Expert Writers

Making sure you get what you want from words

There have never been more platforms for powerful and persuasive messages. High impact content, created from words that really work, is more important than ever. And that makes it crucial to find the best writers

“Welcome to Artickulate – You have just discovered the way to make sure you get what you want from words”

 

 


Brand Experience (Part 1) Experiential? Just get the basics right., (16 Sep 2013)

Focus on Brand Experience. What’s the point if the best you can actually deliver is either Bland or Bad Experience?

As professional brand communicators ourselves, it’s always fascinating and often frustrating and disappointing to observe the gap between high profile brand promotion and the reality of service delivery. Not for the first time we recently saw the chasm between a current, super-high-profile airline brand TV spot and the actual physical performance on the ground (or in the air). Precision. Innovation. Dynamism. Minute attention to detail. Customer service passion. We can just picture the list of core attributes that were briefed in to the film makers. The reality? Dysfunctional systems that don’t “talk” to each other, disinterested staff ditto and last minute cancellations drip fed in with a mixture of callous carelessness and stand-offish self-righteousness. It makes you wonder if we have learned nothing as an industry about the need for joining up the theory of brand encapsulation with a bit of common sense. Perhaps getting the basics right, supported by a bit of mundane but clearly necessary operational training is not seen as “brand dynamism”. But this glaring and negative differential between brand promise and brand reality does the whole organisation a great disservice. As for its customers? Any kind of recognition of the Big Claims of the shiny advertising will be displaced by snorts of pure derision. What a waste. And what a glaring example of  management remoteness from the delivery face and skewed perspectives. Wise counsel at this stage would be: cancel the shiny campaign and start communicating internally before you go public with any more promises! But somehow we don’t think that will be happening any time soon!

Signs that your company is slipping in the Service Delivery department’.

Bad Attitude

Bumptious Attendants

Broken Agreements

Banal Answers

More on making content work online later this week.

Who are MY Customers? Am I speaking their Language?, (09 Sep 2013)

If You Want to Raise Your Profile, Start With Theirs (Who are my Customers)

Last time, we talked about a simple inversion: the short but profound shift from presenting what you want to sell to asking what your customers want to buy. But this presupposes that you already know who ‘they’ are. Recently, Artickulate’s content creators have been taking part in some fascinating work around customer profiling and the move to real understanding of real people. The problem with ‘target markets’ and ‘representative demographics’ is that, helpful though they undoubtedly are, they still distance us from the crucial idea that it is real people who buy our products and services, or who have influence in the final buying decision. We have been working with some wonderful online search experts and experienced corporate watchers (folks who know what really happens inside the client organisation) to create personae – highly detailed and very personal profiles of the real people who play a role in the purchase decision process and getting very personal with ‘Who are my customers’.

Who’s in a Name?

It may seem artificial if you haven’t been involved in personae creation before. But in reality the techniques are simple, grounded and very powerful. Giving ‘targets’ a name, sketching their roles within an organisation and capturing what drives them professionally is a truly valuable exercise. Out of the undifferentiated mist of demographic data steps a whole cast of real people, with motivations, reservations, agendas, aspirations and issues that really matter to them. We stress that none of this is ‘made up’. The source information is detailed interviews with clients who want to reach real people and some of those real people themselves. Is it a new idea? Haven’t market research companies been gathering survey data and creating composite customer profiles for decades? Yes. However, and particularly in the B2B space, online content creation until now has very often been more of a scramble to get the product or service data posted on the site. Careful selection and presentation in real alignment with human needs has come a poor second (if it has been done at all) to the production process.

Look Them in The “I”

So how far up the track towards talking to real, differentiated human beings at realistic stages in their purchasing journey is your online content today? Is your content what “we” think we want, internally? Or is it truly driven by the input of real live human customers? If you asked a representative customer panel to critique your site, would their response be “I can see what you’re telling me”? Or would it be “Yes, this is what I want”?

