Value is Not Benefits

August 20, 2015

I was recently reviewing some content that a product marketing manager had created and we were discussing it in light of an upcoming product launch. The discussion that ensued reminded me that for junior product marketing managers it sometimes can be too easy to fall into the product features trap and lose sight of what a product marketer brings to the table as it relates to messaging and positioning.

What I told that product marketer at the time, and something I still believe in, is that anyone can write. Creating a piece of product collateral is easy. Just take whatever the product team gives you, do some formatting, work on the grammar and style and you’re done. Look at most product data sheets, solution briefs and the like from the multitude of software vendors out there and you know what I’m talking about. A ton of feeds and speeds, how we are “leaders” in the market and why our “world class solution” is faster/better/nicer than everyone’s else.

Here’s where the product marketing comes in, to take all of the tech talk, all of the features, and translate them. Good marketers can translate features into benefits, but truly great marketers and excellent product marketers don’t stop at benefits, they go all the way to understand the value to the customer.

But wait, you say, aren’t both the same? Not so fast.

While a feature related to, let’s say, faster data synchronization might be translated into a benefit for the customer like “more accurate data”, the true value looks at what it means for the business and makes that connection obvious, like “up to the minute customer information when your support team most need it”.

Sounds easy, but in reality is anything but. It requires time, experience, and critical thinking. And the best way to get better at doing it is by getting brutally honest feedback that can point you in the right direction.

Here are a few guiding questions you can ask yourself as you are writing or reviewing copy related to product announcement, press release, data sheet or other piece of content:
– Can someone that has no knowledge of our company or product simply read this and understand why it is important or how it solves a key problem?
– Is it making a clear connection between a problem and a solution?
– Would someone having the problem or pain you are solving be truly interested after reading it?
– Are you using too many acronyms or industry-specific terms that only few people understand?
– Can you say it in a more direct, simpler way? Can you cut out adjectives and still make it sound interesting?
– Ask yourself “so what”.

Creating content with the value in mind is not easy and requires a lot of effort and discipline. Get others to review and criticize what you wrote, see how others are doing it, and put yourself in the end user or buyer’s shoes. With time you’ll get to do it without noticing it.


Your Content Marketing Mandate: Just Do It!

January 24, 2012

I’ve heard a few times now from companies that want to get their content marketing engine cranking but haven’t put anything out there yet because of one of the following reasons:

  1. We don’t have a marketing person or department
  2. We don’t have enough time to create content
  3. Our website sucks, we want to fix it first
  4. We are still researching topics for our blog posts
  5. We don’t know where to start

Any other typical reasons I missed? You have probably heard (or thought yourself) a few more, I bet.

A Simple Content Marketing Strategy

Yes, creating content is difficult. Creating blog posts, writing articles, shooting videos take time and effort. BUT (a big but for sure) you’ve gotta start somewhere!

So here’s my suggestion for those still on the fence or trying to climb what seems like a very tall content-marketing-fence: Just Do It! (sorry Nike!, don’t sue me for copyright infringement please)

That’s right, just type something and let it fly. Don’t waste time reviewing 5 times before hitting “publish”. Don’t wait three days for your team to give their feedback. Stop having second thoughts of whether anyone will like it.

You know why? Because if you are not producing any content now, anything (yes, anything!) you produce will be better than what you have today.

Yes, it’s that simple

Sure, you don’t want to publish crappy stuff. But you know what? If you add too much stress, too much “process” and too much thinking behind content creation you will set yourself for failure. Small companies or small marketing departments can’t afford to spend too much time on content marketing, I know that for a fact. There are lead generation programs, the new email marketing system being implemented, and something the sales department asked you to do (don’t they always?) a few times already.

So make your life easy and just start writing (or recording, if you will) and publishing. With time, you will be able to put more processes in place, get a good review and approval workflow, whatever you think is necessary to create quality content at your company. But, start simple. Unless you start creating something NOW you will regret not having done it sooner.

Principles of Great Content Marketing

August 10, 2011

Whether creating a Whitepaper, an eBook, a new Email Marketing campaign, a web page, or any other type of marketing content there are a few basic principles you should follow:

  1. Is it simple?
  2. Is it timely?
  3. Will it solve a problem?

If you can answer “yes” to all three questions above, you’re on the right path to coming up with great content.

Three Key Questions for Creating Quality Content

Simple content wins all the time. It doesn’t matter how many pages, nice graphics, or famous quotes it has, simplicity is key. Making it simple, though, doesn’t mean dumbing down the message. It also doesn’t mean forgoing colors, trying to fit it in one page, or even chopping it up so that people get it in chapters instead of a full book. Simple content means creating something devoid of distractions that don’t contribute to having a better understanding of the message.

Here are three key questions you should ask for each content you create:

  • Is it worded in a way that anyone will understand the message we are trying to convey? Are we using too many technical terms, acronyms?
  • What part of our message do we want to have the most impact? Is it clear and prominent? As journalists usually say, “don’t bury the lead”.
  • Are we providing action points for the reader? Is there a “call to action” clearly defined that is immediately obvious and enticing?

