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I have never pigeon holed myself when it comes to marketing. People have often asked me whether I specialise in any particular area or sector and the answer is no; I would say my main area of work is copy writing and digital content management but actually I’m a marketing ho that offers pretty much most services to anyone who wants them (strictly in terms of marketing you understand!). That said, while I have clients across many sectors and offer a range of services, most of my work has historically been within B2B – business to business. It was never particularly my mission to take this direction but with a lot of experience in this field, both prior to starting my business and for the last 5 years within it, this is naturally what has come my way.
I have always considered B2B marketing to be more ‘controllable’; markets are more easily defined which makes targeting your audience more focused in terms of both channels and message. My perception of B2C, business to consumer, has always been that the audience is a bit more vague and harder to reach unless you have the budgets for TV, radio and billboard advertising, which my clients generally speaking do not!
That’s not really the case any more. A few years ago you had to work hard to get useful data from people. We used demographic segmentation methods; defining people as ABC1, DINKies and different ACORN classifications based on data obtained through market research, census information and the electoral roll. Data that wasn’t always reliable or meaningful and was often quite out of date as soon as it was collated and analysed. These days things are very different: we don’t even call it market research now, the new marketing buzz word being ‘insight’! Where once it took a lot of time, effort and expense to gather demographic data, data that many people were often reluctant to divulge, we can now not only access it very easily but people actively volunteer it!
So “what’s the difference?” you may ask. Do people suddenly love marketers and want to give us all their personal information? Sadly not, us marketers are still a much maligned profession to many (all together now, awwww…) and yet they love to tell us personal details such as gender, age, profession, location, hobbies, interests, family details, likes, dislikes and religion – it’s a market researcher’s (sorry, Insight Analyst’s) dream. The vehicle of course is social media.
While most of us wouldn’t dream of giving such personal information away easily, we barely give a second thought to divulging it on Facebook, Google + or Twitter. We include it in our profiles, our status updates, the ‘likes’ and comments we dish out and the apps and games that we download. While we might be smugly confident in our privacy settings, this information all feeds into the ‘machine behind the scenes’ and allows advertisers to target us us very specifically based on the demographics we willingly hand over. Have you ever wondered why the ads that appear on Facebook are remarkably relevant to you? Have you ever thought to question why the sites you visit often show you tantilising products similar to those you’ve bought, or even just viewed, before? Perhaps you’ve even been spooked by products that you’ve been looking at on one site popping up on completely different websites? It’s all to do with the information you’ve submitted and the cookies you’ve agreed to use (ICO regulations state that all websites using cookies need to make users aware of them and give their consent to them – usually granted by continuing to use the site).
A fan of trashy thrillers I recently read a line in a Lee Child book about how, had the government insisted that all citizens be tracked by an electronic device, there would have been an outcry and yet everyone voluntarily consented to it by getting a mobile phone which could potentially be used for this purpose by the authorities. The concept is very much reminscent of this situation don’t you think? Whatever your opinion is of the moral implications about the use of such data (remember, this information is offered willingly), the fact is that it makes B2C marketing much more accurate and therefore less prone to wastage which in turn reduces cost. Lower costs make it more accessible to smaller businesses so you don’t need to advertise to the masses to achieve brand awareness amongst your target market.
Having built a career on the B2B market I now find myself taking on increasingly more B2C clients. I am currently working with a kitchen company and a singles socialising network and anticipate that social media will factor very significantly in the marketing strategies we put in place – after all who needs Jedi mind tricks when you have Facebook Insights?!
Not so long ago I had some new profile photos taken. They were done via a Forward Ladies event so there were a number of us there, each taking a turn to sit awkwardly and attempt to look professional/young/slim/attractive (I reckon I definitely pulled off professional!). They were nice and I had lots of positive comments about them on my Facebook page but while I felt they were great for quite formal use, I didn’t feel that they reflected the creative nature of what I do (difficult, given the environment in which they were taken) and so decided I needed some more that were still professional but less formal and a bit different.
