You’re invited: Microsoft small business mini-summit

Going for Growth - Microsoft Business Mini-Summit -...

Articulate is running an SMB mini-summit for our client Microsoft in Victoria, London on Wednesday 24 September.

If you run a growing business and you’d like to come along, we’d love to see you!

Register free via Eventbrite.

About the event

We will look at:

  • Challenges faced by growing businesses and ideas and insights about how to overcome them
  • Expert small business advice and tips from Emma Jones, small business expert and founder of Enterprise Nation
  • Technology insight from Microsoft experts
  • Hands-on demonstrations with the latest Microsoft technology

We want to get to know you and your business so we can expand the role Microsoft can play in supporting UK small businesses.

We’re not selling anything – we want to learn about what makes entrepreneurs tick and capture your expertise and share it with our colleagues at Microsoft and with other small business owners.

Agenda

09.00-09.15         Arrive, breakfast, chat

09.15-10.30         Roundtable discussion about business growth

10.30-11.00         Coffee break and hands-on demos of the latest Microsoft technology

11.00-12.00         Presentation and discussion with Emma Jones from Enterprise Nation

12.00-12.30         Lunch

Sharing

During the day we’ll be doing one-to-one interviews and capturing some discussions and insights on video to share with other Microsoft customers and other entrepreneurs.

If we publish any of your stories, insights or interview videos, we’ll give you full credit and links to your business, so it’ll be good for PR and SEO.

Register free via Eventbrite.

 

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6 ways to use social proof in marketing campaigns

Social proof in marketing: Long queue outside apple store

With so much information on the internet, it can be difficult for customers to know who to trust. This is where social proof comes in.

Social proof is the idea that people are influenced by what others do, viewing it as ‘correct behaviour’.

Social proof isn’t a new concept, but thanks to the rise in social media it has become more versatile and easier to use and monitor. Taking advantage of social proof is not only becoming easier, but common practice.

With 81 percent of consumers using the internet to research purchases before making them, it’s easy to see why ‘social proof is the new marketing,’ according to Aileen Lee.

We’ve summarised six ways you can easily use social proof in marketing to widen your reach and increase your impact.

Social media interaction

Consumers are increasingly anxious about missing the next big thing, since there are so many things out there.

With so much choice, we often rely on others for a nudge in the right direction. Shares, likes and retweets all suggest that something has been tried, tested and enjoyed. As social proof is all about following the herd, the more interaction you get, the more you’ll gain.

As one study of German banks has shown, customers that come from customer referrals have a 16 percent higher lifetime value than those acquired in other ways, meaning social media sharing can be rewarding.

You can’t force people to interact, but by creating and sharing genuinely useful and remarkable content, tailored for your customers, they can’t help but get involved.

Social proof in marketing: Facebook like on beer bottle

Case studies

Everyone knows that a happy customer is a marketing tool in itself, but very often this idea is confined to the word-of-mouth business they could generate.

With case studies you can take that word-of-mouth and give it a further reach than your customer’s network, which in 2010 was estimated to be 1,375 people.

A case study or two can give your potential customers a genuine glowing review to base decisions on – taking one happy customer’s review and magnifying the effect, directing it towards your pool of potential customers.

User-generated content

User-generated content takes the benefits of a case study even further as readers can hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

A great example of this is ASOS’ ‘as seen on mecampaign. ASOS asked customers to Instagram pictures of themselves in their purchases using #AsSeenOnMe. Pictures then go into a gallery on the ASOS website as an incentive.

Incentives and competitions are common tactics to drive participation, but taking advantage of user-generated content is really about finding a platform that suits both your product and customers, which encourages them to create exciting content they are proud to share.

Instagram is a popular format for user-generated content but, Youtube, Vine, Twitter and Facebook are all excellent platforms for your customers to show you some love.

Reviews

Consumer reviews are now the second most trusted form of advertising and in 2012 52 percent of consumers were influenced by online reviews.

In real terms this means that a one star increase on a Yelp review corresponds to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue.

Yelp is great for attracting business and is free to signup for, but isn’t the only way to use reviews.

Setting up a Google+ business page will sync your Google+ customer reviews with Google maps and search, while on Facebook you can add a review tab to your page. You can also incorporate reviews into your website and blog.

Having the channels available to leave reviews will encourage customers to give them.

Social proof in marketing: Excellent tick rating

User statistics

Just as bloggers boast their number of subscribers and fast-food restaurants their number of customers served, you too can use numbers to your advantage.

When using statistics it’s worth considering the power of positivity. Psychologists Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin studied the impact of negative language in social proof statistics, using signs in the Arizona Petrified Forest, discouraging theft.

