Why a little interrogation can go a long way

marketing direction[Image courtesy of r. nial bradshaw at Flickr Creative Commons]

Remember the last time you got carried away with a project, to the point where you no longer questioned whether it still made sense? Or even whether it was heading in the right direction? 

We’ve all been there.

Self-help gurus talk a lot about flow, when you’re so absorbed in an activity that you don’t notice time passing. It is – or so received wisdom has it – one of the best ways of finding out what your passion is, and hence what you should be doing with your life.

The thing is, flow doesn’t always necessarily go in the right direction.

Just look at how the minutes can turn into hours on Facebook or Twitter, or even LinkedIn for that matter. Maybe it’s time well spent, and maybe it’s not. But one thing is certain: when you’re reading the posts or clicking on the videos, you’re in a tunnel of concentration with little peripheral vision. 

And that’s fine most of the time, but not when it comes to producing marketing materials.

Back to basics – briefly

However invested you are in the latest email campaign or e-book, it’s important to pull back and ask some searching questions. And of course, ideally, it’s best to ask those questions before you even embark on the project. 

“This feels like an interrogation,” said somebody to me recently when I probed for more, and then more, information. 

And you know what? It was.

But if I ask questions up the line, it’s because it’s the best way to avoid the How did we get this so wrong? or If only I’d known that before we began moment down the line.

And just in case you think I’m standing on the sunlit uplands of the moral high ground, far from it. It’s only because I’ve been in down-the-line SNAFUs more times than I care to remember that I’m saying this at all.

So next time you’re flowing on that piece of copy, try running it past these sanity-check questions:

  1. Why are you creating this piece? 
  2. What do you want the audience to do? 
  3. Where is it in the funnel? Top, middle or bottom?
  4. What’s the objective? 
  5. What’s the story? Simplify it in one sentence, or 50 words, or 100 words. 
  6. Would you read this email/page/product sheet if it wasn’t your own? 
  7. Describe the person you’re writing for. 
  8. Is it part of a continuum?  What other pieces support it/back up the message/provide more detail? 
  9. If it doesn’t work first time (and it might well not) what’s your fallback/reinforcement plan?
  10. What’s the one thing you’d like people to take away?
  11. What’s in it for them? Information? Education? Special offer? Free something or other? 
  12. Is this filling a gap, or replacing some existing content?
  13. If it’s replacing something,  how does it differ from the existing piece? Is it better, or just different? 
  14. What frame of mind would somebody have to be in to be receptive?
  15. List five (or more) reasons why people wouldn’t take action. 
  16. Can you revise your copy so it addresses those reasons and brings them back on side? 
  17. What’s the opportunity cost of doing this? What other activities are you having to reprioritise to get this done? Are they more or less important? 
  18. Do you have a clear plan for the piece? A MindMap or bullet-pointed skeleton outline? 
  19. How few words could you get away with saying? (When length is no obstacle – especially on the web – we go long.)
  20. Can you show in the way you write this that you’re ‘walking the talk’? Can you make it shorter, more concise, easier to read/scan, quicker to understand? 

And those are just off the top of of my head. You see now why my client thought I resembled less a copywriter than an oberleutnant shining a  light in his eyes and saying I had ways of making him talk. 

Analysis, but not paralysis

But while it’s important to ask questions, it’s equally important not to let those questions get in the way of action. Yes, pushing out an email or blog post or brochure or e-book that’s not quite right is worse than taking the time to get it right.

But it’s not better than doing nothing at all, as you try to cover every angle.

Which an acquaintance reminded me of recently. He’s a salesperson whose favourite phrase is perfect is the enemy of good. He  has a remarkable track record, and attributes his success to asking the right questions and listening to the answers. But also to just getting out there and doing it, without waiting for the perfect sales storm. 

Now that’s what I call going with the flow.

I think I’ll take a leaf out of his book and chart the same course.