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When did you last review your website content?

Is it still working? Or is just lurking? Might be an idea to find out.

[Image courtesy of GotCredit at Flickr Creative Commons]

Maybe it’s just an age thing, but I’ve spent most of the last two years throwing out stuff. Books, clothes, old cameras that were once cutting-edge, mobile phones, cables (lots and lots, which I thought would one day come in handy, but which I could never actually find when I needed them). 

The thing is, physical clutter is obvious. You have shelves that groan under the weight of novels you’ll never re-read. Wardrobes stuffed to the gills with clothes you’ll never wear again. And cupboards jam-packed with knick-knacks you should have chucked out long ago.

It’s obvious. You can see it. You have, at some point, to deal with it.

But virtual clutter is an entirely different affair.  Digital stuff can just stack up unchecked, and there’s an almost infinite capacity for storage. So you add and add and add, and very rarely subtract or even check what’s there.

And before you know it, you have a bloat situation. But it’s not just a question of stuff out there – it’s stuff that’s potentially hurting your business.

How? Well maybe it’s: 

  • Outdated, so it’s talking about products you no longer produce, services you no longer offer, or people who no longer work for you. 
  • Off-message. ‘Only fools don’t change their mind’ goes the old saying. Over time, what you say and how you position yourself will change. But if old stuff is lurking out there, people might just get the wrong signal.
  • Hurting your brand. That snarky blog post you wrote when you were all worked up? Or the side-swipe you took at the competition? Those times you may have strayed from the moral high ground may just need a quick review.

Search and rescue

You could start with a sitemap to get an overview of what you’ve got out there. If you don’t have one, try one of the free tools like the XML Sitemap Generator. Or if your site is created in WordPress, there are plenty of plugins. Personally, I use Google XML Sitemaps, which is easy, even if you’re a non-techie.

You could also just do a simple site search using Google. I do it all the time when I’m checking out clients’ sites (and their competitors’ ones) for content, cross-references and ideas.

So if I wanted to see what PDFs were on a site, I’d simply type site:www.sitename.com pdf into the Google search box. Or if I was looking for material on pricing models, I’d search for site:www.sitename.com “pricing model”

It’s a quick and easy way to see what you’ve got and requires no downloads, installation or configuration. For bigger, more complex sites, there’s no shortage of heavyweight solutions to find out what’s lurking. 

OK, so now you know what you’ve got, what it’s saying and where it is. So what’s next?

Decision time, that’s what. And there are only three possibilities for the stuff that’s not working:

  • Remove it, because it’s too off-message and outdated to be usable. 
  • Rework it, to update it and make it reflect where you are now. Or ‘re-purpose’ it, which is just a fancy way of saying turn it into something else. 
  • Hide it until you’ve decided what you want to do with it. Remove it from the site nav, and update your robots.txt file so it’s not indexed. 

My personal preference is for removal. Reworking is often just a makeover, and if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, now matter how much you make it over. Hiding it is a non-decision, and that just delays the inevitable. 

There is a fourth option: doing nothing. But that stuff is still there, and spiders and humans are crawling all over it. It’s a bit like people rummaging around in your wardrobe and finding those embarrassing kipper ties and butterfly collars. Or those trashy airport novels you read on the beach.

Time to have a throw-out. You’ll feel better afterwards – I promise. 

Five counter-intuitive marketing moves

Forget what you’ve always done. Do what you’ve never done. 

Let’s face it: we’re all more comfortable in our comfort zones. So that means we usually just carry on doing what we’ve always done, and we usually follow the crowd. Because it’s easier that way. 

But you know what they say: do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.

And as for following the crowd, well somebody somewhere was at the head of that crowd, and inspired the followers. What if they’re wrong? And even if they’re right, it still took a leap of faith on their part to be the first. Wouldn’t you like to be in their place? 

Here are five ideas that might just put you there. 

1. Raise your prices

Yes, we all know it’s dog-eat-dog out there, but cutting your price is like pulling up the nose of your plane when you’re stalling. It doesn’t stretch the glide, but just makes the rate of descent faster.

I was recently chatting to a friend who bumped up her prices quite significantly, which seems like commercial suicide in a cash-strapped market. But she did two clever things.

First, she positioned it clearly – and research shows that if you explain something clearly, people are far more likely to accept it. Second, she decided to up her game – and that meant going after higher-end clients who expected to pay more, and avoided offers that seemed too cheap.

2. Don’t try to make everybody happy

In classic boiling-frog style, over the last few years the idea has taken hold that you should go the extra mile for everybody, every time. And nobody’s questioned it. But as I mentioned last time, that’s both exhausting and expensive, and rarely makes an appreciable difference.

So keep your valuable customers happy – and that means focusing on high-value, low-maintenance customers first. Low-value, high-maintenance ones can go elsewhere. Write for the perfect customer, market to the perfect customer, and sell to the perfect customer. Forget the others. Because they won’t stay with you anyway.

