Stop! Before you hire a web designer, do this.

Written by Katie Daggett

Stop and consider content strategy

Here’s the problem. You know your business needs a website. Or, you need to replace an existing website that isn’t working for you.

So, the first thing you need to do is hire a web designer, right?

Not so fast.

I’m not telling you not to hire a web designer. If you want a custom site and don’t have design or programming skills, you definitely need one.

What I am saying is, before you start focusing on how your site looks, what color scheme you’re going to use and whether or not you want video, you’ll be better off having a strong  web content strategy already in place.

Sure it looks great, but …

I’m tired of seeing businesses struggle online because they focused more on how their website looks than on what it says. They hired a web designer to create a site without having given much thought to who their target audience is and what they might be looking for on their website. Then they wonder why they aren’t getting traffic, or why prospective customers are leaving their site so quickly, without engaging.

Creating a web site without a content strategy is not only a huge waste of time, it’s a waste of money. That’s why I’d rather have you think about content development now, in the beginning, than after you’ve already spent thousands on web design.

How do you do this content strategy thing?

1)    Start by defining your website goals. Think about what you want your website to do for your business in terms of driving traffic, generating leads and converting those leads into sales. Is the goal of your website to provide information, establish your brand, sell a product – or a combination of the three?

2)    Know your target audience. A good web content strategy also requires you to have clear picture of your customer. Who are they? What do they want? What problems do they face? And why they are coming to your website?

3)    Think about what your customers are looking for. Once you’ve defined your target audience, think about the questions they’ll have when they arrive at your website and how you will provide them with the answers they seek. Are they looking for information about your product or service? Details about your company? Or to learn more about issues facing their business or industry?

4)    Plan your content. After you’ve answered those questions, you can start to map out a web content outline. This includes the pages your site will have, how they will connect, and what the contents of each page will say. A good place to start in developing a web content outline is with keyword research. This will help you find the topics your target audience is looking for and help you write search engine optimized (seo) web copy that will help your business get found on line.

5)    How will you say it? At this stage, you’ll want to think about style and tone. I usually recommend keeping website content friendly and conversational, unless you are developing a white paper that is highly technical in nature. That being said, depending on your company, product and service, your content can vary widely between professional and irreverent in tone.

6)    Start writing your website content. You can also start thinking about inviting a web designer into the process.  If possible, I recommend having final website copy written before the actual design process begins. The more website copy you have completed upfront, the easier it will be for your web designer to give you exactly what you want, and avoid redesigning pages later on.

You don’t have to go it alone

If developing a website content strategy, conducting keyword research, and writing seo web copy sound overwhelming, you can hire a copywriter to craft content for you. Just as a web designer is a good partner to have when making design updates to your site, a copywriter can help you create ongoing content updates like blog posts, case studies, white papers, Slideshare presentations and webinars.

If that sounds good, get in touch. I’ll walk you through the entire process, from defining your target audience, to mapping out your website pages and even working together with you web designer/developer to setup your site.

Post by Katie Daggett

Katie Daggett - Freelance Copywriter Katie Daggett is an expert copywriter and the owner of KD Copy & Content, helping companies get found online, and convert prospects into customers, with great website content. She loves coffee, labradoodles, hanging out with her family, and exploring her new home state of Colorado (but not necessarily in that order). To learn more about the Web Content services we offer, click here.

 

The “No-Brainer” Guide to Choosing Your White Paper Style

Written by Katie Daggett
Planning your white paper is a no-brainer

Writing a white paper can be daunting. Depending on your subject matter and industry, it can require a great deal of planning and research and an in-depth knowledge of the topic (or access to experts who possess this knowledge). Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, especially when the format and topic of your next white paper is unclear. Fortunately, this part of the process doesn’t have to be complicated.  Just follow the steps below to help narrow things down.

  1. First of all, decide what you want your white paper to accomplish. Do you want to:
    • Generate leads?
    • Get noticed or stand out from competitors?
    • Explain the benefits of a product or service?
  2. Once you’ve determined the goal of your white paper, your next step is to consider the preferences of your target audience. Are they conservative members of the C-Suite? Or, are you trying to reach twenty-something entrepreneurs? Will your audience expect a list of points they can easily skim, or more in-depth data and research? All of these questions will help you determine the appropriate content, length and tone for your white paper
  3. And finally, conduct a thorough investigation of your target sector, industry, or vertical market. Research your competitors and industry trade journals to see what is common in the industry. Then, decide whether you want to fit in, by choosing a style your audience is used to seeing, or stand out by taking a new approach.

After you’ve completed these three steps, it will be much easier to determine the type of white paper that will work best. The following is a brief description of the three most common white paper styles and the most appropriate uses for each.

