Read Your Clients’ Minds With These 5 Magical Techniques

Read Your Clients’ Minds With These 5 Magical Techniques

We’ve all said it at one point or another: “Come on, I’m not a mind-reader!”

Many of us have shouted this plea in response to a client we’re genuinely striving to please, who still keeps telling us, “This isn’t what I asked for! We’re just not on the same page.”

Those moments can be intensely frustrating, for client and creative talent alike. Yet at the same time, we creatives work hard to anticipate our clients’ needs — to understand exactly what they want, before they’ve even asked for it.

In fact, some veterans of the content industry pride themselves on magical mind-reading ability.

Although some creatives insist they can’t read their clients’ minds, and shouldn’t be expected to, I believe precisely the opposite is true: it’s our job as creatives to make our clients feel we’re reading their minds, using every technique in our arsenal.

Here are five powerful practices that’ll have your clients convinced you’re a mind-reader.

1. Develop a limitless curiosity about your clients.

We all ask certain standard questions when we’re getting to know somebody for the first time: “Where are you from?” “What do you do for work?” “What kind of music do you like?” Those questions spark more questions; and after a few minutes, you’ve started to get a sense of what this person enjoys, what they’re interested in, and maybe how you two can help one another.

Now think about the conversations you have when you fall in love. You’re ravenous to know everything there is to know about the other person — which desserts they’ll devour, which animals they’re afraid of, which country they’d visit on a dream vacation. When you love someone, you yearn to make that person’s life as wonderful as possible. You’re constantly on the lookout for insights that’ll help you achieve that goal.

Falling in love

Which of these two conversations sounds more like your typical interactions with clients? If you’re honest with yourself — and I hope you are — you’ll probably admit that your client calls sound more like the first conversation than the second. And there you have it:

Your lack of curiosity about your clients is the #1 reason you’re struggling with those relationships.

In fact, curiosity (or lack thereof) is one of the top make-or-break factors in any relationship. Decades of research have confirmed that curious people connect better. Partners who maintain an active curiosity about each other’s interests, goals, fears, desires and values enjoy much more productive, long-lasting partnerships — business or otherwise.

The Curiosity rover, currently on Mars
Get it?

To read your clients’ minds, you need to develop a limitless hunger to know what they’re thinking. Read their blogs. Check their social media posts. Ask them what they’re reading right now, and pick up a copy for yourself. Seek to understand why they feel so strongly about this project, and kindle a kindred fire in your own heart. Get to know their world, inside and out.

2. Invite your clients to dance — then take the lead.

Imagine joining a stranger on the dance floor, only to burst out laughing as they bark out instructions for every step: “Left foot there! Right leg back! Now turn!” We all know this isn’t how dancing works — yet we often encourage our clients to order us around like this. Instead of taking the time to collaborate on innovation, we simply ask what the client wants done, then we hop to it.

As unpleasant as this dynamic can be, it stems from an understandable set of drives. The client and the creative talent don’t want to waste time. They don’t want to frustrate one another. So they zero in on a set of clear parameters and action items as quickly as possible; then they work carefully to stay within those guidelines, to minimize the risk of delivering work that’s not what the client asked for.

But as helpful as clear guidelines can be, they don’t leave anyone feeling delighted about the process. How can we improve on this system? Surely there must be some approach that enables both the client and the creative talent to innovate while respecting one anothers’ boundaries.

Approach your next client conversation as a moment-by-moment improv session.

Seek a rhythm in which you and the client are both comfortable. That may mean weekly face-to-face meetings, daily video calls, ad-hoc instant-message chats, periodic emails, or some combination of the above. Ask what’s top-of-mind for them. Offer helpful tips and insights, even if they’re not directly related to the project at hand.

Draw your clients out, bit by bit, until you’ve got them talking about what’s really on their minds.

3. Learn to listen for the sake of listening.

Most of us listen so we can talk. Whether we’re chatting with friends, strategizing with a client, or dealing with customer support, we take in only as much of the other person’s words as we need to formulate our own response. But this is a huge mistake. When we listen for the sake of talking, we miss out on most of the information the other person is trying to give us.

This tendency creates even more problems when we’re trying to figure out what our clients want. It’s much easier to skim emails and extract the action items than it is to patiently read every word — or, better, yet, to read between the lines, and seek to understand what the client means to say, but is struggling to put into words.

Clients will usually tell you exactly what you want to know, as long as you take pleasure in listening to them.

We’re all very talented listeners, under the right circumstances. Most of us will happily sit in silence while actors on a movie screen play out their lives, or while musical artists push the limits of their skills, or while our favorite authors take us on journeys to new places. It’s easy to listen when we’re reveling in a beautiful song, or captivated by the suspense of a chase scene. Every moment matters, and we know it.

Practice this same discipline as you talk with your clients. Treat every client conversation as if it were your favorite movie or song or novel. Follow the plot with close attention, because something surprising might happen at any moment. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll probably learn something you never knew before — which your client might not even intend to teach you.

4. Find the threads that run through your clients’ lives.

If I asked you to pick me up a pint of my favorite ice cream, you’d probably feel frustrated. How could you know what my favorite ice cream is? (It’s mint chocolate chip, just for future reference.) But if your best friend made that same request, you’d deliver the right flavor in a snap — even if they’ve never explicitly told you what their favorite is.

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Flavors

How did you acquire this mind-reading superpower? By experience, of course — and by paying attention to context cues. In the same way, it’s your job to look for common threads that run through the major decision points in your clients’ lives, and keep following those same threads into the current project.

For example, say you’ve got a client who’s launching a health-food website. You could easily put together a homepage that imitates the leading health-food brands in terms of style and voice — but does that voice align with your client’s values and beliefs? Maybe not. Maybe your client shopped at Whole Foods once, and hated it. Maybe they live in the heart of cattle country, and dream of teaching cowboys to cook veggies. Maybe they’ve never even tried tofu!

The only way to fully understand your client’s brand is to understand where they’re coming from as a human being.

Think of each initial call as an interview with an award-winning genius you’ve never heard of. What questions would you ask that person? You’d certainly want to know about their background; how they acquired the skillset that launched their career. You’d want to hear about challenges they faced, and how they overcame those obstacles. You’d ask about the “eureka!” moment when they knew they’d discovered something great.

Look for threads that run through all the client’s past projects, into this current one. Follow those threads wherever they lead next.

5. Stop acting like you “get it” when you don’t.

Nobody likes talking to someone who keeps insisting they understand, when they obviously don’t. The tension in this situation is heightened when a big decision is at stake, and we’re not sure whether the other person even grasps the nature of the problem.

Yes you do, Ron Burgundy. Yes you do.

And yet, as much as we all hate feeling misunderstood, many of us pretend to understand more about our clients’ businesses than we really do.

This isn’t always intentional — in fact, many of us fake understanding with the best possible intentions, sometimes without even realizing we’re failing to grasp the facts.

We hear words that remind us of other projects we’ve worked on, and we think, “Okay, sure, no problem! This is just like that other thing I did!”

Apples do not equal oranges.

Except it’s not just like that other thing.

This is a unique client, with a unique problem. They deserve better than to be treated like a clone.

The more you assume this project is the same as that other one, the more your false assumptions are going to pile up — until you’re dealing with a pissed-off client who can’t understand why you’re on such a different wavelength.

Clients arguing

Unfortunately, this is a natural response. Our brains are extremely talented — sometimes too talented — at lumping people into categories. We’re more likely to trust a stranger if they look like someone we already know; and we’re more likely to dislike them if they resemble a person who’s done us wrong. We can’t stop ourselves from doing this; it’s pure animal instinct. All we can do is acknowledge that instinct, and work to counterbalance it.

To truly read your clients’ minds, you need to relinquish your need to be seen as smart.

A kid in a dunce cap in front of a chalkboard on which he has written “I will be good” numerous times

Stop trying to show off. Quit trying to prove how much you know. Don’t respond to buzzwords with more buzzwords.

Instead, take a step back. Take a deep breath. And imagine you’re hearing about this client, and their industry, and their challenges, for the very first time in your life.

Resist the urge to classify the client, or to copy-paste insights you’ve had on other projects.

Look for what’s original and one-of-a-kind about this particular project, and focus on those things.

Come to your client with a readiness to learn, and they will teach you.

They’ll teach you without even knowing it — and they’ll think you’re reading their minds.

Want to learn more?

Check out BTA’s Ultimate 11-Step Guide to Mastering Your Digital Content Strategy.

15 Email Campaign Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them

So you’ve taken the plunge—you’ve invested in an automated email campaign. And I’ve got great news for you: you’re definitely on the right track.

Email is proven to be 40 times more effective than Facebook or Twitter when it comes to driving sales. It’s got a 66-percent conversion rate, and a full 73 percent of millennials cite it as their number-one means of business communication.

There’s just one problem:

Most marketers completely misunderstand the purpose of an email campaign.

Most marketers don't really understand what an email campaign is supposed to do.

Most marketers don’t really understand what an email campaign is supposed to do.

If you treat email as a digital version of direct mail, you’re about to have a rude awakening—an avalanche of unsubscribes. Because the primary purpose of your email campaign isn’t to sell — it’s to talk about what your prospects are interested in.