3. Analyse your failures, not your successes

When you do well, there’s often a temptation to see what you did right and replicate it. But often, sales are down to good timing or even just dumb luck. As long as you’ve got the basics right, and do it well and often enough, you should see the benefits.

It’s when things go wrong that you can really learn something.

When a client has checked you out and gone elsewhere. When you’ve lost a client you didn’t want to lose (as opposed to one you did). When you’ve had a string of losing pitches against a competitor who keeps eating your lunch. So analyse your failures, see if they matter  – some don’t, so you should move on – and see what you can learn. You might be surprised. And humbled (I certainly was).

4. Forget about quality

Well not totally. What I really mean here is that quality is all fine and dandy, but quantity is not to be underestimated.

I did an e-mailshot earlier this year, and had some hits and lots of misses. And yes, before you ask, I did eat my own dogfood and analyse my failures.

But I was also realistic, and accepted that quantity often beats quality.

So a couple of months later, I sent out a slightly modified version of the e-mailshot to the people who hadn’t replied. And when I say slight, I mean slight. I referred to my previous email and said I know that timing is everything and quoted that Woody Allen line about how 80% of success is showing up.

And guess what? It worked. Maybe because the humour appealed, or maybe because Allen had a point. 

5. Don’t obsess about growth

The ancients used to say that there was an optimal size for a city. If it was any bigger, it lacked human scale. And you have only to look at mega-cities like Tokyo or Cairo to see that they were probably right.

Companies are the same, especially if they’re small or medium-sized.

They provide a quality service and a personal touch to a select bunch of people, and they’re very good at what they do. But scale that up and the personal becomes impersonal. Doers become managers (and not everybody’s cut out to be a manager), quality drops and customers become faceless. People spend more time on admin than on doing what they love. Passion wanes and duty fills the gap. So growth has come, but at a price that’s probably not worth paying.

* * *

Questioning received wisdom on marketing is always refreshing. Swimming against the prevailing current may feel like hard work to begin with, but you’ll soon get used to it. You’ll get some fascinating insights and come up with some great ideas.

And you may just one day be the person at the head of that crowd.

Why customer service is the ultimate weapon in the marketing battle

What you think, what they say and how to close the gap

[Image courtesy of Alan Clark at Flickr Creative Commons]

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently about customer service for a big project. And what I’ve found out has surprised me, and sometimes amazed me. But before I dive into the detail, let me ask you a simple question: 

Do you provide good customer service? 

Of course you do. The default response to that question is yes. If it were no, you’d either be very honest (you owned up) or very naive (you thought it didn’t make a difference). It’s like asking somebody if they’re a good wife, or husband, or boyfriend, or girlfriend. A knee-jerk yes. 

And yet and yet. One of the surveys I saw said that 88% of companies think they provide good customer service. And customers? Go on – think of a number. Got it? OK, we’ll come back to that later.

That figure wasn’t the only one that caught my eye.

Research company Gartner say that only 5-10% of companies truly have customer care at their core. The rest – and that’s a whopping 90-95% – simply focus on customer care because they have no choice, and because all other differentiators have disappeared. So they’re doing it simply because they have to, not because they want to.

Let me throw some more figures at you, and just think how they relate to your business: 

  • Reducing your customer defection rate by just 5% can boost your sales by between 25% and 125%
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they’re being treated. 
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as cutting your costs by 10%. (Read that again, and write it down on a Post-it. Now stick it to your monitor.)
  • 86% of people will pay more (read, write, stick) for customer service, but only 1% of them feel their expectations are met.
  • In 2013, 62% of global customers switched service providers because of poor service.

OK, OK – I’ll stop. You get the picture.

It’s the service, stupid

The takeaway here is: customer service is important, nobody’s getting really right, and everybody better start getting it right soon. 

In fact, that’s the other really big thing I got from my research. By 2020, customer service will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. So that’s five years at best – and that’s a very short time indeed when you’re running fast just to stand still.

So what’s the answer? Run faster? Do more with less, in that time-worn cliché? Under-promise and over-deliver (ditto)? 

No.

The answer is really simple. Just promise and deliver. You don’t need to aim for excellence, or go the extra mile every time. In any case, when your resources and your time are maxed out, overshooting for all customers is both exhausting and expensive.

So just do a good job. Do what you said you’d do. Because one other finding I saw really caught my attention: research shows that ‘customer delight’ is wasted effort. Exceeding expectations doesn’t have an appreciable effect on customer satisfaction.

As the man said, good enough is good enough. Now stop reading and start doing.

(A paltry 8% of customers say they get good service, by the way. Chilling, isn’t it?)

Want to write great copy? Tell a great story.

Pull them in, make them care, keep them reading. Here’s how…

Just the other day, I was struggling to find a way into a case study I was writing. The facts were compelling enough, and there was a happy ending (there always is with case studies – didn’t you know?) but something was missing.

And then I realised what it was. Involvement.