By highlighting that ‘many past visitors have removed the petrified wood’ theft tripled.

Leave out the negative. If you don’t have the numbers, don’t use them and focus on how many people are doing, liking, or benefiting from something: not how many aren’t.

Mentions

Expert and celebrity endorsement is rife in modern advertising and may appear wildly unattainable for smaller business, but is more accessible than you think.

With the prevalence of social media and so many bloggers and social media stars, connecting to someone with a wide net of influence relevant to your ideal customers is much easier than it used to be. Media and blog mentions are great PR for your company and are something that you should track and encourage.

Social proof in marketing: Grumpy cat

Social proof is about people

Customers increasingly personify brands, meaning they apply human traits such as trustworthiness to them: trust is now central to consumer-brand engagement.

With so many online platforms, it’s easy to use the confidence that others have in your brand to develop a similar level of trust in new customers.

Marketing frequently relies on human instincts for success, so our herd mentality should be no different. After all, as Seth Godin says on social proof, ‘the first thing that happens after we encounter an earthquake is to wonder if anyone else felt it.’

(Hat tip to Waltarrr, Gareth Hacking, Jvleis and Ricky Brigante for the images)

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How we work: HubSpot and the battle for buyers’ attention

Hubspot: toy soldiers

Hannibal had elephants, the Trojans used a wooden horse and Queen Victoria had a Navy. Hannibal’s elephants weren’t so effective, but the Trojan strategy was a success and for years the sun never set on the British Empire. It goes to show that the way you equip yourself determines the success of your endeavours.

Marketers are fighting a different kind of battle online. But rather than world domination, marketers are fighting to create content that cuts through the noise and produces results.

Creating effective content is only half of it. The only way to tell if your content marketing efforts are successful is to equip yourself with a tool that can accurately measure the reach of and response to your content.

At Articulate, we decided it was time to suit up and so we equipped ourselves with the HubSpot Marketing Tool and it has changed the way we write, share and view our content marketing strategy.

(Full disclosure: we use HubSpot to market our own business and we are HubSpot resellers but this article is about our experience with the software and how it has influenced our thinking, not selling anything.)

Adopting a strategy: inbound methodology

It doesn’t matter if you win the battle if you’ve lost the war. You may be getting page views, but your content must engage site visitors and move them through the buyer process.

  • Attract visitors to your site.
  • Convert those visitors into leads.
  • Close leads.
  • Delight customers.

HubSpot and the inbound methodology allows us to knowledgeably strategize content at every stage of the buyer process.

Converting people to your cause: filling the funnel

Realistically, not every lead becomes a customer, but your task as a marketer is to fill the funnel. This is achieved through HubSpot’s conversion process.

  • Call-to action. On each page of a company’s blog, there should be an image that serves as a call-to-action containing an offer that holds value to your ideal buyer and encourage them to click through.
  • Landing page. Clicking on a call-to-action leads visitors to a landing page where they fill out a form with their contact information to receive the offer.
  • Thank you page. Once your visitors hit ‘submit,’ they receive the offer. But at the same time, their information is stored in the Hubspot tool. The visitor has successfully been converted to a lead.
  • Follow up email. The thank you page and follow up email that is generated is an opportunity to lead the contact further down the funnel.

Not all leads that come into the funnel are ready to buy at the beginning or may never become a customer. A content marketing strategy uses content to coax leads toward becoming a customer.

Content is your battle cry

We are writers who market, so writing quality content has always been important to us, but HubSpot has changed the way we think about our writing.

Buyer persona. The focus of each piece of content is no longer the product, service or the company, but instead the needs and interests of buyer personas, fictional characters we create to represent the ideal buyer.

Instead of one effort on one platform, one piece of content now generates a series of several specific activities. These activities and promotions are woven throughout your blog and across all the platforms your ideal buyer is engaged in and ties in with other pieces of content that address the same type of ideal buyer.

Content is no longer a one-off pitch. It’s one part of a long-term strategy to build trust between buyer and brand. HubSpot allows us to run and monitor these campaigns and track their effect.

The battle won: the bottom of the funnel

With HubSpot, content is a part of every part of the strategy. Once we’ve used content to attract leads, we still have to move qualified leads toward the bottom of the funnel and convert them.

Segmented marketing. You wouldn’t send a start-up entrepreneur a piece of content that tells them how to climb the corporate ladder if you could help it.

HubSpot allows you to divide your leads into lists and nurture them based on your buyer personas. This way, you put the right content in front of the right people to lead them closer to the end of the funnel.