How does talking about people’s interests translate into sales?

Think about this for a moment — how long could you tolerate a romantic partner who’s always talking about their ex?

Because that’s exactly how most email campaigns sound: “Look what we made! We loved making this! Here’s us in Manhattan last year!

No wonder most prospects unsubscribe!

To cultivate a productive relationship with your audience, you need to take the time to understand their interests—how they feel about what you’re showing and telling them—and build new memories together. In other words —

To get the results you want, you need to treat your prospects as partners.

With that core concept in mind, here are 15 email campaign mistakes to catch and fix.

Mistake 1: Announcing but not informing

So you’ve crafted a friendly, chatty monthly newsletter, and now you’re ready to send it out to prospects.

Wait! Before you hit send:

What’s the title? More than likely, an email titled “July Newsletter” will wind up in the trash. Why? Because nobody cares what your company’s been up to this month.

Nobody in your email campaign cares what your company’s been up to this month.

Nobody cares what your company’s been up to this month.

However, they might be very interested in the great, easy-to-use travel app you’ve developed, or maybe they’re curious about how your brand-new technique can save them money. So forget announcements. Instead, ask yourself, “What would we talk about over a beer?” Then tell your prospects something they actually want to know.

Mistake 2: Writing long-winded emails

It’s great that you’re passionate about your company — and it’s awesome that your passion comes across in your emails. However, this doesn’t mean you need to rant for thousands of words. An effective marketing email should be about 400 words, maximum. Start by writing out all your thoughts, then fire up that “delete” button and cut the message way down. Then cut it down again. And again, until you’ve got a streamlined scalpel of an email. Get straight to the point. Your prospects will thank you for it.

Mistake 3: Failing to raise and address objections

Why do some prospects come so close to a purchase, then choose not to buy from you? Nine times out of ten, it’s because they came up with a reason not to buy, and you failed to raise and address that objection.

It's your job to raise objections in your email campaign, so you can address them.

It’s your job to raise objections, so you can address them.

And hey, I get it. The truth hurts, especially when you care so deeply about the services you provide. But talking frankly about objections demonstrates strength and confidence. Bring up the cons — then crush them.

Mistake 4: Shying away from showing your personality

Sometimes it feels safer to hide your real personality behind bland business language. Problem is, everybody’s heard “We value you as a customer!” a thousand times already. As important as it is to come across as professional, your emails will get much more traction if you sound like yourself, and state your real opinions clearly and firmly. Plus, when you’re willing to be a bit playful with the business language, you come across as savvy and sociable.

Mistake 5: Sloppy fonts and formatting

Email doesn’t mean plain text. World-class marketers send emails that look like designer web pages, complete with precise formatting and professional graphic design. Unless you’re an HTML and CSS expert, you’re probably better off hiring a formatting pro. At the very least, check out Email Excellence for guides on formatting for your industry and campaign type.

Don't do this in your email campaign.

Don’t do this in your email campaign.

Mistake 6: The wall of text

Here are two simple words that’ll significantly raise your click-through rate. Are you ready? Bullet points. People read emails differently than they read books or magazine articles — they skim the headlines and bullets, then read the paragraphs more closely if those highlights catch their interest. So break up your emails into short paragraphs, topped with bold headlines and subheads that summarize the story.

Mistake 7: Forgetting to check spelling and punctuation

Yes, I know you know how to spell and punctuate. Listen — I’ve been writing copy for more than a decade, and even I forget a period now and then. It just happens. So do yourself and your prospects a favor: put every email aside for a few hours, then proofread and spell-check it thoroughly when you’ve got a quiet moment to yourself. It’ll make a huge difference.

Failing to check spelling and punctuation in your email campaign will lead to... "regert."

Failing to check spelling and punctuation will lead to… “regert.”

Mistake 8: Screwing up personalization

Personalized emails have been shown to boost click-through rates by 14 percent, and raise conversions by 10 percent. But an email that starts with a mess like “%CUSTOMER_NAME%” will get sent straight to the trash bin. Take the time to collect at least some personal info on every prospect who signs up for your email list — and test, test, test every email in your campaign, until you’re positive that your personalization works flawlessly.

Mistake 9: Too many images — or too few

Emails packed full of big images can take forever to load — while emails consisting of nothing but text are unbelievably boring to read. The right balance between these two extremes depends on the purpose of your campaign, the type of audience you’re trying to connect with, and the image of your company you want to convey. Business-to-business (B2B) emails can often get away with one or two images and some brief bullet-pointed text, while business-to-consumer (B2C) emails tend to feature bright, attention-grabbing images.

Don't overwhelm your email campaign audience with too many images and links.

Don’t overwhelm your audience with too many images and links.

Mistake 10: Forgetting about message previews

Almost all email clients display some of the email’s text next to the subject line. Some also include a small thumbnail of the email’s first image. These message previews can make or break your campaign’s success, so don’t take them lightly. Your emails need to capture prospects’ interest before they’ve even opened the message. Open with an attention-grabbing question, image, or offer — but don’t give too much away just yet. Your lead-in should be just enough to make the prospect open the email to read the rest of the sentence. Then you’ve got ’em!

Mistake 11: Sloppy links

Once your email has raised the reader’s interest, it needs to immediately drive a concrete action: a click back to a page on your site where they can make a purchase, read more of your content, or sign up for more information. This doesn’t mean, however, that your email should be over-stuffed with annoying calls to action (CTAs). Instead, provide a link back to a relevant page, at the exact point in the email where the reader wants to learn more.

If your email campaign looks like this... stop, and delete all but one of your CTAs.

If your email looks like this… stop, and delete all but one of your CTAs.

Mistake 12: Inconsistent emailing

One of the most disastrous email campaign mistakes is to write and send emails on the fly, on no particular schedule. Experts differ on how frequently you should send marketing emails — the truth is, it depends heavily on your industry and audience — but most agree that one email a week is ideal. That means if you want to run a three-month email campaign, you need to have 12 emails written, proofread, formatted and ready to go, before you even click “start.” You can always add more emails later, if you decide to prolong the campaign.

Mistake 13: Ignoring your analytics

No matter what email automation platform you’re using, it gathers hard data on each email’s performance. Take a look at that data. Is one email performing better than the others? Write more content about that topic. Is one link getting a lot of clicks? Put more useful content on that page. Your email campaign will bring you a goldmine of actionable insights about your audience, as long as you pay attention to the data.

Don't ignore what your email campaign analytics are trying to tell you.

Don’t ignore what your email analytics are trying to tell you.

Mistake 14: Sending every customer the same emails

Another handy feature of many marketing platforms is the ability to break your audience into segments, according to their age, geographical region, income level, interests, and all kinds of other traits. It takes time and effort to segment your audience properly, and to develop unique content targeted at each segment — but once you get the hang of the process, it can yield tremendous returns. People are far more likely to click on emails that speak directly to their needs and desires. Make sure your emails push those buttons, every time.

Mistake 15: Sending the same emails at every time of year

A lot of email automation platforms brand themselves as “set-it-and-forget-it” solutions. But as thrilling as it is to load up your campaign manager and watch it leap into action, it’s all too easy to let it blast out summer-related emails during the winter holiday season, and vice versa. Avoid wasting your prospects’ time — not to mention your valuable email content — by creating targeted campaigns for each season of the year. You’ll notice a distinctly higher click-through rate.

Keep an eye out for these 15 missteps, and you’ll end up with much more loyal customers.

Want to talk through your email campaign strategy in more detail? That’s exactly why we’re here.

Schedule your free consultation now.

Why Does Most Digital Copy Fail? 9 Problems to Watch Out For

Discover the top 9 problems that prevent most digital copywriting from generating conversions.

You’re probably on this page for one of two reasons:

  1. You’re publishing content, but you’re not getting the clicks and conversions you want.
  2. You’re ready to upgrade your content strategy, and want to find out how.

I’ve got good news for you — this article is packed to the brim with actionable tips that’ll help you out in both these situations. But before we dig into the meat and potatoes —

You need to answer one very simple, obvious question:

Why do you want to publish content online?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. You might be aiming to drive sales of your product or service. Maybe you want to establish your company as an industry authority.

Or maybe you’re hoping to get Internet super-famous and sell out, so you can dive into a giant pile of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.

This could be you, if your digital content strategy works out.

This could be you, if your digital content strategy works out.

Hey, I said “no wrong answer,” didn’t I?

But before you hire a single copywriter, you need to know the answer to that all-important question — which really breaks down into three questions:

  1. What will you be publishing articles about?
  2. What audience do you hope will read these articles?
  3. What action do you want them to take?

Most business owners have only vague, general answers for these questions — and so they spend thousands of dollars on content that goes nowhere, achieves nothing, and leaves them ripping out their hair in frustration.

What can you do to prevent this frustration?

Start with a clear idea of what topics you want to publish articles about, who you want to read those articles, and what actions you want those readers to take. Once you’re clear on those things, it’s time to take a closer look at the top reasons why most digital copywriting fails to generate conversions.

 

Problem 1: Lack of compelling subheadings

People don’t read digital copywriting the same way they read books and magazines. Research shows that web visitors start by skimming the text for attention-grabbing words and phrases, then dive deeper if anything catches their interest.