Want a good way to test your assumptions? Get someone in your office outside the marketing department to read the content you just created. It doesn’t have to be finalized, formatted, and nicely designed. Just a draft or mockup would do. Get a few different people (i.e. the accountant, the receptionist, the IT guy) to read it and tell you what they think. You may get some interesting reactions and questions that can help further fine tune the message.

The Message Behind the Content

Want to make sure the content you and your team just created is really the best you could have done? A good practice is to let the content alone for a while (hours or days). Then, go back to it and read it as if you were reading it for the first time. Then, think about the following:

  • What is the core message?
  • Why is this message important?
  • What does the message mean for the reader?
  • If you were to summarize the core message in one sentence (5 to 10 words max) what would it be?

Write it down (for greater impact, ask another team member to do the same so you can compare notes). Then review it and see if the content you had created still looks like the best you can do.

Sure, in most situations content you create today was due yesterday. We’ve all been there… if we only had more resources! But I challenge you to say that the content you created can’t wait 1 more hour before being sent out (or published, or uploaded). Whether you have 1 hour or 1 day, let it rest. Then come back refreshed to it and honestly assess if there’s a better way of crafting the message.

How Simple Content Will Win Always

A principle of simple design (designing interfaces or products that are simple to use) is to always think of what features can you remove from the product that will make for a better user experience. Think of the iPod, for instance. Steve Jobs removed buttons instead of adding new ones (the iPod never had different “stop” and “pause” buttons, only a “pause” button that was the same as the “play” button).

So think of your content and ask yourself what can you remove? What images, what copy? What content, if removed, will make the remaining content stronger and more appealing? It comes down to asking “what can I remove in order to make the main message stronger?”.

No, is not easy. But it is worth trying.

Next up I’ll talk about the two remaining points, creating timely content and focusing on solving problems.

Marketing Content That Sells

August 30, 2010

When talking with lead nurturing and marketing automation vendors they all make it seem very easy.

You setup a campaign, define the nurturing stages, and even add some points to different interactions to score the lead and customize the nurturing experience. Then with all the triggers in place, sit back and watch the software do the job of sending the right message to the right prospect at the right time. Wow, it’s magical!

Yes, except for one little detail. Who’s going to write all that new content? Do you have the staff to do it? Will you have to outsource? Do you even know what kind of content you need for each nurturing stage? Yup, it is more complicated when you get to the implementation phase of the program, and that’s where most companies fail.

But why the focus on content? David Meerman Scott, in his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR points out that creating quality content is the new imperative:

“The tools of the marketing and PR trade have changed. The skills that worked offline to help you buy or beg or bug your way in are the skills of interruption and coercion. Online success comes from thinking like a journalist and a thought leader”.

You’d think that everyone would be doing it by now, but that’s not the case.

I recently finished reading Trust Agents, by @chrisbrogan and @julien, who approach this subject by saying:

“The difficulty in creating content that will get a recommendation, the one that most companies tend to get wrong, is that they don’t think creatively about how their content can be exciting to the average population”.

Ha! That reminds me of what I see when I visit most B2B companies’ websites.

We have all been there. You are researching a new product or service and Google points you to a website, one of the key vendors in that space, and you have to read the page twice to really get it what they are trying to say. How is it that your product or service will benefit me? What is that acronym you keep using? How do I get in touch with someone who can explain all of this? In the B2B marketing space this is notorious. Go to a trade show and the situation gets really bad. Trade show booths with slogans and taglines that don’t mean anything and sales brochures that are full of “features” and screenshots but lack detail of how they solve a problem.

While I still struggle to write good content, I did find some useful resources online that I hope will also help you out.

The resources above are a great start. The key ideas that seem to be present across them all are:

  • Buyer persona is key for content generation
  • Guest writers (employees, competitors, etc.) can help tremendously especially if you can’t dedicate a resource full time for the content writing job
  • Lists seem to be a favorite item on the web and a great way to get more viewers, just figure out what topic should your list cover
  • Content reuse, multiple formats for the content is a nice way of creating lots of content without having to come up with new ideas all the time (formats include webinar, recording, eBook, blog post, etc.)
  • Time the content for the right stage in the buying cycle / lead nurturing process – this is the most difficult, because it requires you to really know your customers and prospects

What has been your main challenge with content marketing?

Copywriting That Sells: Powerful Copy is Easier than You Think

July 5, 2009

Writing great copy is easy. Writing powerful, attention grabbing copy that will help you sell is another story. I usually

Copywriting that sells. This is your goal.

Copywriting that sells. This is your goal.

overcomplicate, think too much, duplicate sentences without realizing it and end up having to start from scratch. Now that I have attended a copywriting workshop I hope some of the lessons will stick long enough to help me improve.

Not all workshops are good, most of the ones I’ve been to are actually pretty bad but once in a while there’s one that stands out and this time was the copywriting workshop I attended a couple weeks ago. Far from exceptional (I am a very harsh critic) and very focused on basics, I nonetheless had some great insights and came out with great action-ready items I am putting to the test at work.

