How to plan and write website language

Whether you’re developing a new website or revamping your existing site, spend some time writing effective text. Powerful language will complement the design and technological features of your website to give the viewer a more lasting impression.

Preparation

To begin, think about your viewers. Who are they and what else are they reading? This will help you write your website copy so that it stands out from online competition. Think about what you want viewers to know or believe about your company. This is your elevator speech put into written text. Then, decide what one action step you’d like viewers to take. You might want them to call you, send an e-mail or recommend your company to others. Choose which action step is most important to your business because you’ll want to remind viewers to do this multiple times across your website. Finally, decide on a tone of voice for your website copy. What makes sense for your industry and your individual personality?

Landing/home page

Visuals are important on your landing page so the copy needs to be short and sweet. Just one or two sentences describing your offering will be the most effective. Your logo and branding colours should be prominent. Less is more on this page. Viewers can click through to other sections to read further information about your company.

About

In this section, include background about your company including its origins and mission. Explain why you started the business and why you are qualified to provide what you’re selling. Establish your credibility by describing your qualifications and experience. This could be a place to describe how your company is different from competitors, if the differences relate to your background. Include your call to action (call, e-mail, etc) and relate it to finding out more about your experience.

Services/offering

This is where you show the reader exactly what you’re selling. Use lists, columns, buttons or other interesting formats to break up long text. If your list of services is very long, break it up into sub-sections with smaller components listed underneath. Make sure your offering is understandable to people outside of your specific industry; it’s ok to use simple language followed by a more specific product definition.  This section is another area where you can describe how your product is different from competitors. Again, include your call to action and relate it to the viewer’s need for what you’re selling.

What others say

Testimonials and quotes from existing clients make great selling points. These could be sprinkled throughout the other sections of the website, or you could gather them into their own area. Include photos of clients if you can. Don’t forget your call to action on this page as well.

Work samples/portfolio

Depending on what you’re selling, show viewers in this section some of the previous work you’ve done or other clients you’ve supported. Case studies work well as brief stories about how your product helped a client solve a problem or challenge. If appropriate, professional photos or images of your offering should be included. This is the place to demonstrate how your product or service has benefitted other clients. Make viewers want to join your impressive roster of clients. And remind them to get in touch through your call to action.

News/blog

While not essential, you might want to consider a section where you can post regular blogs, articles or other news pieces. This is your opportunity to show interest in industry trends, demonstrate your expertise and showcase your point of view. Despite my advice to clients, I took ages to commit to a blog! But I’ve learned that it needn’t be time-consuming or rigidly scheduled. If you’re unsure, ask your website designer to include a tab in the design but you don’t need to activate it until you’re ready. Your call to action belongs in this section as well.

Contact

Include your location, telephone number and e-mail address. My designer recommended a link to my Twitter account on this page so the website is regularly updating.

Remember that your website is your ‘shopfront’ so make it personable and welcoming. Try to be yourself in your copy. After all, the language is representing your company so it needs to be authentic. Finally, work with a website designer to really make the most of the latest technology and graphics. I’ve posted a few recommendations for friendly and professional designers here.

Happy writing and do let me know if you need help with your website copy!

Knowing the audience in 2015

One of my most interesting writing projects in 2015 was developing a new brochure for parents of children with epilepsy. The marketing goal was to educate this group of parents about the benefits of Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy (VNS) as an option to help reduce the occurrence and severity of seizures. But I appreciated the opportunity to ‘know the audience’ before beginning to write the new promotional piece.

I visited Great Ormond Street Hospital, Southampton Children’s Hospital and the Neville Childhood Epilepsy Centre to meet with nurses, parents and children with epilepsy who were using VNS therapy. Through surveys and interviews, I learned what it’s like to care for children with epilepsy and how treatment decisions are made. Some of the insights gained were new to the client, so valuable in and of themselves. Most importantly, I was able to write the new brochure in a way that reflected the target audience’s specific situations and addressed their concerns.