In fact, Google’s crawler — the algorithm that indexes web content — analyzes online writing exactly the same way. It scans headlines and subheads for interesting words and phrases, then scours the text for keywords it’s decided are part of the same topic cluster.

Google continually makes changes to that ranking algorithm—and the best copywriters keep up with these changes. As of the latest major update in July 2017, the algorithm ranks mainly on the basis of relevance.

A handy Venn diagram summarizing how relevance works on Google.

A handy Venn diagram summarizing how relevance works on Google.

A lot of interrelated factors feed into this relevancy score. We’ll go deeper into many of them in this article. The most important takeaway right now, though, is this:

Your headline and subheads need to tell a compelling story all on their own.

If your subheadings fail to grab the reader’s—and Google’s—attention, you’re dead in the water before you even get started.

Think of your headline and subheadings as a mini-summary of the article. Read them as a sequence of statements, without looking at any of the text below. Do they summarize the article’s entire concept? Does each lead naturally to the next? Do they raise intriguing questions, and hint at the answers?

Before you hit that “Publish” button, you need to be able to answer these questions with a confident “yes.”

 

Problem 2: Walls of text

Your copywriters might create a brilliant masterpiece of an article — but if your website presents it in a format that’s hard to skim, all that hard work will go to waste. In the world of online publishing, layout is every bit as important as content. Yes, you read that right: the visual presentation of your text matters just  as much as the text itself. Why?

If your content doesn’t have an easy-to-read layout, nobody’s going to read it in the first place.

Very few people sit down and focus intently on a piece of digital copywriting, the way they do with a movie. Instead, they glance over articles while they’re at their desk, on the phone, watching TV, or waiting for lunch to arrive.

And when they scroll down and see nothing but text… and more text… and — you’ve got to be kidding — even more text… they’re going to do the same thing you’d do in their place, and click over to another tab. TLDR.

When that happens, you’ve lost your audience.

But look — it’s easy to break up a wall of text:

  • Drop in some bullet points
  • Throw in an image
  • Add an infographic
  • Embed a video
  • Insert a quote box
Blow up those walls of text!

Blow up those walls of text!

With the range of multimedia content options available on WordPress and other platforms, there’s really no excuse not to spice up your text with some eye-catching visuals.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you should go overboard with flashy graphics that make readers’ eyes bleed. It means you need to give their eyes a break every few paragraphs—give them something pretty to look at.

 

Problem 3: Over-reliance on SEO keywords

You might’ve heard that Google loves articles packed with keywords. And while that is sometimes true —

Keyword count alone isn’t the end-all of search-ranking success.

When digital copywriting experts first discovered that Google’s algorithm preferred longer articles with keywords, a gold rush erupted — companies around the world hired teams of talentless copywriters to crank out heaps of incoherent nonsense stuffed with irrelevant keywords and links.

But Google, smart folks that they are, quickly caught on to this little shortcut. As of Google’s latest major algorithm update in July 2017, articles get ranked NOT on length and keyword density, but on quality and relevance (see “1: Lack of compelling subheadings”).

Google’s algorithm uses a variety of factors to determine an article’s relevance — and they’re testing and rolling out brand-new criteria every few months in an effort to keep spam links off that ever-so-valuable first page of search results.

Despite these facts, the Internet is still full of search engine optimization (SEO) snake oil sellers  who claim to be able to boost your site’s search ranking simply by stuffing your content full of high-traffic search keywords. They may indeed be able to deliver those results for a few days or weeks — but Google’s algorithm adapts quickly, and its criteria are continually changing. Sooner or later, these “get-ranked-quick” SEO tactics will cost you much more than they earn.

So what approach will actually get your site to the top of the search charts?

What SEO approach will actually get your digital content to the top of the search charts?

What SEO approach will actually get your digital content to the top of the search charts?

While the exact mix of techniques continues to evolve, real SEO masterminds like us recommend using Google’s Keyword Planner to generate groups of related keywords, and using keywords from each group in related articles on your site, all of which link to one another.

By leveraging different keyword groups in concert, you’ll help Google recognize your site as a hub of high-relevance information on your industry, and your search ranking will begin to rise.

But keyword grouping is just one technique among many — and a complete SEO solution should address the problem not only from the keyword angle, but also in terms of elements like:

  • Link-building
  • XML sitemaps
  • Meta descriptions
  • Previews
  • Canonical tags
  • Schema tags
  • Image alt text

And those factors are just the beginning.

Ask most “SEO experts” direct questions about how all these elements work together, and you’re likely to get a blank stare in response. So:

Never trust an “SEO expert” who’s obsessed with keywords — because keywords are just the tiniest tip of the SEO iceberg.

Most SEO snake-oil salespeople have no idea what they’re talking about. It takes agility and dedication to stay on top of this fast-moving field, and only a small group of professionals keep up with the latest developments.

 

Problem 4: Lack of relevant links

Your articles don’t exist in a vacuum. When readers see no links to back up the statements you make — and, more to the point, when Google doesn’t see any links to or from your articles — you look less like an authority on your topic, and more like a lone fanatic.

If you aim to present yourself as an influencer, you need to actively join your industry’s conversation.

Start by compiling a list of articles on other sites, related to the specific topic you’re publishing content about. Put together a spreadsheet of keywords used in those articles, and (if you have access) use Google’s Keyword Planner to come up with keyword groups related to those search terms.

Next, work keywords in that group into your article. Don’t overdo it — only use keywords where they actually make sense, but don’t force them in where they don’t fit the flow of the article.

Keep your links relevant, and Google will love you for it.

Keep your links relevant, and Google will love you for it.

Now comes the linking. Set up your relevant keywords to link to articles on other sites that contain keywords in the same group. For extra brownie points, contact the owners of those sites, and have them link their related keyword groups back to relevant pages on your site. The more of these reciprocal link arrangements you’re able to set up, the more Google will recognize your site as a core participant in conversations about your chosen topics.

One word of caution, though: a lot of self-proclaimed “SEO experts” will tell you to set up huge amounts of backlinks — links on high-traffic web pages that point back to your site. But while some backlinks can definitely help boost your search ranking —

Google has caught on to the backlinking trick, and now actively penalizes site owners who violate its backlink policies.

So use this technique with care, and only attempt it if you know exactly what you’re doing.

 

Problem 5: Overuse of tech terms

Ever noticed how easy it is to tell the difference between a person who’s actually an expert, and someone who’s just pretending to be? One of the most obvious indicators of fake expertise is an overreliance on technical buzzwords.

While some technical terminology can help demonstrate that you do, in fact, know what you’re talking about, jargon is only impressive when you’re able to explain its meaning clearly.

As the physicist Richard Feynman famously said, “If you can’t teach a concept to a six-year-old, that means you don’t really understand it.” I’ve written plenty of papers packed with dense terminology — but I always take care to define my terms clearly, use them precisely, and explain the implications of every statement I make.

Always remember Richard Feynman's famous test: ask for examples!

Always remember Richard Feynman’s famous test: ask for examples!

Here’s Feynman’s famous litmus test.
When you hear someone use a technical term, ask them this simple question:
“What’s an example of that?”

If your copywriter can’t answer that question off the top of their head, that means they don’t fully understand the terminology they’re using — and, trust me, smart readers will see through that flimsy act from a mile away.

So tell your writer to go back to their sources, do some intensive research, and resist the urge to write one more line until they can provide a clear explanation of the term in question. Your readers will thank you for it.

 

Problem 6: Failure to connect cause and effect

You might be surprised to learn that one specific word has been proven to raise conversion rates by a whopping 30 percent.

What’s that word?

Because.”

While this word isn’t a universal cure-all for low engagement, it’s been shown to deliver powerful results when used in proper context, to explain the causes that lead to particular effects.

A Harvard study found that when people ask to cut in line without offering a reason, they’re only allowed to do it 60 percent of the time. But when people add the word “because” to their request —  for example, “I need to use the printer quickly because I’m late for this meeting” — the compliance rate skyrockets 90 percent.

Remember this one simple word every time you create digital content.

Remember this one simple word every time you create digital content.

In other words —

When people understand the cause of a problem, they’re far more likely to pay attention to it.

This technique is easy to adapt to digital copywriting. Rather than just saying, “Don’t use too many SEO keywords in your articles,” try saying something like:

“When you overuse SEO keywords, Google actively ranks your site lower, because its algorithm thinks you’re spamming. And it’s probably right, so cut that out.”

Instead of just offering a vague warning, you’ve stated a particular outcome to be avoided, explained exactly why that outcome occurs, and provided advice for avoiding it. When it comes to getting your point across, this cause-and-effect approach makes all the difference in the world.

 

Problem 7: Scarcity of specifics

I once worked with a copywriter who seemed to be allergic to specific examples. He’d post long, super-passionate articles packed with exciting visuals — yet every time he had a chance to call out a particular case-in-point, he’d ignore it, and hurry on to the next paragraph.

For example, he’d write, “A lot of companies have had huge success with this technique.” But instead of saying which companies he was talking about, or what results they’d achieved, he’d end the paragraph and start talking about a new topic!

I was completely baffled by this writing style, so finally one day I asked him why he did this.

