Copy - Content - Marketing Communications Planning

Friday, 27 February 2015

Headline writing tips - part 4

Just a quick re-cap and if none of this makes sense please check parts 1 to 3 of this little insight into the world of headlines.

You've crafted a headline and considered images and fonts to make it work extra hard, and then built an easy to understand and appreciate sub-head or value proposition. Now you need to help the reader into the final stage.

There has always been a debate about adding some credibility to an ad. Some believe just getting attention and having a strong call to action is enough, but I'm of the opinion with so many options available for indecision, you need just a few words to support your headline message.

Indecision is exacerbated because we live in an information rich world, which means if we need to purchase something we can, even if that means we are drinking a glass of wine sitting in front of a television at 11 at night.

It's not because we are all wedded to procrastination, it's just that we all now believe we don't have to move to the end of the buying cycle until we actually have an immediate need.

Don't assume your readers know everything about you and your business
Therefore I recommend at least 3 credibility statements - or 3 information statements that support your headline and sub-head. It could be:

  • Established since 1964
  • Knowledgeable and helpful staff
  • Open late on Friday and Saturday
These statements will sit just above your call to action and contact details. In the final post of this 5 part series on headlines I'll deal with these often overlooked elements, but you should consider if these credibility statements can be used to make it imperative that the call to action is not ignored.

So they could look like this:
  • This will be our 51st Summer Sale
  • Ask our helpful staff about our 10 months Interest Free Payment Option
  • Open to 10pm on Friday and Saturday with additional 10% off on selected items
This approach will help you with a clear and targeted call to action and set of contact details - but more of that in part 5.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Headline writing tips - part 3

Hopefully you now have a couple of headlines you are happy with. If not go back to parts 1 and 2.

It's not a lot of use on its own. It needs some support and confirmation.

This is sometimes called a sub-head or value statement. But before we consider words, don't forget design and imagery.
Words often need design to shine
Your headline can be significantly enhanced with the use of the right font, and the use of sizing, position, shadow, outlining, colours etc.

In addition an image can add so much. If your headline is focussed on a large discount then having a large "sale starts on the 4th" flash can be very effective.

So hopefully you now have a headline and creative theme that works.

And we have captured someone,s attention.

Now what?

The next few moments are critical and depending on the headline all can be won or lost. This is where the sub-head is useful.

Think of it as 10 to 20 words which explain, justify, enhance, expand, clarify, promote, endorse and promote your headline.

This can be make or break for  the few moments your headline has won for you.

I like to make sure the sub-head confirms the offer, and leads into the next stage of the ad. It's all about taking the reader on a journey. You have raised awareness or peeked interest with your headline and the sub-head has continued to the process. Your headline still needs help.

Tomorrow is all about credibility and preparing for action - to deliver what your headline was designed to do.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Headline writing tips - part 2

Just a quick check you have everything you need:

  • You know who you're aiming at
  • You know what you want them to do
  • You have the media in mind - is it an ad, sales letter, leaflet, postcard etc.
  • You have considered the delivery method
  • You have thought about timescales
  • You have thought about who deals with the responses
  • You have thought about your value proposition and amended it if you have too
Now you are in a position to think about developing your headline.

There are other options than just discounting
There are 15 tried and trusted formulas you can use - below are the 5 I start off with:

  1. Make it personal - Ideal for subject lines but also can be functional specific. So something like "Chris - we help writers like you to find new business" or "Other Sales Directors use our system to manage remote field sales staff"
  2. Include why - this helps with the justification process to move into the rest of the piece. I like to pose answers to questions which might be being asked. "Here are 5 reasons why my clients don't worry about content marketing" or "Why you might never know how much business you lost last month"
  3. The good old guarantee - This is great when you need to build credibility. " Save 30% or you'll get 100% refund" or "10% off your best quote -Guaranteed"
  4. Questions are good - they should get the reader to think about what they don't know or confirm what they do know but would prefer not to think about. "Do you dread having to make presentations?" or "How much time do you waste dealing with staff issues"
  5. Time waits for nobody -  and the lack of it is a real motivator. "Discounts end on the 21st March" or "On average we save your staff 2 hours a week - every week" 
Use the above formulas to create 5 headlines and see which suits your needs the best. Then start to work with your top 2 or 3.