1)  The Backgrounder

What it is: A factual description of the technical or business benefits of a product or service.

Best uses for this white paper:

    • Supporting the launch of a new product by explaining it to the vendor’s sales force and channel partners, plus any journalists, analysts, or bloggers who cover that space.
    • Near the bottom of the sales funnel, to help a technical evaluator size up your company’s offering against the competition.
2)  The List

What it is: Quick and easy to scan, this white paper is a gathered list of points about an issue important to your target audience (and one your product or service addresses). It is often written with a fun, witty tone.

Best uses for this white paper:

    • Getting attention with a provocative approach to some issue
    • To cast fear, uncertainty and doubt on competitors
    • To nurture prospects through the middle of the sales funnel by keeping them engaged and entertained
3)  The Problem/Solution

What it is: Useful information that educates your target audience about a problem facing the industry and positions your company as a trusted adviser. It usually begins by introducing the problem, pointing out the draw backs of existing solutions, and then offering a new, improved solution to the problem.

Best uses for this white paper:

    • Generating leads at the top of the sales funnel
    • Educating your target audience
    • Increasing your company’s visibility

If your topic doesn’t fit…

Once you’ve picked a white paper style, you’re ready to pick a topic. The first step is to test potential topics to see if it is too broad or too narrow to be a good white paper subject.

White papers are typically five to twelve pages in length, with backgrounders falling on the shorter side of the spectrum, and problem/solutions going longer.

For example, the question: “How to solve the current economic crisis” is obviously too broad of a subject for a white paper, and possibly even a book may not be long enough to do it justice. On the flip side, “5 tips for writing a better email subject line” is probably more suited to a 500 word blog article than a white paper.

Has your topic been “done to death”?

You’ll also want to eliminate any topic that has already been covered extensively by your competitors, trade journals and the like. You want your information to be fresh and relevant to your target audience and not something that has already been thoroughly covered by everyone else. Do a quick Internet search on any topic you are considering to find out what has already been written on the subject. But don’t give up if the subject you had your heart set on has been heavily covered. If you can find a new angle or approach on a subject, or offer a unique solution to the problem, then it may still be valid subject for your white paper.

When in doubt…ask your customer

The best way I’ve found to choose a white paper topic is to go directly to your customers or talk to your sales people to find out what their prospects biggest problems or concerns are.  You can also conduct your own research by listening to what your customers and prospects are saying on social media. What questions do they have? What information are they looking for? What solutions have they already tried and are they happy with the results? Listen to your customers, and you will have your topic.

Keep it simple

Of course, choosing a style and topic for your white paper is only the beginning. There’s a lot of research and planning, not to mention writing, to do from here. If you are new to writing white papers, or could use a hand in expanding your company’s content library, I’d be happy to help. Give me a call to discuss your project at 970.556.1294 or email katie@kdcopyandcontent.com.

 P.S.  A lot of what I know about writing white papers (including the information in this article) I learned from white paper expert, Gordon Graham. If you produce (or plan to produce) a lot of white papers, I highly recommend you check out his book, White Papers for Dummies. Not only does it have a lot of great tips for writing white papers, but also explains how to manage the entire process – from planning to distribution (including working with outside writers and graphic designers).

Do You Make These 5 Case Study Mistakes?

Written by Katie DaggettAre You Making These 5 Case Study Mistakes?

 

Case studies can be an excellent marketing tool; in fact, they are one of the most credible, effective weapons in any marketer’s arsenal. However, too many case studies are either so dry and boring that they don’t get read, or they are devoid of the measurable results that can influence your prospects to buy. Watch for the following five mistakes if you want to create a winning case study that compels and sells.

1)     You don’t tell a story. The function of storytelling is what separates the case study from all other marketing materials. The difference is that while most marketing materials center on you telling customers how great your product or service is, a case study adds third-party credibility, because it is essentially a customer testimonial in story form.

To add interest and engage your customers, your case study should follow the standard story structure:

a.  Challenge: Set the scene with a description of your customer and the problem(s) they faced before discovering your solution.

b.  Solution: Explain why the customer chose your solution and describe how it was implemented. Include any challenges that arose during the implementation process and how they were addressed.

c.  Results: Describe the results the customer achieved after implementing your solution. Include as many concrete details as possible, rather than using vague statements about how things improved. The results section is also an excellent place to feature a customer quote about the benefits they received.

When a prospect hears the story of how your solution helped a similar company overcome the same challenges they are now facing, it carries more weight than a brochure touting your product’s features and benefits.