His reasoning, it turned out, was that he got so caught up in the flow of writing that he was afraid to slow down and look up examples! The solution, of course, was pretty straightforward:

Write out your whole argument step by step — then go back and look up facts that support each point, and work them in where appropriate.

Before you even start writing a detailed article, write out your whole argument step by step.

Before you even start writing a detailed article, write out your whole argument step by step.

Before you publish an article, put it aside for a day or so, then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll notice points your copywriter could back up with examples and figures.

If you can’t think of those specifics off the top of your head, that’s totally fine — but be sure your writer takes the time to dig around for hard numbers and sources to cite. You’ll come across as much more knowledgeable.

 

Problem 8: Lack of in-depth research

Before you hire a copywriter to create an article for you, it’s very important to ask them these two pointed questions:

  1. How deeply do you understand this topic?
  2. How intimately do you know my audience?

If your copywriter doesn’t understand the topic they’re writing about, and who exactly they’re writing it for — and why you expect that audience to care in the first place — they’ll only make it a few paragraphs before they start spiralling off into perplexing questions: How technical should I get? Are there other schools of thought about this? Is this section even helpful? Should I include more resources here?

The questions will pile higher and higher, until the writer loses all sense of direction — or, worse yet, sends you an unpublishable, incoherent mess.

Save yourself and your copywriter a boatload of trouble by following —

The Five P’s: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.”

Before publishing any piece of digital content... make sure you've done your research!

Before publishing any piece of digital content… make sure you’ve done your research!

As cheesy as this slogan sounds — and believe me, I know it’s cheesier than a Wisconsin state fair — it’ll make your job vastly easier in the long run. A few hours of preparatory research might sound like a painful slog, but it’s a whole lot less painful than two days of writing around in circles, getting no closer to a final draft.

By the time your copywriter sits down to type that first sentence, they should be able to chatter happily about the topic for minutes on end, with a specific listener in mind. In fact, the writer should be bursting at the seams to educate your audience about all the fun facts they’ve learned.

They should know why your readers will be interested in those facts, and how the information they present will be useful to your audience. Only then should you give ‘em the green light.

 

Problem 9: Just plain sloppy writing

Oh, heaven preserve us from this plague of cut-rate copywriters! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen clients balk at the price of a professional — only to come running back a week later when their “much more affordable” writer delivers a barely coherent scrawl.

At best, these cheap knock-off articles come brimming with grammatical errors and misused technical terms. At worst, they’re outright inaccurate and misleading.

Smart business owners catch on to these copywriting failures pretty quickly, and most end up shelling out for a seasoned veteran of the writing business who knows how to present a detailed explanation with precision and clarity. After all —

Who wants the embarrassment of publishing an article that confuses “warranty” with “warrantee,” refers to a no-brainer as “not a brainer”  — or even misspells the client’s company name in the headline?

And yes, before you ask, I have witnessed all the above — and worse.

Don't hire a digital copywriter whose work will make you facepalm.

Don’t hire a digital copywriter whose work will make you facepalm.

Unfortunately, these problems aren’t rooted in any single issue. They occur due to a whole range of factors, including excessively tight deadlines, inadequate research, poor grasp of the English language, and good old-fashioned laziness and lack of attention to detail.

Any of these shortcomings can destroy an article’s credibility — and when all of them come crashing together, they turn into the perfect storm of literary disaster.

If you’re dead set on hiring a cut-rate copywriter, have fun. But be aware that flawless copywriting takes years of practice, along with an uncanny degree of attention to the nuts and bolts of the craft.

Most bargain-bin writers just aren’t capable of bringing that level of skill and focus to the table. To get the results you expect, you’re going to have to go with a pro.

Want to learn how to  brand yourself as a top expert in your industry—and take over the first page of Google search results?

We’d love to show you how.

Schedule your free consultation now.

 

Four Ways Social Media Stories Can Help Your Business Soar

You know the sinking feeling you get when you publish something online—a Facebook post, a Snapchat story, a tweet, “covfefe”—only to immediately regret it afterwards?

Ed Balls, the former British shadow chancellor of the exchequer, certainly does.

To his great dismay—and the British public’s delight—Ed discovered the pitfalls of accidental tweeting when he tweeted his own name back in 2011.

Ed’s outburst of existential affirmation has been retweeted so many times—83,000—that April 28, the day of the tweet, has become an unofficial holiday in the UK: Ed Balls Day.

Every year, Ed Balls Day brings smiles and happiness to people up and down the land. But it also brings to light the elephant in the room of digital publications—that our tweets and posts stay online forever. And like the elephant in the room, the Internet never forgets.

At least, that’s how it is for most digital content. Stories, on the other hand, are a little different.

For a start, Stories aren’t like your standard feed posts or tweets, which are lovingly crafted and painstakingly edited. Instead, they’re short, unpolished, and just like the snapshots of life they capture, imperfect.

But Stories aren’t made to last—and that’s the main difference between featured Stories and regular published content. Unlike Ed’s tweet, which will stand forever as a monument of marble in the digital landscape, Stories are fleeting and nomadic, programmed to self-destruct within 24 hours whether you open them or not.

You might think their transience would make them less popular. Yet the recent revelation that the number of Stories is growing 15X faster than feeds suggests that being short-lived doesn’t make them any less attractive. If anything, it makes them more interesting.

Think of it this way: clicking on permanent content is like visiting an attraction in the place where you live. You’re not going anywhere; it’s not going anywhere; you pretty much know what you’re going to get, so you figure you’ll just come back later. Stories are like must-see attractions abroad; they’re ephemeral, whistle-stop. Blink, and you miss them.

How does this relate to digital marketing?

On the face of it, publishing content that vanishes 24 hours after its publication doesn’t sound like the smartest marketing strategy in the world. But Stories are on the ascendancy, cropping up on YouTube, Google, and Netflix as well as still being part and parcel of Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. To neglect Stories is to risk damaging your business. Our guide aims to help you incorporate them into your digital marketing strategy.

1) Stories aren’t platforms for sales pitches

When we scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram feeds we’re usually looking to be transported elsewhere, to learn, or simply to be entertained. We’re not scrolling looking for someone to sell us stuff. So when someone we’re following suddenly shows up on our feed and bombards us with price tags and subscription plans, we’re likely to respond in one way:

Using stories to try and push your product is only going to get you one result

The same goes for Stories. Stories aren’t for sales pitches but chiefly for sharing. When used well, they provide a platform for you to promote your values, and your brand’s, and share relevant, entertaining content with your followers. When used brilliantly, Stories do more than just share your message; they contribute to the conversations your followers are having, and offer advice on where they can go. Essentially, the best Stories establish trust.

Take Amy Buechler’s Snapchat account (Jujubeeks), for example. She’s an associate at Y Combinator, a community that funds early-stage startups. And, fittingly, her Stories consist of short stress-relieving sessions advising founders on what they can do to avoid their startup’s breakup. Why is this effective? Because it locates her followers at the center of their own story—a story in which she plays the fringe, yet vital role of the sage counselor.

This compassionate approach to the Stories feature is crucial for effective user engagement. And nowhere is this truer than on Snapchat, which is still regarded as one of the most effective tools for startups. Most Snapchat users are millennials, so understanding this demographic is vital when it comes to designing your stories. And millennials as a demographic aren’t going to respond well to having their online space invaded by dodgy salesmen.

2) The best stories are nonfiction

When it comes to sniffing out what’s genuine and what’s contrived in the world of marketing, our noses are getting sharper. Which means that stories that come across as fake or insincere are more likely to flop. For proof, just look at that Coca-Cola commercial, pulled in 2015, which showed millennials with picture-perfect pearly white smiles being ferried into a remote Mexican village to deliver shipments of Coca-Cola to a downtrodden community of grateful natives.

If your Stories aren't sincere, forget it. We're getting better at sniffing out what's genuine and what's contrived in the world of storytelling

Long a staple of corporate advertising, this white-savior narrative no longer washes. Millennials definitely aren’t buying itsomething we know because they’ve recently come out and said so themselves. According to a recent report, 40 percent of millennials would be willing to pay more for a brand that’s ethically conscious, while more than 50 percent believe it’s important that businesses are transparent about their practices.  

Where’s the best place for your brand to showcase its ethical credentials? The key lies with the Stories you share.

No organization has done this as effectively as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with its #LastSelfie campaign back in 2014. Launched to raise awareness of endangered animals, the campaign consisted of a series of Snapchat photos, each featuring an endangered species. Each clip lasted just 10 seconds before vanishing, reflecting the limited lifespan of the species itself. The campaign caught on. Reaching 120 million users meant that within three days of its launch the WWF had met its monthly donation target.

So far I’ve talked a lot about Snapchat, and for good reason. It’s a global name, it has 100 million daily active users, and its daily video views are increasing by 400 percent every year. But put statistics to one side and it’s the simple format that stands out. Snaps shot from your phone encourage simplicity. Not everything shines; not everything is glossy. Because of this, Snapchat shifts emphasis from content of superficial value to content of intrinsic value.

The same cannot be said for Instagram. At its best, the Instagram community can be genuine, interesting and buzzing. At its photoshopped worst, Instagram can be glossy, repetitive and artificial, filtering a perfect version of the world that frustrates as much as it misleads. This isn’t to say Instagram is redundant. But you should be careful how you use it. After all, showing your office layout, pre-event setup or even your family life through an idealized filter isn’t going to sit well with people expecting some down-to-earth honesty.