Content Creation – See it their way or they won’t see you at all, (02 Sep 2013)

Effective Content Creation Is All About Perspective

For our Autumn dissection of effective content creation, let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). This week we will be short and sharp but, make no mistake, the implications are profound. How many times have you sat down to brief an agency or a copy writer and discussed what it is that you are selling? And how many times, before commissioning a new piece of marketing communication have you, deliberately and consciously, asked yourself and your team “what is it that our customers want to buy?” This seemingly innocent perspective swap can lead to some of the most important developments in the content creation process. Why? Because, immediately, you look at things in a radically different way. Do all those carefully prepared ‘messages’ signed off, fully aligned with internal process and immaculate in their on-brand tone-of-voice actually say anything meaningful to the outside world? How influenced have they been in reality by purely internal agendas? How loud is the voice of the customer?

Box Tick? Or Outside the Box?

The reality of much of corporate life is that simply getting the job done and the boxes ticked is at the heart of day-to-day survival. In this context, content is often reviewed against an internal check list that has little or even nothing to do with what is going on in the lives of the people who make up the target market. We are constantly being encouraged to “think outside the box”. Often this leads to all kinds of bizarre ‘initiatives’ and convoluted, not very catchy, catch phrases. (We were once in an office where the walls were festooned with strange Nineteen Eighty Four-style questions, including the opaque “Have you created innovation today?” A more useful question to put on the wall, or more practically and a lot less sinister just to keep front of your mind, might be “does this mean anything to the guys I want to reach?” That’s a deceptively simple question. It’s also a very useful lens to place over some of your recent content. The conclusions might be inconvenient, uncomfortable even. But this is the first step to real meaning and truly effective content. It’s time to open the box!

 

Make money while you sleep! Writing on Autopilot., (27 Aug 2013)

It’s Official. Now you can ‘automate’ copy writing.

A piece of spam landed on the usually impeccable plate of tasteful morsels that is the Artickulate email in-tray. It happened over the Holiday. And it claimed to reveal the secrets of writing ‘killer sales copy virtually on autopilot’. We followed the link out of a certain curiosity – while very conscious that anybody who is prepared to ‘virtually give away’ a secret of the magnitude claimed by the spammer must either be generous to the point of insanity or maybe, just maybe, making it up. The whole spiel was actually very well written. Breathless enthusiasm, suspense and a conspiratorial sense that the reader and his benefactor were the only people in the universe in on this fabulous secret were all baked into a mix that kept us reading. Of course we knew really that the ‘giveaway’ secrets would turn out to be an invitation to part with contact details. And we knew that it would all boil down to a few hints and tips on hard hitting headlines and punchy benefit statements. But the promise that the sheer back breaking hard work of writing successful copy could be magically removed was alluring – even to people who do it for a living and know really that such promises are hollow. So how much more attractive must this kind of stuff be to the small business proprietor, the target we suspect of this email, for whom writing is often a combination of chore, mountain climb and journey into the unknown?

Writing is hard. Just as with any challenge, you have to prepare.

Even the largest and most sophisticated organisations can come over all “show us the silver bullets” when thoughts turn to copy writing. The tough reality is that there are no silver bullets. There is understanding. There is thinking. Hopefully, there will be some talent. But the value even of talent is far outweighed by preparation. The writing will only ever be as good as the effort committed to a true and thorough preparation of the message. Those who expect instant results are destined for disappointment. Sadly, there will never be a shortage of ‘experts’ who play to the natural human appetite for the short cut and the instant solution. “Content creation rock stars” cleverly build an aura of mystique around an activity that really is 99 per cent perspiration to every 1 per cent of inspiration. At Artickulate, the nearest we get to “rock star” claims is to maintain that “the right writers right it right”. Through the Autumn, we will be sharing some insights into the disciplines that can transform content creation from a chore to a joy. But send no money now. (And don’t order the Ferrari ahead of the actual results.)

Automotive Copy ?, (19 Aug 2013)

Is all writing about cars destined to be the same?