I came across a photographer, Megan Hartley, on Facebook and she seemed to approach things a little differently. Megan is just 18 years old and still a part time student whilst building up her photography business; she’s young, enthusiastic and full of new ideas. She suggested that we take some outdoor shots that would be more natural and I agreed that would be much more aligned to my brand and a good way to create an alternative to the formal shots I already had.
In marketing we strive to project a consistent brand image. While 10 years ago a brand identity was very much represented by a company’s logo, today it’s much more about the people behind the company. The rise in social media and blogging has resulted in the humanisation of businesses. Written communication across many platforms now comes from the mouths of individuals, and not just a faceless entity and therefore the personal profile images that accompany them are more important than ever in representing who you are. While I clearly want to be perceived as professional, I also wanted to get across that I’m a creative and show a little bit of my personality as well. Hopefully that’s what these new profile photos achieve.
Apparently you have to suffer for your art: we took the photos last week on some waste ground where, Megan assured me, was always quiet. I think abandoned was a moreappropriate word! During an experience that could not have been more different to posing in the cosy meeting room of my first shoot, I fought my way through brambles, almost stepped on a snake (I SWEAR it was a snake!) and found a very unsavoury spot of used needles. All the while closely monitored by West Yorkshire Police, hovering overhead in a helicopter (presumably they concluded that anyone up to no good in a field was unlikely to be wearing a bright orange top and screaming like a girl at grass snakes?). Despite all this, or possibly because of it, we got some really nice shots that were less posed, more natural and much more me. (Though I did wonder why she’d sent a load of photos over of some old plump bird with wonky teeth dressed in my clothes before reaching the sad conclusion that it was in fact me!).
I think the conclusion here is that sometimes you have to try something different. Would I have ever thought of having photos taken on an overgrown, reptile infested drug den? Clearly not but I think it worked out pretty well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not 100% happy with them but I think the common denominator here is, unfortunately, me: not sure there’s much I can do about that one!
You will have heard the phrase ‘content is king’ and seen lots of blogs and heard experts talking about how important it is to have good content on your website but actually, what does that mean? This blog takes a look at what makes good content and why it’s so important to the success of your website.
When we refer to web content we’re talking about the ‘stuff’ on your site. Predominantly, for the purposes of this blog, I’m talking about the written word but actually web content can include images, videos, diagrams, flowcharts, statistics etc – basically the material on your website that imparts some kind of information to the visitor and, equally as important, the search engines.
While every site has some kind of content not every one has ‘good’ content – high quality content that enriches the experience of those visiting the site and is search engine friendly to improve its rankings.
So, what makes good content? The answer to this will depend on your audience: what makes a fascinating read for one person may be of no interest to another. In general terms good content will tick at least a few of the following boxes:
• Informs – it answers the typical questions that your visitors are likely to ask
• Imparts knowledge – it has content that the visitor can take away and use eg tips/advice/recommendations etc
• Entertains – humour can be a great way to capture the interest of your audience as long as it’s appropriate to your visitors and your business
• Clarifies – it explains things in clear language that the visitor can understand
• Is timely – by writing about something that is very topical – an event, time of year, news story etc – you can take advantage of things that are current and trending
• Is relevant – content should always be relevant to its audience. If you can create content that resonates with people it will differentiate you from your competitors
• Humanises – this is a bit of a buzz word but it basically means that you can use your content to show a human side to the business. When your products and services are very similar to other competitors, showing a human side that customers can relate to can make all the difference
• Tells stories – using stories to demonstrate your competitive advantage can be very powerful
• Reassures – most web visitors, when they get to your site, are in the market for your products and want to buy from you. After all they don’t want to trawl through lots of sites – they just need reassurances that you are the right company to buy from. Consider their concerns and queries and make sure you provide the answers
• Is not overly sales driven – of course you need content on your site that sells your products and services but it’s a good idea to have some content on there that isn’t driving an overt sales message – nobody enjoys being sold to. Your sales messages will still be implicit through less direct methods eg by providing added value content such as a ‘how to’ guide you give some limited knowledge away whilst establishing your own credibility.
• Is written well – it seems obvious but a lot of sites are guilty of adding content to please the search engines and not the visitor. Clearly this is counter-productive as not only will it offer no value to the visitor but it’s actually likely to be penalised by Google for attempting to artificially ‘force’ the SEO – they know the difference!
