RH&Co founder, Rin Hamburgh, recently hosted an ‘Ask me anything’ webinar, answering your questions on all things B2B content strategy and planning for 2024. If you didn’t see it live, you can watch the video recording or, if you prefer your content in written format, have a look at the Q&A answer summaries below.
Deciding what content to produce all starts with your business goals. Different types of content (and the different channels through which you can share them) are effective in different ways. So it’s important to understand what you’re looking to achieve – whether that’s scaling brand awareness, breaking into a new market, or increasing SQL conversions – so you can focus on the most appropriate content and channels.
You also need to understand what resources different types of content will require. For example, running paid ads requires a financial commitment over an extended period of time. On the other hand, posting regularly on LinkedIn takes time (and skill) but doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything.
In terms of putting all of this together into a strategy, think about your content priorities and frequency in terms of what LinkedIn’s Purna Virji calls ‘hum, sing and shout’ content:
If you’re really pushed on resources and have to put all your eggs in one basket for the short term, think about where you can get the biggest wins most quickly. Do you have a large client database you could reach out to with a reintroduction or referral email campaign? Have you recently completed a prestigious project that you could use to create a case study or enter an award?
Naturally the biggest part of the decision about what content to outsource vs produce in-house is going to be what skills you and your team have. While many marketers have some practical delivery skills such as writing or design or videography, it’s likely you won’t be able to do all of them to the same standard as a specialist.
This might not be a problem. You’ll need to think about the standard required for your content. For example, if you’re filming an important explainer video, you might want a professional videographer involved. But if, like us, you’re doing a webinar Q&A, you can probably use the software on your laptop to film and edit it together on a shoestring.
What many of our clients do is engage us to create the larger, more complex pieces of content such as white papers or thought leadership articles, and then do the repurposing of that copy in-house to create social media content. In a similar way, you would need to get a design or branding agency involved in creating your visual branding in the first place, but could then go on to use that branding yourself to create ongoing design assets in-house.
Measuring content effectiveness starts with setting goals and then defining what metrics make most sense for that goal. Each type of content and each goal will have different metrics that you might want to track, so there’s no one best way. However, it’s important to think about two key things…
First, be specific. If you’re sharing thought leadership content on LinkedIn, don’t just look at how many impressions or engagements you’re getting. Think about whether you want those impressions and engagements to come from people in a particular industry sector or at a particular level of seniority, and track that.
Also, make sure your metrics are relevant. Taking the thought leadership example again, the likely goal for this is brand awareness. So measuring leads generated is probably a bit of a stretch. But if members of your expert or senior leadership team are invited to do a speaking engagement or be a guest on a podcast, that could be considered a relevant win.
There are advantages and disadvantages to posting blogs or articles on a business website vs a social media platform like LinkedIn or a publishing platform like Substack or Medium.
One key issue is ownership. You own your website and therefore have control over it. Whereas on Substack, for example, the platform might disappear tomorrow, or it may require you to pay money in the form of promotions in order to get your articles in front of more people.
Posting to your website is also a way to attract people to that site, whether through SEO or organic social posting, where they can be exposed to more of your brand, products or services.
That said, not everyone is going to be willing to invest the time to click through to a post on your site – which psychologically feels like more of a commitment – whereas you might hold their attention for that bit longer if they can read within the platform they’re already on.
Ultimately your choice should be linked to your goals. If that goal is to raise your profile and grow your network within a given community, posting your content within that community can be very powerful. If, however, you want to drive traffic to your site and get people exploring your offering further, you might be better off posting the articles to your site and then sharing smaller snippets on social media.
This two pronged approach offers the best of both worlds, giving the browsers a taste of your brand and messaging while still allowing you to reap the benefits of hosting the larger content on your own site.
The biggest mistake we see people making with content is not thinking strategically enough about it. Often this shows up as writing about what they want to write about rather than considering what their audience wants to read about.
Another common issue is being too sales focused at the wrong time. You can’t write a top-of-funnel thought leadership piece and then follow up with a sales CTA like ‘book a demo’. It’s important to see content as a way of moving people along the customer journey, step by step.
A third mistake is giving up before they’ve invested enough time in content as a tactic. Content marketing can take time to build momentum – online marketing guru Neil Patel says you need to give it at least 6 to 9 months, while Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Inc, writes that it’s more like 12 to 18 months. It’s also not always easy to see the results on the bottom line, especially when it comes to brand building content, so make sure you set realistic and relevant goals that you can track your progress against.
Getting subject matter experts involved in content creation can be difficult because they’re usually very busy and often feel they have better things to do. If they’re not sold on the idea of content, or marketing in general, you’ll need to start by making the case for why it’s important.
When they do get involved, make sure you’re not taking more of their time than you have to. Do your research and use whatever time they have available to get the information from them that only they can provide – the anecdotes, experiences and insights that are so important for expertise-based content.
We have a lot more tips on this subject in our blog post, ‘Involving experts in content creation: a guide for marketers’.
Absolutely. Case studies can be a very powerful tool for B2B marketers and sales people – particularly those in service businesses. They’re a way of demonstrating the value you offer in a real world context, and this is especially useful when your offering is complex or intangible.
Like testimonials, case studies let your customers talk on your behalf. If you say your product or services are effective, that’s one thing. If someone else says it, that’s much more impactful.
Also because human beings love stories, case studies are that much more engaging to read than a process document.
In terms of format, there are four key elements you need to include:
A final point: if your case studies are long, it can be helpful to include a summary of key points at the top of the page.
Repurposing content by translating it into a different format is a great way to maximise your return on investment. You can absolutely turn a podcast into a blog, with a different approach depending on what type of podcast it is.
For a host plus guest podcast: Usually these podcasts follow a Q&A format, which translates perfectly into the written form. Depending on the length of the podcast and the guest’s answers, it’s likely you’ll need to edit both questions and answers, making them more concise and suitable for a reading audience, rather than a listening one.
For a panel podcast: This is where you have several people all chatting about a particular subject. In this case, the subject matter is front and centre, so think about writing a blog post that addresses the topic, and use pulled quotes from the podcast to highlight key points. This sort of blog post will feel a lot like a newspaper or magazine article.
Using the full transcript: You can also publish the full transcript of the podcast. This doesn’t make it a blog post, but it can be helpful for those who have listened and want to go back to a certain point by searching for a keyword. It’s also super low effort – just get an AI translation tool and then go through to edit out the ‘ums’ and mistakes.
Newsletters are usually sent on a regular basis to a database of readers who have signed up to receive them, and the content tends to be informational, inspirational or otherwise valuable in some way, rather than overtly salesy.
In general, newsletters tend to fall into two main categories…
The first is the long form newsletter. This could include the whole text of a blog post, for example, so that those who are subscribed never miss a post. Or it could be a letter format written to the readership – essentially an article but with a more intimate feel, since it’s written for and to the members of a specific group.
The advantage of this sort of newsletter is that your reader doesn’t need to click through to a different location in order to read all of your content. All you have to do is convince them to open the email and start reading, and then keep them engaged.
The second type of newsletter is the roundup. This is where you have several different sections, each of which has a small amount of text and most likely a link or CTA button leading to more.