Assigning value to your content. Knowing when a lead has reached the bottom of the funnel is defined by the value of the offer they have signed up for.

For example, a lead who has signed up for a whitepaper is not as invested in what your company has to offer as a lead who signs up for a webinar or a free consultation.

HubSpot as a new kind of ally in sales

Understanding the value of content helps us identify when leads are ready for the hand-off. But the beauty of the inbound methodology is that marketing still has a role.

Marketing is no longer a linear process. Once sales has closed the deal, that customer is back in the hands of marketing.

It’s estimated to be six to seven times more expensive to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one and it’s the job of marketing to continue to delight those customers.

The true purpose of social media is to build a voice for your brand that delights customers into continuing to do business with you and makes them willing advocates of your company.

Evidence of victory

Before HubSpot, there was disconnect. We could see which blog articles were popular or which Facebook posts received the most likes, but we could not tell how many leads were generated or sales made as a result of that effort.

Now, HubSpot tracks and stores that information for us so we can head into battle equipped with the tool that will help us win the war for people’s attention.

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Startup marketing boss battle: campaign vs. quick win

Rock 'em Sock 'em: Startup marketing battle: campaign vs. quick win

You know you need to market your startup online, but the reality is that everyone in your business is already filling multiple roles and short on time. How do you squeeze in effective marketing?

Why the quick win wins in startup marketing

The quick win is a singular effort with the goal of increasing awareness of your startup while a campaign is a consistent series of activities with an underlying focus that takes planning.

The quick win allows you to feel like you’ve checked marketing off your list with a one-off blog post, tweet, ad or promotion without losing any time. And you feel you can measure the short burst of business that comes as a result. So it’s easy to feel like it’s the right fit for your startup.

But what if the quick win isn’t the best pick for your marketing strategy? Is it worth the time it takes to put together a campaign focused on the buyer? Or do you stick with the quick win and move on to other things?

Why the quick win isn’t enough

The problem with the quick win is that you’re handing out crumbs, just bits of your company, and that won’t satisfy customers who are looking to buy from a company they can trust.

Trust is built through long term marketing strategies that nurtures leads by showcasing the personality of your brand.

Quick wins fail in this regard because your marketing efforts lack consistency. Without an underlying strategy, the quick wins won’t tell your story.

Campaigns tell the whole story

There is marketing power in storytelling, in building loyalty as a knowledgeable and trustworthy source and in sustained, targeted efforts to delight customers. Customers find satisfaction in knowing who they are buying from and what that brand stands for.

Campaigns allow you to give voice to your brand and make that personality consistently available to your buyers.

When you do tell a story, you build a relationship with customers through your marketing. This relationship is essential to growing your business and growing your business is essential to the success of your start up.

Marketing strategy that works for startups

Even if you understand the benefit of the campaign, it’s easy to still opt for the quick win because startups must move quickly, waste little time and have little room for risk.

A lean marketing strategy gives you the agility of the quick win with the consistent growth of the long term campaign.

Lean strategy gets the inbound content marketing that is necessary for your startup done in a cost-effective and time-efficient way. It’s consistent, measurable and responsive to results.

A time and place for the quick win

But you can’t entirely discount the quick win. Lean marketing is about the long term strategy that builds trust between buyer and brand, but it is also about responsiveness.

During the 2013 Superbowl game, the Oreo cookie marketing team took advantage of the power outage with a fitting tweet, which was well-received by their audience and acknowledged as a solid play by marketers.

When you market your product or service, you do have to keep your eyes open for those circumstances your company can capitalise on for the quick win. But a successful marketing strategy recognises that the quick win lends itself to the bigger picture of your campaign.

Transition from quick wins to campaigns

If you’ve been going for the quick win in an effort to save time and resources in your startup marketing, it’s time to change those quick wins into campaigns.

Look at a campaign as a series of quick wins that work together to achieve your marketing goals. This will give consistency to your marketing efforts and win you the trust and loyalty of customers you need for your startup to succeed.

(Hat tip to Randy Heinitz for the photo)

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Ask not what marketing can do for you, ask what YOU can do for marketing: a product manager’s guide to marketing

everything is marketing

I’ve been running Articulate Marketing for nearly 15 years now and, in that time, I’ve met a lot of product managers and technical specialists who see marketing as a kind of voodoo.

In their mind it is a tool for communicating the features of their product to the ignorant masses or, worse, it is a wilful trivialisation and misrepresentation of their product.

Clue: it’s not about features

Product people love their products. They know all the details and they know exactly how their product compares with their competitors’, feature by feature.

