Helping Your Clients With Web Content – What to do When They Don’t Have a Clue

By Katie Daggett

(Note: This post originally appeared as a guest post on the Creative Freelancer Blog.)

Things are good. You’re designing a site for a new client. And they’re loving everything you’ve done… so far.

But, the time has come to plug in the copy. So, you send the email or make the call to your client asking them to send the copy over.

And you’re met with silence. Or, you get a pile of old brochures and some scribbled notes that would take you hours to make into usable content.

Or even worse, you get a response along the lines of, “But, we thought that was something you would do.”

The project stalls.

Finally, in a desperate attempt to get the project moving (so that you can get paid), you give in and spend hours piecing together their piecemeal copy yourself.

Hours that weren’t in the budget, and hours you likely won’t be paid for.

If you’re “lucky”. The client does have content to give you. It works. But, you know that it isn’t all it could be. You have a sinking feeling that the copy you’re plugging in won’t attract the audience, or drive the sales, that your client is expecting from their website.

So, what’s a self-respecting web developer to do?

1. Set Expectations

If you don’t have a copywriter on staff, or don’t offer copywriting as a part of your web development services, make sure that your client knows that up front. During your initial conversations, be sure they understand that they will be responsible for creating the copy, and ask how they are planning to provide it to you. Discuss content deadlines early on, so that the client knows when they will need to send final copy to you in order to launch their site on time.

2. Give them Guidance

To help your clients along, be sure to discuss in detail what content they will need to provide for each page of their website. Give them an outline, noting where headlines, subheads, sidebars, calls to action, and other components of each page will be needed. Ask them to send content to you as a single Word document (or whatever format you prefer), to avoid getting disorganized bits and pieces from several company authors, or in the form of various brochures and other marketing pieces that you are required to sort through and pull from. The more detailed the content outline you provide, the easier it will be for you to plug in the copy when the time comes. If the client is clueless, and you’re concerned about quality, you may also want to give them a copywriting guide or checklist.

3. Include Copywriting in Your Proposal

If, as often happens, the client hasn’t given a thought to copy and isn’t sure how they’re going to handle it, it’s helpful to have a network of copywriters to recommend. You can either pass your best recommendations on to the client, or, gather an estimate from a trusted copywriter and include it as part of your bid. If the cost of copywriting puts the project over budget, your client can always strike it out – but at least they are aware that the burden of providing copy is theirs.

Read the rest of this article on the HOW Creative Freelancer Blog

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 »

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”.