This is a great way to share on more than one topic without the newsletter becoming unwieldy. Your reader will feel that they can browse and choose just the items that interest them, clicking through if they are interested in finding out more. It can also be useful for personalising future content, using clicks as an indicator of interest.
Here’s what we include in the RH&Co’s The Right Words:
Get in touch and let us know. We’ll be sure to update this article with relevant questions as often as we can!
Translating content into other languages has never been easier. You don’t even need a human translator. From Google Translate to Alexa, there are dozens of AI-powered tools promising to produce versions of your marketing and sales materials for consumption in any country you choose.
Except the reality is that if you give a piece of AI-translated content to a native speaker, you’ll soon find that there are problems. And not just with the language itself – the nuances, the colloquialisms, the most up-to-date expressions – but with what different cultures want and expect from that content.
We’ve been speaking to Anja Jones, founder and MD of fellow B Corp agency, AJT, about the importance of localisation and the benefits it offers to international businesses, from reaching new audiences and building brand trust to improving SEO and website conversions.
Localisation, as the word suggests, is about adapting to a local market. Localisation goes way beyond translation in that it looks at the entire user/customer experience.
The aim of localisation is to build trust in prospective and existing clients. Trust is built more easily when things feel familiar. Just imagine yourself visiting a website from a company that’s based abroad. Being able to browse the website in English is already a huge help in accessing information – perhaps reading about a product and how it works, or understanding how the shipping works.
But beyond language, there are other things that might influence our buying decisions. The way a website is designed – is it laid out in a way that we’re familiar with? In Western Europe, websites tend to be ‘clean’ and minimalistic with plenty of white space, carefully placed images and small amounts of text. Compare that to websites in Asia, which are typically rather busy, densely packed with images and text.
Next, does the website offer payment methods that I’m familiar with? When you shop on a German website for example, you might find payment options British online shoppers are not really familiar with, such as SEPA Direct Debit and buying on invoice.
I believe we always need to come back to the purpose of the content we create, and what impact it needs to have on the reader, whether in the home market or abroad.
When it comes to written content, localisation is about adapting the translation to make it really relevant to the reader in the local market. This could be obvious things like converting currency and pricing from pound sterling to EUR; swapping out links so they lead to the localised version of your website, or swapping out external links (e.g. if referencing a study or particular piece of research) to make sure they’re really relevant to the local reader.
Localisation also means identifying which pieces of written content will be relevant and useful in a local market, and which ones don’t need to be localised at all. Instead of translating your entire library of blog articles, for example, it’s worth analysing which content pieces will be relevant in the local market. This involves carrying out multilingual keyword research to determine if there is any search volume for a particular topic before pushing the button on translation.
Some say that when you create content that will be translated for an international audience, you should approach the content creation differently from the off. For example, you could use less hyper local references to make the translation process easier and faster.
On the flipside, others argue that professional translators are of course able to adapt cultural references and warn against watering down content to make it more easily palatable to everyone.
I can empathise with both sides of the argument but I believe we always need to come back to the purpose of the content we create, and what impact it needs to have on the reader, whether in the home market or abroad.
Localisation ensures that the content really lands well and has the desired impact. So the important thing is to be aware of cultural nuances and either build language capabilities and cultural sensitivities in-house or bring in an external partner who can bring that cultural understanding to your team.
If a company has taken the brave step of exporting, it’s vital to invest in language and localisation services to ensure the company enters the new market on the right foot.
When you look at US marketing material, it tends to be very enthusiastic and upbeat, using plenty of superlatives and buzz words like amazing, great, fantastic and so on.
When we translate for a European audience, we often need to dial down that level of enthusiasm. Germans, for example, are well known for being quite analytical when making purchase decisions. Any marketing claims really need to be backed up. Facts and figures are reassuring, while overly enthusiastic rhetoric can come across as over the top and unbelievable.
This can and should influence the content creation process. Of course, you shouldn’t change your successful content formula for your English audience, just to make localisation easier. But knowing what German readers need means you can provide those facts and figures to the translation / localisation team so they can incorporate them into the localised copy.
This way you can truly adapt not just words and tone but go deeper and address cultural differences in behaviours and expectations.
Using professional translation services is about bringing that understanding of cultural nuances to your company. Anyone can run a text through Google Translate and provide a translation that may at best be a word-for-word translation of your original text or at worst an offensive, inaccurate or incoherent translation that could hinder growth in the local market – or even cause quite serious brand damage.
If a company has taken the brave step of exporting, it’s vital to invest in language and localisation services to ensure the company enters the new market on the right foot. Language and communication are so important in building trust in a new market, and cutting cost corners at the beginning of an export journey by not translating or by relying on free online tools, will only slow or hinder growth.
It may seem like a big investment at the start of an export journey but in our experience, it’s always more costly (not to mention more painful and time consuming) to fix bad translations than to invest in professional translation services from the start.
Keywords are hugely important for international SEO. Translating your content is crucial for aiding understanding and building trust. But you also need to use the right words and phrases in your translation to ensure your content shows up in search engine results when potential customers search for your type of products or services online.
Keyword research should be incorporated into the translation process from the start so that copy doesn’t just get translated but is keyword-optimised at the same time.
Let’s say you’re selling organic babygrows, and your English focus keyword is babygrow. In German, you can call a babygrow a Strampelanzug, or a Strampler. Strampelanzug is searched 590 times on average a month in Germany, whereas Strampler is searched 9,900 times. Choosing the most relevant keywords before starting with the actual translation can have a really positive impact on your international SEO.
Transcreation is a specific term used for highly creative copy where a straight-forward translation might not work. A port-manteau of translation and creation, transcreation takes the key message of the source copy and creates something equally compelling for the target language.
It’s typically used for ad copy, headlines, slogans and other creative short form copy. In transcreation, linguists essentially have greater freedom to step away from words or sentences and really focus on the impact the text needs to have on the reader. What emotion it needs to elicit, what actions it should inspire the reader to take.
Creative copy often involves word play, which might use literary techniques such as rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, and so on. It might also draw on cultural references. You can’t easily translate these, they need to be recreated for each language.
Having said that, both translation and transcreation require creativity and cultural sensitivity to create localised copy that truly resonates with readers in the market.
For more about translation, transcreation and localisation, visit the hugely valuable AJT Insights blog, where you can read about everything from app translation to the difference between how Germans and Austrians speak, or download their whitepaper, The true cost of poor translation.
Most of us learned to write at school, where we were taught to use a fairly formal style. Correct grammar, correct spelling, correct punctuation – there were rules, and there were exceptions, and that was that. You didn’t argue for fear of getting a ‘must do better’ note in the margin of your homework.
Some of us went on to learn other types of writing – fiction, poetry, journalism, copywriting – and with them different styles. As professional writers we learned to use more expressive language, a more conversational tone, to write with an audience in mind.
For many leaders in business, however, that formal style from school stuck around. Not quite academic writing but nevertheless dry, impersonal, often overly complex and difficult to read. And today, that’s no longer always appropriate.
Language is not static. It evolves as society does. New words are added to the dictionary and old ones go out of fashion. Even rules of grammar shift.