• Follows the principles of SEO – content that is written with SEO in mind make it easier for the search engines to index them
At a very basic level it matters because it enhances the visitor experience and improves search engine rankings but there is more to it than that. Great content is important because of the following:
• If your content is good, visitors are more likely to read more of it, digest your key messages, navigate around the site and stay on it for longer. This is gives you a higher chance of conversion (eg buying from your site, making an enquiry etc) and shows the search engines that your site is good (Google looks at metrics such as length of time spent on a site, number of pages viewed etc as an indicator of quality) which helps its rankings.
• Good content is more likely to attract inbound links (links to your site from external sites) which search engines also use as a metric
• Good content is more likely to be shared (eg through social media) which is good for search engine rankings and for reaching a larger audience
• It allows people who are in the market for your products and services to find you – much better than marketing to people who may not even have a need! See my blog on the subject.
• Search engines actually seek out sites that have good, regularly updated, unique content and reward them in the rankings. Likewise they will penalise sites that don’t have good content or who try to ‘cheat’ with their SEO
• It establishes your credibility and authority in your field eg your ‘About’ page may well say you can do XYZ but your blog or your case studies demonstrate that you really can.
• People value content that they can use
• Good quality content that is regularly updated will keep visitors coming back and the more they return, the higher the chance of conversion
• It can allow you to capture valuable information in a responsible way through things like squeeze pages (ie pages that offer an incentive such as a free guide or report or entry into a prize draw in return for signing up to a mailing list or providing some kind of data).
Good content, therefore, reaps its own rewards. Because it provides something for both visitors AND search engines there is much to be gained from making sure the content that is on your site is as good as it can be. This may mean raising your own game in terms of producing better content or getting some help but whatever you do, don’t just reproduce your sales brochure online – you’re going to have to try a bit harder than that!
So, you are a specialist at what you do. Your customers and prospects want to work with someone who knows their stuff. How do you bring the two together and really show them that you ARE the best?
There are a number of ways that you can demonstrate your expertise within your field. Here are my top 10 strategies for showing off!
The starting point has to be understanding your company’s strengths and your competitive advantage. If you know the ways in which you are better than your competitors, and those are of value to the customer, then you can build your key messages around them. Make sure that they are clearly communicated in all your marketing channels – website, literature, proposals, social media etc
Your website page copy and brochures will tell prospects that you are the best but you would say that wouldn’t you. A great way to ‘make it real’ is through third party testimonials from your existing customers. There are a number of ways to obtain them. You can conduct a survey or ask them to complete a feedback form after each project – usually the simpler the better. You can ask them to provide feedback through some established channels such as Linked In, Trip Advisor, Yell.com etc (as appropriate) or you could hold a feedback meeting conducted by yourself or an impartial third party. Use positive comments on your website, literature and social media to add credibility but always ask the customer’s permission before publishing.
A case study is similar to a testimonial but goes into more detail. It generally involves interviewing the customer and including information such as why they had a need for your products or services and how you provided a solution – you can reinforce your key messages through telling a story about how they work in practice. Use on your literature and website such as this example I helped APP Wine Law to create.
Winning, or even getting shortlisted for, an industry award is a great way to raise awareness and get recognition for being the best at what you do. Just make sure the award itself is a credible one and is relevant for your industry and your audience. (See another recent blog on the subject)
You may believe that the point of being an expert and knowing all that you do about your chosen field is to keep all that knowledge and expertise locked away like a precious thing for fear that people may steal your expertise and not need you. While of course you shouldn’t give all your trade secrets away, sharing some of that knowledge can be an effective strategy. Use your blog or write articles for the media or guest blogs for others that really show you know your stuff. Likewise, speak at seminars and events. It’s a great way to raise your profile and become known as a respected specialist in your area.
Show work that you’ve previously completed on your website – real examples will always resonate more with people than a list of services offered.