But marketing is not voodoo. It is also NOT:

  • Shouting about product features
  • A glorified feature comparison table
  • About ‘speeds and feeds’
  • A monologue
  • About the company
  • Focused on competition

Product marketing for product managers

Good product managers work with marketing. The best product managers also do marketing. These tips explain how product managers can do something for marketing.

Spend time with customersThe better you understand what customers need, what they know and how they absorb product information, the better you will be at communicating with them. Back when I was making computer games, some of our teams made games just for hard-core gamers but our most successful games were made for kids. We had to think about how kids actually played games without making any assumptions. The same thing worked for ‘BeerCo’ in this HBR case study. Create user personasYou can help marketers by creating personas for your ideal users. Share your ideas about how people will use your product and what problems it solves in the form of user stories. The benefit of writing personas – fictionalised individual users – is that it forces you to see your product in the context of a customer’s life. Unlike you, they DON’T spend every waking moment thinking about your product.

 

 

 

 

Ask ‘so what’Every time you mention a product feature, ask yourself ‘so what?’ What does it mean for the customer? Always give an example or user story about the feature. This helps marketing people understand the benefits. For example, when you say ‘it’s a cloud-based app’ you can add ‘so customers can access it from any browser on any device so they can work anywhere.’ If you can’t come up with a compelling story for a feature, it’s just not important for users.

 

 

PrioritiseCustomers don’t have infinite attention for details (and nor do marketing people, sometimes). There isn’t an unlimited advertising budget to communicate your features either. So you have to prioritise. What are the most important? What differentiates your product? What’s the shortest, neatest way of explain why it’s good. If you prioritise well – edit well – then you remove the need for marketing people to do it badly. Explain USPsYou understand your product better than anyone else. You also understand how it compares against the competition. Instead of sharing this information in a literal way, use it to identify the top 3-5 unique selling points (USPs) for your product. These are the things that you do better, cheaper, faster or whatever. Make marketing people happy by doing this homework for them.

 

Engage marketing earlierMarketing is not a bolt-on, go-faster extra to do at the end of the product development. Get marketers involved in product development. That doesn’t mean the usual corporate meeting nonsense complete with fake sign-offs and meaningless Dilbert-style ‘input’. Actually find some real marketing people and build a relationship and engage with them over the whole product lifecycle. Who knows? They might have some useful ideas.
Start a blogSome of the best blogs are written by product people. In software, for example, check out Signal vs. Noise or Rands in Repose. They are powerful marketing assets because they are authentic expressions of creators and builders, not marketing people. In every market and industry, there will be expert bloggers who add lustre to their company’s brand with their market and product insight. Be one of them.

 

 

Make an unboxing videoGo to YouTube and search for ‘unboxing X’ where X is your favourite gadget. You’ll find dozens of videos by enthusiastic reviewers lovingly taking a product out of its box and reviewing it. You can make videos like this to share your product expertise. How-to videos that help people solve problems or get the most out of your product are also helpful. You don’t need high production values, just good information.

 

Evangelise early adoptersEarly adopters, in any market, are very influential customers. Unlike majority customers, they seek out detailed information and compare products against their competitors. This is where your product and market expertise is an asset. Go out and engage with them – share your enthusiasm! For a great guide to product evangelism from the grandfather of the discipline, read Guy Kawasaki’s The Macintosh Way. It’s a free download. Yes, he was Steve Jobs’s first Mac evangelist.

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How to have effective sales and marketing meetings

effective sales and marketing meetings: cartoon sketch of meeting

Sales and marketing need to have a close relationship if you want to increase the number of qualified leads and conversions. In fact, companies with ‘dynamic, adaptable sales and marketing processes’ had an average of 10 percent more of their sales people on quota.

Sales and marketing have a symbiotic relationship, which can be nurtured with integrated technologies and, of course, effective sales and marketing meetings.

You need to get these guys in the same room, regularly and get them talking about the same goals, in the same language. Here’s how.

Make them regular

There needs to be a regular time – weekly or monthly – where everyone sits down together. Not just the head of each department – everyone. To have effective sales and marketing meetings, they don’t have to be long or complex but they do have to be mandatory. And by making them a staple event, you don’t get arbitrary meetings called by one team just to vent at the other.

Yes, I know we’ve said that meetings are often a waste of time and money. But not always. When you have two parties that have for so long been at odds, the only way to nurture more cooperation is face-to-face time together.

When we short-change the face-to-face, we short-change the relationship. It’s easy to replace a vendor you’ve never met, but people think twice before firing a colleague or friend that they respect on a personal level. – Thom Singer.

