Content Marketing and Copywriting in Tandem

What differentiates the content marketing writing style from direct response sales copy? We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and, at first glance, it seems to be a distinctly different approach than direct response sales copy. But is it really all that different? Shouldn’t there be a plan to move the reader to action with the ultimate result of

What differentiates the content marketing writing style from direct response sales copy? We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and, at first glance, it seems to be a distinctly different approach than direct response sales copy. But, is it really all that different? Shouldn’t there be a plan to move the reader to action with the ultimate result of monetizing the marketing effort? As direct marketers, most of us would agree that getting the reader to buy should be the ultimate objective of any kind of marketing. But each of these skills—content marketing and direct response sales copywriting—can lead from one to the other.

Today we share five recommendations to strengthen both. Before we do that, let’s define each:

  • Direct response copywriting is all about leading the reader to action. It might be a sale on the spot, but it could also be lead generation, or perhaps an action as simple as getting someone to opt-in to a series of emails. Likely media used: direct mail, email, landing pages, video sales letters, print ads and direct response broadcast.
  • Content marketing, on the other hand, is about writing and freely delivering content of value to the reader. It builds trust, confidence and leads into selling from a softer angle. It may not get a sale on the spot, but it should have the reader predisposed to buy when the opportunity is presented. Likely media used: blogs, articles, online press releases, social media, white papers and video.

Content marketing should inform, build trust and credibility with the prospective buyer, so that when harder-hitting, persuasive direct response sales copy with a call-to-action is presented, the response rate is higher. In other words, when both approaches are used in tandem, the sum can be greater than the parts.

Copywriter Chris Marlow suggests, “the term ‘content’ should be reserved for writing that does not have the express purpose of getting a lead or sale.” But she adds that, “sometimes you need ‘content’ to get the lead or make the sale.”

Whether you’re using content marketing or direct response copywriting, here are five recommendations to make both approaches stronger and logically flow from one to the other. Inspiration for this list comes from American Writers and Artists (where I teach a copywriting course), copywriting clients and personal experience:

  1. It all starts with the headline and lead. Use proven direct mail formulas like the four-Legged Stool (Big Idea, Promise, Credibility, Proven Track Record), or the four U’s (Useful, Unique, Urgency, Ultra-Specific), or any one of many other direct response copywriting formulas. The headline formula often works better when you fit your main idea within eight words or fewer. Using a proven direct response letter writing formula can make all the difference in your success.
  2. What’s the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)? Get the attention of the reader and quickly demonstrate you understand their pain. Most everyone has on their minds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in their personal lives, relationships, finances, career, retirement or health.
  3. Is the message confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward? Review the copy with a small inner circle of people. Reading copy aloud with someone listening and evaluating it is a must. If it’s confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward, you’ll hear it when voiced. I was again reminded of the importance of this step after logging several hours by phone when reading a long-form letter aloud with a client so we could both hear it. The extra investment of time strengthened the story, benefits, false close and call-to-action items for the right flow to build the sales message.
  4. Gather a small group to review copy and the lead. Ask each person to assign a numerical ranking (1-10 scale) on whether they’d keep reading or not. If less than 80 percent of the responders wouldn’t read beyond the headline and lead, then the writer needs to fix the headline and lead, or start over.
  5. Is it clear? When your customer or prospect reads your copy (whether using content marketing writing style or direct response copywriting), has the issue been laid out clearly? Was a complex message simplified? Did the message build rapport and trust? Does the copy naturally flow so that the prospect concludes that your product solves the issue? And check the call-to-action. Is there one? Keep in mind that if you’re using introductory content writing, the CTA may be only to opt-in, subscribe or click a link to request or read more in a series.

Bottom line: what are you asking the prospect to do? Is it advancing the prospect along in a planned spaced-repetition contact strategy that leads to your ultimate desired action: a sale?

Whether your copy style is content marketing that is conditioning the reader to make a future purchase, or direct response selling asking for an action on the spot, what you write ultimately needs to justify its existence with a strategy that leads to monetization.

Reinventing Direct Marketers

Staying relevant requires reinventing your skills and marketing approaches. That’s why today we’re launching Reinventing Direct, a new blog where we share what we’re learning about new direct marketing approaches in practical, easy-to-understand recommendations, all geared toward direct marketers, so you can reinvent yourself and become a catalyst for change in your organization

Staying relevant requires reinventing your skills and marketing approaches. Just over a decade ago, many direct marketers moved beyond direct mail and reinvented their approach by creating basic websites, using email marketing and more. But now a decade later, reinventing direct marketing core competencies requires understanding and using even more tools.

