Are They Not Reading, or Just Not Reading About You?

storybook

As a writer, I’ll admit that certain things bug me, probably more than they do other people.  Misplaced commas.  Capitalizations that don’t belong.  Sentences that start strong, lose the plot halfway through, and then wander off into the weeds.  Paragraphs that are little more than small sentence collections.  That sort of thing.

More than anything else, though, the dreaded words: “No one reads this stuff anymore.”

I hear it a lot, especially when the “stuff” involved is more than about 200 words long.  The general idea is that we’ve collectively reduced our attention spans to the scope of 140-character Twitter posts, and if you’re not tagging the reader within that range, you’ve already lost them.  And that’s real trouble if your business can’t be easily explained in emoji form (which is all of us).

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Believing In More Than You

giveVoice

Please let me introduce myself.

My name is Rob Warren. My wife and I own Load Bearing Creative, and the voice you read here on this blog is generally (but not always) mine. I’m a technical writer and a tech marketing guy. Most of the time, I work in a home office, writing white papers and case studies, while watching our wiggly Lab out in the back yard chasing birds.

There are human beings on the other side of the keyboard. And they believe in stuff.

For most of us, I think, there’s a natural inclination when we write about our businesses to avoid injecting personal sentiment into our working words. Some of that falls under the category of “being professional”, I suppose, but the older I get and the longer I work in this field, the more I suspect it’s little more than risk aversion.

We’re all afraid that some incredible client is just waiting out there to shower us with riches, but will shun us at the last moment because – gasp – they have discovered some personal bone of contention. So we hedge and avoid and back away and stick to the bullets.

Thing is, I don’t think we can get away with that anymore. Not in the social media age.

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Filed under Beyond the Business, Inspiration

What Election 2016 Should Be Teaching Us About Messaging

social_vote

Setting aside whatever your feelings are about the issues, candidates, or campaigns, the events of this election year should be teaching us all a lot about effective messaging in the social media era. Basically, that historian Daniel Boorstin was right.

Back in 1961, Boorstin published “The Image: A Guide To Pseudo-Events In America”, a short history of the evolution of public relations in America during the 20th century. This was after the first televised presidential campaign, and Boorstin was particularly inspired by the “sweaty lip” Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960. In his book, he identifies and outlines the “pseudo-event” – a reported-on event that is only important because it has been reported on – and how it could be used in the future to blur the lines between legitimate news reporting and entertainment.

Sound at all familiar? It should.

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If Your Outbound Marketing Is Easy, You’re Doing It Wrong

 

 

cold-calling

 

So recently I was targeted by a certain sales rep with a certain prominent company that does inbound marketing software – basically, marketing automation that relies mainly on social media and pay-per-click campaigns. They stay in business because people hate to cold call. I’m not going to name names, but if you work in marketing today, you almost certainly have seen this company around.

I’m a writer. I communicate for a living. I work with engineers, tech companies, and marketing firms, charged with assembling written marketing collateral for outfits that make complicated, practical things.

For what I do – and for many of the companies I work for – there is very little value in making things sound sexy. The things we sell work for a living. They do stuff. They are needed, and they are worth the money. Most of my job is listening to very smart people, and then getting that bottom line value across to other very smart people.
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Staying True

compass

I’ll confess to struggling with integrity.

No: I don’t steal from my clients, or mug little old ladies on the street, or cheat on either my taxes or my wife. For most of us at least, those aren’t the real integrity struggles. Staying on the straight and narrow with the major sins is fairly easy. The high hurdles – the real challenges to one’s integrity and self-respect – are much more subtle and nuanced, ever present, ever ready to knock you off the rails and into a place that you don’t want to be.
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The Danger of Tech Silos in the IoT Age

convergence

The thing about specializing, particularly in technology marketing, is that it is so easy to silo yourself. And that represents a big problem in most technology service provider marketing departments.

Silos happen when a company, division or entire industry splits itself up into specialized vertical categories, usually to take advantage of dedicated production chains and focused industry relationships. They establish channels of predictability: you know who your customers are, what they need, what you provide, and who you are working with.

Organizing yourself in this fashion can have a lot of upsides. But it can also blind you to coming convergences that are set to jump easy categories in order to fashion new ones, spanning the silos.

Tech people specialize. That’s how they stay successful in tech – by betting on the winners and staying on topic with them. But from time to time, you have to see a bigger picture to stay in the game.
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Being Your Own Best Expert

mugexpert

Not long ago, on a rainy January afternoon in the office, I took some time out to catch up on some long overdue cold calling. I will admit without reservation that this isn’t my favorite activity. Occasionally it bears fruit – which is why I do it – but most of the time, a typical call session accomplishes little but burning off a few unused hours of the day.

From time to time, however, I encounter a situation that gives me pause and makes me think.
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Your Reader, Your Self: Quick Tips For Effective Written Communication

It’s one of the very first questions that come up in any technical marketing copywriting project: “Who is your reader?”

The answer, of course, is never quite as simple as it seems. I try to explain to my clients that the goal of their written copy should be to strike a visceral identifying tone with the reader. This person should be able to quickly scan the headline, read a few sentences of your lead, and instantly and emotionally recognize themselves in the tone and message. So understanding the reader is really, really important.

