Effective Content is Clear and Direct

November 28, 2011

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that the Gobbledygook Grader I was linking to in the original post is no longer active. Try instead the “Jargon Grader” by the nice folks at Instructional Solutions.

A recent post by David Meerman Scott touched on a big pet peeve of mine… creating content that is easy to understand. Big organizations suffer from this problem more than others, but it also permeates small and medium businesses. Gobbledygook is spread everywhere, from press releases to website content, to the latest whitepaper or eBook. I think that in larger organizations it probably starts with someone trying to sound smarter than the rest, showing off his or her extensive vocabulary of arcane terms. Or, the person just doesn’t know what exactly to write about and decides to mask the lack of subject matter knowledge. Or a combination of both.

Smaller organizations sometimes fall into the trap of trying to appear bigger than they are and think that if they use the same terms the bigger guys are using, they will sound just like them and will be seen as another big player. Oh, boy. Big mistake.

Clear and Direct Content Wins All the time

When helping others with content, I usually start by asking what the goal is. What do you want the reader to know? What should they walk away with? How are you different? Often times the answers do not reflect what is actually written. Website copy is notorious for that… and you get excuses like “oh, we added all these words for SEO!”, or “that’s exactly what we said! Can’t you read”?

If you are reviewing or creating content, there’s a key component to making it effective. First, be clear. This means taking the content and understanding what it is actually trying to say. Then, just plainly saying it! It’s not rocket science, right?

Also, make it concise. The key to making it concise is to be direct. Instead of beating around the bush, just jump out and say it (or, write it). Here’s a quick example (actual text from a company’s website, I did not create it):

Original: ABC Company’s  training services are created with the primary objective of making our customers successful in using our products.

Modified: With our training services you will become productive in no time.

So, this is my first pass and you could make it even better, but you get the idea.

What is your score?

Want to test how well you are doing in creating content that is actually effective? Try out the free Gobbledygook Grader for starters. Then, give your content to someone that is not even remotely associated with what you write about and ask them to tell you what they understand after reading it. You will find the results surprising.

Happy content creation!


Content Marketing Starts With Your Brand

November 18, 2011

Branding used to be a high-level exercise bigger companies went through as part of their strategic marketing processes. You get an agency, brainstorm cute pictures, logos, and tag lines, come up with the visual guidelines, and move on. Every now and then you refer back to those branding guidelines that tell you the correct position for your logo and the approved color scheme.

Fast forward to today. You’re not doing passive marketing anymore, you’re actively seeking out, enticing, educating, and engaging your audience. You are creating content. Your colleague on the other side of the cubicle is creating content. Even the receptionist with her Facebook updates is creating content. Where is your brand now?

It Starts With the Brand

Content marketing experts tell you to find your voice. They tell you to be authentic, to show there’s a face behind the tweets, there’s people behind the whitepapers, and that there is a personality for your company. This is all good, and is all part of branding.

How is branding related to content marketing? When you think of your company’s brand (whatever size company you may be working for / with), you have to consider the following aspects of who your company is:

  • Purpose: why do you do what you do?
  • Values: what do you stand for and how you behave?
  • Promise: what differentiates you from everyone else? Why are you relevant?
  • Voice: how do you present yourself, your look and feel

If we put it another way, think about how your company behaves, how it is perceived in the market, and what it wants to stand for. For example, how is your company in relation to the following “attributes”:

  • Serious vs. Playful
  • Funny vs. Taciturn
  • Outspoken vs. Introverted
  • Analytical vs. Impulsive
  • Likes to socialize vs. Keeps to himself
  • Wordy vs. Concise
  • Courageous vs. Prudent

Looks like a personality test? Well, it kinda is. Your ‘brand’ has a personality, a voice, a look. When you create content, you have to keep those things in mind. It helps with maintaining consistency, in presenting a unified front whether is via an eBook, a video, or a presentation.

Your Brand and Content Marketing

If you are a one-person shop, going through this exercise is faster. It’s all in your head and you basically have to decide if your company’s brand will be an extension of your own personality and behavior or if you’ll give it a different twist. For larger companies this will involve getting leaders from all areas together to understand what exactly makes the company unique. It will also involve documenting your brand attributes and communicating it to the rest of the company.

If you are thinking about putting together a social media policy, for example, it would have to follow the brand strategy for your company. When hiring someone, the brand is an important factor to consider. The company’s culture will be extremely close to the brand as well and is what will ultimately drive the brand and sustain it.

So as you put together your content marketing plan and decide which angles to approach certain topics, think back to your brand. That’s the first step in creating the best content.


Are You Spending Enough on Online Marketing?

November 3, 2011

Although the level of marketing spend doesn’t usually correlate to marketing effectiveness, it is useful to know how others in your industry or other companies of similar size are spending their money on marketing.

Forrester Research has recently released a study, “Benchmark Your Interactive Marketing Maturity“, that aims to give you some metrics to figure out whether you are putting your money on the right marketing tactics.

Five Benchmarks

According to Forrester, you should take a look at the following:

  1. Annual interactive marketing budget: this involves branching out from the pure email marketing tactic and looking at mobile, tablets, and the like.
  2. Share of advertising budget dedicated to interactive marketing: shift the money from the typical print and TV ads and invest in online channels.
  3. Percent of interactive budget earmarked for emerging media: invest in new technologies and start trying out channels before your competition does.
  4. Size of interactive marketing teams: unless you have people dedicated to interactive marketing, not much will get accomplished.
  5. Number of agencies leveraged for interactive support: it is difficult to find an agency that can do it all, so typically you will have to use a couple or more.

Comparing Your Numbers

Sure, knowing the benchmark metrics help a little but what are the numbers? If you’re a small company then the report won’t be of much help because it breaks down the survey respondents into those with less than $1 billion in revenues, $1 billion to $9.9 billion, and those of $10 billion and more. In other words, is a good benchmark for the big guys.

So if the survey finding that the median of annual interactive marketing budgets is $7.19 million leaves you thinking “if I only had 10% of that!” don’t despair. It is still interesting to see the percentage of allocation for each type of interactive initiative and then compare to how your own company is doing. If nothing else, serves to start a conversation about where the marketing money should be spent.

Using the Benchmarks

There are many ways in which you can analyze and use the report:

  • Look at company size and compare with your own budget. Bigger companies will allocate more resources, and depending on what you sell the online venue might require a bigger piece of the pie versus those that need to rely mostly on traditional channels to reach their audiences.
  • Your business goals should determine priorities. The purchasing process your buyers follow, your overall business objectives and competitive positioning should be taken into account when comparing what others are doing.
  • New is good, but be careful. Sure, interactive marketing and new shiny toys are great, but beware of untested tools and tactics. In other words, test, test, and test some more before jumping in.
  • Get the right skill set. Which means, hire the right people with the right skills to manage the programs you plan on investing in.
  • Use agencies wisely. Big and smaller companies need to really assess the role agencies play in their overall marketing strategy and what types of agencies are appropriate.

Measure Yourself (Free!)

Luckily, Forrester has created a free online tool based on their study results that allows you to plug in your numbers to get a high-level comparison based on benchmark data.

It’s worth trying out: Forrester Benchmarking Tool

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