Thursday, April 28, 2016

Corporatese and Other Dialects I Avoid

Graphics first appeared at
I'm not just being stubborn; I have a hard time understanding a lot of Corporate-speak. And I'm in the word business!

Why would you use weird phrases to sound "smart" when what you're more likely to do is lose your audience?

Contentedly's wonderful infographic of 50 Terrible Phases we should stop using at work (and everywhere!) really resonated with me.

Translation: I agree!

Say What You Mean to Say

Sometimes, we have to put on a dog-and-pony show. We have to play in the sandbox with people we'd rather not play with, or work with, at all.

And certainly, there are worse offenses than speaking (or double-speaking) in euphemisms that sound more like a secret code or a party game than ... well, good communication.

I gravitate toward clients who speak in plain English to their partners, to their employees, and to their customers. One of the joys of freelancing is that (usually) I can be a little bit choosey about my clients. And for those who relish their game-changing, kimono-opening dialogs .... well, I find I don't always have the bandwidth to handle those jobs.

It is what it is.

But Seriously, Folks - Let's Make Sense

Here's a compelling reason to avoid using those obsfucating phrases: they don't translate well on the world stage.

Image from
English may one day be the universal language. Maybe it is already. Either way, it's not an easy one to learn. When you toss some cultural oddities into the mix, then top it off with a sprinkle of business-speak, the result can be an unintelligible concoction.

Sure, it resembles English. But chances are that mess isn't communicating what you want it to.

And isn't communicating what you want to do?

Isn't it what you need to do?

I think it is.

If you'd like to get some marketing content that gets your point across to prospects, customers, employees, and other business partners, please contact me. I bet I speak your language ;)

Read More About the Value of Good Communication

Sam Falletta of Northeast Ohio's Incept Communications gets it. He explained to Smart Business Magazine how good communication - conversation, really - makes good organizations better. Read the article or contact Incept to find out how your company can get, and keep, the conversation going.

I speak Plain English, not Corporatese

I can sling acronyms and buzzwords with the best of 'em, but I'd rather just communicate Here's a little marketing wisdom for you:

If it's not a pleasure to read, no one's going to read it. Then where are your marketing results? 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

White Papers: More than Just Sales Brochures. Or Not.

Ah, the current darling of content, the revered White Paper.

I've written quite a few and have read a lot more.

You know what? Some of them are outstanding. A lot of them are ... well, they're kind of like baloney. Not entirely bad, but not very meaty.

White Paper or Sales Brochure?

Apparently, the term white paper was derived from a type of government document that was intended to explain and solicit opinions on a particular policy or process. Depending upon the weightiness of the reading material, the cover was either blue or white. (To read about the Winston Churchill connection, see Wikipedia.) 

White papers have been through a lot since then - and the term blue paper is all but extinct - but the bottom line is that white papers are hot. What are they exactly? There seem to be a lot of different answers.

Once upon a time - in the early days of "content marketing" -  a white paper was a lengthy, heavily researched and fairly balanced report intended to help readers make thoughtful purchasing decisions (about high ticket goods or services).

Today they're marketing tools to be sure, and they've morphed a bit - but I think they're still long-form journalism at heart.

Purdue's Online Writing Lab offers a nice description of today's white paper formats.

White Paper or Report?

Content has been morphing just about since movable type started moving. Case in point: did you ever research a auto purchase by studying Consumer Reports magazines?

Detailing the best and worst of recent car models, it had everything a savvy shopper could want - crash test reports, average repair costs, the most-common problems with specific models, owner satisfaction information, recall history, pages upon pages of well-researched, detailed information. From a (mostly) unbiased source.

The first white papers I wrote were along those lines. At the very end of the annotated report was a lovely two-to-three paragraph summary, gently guiding the reader to ask for more information, or a demo, or a sample of a (typically high-ticket) product or service.

Few reports published today are so thorough. Or subtle. Who has time, right? Today's decision maker - for better or for worse - is more likely to want a link to an infographic than a report. And a call to action? If it's missing, everyone's confused - including the reader.

Don't get me wrong - the old school white paper still exists. But there's a broadening middle ground, which I argue is packed with sales brochures masquerading as white papers.

I'm not sure what we should call them, but that doesn't matter much, because they do what they're designed to do. They're intended to explain more about a product and get leads and email addresses from prospects in the early stages of the sales cycle. Whether you call them light white papers or long-form sales brochures, they're part of the landscape in today's content-marketing world.