As we have evolved and reinvented our traditional direct marketing skills over the years, the editors of Target Marketing have invited us to evolve from our online video marketing blog to broader topics.

Today we launch Reinventing Direct, a new blog where we share what we’re learning about new direct marketing approaches in practical, easy-to-understand recommendations all geared toward direct marketers, so you can reinvent yourself and become a catalyst for change in your organization.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

We’ve chosen online competitive analysis as our first blog topic. Why? Because every thoughtful new business plan and marketing plan includes an analysis of the competition. In addition, at least once every year you should investigate what your competitors are doing online. It will make you sharper and more competitive.

Today you’ll learn about 10 tools you can use to compare how you stack up with your digital direct marketing efforts compared to your competitors. The tools we share in today’s video will give you data points on several areas of online marketing including:

  • Where to get a grade for your website’s overall effectiveness
  • Where you stand with SEO
  • Inbound link comparisons (with domain authority)
  • How your website performs on mobile devices
  • Traffic to your website compared to competitors
  • Engagement and reputation metrics
  • Demographic data comparisons of the age, presence of children, income, education and ethnicity of those going to your site versus your competitors
  • Social media comparisons
  • How your site ranks for keywords compared to competitors
  • Competitor’s daily pay-per-click budgets, average paid position, and the estimated value of daily organic traffic
  • How to know when your competitor has new information posted on the Web
  • The source where you can go back in time to check what was on a competitor’s website in the past

There are many online analysis tools available, and we encourage you to search for them and check them out. We also invite you to share your recommendations of other services that you have successfully used. Please post your recommendations in the comments section below.

7 Steps to a Better B-to-B Landing Page

Despite years of practice with digital campaigns, B-to-B marketers still have trouble getting their landing pages to work as hard as they could. I am not sure why, since there’s nothing more important to capturing the responses from outbound messages and kicking off a relationship with prospects. You could say the landing page is where your campaign pays off. But I am still seeing obvious errors

Despite years of practice with digital campaigns, B-to-B marketers still have trouble getting their landing pages to work as hard as they could. I am not sure why, since there’s nothing more important to capturing the responses from outbound messages and kicking off a relationship with prospects. You could say the landing page is where your campaign pays off. But I am still seeing obvious errors. So herewith I offer a seven-point checklist of landing page best practices. And I invite readers to add some of their own recommendations.

1. Connect the landing page directly to the outbound message. When respondents click through to the landing page, they should experience a seamless flow from one to the other. The outbound message—whether a SEM ad, an email, a direct mail piece or even a print ad—should act like the teaser, to motivate the recipient to click or type in the landing page URL. The role of the landing page is to close on the deal, the same way a salesperson asks for the order. So the two formats should act as one, working together to move the prospect along. If they are disjointed—whether through design or copy inconsistency—the momentum is lost.

2. Create a fresh landing page for each variable in your campaign. OK, I know this means work. But the effort that goes into the outbound message should be equaled or exceeded when crafting the response vehicle. If you are doing an A/B test on your creative or your offer, you need two landing pages. Plan for it.

3. Mobile-enable your landing page. No excuses. The dramatic rise in tablet and smartphone use cannot be ignored. As any direct marketer will tell you: Don’t get in the way. If you put up any obstacles, your response rate will inevitably be lower. A landing page that is engineered for ease of use on mobile devices is no longer a nice to have; it’s a must.

4. Prepopulate the form where possible. If your outbound message includes digital information about the respondents, don’t make them retype their data.

5. Ask for the minimal amount of information you need to take the next step in the relationship. The more elements you require, the lower your response rate. So ask yourself, “How will asking for this piece of information change the way I deal with the inquiry?” If the answer is, “It won’t,” then hold that query for a later stage in the relationship.

6. Develop a culture of constant testing. Any responsive vehicle benefits from continuous improvement. Your landing page is the perfect place to test copy, offer, layout and other variables like the number of data elements you ask for. Do it, don’t duck it.

7. Follow landing page design best practices. Hubspot offers some excellent tips in this area. Remember that the purpose of a landing page is to drive an action. So everything you do-the copy, the offer, the layout, the graphics-must focus on that end.