In the past, business communication always erred towards more formal language but there’s no doubt that’s been changing gradually over the last decade or two. Now that virtually every business has a presence on social media, where communication has a deliberately human tone, we’ve remembered that even in B2B, brands have to talk to people as people.
Informal, conversational writing is effective because it feels more personal. As a result, we’re more likely to be drawn in by it and act on it. It’s persuasive in a way that formal writing usually isn’t. Just think about which one you’d rather engage with – a T&Cs document or an email from a friend.
So how do you go about making your writing more informal if it’s not your natural style? Here are our tips for improving your business writing abilities.
One thing you’ll notice if you listen to actual conversations is that we use a lot more contractions when we’re talking than we do when we’re writing.
A contraction is when you literally ‘contract’ or shorten a word or phrase by leaving out one or more letters and replacing them with an apostrophe. So can’t is the contraction of cannot and it’s is the contraction of it is.
The simple act of using more contractions in your writing will increase the conversational tone and reduce formality in a subtle and business-appropriate way.
Clear communication is the goal of any professional writer. Except a professional writer probably wouldn’t phrase that last sentence like that because it uses the passive voice.
Instead they’d write: every professional writer wants to communicate clearly. This uses the active voice, which makes it more energetic and engaging.
Here are a couple more examples:
Passive: Complex dosage instructions are often misunderstood by hospital patients.
Active: Hospital patients often misunderstand complex dosage instructions.
Passive: The waterfall development model is rarely used in startups these days.
Active: Startups rarely use the waterfall development model these days.
Because we’re more likely to use active voice in natural conversation, using it in most types of business writing will create a more engaging and readable tone.
The difference between ‘I wish to write in a more informal way’ and ‘I want to write in a more informal way’ is small but powerful.
A key element for impacting formality in any sentence is the choice of vocabulary. The difference between ‘I wish to write in a more informal way’ and ‘I want to write in a more informal way’ is small but powerful.
So the first thing to do is to strip out any words or phrases that are too old-fashioned. Using ‘thrice’ when you could say ‘three times’ is unnecessarily formal. Ditto ‘endeavour’ instead of ‘try’ or ‘make your acquaintance’ instead of ‘meet you’.
And you can go a step further. There are plenty of words that we use in business writing almost without thinking, which could be replaced with more informal language. ‘Require’ could become ‘need’. ‘Request’ could become ‘ask’.
If there are two choices, go for the simpler option – the one you’d most naturally use in conversation. Not only does this make your business writing more informal, it also makes complex ideas easier to grasp at a glance.
Formal writing follows formal grammar rules. Natural conversation usually doesn’t. So by relaxing the rules of grammar, your writing will inevitably come across as more informal.
This doesn’t mean you should start making up your own rules. But don’t be afraid to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’, or end a sentence with a preposition if you want to. The last sentence you read did both of these things, and it didn’t feel too casual, did it?
If you look back at the last sentence in the previous paragraph, you’ll see an example of a rhetorical question, which is something we use a fair bit in casual conversation.
Adding one or two into your writing can make it feel more personal and conversation. After all, if the author of an article asks you a rhetorical question, you feel like they’re talking directly to you, right? Just don’t put too many in or you’ll end up sounding like a broken record.
Those writing with a formal tone tend to use not only big words but also long, convoluted sentences and complex sentence structures. Shorter sentences, on the other hand, make your writing more informal. They also make it easier for your reader to quickly grasp the meaning of what you’re communicating.
You can even use sentence fragments on occasion. Like this one. Or this. Like all rule breaking, just make sure you’re not overdoing it.
Another way to make writing feel more conversational is to add a parenthesis. This is a word or phrase that is inserted into a sentence in rounded brackets (fyi, these are also called parentheses), almost like an afterthought.
Of course, every organisation is different and there are many types of business writing. You’ll need to judge what is appropriate in your business context. Official letters might need a more formal style whereas day-to-day client communication might take a more informal style. Social media posts are likely to be more chatty than strategic business reports.
That’s where brand tone of voice guidelines or other communication style guides come in handy, giving everyone a framework against which to benchmark whether something is too formal or too informal. These guidelines should set out information about your target audience and how best to communicate with each sub-group.
As a general rule though, if you’re aiming for professional writing – even if you’re going for a relaxed, human tone of voice – it’s best to avoid swearing, slang terms or text speak like ‘lol’ unless you’re doing it deliberately to make a point. Likewise be careful to avoid spelling mistakes and other careless typos.
As with any creative subject, you need to know what the rules are, when you can break them and what effect breaking them will have.
Also remember that it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to choose between academic writing and the language you’d use in everyday conversation with your mates. There are degrees of formality and you can dial your writing up or down depending on the circumstance. Just take a look at these three sentences:
If you want to know whether your writing has a conversational tone or not, try reading it out loud. If you feel silly or stuffy, there’s a chance you need to take a more informal approach with your writing style. The phrases that don’t sound natural out loud are the ones to work on. For more business writing tips, follow us on social or subscribe to The Right Words to get a fortnightly dose of creative ideas, content marketing advice and more.
There are many excellent reasons why businesses should add blogging to their marketing mix. But in the end, what you really want from any marketing channel is leads, right?
Now we’re going to caveat this post by saying something really important: content marketing is about the long game. If you try it out for a month and compare it to, say, paid advertising, that’s a bit of an unfair match.
However, just because blogging leans slightly more towards the brand building side of marketing than the pure growth marketing side, that doesn’t mean it can’t generate leads. If you’re strategic about it.
So here are five strategies to get your blog delivering more leads into your pipeline.
There are a bunch of people out there who want to buy your products, use your services, donate to your cause or in some other way do the thing you want them to do. They just need help to get across the finish line.
Imagine, for example, that you’re the CMO of a rapidly scaling SaaS company. Your platform offers a way to shortcut a key process for your customer – but your competitor is saying the same thing.
That’s where a ‘How we…’ post comes in handy. By giving your audience a glimpse behind the curtain – showing them how your expertise works rather than simply telling them you have it – you earn a greater degree of trust. Trust that makes spending money with you that much easier.
And that’s just one example of a sales-led blog post. You could also write a post that breaks down your approach to pricing and showcases where the value lies for your audience compared to other options on the market. Or you could answer a key objection, like we have in ‘How can you blog for my business if you’re not an expert in my subject?’
Sales-driven blog content isn’t about the hard sell. It’s about facilitating great decision making. By the end of a great sales post, you can legitimately suggest that your reader gets in touch, books a demo or even taps ‘buy now’, because you’ve helped them see why that’s the right choice for them.
“Creating chains of interlinked blog content like this is a great way to guide your potential customer or client along the buyer journey until they become a lead. It also helps the reader to hop off the trail if they’re not a good fit for you.”
No matter what you’re offering and no matter who you’re offering it to, there’s no way that everyone in your target audience will be ready to buy at the exact moment they read your blog. This is particularly true in B2B marketing where studies show that 95% of your audience is out-of-market.
Your reader might not have the budget right now. Or they might have just bought something similar. Perhaps they need internal sign off, or they just want to think about it a bit more.
But if your blog has engaged them sufficiently, you can capitalise on your success by prompting them to do something.
