February 11. Hands-on, practical training to get you going with productive content marketing.

 

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