The Copywriting Wimp

The workshop instructor was Sandra Blum, a renowned copywriter, columnist for Dynamic Graphics magazine, and more recently one of the judges for DMA’s Echo Award. That in itself is a good indication that the material was above average. She not only customized the course the way she thought it should be delivered but was also able to get the group of 20 or so to interact and dictate the pace. Gotta love her for that.

Besides being a nice refresher of some basics, we all got some really good actionable items that we took back to our work and were able to put right into practice. Copywriting is easy, but writing powerful copy that sells is what separates the wimps from the champions. If you feel like a wimp sometimes, or need to get a good checklist of stuff that will help you during those difficult moments of “how do I make this sound more exciting?”, then read on.

10 Nuggets of Copywriting Wisdom

Here are some of the key insights I got from the workshop and I hope these few key lessons can help you improve your copywriting too.

1. “People don’t want more information, they want better information”. Before you start scribbling away, think about the two most important things about what you are writing, namely your objective and the action you want the reader to take.

Examples of objectives for your copy:

  • Sell
  • Lead generation
  • Public Relations
  • Generate Interest
  • Promote
  • Create anticipation
  • Arouse Curiosity
  • Provide information

Examples of actions you may want your readers to take:

  • Call
  • Return a response card
  • Visit a store
  • Place an order
  • Join up
  • Ask for an estimate
  • Give feedback / fill out a survey
  • Tweet or blog about it

2. “It’s not how long you make it, is how you make it long”. Sometimes you just have to write that extra paragraph and cutting more words won’t make your copy flow better. As long as your copy is engaging, your readers won’t mind. MarketingExperiments has an interesting test on short copy versus long copy that is worth checking out  and Sonia Simone from CopyBlogger has a great blog post on the same subject.

3. The goal is to write persuasive copy. It’s what Joe Sugarman calls the “Slippery Slide”, in his book “The Adweek Copywriting Handbook”, explaining that “The headline must be so powerful and compelling that you must read the subheadline, and the subheadline must be so powerful that you are compelled to read and so compelling that you must read the next sentence, and so on, straight through the entire copy to the end”. He also calls it “Reading Gravity” because it’s like a force pulling you through the copy. The ultimate test is whether the reader acted on your call to action.

4. Headlines and subheadlines are key to making your copy flow. Some people will only read those, while others will be compelled to keep reading. When used effectively, headlines will help you:

  • Grab the reader’s attention
  • Qualify the audience
  • Deliver a message
  • Draw the reader into the copy

5. Make working with copywriters work for you by using a creative brief. Sandra told us some interesting stories about having to use creative briefs to manage outsourced copywriters. Great idea! Why keep creative briefs a tool for only your marketing department to use? Make sure that copywriter you are hiring really gets it and ask him or her to fill out a creative brief, then use it to manage the project.

6. Decide on a style guide. Seems easy enough but if you are a freelance writer or if your company is using one, that is one of the first things you should do. Whatever the guide you use or that you created along the years based on your industry, product, or service make sure everyone is on the same page as to what are the standards. Avoid confusion later by spending some time deciding it now.

7. Work on your opening lines. Seriously. Opening lines can make or break your email, landing page, website, blog, or any other type of writing you do. Here’s a brief list of styles you can choose from:

  • Tell a story
  • Sell a benefit
  • Share news
  • Evoke curiosity
  • Present a problem
  • Present a solution
  • Flatter

8. Simplify your writing. Tailor your writing style towards your audience and be aware of how difficult your copy might be for someone to read and comprehend. There are several indexes out there for this kind of thing, like the Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog, and one of my favorites (because of its name) the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook . The simplest way to use the readability test is by configuring it in your MS Word program.

9. Design and copy should be worked together. This is a key point for me because often times I write or edit copy then send it to the graphic designer who will insert it into some kind of layout he created. And often times the design needs to be changed because it doesn’t work with the copy. Make sure your designer understands the purpose of the piece you are writing, the benefits, and the desired outcome. Only then will you be able to have the design strengthen the copy.

10. Understand the benefit of your benefit. This was an aha! Moment for most people at the workshop. We all know about features and benefits but how about the benefits of the benefits? That means going a step further and really understanding the “so what” of what you are writing about. The lesson for me here is whenever I think I’m done with my copy, I go back and try to read it asking at every point “so what” and see if it still makes sense. For a nice article about features and benefits, check out Michael Fortin.

Copywriting Resources

Here are some great resources for those interested in learning more and fine tuning their copy making skills:




The Gran Finale

Books, blogs and websites abound on copywriting and how to write killer copy, so I know a single post will not change your life. I do hope that some of the points I make above will help you in some way to get better or at least to try harder. Remember, copywriting is easy. The difficult part is to get people to read… and buy!

If you attended the workshop, what are some of the key lessons you learned? If you are an experienced copywriter, what resources do you use that you recommend others?

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