Body language, tone, facial expressions: these all matter when you are trying to build and strengthen a traditionally rocky relationship.

Consider building in a few minutes contingency for friendly networking between sales and marketing as well, to encourage a more relaxed and open professional dialogue.

Set an agenda in advance

Who hasn’t been sat in a meeting and faced that dreaded line, ‘What do you think?’…

To get the most out of every meeting, each and every time, set an agenda in advance and send it out so everyone knows what to expect and what to prepare.

Some topics you will want to discuss on a recurring basis. Others might be seasonal or one-offs, like particular promotions or news events, which impact on your sales and marketing actives and messaging.

You could try using a joint project management tool, such as Basecamp to create discussions and set deadlines for an agenda collaboratively. HubSpot also suggests allocating discussion points to a specific person to lead and setting a time limit for each topic.

Rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock…data

Don’t worry. You don’t have to have an eidetic memory like Sheldon Cooper to come out trumps here. Data trumps everything.

The point is that rather than back and forth based on assumption and prejudice, effective sales and marketing meetings need to be based on real numbers. How many leads are marketing handing over? How many of those are converting? And at what value?

And it works both ways: how many leads are sales following up with? How many up or cross sell opportunities have they pursued with existing delighted customers?

Everyone’s ultimate goal is usually a target revenue. That target revenue can be easily calculated back into required monthly site visitors, conversions and values. HubSpot have even created a spreadsheet so all you have to do is put the numbers in and it does the maths.

By knowing who has what goals, when it comes to your meeting you already know who is performing and how. So instead of attributing blame round in a circle for one missed figure, you can concentrate on figuring out how to better meet everyone’s individual goals.

Don’t waste time with the obvious

If you are using a closed-loop analytics system, like HubSpot, then both teams should already know the basic state of play. You might want to discuss trends or anomalies, but you shouldn’t have to spend time in the meeting actually explaining the information itself.

Both sales and marketing should have access to any inbound marketing analytics and CRM systems, and if a topic is on the agenda everyone should go in and dig into the data themselves. Everyone will learn a lot more about the customer journey that way, rather than staring at a slide deck during the meeting.

Development is just as important as data

It’s not just converted customers, inbound leads and revenue per customer that should be discussed in effective sales and marketing meetings. Often people think it’s all about looping marketing in to the sales process, but it has to go both ways.

71 percent of sales reps receive materials from marketing – but of that group 42 percent say marketing ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ makes them part of the development process. - Brainshark State of the Sales Rep Report.

When you consider that marketing is meant to be creating content that resonates with buyers – who better to ask about what will work than those on the front line, talking to those buyers? After your customers, the sales team are the next best resource for helping marketing to create remarkable and relevant content that will draw in new ideal buyers.

Plus, sales teams will often be using that content in their sales process, or an adapted version of it. They need to be part of it’s creation, otherwise you’ll get sales altering the collateral, leaving customers with a fractured view of your brand.

Encourage free styling

Finally, remember, meetings are more effective when they address the important stuff. This means they shouldn’t be used to sort out minor problems or questions that could be resolved one-on-one. Everyone in sales and marketing should be comfortable approaching one another at any time to collaborate and learn.

The idea is that rather than every problem bubbling up to the VP of Sales and then having a conversation with the VP Marketing and then it flows downhill, solve the problems at their source by empowering everyone on the team and building relationships at all levels in the team. – Mark Volpe, CMO at HubSpot.

And if all else fails? Get down the pub. Everything flows better after a pint.

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Why your marketing projects run late and what to do about it

Pocket watch: why your marketing projects run late

When a deadline is looming, it can feel like you’re running a race with a rock in your shoe, a cramp in your leg and other runners cutting you off left and right.

If your marketing projects run late and you feel like you’re struggling instead of finishing strong, it’s time to  reassess your strategy.

This post will help you identify the specific obstacles that make your marketing projects run late and help you do something about them.

Getting off to a weak start

A bad brief will kill your marketing project before it begins. It causes writers to guess at the direction of the content, which leads to an inconsistent message. Extra time is then spent on rewrites and reorganising.

We will never be able to stress enough the importance of a good brief that clearly explains the message in each piece of content and the goal of the project from the start.

Your timing is off

The ability to recognise a realistic timeframe for any given project is a must. Otherwise, you may say yes to a project that doesn’t fit into your schedule or commit to an impossible deadline.

Try creating a list of how much time it takes your team for each task, or assessing projects by their complexity. This way, when you look at a project, you can accurately determine how much time and effort is needed to get the job done before you take it on.