You might ask them to follow you on social media, for example, or sign up for your newsletter so that you can continue to deliver useful content into their inbox. Or you could sweeten the deal with a lead magnet and create a nurture series to help move the process forward.
This might not be as immediately exciting to you as getting a reader to call your sales team, but by creating a way to stay in touch, you can continue to market to them until they are ready.
Whatever the case, don’t rely on the reader’s initiative. When they’re ready to buy, they probably won’t find their way back to your brand just because they read your blog a year ago. So create a tentative connection now that you can build on later.
Imagine your reader is at the very beginning of their buyer journey. They’re in the dark, not knowing they have a problem or, if they do, they’re only vaguely aware of the full extent of that problem or what’s causing it. You can change that. This is where you create content that helps them to explore the problem, validates what they’re feeling and shows them what the real issue is.
They won’t be ready to buy after reading. But they will be able to learn about the various solutions that can tackle their newly defined problem. After which they might be interested in exploring one solution in particular. And once they’ve reached that point, they might want to know the details of what you offer, including your process and pricing.
Creating chains of interlinked blog content like this is a great way to guide your potential customer or client along the buyer journey until they become a lead. It also helps the reader to hop off the trail if they’re not a good fit for you.
In a blog chain, you’ll adjust your CTA as your reader progresses. The earlier posts encourage further reading, lead magnet downloads or newsletter signups, and the later posts can get more sales-led.
Good blog content is foundational. It shouldn’t sit on your website in isolation, with the vague hope that people will stumble across it. It needs to work with the other channels you’re investing in – and even feed those channels content.
The best way to get your blog generating leads is to ensure as many people as possible see it. And that means sitting it within a much wider strategy that includes, for example, social media, SEO, paid advertising, PR and so on.
If you’re using more than one marketing partner, make sure there’s enough communication between them. There’s no point having your PR or SEO agency going off in one direction and your blogging agency heading off in another.
Get your sales team involved too so that they make the most of the content you’re producing. It’s far nicer for a prospect to be sent a helpful blog post than to be hassled with a vague and ineffective, “Just wondering whether you need any help with X…”
If your sales machine relies on a high volume of input then one of the best and cheapest ways to generate the leads you need from your blog is to combine it with a well thought out organic search strategy.
This does not mean that you pick a few low cost, low competition keywords and stuff them willy nilly into a badly thought out post written by a barely literate stranger you found on Fivr. Not unless you’re happy to sacrifice your long term brand image for an initial flurry of visitors that offer nothing more than vanity metrics.
Google and co are likely to become increasingly human in their approach to judging the value of blog content over time, whereas people are unlikely to become more machine-like. So your flesh-and-blood audience still needs to be your first priority.
But there’s no reason why you can’t serve both robot and human. This is how we helped our client Addland generate 150,000 impressions and 7,000 clicks to their website within the first six months after they launched their land buying platform. It’s also why Blueheart’s internal content creator said our approach to SEO optimisation is so hidden that their posts “just feel like solid, well-researched, empathetically-written articles.”
As with any marketing channel, blogging needs to be a strategic activity with a clear plan that is outlined at the start and checked on regularly. That plan needs to be based on the needs of your audience, it needs to sit within a wider marketing strategy and it needs to have clear goals from the outset.
You’ll need to set your expectations properly too, giving the blog at least 9 months and more likely 12 or even 18 months to deliver regular and reliable leads, especially if you’ve got a long sales cycle.
Blogging isn’t a lead gen silver bullet. In fact we’d argue that there is no such thing. But with the right strategy and a great team to deliver the best quality content, blogging can absolutely generate leads effectively and consistently for any business.
Want to talk lead gen with the blogging experts at RH&Co? Get in touch today.
Written: April 2022, updated May 2023
Every marketer has their favourite way of describing the stages of the buyer journey. Some stick with E St Elmo Lewis’s original AIDA model: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Others simplify it to Awareness, Consideration and Decision. Still others prefer an ‘awareness journey’: problem aware, solution aware, most aware and so on.
All are helpful to a degree, especially when planning your broader marketing strategy and channel mix. But if you try to apply them to generating topic ideas for your content marketing plan they’re not always so effective.
That’s why at RH&Co we’ve developed our own framework, based on the process we use to create editorial calendars for our clients. In this post, we’re looking at the five key stages your customer or client is likely to go through and the type of content you should be aiming to create at each one.
In stage one, your reader is either not aware of their problem or not clear on their real problem.
For example, they might not realise that their app’s security is at risk because they haven’t got a maintenance schedule in place. Or they might know that they’re having stomach problems but not realise they have a wheat intolerance.
At this stage your goal needs to be to educate your audience and raise their awareness, identifying and exploring the problem until they’re really clear on what it is.
This audience type is right at the beginning of their journey, so this is not the time to rush them towards a sale. Instead, get them to the point where they feel confident about researching solutions.
You could start with a piece of content about the wider issues facing your reader’s industry or share your opinion on why a particular problem is worth addressing.
You could also highlight the warning signs that might indicate a certain problem is looming or challenge them to think about an issue in a new way.
Now your audience is clear that there’s a problem – but they have no idea what to do about it.
In the example above, your reader may be panicking about the security risk facing their new app or feeling relieved that their stomach pain has a genuine source. But how do you improve app security or deal with wheat intolerance?
The goal in this stage should be to add real value, introducing the variety of solutions that are available. It’s important not to focus too heavily on your own solution just yet – sell now and you’ll look self interested rather than genuinely helpful.
Your reader wants the facts laid out for them so that they can make an independent, informed decision about what’s right for them, without feeling pressured.
This is where ‘how to’ content comes into its own. You can keep this content fairly broad, or start to narrow it down a little – although keep some ideas back for the next stage (you’ll see what we mean in a moment).
It’s also helpful to dig beneath the problems your reader is facing and help them understand why they’re having them. After all, it’s hard to fix something if you don’t know what’s causing it. And as humans, we’re naturally curious too.
Searching is like part two of Stuck. Now the reader is relatively clear on their problem and knows solutions exist. So the next step is for them to work out which of those solutions is best for them.
Is it getting a consultant in, training the in-house team or hiring a new specialist to ensure your app stays on top form? Does it mean cutting out wheat, taking a probiotic supplement or trying reiki?
This is where you start to explore each solution in depth, giving more facts such as advantages and disadvantages of each, and some idea of how to begin making the right choice.
Again, it’s really important to be honest rather than try to skew the reader towards your own offering. That only leads to unhappy clients and customers. If you’re a poor fit for each other, it’s best get them out of the funnel now so you can concentrate on the better fits.
As we mentioned in the Stuck stage, you can use ‘how to’ content here as well. Only this time it will be more niche, focusing less on ‘how to reduce bloating’, for example, and more on ‘how to choose the right probiotic for wheat intolerance’.
You can also hone your angle to focus specifically on factors that will affect your reader’s choice, such as price, as well as comparing different options like for like.
By now your reader has not only settled on a solution but they’re considering your business – possibly alongside others – in order to make the very best choice.
The non-technical founder who didn’t realise that they had a security risk is now convinced that they do, and that they need a consultant – why should they choose you? Your wheat intolerant buyer is set on taking a probiotic every day but do they get your brand or a cheaper competitor option?