2)     You don’t provide details. Details not only make case studies more compelling, they help to answer specific questions your reader may have. If you talk in generalizations, like: “The solution cut costs dramatically”, or “Reduced production times significantly”, your case study will carry less weight than if you offer measurable results.

Try to include statements such as: “After implementing the solution, Company A cut its annual costs by 40 percent”, or “After implementing the new solution, Company B was able to reduce turnaround times from 3 to 4 days to less than 24 hours.”

A well-written case study can help counter generalizations used in other marketing materials by giving specifics and providing examples of your solution in action. Providing detailed, measurable results serves as credible proof and lets your prospect visualize how your solution could provide them with similar results.

3)     You aren’t speaking to your audience. Your company may have a solution that appeals to different types of companies and industries, giving you multiple audiences to address. It is important when writing a case study to select just one of these audiences to speak to. Once you have chosen your target audience, sketch out a persona or bio and write your case study for them. Things to include in the bio are job title, gender, goals, needs, and challenges. When writing your case study, focus only on the details that this person would care about, and speak to their specific needs and problems. Again, if your product has the ability to solve many different problems, chose just one to focus on to give your case study clarity.

4)     You don’t have a compelling focus. Before writing a case study, choose a compelling angle to focus on. Ideally, the angle you choose will match your goals in writing the case study, with the needs and goals of your prospect. If your product offers several benefits to prospects, select one benefit to focus on for each case study. This will keep your case studies from all sounding the same. Plus, it will provide a case study that speaks to the benefit a particular prospect finds most important.

Possible angles you might choose include:

  • Cost savings
  • Time savings
  • Energy savings
  • Faster deployment
  • Easier maintenance
  • Being innovative

5)     You don’t have customer quotes. Case studies without quotes from the customer are lifeless and don’t entice prospects to read on. Telling the story in the customer’s voice and from the customer’s perspective lends valuable credibility – and interest – to your story.

To generate compelling quotes, it is vital that you interview real customers – don’t just make them up – even if your customer is going to approve them. Quotes generated by a marketing team will sound flat and artificial compared to what your customer will say in his or her own words.

Try to include specific details in your quotes – dollar amounts, the amount of time or energy saved, etc. You’ll also want to create quotes that can stand alone, so that you can use them in other marketing materials or as testimonials on your website.

Ideally, quotes will tell a mini-story, following the “challenge, solution, results” structure. As for which quotes to include, you can strengthen your case study by including the following three types of quotes:

  1. A quote that describes the customer’s challenge or pain
  2. A quote that explains why the customer chose your company’s solution
  3. A quote that describes the number one benefit the customer experienced as a result of implementing your solution.

6)     You don’t have story signposts. Signposts help to guide readers through your case study and reinforce your message. Start with an active, descriptive headline that draws the prospect in and compels them to read more. If possible, include measurable results in your headline, such as: “How Company X increased its profits by 45 percent in just 6 months”.

Strong subheads serve as guides throughout the case study and help to reinforce your message.  If you don’t have to follow a standard template (such as Challenge, Solution, Results), or even if you do, try to write subheads that highlight important points throughout your story. As with headlines, it helps to call out compelling details where you can.

Finally, sidebars are a critical element to include in every case study. They can serve as a summary, outlining the challenge, solution and results, and give your readers an at-a-glance look at your story.

Avoid these mistakes and you should be able to create a strong case study that engages your target audience and ultimately helps you to close the sale. If you are new to writing case studies, or need some help adding life to your existing ones, I’d be happy to help. Give me a call to discuss your project at 970.556.1294 or email katie@kdcopyandcontent.com.

P.S. – I’m planning a series covering the various aspects of writing content for the web. Visit my home page and sign up for my email newsletter so that you don’t miss a single installment. As a bonus, you’ll also receive a free copy of my content marketing white paper.

The Alexander Payne Guide to Content Marketing

Alexander Payne Guide to Content Marketing

(Photo Credit: Kimon Kalamaras, Hollywood Greek Reporter, Dec. 2011)

Written by Katie Daggett

Living in Omaha, Nebraska for many years, I quickly became a fan of Alexander Payne. Besides the novelty of watching movies set in the town where I lived, I loved his darkly comedic portrayal of the everyman. Payne chooses to use his films to tell the stories of average men and women, often working as insurance actuaries or high school teachers…characters whose lives seem uneventful, boring even…until he set them off on a hero’s journey. Of course, the nature of Payne’s films didn’t always leave our hero gleefully triumphant in the end. But, for the most part, they do come away with a modest victory of sorts – one very suited to the lives they have carved out for themselves.

How does this relate to content marketing?

