It’s time to get those creative juices flowing. Here’s how.
[Image courtesy of David Salafia at Flickr Creative Commons]
They say everybody has at least one book in them – and in most cases, that’s where it should stay.
You only have to look at the self-published masterpieces on Amazon to realise that the bar has been placed so low, virtually anybody can get over it nowadays.
If the Muse hasn’t yet struck, and you’re feeling creatively frustrated, you could always turn your attention marketing-wards, and consider writing a non-fiction e-book.
Gone are the days when you could just broadcast a sales message and your audience would flock to your door. Today, you have to engage and entertain them, inform and impress them. And e-books a great way to do that, letting you fly under the radar and connect with your reader.
They’re also easier than writing a lad-lit pot-boiler, or a triumph-over-tragedy family saga.
For a start, a marketing e-book is much, much shorter than a novel. Typically, it’s 2-3,000 words, which is only as long as a short story. You also don’t need to work your imagination quite as hard, as you know all the facts already.
It’s really just a case of arranging them in a way that captivates your reader.
So how do you go about it? One step at a time.
Here are my 10 steps for writing an e-book that has them turning those pages faster than any bodice ripper.
- Define your audience. Are they customers or prospects, and where are they in the sales cycle? Can you conjure up a typical reader? If it helps, try creating personas and supplying as much detail as possible to make them seem real.
- Set an objective. Is this a high-level piece that aims to give a broad overview of the market and issues? Are you educating readers and making them aware of the big picture? Or are you solving a specific problem? Sometimes, you’ll want to helicopter out and other times, you’ll want to zoom in, depending on where this piece sits in your sales funnel.
- Write an outline. This is a crucial step, and one that you don’t want to miss out (believe me, I speak from experience here). Creating an outline for your e-book will let you break the story down into manageable pieces, and move them around if you need to. It can be just headings and subheadings, or a little more fleshed-out. The important thing here is not to simply dive into the writing, without an overview of the structure.
- Keep it short and simple. We all have reduced attention spans nowadays, so make sure your book is broken up into small, easily digested pieces. If the total length is 2,500 words, then aim for sections that are 300-400 words. You should help the reader through the copy with headings, bolded text, bullet points and boxes.
- Include quotes. Nothing builds credibility more than input from third parties. They could be experts in your field, or industry commentators – or even clients. Weaving quotes into your copy also provides variety, so it’s easier to read.
- Find the stats. There’s no shortage of figures out there to help you build your case. Whether you’re writing about the unstoppable rise of the Internet of Things, or the latest trends in customer satisfaction or mobile marketing, there’ll be a survey, a study or a slew of charts and graphs to help support your argument.
- Say it with confidence. Whatever the message you’re getting across, and whatever the audience you’re addressing, nothing sells like confidence. Not swaggering confidence that’s just a bit too pleased with itself, but quiet, low-key confidence that keeps a friendly smile on its face.
- Lead the pack. Try to find an angle and take an approach that shows you think differently. Tackle big problems and be bold in suggesting solutions. Thought leadership has become a bit of a hackneyed term over the last few years, but that’s really what we’re talking about here. Get out in front, and show them you know your stuff.
- Be human. Way too many e-books take themselves way too seriously. If you turn yours into a friendly chat with your reader, you’re far more likely to keep them reading to the end. Some of the most effective e-books are the ones that talk about complex subjects in a simple way, using language that’s informal and pared-down. They connect with the reader on a human level – which, when you think about it, is all any of us wants.
- End with a bang, not a whimper. Too many e-books simply fizzle out at the end. Remember step 2 – set an objective. Do you want your reader to register for more information? Set up a meeting? Attend an event? Join your mailing list? Contact a reseller? Just like a novelist knows how a book is going to end before they write the first sentence, so you should know what happens on the last page of yours before you start.
And when you’re finished, push your book out through every available channel. Put it on your website, either gated (fewer downloads, but more info on readers) or freely downloadable (more downloads, less info).
Publicise it on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Turn it into a Slideshare. Atomise it for blog posts, tweets and articles. Release it into the wild, letting anybody, anywhere put it on their site (with attribution, of course).
Then start on the next one. Because when it comes to marketing e-books, we all have more than one inside us.
And they definitely shouldn’t stay there.
Playing the game and breaking the code
When was the last time an advert stopped you in your tracks?
For me, it was last weekend, when I came across this poster on a bus shelter not far from my house.
Normally, I just walk past these ads without a second thought. They’re funny (that’s a given nowadays) and they’re slick, and they all end up looking pretty much the same.
Except this one was different. We’ve got sales targets.