The difference between Snapchat and Instagram is crucial. Especially because it raises two important questions you’re going to have to answer:

Which social media does my audience use, and what does it expect to find there?

I’ve already published a post about how you can find your real audience. Live among their world, find out where they hang out, learn their language. For Stories, language isn’t just textual, it’s visual too. And if you’re going to resonate with your audience, you’re going to have to personalize yours to fit.

3) Stories should be personal

One of the ugliest aspects of the corporate jargon that’s come to characterize so much of today’s business language is that it can make us forget that companies aren’t logos. Companies are made up of the individuals who work there. Stories are the perfect way of leaving behind that preened corporate image and showcasing the human side of the business world.

We’re not just talking about B2C here. There’s no reason stories in B2B can’t be just as personal as the stories we tell our friends when we tell them in the right way. For a great example of how a B2B company is mastering personal storytelling, look no further than Cisco.

By using a “day in the life” format in its Stories campaign, Cisco has moved the focus away from its products to its people. Sure, it’s simple. But since the account’s launch in May 2016, it’s seen a 600 percent follower increase week over week.

By showcasing the people behind the company, Cisco’s “day in the life of” Stories works wonders

Another Snapchat account, one that belongs to an individual rather than a company is that of Jason Calacanis, the founder of Inside.com and an investor in various startups. Jason’s Stories are helpful for like-minded entrepreneurs because they give us the scoop on related startups. And they’re fundamentally humanfocusing on his family, his daughter, and his pets—giving us a real person to root for.

4) Start with stories. End with a series.

Establishing a brand is about building familiarity, and Stories have enormous potential in helping us do this. Their format makes them visible but not intrusive. They don’t spam your users’ news feeds and they don’t clog up your own page. And as I mentioned toward the beginning, their ephemeral nature is what makes them alluring. But the fact they have a 24-hour lifespan means that if you want to be visible, you’re going to publish. A lot.

Of course, no storyteller would start without knowing which direction their narrative was headed (with the obvious exception of J.J. Abrams when he wrote the screenplay for Lost). And as that series showed, going in all guns blazing without an overarching plan is only going to confuse, alienate, and lose followers.

This is where planning and creativity come in.

Before setting out on your digital marketing campaign, you want a clear vision of the direction your brand is heading—a compelling brand story starting with your brand’s “Big Bang” and ending with the completion of its mission. If weaving this narrative sounds difficult, don’t worry. Storytelling is what we do.

Whatever your story or your vision, we’d love to hear it. Talk to us.

Schedule your free consultation today.

 

Create Your Compelling Brand Story in 5 Steps

Your personality’s powerful—and so is your brand’s.

But let’s be real:

Do you actually enjoy reading and watching the content you post, just for pleasure?

If you don’t, why should your audience?

Maybe what’s missing is a compelling story.

Maybe what your brand is missing is a compelling story.

Maybe what your brand is missing is a compelling story.

I’m not talking about case studies or product backstories. I mean the story of your brand itself — a narrative that pulls people in and gets them excited about what’s going to happen next.

A compelling story does more than tell audiences what your brand sells — it gives your brand a face, a personality, and a meaningful mission.

Here are five key steps for crafting a brand story that gets your audience on your team.

Step 1: Look for your brand’s Big Bang.

Every great story starts with a single unforgettable event. Romeo meets Juliet. Dorothy lands in Oz. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak move into a garage to build a computer called Apple.

Our universe itself began with the most explosive event of all time: the Big Bang, a name everyone knows by heart, even if they don’t know a single other fact about space.

The funny thing about beginnings? They rarely feel like such big deals when they’re happening.

Start your brand's story from your Big Bang moment.

Start your brand’s story from your Big Bang moment.

Their significance only becomes clear later, when we look back on the story as a whole, and ask ourselves where it all began. That’s when these Big Bang moments matter.

Maybe you got tired of buying overpriced sandwiches — so you whipped up recipes of your own. Maybe you hired a designer to create your website, only to realize you could design it better yourself. Maybe you’d never thought of styling people’s hair, until your friends started begging you to.

Look back on your brand’s past, and zero in on the moment that divides “before” and “after.”

Now focus on every sensory detail of that moment — what you were wearing, what the weather was like, who you were with, what you were feeling, afraid of, looking forward to. Write all those elements down, with as much vivid detail as you can.

Now you have a basic sketch of your brand’s Big Bang moment. Whether you develop the story yourself or hire a content creator to flesh it out for you, you’ve got what you need to paint your brand’s beginning in vivid color.

Step 2: Tell your audience what your endgame is.

Nearly 70 percent of millennial consumers say they work to create meaning in the world, and strongly prefer working with brands that do the same.

If you founded your business with the goal of making money, or providing great service — that’s fine. Those are perfectly legitimate reasons to start a business.

But what’s the story behind those goals?

Tell your audience what your endgame is.

Tell your audience what your endgame is.

To capture your audience’s imagination, your brand needs to be fighting to change the world. And that change needs to be something that you, personally, want to achieve.

What’s different about the world you want to live in? How are you creating that world?

Don’t just say the first thing that pops into your head. Imagine a jaded protester rolling his eyes at everything you say: “Pshh. Nice try. You’re just another fat cat trying to make more money.”

How will you prove you mean what you say?

Maybe you want to make vacations affordable for your neighbors, or end computer illiteracy in your city, or convince schools to replace junk food with healthy snacks.

Frame your mission clearly and passionately, and your audience will recognize you as “the brand that does that thing.” They’ll tell their friends about your cause. When you score a small victory, they’ll be cheering right along with you — because they’ll know exactly what they’re cheering for.

Step 3: Give your brand a face.

Your customers aren’t the only people who do business with you. You also work with vendors, suppliers, and other partners — and they’re all characters in your brand’s story. The question is how you paint them.

Say your story’s Big Bang moment is the lunch meeting where you and your best friend decide to open your own restaurant. How did that conversation play out between those two characters? Was one of you the “big ideas” person, while the other advised caution? Did you argue? Tell any jokes? Express any fears?

Every brand needs a face — or better yet, a whole cast of faces. Who was there at the beginning?

Audiences connect much more strongly with characters than they do with faceless organizations.

Audiences connect much more strongly with characters than they do with faceless organizations.

Audiences connect much more strongly with characters than they do with faceless organizations. What would KFC be without Colonel Sanders — or Amazon without Alexa?

Look for the larger-than-life people who’ve made your brand what it is today — and make those characters your spokespeople. Make their personal stories the story of your brand.

Step 4: Cast your customer as the hero.

Who do you think should be the main character of your brand’s story?

If you answer, “my brand, of course!” then you’re missing the point.

The reason you’re weaving a story around your brand is to create a world your audience wants to step into, and participate in — a story that ends with a better world.

To lure your audience into your world, you’ve got to leave a cutout “hero” space shaped exactly like them.

Leave a cutout “hero” space shaped exactly like your audience.

Leave a cutout “hero” space shaped exactly like your audience.

Help your audience understand how their role in the story helps advance your brand’s mission for change—a mission they share.

When they buy TOMS instead of other shoe brands, they’re donating shoes to somebody who needs them. When they book an AirBnb instead of a chain hotel room, they’re supporting locals who believe in renter equality. When they buy online courses from Udacity instead of a traditional university, they’re funding affordable higher education for people around the world.

All these for-profit companies openly admit they want to make money. In fact, customers want to be the heroes who help those companies make money, because they know money’s advancing a story they believe in.

Step 5: Own your mistakes. Treat them as plot points.

When Domino’s Pizza brought in a new CEO in 2010, the company’s reputation and stock price were in the gutter. They were notorious for lousy pizza — and the new CEO owned up to it! He publicly acknowledged the pizza was bad, and launched a campaign to create a better product.

Eight years later, Domino’s stock price has skyrocketed from $12 to a whopping $211 per share. See? Now you wish you’d invested in Domino’s at the very moment they admitted their problem.

Instead of trying to sweep problems under the rug, treat them as plot points in your brand’s story.

Treat your mistakes as plot points in your brand’s story.

Treat your mistakes as plot points in your brand’s story.

Your audience will forget and forgive all kinds of mistakes if they believe in your brand’s long-term mission — and connect with your founders and collaborators as people who strive to give something worthwhile back.

When your audience gets your endgame, and sees your team as the flawed, hardworking people they are, they’ll surprise you with their willingness to step into the hero’s role, and stand by your side every step of the way.

Ready to take your brand’s story to the next level?

We’re here to help.

 

Schedule your free consultation now.

 

Buyer Personas Need to Die. Use These 5 Tactics to Find Your Real Audience

It’s that moment you’ve been waiting for — the big meet. You and your team have gathered your market research and refined your product. Now that digital marketing agency you hired is ready to introduce you to the people — or rather buyer personas — who are going to buy it. This is where all your hard work finally pays off. Are you ready? Okay. Lights please.

Everybody meet:

Owner Ollie: the CEO stereotype buyer persona whose fictional life is so brilliant he couldn't possibly be interested in what you have to say.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

“Strange… This guy doesn’t look like he needs my help. He doesn’t look like he needs help at all, with his blissed-out smile and strangely specific bio. Three Kids, 20, 16, and 11, huh? That’s some smart child spacing there Ollie. I see history has taught you well.”