‘Know your audience’ is a theme for me because I believe it’s critical for effective communication. Sometimes there is no budget or time for hearing first-hand from a target audience, but the marketing results are usually poorer for it. I was pleased this client understood the importance of finding out what the target customers already knew and where knowledge gaps existed. And I’m happy to say the new brochure copy hits the mark.

curare bambini

Too much choice? Shopping for health coverage in America

A recent New York Times article detailed some of the challenges facing US health consumers as the annual open enrollment season for health insurance coverage opens again. While the Affordable Care Act has allowed millions of Americans who previously couldn’t afford to do so purchase insurance plans, the process is far from simple.

I’m not one to blog about ‘market volatility,’ but it occurred to me that health communication is not only affected by this dynamic purchasing environment but could also play a role in patient outcomes as consumers evaluate insurance plans.

Each year, US health consumers comparison shop for insurance coverage plans based on factors such as services provided, treatments included, diagnostic tests covered, which health care professionals are accessible and, of course, cost. So far, these factors have seemed to change each year with some insurers dramatically raising or lowering costs or removing particular services from their plans. Consumers are responding by evaluating their options each year and often switching plans.

One potential result of changing insurance plans is a change in health care provider. Patients who change doctors need to know how to discuss their health concerns quickly and thoroughly with new health professionals. And doctors need to know how to elicit the information they need from new patients. Health dialogue will need to adapt to suit this changing environment.

Savvy health consumers will gain confidence in choosing insurance plans and providers because they will carry with them the most knowledge about how to manage their health. Patients who want the best health outcomes will need information and empowerment to look after themselves. This is not to imply that patients know more than health care professionals about avoiding disease and managing conditions. But it seems that increased health communication and patient education will make annual purchasing decisions easier and more effective.

Overall, I believe that increased choice for US health consumers is having a positive effect with more people accessing coverage and care than before. In the future, perhaps insurance companies will adapt too and stabilize coverage options and prices to limit the annual switching during open enrollment season. Until then, I’m sending best wishes for effective shopping and health communication to my friends in America!

affordable care act

Healthy communication

Informing and empowering customers to make the best purchase decisions is a worthy goal for marketing communicators. I agree with a recent essay from Captive Health that this is essential for health care communication as well. Educating patients about how to avoid disease and manage ongoing conditions is not only the right thing to do, it also saves money.  In fact, the author argues that providing information should be considered part of medical therapy and therefore standard practice.

In most aspects of life, informed decisions result in better outcomes. We know that if a customer chooses to buy a particular product or service based on inaccurate or incomplete information, she will regret it later. So while marketing communicators want to share positive messages about their clients or companies, it’s important to recognize that audiences are savvy and want the full picture. We’re all consumers of health care services so we want to know what our medical options are and the pros and cons of each.

According to Captive Health, more education for both health care providers and patients is needed to help them engage in fruitful discussions about medical management options together. The more we talk to our health care professionals about the risks and benefits of various interventions, the more informed we’ll be to make healthy decisions. It’s not easy to prioritize honest dialogue throughout the health decision making process when appointment times are tight and budgets even tighter. But the improvements in health outcomes and financial savings that arise from empowered patients demonstrate why better health communication is a worthy goal.

I’ve written in a previous blog post that effective communication helps customers clearly understand what they’re buying into so they are happy to take action and even recommend the same to others. What might happen if you give your customers all the information they need to make the right decisions for themselves? Educating and empowering your audience to do what’s best for them may be the right thing to do and may earn you more loyal business in the long run.

Captive Health report

Presentation tips that work for writing too

Recently, I attended a lunchtime training session on Effective Presentations at the fabulous Olympic Studios in Barnes. While jotting down the helpful tips the speakers provided, I was reminded that some of the same advice applies to developing a persuasive piece of writing. Logical, I suppose, as developing content to be delivered to an audience whether verbally or in writing requires some thoughtful preparation. So, here are some presentation tips that work for writing too -

Know your audience

Peter Mather of BP Europe spoke about preparing content for a presentation and Amanda Cropper from the Polka Theatre offered practical tips for powerful delivery of a presentation. Peter’s first tip was to know your audience. So, for a live presentation, he recommended researching how many people will be at your event, who will be in your audience and why they’re attending. Knowing your audience is equally important when writing marketing materials. Researching your target’s environment and motivations will make all the difference in persuading them to read your messages.