Are those of us who write, talk and generally communicate about cars doomed to produce indistinguishable material? Is the automotive copy writer in effect briefed to copy the writing that everybody else has already copy (copied!) written? If this sounds suspiciously like a cry of frustration that’s probably because it is! There’s an irony here. The metal has never been better. We’ve been through the “clunker”, “euro bland” and “boy racer” outpourings from the design departments of the world’s car manufacturers. We’re in a golden age, one where even the most modest runaround has a style, specification and engineering prowess that didn’t even exist just a few years ago. The cars are great. Much of the car communication is more of a gently rusting Riley Elf up on bricks in a weed infested garden shared with a large mean dog. While choice in the showroom proliferates, the above-the-line “choices” offered by marketers have narrowed to a point that would have been familiar to any Soviet satellite state citizen thirty years ago: beige, doors, wheels, waiting list. There’s the “pair me with a catchy tune” option. There’s the “put me at the centre of an unlikely adventure” option. And perhaps, if madam isn’t too bewildered with all this choice, there’s the “embed me in the hard-pressed but always good humoured lifestyle of thirty-something family folks just like you” option.

Car Car Car on the Auto-cue

With so much sameness around, it’s been a pleasure to see the new VW Polo commercial. If you haven’t caught it yet then we won’t risk a spoiler (no body enhancement kit pun intended). But its impact stems from its precise nailing of the spirit of the times: people want a great product on realistic terms and with no nonsense. Treat them as adults and they will get it. (There’s a good likelihood they will buy the car as well.) We believe there’s a model here (those automotive double entendres do just keep coming) for effective communication with the dealer channel as well. Tis shortly the season for manufacturers to share renewed direction, motivation, and inspiration even, with their dealers. Given continuing hard times, how will they go about this always challenging and occasionally fraught task? With a three dimensional facsimile of their current commercials? Or with a piece of business communication that has the confidence to do real content? As the plans are made and the ritzy showtime “environments” are specified, will there be room for straight talking that can also handle the curves. And will anybody have the mettle to splice a little sack cloth into the star cloth where a mature business relationship demands? Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

Branding, it’s been a mind game for a long time, (12 Aug 2013)

Was branding EVER a pleasant pass time for amateurs?

Last time, we wrote about the current vogue for memory lane excursions among UK brands and advertisers. It’s tempting to think that there was a ” golden age of branding ” when budgets were bigger, creative constraints smaller and media folk in general had more fun. All this of course was before the “tyranny” of the mind mappers, strategists and statisticians. So when do we reckon roughly that the tyranny began? Can’t be earlier than around the mid-70s, surely? Maybe some war effort-related stuff during the 40s? But the 50s were just too innocent. The 60s were clearly too much fun. And pre-history was just enamel signs for dog biscuits and cocoa. OK, so how about 1895? Yes back in 1895 one Harlow Gale sent a questionnaire to businesses in Minnesota asking them how they believed people reacted to their advertising. (He got a 10% response rate – not bad by direct mail campaign standards). As early as 1903, Walter Dill Scott published the Theory and Practice of Advertising, with a central thesis that the target market is both suggestible and obedient. By 1920, the much more famous John B Watson was offering the theory that the three innate emotions of love, fear and rage are at the heart of effective advertising. He is also credited by many as the father of celebrity endorsements, demographic data collating and mining and market research. By the time Vance Packard revealed all in The Hidden Persuaders of 1957 (all advertising is apparently built on the foundations of 8 perceived human needs) he was offering a behind the scenes explanation of a social science that was already 62 years old!

Today, it feels quite salutary to learn that the “insight-based” content we pride ourselves on creating, or at least attempting to create, is more than a century older in basic approach than the technology that allows us to relay it instantly to the world. We have been profiling, brand aligning and data mining for a lot longer than we have had nuclear power, mass market automobiles or even universal access to tap water. George Orwell may have dismissed branding and advertising infamously as “the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket”. But it was never anything less than a sharp stick!

 

A more innocent age?, (05 Aug 2013)

Washes Whiter Cleans Brighter

With the approaching ‘silly season’ – everybody away, not much news – we’re tuning into the relaxation vibe and taking a week off from the rigours of content creation. So here are some brief reflections on a media phenomenon that has been gathering pace over the summer months. We cannot be the only ones (we had better not be, given the cost of peak air time) to have noticed something of a rash of retro-advertising on TV. Some of it is a clever take on the commercials of a generation ago – knowingly jolly and quaint, with a post-modern tongue in its cheek. But there are examples of the real deal played straight. Anyone of a certain generation is bound to remember ‘Ben the Burger Boy’ with his salty, no-nonsense preference for a certain brand of beef patty. Other outings from the archives include a fellow Northern lad who is unimpressed by a long forgotten (by us anyway) basketball star’s dribbling (and his drooling when trying to eat a certain sweet without chewing). Then there is the cross-generations pageant of that proud housewife and her later incarnations, beaming with pride as they morph like some washing-up-obsessed female Doctor Who through perms, bangs, mullets, sun dresses, tank tops and cardigans into the crisp, modern working mum of today.