I welcome your ideas on how to improve landing page results.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Judging the 2013 ECHOs: A View of Data-Driven Marketing’s Best

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field. The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work

This past year, I had the honor of joining the Direct Marketing Association’s Board of Governors for the International ECHO Awards. That’s my disclaimer.

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field.

The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work based on the three criteria: marketing strategy, creative and results in equal parts. 2013 is no exception. The honors—which will be announced on October 15 in Chicago—will be the world’s best in data-driven marketing. (Breaking News—comedian Jake Johanssen will be this year’s host.)

There are no longer media categories among the entrants—a reflection of how marketing has converged. Instead, channels serve as brand engagement vehicles, and what matters most is their effectiveness in design, dialogue and generating responses to calls for action—from leads, to sales, to audience engagement on a measured scale. So a direct mail piece that is entered may exist (and be judged) alongside entries that represent Web sites, search campaigns, mobile apps, call center efforts, or—most often—integrated marketing campaigns. Again what matters—and only matters—are the strategy, creative and engagement metrics that define marketing effectiveness. Both consumer and business-to-business markets are incorporated.

The categories where entrants are recognized are by industry—15 altogether. You can review the list here.

This is what being an ECHO judge tells me every year:

  1. How are brands and their agencies measuring effectiveness in data-driven marketing? What metrics have they chosen to index or communicate? How is marketing return on investment conveyed? Increasingly, marketing dashboards appear to be in use—with relevant components part of the external results story.
  2. What creative trends are in play? What constitutes break-through creative? What is the unusual and innovative? Where has risk been met with reward? And who (clients and agencies) are being the most courageous worldwide—while also being effective?
  3. How are data being collected, analyzed and—in some cases—visualized? While the entry forms this year were streamlined and don’t have as much budget information in the past—this really has served to heighten visibility on the data, analysis and segmentation techniques being deployed in the strategy.
  4. What is state-of-the-art in data-driven marketing on a global scale? This year, as always, entries were submitted through various partners and submitted to early judging in Denmark, Australia and the United States, comprising dozens of countries in nearly all continents. It is great to see how globally data-driven marketing is practiced—and the creative genius and extraordinary results achieved in both mature and less mature markets.
  5. Finally, judging happens on an individual basis—as a judge you evaluate a campaign, providing your own perspective. But the judging is a collective one—bringing together experienced peers from all over the nation and world. Once the entries and judging scores are in, we do tend to share with each other our impressions of the experience in the aggregate—and meet great people in the process.

In brief, the ECHOs are an idea store for marketing strategists, creative professionals—and the PR folks like me who support my clients in entering awards. I’ve learned not just about how to create great marketing—but how to tell the story behind great marketing. Both count when it comes to crafting an award entry that wins.

You can find out who the winners are firsthand by attending DMA2013 in Chicago, USA, this year (October 12-17, 2013). Make sure to indicate in your registration for a ticket to the ECHO Awards Gala where a separate registration is required: http://dma13.org/registration/

Come October, I’ll definitely be sharing in this blog snippets from some of my favorite campaigns this year!

Why Is Customer Loyalty So Hard to Get? And How Can You Get It Now?

Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley Davidson must have a secret formula. Customer loyalty for them goes beyond the norm. Calling the people who buy their products “customers” doesn’t do justice. “Raving fans” is a much better description. Billions of dollars are spent every year on customer relationship management in an effort to inspire loyalty. Reward programs are implemented and abandoned when the cost to maintain exceeds the return. Loyalty is hard to get and easy to lose.

Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley Davidson must have a secret formula. Customer loyalty for them goes beyond the norm. Calling the people who buy their products “customers” doesn’t do justice. “Raving fans” is a much better description.

Billions of dollars are spent every year on customer relationship management in an effort to inspire loyalty. Reward programs are implemented and abandoned when the cost to maintain exceeds the return. Loyalty is hard to get and easy to lose. This is why the companies that have it guard their brand image with a vengeance.

The benefits of good customer/company relationships are well known. When people feel connected to a company, they become lifetime customers and advocates for the brand. Some companies naturally attract loyalty because of their product appeal and exclusivity. The rest have to earn it.

Earning loyalty begins with understanding relationships between customers and companies. Loyalty is hard to get because companies are focusing on the wrong things when they try to build relationships with their customers. Transactional and service relationships are the only type that people want with companies. All of the talk in social media about anything deeper is fantasy. Trying to connect with people beyond fulfilling their needs and expectations is a waste of resources.