Tomorrow I'll describe the process you need you go through to build the supporting copy for your headline.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Headline writing tips - part 1

What is a headline?

Its usually words sometimes supported by or supporting an image that are designed to get attention and engage readers so they do something.

Your company name is NOT a headline
I think about headlines as "interrupters"

They have to interrupt and get attention in a very noisy world. And they're not on their own. Usually your headline is fighting for attention among other headlines - not to mention what's going on around at the time, such as chaotic staff to deal with, phone calls, emails, social media pings, etc etc.

So how do you create something that can cut through all of this?

Before you get creative you need to consider 4 important factors:

  1. The context where the article, ad, direct mail piece, ad word is going to be seen
  2. Who you are writing the headline for
  3. What is it you want them to do
  4. The headline is only part of the story and needs a supporting cast of subheads, body copy call to actions and contact details
Now this seems a good point to mention one of my pet hates even though it keeps me in business. Please don't stick the name of your business as the headline - no one cares, you are just wasting your money. The only time this works is if the name of your business is your business - such as "we buy any - but even then there are so many better headlines you can write.

So let's assume you know who you are writing for, and you know what you want them to do and you no how the media you are using is accessed and valued by your target audience.

Now you can write a headline that gets attention.

But that's all you've got - a fleeting moment of someone's attention, perhaps 3 or more seconds. What are you going to do with it?

This is critical because the headline has done the hard work of getting attention, but now everything else has to work together to get the action you require.

The next part of this 5 part series on headlines will be examples of specific types of formula you can adapt and the sort of copy you will need to use to support the specific headline proposition.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Monday, 23 February 2015

Find the triggers - and adapt your approach

Now the customer has all the control, we need to focus our marketing activity to generate awareness and make it really easy for new and existing customers to buy from us.
Why to customers want our goods and services?
But we also have to develop a few techniques that can help us to make the buying process more productive.

I recently had to get some pet insurance.

Eventually after a load of research I phoned to set the deal up. I just wanted to confirm the price and get it set up, but no, I was faced with a barrage of questions about where I lived and how wonderful the provider was. I had two triggers - I had a dog to insure and I just needed to confirm what was on the screen in front of me.

So after 10 questions, I gave up.

Next I called another company.

Question 1 - How can I help you?
Question 2 - If you're online can you confirm the quote no in the top right of your screen?
Question 3 - When do you need the cover to start from?

The result was that with 30 seconds I had confirmed the price and then with the knowledge I needed the cover ASAP I was offered FREE 3 months if I used a discount code over the next 24 hours.


Find out what the triggers are when you are asked about the services or products you sell. I always ask these 4 questions:
  1. When do you need the copy?
  2. Do you have all the information or will you require additional research?
  3. How do you want me to present the 1st draft?
  4. Do you have any questions?
The answers lead to other questions which help me scope the work and give me all the background information I need to understand why I'm getting the call.

I don't waste time telling them my story, or confirming their company details, and if their primary trigger is a deadline it helps to acknowledge that and have a sense of urgency.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Customers hate to be sold but love to buy - which is great news!

The age of the dinosaur selling is almost over. Even double glazing companies have embraced cross media integrated marketing communications to guide individuals to the point they wish to buy and then have skilled communicators who vacilitate the sales converstaion.

If you're still expected to make 2 hours of calls a day to build  the business you work for then panic.

There are 3 well defined stages that new and existing customers go through - in very simple terms they are:

  1. Awareness - here you peek interest and intrigue
  2. Consideration - here you capture that interest and raise levels of knowledge and appreciation
  3. Decision - In your favour, resulting in an order or a contact to take the relationship to the next stage
Which is why cold or warm calls don't work - unless you are lucky enough to hit a decision maker when they have been through the other stages or are just desperate you are wasting time and money.