This is where you provide the granular details that allow your reader to make their decision to spend money with you – or at the very least to get in touch to talk to your sales team.
The emotion we want to stimulate now is certainty, and that is best done with facts rather than hype. Although the marketer’s missive is usually ‘benefits over features’, you need to dig into features here.
Content for the ‘almost ready’ stage needs to contain plenty of detail – prices, processes and anything else your reader might want to know about you.
Here you can create objection busting content to support your sales team with the questions and challenges they face most often, and even try to put off anyone who is a poor fit by writing about why they shouldn’t buy your product or use your service.
So far we’ve used marketing within a marketing context and as a support for the sales process. Your reader has made a commitment to buy from you or use your services – but you’re not done yet.
Now we need to look at how content can support the onboarding process so that your customer or client is happy and more likely to stay or buy again.
The goal of onboarding content is to tackle ‘buyer’s remorse’, which can happen after you’ve made a purchase decision. That’s where your new customer or client thinks, “Was this really the right decision?” or “Did I get the best deal?” or even simply “Do I really need this?”
Instead, you want them to feel happy with their decision, not just about the product or service but you as a brand. You want them to feel as taken care of now they’re doing business with you as when you were courting them.
Onboarding content will either make a new customer or client’s experience easier or enhance it in some way.
Going back to our original examples, the firm who has employed a consultancy to address their cyber security concerns might appreciate a guide to how to prepare for their first discovery session. The person looking to take probiotics as a way to support their gut health might also appreciate gut-friendly recipes or a four week meal plan.
Of course, there is some content that doesn’t quite fit neatly into any of these stages but is very much worth including because it can be enormously effective.
We call this reputation-building content and it can engage people wherever they are on their journey or even if they’re not in the market for what you’re selling at all.
As the name suggests, reputation-building content is all about establishing your brand’s reputation, for example as a thought leader, innovator or expert voice.
By doing this, you create a secure brand position that will pay dividends when people do begin their buyer journey, and you’ll also build connections within your industry and with the wider public.
This is the most difficult type of content for your competitors to copy because it is based on your unique IP, experience or perspective as a business.
It can include opinions and angles on current topics, use case studies to demonstrate real life examples, and give glimpses behind the scenes into your culture, values and ways of working.
In an ideal world, you would fill every stage of your content framework with well researched, highly valuable and engaging copy – preferably with a strand for each separate product or service you offer, or each industry vertical or client persona group you serve.
The reality is that you’ll need to start somewhere, so think about your main challenges and the quick wins you want to gain.
Perhaps your sales team needs a boost with bottom of funnel ‘almost ready’ content. Or maybe you’re working with an SEO strategist and want to catch people’s attention while they’re (quite literally) in the searching phase.
If you’re an expert-led business – in other words, your goal is to position your brand as an authority in a given subject area – then you need to start working on that reputation-building content.
We’ll be writing more about how to put our framework into practice in due course but in the meantime, if you’d like to talk about getting our support to create your content strategy, get in touch.
There are numerous occasions in business where persuasion is needed, the most obvious of which is in the marketing and sales process. Persuasive writing is therefore an essential skill for marketers and salespeople. But it can be a tricky thing to get right. And getting it wrong can be damaging to your brand.
Luckily, persuasive writing is something that can be learned – in fact, it’s something we offer training in. Here’s a starting point with techniques, tips and real life examples that showcase how it can be done to great effect.
We need to start by making one point really clear. Persuasion is not the same as manipulation or coercion. This isn’t about tricking people into believing something that isn’t true or forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.
In marketing and sales, your goal should always be to help your customer or client make the best decision for them. This article assumes that you’re a good fit for your audience – you just need to get their attention and help them to understand why so they can, ultimately, act on it.
If we’re all agreed on that, it’s time to look at how.
Whether you’re trying to persuade a child to tidy up their room or a procurement lead to add you to a preferred supplier list, persuasion is all about psychology. Which is why it’s essential to start by learning about the people you’re trying to persuade.
What motivates them? What are they struggling with? What are their goals? What are their constraints? If you don’t get these basics right, you can craft the most articulate argument in the world and it’s going to fall on deaf ears.
Once you know what your audience is struggling with or aiming for, you can begin to shape your persuasive argument to address this.
For example, let’s say you have a new HR tech product that makes the staff review process simpler and more efficient. Rather than jumping straight on the various impressive features your product has, paint a picture for your end user.
Help them to imagine what it would be like to spend less time doing face to face reviews. Or to have a happier and more effective team. Ultimately, you want to be able to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”
Understanding what a better version of the future looks like for your customer or client is a really useful starting point. Now you have to communicate that message to your audience using words that will engage them, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to use emotion.
In his book, Persuasive Copywriting, Andy Maslen talks about three main categories of emotion we can use to persuade people.
Have a look at any given website, advert, flyer or other piece of copy designed to persuade, and you should be able to work out what emotion the copywriter was trying to illicit when they wrote the copy.
Here are a few examples of using emotion as a persuasive technique in website copy we’ve written for our clients:
This copy we wrote for Petals at Bibendum is designed to appeal to high end customers who have the budget and desire to spend several hundred pounds on flowers without thinking too much about it. The words create a sense that there is an exclusive club and subtly asks whether they belong to that club. In doing so, it appeals to the sense of pride that this audience group would no doubt have about their good taste.
Developing an app might feel like a stressful, complicated process. The team at AppLaunch wanted to reassure their clients that it didn’t have to be that way. This section of copy encapsulates the simplicity of the process and is designed to create a feeling of calm in the reader, causing them to breathe a sigh of relief.
Curiosity has got a bad reputation thanks to clickbait headlines that try to hack it in a manipulative way. But appealing to curiosity can be both authentic and very effective, as shown on this sales page we wrote for Stylemongers of Bristol.
Rather than jumping straight into an explanation of what the box contains and why it’s so valuable, the words we use stimulate the reader to use their imagination. Only then do we go into what’s actually in the kit.
If we’d just described the Stylemongers of Bristol kit as a ‘designer in a box’ without adding more detail, the reader would have been left thinking, “Yes, but what actually is it?”
People make decisions with hearts and minds, so once you’ve used emotion to get their attention, make sure you offer something more substantial too.
And be sure you can prove it. Showing is a far more effective way of persuading someone than telling.
So don’t tell me you’re ‘passionate’ about using local produce at your restaurant – show me what percentage of your ingredients are sourced within a 20 mile radius. Don’t tell me your team building exercises improves staff morale – show me a customer testimonial to prove it or a reputable study that backs your techniques.
We’ve already talked about how emotion is a powerful persuasive technique. Here are a few others to try.
Human beings have always loved stories and they can be used in a number of ways in a persuasive context. For example, case studies are a great way of using client success stories to help persuade your audience by providing social proof. And charities often use stories to persuade people to donate by showcasing real life people who have benefitted from their work.
Your brand story might also be important. You’d think that people would choose a soft drink based on how it tastes, for example. But we know that for Lovely Drinks, their homemade, Somerset roots are integral to their brand and why people choose them, which is why we highlighted this in their website copy.