With the start of the new year and the spring trade show season right around the corner, you’re probably going to hear a lot in the coming months within your own organization about new marketing messages, strategic priorities and company directions. But as you try to figure out the message that will best work for your company in 2016, take some time to make sure that you’re speaking to the right reader. And, just as important, in the right way.

As a technical marketing copywriter, I see seasoned professionals often make the same mistakes, simply due to the overwork and stress that comes with modern marketing responsibilities. By focusing on a few pointers, however, you can avoid the big messaging potholes that will surely trip up everyone else this year.

A business – type, size or mission – is not a reader. When I ask a client to identify their reader, almost always they answer with a vague categorization of a group of markets. Small businesses. Midsized enterprises. Mom and pops. Manufacturers. Telecoms. Medical practices.

These answers are starting points, but they are not readers. Your reader is a flesh-and-blood human being who came to work this morning, and very likely would rather have slept in instead. This person has to make decisions based on imperfect information, and on some level is at least mildly stressed that they won’t make the right call. They are mentally juggling many other preoccupations at work and home, in both their professional and personal lives. Something weighs on their mind.

Businesses don’t have emotions. Readers do.

Your reader is operating in a very self-interested state when they read your copy. They don’t really care how long you’ve been in business, how many combined years of engineering experience your team has, or that you bring your terrier to work every day (and yes, I’ve seen businesses include that). What they care about – at least, at the moment they read your copy – are themselves.

Your reader woke up this morning knowing they have a problem, and knowing that they have to deal with it today. They don’t want to. They want the problem to go away. If they can be the hero for making the problem disappear, wonderful. Again, we’re talking about emotions. The features of your product or service, while certainly important, don’t directly address the emotional needs of the reader. And that’s all your reader cares about today.

The harsh truth is this: an imperfect product marketed with an on target, self-interested appeal message will beat out a superior product pushed with a dry technical pitch, almost every single time.

Your reader has readers. This is an extremely important point, and one lost on a great many otherwise highly skilled marketers. While you may have your primary reader (the person I think of as the “front line reader”) locked down, rarely will they be the only one to read your message. A C-level executive, for example, will quickly scan your copy and then pass your marketing piece over to a CFO, trusted engineering team, business development director or someone else for a second opinion. That second – or third, or fourth – reader will have a significant influence on the final business decision.

Having been a technical writer now for most of two decades, I can state without question that this is the toughest part of the job: crafting tone and content that works for multiple audiences at once, that allows different people to see different things, while still reaching the conclusion that you want them to reach. Casual/technical, wholesale/retail, financial/marketing.. the problem with realizing that your readers are selfish (because they’re people), is that you also realize that they don’t all want the same thing. The job then becomes one of achieving the maximum diplomacy with the minimum word count.

And finally, your readers exist in time. No problem is eternal, and even the perception of a problem changes depending on season and circumstances.

Most bad marketing copy has at least one thing in common: it attempts to freeze a problem into a single moment of forever, rather than placing it within the context of time and change. There is a reason why your reader has come to you today, rather than last week. Something has pushed a critical issue to a level that can’t be ignored any longer. Your reader doesn’t exist in stasis. They live in a story.

Over the years, I’ve found a comprehensive study in dramaturgy to be highly useful in marketing. Understanding how culture and story intersect – how expectations shift and are realized in time, and how people react when they don’t – is important when trying to reach emotional people who live in a plot-driven world. Place your message within a time context, and communicate in terms of changes rather than status quos.

I could go on, but I’ve taken up enough of your time here. You’re busy. Maybe someday soon we’ll have the opportunity to chat more about this on the phone or via email, perhaps even within the context of your own marketing problem or challenge.

It all just comes down to this: reading requires mental and emotional energy, so you had better give back more than you take. If you can achieve that, the rest of marketing is a relative snap.

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What Your Customers Want To Read

One of the most frustrating parts of working as a marketing creative today is that, no matter your particular skill or specialty, there is no end to the parade of people ready to tell you that customers only care about something else.

Are you a graphic designer? People want to see photography. Web engineer? What matters today is multimedia. Multimedia producer? You’re going to need a good website for that, as well as a good story to tell around your video. Copywriter? Sorry – no one reads anymore.

There is no question that the explosion in global and mobile digital communication has forever upended how businesses and customers find, regard and interact with each other. But people do still appreciate great graphic design. They can still get a bit choked up with just the right brilliant image. And, yes, people do still read. What they don’t read is the stuff that bores them to tears – which, unfortunately, accounts for a staggering portion of modern, prose-based marketing today.
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Adapting in the Agile Marketing World

If you’ve been working at all in the world of marketing over the last few years, no doubt you’ve encountered the word “agile”. Lifted from the lexicons of manufacturing and technology, agile marketing is a philosophy of embracing the sheer volume of data, events and sometimes outright chaos that exists in the commons of business communication.

An agile marketer recognizes early, adapts quickly and prepares continually. In an increasingly interconnected global society, where a single comment or short video can “go viral” and become a major news story in a matter of hours, it is no longer enough to plan an annual campaign and spend months executing a battle plan. Your business and market are moving much, much faster than that. You need to be able to turn on a dime.
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