Most importantly: they work.

What Does Your Marketing Content Need to Do for You?

As a copywriter and business writing consultant, I've found the first challenge in most client relationships is understanding what the client wants and needs.

Duh, right? In any professional relationship, you have to understand your client's expectations and goals. But when you and your client have two different ideas about what a white paper is, someone is bound to be disappointed.

If by "white paper," you mean that you want a few blog posts and web pages rewritten into a 3-to- 7 page 'report' on your industry, I'm not going to argue about what you call it. I might think of it as a long-form sales brochure, or a customer education piece, but if you want to call it a white paper, I'm fine with that. And if what you're looking for is a 3-to- 7 page finished product, chances are it will be ready sooner, and for less, than the first white papers I wrote way back when.

If you're hoping to get a longer piece, covering research from several different sources, it will take longer, and cost more.

So What Kind of "White Paper" Does Your Business Need?

Your business may not need a "real" white paper. If your business model, product or service isn't truly new or unusual - or highly technical - perhaps what you need is an introduction to your prospects or customers.

If your business has a broad base of established customers, but only a relatively few are taking advantage of certain services you offer, a case study or customer spotlight can spur interest in your business's broader offerings.

A case study, long-form brochure or customer education piece can be very useful. It can, for example:
  • Highlight a product or service currently misunderstood (or underused) by current customers 
  • Introduce a new product or ballyhoo research putting your company or product in a good light
  • Generate great PR - particularly when a customer highlighted in your case study (or "success story") shares the piece with other business associates
  • And customer profiles make great story pitches to trade magazines...
The point is that every long form piece of business copy is not a white paper. And what you call it matters little. What matters is understanding what your business needs, and getting that in front of your prospects.

Want to talk about your content needs?

Free 30 minute consultation when booked by May 5, 2016.  < Sorry; I've been swamped since this offer expired. I may re-issue this offer in July 2016. Please check back then. Thanks ~ Diane

Friday, April 22, 2016

Can Landing Pages Multitask? Should They?

If you've talked to me or read what I've written about good web copy, SEO and marketing communications in general, you know I see many shades of gray in our online world, and one of my favorite answers - regardless of the question - is "it depends."

Should Landing Pages Stick to a Single Message?

YES! Except when... well, at least I didn't start with "it depends."

If your offer is cut-and-dried, if it's as easy as a yes or no question, then yes. Yes, your landing page should stick to a single, sweet and simple message. A blog post from Collective provides some of the best examples (of good and bad landing pages) that I've seen recently. Here, have a look:

landing page examples
On the other hand, what's the point of your landing page? Maybe it has several points to make. That's OK too.

Call me crazy (wouldn't be the first time) - I contend that a Landing Page can serve several purposes. 

I don't write landing pages for Coke or Pepsi. I write landing pages for companies with far smaller marketing budgets. In those companies, the owners wear a lot of hats, and quite often, their marketing programs need to multitask, too. 

Like any other good business decision, the best way to approach spending money on web content is to look at your goals and your budget and do the best you can with what you've got. Then, analyze the results and go from there. This isn't rocket science, folks. It's marketing, and it's your business. 

Web Content Rules: Of Course It's OK to Break Them

Knowing the rules is important. Knowing that sometimes it's OK to break them will keep you sane. 

When it comes to writing for the web, it's really important to remember that we are writing for customers, who happen to be human beings. (Really; they're living breathing people! not search engines! And whenever you have a chance to talk to one, you should!)

If you're writing a landing page, with a single, simple purpose (convert - download - sign up - buy) then by all means, follow the rules. One message for you and your page! Test it, and convert away.

The Multitasking Landing Page

With apologies to Sigmund Freud, sometimes a landing page isn't "just" a landing page.  

If you're writing with a purpose that's a little more involved, hey, that's a different marketing animal. You didn't grow your business by just following all the rules, did you? 

Maybe your landing page should serve as an introduction to your site, with a link to a virtual tour of your store - and (gasp!) it's a video. It's OK. I promise, the Online Marketing Police will NOT come after you. 

It's YOUR landing page. Create it to serve your purpose - or multiple purposes. Then track your visitor data, talk to your (real, live) customers, and run your business. By your rules.

Some more rules - or, more accurately, best practices - can be found in a helpful article Search Engine Journal published way back in 2015.  

Should You Use Video in Your Landing Page? 