Involving the reader by connecting with them. And the very best way to connect with somebody is to tell a story, which is exactly what I did. Except here’s the twist: I let somebody else tell it for me. 

I called up my client’s client, and ask them to start at the very beginning. Tell me in your own words, I said, and that was all it took. Quote after quote poured out of their mouth. The story was so engaging, and on such a personal level, that I barely had to write it up. I just interwove facts with the quotes and the story came alive. 

I was reminded of that when I watched a TED talk by Andrew Stanton of Pixar, responsible for Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and countless other films.

In The Clues to a Great Story, he talks about having a singular goal from the first sentence to the last, and about obeying the greatest story commandment: make me care. (Sound familiar? It’s also the greatest copy commandment.)

He also talks about starting with the ending (which I regularly do with copy) and holding back something (ditto). Along the way, he drops in some great quotes, including “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once your know their story,” and “Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty”. 

His talk is packed full of great advice for anybody who writes anything. And yes, that includes case studies. Enjoy. 

[If you’re reading this in an email, click here to see the talk on TED.com]

The easy way never to run out of copy ideas

Think you’ve got nothing to say? Think again.

[Image courtesy of Colleen Lane at Flickr Creative Commons]

The web is a hungry beast and needs constant feeding. Gone are the days when you could optimise your site, publish and forget. In a world where change is the only constant, you can never stand still.

It doesn’t matter how good your content is if it’s not changing. Because other people are busy stoking the fires of their word mill, and cranking out content night and day. 

The trouble is, where do you find a constant supply of ideas? Surely, sooner or later, you’ve said everything you need to? If you’ve reached that point, remember what George Bernard Shaw once said about newspapers: it’s amazing how there’s always enough news on any given day to fill them.

(He also said, “Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization”. But let’s leave that to one side for the moment.)

Read all about it

In Shaw’s observation lies a clue to a never-ending stream of material. Everything is newsworthy. You just have to make it interesting enough, and people will read it. 

Which brings us nicely to your content. And everybody else’s. Because I’m sure you’ve had one of those moments when you scratch your head and wonder what you have left to say. Or if what you have to say is even worth saying at all. 

We all have those moments – it’s just that the clever ones don’t pause for thought. They simply think like a journo and find an angle.

It’s what the tutor said several years ago to me at  City University in London when I went on a feature-writing course. Nothing is new, she told us. You just have to make it seem so. 

So how do you do that with your copy? How do you find an angle, make the ordinary seem extraordinary and keep people reading? 

  • Re-purpose existing content. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done this for clients. In case you’re wondering what re-purpose means, it’s simply a guilt-free alternative to re-use. Which is essentially what you’re doing. I’ve turned a case study into a press release, and vice versa. A report into a blog post. A general-interest news story into a piece about how Company X can help clients deal with just such a situation. The list of possibilities is endless. All it takes is a little imagination. 
  • Copy somebody else. All out of ideas? Simply google few key words or phrases and see what somebody else has written. And when you see it, don’t think OK, it’s been done. They got there first. Yes, they did, but remember, it’s been done by them, with their angle. So take it as a starting point, and turn it into your story, with your angle. Me-too is everywhere – just look at all the EL James wannabes who’ve sprung up – so stop talking (to yourself) and start doing, as IBM once said.
  • Check out the calendar. Just recently, I wrote a piece on internet security and was looking for a ‘hook’, which is what editors want to see in a story. This was for a blog, but the principle is the same. Why this? Why now? What’s the relevance? And for me, the hook was just a little light searching away. It was exactly one year since eBay’s 145m users had their details compromised in a security breach, and had to change their passwords. What better time, I started, to revisit security than on the anniversary… You see how easy it is? Newspapers, websites and magazines are full of features linked to anniversaries: births, deaths, marriages, catastrophes, inventions, battles, treaties. So jump on the date bandwagon, and you’re well on the way to a story.
  • Change your point of view. Remember one of the golden rules of copywriting: it’s not about you, it’s about them. So forget what you think is important, and find out what they’re talking about. Hang out in forums, on Facebook and Twitter. See what’s hot and what’s not for people, then create content that directly addresses what they’re talking about. And here’s the clever bit: when you’ve done so, be sure to publicise your content in the very place where you found the idea in the first place. The people there are a dream audience, and the content is tailored exactly to their needs. But move fast, as hot topics can go cold very quickly.
  • Break it down. Stories are often complex and multi-faceted, and good content can often be submerged in a sea of detail. But there’s a simple solution: instead of overwhelming your reader with one big story, why not break it down into several, bite-sized ones? They get something they can easily read and digest. You get several blog posts (or articles, press releases, emails) instead of one. Two problems solved, and everybody wins. 

With a little thought and ingenuity, you’ll never run out of ideas. As always, it comes down to planning and creative thinking. When it’s all been said before, you simply have to find a new way to say it. Of taking the marketing morsels what you already have and repackaging them as a tasty meal to feed the web beast.

Everybody else does it, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t too. Especially now that you have the recipe.