Old ads – still fresh as the moment … ?

What does this stroll down brand memory lane tell us, if anything? That the agencies are running out of ideas? Possible but unlikely. That the brands concerned are running out of budget to commission new work? Again, possible but seems unlikely. Or that long before there was so much introspection and angst around the notion of brand, advertisers took a simpler route that could be summed up as “this is what we’re selling, here’s somebody a bit like you who is enthusiastic about it, now go and buy some”. Whatever the underlying strategy, from a purely qualitative viewpoint much of the retro material does somehow seem simpler than today’s complex plays and drive for ‘experience’. So is our branding future contained in our past? Will self-mocking burly ‘housewives’ en travestie be replaced by real actresses reproducing real housewifely pride in the capacity of their kitchen towel to mop up a domestic tsunami? Will taking the p give way to celebrations of frozen peas that once again unite nuclear families with their just-picked freshness?

Calm down dear …

The late and in our view, for all his faults, great Michael Winner once berated a gathering of the advertising great and good for self-obsessed introspection at the expense (in every sense ) of their clients and their budgets. His own insurance campaign was stripped down, self-deprecating to the point of self-annihilating and, from the perspective of brand purists, irritatingly effective for sales and the bottom line. Was he right? Did the Mad Men get it spot on when they decided to create more drama in the office than ever translated to their commercials? Is retro the way to go? Or has the zeitgeist moved on for ever? And what do we have to do (beyond sashaying around the hearthrug with a dispenser of strong smelling powder) to put the freshness back?

Profiling the “ideal content creator” (July 29, 2013), (29 Jul 2013)

Jack of All Trades. Master of ALL.

Back in what feels like the distant mists of time (in reality only a couple of short years ago) we used to say that we “didn’t write for the web, we just wrote”. How wrong we were! And yet how right too! We were wrong because the vast impact of the online environment and its challenges and opportunities was only just beginning to dawn on us – actually we weren’t alone. We were right because the values of real writing – engagement, style, impact and even a little wit from time to time – were being swamped by a tide of machine-written stuff that appealed only to search engines. Happily things have moved on. The Google environment in particular is now too cute to be ‘gamed’ by cut and paste verbiage that just repeats key words a thousand times. The opportunities to be a ‘real writer’ online have never been greater, Yet this also applies to the challenges. A true content creator – which is what your web writers now have to be – has the writing itself as the very last thing on their mind.

Good content is driven by total understanding

Today’s content creators have to understand the business they are writing for. This isn’t about lip service or cutting and pasting the brief and shuffling it around a bit. This is about real interest in the commercials, in what makes the business tick. The bottom line and the balance sheet are now integral to the briefing process. Content creators really have to understand the audience they are writing for. This is about a lot more than the traditional issues of ‘style and tone’. Personae creation, topic modelling, the disciplines are precise. The successful content creator must have front of mind, and literally, a picture of the people who will be reading what they write. More, they must be able to contribute to the process of creating the picture.

Search for the right word? Or the right word for search?

The content creator needs insight into the target audience’s search process. What are they really looking for? Even more crucially, how do they express what they are looking for in their own minds? The content online has to align with the thought processes, problems and preferences of real live people out there. So the content creator needs to be a psychologist and a linguist.

Good content needs more than ever to be great writing too

All the other attributes and skills we refer to are crucial. But don’t let them eclipse the ultimate point of the exercise. The online content also needs to be Great Writing.

Master of All

Commercial Director. Linguist. Psychologist. Strategist. Search Expert. Great Writer. Is this complex, multi-layered profile the one you look for in the people who create your online content? Are you happy with the idea of a ‘Jack of all trades’? Or should you be insisting from now on all-round mastery?

Welcome to “Total Content Marketing”, (22 Jul 2013)

Online content does work. But it’s hard work.