Expecting instead of anticipating problems

You know very well that projects can run into problems. You expect them, but they eat up your time if you don’t anticipate and plan for them.

Of course, don’t plan for crashed servers on every project. Simply allot the time it takes to complete tasks and then schedule a realistic contingency for potential problems.

Good, old-fashioned procrastination

Once tasks are assigned to your own team, freelancers or to an agency, the pace may feel a bit out of your control and it’s hard to trust that it will come together on time.

Create incentives for timeliness and early deliveries. This can be in the form of first pick on new assignments, moving to the top of the list for the next project or even a bonus.

A less than thrilling chase

A lot of time will be wasted if you or your team has to chase down resources for the project or signatures for approval.

Include all resources needed from the start with the brief and make sure you have signatures scheduled as tasks with a specific time for content to be reviewed and approved.

Setting yourself up for failure

Agencies run into the same obstacles you do on marketing projects and a mismanaged agency will not be able to overcome causing you to miss your deadline.

Realise that you do have control over choosing who to work with and manage your roster accordingly. Pick the agencies that allow your team to meet goals and deadlines.

Standing at the bottom of a deadline avalanche

As the project manager, every task comes back to you in the end and a marketing project has a lot of moving parts. If everything hits you at the same time, your ability to turn it over quickly may be jeopardized.

Start thinking in timelines instead of deadlines. Have a manageable cycle of deadlines which will help you feel that you’ve handled each item and are handing over a quality project.

Get serious about deadlines

Everyone working on your marketing projects needs to be on the same page when it comes to deadlines, meaning they have to understand just how important they are to the overall success of your company.

But the way you manage deadlines plays the greatest role in whether or not your team meets them. Be proactive about overcoming the problems a marketing project faces and finish strong every time.

(Hat tip to Lauren Hammond for the photo)

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Why marketing professionals need professional writers

Professional writers: monkey at a typewriter

Professional copywriters help you cut through the noise. They write pithy, persuasive, remarkable content that resonates with your customers and drives up sales.

‘If you have budget to invest in your website, I would say, “hire someone to write for you.”’ – Rebecca Churt, HubSpot.

I couldn’t agree more. Good writing is at the heart of great brands and it is the engine of great campaigns.

What professional writers do

Copywriters aren’t just word monkeys. They don’t just ‘bang out copy’ or ‘wordsmith’ existing verbiage. No.

Professional writers get into the heads of your customers and write punchy, persuasive copy that links your products and services to the needs and ambitions of the people who are going to buy them.

And with the average web user leaving a web page after less than 20 seconds and reading only 20 percent of the content, first impressions count. You need to get across what you want to say, fast, and say it better than anyone else.

Copywriters help you to clarify what you’re trying to say and tell a story that connects with your customers.

And, what’s more, they’ll save you money while doing it. Companies using inbound content marketing generally experience a 61 percent lower cost per lead than those using traditional methods.

‘But, if it’s just writing,’ you say to yourself, ‘why can’t I do it myself?’

Here’s why.

It isn’t just writing

Anyone can write, but not everyone’s a writer.

It can be tempting to strike out on your own and write your own copy, but try to do everything yourself and you’ll burn out.

Effective copywriting is more than just stringing syntactically correct sentences together. It’s about distilling the features of your product or service into benefits that your customers care about and finding the right style and tone of voice to get the message across.

Delegating some of your content creation to expert copywriters takes the struggle of writing and rewriting copy out of your hands. You still get to decide the direction, objectives and feel of the content, but a writer can bring it to life, letting you focus on growing your business.

Tricks of the trade

Writing is a muscle that professional copywriters exercise everyday, so they know every trick in the book to polish up your copy and use it to increase website conversions, boost click-through rates, and, ultimately, drive up sales.

They know to keep it short and sweet, conversational and direct, and they avoid hype, hyperbole and spin like the plague.

They understand that remarkable writing that resonates with your buyer personas is the heart of the content that gets found.

Tapping into the main issues of your ideal customers and the keywords they use in search queries, professional writers naturally improve your content’s search engine optimisation. You won’t be left with keyword-riddled nonsense.

Good copywriters also keep up with industry trends, as well as those of their clients, to make sure they’ve got a good grasp of the market. They send the right message at the right time to the right people to make your business stand out from the crowd.

A fresh perspective

And last but certainly not least, writers come to your business with a fresh pair of eyes. We don’t know the lingo and the specs, but neither do your customers.

As much as you might love your product or service and revel in all the gory details, your customers – that cynical bunch – want to know how it benefits them. They want quality advice and insight, not bigger, better and stronger.