Yes, with care...if you have the right video...and it doesn't mess with your message or make the page load too slowly or...

OK, in this case the answer is yes and it depends. ;D

Earlier this month, Unbounce blogged about using video as background and also discussed what to avoid when using video on landing pages.

Here ya go:
Shutterstock image - golden web copy

Why Are You Still Reading This?

I included several links above, inviting you to leave the page. Maybe you did, and of course, if you're still reading this, maybe you didn't - or you came back. 

Those links up there are proof that I break the rules. Why? This is supposed to be a helpful post for real, live (reading) people, on landing pages and making marketing content that really works, for you and your business.

I hope you found it so. 


Friday, April 8, 2016

Poems While-U-Wait

"I write poems for a living. Yes, poems. ... Basically, it's me, an antique typewriter and a sign (Poem Store. Your subject, your price.). I set up at outdoor markets, private events and schools, and spend the day writing poems for customers."
Pretty as a Tree: How a Poem Saved a Forest
Jacqueline Suskin
Guideposts April 2016 
What writer doesn't want to know her work is useful? Wanted? Or at least that it gets read? Right?

To my knowledge, the article is not online, but the Poem Store is. Happy reading, happy writing, happy Friday.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Facebook + Hashtags = Lower Reach

There's experiential learning, and then there's science, numbers, and "proof." When it comes to Facebook marketing, I've learned "trusting your gut" or at least, trusting your experience with Facebook page management is about as good as "real research" gets.

For what it's worth, here's a bit of Facebook experience I've picked up in the past 6 months: 

Posts on Facebook that included hashtags got 10 to 50% of the reach as other Facebook posts without hashtags. Yes, that's half or less of the reach of posts without hashtags. 

Posts in my sorta-professional study appeared on 5 different pages, with a mix of local and national audiences, including a non-profit, 2 B2B, 2 B2C businesses. All posts included in the semi-scientific results were created in Facebook, not a third-party posting tool. 

Facebook Page Management and Confused Gurus 

Yes, I know Facebook hashtags are clickable. Yes, I know Instagram is hashtag heaven, and Facebook owns Instagram, so ... yeah. Go figure. Like I've said before, there's as much social as there is science in Social Media Science.

Or as Buffer's Kevan Lee says, the best way to know what works is to keep trying new things

Here are what some other social watchers are saying about Facebook and hashtags, and those ever-changing reported reach numbers:

Studies show Facebook posts with hashtags have lower engagement, so limit yourself to 3 hashtags: 

Don't use hashtags, or limit use to one per post:

Facebook hashtags are clickable! But they hurt your reach. 

File under #MixedMessage

I'm still a big fan of Facebook for marketing, a fan of Twitter (especially for customer service) and I suspect I'll always be a fan of experiential learning. For the record, I'm a really big fan of learning from others' experience ;) so if you have any to share, I'd love to hear from you. (Seriously. Want to post your guest blog here?)

You might also like:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Essays in the Real (Corporate) World

I've always enjoyed writing essays, but I only enjoy reading good ones.

Lesson to writers: if your essays aren't good, they won't enchant readers. Of course, many writers (and students) don't enjoy, nor do they have found memories of, writing essays. As a story on NPR noted years ago:

Comedians call them monologues. Editorialists call them columns. And college applicants call them something we can't repeat.

So what do you call them?

Do you enjoy writing them?

And does the essay have any place in today's business world?

To that last question, I answer yes. The essay, in a modified form, is found in corporate newsletters, position papers, and in training materials.

Do Essays Belong in Business? 

Corporate America likes to rename (or more accurately I should say, "rebrand") things all the time.

But it's often a thin disguise. What is the CEO's message to employees or the Director's letter to the Board if it's not an essay? It's not really a report - rather, it's a personal spin on and an introduction to an annual report or shareholders' statement.

What's an essay good for? 

The classic essay is a tool designed to make you (the writer) think and when you put your thoughts (and your words) in good order, it will make your reader think, too. When you do a really good job, the reader is likely to decide he agrees with you.

So what? When you find someone who can write a really persuasive essay, you've just found someone who can write a great sales proposal.

Also, the skills required to write a good essay also come in handy when drafting a new company policy, or rewriting the employee handbook.

Go ahead, bash the liberal arts education all you want. When it's time to communicate with your employees, constituents, prospects, or shareholders, look to the person who will admit "yeah, I like writing essays."