Writing


What’s Wrong (B2B)?


Posted By on May 4, 2010

Business-to-Business. B2B. Back-to-back and belly-to-belly. It seems that many B2B copywriters think that because they’re writing about a company that serves other companies instead of serving consumers, they should write like for a non-human audience. But think about it. All of the decision makers in large companies are mostly human. That means they’re driven by the same fears and desires of others of their species (that would be us). I found this bon-mot recently: “[Company X] helps enterprises manage multi-enterprise data integration. Combined with the [Company X] data integration and data quality platform, these products support the expanding diversity of B2B data with structured and unstructured data transformation as well as complete data and process visibility.” The funny thing is that humans are still much, much better at parsing speech and natural language than computers are (so far). That paragraph above is an atrocity of word-mangling that requires a degree in corporate linguistics to decipher. Fortunately, I have such a degree and so will commence a rectification. (As an aside, such a degree is not conferred by a university but requires time as a writer or editor at a major corporation where they write and even speak in this sad manner on an hourly basis.) The writing in today’s example commits a first-order marketing sin: it does not speak directly to its audience. It vaguely states that it helps enterprises. This may surprise you but people who work in enterprises aren’t really looking to have you help the enterprise. They want you to make their lives easier. Having had clients in the data interchange business, I know this is multi-million-dollar software system that Company X is trying to sell with the copy above. It’s copy that is trying to sound smart but sounds very cold instead. Why not talk to the client, maybe like this? “You think your world is complicated now? Wait until you get a look at the data flowing into your system from your overseas suppliers. Don’t wait until bad data starts creating problems. Integration Manager creates a common data language on both ends of the supply chain.” Speaks directly to the customer about his or her pain. Offers a solution. All done in simple English that the C-Suite readers of the copy don’t have to use their dictionary to parse. What’s the worst example of unreadable prose you’ve encountered on the web or in your...

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What’s Wrong (1)?


Posted By on Apr 28, 2010

Don’t you love the web? Don’t you love sitting by a warm fire, getting hammered on cheap merlot with the web? Wouldn’t you like to have babies with it? Except when it doesn’t speak to your innermost desires. Which happens all too often. Sometimes, I want to divorce the web. I’m going to start a new feature on this blog. My ambitions are modest and I hope you share my desire for how to make your web site better. Together, we will help create a more perfect online world… I’m actually going to do my level best not to use YOUR web copy, or if I do, to make it untraceable. I’ll highlight certain words or phrases to focus on. (By the way, I’d truly love to have another writer or editor take a whack at my web copy this way.) Let’s hear it for self interest! EXAMPLE: “We understand how content, services, and user interface interact to produce uniquely powerful results for…” I know that the person who wrote this does not hate the web or mean it harm. I know they were hoping this would be scintillating copy. It isn’t. First of all, you and I, as users of the web, seekers of information and shiny objects, don’t really care what a business “understands” about the world or even their own business. What do we care about? [All together] OUR OWN SELF INTERESTS! That’s not as evil as the ALL-CAPS would imply. Humans are largely self-interested creatures. That’s OK; we’re still good mammals. Give ’em what they come here fer All I’m saying is that when we writers speak to a web audience, we need to think and write about what customers come looking for. They didn’t come looking for some corporation’s understanding. They came looking to see what that corporation could do to make their lives better. And honestly, why should we take this company’s word for the fact that they understand anything? They might understand a lot but I don’t know them. I’ve never bumped into them in Denny’s or Safeway or any of the other places I go to find dates. Or if I did, they didn’t ask me out or vice versa. We’re not even on a first-name basis. So, let’s not begin sales copy by telling potential customers what we know or understand. Let’s show them by speaking directly to their wants and needs. Jargon is for people who hate their mothers “We understand how content, services, and user interface interact to produce uniquely powerful results for…” I was a content publishing lead at Microsoft for many, many years. I know what...

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Writing for Humans

Writing for Humans


Posted By on Apr 6, 2010

It’s important to remember that search engine optimization, while very important, is designed to generate traffic. Traffic does not buy your product or service … humans do. They’ll only do that when the copy that they read on the Web page converts them from traffic into customer. Not just any copy will do that (he stated correctly, if self-servingly). Let’s take the example of the two financial services companies Primerica and ING. If you google “financial services,” both of these companies appear on the first search engine return page (SERP). This is good for both companies. Someone is doing great SEO for both, in the meta tags and in the copy on the page. Premerica has an advantage, however, when it comes to words on the page. Finances rank among the most confusing and anxiety-producing subjects to most middle income people. Everyone is frightened and unsure about what to do with debt, savings, and investments. Premerica assures people right away with a great tagline, prominently displayed: Freedom lives here. The rest of the home page is clean and uncluttered, with links to short articles with titles like Our Market, Our Edge and Change Your Life. These titles speak directly to the desires of someone Googling “financial services” and indicate that the benefits Premerica offers will satisfy those desires. ING has a rotating series of slow-loading images in the header that don’t do a clear job of directly speak to an anxious Googler. The only paragraph of copy on the home page begins with two of the most unnecessary words anyone can put on a home page: “Welcome to.” The paragraph then explains the features that ING offers instead of convincingly explaining the benefits of doing business with ING. Premerica’s Web site tells me that a benefit of doing business with them is that I’ll get educated about finances. ING seems to just offer a smörgåsbord of services that I have to choose from. I don’t know which of these companies better serves their clients, as I don’t do business with either one. But in terms of convincing copy on the page, Premerica immediately strikes a more reassuring tone and speaks in terms of benefits instead of features. When was the last time you felt something immediately upon visiting a Web site or viewing a print ad? Do you remember what words were used? How does your own Web site do with quickly presenting benefits to the traffic that arrives at your...