The good news there are lots of options you can create for each of the stages. In many cases the information will be the same, but the way the information is delivered is different. Here's a basic list of different media, which I'm sure you will be able to adapt to your business or organisation.

Awareness Media:
  • Blog Posts - like this one
  • Info Graphics
  • Animations
  • Press Releases
  • Articles and Editorial
  • Long Tail Direct Mail
  • Surveys
  • Competitions
Consideration Media
  • White Papers
  • E Books and Guides
  • Youtube Info and User Guides
  • Downloadable How To Guides
  • Independent Research and Comparison Guides
Decision Media
  • Case Studies
  • Product and Service Brochures with Offers
  • Flashes on POS and Packaging
  • Service Offers
  • Free Demos
  • Webinars
  • Loyalty Schemes
  • Direct Mail
  • Trade and Consumer Advertising
The above list is not exhaustive  - but it does indicate that certain media can help at different stages of the customers journey from not knowing to having the confidence to buy.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

How much money is it worth investing in marketing?

Firstly let's make this real.

It's not just the money, it's the time as well, but as this short article is mostly about numbers, I'll focus on what a business or organisation pays in cash.

Most businesses "do" marketing as an ad-hoc activity and the associated costs are for ad space, graphic design, online activity, brochures etc etc - occasionally even I get in there with some copywriting!
How much do you invest in marketing your business?

Most businesses also have little or no idea of the ROI on all this marketing spend - and frankly I don't blame them because it's very difficult to get a clear idea without having a way to measure results.

So how can you simply calculate how much you should be investing in your marketing?

I use Life Time Value (LTV) as the start point.

It's quite easy to look back and calculate the average gross profit each customer generates over a year.

Then make a considered guess on how long you keep that customer as a active customer.

I usually keep it real by using a maximum of 5 years - but in some sectors it's less and others considerably more.

Take the gross annual profit or contribution, multiply by the notional time in years you anticipate keeping them happy and you have a rough idea as to the LTV.

Now work out how many customers you have or need to hit your targets.

Calculate 2% to 4% of the LTV and you an approx budget for your marketing activity each year depending on individual market conditions and where your businesses is placed in the business cycle.

If you are developing a new market it will be more than if you are managing a declining market, but it's a starting point that has always proved useful for me.

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Growing your business from the inside out

When asked what our businesses do we usually answer with a functional or feature focus answer.

So when asked I used to say - "I'm a copywriter"

That resulted in nice smile and comments about the coffee or weather.

So then I said - "I create ideas and words for all types of business communications"

That helped and allowed me to give examples.

Now I say " I help businesses owners who get more than a bit frustrated because they can't get others to understand what they do"

And that gets to the heart of what I actually do. It might be copy for this or that, or a strategic bit of thinking, or a suite of social media messages, or sometimes just a view!

That's because I don't have a range of fixed services, I have worked out that growth for SGC is driven by the unique needs of each client. So what's inside my business adapts to the specific needs of my customers.

It's not all about doing more of the same

But enough about me - what about you and your business.

Start by what you do - for example commercial insurance services.

Clients need the right cover and help when things go wrong. In addition to the core technical skills for all risks cover, you have the opportunity to grow within specialist knowledge for specific markets sectors.

You have the skills to deal with the after effects of a crisis, you are in a perfect position to offer risk assessments, and continuity planning, you are able with confidence to offer consultancy services dealing with the educating new directors about their liabilities.

This is how you can grow a business from the inside out.

Take a bit of paper - write down what you think you do and then write down what you actually do. Then start to think about 5 new products or services you could offer. You only have to find one new revenue line that fits within what you do already and you have grown you business from the inside out.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Marketing - do you really buy into that sort of stuff?

Have you heard these spoken before?

