Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Everything old is new – blogging's big

Saturday, July 25th, 2009
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Actress Meg R...
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Journalists have certainly become enlightened since I first started writing about blogging in 2003. Many of them now write blogs of their own–some I know have begun making their living via the blog format. Still the post below from 2003 still makes some good points.

Blogging: tip of the iceberg or tail of the dog?
Originally posted December, 2003

The Quill, a quasi-scholarly publication of the Society of Professional Journalists, has been arriving in my mailbox for the last few months because I became a member of that well-respected group this year (2003). I glance through it, but much of their content is related to traditional journalistic discussions rather than to the concerns of business. Some business writers have been known sometimes to find that approach a tiny bit self-important.

Imagine my surprise, then, to see two articles in this month’s edition (“Hard News versus Narrative”) that deal with the struggle of a few veteran journalists to convince the denizens of their world that they ought to be telling stories instead of rigidly following the 5-W format (who, what, where, when, why) for their reporting.

One high-profile journalist, Tom Hallman, Jr., laments his inability to keep up with requests from young journalists about how to tell stories in warm, personal terms. Call me crazy, but I see this as the tail following the dog…the dog being the trend that has spawned the phenomenon of blogging–the need to take a simple, honest, individual-voice approach to writing–even for “news” stories.

The point is–you want people to read what you write! And because the competition for people’s attention (just like for your business) has multiplied exponentially with every improvement in the Internet, you just aren’t as likely to get what you want with old-fashioned marketing approaches.

People do not have time to read pre-digested, uninspired, impersonal corporate-speak. Write as if you were telling your friend about whatever you are frustrated, angry or happy about.

People want to read writing that’s from the heart. How close to your heart is your business? So, write!

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Email marketing can be easier than you think

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I’ve just discovered an amazing software program. Actually I was already using it for something powerful–automatically sending emails to subscribers when one of my blogs updates.

Now I’ve discovered this AWeber software does way more. It offers a way to create and automate an effective email marketing program–not just a reminder to keep in touch with prospects, but a way to DO it ahead of time. Check it out and take a free test drive here.

4 ways a white paper helps you sell

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

What’s a white paper–and why should you care? Good question. You’re out there trying to run your business, and in the current economic climate that may be a more-than-usually challenging job. So who has time to develop another marketing tool?

There are several reasons smart companies are making the time. But first, let’s define our terms.

What’s a white paper?
The term white paper means a 6 to 12-page (can be 50 pages or more) professional write-up that explains objectively a possible solution to one of an executive’s specific pressing business problems. It can also be called a special report or other name. Here’s how it might work:

  • If you’re a software company executive whose prospects need to track orders or coordinate resources, you could offer a white paper explaining how a new software solution has been proven to reduce lost orders and save money by optimizing trucks, pallets, drivers, and other resources.
  • If you’re a private equity investment executive, you might offer a white paper that details steps to help people understand how to tell a smart investment from a poor one.
  • If you’re a staffing company executive, you could educate your prospects about the complexities of making smart hires, explaining aspects of a familiar process that are not well understood by most people.

In other words, you don’t give your process or your tools away. Instead, you explain what the needs are, talk about where trends are heading, and hint at solutions (that you can, of course, provide).

Why should you care?
White papers offer a powerful but subtle way to position your company as the expert in a particular arena. A prospect who has engaged enough to ask for your information is a prospect who is genuinely concerned about the problem you’re addressing and who already feels a certain level of trust with you.

  1. White papers generate interest. They offer education and information that addresses a particularly challenging point in the reader’s business situation.
  2. White papers are no-pressure. The format says we’re-sharing-useful-material-here-not trying to sell you.
  3. White papers have credibility. Information is backed up by third-party, objective research. You’re not making claims in a vacuum. You offer proven sources as the basis of your assertions.
  4. White papers build relationships. They offer an invaluable opportunity to speak in your company’s True Voice and show customers you care about their problems.

But when do you sell?
Of course, you need to make sure you follow up with those who download or receive your white paper. That’s part of the marketing that helps make it effective. But if you turn the initial follow-up into a hard-sell situation, you risk turning the prospect off–and ensuring they will be unlikely to trust your future offers of information.

However, if the customer is ready to buy when you follow up, you’re in a strong position to make the sale right then. And if the customer is only in the early stages of research, you’ve initiated a relationship in which you’ll likely be welcome to stay in touch with occasional value-add offerings. That’s how you make sure yours is the company that comes to mind when the customer has more questions or is ready to move forward.

With your white paper you’re reinforcing your expertise and getting your company name and logo in front of the customer in a no-pressure, trusting, learning situation–a great place to be in today’s high-speed, short-attention-span, what’s-next? marketing environment.

Sincerely,
Barbara

P.S. If you’d like to learn how a white paper/special report might be a good tool for your company–and get a coupon for $50–call or email me. Chicago 773.292.3294. Cleveland 216.472.8502. barbara@reallygoodfreelancewriter.com.