Editorial coverage in the media is much more credible than any paid-for advertising or marketing. The media rarely have a vested interest in reproducing your news items (unless you are a major sponsor or advertiser) and so it is viewed as an impartial piece. Come up with some interesting angles for news stories about your business and submit them to local, national and trade press.
Offer your spin on topical issues, news or debates within your area of expertise. Clarify what developments mean, comment on how this will affect the industry or just tell people what you think based on what you know about the subject. This is an example of what I think about recent changes in the field of SEO
What are the questions you get asked most often? What are the barriers or concerns people have when considering using your products and services? What areas particularly confuse people about your industry/products/services etc? Anticipate these and answer them via your blog, social media or FAQs on your website. It not only reassures people, it shows that you understand their concerns. Another alternative is to conduct a live Q&A via social media, webinar or webchat.
Getting people to share your content allows you to reach wider audiences and endorses what you are saying. Aim to have people share your blogs and status updates, retweet your tweets and link to your website by creating great quality posts.
So if you reckon you truly live up to the hype you’re promoting why not try some of the strategies above and really show that you are some kind of superstar – go you!
During the Olympics we’ve witnessed remarkable people achieve the ultimate goal, winning gold in sports’ greatest competition. We’ve heard their post-event interviews where they talk, laden with emotion, about how much their achievement has meant to them to be recognised as the best at what they do and how it was worth all the effort and work put in. Having cried every day during London 2012, my chin is still wobbling a little bit just thinking about it (hey, don’t judge me!).
We now know that Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Victoria Pendleton and our local Leeds boy Alistair Brownlee (to mention just a few of the 29 new Olympic champions) are amazing – it’s been demonstrated beyond all doubt. But what comparisons can we ordinary, non-superhuman folk ever hope to draw with our own lives, achievements, businesses? We probably can’t hope to run as fast, cycle as hard or even look as good in a wetsuit (I can personally vouch for that!) but can we not hope to achieve excellence in our own fields, comparable in our own worlds to their great achievements?
Having worked with a lot of businesses it is clear to me that most are doing things really well. What is also clear is that few realise it and even fewer shout about it. We often view our day to day activities as just ‘what we do’ – nothing special. It’s amazing how the most impressive facts are just dropped, casually, into a conversation. I think it’s a combination of not truly appreciating own talents and self-deprecation – that very British characteristic of not wanting to seem arrogant.
As a marketer I have to coax these achievements and demonstrations of excellence from clients in order to determine their competitive advantage and key selling points – all marketing lingo of course for ‘stuff we are more brilliant than anyone else at’. When I do this and am particularly impressed with what I hear I often suggest that they go a bit further than just talking about what they are good at on their marketing materials and use their fabulous-ness to enter some awards. Initially I tend to be met with “Who? Us? Really?” but then the thrill of the potential outcome – actually winning one – captures their imagination.
Winning an award is an extremely powerful way to say that you not only good at what you do, you are the best. The recognition that you get, confirmation from impartial, highly respected judges that you actually ARE the best, goes way beyond anything you can say yourself on your website or sales materials. If you can demonstrate excellence, in whatever way, my advice would always be to investigate the opportunity to enter an award.
I’ve worked with a few companies to help them put together strong award entries, the most notable of which was RTR UK Ltd in Barnsley who were not only highly commended in the Entrepreneur of the Year and Business Growth Awards at the Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber Business Awards last year but actually won the overall Business of the Year 2011. This created a fantastic profile for the company, who were up against some serious competition.
As well as writing entries for awards I’ve also been involved from the other side having worked with Forward Ladies who, among many other things, run the annual Women in Business Awards. I therefore realise how competitive awards can be but also what the judges are looking for. If you put a strong enough case forward and follow a few simple rules you stand a good chance of being shortlisted.
• Make sure the awards are relevant to your business. You may well win the Cleanest Loo award but if you’re an engineering firm it’s not going to achieve anything for the business (if you are a restaurant or public attraction however this may well work for you).
• Make sure you meet the criteria – if you don’t you’re just wasting your time entering
• Stay within the word count. It seems a simple thing but most awards organisers will be very strict and disallow those who exceed the stated word count. It’s easy to get carried away when writing about how brilliant you are but you need to keep it as close to the word count as you can. Likewise, use as much of the word count as you can – you may be missing out on the opportunity if you don’t include enough information.