There’s something about trios that just work, so long as you don’t overuse them. Whether it’s three words or three sentences, now you know that this is a persuasive writing technique, you’ll start noticing it everywhere. It’s popular in speech writing in particular. And remember ‘Hands, Face, Space’?
We used the power of three on the PlanIt Future website below to build emotion. The first sentence lays out a challenge creating tension. The second builds on it, escalating the tension. Then the third comes in and provides a solution, creating a sense of relief.
Using personalised pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘you’ establishes a more personalised relationship with your audience. And relationship is essential for persuasion, as we’ll come onto in a moment.
We played on this persuasive technique when we wrote the Engineered Arts website. The line “Humans, check this out” as well as the personalised pronouns further enhanced the sense of conversation between brand and reader.
Imagine how different this paragraph would have felt if we’d written, “Engineered Arts has found a way to create robots that mimic people.”
An imperative sentence doesn’t have a subject. Instead it begins with a verb. Imperative sentences are also known as command sentences, and they are ideal for persuading people to act. This is why calls to action (CTAs) are usually imperative sentences.
Here’s a good example from Garrett Creative where we used a double CTA, both using imperative sentences, to create options for visitors at different stages of their customer journey.
Last but not least, persuasion isn’t just about what words you use. It’s also about when you use them. Because if you go in too hard, too early, you’re going to come across like a pushy car salesman.
The most effective persuasion comes from a foundation of relationship. We’re not enormous fans of Gary V’s ‘Jab, jab, jab, right hook’ analogy as we’d rather not paint marketing and sales as a violent sport! But the principle is sound. It’s all about adding value for your audience and earning your right to ask for what you want.
You also need to know where your customer is on their journey. If they’re only just figuring out that they have a problem, don’t jump straight in and try to shove your solution down their throat.
Help them explore the problem and understand it fully, perhaps with a blog post, video or webinar. Showcase the broad types of solution available and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Maybe now they’re ready to give you their email in return for a useful download.
The more complex, important or expensive a buy decision is, the longer it’s likely to take. Which means you might need to adjust your perception of persuasion as a ‘get them over the line’ approach.
Persuasive writing can have an instant effect, of course – we’ve all bought something on a whim because we were hooked by a clever advert from a brand we’ve never heard of. The important thing is to understand where that’s possible and plan for the times when it isn’t.
If you know your audience and what they’re looking for, if you speak to both their heart and their head, and if you let them come to you in their time, you’ll have far more success than if you resort to being pushy.
Whatever copywriting project you’re embarking on – whether it’s website copy, a chunky white paper or a series of expert led blog posts – there will come a point when you need give your copywriter feedback.
You might think that in a perfect world you’d be happy with each and every word they presents in their first draft, but the reality is that the chances of this are practically zero – especially if you’re at the beginning of your working relationship. It may be the copy needs just a few tweaks that are easy enough to make, or there might be broader issues around messaging, structure or tone that you’re not 100% happy with.
So how do you give feedback in a way that will ensure that your second draft copy is that much closer to what you’re looking for? Here’s what we’ve learned over the years, from a writer’s perspective.
This is a really important point to start with. A lot of people find giving feedback uncomfortable, as it feels like they’re being critical and that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. But as copywriters we expect to get guidance from our clients in terms of what’s working for them and what isn’t.
After all, writing is as much an art as a science. There’s an element of subjectivity, and what works for one person won’t always work for another. Our perceptions of what constitutes “formal” or “humorous” or “disruptive” might be different from yours.
So try to take the emotion out of it and simply be as clear as possible about what you do and don’t like so that the next draft is better. That said, positive framing is always nicer to receive than blunt negativity! Try “need something less technical here” instead of “this is way too complicated”.
“From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.”
Having said that you should be clear about what you do and don’t like, the main thing to consider is how well the copy meets the brief. After all, you’re not the target reader and part of why you’ve hired a copywriter or copywriting agency is to bring an outside perspective.
For example, you may have asked for a technically complex piece that still needs to be accessible to a non-technical audience. In which case, don’t be surprised if the copy is simplified and not as nuanced as you – the expert – understand it to be.
Of course, creating a good, detailed brief is part of what your copywriter or agency should be able to help you with. Ideally, work on it collaboratively and sign it off before any writing work starts so everyone is on the same page as to what good should look like.
From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.
Imagine, for example, you’re the marketing manager and your company’s subject matter expert isn’t available to come to the briefing and input their insights. Naturally your copywriter is going to have a hard time creating a unique piece of thought leadership content.
The same is true if you haven’t yet clarified your thoughts about the value proposition of your product or service. Your copywriter is going to struggle to articulate them in your first draft copy without first doing some messaging work with you.
There are three overarching elements that you can consider as you put together your feedback notes or prepare for a feedback session. By understanding the differences, you can be that bit more accurate about which elements you need your copywriter to work on.
First, messaging. If you had to summarise the point of your blog post in a few words, what would it be? What’s the key takeaway you want people to get from your website copy? If these aren’t correct, then nothing else will be so it’s important to get them right – ideally before the writing even starts.
Structure is about how the key elements of your copy are laid out. This might be the order that you tackle your main points in a blog post, the way you segment your services on your website home page, or simply how copy-heavy different elements of your white paper are.
Finally, tone is about the actual words used and the impression they give about the brand’s personality, levels of formality and so on. It’s whether you’re asking people to ‘check out our sizzling deals’ or ‘take a look at our exclusive offers’, for example.
There are two general types of feedback. Broad feedback might be your overarching thought about, for example, the angle of your blog post not quite being right. Perhaps the copywriter has taken one point that you made in the briefing and built too heavily on it, skewing the overall feel of the piece.
In this case, a conversation might be the easiest way to give your amends. It’ll mean they can ask more probing questions to get to the bottom of why the first draft isn’t quite working.
But sometimes broad feedback isn’t helpful. If you think the tone is “too formal”, for example, it’s helpful to highlight words and phrases in the copy that demonstrate this, making notes in the document. As we’ve said, your understanding of what formal looks like might be different to your copywriter’s.
When it comes to adding feedback into a first draft copy document, there are two different options, which we’d suggest using together. This applies for any text based document, whether you’re using Google Docs (as we do) or Word or something else.
The first is the comments function. This allows you to highlight a sentence or paragraph and say something like “too wordy” or “can we give an example here?” without having to do any rewriting. Remember that you’re paying your copywriter for a reason, so don’t do more work than you have to.
If you do want to tweak any wording yourself, use the ‘tracked changes’ function – in Google Docs this would be editing in ‘suggestion mode’. This gives your copywriter a chance to check the changes for errors and will also help them learn about your preferred style. This is particularly important if you’re building an ongoing relationship.
And if you are entering into a longer term relationship with a copywriter or copywriting agency, then highlighting what you like – as well as what you don’t – is very useful too.
Most copywriters and copywriting agencies will build in a couple of amends stages into each project as standard, depending on the size, complexity and importance of a project. By being as clear and as detailed as you can in the first round of amends, you should find that by the second round you’re down to much more minor tweaks.