"Marketing is a load of bollocks - a waste of time and money - just makes sales!"

"Marketing people just cost money and hide behind smoke and mirrors - looking after our customers the right way and finding new customers is the only way to grow"

"All marketing want is a budget without responsibility for results"

Marketing is not an option

Well the truth is there all right and represent why over the past 20 years most marketing departments have lost credibility and totally lost the ability to deliver improved profits and competitive advantage.

Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. The majority of business owners, MD's and Boards have no understanding of what marketing is all about, even if one or more are qualified most have to compromise marketing activity to fit into the concept of collective responsibility
  2. Marketing folk rarely have the necessary accountancy and legal experience to be able to make commercially astute recommendations
  3. Marketing now requires a cross media inbound and outbound strategic plan delivered by market sector / audience specific tactical solutions that need real-time monitoring and adjustment - simply put it's getting more complicated!
  4. The decline in margins, overall profitability, shallow growth have been offset by cash reserves, low interest rates, low wages, and the fact that most companies for the past 5 years have been happy to tread water
  5. Great marketing only happens when the whole company from the Board Room down is driven by creating and managing expectations, and there are very few companies who have the ability or vision to even begin to get their heads around that idea
Why is this something you should worry about?

Well here's just 3 reasons to start the week off with:
  1. Within the next 12 months interest rates across the world will begin to rise, so the need to generate profits will become critical - so you need to get your marketing/sales act together fast
  2. Over the past 5 years most companies have relied on Google to deliver sales - when the economy moves just a little bit, those companies with a tried, trusted and responsive marketing plan will pick up those vital new green shoots first and then keep them
  3. If you have any marketing skills at all they are probably within one or two members of staff - if like in a load of SME's they have been under valued for many years, just watch then fly away as soon as new opportunities arise
I urge you to start to build a team on internal and external marketing and communications specialists to create and maintain a marketing programme for the next 5 years. In my opinion you have 1 to 2 years to invest or you'll have very little left to invest in.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Friday, 13 February 2015

Mobile is changing the way customers purchase - everything

If you have a website 2 years ago less than 20% of your customers viewed it on their smartphones or tablet.

Today, it could be depending on your market sector and where your customers like to feed, in the region of 45%.

Over the next few years that number regardless of your marketplace will be close to 60%.

Mobile phone transactions in Kenya represent more than 40% of GDP

If like me,  you're a bit slow to making sure the mobile user experience is better than average,  the above numbers should be bit of a wake up call.

But being slow to change might have some advantages, because it appears that merely duplicating your current website to make it responsive to different platforms is not enough.

The latest research seems to indicate that larger screen use is prefered when customers are in the research or finding out phase of the buying cycle. So here you need good images, supported by detailed content and third party referrals.

On mobile and phablets it's clear that these are being used to make the purchase or that all important call for more information.

So on these platforms the images and copy has to be different and it's here that offers can be critical.

If you are able to use contextual data to follow prospects buying motivations, it's proved that social media advertising that clicks through to a mobile platform have a significantly higher success rate that a click throughs to a static site designed for desktop viewing.

Another factor which will change the dynamics even further is that as 4G becomes established and phones become almost throwaway accessories, the desire to sit in front of a screen to purchase will diminish. Customers will know they can use their daily commute or time at home to pay bills, personalise cards and buy gifts, restock product for their businesses, and keep in touch.

My task for my business over the next few months is to work out how my current site can migrate to other platforms so it's in a form that is quick and easy to use.

Your task hopefully is to sit back and be applauded for getting it so right last year - or perhaps not!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sell like a customer buys

Up to the early 1990's customers expected to pay more and get more.

Then businesses who wanted to take market share or establish themselves in a crowded market came up with a cunning plan.

They offered more for less.

Most now expect to get more for paying less
Kotler established this idea and it has been advanced by many others.

So for the best part of 20 years consumers and that includes business owners have expected to get more and pay less.