Last week, we looked in detail at some of the key aspects of online content creation. Perhaps the single most consistent theme to emerge is that, while good content can achieve extraordinary results, it is absolutely not a free lunch. Obvious as this may seem, it is a realisation clearly lacking in many instances. There is still a belief, a surprising amount of the time, that going online will provide some kind of ‘silver bullet’. Simply by virtue of having a web presence the thinking (or more accurately the hoping) goes, great results will come. Successful consumer brands have realised for some time that this is not the case. In order to work (to drive visitors, conversions and revenue) a web campaign has to be precisely that: a campaign. It has to be as well thought through and be supported by the same degree of involvement and commitment from Marketing as above the line work, sponsorship or any other aspect of ‘mainstream’ brand and revenue building. This translates typically into online content marketing that is the result of intensive planning and testing. Even in a fast moving, highly flexible medium, nothing (and especially not the content, the words) is left until the last minute. Still less is it left unchanged for weeks, months or even years on end (check the blog spot dates on certain sites!).

Your Virtual Shop is the Same as Your Physical Shop

A really good online presence is actually far closer to a successful traditional shop than one might at first think. It requires constant attention to the customer. It needs to make visitors feel they have come to the right place, with a sense of welcome and attractive merchandising of the items they are looking for (as well as some they may not even have realised they wanted or needed). Nothing should be past its sell-by-date. And nothing should look as if has simply been ‘plonked’ in the window. Of course in the virtual environment this is not about dusting the tins and asking “need any help’ madam?”. But it most definitely is about freshness and constant review of what is likely to appeal both to passers-by and ‘regulars’. And in both environments, Spam is less than likely to appeal! How much attention is your website shop window receiving currently? Regular inspection from your own team of floor walkers? Or just enough of a brush-up to keep Environmental Health at bay?

 

Content – Delivering The Finished Response, (19 Jul 2013)

You want great content. How engaged are you in its creation?

All this week we have looked at the relationship between desire for great, high impact, brand building and revenue driving content and the process needed to create it. In this final blog we ask another bunch of questions!

Which of the following are included in your key content delivery parameters?

Timescales?

Key milestones?

Other project planning criteria?

Quality review and feedback mechanisms?

Who sets the delivery parameters?

Your organisation? If yes, at what level of colleague? Senior? Mid-rank? Junior?

Your supplier?

Your organisation and your supplier together?

Third party specialist project manager?

Other?

Extent of Specific Focus on Content

Do you have a specific delivery process, focused on content exclusively?

Does your delivery process combine content with other elements, such as design?

Do your delivery process stage gates for content review focus on any of the following, yes or no:

SEO satisfaction criteria (keyword frequency, others)

Alignment with target market profiles.

Alignment with corporate tone of voice frameworks and/or brand guidelines?

Qualitative assessment (is the content as it stands “good writing” as well as SEO-compliant?)

Target Audience Feedback

As part of your content development, do you ever make use of focus groups, or other third party feedback mechanisms?

If no, are there any opportunities to assess the qualitative impact of your content, or do you typically use go-live and subsequent visitor behaviour as your de facto benchmarking process?

Next week, we will look at some conclusions we have drawn from typical answers to these questions. Meanwhile, one last question to ponder: what proportion of your current online content is the result of carefully judged process and how much is created ‘on the go’?

Effective web content? Get your context clear! (July 18, 2013), (18 Jul 2013)

You can’t predict how much impact your web content will make if you’re not sure how you arrived at it in the first place …

Very often, any lack of clarity with the finished content begins far up the chain.  Effective web content is all about context.

So …

Who sets the communication context?


Who makes the media/channel/platform choices?

What are the channel selection criteria? (Brand profile building? Unit sales potential? Cost-effectiveness? Unique ability to target key market sectors? Initiating/launching an innovation? Responding to competitor innovation? Other?)

What is the extent of integration with other marketing initiatives? Typically, are online initiatives seen as one-off activities? Are they planned as specific campaigns? If yes, are these campaigns standalone? Are they somewhat integrated with other marketing campaigns? Are they fully integrated with other campaign and platform activity?

Who Commissions Online Content?

General marketing role? Dedicated online marketing role? Other?