They don’t think, ‘I need a state-of-the-art, cost-effective CRM solution’, but rather, ‘I want all of my customer information in one place’.

Copywriters can look at your product or service from a customer’s perspective, pick out the best bits and communicate them effectively. They turn the jargon and techno-babble into compelling copy that converts leads and pushes up sales.

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10 provocative questions that will bend and blow your mind

provocative questions: thinking man with scales

Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and ponder the world around you. Sometimes thinking about the world around you blows your mind. We’ve come up with ten provocative questions to get those brain cells creaking. We’d love to hear your answers – leave a comment!

provocative questions: Lego sinking titanic1. If anything’s possible, what’s important?

We’re often told you can do anything you put your mind to… But if you really, actually, could how would you prioritise? It’s easy to get caught up in the possibilities, but by having clear goals, when you need to prioritise, it’ll be easy to know where to start.

 

provocative questions 2-w4802. What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail?

They say that it’s through mistakes and failure that we learn some of our most important lessons in life, but what if you could learn those lessons without the ego bruising? What would you do? Would it be as exciting without the risk of failure?

provocative questions 3-w4803. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

We place a lot of importance on time, but remove some of those markers of time and what are you left with? Does it matter how old you are? Is it how old you feel that matters? Is that just something people say to make themselves feel better?

For businesses, age is often an advantage, so why are we so averse to aging? A few wrinkles are a small price to pay for experience, surely?

provocative questions 4-w4804. Will people remember you in a million years? Do you still want to be famous?

It is said everyone gets their five minutes of fame, but what if you were one of the few who got a little longer? How long would you want that to last? If it didn’t last that long, would you still want it?

In the grand scheme of things fame should be the result, not the goal. Do something remarkable well and it’s hard not to leave a lasting impression.

provocative questions 5-w4805. Is it worse to fail at something or never attempt it in the first place?

People hate failure. But fear of failure may be worse than the actual experience, according to Seth Godin. How do you learn to fail better?

provocative questions 6-w4806. How do we know that pleasure is good and pain is bad?

While I’m sure scientifically there must be an answer out there for this one, it raises an important point and feeds off the age-old question: can you experience happiness without ever having known sadness, or the good without the bad?

Sometimes you need to embrace the bad if you want to experience the good, and a little analysis is needed to figure out what isn’t working; without knowing where you’re going wrong, how could you possibly fix it?

provocative questions 7-w4807. If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make them?

Nobody likes to be wrong, but is this aversion to ‘wrongness’ actually doing us a disservice and stopping our development? If so, why are we standing in the way of our own progress?

Mistakes are inevitable, but fear of them should never stop you from evolving. Instead you should be analysing risks, because in business, as with life, sometimes you should feel the fear, and do it anyway.

provocative questions 8-w4808. Which is worse: forgetting everything or never remembering anything new?

Any form of amnesia is undesirable, but if you had the choice would you say goodbye to everything you’ve ever known, or never learn anything new again? What makes this question so difficult is that memory is so important, and too much unbalance with it can be problematic; remember too much and you can stultify progress with too many rules; remember too little and you never learn the lessons from your past.

provocative questions 9-w4809. Do the right thing? Or do things right?

Ideally both right? But which is more important? Without doing it right, is there any real point in doing the right thing? Equally, doing something perfectly is amazing, but really don’t you want it to be for the right reasons?

In business no one likes to feel they’re working for the bad guy, but no one revels in half-hearted effort either. There’s a line to tread here if you want to motivate people, but which side should you be veering towards?

provocative questions 10-w48010. Why is there something rather than nothing?

Being in business is a constant battle against nothingness, but nonetheless, I guarantee you that if you spend too much time thinking about this one, your head WILL explode.

(Hat tip, in order of appearance, to: ericconstantineaujjackowskigrooverfwpauloaranast3f4n98327290@N02blackzack00mrzeon and hoyvinmayvin for the photos)

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How we work: Work traffic planning

traffic planning: ooda loop - observe, orient, decide, act

Plans are irrelevant but planning is essential. Instead of trying to micro-manage people’s schedules and getting lost in multi-page Gannt charts, at Articulate, we take an agile approach with pair-writing at its heart. We work in weekly sprints and we have stand-up meetings each Monday to allocate work and set priorities. We track progress by measuring, sharing and celebrating deliveries to clients.

There. That’s everything you need to know about how we do traffic planning.

Naming of parts

But let’s unpack that paragraph fully so that you know what it means, how we do it and how to work well with us.