Tell a story

Another tip Peter gave was to tell a story. In a live presentation, this means building a structure around the beginning, middle and end of your talk and focusing on just three or four points for your audience to remember. Peter also recommended illustrating your points with personal stories.  Similarly, when writing a marketing piece, it’s helpful to deliver only two to three key points. Including your personality in a letter or email will help your audience connect with you when you’re not there in person.

Stick to the point

When delivering a presentation, Peter reminded us to stick to the point. Eliminate extraneous facts or arguments to reduce the chances of distracting your audience. This reminder is helpful for writing marketing materials as well because readers need to be captured in the first few sentences or else they will move on to reading something else.

Enjoy

Lastly, Peter encouraged presenters to try to enjoy the experience. If you’re authentic and show that you believe in what you’re saying, your audience will be engaged in your talk. Enjoy yourself and your audience will be more likely to enjoy themselves. Similarly when writing, it’s effective to demonstrate enthusiasm for what you’re announcing. If you truly believe that what you’re selling will benefit your audience, this message will come through.

Bring the right person into the room

Amanda focused very much on the physical preparations for speaking to a live audience. She suggested ways to relax and anchor yourself to the ground when standing in front of an audience. Practicing deep breathing is another way to deliver a powerful speech and Amanda spoke about rehearsing to reduce any nervousness. But the advice that Amanda gave that resonated most with me as far as writing was to ‘bring the right person into the room.’ She recommended deciding in advance who you want to be during the presentation, how you want to portray yourself. I think this applies to writing a marketing piece even more because you need to represent yourself through words only, without any visual cues to demonstrate your professionalism or other benefits of your business.  So I’d recommend as well deciding who you want to be before you start writing about yourself and your company.

Fundraising for a good cause

Many thanks to both speakers for this valuable session. The training was organized as a fundraiser for the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, offering world-class theatre for children. Check out their performances and creative, community programmes.  It was especially nice to help a worthy cause while gaining valuable business skills!

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Marketing: A dark art?

Recently, I heard marketing described as ‘a dark art.’ What a shame that our profession is so misunderstood and maligned. This reputation for trickery and obfuscation is undeserved. My guess is that people who feel this way have experienced unsuccessful marketing campaigns and are fearful of sorting out the reasons why the programmes failed.

Professional marketeers and communicators bring ethics and transparency to their work. We aren’t misleading or mysterious and our intention is not to dupe people into doing things they shouldn’t. Certainly in the health care field, there are numerous regulations to stop dishonest sales techniques. But the communicators I admire avoid deception because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of industry rules.

We are paid to develop persuasive messages and make sure the right audiences see them at the right time to encourage action. Yes, we research audiences and identify their motivations to sell products and services, but there is no hidden agenda. The last thing we want is for audiences to feel bullied or tricked into making decisions, then regretful afterwards. The ideal result is for an audience to clearly understand and buy into our marketing messages so they are happy with the intended action and even recommend it to others.

All this pushes consumers to be more savvy, which is no bad thing. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if people carefully analysed their purchase options and made educated choices? The more shrewd audiences become, the more honest marketing campaigns need to be. One could suggest this creates a virtuous circle between communicators and their audiences.

Despite comments about marketing as a dark art, I will continue aiming for transparency and honesty in my communications programmes. It makes good business sense because this is what clients want. The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) published a report demonstrating that the top three attributes clients look for in consultants are creativity, honesty and trust. So let’s continue being genuine and transparent and carry on the professional reputation of the marketing field.

 

Effective communication: Know your audience

Previously, I wrote a few tips for effective communication including ‘know your audience.’ This is so important for making sure your written and verbal business communication makes a difference. When you put time and effort into developing a particular message or story, you’ll want to make sure it resonates with the right people. But how can you learn more about your target audience?