In what context? On request or instruction from a strategic, brand or sales function? On own initiative?

How detailed is the commissioning process? Detailed brief-led? Outline brief-led? Verbal statement of detailed requirement? Verbal statement of outline requirement?

If a detailed written brief is the starting point, who prepares the brief? Executive level individual? Management level individual? Support function level individual?

Are briefs prepared exclusively by the client (drawing on in-house skills only) for external resource to respond to?

Are briefs prepared with the help of external expertise?

Is there a formal sign-off process for briefs or are they issued without formal review?

Is the content brief, typically, a standalone specification? (Does it relate exclusively to content?)

Is the content brief just one element of a wider brief? (Typically covering design and technical issues in a broader-based specification.)

Will the content brief contain explicit background on key issues such as target demographic, brand profile, commercial aspirations etc.? Always? Mostly? Sometimes? Rarely? Other?

If there is a formal review? If yes, who has the final sign-off on the definitive brief?

Is any internal role formally responsible for quality of response to briefs? (To clarify, if a brief elicits a sub-standard response, is that taken to be exclusively a reflection on the quality of the supplier base?)

It’s a lot of questions, for sure. But knowing the answers will provide a valuable next step to achieving real impact and real improvement in your web content.

The 4 Rs of Web Content Development (July 17, 2013), (17 Jul 2013)

To Make The Words Work You Have To Think About Your Attitude To Them 

Yesterday, we alluded to the ‘four r’s of effective content production: relevance; readability; reaction; results [conversion]. To achieve them consistently and predictably, you need more than a wish list. It’s not enough to say “let it be so” and then hope that your “content provider” will just go away and make it happen.  You need to create a context for fertile and productive thinking about content. We call this the Content Development Culture.

Content Development Culture

Choice of vocabulary around content development is significant. For the words that finally appear on your website, which description(s) do you typically use:

“Content”?

“Text”

“Copy”

“Words”

“Writing”

“Editorial”

“Messages”

“Messaging”

Other?

The 4 “E-factors” of real writing 16 July, 2013, (16 Jul 2013)

E-Factors : The Drivers For Migrating ‘Content’ to Real Writing

Empathy: awareness and understanding of the perspective, preferences and personality of an audience, leading to relevance.

Energy: the outcome of combining technique (style/tone) with commitment to (and visible interest in) the communication task, leading to readability.

Engagement: arises from the combined impact of Empathy and Energy. The effect is that the reader keeps on reading, leading to reaction. (The opposite, undesirable, effect is that they stop reading and leave the page or the site as a result of boredom or indifference.)

Experience: the confidence and maturity of approach that blends the other ‘e-factors’ to bring results (conversion in a B2C and B2B context).

The ‘four e’s lead to the ‘four r’s: relevance; readability; reaction; results [conversion].

In tomorrows post we shall look at the 4 R’s in more detail.

Excellent Content Must Become First Thought, Not Last Second July 15, 2013, (15 Jul 2013)

Excellent content is not what you start with at the beginning. It is what you create at the end.

You cannot realistically expect to produce excellent content, on a consistent, replicable and predictable basis, if you leave the whole task to a lone, unsupported content writer and to the last minute.

You need to understand the key steps to creating successful words online. ‘Dumb process’ – an in-isolation project plan of abstract check boxes and milestones – will not cut it. Smart process, based on real understanding of the objectives, and of the skills involved in reaching them, will enable and drive delivery. We’re going to cover a key stage of this process every day this week.

The Return to Basics

All writing for a specific purpose, from national newspaper editorial to motel fire escape instructions, works in a context. It has to accommodate multiple inputs: platform/medium; fact introduction, explanation and sequencing; profile of the target audience and desired effect on that audience. (Online writing has to take into account the extra issues generated by the unique technology of its environment. This means, among other tasks, accommodating key word strategies)

To succeed, it must focus on a small number of outputs: reader involvement; reader ‘education’ (imparting of information); reader influence (achieving a desired shift in perception); reader motivation (leading to a desired action taken; conversion in the case of online content). To achieve these outputs, good writing relies on the ‘4Es’: empathy; energy; engagement; experience. Tomorrow we ‘unpack’ the 4Es in more detail.