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Stimulate. Seduce. Satisfy.

Stimulate. Seduce. Satisfy.


Posted By on Apr 3, 2010

But remember … it’s a dance, not a deception. Stimulate First rule of marketing: grab their attention. This is harder than ever, whether in print, on the Web, or in video. The currency of attraction is content: words and images. Not the annoying flashing kind but words and images that appeal to the desires and needs of a specific audience. Seduce Even when buying floor wax (does anyone do that anymore?), we want to be seduced by the promise of a better life. When someone convinces us that their promise is real, we can’t spend our money fast enough. One of the definitions of seduction is “to win over; attract.” The more powerfully you seduce, the faster you get a new customer. There are ways to seduce and there are ways. The image above is seductive in more than one way (now I’m giving away my secrets). It has deep reds, a color associated with passion, sexuality, and boldness. The center of the photo is bright and fades to shadows at the edges, suggesting mystery. The man’s posture is one of confident command and the woman, although in a stylized stance, evokes supine satisfaction or even submission. (Don’t hate me, I’m only the messenger.) Dance — certainly the Tango — is all about sexuality. But there’s something humorous about the image as well. To most of us, it seems to take itself a little too seriously. That is a device used often in advertising to make us laugh. We know that we’re in on the joke. Humor is one of the essential tools of seduction. We like people who make us laugh; at life, at them, and at ourselves. It relaxes us and makes us open and approachable. In advertising, that makes us want to whip out our VISA. Part of the intoxication of seduction is that we believe it really will bring with it a better life. There’s nothing more disheartening than a seduction that makes us feel a fool for love. The dot-com bubble for instance. Satisfy So when that floor wax really turns out to perform, we’re thrilled at the promise fulfilled. We become loyal to the brand and we gush to our friends. We feel justified in having placed our trust in the initial appeal of the product. This only happens when the product or service performs as promised. That is why it’s important to remember that when you invite your customers to Tango, it’s a dance, not a deception. Can you think of an ad or Web page that seduced you? Tell...

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Humor in Advertising

Humor in Advertising


Posted By on Mar 30, 2010

Since most advertising or marketing copy takes itself too seriously, it’s always a relief and a delight to find product advertising that pokes fun at itself or its industry. As I pointed out on the home page, humor is an effective tool for disarming an audience and making them receptive to a message. Kotex does a really good job of pointing out the absurdity of advertising in their industry (thanks to No BS Blog). Leave comments about the humor you’ve enjoyed in advertising or Web copy. If you write funny copy, tell us why you think it...

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SEO Writers


Posted By on Mar 28, 2010

There’s talk these days about the diminishing importance of keywords, given that the search engines have become more savvy about content stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with them. Keywords are still important but they only help get the potential customer to the Web site. No matter how many keywords you stuff into a headline or body text, if the copy is not compelling enough to get the reader to keep reading and act, the keywords that got them there are a waste of time. Customers who take the time to read a web site are looking for one thing: “How does this product or service solve my problem and make my life easier.” Web copy needs to convince them that they’re in the right place. UNDERSTANDING WEB COPY Web site owners sometimes need help in understanding the value of what a good copywriter brings to the success of their Web site. Good copywriters are experts at distilling and communicating the client’s reason for being and selling their unique value to their customers. Not just any words will do that and not just any writer can find the right ones. What differentiates a good copywriter from someone who just knows how to cobble sentences together? Knowing how to sell benefits in a compelling way, instead of listing features of a product. A good copywriter is a detective first of all. They want to know who the audience is and what pain they experience…and therefore what benefits will relieve that pain. Doing this requires skill in knowing and asking the right questions. EXAMPLE Relieving pain is very much an emotional trigger. Pain often involves anxiety about solving a problem. You want a potential customer coming to your Web site to easily see why they’ve found a good solution to their problem. I once wrote Web copy for a client whose software allows insurance companies to recover overpayments. My client is not the only one in this business, of course, but by talking to them, I came to understand that their unique value was their software’s capability. Where most software would capture overpayments in the hundreds or thousands, this company’s software could capture overpayments as small as $25. This differentiated them from their competitors. Another differentiation was that their auditors were healthcare and managed-care specialists with years of experience. Writing the copy for their Web site, I was sure to place these benefits (and others) prominently. Potential customers could easily see how this company was going to make their job easier and more efficient. The tagline I wrote for them, “Are you leaving money out there?” evoked an immediate emotional response in healthcare...

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