If your struggling, then this strategy can buy you time and help re-engage a customer base which has recently been tempted away by a competitor.

Offering more for less usually can't be maintained indefinitely without impacting on margin or reducing input costs - but many do try.

Some businesses with strong brands can still charge more for offering more, but even these have high perceived value entry points that essentially are specific examples of the more for less concept.

The best approach is to include all the options - so think about the expectations of your customers and sell to them appropriately.

For consumers with limited purchasing power try a lower price for less features and benefits -  but still a valid solution

For aggressive deal seekers go for the more features and benefits for less cost and then migrate them to a more for the same cost as they become advocates of your business.

Most companies fall into the middle ground of offering the same benefits for the same cost and then discount when they have to.

Not a great position in the long-term.

I always offer more for the price I quote. I always give an extra article, or additional marketing idea away with the overall package. So the price stays the same but I always over deliver.

Now that's because as a consultant all I have is time - very little bought out costs.

If you manufacture something and are driven by volume and margin you should always aim for your product mix to have some which cost more for more features or benefits, but also have some which offer more of the bells and whistles for less cost.

Image courtesy of Mister G C at

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Why build a brand when price seems to be all customers are interested in?

Because they're not only interested in price.

We are all consumers of products and services and everyday we make purchasing decisions that are not purely based on what the cost is.

Brands develop because they have either organically created an emotional value with their customers or there has been a deliberate effort and investment to create that type of connection.

When you are positioning your product or service consider building in intangibles like:
  • Making customers feel good about the purchase they've made
  • Providing outstanding customer service for the lifetime of the purchase
  • Enabling customers to feel part of the business that delivers the branded product or service
  • Giving customers an insight into the values of the business
  • Empower, enable and encourage employees to be genuine advocates of the business and the products or services they have to work with everyday
  • Add entry points into the "family of brands" you are building which allow as many customers to participate as possible
  • Use social media as a listening tool - don't assume that social media will build brands, but monitor what customers are saying and react if required
  • If you sell at a premium price make sure it's justified
  • Always deal with complaints generously

Well selling on price means you are constantly concerned about surviving on low margins and high volume and history shows that there is always someone out there who will be able to deliver better for less.

And brands have a real value - on your balance sheet. Which is very nice when you decide to sell.

And brands are fun. They have personality and can help you employ the right type of person, serve a more affluent customer and give you the capacity to grow your business.

Even if you are a simple freelance writer it's important to have a personal brand that is generous, confident, approachable, and able to deliver great work. 

I know that there are many other copywriters who write for less than I do. But I add value because of nearly 30 years experience of building my own and other people's businesses - which my clients recognise and value.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

What's trust got to do with it?

Francis Fukuyama's famous book Trust is a must read.

Written 20 years ago it seems to have had little impact on politicians and bankers and they and others in similar positions are paying a heavy price.

But so are the majority of us mere mortals who now have to deal with very long term economic consequences.

But in the micro world we operate in trust is something we have to have in the people we work for and with.  And we have to be able to gain the trust of everyone who can help us to achieve our personal and business goals.
Deep down can you  or your business be trusted?
To answer the question - What's trust got to do with it? the answer is EVERYTHING

From a marketing and communications perspective here are 3 things you can do today to improve how trustworthy you  and your business is perceived:

  • Stop paying your bills late as a matter of course. Stop holding onto money which offers you no interest but damages the way you are perceived. If there is a short term issue let people know and in my experience they will always help you trade out of a situation and enjoy with you the better times ahead.
  • Stop saying one thing and not delivering - it can become a habit and you make yourself and your business look unreliable.
  • Start treating your employees with respect. Make them feel valued. Don't humiliate them, and make them fearful for their security. Remember you only have them for a few hours each day, the rest of the time they are free and will let everyone know what a crap boss you are. Your staff, suppliers, and associates are you biggest FREE ambassadors
Ask yourself a serious question - are you a trustworthy person? Is your business perceived as being worthy of being trusted. 