If your copy is being designed in some way – for example, if you’ve commissioned a website or brochure – you might want to ask your copywriter to give the content a final once over at the design proof stage. This allows them to catch any errors that might have crept in and potentially help you adjust the length of the copy to fit the design, if that’s needed.
Once you’re completely satisfied with your copy, it’s time to sign it off officially. After this point, if you need any further changes, this will generally be seen as an additional job.
If you’re happy with how your project has gone, don’t forget to tell your copywriter or agency. It’s always nice to get positive feedback! But more importantly, they should be making notes about all the feedback they’ve received so that next time you need some support, they’ll be ready to go. The first draft of your future projects should need far less in the way of amends than the original copy did.
If you say you’re good at what you do, people might be a little sceptical. If someone who has used your business says you’re good at what you do (i.e. gives you a testimonial), that’s more convincing. And if you set that endorsement within a wider context that lays out what exactly was achieved (i.e. a case study), you’re onto a real winner.
We all know that storytelling is a powerful way to engage people. The human race has been using stories – to entertain, to teach, to persuade – since the dawn of time. Good stories use the ‘show, don’t tell’ method of communication to bypass our conscious mind and tap into something much more primitive.
That’s why case studies are so effective. Or rather, why they can be so effective – if they’re done well. This is a guide for business owners and marketers who want to create genuinely effective case studies that get results.
Naturally when it comes to choosing the right subject for a case study, you want an example where you can show that you delivered excellent results. You’ll also need to make sure that the customer or client in question is happy to put their name to it and, ideally, get actively involved (more on that later).
Beyond this, the main thing to think about is whether the example you’re considering is a good reflection of your ideal customer, client or project. The point of a case study is to attract more of the same sort of work, so if a job wasn’t all that profitable, for example, then don’t feature it, even if the results were good.
The best case studies are the ones that highlight a particular benefit you want to promote, which are in a sector you’re planning to pursue, or have some other feature that makes them a beacon for the kinds of work that you most want to do.
The most important element of a case study is the transformation. You want to start out by showing the reader the situation your customer or client was in when they first engaged with your business.
Ideally, this will be a problem that they recognise themselves. Something that makes them think, “Yes, this is exactly what I’m struggling with!” Something that will compel them to keep reading because they want to know what the solution is.
Then, you want to finish with the positive difference that working with you or using your product had on their lives. That contrast – the transformation – is the foundation that every case study should be built on.
Just be sure that you’re not limiting your transformation to the practicalities. We need to go beyond features here, and focus on benefits.
For example, if you designed a new piece of software that achieves a key admin task in half the time of the manual process, that’s great. But make sure that you also talk about how customer experience has improved thanks to the faster service, and employees are happier now that they’re not spending half their day doing tedious admin tasks.
“ You can create the most powerful and well written case study in the world but if it isn’t easy to read, most people are going to give up after a couple of lines.”
Now that you’ve got the foundations in place, you want to start building up layers of evidence that support your case study.
Any empirical facts that you can include will add weight to your assertions. In the example above, don’t just talk about customer experience improving – tell the reader that the client’s average Trustpilot score has increased from 4.2 to 4.8. Or that their staff turnover is down 15% on the previous year.
Direct quotes are another useful way to back up your assertions, especially if your case study doesn’t naturally lend itself to tangible numbers.
In one of our case studies, our client Vaq Hussain, marketing manager at Actual Experience, said, “I would say Rin Hamburgh & Co’s strengths are not just in their writing. Rin and her team are excellent listeners. Finding the important details in what we were telling them, understanding the relevance to our audience and converting it to a usable content piece is what impressed me the most.”
If we say we’re good listeners, there’s no reason for you to believe us. If someone else says it, it’s far more convincing.
You can also build on your case study by using a range of formats. If your customer or client is willing to give you quotes to include, why not ask them to record a video so you have a visual testimonial to share?
Or if you have lots of great facts and figures, turn them into infographics. These are easy to share, quick to process and perfect for a time-poor audience that wants to engage quickly with your content.
If you want to use first person quotes for your case study, you’ll need to think about how to get the information you want from them. Simply asking them to write a few lines or paragraphs about their experience with you is going to get mixed results at best.
At the very least, make sure to email over a list of questions that encourages them to explore the aspects you want to focus on. For example, ask them to describe the problem that they were facing when they came to you, so you have the base for your transformation story.
If you particularly want to highlight an aspect of your product or service, make sure one of the questions leads to that. Perhaps you know that your machinery operates much more quietly than most. Be sure to ask, “How has using X impacted on noise levels at your site?”
The best scenario, however, is to actually ask your questions live. That way you can use follow up questions to explore interesting lines that emerge as you talk. Often the best and most useful nuggets of information come from pursuing what was originally a throwaway comment.
If it doesn’t feel natural to conduct an interview like this in-house – and it’s true that it can be a bit awkward to ask people to say nice things about you to your face – you can use a freelance marketer or agency such as RH&Co to do it for you.
You can create the most powerful and well written case study in the world but if it isn’t easy to read, most people are going to give up after a couple of lines. Structuring an engaging case study is very much like structuring an engaging blog post.
Use subhead to stop the ‘scary wall of text’ effect, which is a sure fire way to put off a busy reader. Subheads can be functional, clearly showcasing what each section contains e.g. The Challenge, The Solution, The Result. Or they can be more conceptual, drawing out elements of the story.
Another way to break up solid text is by using images. Some case studies will naturally lend themselves to imagery – for example, if you run an event business, you can use photographs taken at the event you’re highlighting. But more generic brand images can also work to create interest on the page – see our case studies as an example.
If your case study contains data, you can represent this visually. It doesn’t have to be a full infographic; a graph or pie chart can be enough to lift a page that would otherwise look dull or impenetrable.
This refers to a single line or short paragraph of text that is highlighted in a different font size and / or colour to help it stand out from the rest of the copy. Like graphics, these provide ‘entry points’ into the page, stopping your reader from scrolling and hooking their interest so that they read more.
Of course, in order for your readers to engage with your case studies, they first need to know that they exist. That’s why it’s important that you make them as easy to find as possible.
A byproduct of formatting your case study well with images and subheads is that you will add great SEO value. For images, make sure you’ve included the right keywords in both the image files and the alt text. Other areas to focus on include meta descriptions and the case study URL itself.
If you have a decent selection of case studies, you should have a dedicated spot on your website where your visitors can go and look through them. This should be easy to find via the menu on your website.
But don’t stop there. Use a panel on your homepage to showcase highlights and include a strong call to action to lead people through to the case study page. You can include relevant highlights on product, services and industry / sector pages too.
As with blog posts, there are various ways to share your case studies. Don’t just push them out once and then forget about it. Draw out different elements of the story, share testimonial quotes and hard facts, ask questions to find out what struggles your audience is facing. And remember to tag the company and individual(s) involved so that you increase your reach.
If you’ve got a newsletter, you can use it as a platform to share new case studies as you publish them. But there are more powerful ways to use case studies in emails too.
If you use lead magnets, for example, make sure to use case studies within your nurture sequences. You can also use them within direct sales emails as a way to help overcome objections and move leads through the buying journey.
To be effective, a case study needs to do five things.