  • Ask questions

You probably have good business relationships with people similar to those you are trying to reach. Ask them how they make decisions about purchasing your type of product or service. What sources of information do they find credible? Who are their influencers? What do they look for when shopping and what factors tip them toward one provider over another? Try using LinkedIn to survey your contacts about a new message. While not scientific, the responses will give you insights about how your potential customer will receive your communication.

  • Read what they read

Find out what your audience cares about by reading their trade publications, looking at industry websites and scanning social media. What are the values of your target’s industry? What issues are your targets concerned about and what are their business challenges? Learn what type of corporate language your audience uses. You don’t need to mimic this in your communication, but make sure your style fits in. You could also attend conferences and events about your audience’s industry to hear about trends and align your messages.

  • Observe your own responses

Be a focus group of one by paying attention to your responses to persuasive messages. Are there particular stories that resonate with you? Think about why that communication broke through and made you want to take action. The messages may be completely unrelated to your business, but noting your responses will give you useful information. Why did a particular radio story make you visit a website? Why did you share a newspaper article you read? What was it about a blog post that prompted you to comment? What made you keep reading a particular website? Apply what you learn to your messages so they persuade your target audience to take action.

This audience research may take place over time. The important thing is to start somewhere with a bit of learning about your target. Don’t worry if you need to come back to it periodically.

All of this research about your target audience will increase your credibility. When you sit down to write your messages, all that you’ve learned will come through and demonstrate that you understand your target’s situation. Your communication will be meaningful to your audience and more likely to prompt action.

Best wishes for insightful audience research and effective business communication!

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It’s what you say AND how you say it

The saying goes ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.’ But I think we can do better. In business communication, I believe that both aspects matter:  what you say and how you say it.

What good would it do to write persuasive copy for a brochure about your product or service, then send the piece out with shoddy graphic design? What impact would an internal email about extra holiday time have on employees if it was written with convoluted phrases and jargon?

Unless we get both content and delivery right, we are unlikely to have the intended effect on our audiences. Focusing on only one half of the process is like leaving the job only half done. Smart businesses communicate powerful messages through effective messengers. For example, business leaders carefully choose every word of their speeches, and then deliver them with confidence and influence. The best websites offer compelling stories with appealing visuals.

Review your marketing content to ensure the explanation of what you offer is clear and persuasive. Limit your messages to hold the attention of your readers and motivate them to take action. Are you using language that resonates with your specific targets? Can your potential customers recognize themselves as people who need your services?

Take a look at how you are presenting your marketing messages. Your company’s visual impression should be consistent across all of your material, online and offline. Do the design and functionality of your website demonstrate the values and personality of your company? Does your employee newsletter invite interaction and feedback through creative composition?

We all have room to improve both what we say and how we say it. I listed some great local graphic designers in an earlier post ‘Designers to make your website POP’ and do let me know if I can help with copywriting.  Just remember to put forward your best message and your best messenger.

Happy new year 2015

Five tips for 2015 communication planning

It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to wrapping up work for the holiday season and looking ahead to business growth in the next year. Most businesses need thoughtful planning to grow and develop so take some time to create a 2015 marketing plan. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of a plan as it can be as simple or as detailed as suits your business. Yours may be scribbled thoughts on the back of an envelope or a detailed document outlining activities and timing. Whatever works for you, here are some questions to consider when developing your marketing ideas.

1. Assess 2014

What marketing activities resulted in expansion of current business or new leads? Which ideas felt the most effective? Look at the amount of time you spent on different types of marketing and think about which activities were the most efficient in producing results. Where did you invest your marketing time and money? Did you communicate with the right target customers and if not, why not? Did your business grow in the direction you wanted it to? If you have time, ask a few of your new clients how they heard about your business and why they chose to engage with you.

2. List target clients

Based on your existing client base and your thoughts about new business, decide which new clients you’d like to reach in 2015. Do you want to gain more of the same type of work or do you want to add customers to your roster from new industries? Do you have specific expertise that is not being used by your current customers and, if yes, would you like to work with new clients in that area? Be as specific as possible by listing companies and individuals you’d like to work with and which of your services or products would benefit them.