If you're not 100% sure then work out why and do something about it, because it will be having a corrosive impact on the quality of people you can employ, the ability to get the best suppliers to work for you, and most importantly the ability to improve profitability and productivity.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Monday, 9 February 2015

Try Buying what you Sell

This is a great Monday morning game to start the week.

I start by thinking about my perfect target clients.

I imagine what market sector they operate in and then I ask myself how would they find a commercial copywriting service.

I put myself in their position and think about how they might find such a service. Now the reality is that most clients don't know that copywriters exist - so they actually don't know how helpful a commercially astute copywriter could be to them.

So for me the game is a bit-short lived, but I play it on behalf of my clients.

One of them provides heating and plumbing services. They have commercial and domestic clients and so it's easier to imagine what they might do. Of course Google is an obvious start point.

The beauty of Google is that you get options and this is a good time to review what sort of options your existing and new customers are faced with.

Does your competition market themselves better than you?

Try out the competition's website. How does it compare to yours?

  • Does it look better?
  • Is it easier to read and navigate?
  • Are you motivated to get in touch?
  • Do you feel confident in what they are offering?
  • In all honesty would you buy from them?
It's very hard to be clinical about these things but follow your gut reaction. If your local competitor site is better or has aspects that are better - DO SOMETHING.

Recently I felt that  the contact number was easier to read on a clients' competitor site. Within a half day my client's site was amended. The result - 10% more calls

Easy - So every Monday play the Buy before your Sell game.

PS - As a copywriter I have to educate my target market one client at a time - but then again I know nothing about boilers and hot water!

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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Businesses only care about 3 things

It doesn't matter what business you're in, or whether it's growing, coasting or in decline, there are only 3 things that should concern the owners:

  1. Improving profitability
  2. Improving productivity
  3. Reducing costs
In a perfect world I'd like to see a senior manager with a title of Head of Cost Reduction, or Productivity Planner, or Profit Improvement Manager.

Instead most companies have no idea of individual client profitability, or productivity benchmarks for their industry. Why is this?

Because it's hard to calculate and then it exposes the truth of the current situation.

It's time to crunch those numbers

This type of analysis quantifies the invisible and shines a light into areas which many owners don't want to investigate.

Do you know how profitable your business was last month and how it compared with previous months?

I suggest the owners of a business or organisation should sit down and work out some of these numbers and then start to work to improve them.

As a general rule a good place to start is to ask for ROTA to be calculated. ROTA is Return on Total Assets.

Establish what it has been for the past 3 quarters and then seek a 10% improvement.

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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

What's more important than marketing?

Well that question gets lots of answers when I ask it?

I get to ask it when I run a number of training events - I use it to get the converstaion going.

Here's the top 5 answers which always crop up:

  1. Having a great product or service that people want.
  2. Having good financial planning and reporting in place
  3. Having a comprehensive business plan
  4. Having a good website
  5. Investing in a professional image
And they are all right answers - I can't argue with any of those and in fact one of the biggest reasons businesses go bust is that no one wants what you have to offer. It may seem a great idea to you, but sometimes the reality is, you are the only one who believes it to be of value.

All the others above if not in place will hinder success - and ultimately lead to failure.

But there is one thing that is more important than all of these and that includes whether or not you have a good idea or not.

And its got nothing to do with what you are offering - Its got nothing to do with how much money you have, though the more money you have the less of this you need in the short term - but over the long term if you don't have this you will eventually end up with nothing.

Do you have the biggest asset in building a business?

In short the most important thing you need is the ability to build relationships with people you don't know. They have to enduring, based on trust. They have to be generous and not self serving. Relationships with your staff, suppliers, old and new customers, friends, neighbours, delivery people, dustman, in fact everyone have to be positive and life enhancing.

If you can't build a positive relationship on the phone with a complete stranger in less than a minute, and then work hard at making that relationship stronger, then unless you have a lot of money to waste, your business will fail.

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