Here are the parts of our planning philosophy and some of the terms we use:

  • Traffic. We use this word to mean the flow of work in the agency and how we manage it to get the right results to the right clients at the right time.
  • Agile methodology. My background is in software development (back at Intelligent Games) and we also created our own online application (Turbine) so we’re inspired by Agile software development. For example, we aim for customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful content. We refactor our own processes regularly to adapt to changing circumstances. We put our faith in self-organising teams, face to face conversation and trusted, motivated individuals.
  • Pair-writing. Writing is an essentially solitary activity but behind every great writer there’s a great editor and we try to capture that dynamic with pair writing, which in turn is inspired by the extreme programming movement. It means that there are two people assigned to each project and typically both are involved in interviews, research and then one writes while the other edits. Ego-less feedback produces better work.
  • Sprints. How do you eat a whale? One mouthful at a time. It’s the same for large projects – better to break them down into smaller, bite-size chunks where you can deliver something valuable in a matter of days. We plan a week in advance; which is about as much forward thinking as most writers can cope with. After all, it’s easy to imagine what you’ll write tomorrow and the day after. This kind of intuitive day to day planning is better than management by deadline.
  • Stand-up meetings. We borrowed this term from Pivotal Labs (one of our hero companies). While meetings are important for team communication we try to avoid having too many meetings or making them too long. We use these meetings to discuss the week ahead, availability, client issues, priorities and then the heart of the matter: what needs to be done and who is doing it. I tend to take the lead in allocating work based on previous experience with the subject matter or the client but also with an eye on employee development and future needs. Sometimes, it’s easier to let people pick the projects they prefer. It’s relatively informal.
  • Delivery tracking. As we complete our assignments and send them to clients, the delivery is tracked in a big spreadsheet (with pivot tables and analytics) and also shared and celebrated on our Yammer site. We have a delivery checklist that also triggers invoicing and other follow-up activity if appropriate. Shipping work that clients love is what matters and we celebrate it. If a client gives us good feedback or we see the work in the wild, we also Yammer that.
  • We are our own client. House projects, such as blog posts for Bad Language and Turbine, are included in our traffic planning alongside client work.

The tools we use

Basecamp is our primary tool for project management and collaboration. We have a ‘Traffic’ project where, each week, we capture the results of our stand up meeting in a discussion. This is available to everyone in the company. We create a new Basecamp project for each piece of work as it comes in and groups of tasks for the steps required to complete it. After the stand-up meeting, we’ll assign those tasks to different people as well. This is a snapshot of a typical writer’s assignments for a week:
Typical assignments in Basecamp

We use Skype for video conferencing – now you can have up to 10-way calls free. Being able to see people while talking has made these calls more collegiate and friendly.

To report progress, we use Yammer. It’s also free (although there’s a paid version with extra functionality). It’s like a private Facebook for your business and we really like it. Using IFTTT, we automatically publish blog posts to Yammer and I manually update it to share other client deliveries.

Reporting deliverables on Yammer

On a personal level, I’m currently experimenting with Taco for task management and Toggl for timesheets. (We don’t bill by the hour but I’m really interested to see how I actually spend my time.)

How to work with our traffic planning process

I’ve written before about how clients and agencies can build great relationships and what to do at the start of a new one, but understanding our working process and rhythm can really help clients get the best work out of us. Here are a few tips:

  • Timing. Give us your brief on or before Friday the previous week. That way we can plan it into the following week’s sprint in a very smooth, efficient way. It gets you to the top of the to-do list relative to last-minute pop-up tasks.
  • Briefing. Give us a good brief so we can quantify it and plan it efficiently. Download our briefing checklist.
  • Pop-up tasks. There’s always a little bit of scope for pop-up tasks – small, urgent projects that crop up without much notice. For example, we can defer some blog posts to make room. But there’s always a risk that we can’t do it and pop-up tasks tend to go to the bottom of the list of priorities in any case. So, if you can give us a few days to put it into next week’s sprint, that’s so much better.
  • Delivery timing. We’ll usually have a good idea of when your task will be done after the Monday meeting and I’m often uncomfortable about committing before then. Now you know why!
  • Learn to love Basecamp. It’s incredibly easy and its the way we prefer to track progress, discuss projects and share feedback. It will pay back the time you invest in it by giving you a clear view of exactly what’s going on with your project.

We’re aiming for a minimum-viable bureaucracy. This means having enough process to keep everything running smoothly but not so much that we can’t respond boldly to changing circumstances or new opportunities; even if it is just a ‘pop-up’ urgent task from a client on a Friday morning. Because it lets us do exactly this, our traffic planning process is at the heart of Articulate’s working practice.

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