Category Archives: Writing

Going Deeper Than Sales Conversions

Conversion is a tricky concept, once you begin digging more deeply into it.

You already know the basics: catch them early, preferably with an eye-grabbing headline, and then give them enough red meat to keep them interested, while preferably allowing them the time to establish a sense of identity in your message. Then, at the end of the show, you make your pitch and start passing around the buckets.

Easy, right?  Well, no.  It if were, everyone would be doing it.

Even so, any time that I sit down to start writing marketing copy, I have to begin by asking the Big Conversion Question. What do we want the readers to do, exactly? Download a whitepaper? Call your sales team? Subscribe to your newsletter? Different end goals demand different tactics, and likely also very different flow and pacing to carry those tactics off.  That’s where things start getting thorny indeed.

Before I can get your marketing message all packed up and ready to drive, I need to see that little red circle on the map, on the far end of all those lines and squiggles, drawn around that bold point that reads “Do This.” Only then do I feel comfortable in packing up the wife and kids, tying down the luggage, and hitting the open road with your pitch.

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Filed under Strategy, Writing

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


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





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


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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Being Your Own Best Expert


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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Filed under Story, Strategy, Writing

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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On Finding Your Value Core

If I had to point to any single problem that nearly all companies had in common, it would be this: they only talk from one side of the argument.

Everyone is important. Every product is revolutionary. Every new business initiative is destined to rock the world and change Life As We Know It Forever. And when you approach your marketing from the perspective of only one side of the issue – the side that means you win – then you miss out on some of the best opportunities you’ll ever have for creating a truly effective sales message.

So how do you hit both sides of the story without turning your message into an ambiguous mess?
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Things That A Case Study Isn’t

storytellingOn the face of it, a corporate case study is about the simplest type of technical collateral there is. Structurally, a case study is the basic three-act dramatic formula that we are all familiar with: set out a problem, struggle with the challenge, race towards a solution. Case studies present this basic storytelling format in context of a successful customer engagement, telling the tale of an everyday company that solved an important business problem with this wonder product or service.  Continue reading

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Filed under Story, Strategy, Uncategorized, Writing

The Question of Me


“To be, or not to be. That is the question.” – Shakespeare, Hamlet

In most tech businesses today, life revolves around the Gadget.

The Gadget can be anything from toasters to next generation telecommunication satellites. Gadgets can be thrilling. They often make great media stories. They are steps forward and bold promises. For those of us in technology marketing, pushing the Gadget’s many virtues – faster, cheaper, more efficient, more strategically aligned – is what we do. We work to sell the better mousetrap.

But truly effective tech marketing today goes well beyond the Gadget, because as a society we are reaching a saturation point for innovation. Last year, Mike Elgan over at Forbes wrote something particularly profound that highlights this evolution, pointing specifically to the growing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement.

“The reason BYOD is here to stay is psychological. It’s less about technology and more about culture—or even anthropology. It’s about a belief of what is ‘me’ and what is ‘not me.’”

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