* Good on your next project of $150 or more (more…)

What's new in marketing–and 7 things you can't forget

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

“There’s nothing new under the sun.” We’ve all heard this quote, perhaps uttered by a cynic about some new idea. Attributed to Ambrose Bierce, here’s the full original:

“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1842 – 1914)

Obviously, he wasn’t implying that our creative efforts are doomed. But even as new technologies seem to be constantly surprising us–and demanding complex new ways of measuring ROI–that saying remains true in business. As long as human beings think and make decisions the same ways they always have, the fundamentals of marketing and advertising remain the same, no matter what forms you use to serve them up.

There are certainly a few new twists in targeting, though.

One of the unique issues facing American marketers today is shifting demographics. As technology and the Internet expand our ability to target ever-narrower audience segments, we need to research these segments carefully. For some industries, that might mean ferreting out demographics like marital status. Fifty-one percent of women in America today are single–a dramatic change in 30 years in the landscape of our society. Singles tend to view the world a bit differently than married people, and marketers who want their business will do well to take that into consideration when crafting their messages.**

Racial identity is another arena that complicates U.S. marketing today. Reaching audiences with a different language besides English means paying attention not just to language but also to cultural norms. And it’s not always easy to get the demographic facts. One study indicates that in North Carolina, 118,000 new-birth mothers in 2002 recorded their children’s race in 600 different ways. The National Center for Health Statistics collapsed all those into 10 standard race categories, e.g., by reclassifying “other” as “white.” The reality is that ethnic and racial diversity continues to grow in the U.S. And while the day may come when racial identity will no longer be a major way of segmenting audiences, as of today it is still a meaningful demographic–and a sound basis for creative segmenting.

Green thinking offers another opportunity to target companies and individuals with the environmentally-conscious mindset–and the number of those companies is growing. Mega-giant General Electric recently won an award for its green-marketing campaign.

Even while this goes on, the basic elements of marketing and advertising have always been the same: words, images, and sounds. Some of the most effective message-carriers today have evolved over the last 10 years: web content, online articles, e-newsletters, and blogs.

New formats such as video and mobile marketing are growing as vehicles for your marketing messages, especially to younger folks. Your goal remains the same: create customers and retain their business over time. And the objectives you must achieve in order to meet that goal haven’t changed:

  1. Capture your reader’s/listener’s/viewer’s attention.
  2. Describe a solution to something important to them.
  3. Create trust–and convince them of the value of your solution.
  4. Support your position with client testimonials and/or celebrity endorsements (Michael Jordan/NIKE). Riskier but effective if well done, brand yourself with a quirky character (GEICO’s Brit-humor-inspired gecko).
  5. Provide an incentive and a deadline to take action.
  6. Give prompt, courteous service.
  7. Keep in touch with value-add content.

So yes, you have new vehicles and new ways of segmenting your audiences. But the basics remain the same: creative words and images that express your True Voice and meet your marketing objectives in fresh and powerful ways.

Sincerely,
Barbara

P.S. Blogging continues to grow as an effective tool for connecting with prospects and clients. If you’re interested in starting one, email or call me for a free consultation on how it might work for your company. Cleveland office: 216.472.8502. Chicago office: 773.292.3294.

By the way, don’t forget to vote!

** All single people–male and female–tend to have less conservative views. Interestingly, 60% of America’s 93 million unmarried people support Barack Obama according to a Gallup poll. Here’s more on the subject of singlism by Psychology Today writer Bella DePaulo, PhD.

If Microsoft buys Yahoo…crystal ball says

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

What does it mean that Microsoft is trying to buy Yahoo? Well, let’s see. I envision it as kind of like Cable vs. DSL–”giant-with-unlimited-funds-and-access-to-every-computer” fighting the other “giant-with-unlimited-funds-and-access-to-every-computer.” 

Here’s a really good analysis analysis of the potential consequences by a non-insider-but-sure-could-be. What Does The Yahoo/Microsoft Debate Mean For The Rest Of Us?

Will our screens begin having a run of ad spots every fourth time we turn them on? Will they feature the browser equivalent of turtles entertaining us with barely-amusing anecdotes about why some small difference between the two of them is critical to our happiness and success? I hope they hire better advertising agencies than Comcast…

Typo fun and a holiday announcement: changing angles on this blog

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

Was looking for a song I sang one year with a church choir. Using Google, struggling to remember the line so I could look it up by lyrics… Stumbled on this amusing typo on a Christian music site:

CALL TO WORSHIP Lyrics – MERCY ME
Prince of Peach, almighty God Counselor, ….”

So proofread your work–even if you’re a great speller and an excellent typist. I am both of those things, and yet I am appalled to look back sometimes at one of my posts and realize it contains one and even sometimes two typos that my fingers just seemed to type without my knowledge. Isn’t that how all mistakes seems to be made—without our knowledge?

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve not been posting here very often. Let’s face it. I’ve been ranting about the value of blogs since I discovered the medium back in 2003.  And I haven’t changed my mind about that. But, although I’d be happy to do a presentation for you on why it’s a good idea to blog for your business, I’d much rather write in my own blog on a broader basis.