You’re absolutely right for thinking this. Ollie doesn’t need help because Ollie isn’t a person. He’s a buyer persona — a fictional representation of an ideal customer. And for some reason it seems that everyone, from the campaign gurus at HubSpot to the freelancing experts at UpWork, just can’t get enough of him.

Seriously though, “Owner Ollie?” “Millennial Meg?” “Maggie the full-time Mom?”

Where did these stereotypes come from, and where are they headed?

Why do marketers insist on bringing these non-existent people, these cheesy advertising memes whose fantasy lives can be reduced just to the year they were born or whether or not they own a home, into strategy meetings?

Are we expected to play along? Or to believe these buyer personas could somehow be listening, and nod our heads musingly when we hear that:

“Ollie wants to streamline his life so he can spend more time with the kids.”

What’s Owner Ollie, with his stock-photo grin and fantasy list of turn-ons even doing in this meeting anyway?

Despite what marketers claim, Stepford Wives stereotyping isn’t going to get you the results you want. The truth is there are more efficient ways to figure out who to target with your content without having to listen to someone waxing lyrical about how “Ollie wants you to help him achieve his perfect work/life balance.”

Listen to your audience, don't listen to Ollie

Ollie and all other buyer personas like him are works of fiction. Your audience is real. We need to identify who they are, where they are, and what they want.

It’s time to say goodbye to buyer personas. They have no needs, and they feel no pain. Your potential customers, on the other hand, do. And to make sure they start coming to you to satisfy their needs and alleviate their pain, you can start by asking yourself these five simple questions.

1: Who’s going to buy from me?

You’ve pulled the plug on buyer personas like Owner Ollie (don’t feel bad: neither he nor his offspring ever existed anyway) and now it’s time to find out who your real customers are.

You’ve got the one-timers, who bought from you once then never came back.

You’ve got the two-timers, who bought from you once before switching allegiance to one of your competitors.

Then there’s that vast ocean of prospective buyers — people angling for a product like yours who saw what you had on offer but decided not to bite. And out there in the murky waters of digital marketing are the crowds of people who have yet to hear of you.

You have your best customers of course — that small number of people who account for the majority of your sales. And these best customers will move in circles with friends and family who are going to be interested in hearing what you’ve got to offer.

But your best customers shouldn’t be the only people buying from you.

They should all be buying from you.

They should be buying from you right now and planning to buy from you again in the future—shouting your name from the rooftops, telling everyone how great you are, spreading your name like wildfire.

These aren’t abstract buyer personas. This isn’t Owner Ollie telling his home-owning friends how you helped streamline his life (or find him his home). These are real people. And when you create content that converts — content that understands these people’s pain and meets their needs — you’ll be well on your way to building relationships that will one day blossom into more purchases, more referrals, and a better bottom line.

Shut up and take my money

2: Who’s going to listen to what I say?

One reason real customers are better than fictional buyer personas is that real customers aren’t just smiling back at you blankly from a PowerPoint projector screen. They’re actually answering your questions.

Before they can do this, though, you’re going to have to get talkative in your market research.

Start by interviewing anyone who might be interested in what you create. Keeping your research to people you’re currently in touch with is a good start, but it’s limiting. Don’t limit yourself to the present. Cast your mind back to like-minded contacts from former social networks. Talk to them: Who do they know who might be interested in your product?

And the million-dollar question: Where do they meet?

Forget buyer personas. Your real audience are out there, waiting

3: Where does your target audience hang out online?

Twitter? Instagram? Facebook? LinkedIn? Reddit? Make a note of which sites, blogs and groups your potential customers are visiting; which apps they’re using to drive their daily lives. Before long you’ll have found your target audience. And once you do, immerse yourself in their scene.

Crash their party, just as buyer personas like Owner Ollie crashed your strategy meeting.

Who cares if you weren’t invited? — once you’re contributing to the conversation, it won’t even matter.

Your research needs to go deep, so if you don’t have a profile for one of the sites, create one, and if you don’t have one of their apps, download it. It’s a worthwhile investment; you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time here.

You want to stick around until you’ve got a complete picture of the world your audience inhabits. Get familiar with social networks they scroll through. Become proficient with the apps they rely on. Immerse yourself in the channels where they congregate and the points where they meet.

Come with me and I'll show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes

4: What conversations do they have there?

The more time you spend among your target audience, the better you’ll get a feel for what they’re saying — the discussions, jokes, and banter. This is their language, and if you’re spending enough time with them it’ll soon become yours too.

To be able to reach out to your audience, and address their pain in an engaging way, you’re going to have be fluent in their language.

This might not sound easy. But you know what they say — the best way to learn a language is to live among people who speak it. Think of it like this: you’re treating yourself to an expense-free vacation.

Eventually, you’ll start to get a feel for the conversations your target audience keep coming back to, the jokes they tell, and the memes they throw around. Learn the slang and the banter. Scan the comment sections until you get all the references and are in on all the jokes.

It won’t be long before you start to notice what’s missing in the conversation — where that all-important gap is. This awareness will be crucial when it comes to offering them your solution.

5: Where does your target audience go to stay up to date?

Apart from the main hangout space, your target audience will have other channels where they go to stay up to date on what’s happening in the world. Your job is to find out where these are.

Work out what websites they visit, which feeds they subscribe to, and which publications they engage with and respect. Think about people too. Find out which public figures, celebrities, and influencers they follow, and whose recommendations they take on board when they’re on the lookout for something new.

Then get actively involved. Get chirpy. Retweet their tweets and show up in their timelines.

Be part of their conversation and, with your newfound knowledge, establish yourself within it.

Inhabiting the world of your target audience has never been easier. Spend a week or so with them on a research sabbatical and before long you’ll be able to identify their problems and target them with your solutions.

More importantly, consider how your language makes your audience feel: if you talk to them in a language they understand, it’ll go to their head; if you talk to them in their own language, it’ll go to their heart.

Buyer personas don’t have hearts or minds (or homes, for that matter) to win over. But real people do.

And we can help you find them.

There’s a whole world of people out there — real people — waiting to buy from you. You might already know who they are—and we can help turn your data into actionable insights.

But if you don’t, get in there, enter their world, and learn their language.

If you can adapt your language to pinpoint your target audience’s pain points, and if you can present your solutions in ways that mirror their pain, the battle is basically won.

Leave that to us: playing with language is what we do.

Want more insight into your content creation process?

That’s exactly why we’re here.

 

Schedule your free consultation now.

 

Sneak Past Writer’s Block With These 3 Foolproof Techniques

Everyone on Earth has brilliant, original ideas several times a day. You’re brainstorming all the time, without even trying. Look at you go!

The problem, of course, is that your best ideas never make it onto the page. So before we go any further —

Here’s the number one way to write amazing content:

Make writing a part of your daily routine. Write a little something after every meal, or every time you run to the bathroom — it works wonders. I’m not kidding. Or write down the day’s thoughts just before bed.

Form positive associations with writing. Take a hot bath afterward, or indulge in some ice cream, or sip a mug of fresh-brewed coffee. Listen to beautiful music while you write. Infuse the practice of writing into the rhythm of your life.

Or hey, defeat your writer's block by writing in a hot bath, like Writing in the bath, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston).

Or hey, write in a hot bath, like Writing in the bath, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston).

But even when you’re writing every day — and in case I wasn’t clear, that’s exactly what you need to do — you’re going to hit a snag every now and then. Writer’s block is a beast, and you need to know how to deal with it. So let me drop some knowledge on you.

You can’t overcome writer’s block by fighting it head on.

Instead, you have to sneak past it.

Here’s how to do that.

1. Write the worst sentence you possibly can

A blank page can be one of the most terrifying things on Earth. Its silent emptiness rings with a challenge: What do you want to talk about? How do you start? What if it’s not good enough?

Herman Melville, who wrote Moby Dick, had good reason for calling white the most horrific color in the world. If your page’s whiteness gets inside your head, it’ll take you down before you even get started.

So never give it the chance.

Without hesitation, type the stupidest, most insane sentence you can come up with. Right now. Do it.

Look at that! Now you’ve got one sentence. You’re no longer staring at a blank page.

Judging by this sentence, the author of "Fifty Shades of Grey" seems to have followed my advice to sneak past writer's block by writing the worst sentence imaginable.

Judging by this sentence, the author of “Fifty Shades of Grey” seems to have followed my advice to write the worst line imaginable.

Believe it or not, the hard part’s done. Everything after this is academic. You have looked the whiteness in the eye, and you have emerged victorious. Score one for the writer.

I’ve used this technique more times than I can count, and it always gets my engine running. When you’re struggling to get words on the page, your worst enemy is your own inner critic.

Your inner critic works long hours, picking apart most of the sentences you read every day, telling you everything’s wrong with them. And that’s fantastic, because that’s precisely what your inner critic is supposed to do. Go inner critic!

Still, to be a writer, you’ve got to distract your inner critic for a minute. That’s why you write the worst sentence you possibly can: because your critic has no idea what to do with that goal. It gets confused.

And while it’s flailing around, you sneak right on past, into the land of creativity.