If you can get your case study firing on all five cylinders, it can be an incredibly powerful tool in your marketing and sales toolkit. For support in creating case studies for your business, get in touch with us on email@example.com or call 0117 990 2690.
The simple answer is yes, no and sort of. Presuming the question is “Can I learn to write for my business?” not “Can I become the next Virginia Woolf?” then we can at least get some of the way there.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King outlines the basics of a writer’s toolbox. This involves understanding grammar (even if you choose to ignore it), avoiding the passive voice and eliminating unnecessary adverbs.
These are fairly easy fixes. Tweaks that can be applied to your existing writing to make it more readable. They are the kind of principles that can be learned – that you can even teach yourself.
King says you cannot teach a good writer to be a great one. And you cannot teach a bad writer to be a good one. But you can teach a competent writer to be a better one. Read any of our ‘how to’ blogs and you will find ways to take your writing up a notch.
“The gift of a good editor is what hones a writer from a free-spirited creative into a focused force.”
There are ways to improve your writing. But the amount of time you can invest in writing is an important factor. Think of it like learning the piano. With a little practice you can learn to play Coldplay’s Clocks. But it takes a lot longer to learn how to play Shostakovich. Like, years.
If you have the time to invest, spend it reading and writing. And reading. And writing some more. Much about good writing is learning to recognise the rhythm in a paragraph, the subtleties in sentence structure. This kind of pattern recognition is the product of a seasoned professional. It takes work, but it can be done.
If you’re talking about copywriting, you also need to add in a bunch of stuff that fits around the writing. Like consumer psychology. Brand personality. Customer journeys. General marketing strategy. Copywriting, as we’ve said before, is not just any old writing.
Almost as important as the time you invest is the feedback you receive. The gift of a good editor is what hones a writer from a free-spirited creative into a focused force. Every writer has their blind spots and every new writer has many.
A good mentor stops you from second-guessing your good writing and they can tell you straight when a paragraph is a load of waffle. They can help you grow in confidence and inspire you to take your writing beyond the perimeters of your own thinking.
If you don’t have an obvious mentor to hand, bounce ideas off your friends and colleagues. What does that word make you feel? Does this sentence make sense or is it confusing? Would you be interested enough to read to the end of that paragraph if I didn’t tell you to?
Other people’s feedback can begin to build an awareness in you of what your writing is actually communicating.
No one can be taught to enjoy writing. If you hate it, if it bores you, you’d be better investing your time elsewhere. In this case, delegation could be your new best friend. Check for writing talent hiding in your staff team or hire a copywriter to make sure your writing is as good as it can be (yes, that was a subtle sales pitch!).
Finally, for some people writing might be something they really want to do, but each and every time they sit at the keyboard their head fills with fuzz. This is a greater creative block than the kind you solve with a few new writing principles.
If that describes you, don’t give up on a desire to write – but writing for your business probably isn’t the kind of pressure you need right now. Take a step back and take some creative risks in a less hazardous arena. Have a go at poetry, a short story, a comic sketch – there’s more than one kind of writer. Mix it up and maybe that creative fuzz will fade and something new will take its place.
The words we use make a big difference to how people perceive us – and it’s no different for brands. In today’s blog post, RH&Co founder Rin picks through the vocabulary choices she has deliberately made in order to make a subtle statement about our values as a business. What impression do the words you use make about your brand?
You know how sometimes you meet someone and you just get a feeling about them that you don’t like? You might not quite be able to put your finger on what it is, but you just sense that they’re a bit arrogant, or condescending, or untrustworthy.
Chances are that if you were to analyse the language they used in their conversation with you, you’d be able to spot a few words that helped you make this impression.
The words we use are incredibly powerful in communicating our personalities and our values. Naturally, as a writer, I find this fascinating. But is it something that you as a business owner or marketer should care about? I would say yes.
Brands are built on a million small things. Just look at how much thinking goes into the colours in a logo, for example. Businesses can spend thousands working out whether a particular shade of green is likely to be seen as trustworthy or whether a sample group of clients feels a certain shade of red feels aggressive rather than bold.
Language is similarly important. Your brand voice says a lot about who you are as a business. Are the words you use passionate or playful? Sassy or serious? Are you informative or irreverent?
Today’s consumers care about company values in a way they haven’t in the past and they’re more likely to spend their money with businesses that have similar values to their own. So it’s vital that you are clear about who you are as a business and what you stand for. And that you communicate this not only in what you say but how you say it.
Here are some of the language choices we’ve made at RH&Co and the reasons why we’ve made them.
There’s something about the word staff that makes me think about Downton Abbey. If I were to talk about “my staff”, I feel like it would immediately place them below me. It would suggest a hierarchy that simply doesn’t exist at RH&Co.
Instead, I always talk about the team, because that’s how I see us all. Yes, technically they’re employees and I’m the “boss” (another word I can’t abide!) but that’s just not how we work. We operate as a cohesive whole. No one tells anyone what to do. We respect each other’s positions, skills and experience.
In the same way, I always talk about the people who work with me rather than for me. The way I see it, we’re all working for the business, because the business is all of us. The better the business does, the better we all do, and vice versa. Again, it’s a team effort.
At RH&Co, we try to speak in a positive way. That doesn’t mean we don’t say things that might inherently have a negative aspect. It’s just that we try to use language and phrasing that presents it in the most positive way possible.
For example, when talking about our website health check, we might tell prospective clients that this service will help them identify what’s working and what’s not. But we don’t want the focus to be on what’s not working, which is negative.
Instead, we talk about where there might be room to get their copy working even harder for their business. In this way, we keep the focus on the positive end results of changing that copy which isn’t working.
What does this have to do with values? Well, as a business we want people to feel encouraged rather than disappointed. Yes, there’s a lot of really terrible website copy in the world. Yes, there are many businesses that aren’t blogging strategically. But being critical isn’t in our DNA. Instead, we’re enthusiastic about the possibilities for improvement and the benefits this can bring to our clients.
There’s no getting away from the fact that we live in a world dominated by white, middle class men. In order for this to change, we need to make changes ourselves, both big and small. Language may not seem like a priority, but it can be powerful for shaping hearts and minds.
For example, as a society, we tend to default to a male pronoun. I notice this a lot when I’m talking to my children. They will often refer to, say, a toy or a creepy crawly in the garden as “he”. As a result, I make a concerted effort to use “she” as often as I can, as in “Oh look, a caterpillar – isn’t she colourful?”
In a work context, we recently had a client who adjusted a phrase we’d written, switching the original “he or she” for “she or he”. Again, an incredibly subtle difference but so easy to change and, along with millions of other small changes, important in the long run.
Of course, this particular conversation will need to continue as more people choose not to identify with an assigned gender at all, preferring the pronoun “they”.
In the meantime, other ways we try to address the gender balance in our language include making sure never to refer to women as girls, and avoiding adding a gender reference where it simply isn’t needed. For example, there’s no need to talk about a female CEO, a female surgeon or a female engineer when CEO, surgeon and engineer will do just fine.
One or two words or phrases taken in isolation might not seem like much. But they make a difference. That’s why our strapline reads: you don’t need many words, just the right ones. If you want to talk to a professional about your business’s brand voice and core messaging, get in touch to find out how we can help.