I gasped inwardly at the cheek of being so blatant about their motives. Forget being led by benefits, or selling the sizzle not the sausage. This was in-your-face honesty: you want a drink, and we want your money.
It’s not a relationship, it’s a one-night stand, they’re saying – let’s not pretend it’s anything more.
So it’s a bold departure. Can you just imagine how the marketing department at Coca-Cola, who produce Oasis, reacted when their ad agency presented the campaign? I’ll bet they thought long and hard before they gave it the green light.
Further down the road, and around a corner, I passed another bus shelter with another poster winking conspiratorially at me: You need a tasty refreshing Oasis. Trust me, I’m an ad.
Just a few hundred yards along, I spotted yet another: Merry Xmas. First Xmas ad of 2016. Take that, advertising.
Telling it like it is
There’s nothing new about honesty in marketing.
Avis did it way back in the 1960s when it pushed the benefits of being the second-largest car-hire company (We try harder. When you’re not the biggest, you have to). Southwest Airlines famously has its Transfarency campaign (Low Fares. Nothing to Hide.) that helps customers avoid those ‘pesky fees’.
For 25 years, adverts for Stella Artois beer in the UK boasted that it was reassuringly expensive. And Domino’s Pizza tackled criticism head-on and ‘reinvented our pizza from the ground up’.
I worked with one tech client who’s completely honest about their dashboards, admitting they aren’t the slickest or the sexiest out there. But they say that pretty barcharts don’t tell the whole story. If you’ve got ‘business intelligence at the speed of light’, who needs whizz-bang graphics?
So honesty in marketing can work very well when deployed intelligently. But this campaign takes things one step further.
So what’s going on here? And why is it getting people talking?
Through the looking glass
Well first, it’s genuinely funny – but it adds a twist to the usual advertising recipe. It’s gently mocking the medium, making other ads seem less genuine – and more like ad-like. It’s honest, but without being naive (they’re not doing a Ratner, which crossed the line into recklessness).
It’s also getting people involved with their cleverly named #refreshingstuff hashtag, so people are tweeting their advertising and giving them more bang for buck.
But mostly it works because it’s different. And Oasis got there first.
If everybody starts using these self-referential ads, the spell will be broken for good. It’s a bit like an actor who steps out of character and addresses the audience. It works because it’s unexpected, and breaks the norms. If actors routinely did it, the effect would quickly wear off.
So (sun)hats off to Oasis for upending our expectations, and getting us to take a new look at an old formula. It’s a brilliant marketing move, but they know as well as anybody that it has a limited shelf life – a bit like a bottle of their Summer Fruits.
Let’s hope they hit those sales targets before autumn rolls around.
Online promise, offline reality and the case of the missing parasol…
The Great British Summer has finally arrived (though if you blink it might disappear again). So last week, I decided it was out with the old and in with the new – and so began the hunt for the perfect garden furniture set.
I started online, just to get an idea of what was out there. But I knew I’d have to go offline before buying – just like I do with clothes. I’ve had too many baggy jumpers, misshapen jeans and ill-fitting shoes delivered to ever want to buy online again.
Garden furniture is the same. The potential for lumpy cushions, rickety chairs, impractically small tables, and parasols that don’t provide adequate shade from the sol is enough to send me in store to check out the goods.
Which is exactly what I did, with chain A.
The illusion of choice
Of course they’d have less stock in store than online, but that was OK. I was sure to find something I liked, and could carry it off in my car. Instant gratification was just a short ride away.
And I did quickly find something I liked: a lovely mosaic table, wrought-iron chairs, and a generous parasol. I even used the in-store WiFi to have a video chat with a friend to get a second opinion. We were both agreed that this patio set with the seductively Italian name was the one for me. So I headed to the customer services desk.
Naturally, they didn’t have it in stock.
They couldn’t order it in, they told me, for some complex systems-related reason. But I could order online.
Now sure of my choice, I headed home, went onto their website and found the mosaic marvel. Delivery within 5 days, it said. Which was OK – at least I was sure of getting exactly what I wanted.
But as I got to the payment step, the delivery window suddenly widened: delivery within 14 days. And when I confirmed payment, the confirmation email had no delivery date at all. Instead, I’d have to contact customer services.
Which is what I did, and they arranged a delivery within nine days. Not ideal, but I accepted that I’d have to wait.
Then the very next day, I was browsing another website and up popped a targeted advert from Chain A. Summer’s here! it trilled, and invited me to buy garden furniture. The advert showed a really nice set for £100 less than I’d paid.