2. Imagine you’re writing messages to your friends

Strangely enough, nobody who struggles with writer’s block seems to have any trouble sending messages to people they love.

Why is that? Well, obviously, texting isn’t “creative writing.” It’s just talking.

It follows, then, that as long as you treat the blank page like a conversation, your writer’s block will stop bothering you.

These writers may look like they're just texting... but looks can be deceiving.

These writers may look like they’re just texting… but looks can be deceiving.

Think of that one friend. We’ve all got that one friend; you know the one I mean — the one who always understands what you’re getting at, even when you don’t explain it properly.

Explain your topic as if you were texting that friend.

Don’t send the messages, obviously. Just type them on the page, as if you’re going to send them later. Once you get into the flow of the conversation, you’ll start to imagine your friend’s comments and questions along the way. Work ‘em in. Respond to objections. Keep the explanation rolling.

What you’ll end up with, after a few minutes of this, is a page of disorganized rambling. Stay calm — this is exactly the result you want. You’ll clean it up later, in the editing stage. For now, remember why you’re here.

All the time you were explaining this stuff to your friend, your writer’s block was nowhere to be found. Mission accomplished.

3. Use your favorite stories as writing prompts

When the novelist Ernest Hemingway (author of The Old Man and the Sea) was a young aspiring author, he set himself a strange project: he retyped several of his favorite books, word for word.

Why did he do this?

Well, he reasoned, if you want to become a great skier, you go ski the same hills as the pros. So to become a great writer, you write the same books as the masters.

Ernest Hemingway said to beat writer's block by writing the truest sentence you know. But it's often more effective to write the silliest sentence you can think of.

Ernest Hemingway said to start by writing the truest sentence you know. But it’s often more effective to write the silliest sentence you can think of.

You, however, do not have to type a whole novel — unless you aim to write one. In fact, you don’t have to type anything word for word. Instead —

Find interesting articles about the topic you want to cover. Then ask yourself, “How would I tell this story differently?”

Retell the same sequence of events, but focus on different elements. Re-explain the same concept using unexpected examples and analogies. Try switching up the order, or arguing from the opposite perspective. Make it your own.

You’re not really “writing” here — you’re just rephrasing something that’s already been written. So your writer’s block will get out of the way.

And yet, when you’re done rephrasing, you’ll find that the end result contains some ideas that weren’t there before.

Now that’s funny! Where did those ideas come from?

Well, they’re all yours now.

Want more insight into your content creation process?

That’s exactly why we’re here.

 

Schedule your free consultation now.

 

Ask These 5 Critical Questions When Analyzing Competitors’ Content

What’s the first thing you notice when you drop by a competitor’s website? Beyond the eye-catching color and images, you’re probably drawn to their blog.

I mean, just look at it — they’re publishing all these cool articles with big, beautiful images! You need to grab all the ideas you can, then pump out even better versions of them. Right?

Nope. In fact, this approach is a huge mistake.

For one thing, if you rip off your competitor’s content, Google will know. And they’ll downgrade your search rank as a result. This is a real risk.

But there’s an even bigger problem.

If you focus too much on your competitors’ topics and keywords, you’ll miss out on some major opportunities to target audiences they’re neglecting, with messages they aren’t sending.

Ask these five crucial questions to perform an effective competitor analysis — and convert your competitors’ content into impactful insights for your own campaign.

 

1. What audience are your competitors trying to help?

Instead of focusing on the topics your competitors are writing about, take a step back and think about the people they’re trying to connect with. In other words —

Here’s the first question to ask about your competitor’s content:
“Who is this for?”

Some articles will tell you which audience they’re aimed at, right up front. Other times, you’ll have to sift through the text until you get a picture of the target reader. If you’re looking at a competing bicycle shop’s website, you might notice they’re using imagery and language that appeals to high-performance sport riders. Your competitor’s restaurant might share a lot of images of happy families. Are these the same customers you want to connect with?

Your competitors' audience targeting may ignore or leave out certain groups of people who’ll be thankful for the attention you give them.

Your competitors’ audience targeting may ignore or leave out certain groups of people who’ll be thankful for the attention you give them.

Their targeting may ignore or leave out certain groups of people who’ll be thankful for the attention you give them. Since your competitor’s bike shop is focused on athletes, your brand can speak to suburban moms who bike with their kids. While your competitor’s restaurant cultivates a family vibe, you can reach out to the office crowd. Connect with the folks they’re neglecting.

And what if your competitors don’t address any special audience? This is your golden opportunity. Instead of blasting out one-size-fits-all content like your competitor does, you can focus your message on specific market segments, speaking directly to those athletes, young professionals, and suburban moms in their own languages, using imagery they’ll relate to.

 

2. Which problems are your competitors offering to solve?

Almost every brand promises a solution to some core problem. Red Bull offers a solution to the problem of low energy. Twitter helps solve the problem of losing touch with friends. H&M addresses the problem of finding cool, affordable clothing. Even local brands focus their messaging around particular problems: expensive oil changes, frustrating tax paperwork, scary dentist visits.

As you perform your own competitor analysis, you’ll notice that your competitors target their messaging around specific problems, too. They may even make those problems clear in the headlines of their blog posts — after all, that’s what headlines are for.

Ask yourself how you solve those same problems — or better yet, if you can reframe those problems to point to your solutions.

Wise words on competitor analysis, from Don Draper of "Mad Men."

Wise words on competitor analysis, from Don Draper of “Mad Men.”

For example, if your competitor promises the cheapest shoes in town, maybe it’s time to ask whether cheaper really means better. If they guarantee the biggest car selection, point out that browsing hundreds of cars is a waste of time.

Reframe your competitors’ solutions as problems — problems for which you offer the REAL fix.

However you choose to redefine the problems, focus on providing better solutions than the ones your competitor offers. Does their blog serve up recipes? Give your readers more variety, with clearer instructions and bigger photos. Is their blog a guide to used car shopping? Give readers a comprehensive guide to the most eco-friendly used cars on the market.

Outsmart your competitors’ solutions at every turn — whether by reframing them as problems, or by delivering improvements on the fixes they offer.

 

3. Which competitor keywords result in useful clusters?

Duplicating your competitors’ lists of keywords is a very dangerous game. Google will most likely catch on, and your search ranking will plummet. That said —

Your competitors’ favorite keywords can provide useful jumping-off points for generating your own keyword clusters.

Clusters are groups of keywords that Google’s ranking algorithm already thinks are related. For example, say you’re a transport company, and your competitor’s site focuses heavily around the keyword “logistics.”

When you use Google’s Keyword Planner to generate a cluster related to that keyword, you’ll get related keywords like “logistics best practices,” “logistics FAQ,” and “logistics case studies,” because Google frequently sees all these phrases on top-clicked pages in search results for “logistics.”

Your competitors’ favorite keywords can provide useful jumping-off points for generating your own keyword clusters.

Your competitors’ favorite keywords can provide useful jumping-off points for generating your own keyword clusters.

Of course, not all keywords will produce equally useful clusters. To find the most effective clusters for your brand, you’ll need to experiment.

Plug each of your competitors’ most relevant keywords into Google’s Keyword Planner, until you get a cluster — or, better yet, a few different clusters — with large numbers of highly searched, low-competition keywords.

Now, the wrong approach would be to stuff your next blog post with dozens of keywords from that cluster — because Google calls that keyword spam. Instead, you want to save the cluster list you’ve generated, and use just a small sprinkling of those keywords in every related piece of content you create.

As you publish more fresh content containing a few keywords from your “logistics” cluster, Google will start to recognize your site as a hub of information on that topic. Since all your posts feature keywords Google thinks are related to your area of expertise, you’ll begin to climb toward the top of the first page of search results.

 

4. Which topical areas do your competitors circle back to?

Inventing original content tends to get harder over time. Back when your competitors first launched their content campaigns, they probably had all kinds of fresh ideas for unique articles and social media posts — but as the months crept on, that well of ideas started to run dry.

These days, your competitors are circling back to the same old topics, looking for fresh takes on ideas they’ve already covered to death.

As you scan your competitors’ posts, you might get a strange sense of déjà vu. Certain headlines look eerily like earlier ones. The same photos reappear in post after post. Identical keywords pop up with increasing frequency.

As you scan your competitors’ posts, you'll notice a lot of very similar content. Don't make the same mistake.

As you scan your competitors’ posts, you’ll notice a lot of very similar content. Don’t make the same mistake.

Your competitors’ repetitive posts serve as warnings: cover that particular topic just once. Then move on.

Duplicate content will lower Google your search ranking — so instead of obsessing over the same topical areas your competitors do, compile all their best insights, and write one in-depth post that covers that base. Add value with your own unique twists on the topic. Then call it quits and move on to other subjects. That’s the only effective way to safeguard your search ranking.

Coming up with fresh content is a challenge, no question. But the costs of duplication are much greater than the benefits of posting stale, repetitive posts.

Any time you’re tempted to rehash topics you’ve already covered, that’s your cue to sit down with a pen and notepad, and dedicate an hour or so to generating some truly original ideas. Your audience — and Google’s ranking algorithm — will thank you for the effort.

 

5. Where are your competitors leaving coverage gaps?

Here’s one final point to check in your competitor analysis:

Your competitor may be ignoring certain pain points altogether.