As content marketers, selling software and technology products and services, we often struggle to tell our company’s stories in a way that will excite and engage our audience. How on earth do we take a product as seemingly boring as tax accounting software, for example, and make it the hero of any story?

To be the hero you have to understand the people you are helping.

The first step to writing your hero’s story is to get to know your prospects and the problem they are wrestling with. Get to know them well. Mine your databases for demographic and psychographic information.

  • Find out when they first made contact with you – was it after a trade show, a webinar, a blog post or article?
  • Interview your customers if you can, and find out what is their biggest pain, what motivates them, what resources do they look to for information, what information do they need to make a buying decision, and what medium do they prefer (case studies, white papers, phone calls, emails, webinars, live meetings)?
  • Talk to your sales people and those who have direct contact with customers to find out more about your prospects wants and needs.
  • Use this information to create a detailed biography of your customer – you may have several different personas here – one that includes everything you need to create a living, breathing character you can speak to in your marketing efforts.

You must also understand what they need from you, and when.

Next, study your buyer’s journey. What are the stages your prospects go through and what information do they seek along the way? This often starts with Stage 1 – where your prospect is seeking information about their problem; followed by Stage 2 – where they are focused on finding a solution; and Stage 3 – where they are ready to select a vendor to provide the solution.  White papers and other third-party content is good for Stage 1, whereas a webinar might be well received in the later stages, when prospects are more clearly focused on the particulars of the solutions you offer.

Give your customer what they want – not what you want them to have.

In Stage 1 of the buyer’s journey, you will want your content to be focused on the situation your prospect finds himself in. Focus on their pain, show that you understand the problem, and offer information on how to solve the problem in general terms. This is not the place for you to push your product or solution, or to talk heavily about your company. Make sure the content you provide is information that your customer will find useful, even if they don’t end up buying from you. Right now, what your prospect needs is information, and your role here is to become a trusted adviser…one they may turn to when they are finally ready to buy.

Later in the buying cycle, you will still want your content to be customer focused, but you can begin to offer more details on your solution and its specific benefits, as your prospect becomes more ready to select a vendor.

Over time, you may emerge the hero in your customer’s story.

But, how to make your stodgy, highly technical product offering the hero of your company’s stories? Again, the key is to focus on your customer. Share the exciting story of your product’s benefits, don’t bore them by listing its features. Show your customer how well you understand their pain. Demonstrate how your solution will save the day. Provide real-life examples of your solution in action. Start a conversation. This is how your customer will get to know, like, and trust you. This is how your solution, like a character from a Payne film, becomes a hero in their eyes.

Like this post? Need help creating content that engages your audience? Let’s talk. Call 970.556.1294 or email: katie@kdcopyandcontent.com.

For more info about lead nurturing and content marketing, download my latest white paper »

Why you could be losing up to 80% of your sales. (And what you can do to keep them.)

Written by Katie DaggettB2B Marketers Losing Sales

Let’s start off with a little math.

First, enter your company’s revenue in the past year.

Now, multiply that number by 5.

Your total is how much revenue your company could be losing if you aren’t nurturing your long term leads. Of course, you probably aren’t losing all of your sales from long-term leads, this figure simply reflects the potential leads that could be lost at some point during the sales cycle.

“Long-term leads can represent as much as 80% of your sales,” says lead generation expert, Brian Carroll, in his book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale. And if you aren’t nurturing your leads with meaningful contact throughout the buying cycle, these are sales you could be losing to your competitors.

Now, while that figure may sound alarming. What it really represents is an amazing opportunity.

Why?  Because the majority of your competitors ─59% of companies according to Marketing Sherpa’s 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Report ─ still don’t have lead nurturing programs. So, by reading this report, and acting on the advice within, you’ll be well ahead of the game.

Why is lead nurturing so important?

First of all, it keeps prospects engaged with information they really care about and that can help them make the best purchasing decision. Lead nurturing is a gradual process that guides prospects from where they’re at right now, to where you want them to be in the buying cycle.

A secondary benefit is that the information you provide can serve as the “proof” your prospect needs to persuade other decision makers within their organization that yours is the solution to buy.

And what is the number one tool for nurturing your long-term leads throughout the buying cycle?  Content.

If you want to ensure these future customers remain in your funnel, you must have a relevant, consistent conversation with them. This means engaging them with information — content like articles, newsletters, whitepapers, and videos — that they’re eager to read, share, and act on.

So, what determines useful content?                   

First, let’s discuss what it is not:

  • Talking about your company, how great you are, and describing product features…
  • Hard sales, strong calls to action, “buy me now” statements…
  • New product or service “announcements”

What good content should do is offer information that helps solve a major problem your buyers have. For example, if you sell accounting software, you might offer a white paper that explains what to look for when purchasing accounting software.