So I went back to their site (without clicking on the sponsored ad, I now regret to say) to look at this cheaper offer. It was really attractive, so I checked stock availability at my local store. None. And the next nearest store? Bingo! I reserved it online, and resolved to drive the 15 miles to pick it up.
Just one thing to do: cancel my online order, which was straightforward enough. And then I drove to the other store, with my reservation printout nestling in my wallet.
Needless to say, there was a problem. Systems-related, again.
The garden furniture set isn’t actually a set, so the elements are picked by one of the warehouse staff individually. And though I had a confirmed reservation, the very last parasol had been sold earlier that morning.
The customer services lady said she was very sorry, but there was nothing she could do. Unless I wanted her to order in the parasol from the next store along in the chain, which meant I’d have to make another 30-mile round trip to pick it up.
I took a deep breath, smiled weakly and politely declined.
So I headed home, and went online again. Chain B caught my eye, with their stylish patio set, priced the same as the parasol-less one, and with next-day delivery. PayPal payment, instant confirmation, order tracking, email, text messages, two-hour delivery window.
Never mind trying before you buy. Chain B was sending out all the right signals, so I clicked buy now without a moment’s hesitation.
The very next day, five days ahead of the original schedule, my garden furniture arrived. In a kit – that was actually a kit. In a big box, so there was no missing parasol, or missing anything in fact. And with the clearest, most well-written instructions I’ve ever seen.
This was self-assembly, but not like I’d ever experienced it. In fact, it was so easy, it almost assembled itself.
And the moral of the story? That good service isn’t any one thing, but all the little things. That you either get it or you don’t. That your people and systems are either aligned, or they’re not. That you value your customer, or you don’t.
That you’re either Chain A or Chain B.
Naturally, now that I have my new garden furniture installed, the sun has gone in. So much for the Great British Summer.
Wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying better weather.
Managing the message, making assumptions and telling a story
What a rollercoaster week it’s been. For the second time in as many years, the pollsters have been proved wrong, and we’re now headed into uncharted territory.
It’ll take months or years for the full enormity of the Brexit referendum decision to sink in. But in the meantime, it’s instructive to look back at the campaigns for Leave and Remain and try to understand what lessons we can learn from them.
So what has the biggest political shock in decades taught us? Here’s what I’ve been thinking:
- You don’t always get the result what you want. But when it happens, you have to be realistic, and whether it’s a marketing campaign or a political one, it’s best to accept that you are where you are and deal with it.
- Be careful what you say, because it might just come back to haunt you. Already there’s been some backtracking on the £350m that was supposed to go to the NHS, and Nigel Farage probably regrets saying that a 52-48 Remain/Leave wouldn’t really be a victory. Immigration figures might not fall, says Daniel Hannan, despite claims to the contrary. Whether it’s political promises or marketing promises, it’s best to keep them realistic.
- It’s very dangerous to make assumptions, whether you’re talking about a prospect or a voter. Just as dissatisfied customers don’t generally tell you why they’re unhappy, so disillusioned voters don’t always put posters in the window or answer truthfully when the pollsters call to ask where they’ll put their X.
- The message is everything, and you need to keep it simple and understandable, because that’s when it’s most effective. Your marketing can’t just hit people with every last detail, and expect them to sort out what’s important from what’s not. Because at the end of the day, just like a referendum, they’re faced with a stark choice: buy/don’t buy.
- Don’t demonize the opposition, whether that’s a political movement or commercial competitor. It can make you look defensive or even aggressive, and negativity never plays well. What’s more, you may need to work with them down the line – in a political arrangement or a commercial venture – so it’s best to maintain a level head.
- Emotions are powerful, whether it’s love or hate, pride or shame. We’re safer, stronger and better in the EU, said the Remain campaign. Let’s be open, welcoming and connected. The Leave campaign urged people to feel pride in being truly British again. To take back control, and move towards a brighter, freer, more independent future. These emotional benefits are far more immediate and appealing than the dull features of tax harmonisation, directives and trade deals.
- You get the answers to the questions you ask, so make sure you’re asking the right ones. If you prompt people with predefined answers, you force them to think the way you do, with your priorities and agenda. Whether it’s customer satisfaction or political issues, it’s always best to do a little less talking and a little more listening.
- You can’t appeal to everybody (but you can learn from them). However good the message, it will fail to appeal to some people – either because it’s irrelevant or too complicated. The truly surprising thing isn’t that 72% of people turned out to vote – more than double the 2014 European elections figure of 35%. It’s that 28% of people didn’t bother. And they’re the ones we really need to talk to, just like customers who didn’t buy from you. Because only then will you understand where you went wrong.