Maybe their cheap lunch buffet doesn’t meet a need for vegetarian dining options around town. Maybe their huge car selection fails to offer environmentally friendly luxury brands at bargain prices.

Oversights like these are your call to action: present a better solution. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should directly criticize your competitor. Just make it clear that you’re the go-to brand for those answers.

When you notice coverage gaps in your competitors content — fill those gaps with your own solutions!

When you notice coverage gaps in your competitors content — fill those gaps with your own solutions!

Focus your content on topical gaps your competitors leave, and you’ll attract the customers they’re missing.

Your competitors’ topical gaps can also help you solve the challenge of regularly generating original content. The more you analyze your competitors’ posting patterns, the more you’ll notice issues in your industry that they’re just not paying attention to: news stories, local events, hot-button debates, and frequently asked questions that you can step in and answer.

Another excellent way to fill gaps in your competitors’ coverage is to provide in-depth guides to issues they cover only briefly. If they provide a quick 10-step guide to shopping for houses in your town, counter with a fully researched presentation on each neighborhood’s top sights and attractions, complete with friendly infographics and checklists.

Blow your audience away with the lengths you’ll go to when providing useful, unique insights.

You’ll notice the difference in your site traffic, in your user engagement — and ultimately, in your bottom line.

Want more insight into your content creation process?

That’s exactly why we’re here.

Schedule your free consultation now.

 

 

Generate Meaningful SEO Results With These 7 Artful Tactics

You’re not the first to have this problem, and you certainly won’t be the last. You’ve packed your site with search engine optimization (SEO) keywords. You’re pumping out new, quality content every day. Your digital content machine is up and running. In fact, it’s positively purring.

But where are all those conversions you’ve been promised?

Be lost no more with these artful SEO tactics

The answer lies with the SEO techniques you’re using. The algorithms that determine your site’s ranking don’t see all SEO techniques as equals. Some get preferential treatment. And such favoritism means that these techniques deliver better results than others.

To widen up your sales funnel, and get it working at top capacity, you’re going to need to narrow down and optimize the SEO tactics you use. The key lies beyond the keywords. Let’s dive into the deep end of SEO and pull up some treasure.

1) Headings and subheadings bring success in the search engines.

Have you ever heard of Crawler? It’s an algorithm Google uses to search for keywords in a body of text and check it for relevance. Like us, Crawler skims through the more eye-catching text first—headings and subheadings—before crawling its way through the main content.

So where should you put your SEO techniques to good use and focus your keywords?

You’ve guessed it. Head for the headings.

The most important part of your text is going to be your title tag. It’s the first thing Google (and your reader) sees when looking for relevance so make sure you get the right keyword in there.

A word of caution though: Google has caught on to the overuse of headings and subheadings as keyword repositories. It doesn’t appreciate keyword stuffing (more on this in a moment), and penalizes it by favoring the use of keyword groups, used sparingly and effectively in a text that is natural sounding, relevant, and engaging.

Headings have to be artful. That’s why we think they should tell a story.

Narratives in the headings are good for SEO. If written well, they hook the reader, reinforce relevance and draw the attention of the all-powerful algorithm that will propel your page to the top of the rankings.

2) Headings are good, but meta is better.

Ben Thomas Agency SEO Meta Tag

See this description above? Without blowing our own trumpet, this is an effective meta description. Why?

Because it accurately advertises the page’s content in an eye-catching way, making you more likely to click on it.

Okay, so this is not strictly an SEO hack. In fact, in 2009 Google came out and said that what you have in your meta description won’t affect how it ranks your content—the spoilsports.

Well, at least not directly.

But it still counts among our artful SEO techniques, because while Google’s algorithms won’t reward your keyword-rich meta description with a higher ranking, Google’s users will.

An informative, relevant meta description will increase your CTR (click-through-rate).

Which is basically a jargony way of saying that more people will recognize your page is worth visiting, more people will click on it, and these clicks will push your page higher up the rankings.

3) Use the right SEO keywords to get the right readership.

So your content needs keywords. But where can you go to find them? For SEO warriors like us, the first port of call is Google’s Keyword Planner. First you feed it some keyword ideas. So say you want to promote your London-based tour company. You might write: tours of London, Westminster and Big Ben.

Then you select the category and context you want results for. In this case you want to see what people are searching for when they want tours of Big Ben, not information about who built it, how they built it, or what architectural specifications they were meeting when they built it.

Finally, you select your language and audience, and maybe introduce a link to your landing page, et voilà! You’re in keyword heaven.

Don’t just rely on SEO keywords. Add ideas from Ad Groups too.

Even experienced SEO writers often overlook Ad Groups in favor of its bigger, louder brother: Keywords. But spend some time with Ad Groups and you’ll see it actually has a lot more to say. If you can pick out keywords from these groups that Google has—for want of a better word—grouped together, your text will rank higher for relevance when it comes to the topic it’s dealing with.

“Does this mean I should fill my article with as many of these keywords as possible?”

No. Your text isn’t a chicken; don’t stuff it. Good SEO writing is informative, pertinent, and fundamentally engaging. Like a master chef, a skilled writer will pepper their creation with enough keywords that it fits Google’s culinary requirements. They might sprinkle on a little more according to taste, and add their own stylistic flair for a little extra flavor. But they won’t overpower their reader.

Because going overboard with keywords will make what you serve up indigestible.

 

4) Search engines like both long- and short-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords are search phrase that consist of more than two words, while short-tail keywords are phrases made up of one or two.

And that’s the long and short of it.

By nature, long-tail keywords are much more specific than their short-tail counterparts. But they actually make up the vast majority of searches. In fact, around 70% of Google searches contain long-tails of four to six words.

Meaning the good folk at Google optimize content that balances short, general keywords with long, specific ones.

This is what effective SEO writers will do. They will make sure their content attracts searches for the general topic while simultaneously attracting people with specific queries.

5) Avoid Black Hat SEO techniques.

Stuffing your headings with keywords makes for miserable reading. But this doesn’t stop some SEO copywriters from doing it. In the Wild West of SEO copywriting, these cowboys embrace their inner bad guy. And in their short-sighted attempt to get rich fast, they see a short-term spike in the rankings as a price worth paying for a practice that could get their content banned from the top search engines.

Thankfully, Google is on to these conjurers of cheap tricks.

Though it might seem I’m writing to ingratiate myself with Crawler (I’m not), Google is firmly on the good guys’ side in the copywriting Wild West. In fact Google has explicitly come out and said which on-page SEO techniques it considers above board (White Hat) and which it considers below the belt (Black Hat).

But how do I know if my page has become a black-hat stand?

Ask yourself one simple question. Is my reader getting anything from reading this content? If the answer is yes, you have nothing to worry about. If the answer is no, and you think your content might be more spam than substance, you’ll want to rethink your strategy. Fast.

Embrace White Hat SEO tactics. Image courtesy of: www.moneytoplist.com

That said, even Black and White Hat SEO techniques can have their gray areas. And the fact there’s a thin gray line between what can get you more conversions and what can get you censored is scary.

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to look through your content and tell you what we see.

Or, if you’d rather get yourself up to speed, check out this informative list of Black Hat Techniques.

6) Embrace White Hat SEO techniques.  

You’ve followed all the advice so far and now Google is sending so much traffic your way you’re running out of parking. The secret’s out that your page is the place to be; your users know it and so do your competitors. That’s why they’ve hired their own group of SEO copywriters party poopers to try to move the party to their place.

Your job is to make sure people stick around at your place.

We’re simple creatures in the end. While I’m not suggesting you fill your site with flashing lights and loud colors, some multimedia in the form of embedded videos, images, and diagrams will keep people interested and reduce your bounce rate.

And show them how much more you have to offer.

Google has come out and said it ranks supplementary content highly when determining the rankings. The most effective supplementary content comes in the form of relevant, informative links to other parts of your site, used in a way that doesn’t get in the way of your main content.

Want a perfect example of effective internal linking? Look no further than Wikipedia.

 

7) Make sure your SEO content provides answers.

Why?

Because answers are precisely what you’ve come online to find.

Even the most independent researchers will admit that they like to have things explained to them once in a while. And people curious enough to read up on a topic in the first place are going to want to come away feeling like they’ve learned something they can actually apply in the future.

After all, that’s why you’re still reading.

But more than just feeding your curiosity, providing answers actually works wonders for your rankings. Not least because it forces you to use the golden word of digital copywriting:

Because: the Golden Word in SEO digital copywriting

Any copywriter can command you to take a certain course of action. Few copywriters can tell you why it’s the course you should take. Actually explaining the reason behind something demonstrates a deeper understanding of the subject. And deeper understanding leads to more relevance which, in turn, leads to a higher conversion rate.

SEO techniques might be changing, but we know how to adapt.

The reality of today’s world is you need to produce content that’s going to get you noticed. Not doing so means putting up barriers against maximizing your business’s potential.

Make time to talk to us today.

We love working with inquisitive folk, and the fact you’re here puts you firmly in that category. If you have any questions about anything we’ve mentioned, or want to find out more about how we can help boost you up the rankings, you know where to find us.

We’re waiting to hear from you.

 

Schedule your free consultation today.