Remember, of course, to offer a general solution, focused on the buyer’s problems, and talking about general business issues and market trends, rather than pushing your company, product or service.

It’s also important to keep in mind that leads are people, and that your goal in building a successful lead nurturing program is to build a relationship with them with useful content.

The goal when creating content is never to sell, but rather to support a conversation. The question you should be asking when creating your content are, “Is this helpful” and “Is this relevant?”

By creating valuable content, you’ll also be giving your sales people tools to support their conversations with customers, giving them something helpful and relevant to offer and discuss.

Key Benefit #1: By giving your prospective buyer genuinely helpful information, you are helping to position yourself as a trusted advisor and someone he will likely look to for a solution when he finally is ready to buy.

If you’d like more tips on developing your lead nurturing program (or improving the one you have), check out my FREE white paper: Content Marketing Complete Guide.

Will you land more customers with a wide net or a smart hook? Narrowcasting vs. Broadcasting

Written by Katie DaggettB2B Marketing - Narrowcasting vs. Broadcasting

Suppose you decide to become a fisherman, knowing that the people of your village prefer a specific type of fish called the “blue-finned flyer”. The blue finned flyer is smaller in number and hard to catch, so the people of your village are willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Considering yourself somewhat of a smart businessperson, you decide to specialize in catching and selling blue-finned fliers.

The traditional way to catch fish in your community is to cast out your net, haul it in and sort the fish at the end of the day – selling whatever you bring in. Now, this approach does bring in a great number of fish with minimal effort, which is why most of your fellow fishermen use this method. The downside is, out of the daily catch, only a very small number will turn out to be the blue-finned fliers you are looking for.

So, you decide to try a different approach.

You decide to study the blue-finned flyer and get to know them as well as you can. What do they prefer to eat? Where in the river do they prefer to congregate? What time of day are they most active? What attracts them? Repels them? And so on.

After much research, you determine that the best way to catch a blue-finned flier is to bait your hook with a very specific type of insect, go out in the very early morning, and cast your line into the reeds along the shore.

Do your efforts reward you with a massive number of fish each day? No. But you are successful at reeling in exactly the type of fish you are interested in catching – and you bring in more of this fish than any of your competitors. You don’t sell a great number of fish each day, but those fish you do sell fetch a premium, so you end up earning more per fish for your time and effort.

So, how does “narrowcasting” apply to content marketing?

The first time I heard the term was in an interview with Avaya’s CMO, Mark Wilson. He used this method, when launching a software product, to target prospects in the financial industry. By focusing narrowly on the habits of decision makers in this industry, his marketing team was able to devise a plan to target their prospects heavily throughout their day – from the newspaper’s they read at breakfast, to the elevators they rode up to their offices. Wilson’s team carried out their highly targeted efforts for three years. And, according to him, the product launch was the most successful in the company’s history.

In my opinion, too many companies take the easy way out with “spray and pray” marketing methods. They devise one message and broadcast it to the masses.

Will they attract any leads that way? Sure. But they will turn many prospects off as well. Many of whom could have been converted into sales had they been approached with the right message at the right time.

The moral of this story?

Take the time to get to know your customers and prospects. Really study them. What are their needs? What do they read? Where do they congregate? What motivates them to take action?

You can find this information out by scanning your customer databanks, talking to your sales people, studying your analytics to see when your prospects first contacted you (after a webinar, an email, or a live event); what types of content do they most respond to, what are they talking about on social media, read the magazines they read, hang out where they hang out.

Then, take this information to create personas (or bios) for each of your various audiences. Make them as detailed as possible, until you can see them as a real live person sitting in front of you. Then write your marketing content as if you are speaking one on one with that person.

Finally, deliver your content through the channels you know your customer prefers – webinar, a written report, via Twitter or LinkedIn or email. And, provide the information your prospects want, when they want it (this comes from knowing the stage of the buying cycle they are in-for more on that, you may want to download my white paper).

Bait your hook with the stuff your customers want.

Cast your line along the shoreline in the early morning, when your prospects are primed and eager for the information you have to offer.

Become a trusted adviser, rather than a talking head with a megaphone.

You will be rewarded, not with massive, untargeted traffic to your website, but with a select group of highly qualified leads that are ready and willing to buy from you.

What approach do you prefer when creating your content – one with broad appeal or do you target a narrowly focused audience? Leave a comment and share it with us.

And if you’re interested in an easy-to-follow guide to improving your content marketing efforts, click here to download my white paper “The Marketing Pro’s Guide to Creating Great Content”.