- Decisions are hard, often with too many unrelated elements to weigh up. Financial meltdown vs. undemocratic rule by a distant bureaucracy? Freedom to holiday anywhere vs. creeping benefit fraud? Crowded doctors’ surgeries vs. tariff-free Italian chardonnay? Apples or oranges? In the end, voters and customers often make a snap decision. I’ve lost count of the people I’ve spoken to who were 50/50 until June 23, but were then forced to vote one way or the other. Or didn’t vote at all, as a 24-year-old told me, confessing it was all too complicated.
- Storytelling is highly effective, whether it’s about Jacek the Polish web designer at Silicon Roundabout in London, or your client Katie whose life was transformed when she signed up to your service. Suddenly, dry facts and features fall away, and your story comes alive as readers see the real people behind the words. They connect with another person, and their view is transformed. Which makes it easier to pick up that pencil and make your mark, or pick up that telephone and place your order.
Somehow, I think that Brexit is going to provide a rich vein of material for marketers across the globe for several years to come.
And in case you’re wondering if that’s my ballot paper in the photo, the answer is yes. But wasn’t photography banned in polling stations? I hear you ask.
Indeed it was. I’m expecting the European arrest warrant any day now. Or maybe not – stay tuned.
Sticky content, cash cows and online prayers
[Image courtesy of Derek Gavey at Flickr Creative Commons]
The Holy Grail of copy is to create something so compelling that users come back again and again for more.
The idea of ‘sticky content’ has been around for at least 10-15 years, but nobody’s quite cracked it yet. People tire of blogs, and sign off from newsletters, and even reach saturation point when it comes to 140 characters.
So maybe there isn’t an easy answer, and the solution is to keep creating content and keep showing up (which as Woody Allen once famously said, is 80% of success).
Or maybe there’s another way.
I wondered about this recently as I read an intriguing book by Nir Eyal. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products was released in 2014, and quickly shot to the top of the Wall Street Journal business bestseller list.
Unsurprisingly, Eyal, who’s an Israeli-American based in Silicon Valley, was instantly in demand by high-tech startups and established players alike. They were keen to tap into his insight and create the killer app that hooks people and doesn’t let them go.
If you’ve every wondered why you go back to Facebook again and again, or why Twitter is like a magnet or Pinterest so compelling, this book is one you have to read. In clear, precise prose, Eyal dissects what it is that makes these programs irresistible.
And he should know.
Hook, line and sinker
Eyal was one of a group of Stanford MBAs back in 2008 whose startup was looking at ways of inserting adverts into the booming world of online social games. (This was back in the era of Farmville, when people were spending a fortune buying virtual cows on digital farms.)
He identifies four key elements of any product that truly hooks users:
- Triggers, which cue the user to take action. They’re both external (telling the user what to do by putting information in front of them) and internal (using the user’s associations to get them to act spontaneously).
- Actions, where users do something in anticipation of a reward.
- Variable rewards, with the emphasis here on the word ‘variable’. If we know exactly what we’re going to get every time, it’s less appealing.
- Investment, when users reciprocate following a reward, and spend either time or money on the product – which increases the value they place on it.
The book contains some fascinating insights, from Viral Cycle Time (how long it takes one user to invite another – think Facebook again) to why it’s a good idea for Amazon to include links to competitors (improves customer confidence). There’s also a thought-provoking section on whether you’re producing a vitamin (optional, of dubious value) or a painkiller (targeted, essential, effective).
But for me, the standout quote comes in the Trigger section, and it’s from Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter:
“If you want to build a product that is relevant to folks, you need to put yourself in their shoes and you need to write a story from their side. So, we spend a lot of time writing what’s called user narratives.”
You said it, Jack.
The greater good
Eyal is at pains to stress that the insights of the book should be used responsibly and he cautions against the dangers of addiction.
Chapter Six (What are you Going to Do With This?) even has a ‘Manipulation Matrix’ – based on whether a product materially improves a user’s life and whether the inventor uses it. It’ll allow you to instantly see if you’re a Entertainer, Facilitator, Peddler or Dealer. Which is useful to know.
As if to emphasise his point that this should be used for the greater good, he includes a case study of a Bible app that’s gone viral. It’s had over a 100 million downloads, and is opened on average by 60,000 people every second. Eyal examines just how it reached such dizzying heights in a crowded field.
Now I’m no app creator, but I am a content creator. And I think that most of the book is highly relevant if you’re in the business of marketing, communicating or connecting with a reader, prospect or customer. And let’s face it – we all are.
Just in case you’re thinking you don’t have time to read it, think again. Because after you do, just like me you may be spending a lot less time on Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram – now that you know exactly where the hooks are.
And how they work.