• Provide evidence. If you’re saying you’re the best at something you need to back it up somehow. This could be evidence of growth, successes achieved, customer testimonials, profitability etc.
• Give them what they ask for. Again, this seems obvious but often entries are wasted because people write enthusiastically about what they think is great about the business but fail to provide the evidence that the award specifically asks for. Check through the award guidelines and criteria, which are there to help you, and ensure that you’ve included information that clearly answers each point
• Make sure your written content, style and tone is appropriate for the award. If it’s an industry specific award it may be appropriate to use technical terminology; if it’s a general business award it may not
• Make it easy for the judges. They get a huge number of entries so make yours as easy as possible to digest. That means providing clear evidence against the criteria early in the piece (often you’ll be asked to provide a summary so you should include a brief overview of your evidence here), have a concise structure and clearly state WHY you should win it.
• Provide relevant supporting documents (if appropriate). Many awards allow you to include some supporting documents with your entry that don’t affect the word count. If so do include some but make sure they add value (eg don’t just send copies of every press release you’ve ever done). This might include press coverage, customer testimonials/references, other awards won etc
• Meet the deadline. Another simple one but most are very strict and will not accept entries beyond the stated deadline.
So, look at your business – are you doing something really well? How does a bit of recognition sound? Getting your entries right is a skill that needs developing so try a few and see how you get on. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get shortlisted at first, just keep trying – it can take a few attempts to get it right.
If you’d like some help putting your entry together, or even just sourcing the right awards to enter, then get in touch and let’s see if we can get you on that podium! (I also scrub up OK if you want to invite me to the glittering awards ceremony!)
We all know that Google (and other search engines) continually update their algorithms and change the ‘rules’ in terms of what they look for from websites in order to rank them. As a copy writer I try and keep myself up to date with these changes (not the most enthralling bedtime reading I’ll grant you!) and was interested (yes, honestly!) to read a couple of blogs recently which reported some apparent u-turns on what we content writers understood to be key SEO principles.
Firstly, keyword density. Not so long ago we were aiming to create high keyword density (ie the number of times your keywords appear as a proportion of the total content). Good writing should never be compromised by peppering copy with too many keywords but nevertheless we always write with the use of those keywords in mind. While previous advice was to aim for a density of 3-5%, the guideline now is to keep it at less than 3% and that over stuffing with keywords will in fact be penalised.
Secondly, meaningful link text. Make it meaningful was the mantra – link text that doesn’t contain relevant keywords was once described to me by a web developer as a ‘wasted link’( ie ‘expert SEO writer, Sarah Ainslie’ rather than ‘expert SEO writer, Sarah Ainslie’). Since the Penguin update of March this year, it would seem that Google is now seeking fewer keyword rich links and more natural format ones such as ‘click here’, ‘website’, ‘about’ etc. We should be aiming for a combination of the two and those with more than 50% of their links in keyword rich format may potentially be penalised.
The interesting thing for me, particularly as someone who has suggested that SEO could be killing the art of copy writing (see my previous blog – note the natural link!) is that these ‘developments’ are not really developments at all; they are backward steps to how we used to write before. So, with an apparent U-turn on the principles of SEO, are we returning to good old fashioned copy writing?
Let’s not get too excited here. The search engine guidelines change all the time and no doubt by the time I hit the publish button it may have all changed again. These are just 2 of countless guidelines and writers know that we need to incorporate sound and sensible SEO practices into our online content. That said, I can’t help feeling encouraged that best practice for optimisation and best practice for copy writing are slowly moving closer and will one day, hopefully, meet in the middle.
I’ve always believed that if you write well to create text that flows, entertains, educates and engages then you are halfway there already and with a few tweaks and nods to SEO then you can’t go too far wrong – form follows function after all! Perhaps Google is following MY lead?!
If you’re interested in what makes good web content and how to make yours better then I am running a free seminar in conjunction with the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce on 4th September at 8.30am in Wakefield. See the Chamber’s website for more details and to book a place.