One of my chief pieces of advice to business blog writers is to write about what you enjoy. Even though it’s trendy now to blog (thank goodness it’s finally been recognized as the powerful medium it is), if you aren’t passionately involved in your business, don’t try to publish a blog about it! So I’m going back to my former polyglot approach to topics.

And the first topic is wish you a wonderful Christmas or Hannukah or whatever you celebrate at this beautiful end-of-year holiday time.

Sort through the small-biz-info jungle

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

The Internet has facilitated the growth of small businesses, and the owners of those businesses have the Internet to thank for the incredible amount of information and the seemingly limitless amount of help they can find about running those businesses.

 But it can feel pretty overwhelming at times. Too much. Where do you turn? How do you sort through it all? Fortunately, just as the newspapers became the editors of our information a couple of centuries ago–and some would argue began to abuse the privilege–now the Internet is home to some very bright people whose whole business is sifting through the wheat and chaff and providing you with solid, up-to-the-minute information on everything about your business.

One such source, always reliable and timely, is Small Business Trends Radio. It’s run by a woman who’s a lawyer and a former CEO of a small Internet division of Bell & Howell. Her radio show and her website are loaded with the best available help for your small business. And now they’ve introduced a compilation area.

Anita Campbell knows how to interview so you get each person’s best knowledge on a topic.  Take a walk through this wonderland of expert advice – the Small Biz Podcast 100.  Oh, yeah, and check out our podcast with Anita on the site, too – Blogs – Cutting through the Hype with Barbara Payne.

What it takes to write a corporate blog

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Writing in your corporate blog is a commitment. It takes perseverance. It often takes imagination, as you cast about for suitable material. It takes creative energy to convert the events of ordinary business days into material that will interest your readers. It takes being interested yourself in order to make your blog interesting. Of course, it helps if you’re a high-profile, high-ranking executive at your company; your position alone attracts readers (and often lots of comments from readers who want to be associated in some small way with your power and prestige).

It’s nice to see that a midwest university engaged in a research project to understand what makes corporate blogs effective. One of the most important ways to get your blog known is to read and comment on other blogs in the same topic areas. This adds another element of time to the process of publishing a corporate blog. Very important to consider the time required when choosing who will write your blog. More on this later.

The pscyhology of why business blogs work

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

You may be wondering about how a business blog can engage your prospects, vendors and customers. The reasons are many.

Let’s start with the fact that people who want to do business or are doing business with you enjoy knowing about you–about your company and its attitudes and its goals. If you provide this kind of transparency in your corporate blog–or even in your personal executive blog–you’re inviting them to feel part of an “in group,” a psychologically powerful way of building loyalty.

Next you’re inviting them to genuinely feel a part of the group by participating via comments. Research cited in this Forbes.com story, “Online, Helping Strangers Is Huge” backs this idea up. We all want to feel that we have something to contribute. By inviting comments you validate your visitors’ sense of importance. Even if they never do comment, the fact that they have the option is pscyhologically valuable.

Another point is that you are promising people something. You’re promising to regularly create something for them that’s worth reading. And on that score, you should make sure that’s true each time–or don’t write anything at all. You’d be amazed how many people keep coming back to a blog that has provided value for them–even long after the author may have stopped making regular contributions.

In short, you are creating a personally fulfilling relationship with your readers that doesn’t require them to do anything but enjoy. They don’t have to speak up. They don’t have to be accountable for anything. They can just show up when it’s convenient and keep up with you and your company. Yes, it takes a real commitment from you. But the payback can be significant in terms of creating trust and loyalty.

Competing with giants – Wikipedia's got guts

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

If you ever worry about your competition getting ahead, you’re not alone. But how’s this for an example of how to believe in your own knowledge and capabilities? Wikipedia, the folks who’ve created the most extensive repository of human knowledge ever online, are setting their sights on beating Google and Yahoo at the search engine business.

I mean, this is chutzpah of the first order. But they’ve already got the presence online–and the investors, including other giants such as Amazon. But this is the exciting premise. The idea is that this new search engine will use human brain power combined with open-source technology to find the truly most-relevant results to an inquiry, not results that are influenced by how popular something is to other people (not counting how many incoming links a page has, as is now done with Google’s algorithms).

This could be revolutionary stuff–removing the popularity-contest aspect from the formula for determining the value and/or validity of information. Could dramatically change the search engine optimization business as well–a welcome change from the mysterious, hide-your-secrets game now played by many SEO companies.

Though this is still a way off. it’s an interesting strategy for Wikipedia to announce it far ahead of even knowing how they’re going to do it. Undoubtedly Google is going to sit up and pay attention. And I’m going to guess that well-written blogs full of value-add content will assume an even more critical role in determining search engine rank. However they set it up, they will always have to watch the human element–where people have power, money can buy influence. But I’d say this is a great day for deciding to start your company/corporate blog. Give me a call with questions.