Social media is one of many channels that companies use to communicate with customers and prospects. It is an excellent way to share information about the company, products and events and interact with people. It is not a replacement for taking care of the basics that provide the foundation for loyalty. Trying to shortcut the loyalty process by creating viral content is ineffective. If you want an interactive social presence, start with the fundamentals that are endearing to customers.

People want simple and easy more than anything else. Life is complicated and short. They do not want to invest time in the buying process. Simplifying the buying decision and making it easy to purchase, return and resolve issues will do more to create loyalty and increase revenue than anything else. Multiple channels and a variety of tools are available that provide economical and efficient methods to improve the shopping and service experience. To fast-track loyalty for your company:

  • Clean House: Review every process, procedure and policy to insure it is necessary and as efficient as possible. The shorter the paths from initial contact to purchase and problem to resolution, the better. It makes it easy for customers and economical for you.
  • Improve FAQ’s: Answer questions before they are asked. Sometimes this means you have to anticipate the questions because people don’t always know what they need to ask. Including the questions that should be asked in the FAQ’s improves trust and reduces resistance.
  • Supercharge Emails: Add service emails to your marketing mix. Service emails educate and inform customers and prospects so they know what’s happening and how to interact with your company. Educated customers are happier and easier to serve.
  • Offer Self-Service: People don’t really want to talk to your company representatives. They find it easier to solve their own problems when possible. Providing self-service opportunities pleases customers and reduces operating costs.
  • Invite Feedback: Your customers are the best source of information on how to improve your business. Invite them to share their thoughts and make the process as easy as possible. Be sure to always respond with gratitude and information on how the suggestions will be used. It gives ownership and connects people to your company.
  • Do It Yourself: Before expecting your customers and prospects to do anything, try it yourself first. If you developed the process and cannot be objective, ask someone outside the company to do it with you watching. The pain points are quickly identified when this is done.

Packaging: A Conspiracy Among Dentists?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox. I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox.

I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in the plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

It honestly took me about five minutes to get to the actual poles because it required heavy-duty shears (buried inside our gardening shed), and all of my strength just to cut through the plastic shell. I nearly damaged the poles (not to mention my fingernails) while trying to pry the clam shell pieces a part. Who designs this stuff? And more importantly, why?

These same plastic clamshells are used to encase all sorts of products, equally protected from the hazards of the modern world. I was in an airport a while ago, wasting time between flights by browsing products at the smart phone accessories counter, and every single item was hanging in one of these plastic prisons.

It would be logical to assume that the plastic protects the product from being damaged during shipment, but did that industrial designer ever give one moment’s consideration to the consumer and how they’re going to access the product post-purchase? Who among us travels with scissors or knives (especially in an airport)? And that’s when my conspiracy theory started.

Have you ever gone “old school” and purchased a music CD? Forget trying to listen to the CD in your car on the way home, as there is simply no way to rip open the package—period. The plastic wrap is on so tight there’s nothing to use as leverage to start the “cutting” process.

I’ve tried using my car key, a small screwdriver designed for sunglasses screws, a pen, a sharp stick and, of course, the final resort—my teeth (sorry Dr. Pelfini!). And even then, I’ve repeatedly broken/damaged the CD case while trying to get it open, so it can’t be re-used for storage.

I’ve used my teeth to try and rip open small packages of nuts on the airplane (those little “slits” are a joke for fingers), and am often rewarded with the bag slicing open, but my 10 precious peanuts are scattered across the laps of my seat mates.

I know I’m not alone in this practice: I’ve watched a guy rip off the paper that encases a straw with his teeth and then spit out the torn off end, and a Mom open the plastic bag covering a toy from a fast-food joint with her teeth while her toddler had a melt down.

But it was a recent jar of peanut butter that stopped me cold. After unscrewing the lid, the paper covering that came between me and my craving didn’t have one obvious way to peel it off other than stabbing at it with a sharp knife. While I was lucky enough to be in my own kitchen at the time, I thought about all those kids out there trying to make their first sandwiches, weeping in frustration.

Since packaging is one of the “Five P’s of Marketing,” I’d like to suggest to marketers everywhere that they re-examine their current packaging from a consumer point of view. If opening your product requires knives, scissors and the strength of 10-men, you may want to take a step back and rethink your packaging options.

DM 101: A Small Business Primer

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall of Spider Trainers. Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall, of Spider Trainers.

Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier.