3. Mix and match

With the 2014 assessment for reference, list the marketing activities you will implement in 2015. If something worked well, don’t reinvent the wheel but update and repeat that process. Also be open to new communication avenues that you haven’t considered in the past. Your decisions need to be guided by your audiences so you’ll need to do some research into what will work for each of your new target clients. For each new target, think about their influencers, where they learn new information and how you can get your messages in front of them. You’ll want to position your products or services as solutions to your target’s business challenges so take some time to understand their needs. Match up your list of new target clients with the marketing approach you’ll use for each.

4. Strengthen existing relationships

It is so much more efficient to gain more business from existing clients than to recruit brand new customers.  Make a list of the existing clients that you really want to keep and grow in 2015. Think about why they chose to work with you and make sure you’re still going above and beyond for them. Perhaps 2015 is a good time to offer a feedback session where your key customers can tell you what they feel is working and what could be improved. If hospitality is appropriate, take your top clients out for a new year’s lunch to find out what new business challenges they’re facing. Offer as much support as you can, even if it means referring the client to an associated business. Choose one new service or product to introduce to each existing client in the course of strengthening relationships next year.

5. Make the time

Have you just found your wrinkled 2014 marketing plan at the back of a notebook and thought, ‘Those were some good ideas – I wish I had implemented them this year’? Do you recall a distant but energetic conversation with a mentor or peer about exciting new communication approaches? Let’s make sure 2015 is different and that you’ve got solid results from your marketing efforts one year from now. Make time in your own way. You might mark one day a month in your calendar and spend it communicating with new target clients. Or you could spend several days in January planning different messages to use in your client communication through the year. Perhaps scheduling in-person meetings with your existing clients will strengthen those relationships. Or just keep a visual reminder of your 2015 marketing ideas in your office.

Good luck writing your 2015 marketing plan. I’m wishing you all the best for successful business communication in the coming year!

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Inspiration for women in business

Looking for some motivation this week? I attended a conference organized by the Athena women’s network and thought it might be helpful to share some of the tips, reading suggestions and inspiration I gained there. The successful women who presented served as powerful examples of how to achieve your business goals while remaining true to yourself.

Sophie Bennett talked about how to raise your charisma by deciding to radiate your best internal qualities: grace, passion, integrity, warmth and confidence. I’ll admit that some days I may not have the energy needed to radiate! But it was reassuring to remember that these internal qualities are within all of us, we just need to decide to share them.It makes sense that the word ‘charisma’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘gift of grace.’ Only your audience can decide whether you have charisma.

Jane Milton reminded us of the value a business mentor can bring to you and your company. Instead of looking for a particular type of mentor, think about what you want for your business. Seek people who will take you out of your comfort zone. It also helps to look for a mentor who has done or achieved what they intended.

Marisa Peer shared her insights about natural leaders and the power of praise. I loved her demonstration of how negative thoughts literally make us weak. But by praising others and ourselves, we fill up with goodness and strength. She also suggested using solution-oriented language when facing challenges. Instead of asking why, focus on how you can improve or fix the situation.

Nichola Cairncross suggested an enlightening exercise to examine how we define our business success. Create a chart with a scale of 0 to 10 on the y axis and time in years on the x axis. Then use three different colors to mark, over time, your levels of hard work, happiness and income. Here is Nichola’s result:

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Nichola also recommended a handful of books to anyone in business, but they might be particularly inspiring for women entrepreneurs:

  • How to be a woman of substance
  • Rich dad poor dad
  • Seven day start up
  • Traction
  • Pitch anything

Catherine Watkin recommended ways to market our businesses and ‘close the deal’ without feeling pushy. She suggested offering a service that will leave the client in a better place than before they connected with you. Perhaps if our service doesn’t do this, we shouldn’t be selling to that particular client. Clients need to trust you and feel they are in safe hands, so asking if they have concerns will help them feel confident in their decision.

Taking a day away from my office to interact with other women entrepreneurs was rejuvenating. I recommend the Athena Inspire conference  to others running small businesses as a valuable investment of your time.