There’s not enough room on this page to cover everything I’d like to say, but based on the questions, here are my top five pieces of direct marketing advice:

1. Before You Begin Any Marketing Program, Decide Where You’re Going
Start with your company’s business objectives (Grow revenue? I certainly hope so!), and work backwards.

There are really two key marketing strategies to achieving this objective: Retain existing customers (i.e. retain existing sources of revenue), and add new customers. Duh. But retaining existing customers should include measurable marketing objectives like increasing average order size, increasing number of transactions per customer, and increasing frequency of purchases. Marketing to cold prospects might include metrics like increasing the number of qualified leads into the sales pipeline, or driving more traffic to your web store. Depending on your objective, different marketing strategies and tactics will be utilized.

2. Know Who Your Existing Customers Are
If you can’t profile them by the data you collect, you can append data from a reliable third-party data provider—and many of them offer analytic services so you can get a good handle on your buyer profiles.

Another option is to think about your product/service and how you might market it differently if you knew your customers better. For example, if you knew your customers had toddlers, would that drive a different set of messages than, say, parents of teens? Do a survey and ask your customers to share key information with you. (An incentive to fill out a SHORT survey often works; make sure you only ask questions you can use the insights from in future marketing efforts.)

On the B-to-B side, do your customers tend to come from a handful of industries only? Then you have a better chance of selling to more customers in those industries than in a brand new industry. Knowledge is power, so it’s difficult to plan and execute successful marketing efforts if you don’t understand your customer base.

Don’t forget about taking a deeper dive into your data to find your “best” customers. Chances are 20 percent of your base is driving 80 percent of your revenue. Better know who they are—and fast—so you can make plans to protect and incent them to stay loyal.

3. Clean Up Your Act Before You Try to Make More Friends
Since most customers will visit your website first, make sure it’s optimized for site visitors … and for smart phone users (yes, the future is NOW). On the B-to-B side, you better have your LinkedIn profile updated with a professional picture and solid bio, because, yes, people do judge a book by its cover.

4. Choose the Right Media Channels
This is probably the hardest one to get right. Do magazine ads work? Yes, if your audience reads a particular publication. Does cold prospecting work? No. End of statement. Does direct mail work? Yes, if you spend time identifying who your best customers are, profiling them, then overlaying that profile on a list to find look-alikes, and you combine a meaningful offer in an appropriate format. There are lots and lots of nuances in direct mail, and most folks get it wrong. So how do you make the right media decisions? If you know who your best customers are, find out where they congregate—that’s where you want to have a presence.

In the B-to-B world, this can be made a little easier as business people get together at industry events, join industry associations, read industry publications, etc., etc. It’s a little easier to figure out ways to get your message in front of them.

In the B-to-C world, you need to be much more analytical. Go back to the profile of your best customers. What do they have in common? In what context would your product/service appeal to them? Instead of trying to “interrupt” their behavior by placing an ad where they’re not even thinking about your solution, try to place your ad in an appropriate context. For example, if you’re a nonprofit trying to reach high net-worth prospects for charitable giving, use your PR skills to try and get a story placed about your efforts. Then, purchase banner ads on the publication’s site so they run next to the article about you—or place an ad within their publication when the article runs. Use Google Analytics and AdWords to understand the most popular search terms for products/services like yours. See what your competitors are doing and figure out how you can differentiate yourself with your message.

5. Format Matters
I’m often asked if postcards work. Or is a #10 package better than a self mailer. And what about Three-Dimensional packages—are they worth it? The answer is yes, yes and yes … but here are a few things to consider:

  • Postcards work best when you have a single, simple message to convey. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
  • Self-mailers work better if you need a little more real estate to tell your story. Plus, they can be quite “promotional” in nature, so they’re not taken as serious communication.
  • Envelope packages work best if you have a more complex message. A letter (with subheads, please, as we’re all scanners of content), order form, brochure and business reply envelope (yes, they still work like a charm), can all work if your audience is older. (Here’s a hint: Not everybody wants to go to your web site, fill out a form and give you a credit card number if they can check a box on your form, add a check and mail it back to you on your dime.)
  • 3D packages can work like gangbusters if the item inside is engaging and makes sense as it relates to your brand/message. Inexpensive tchotchkes don’t usually work very well—they don’t garner attention and they don’t make your brand look smart.

Net-net, marketing is a skill. And, considering you will invest to get financial gain for your business, you really shouldn’t try to do it without professional help.