A Symphonic Approach to Communication

I went to the Symphony last week for a lovely multi-media performance of  Peer Gynt.  It was conducted by the wonderful Michael Tilson Thomas and featured lush music by different composers interspersed with actors and singers telling the story of Peer Gynt and his trail of destruction, and eventual salvation through a good woman, of course. Overhead, beautiful films of wild Scandinavian landscapes, seascapes and industrial scenes were projected onto a kind of silvery mesh.

What struck me was how well the different pieces worked together. The music set the tone, the actors elaborated on the story and the video created moods, hinted at the passing of time and gave us insight into the motivation and emotions of the characters. None of it was repetitious, there was no borrowing of the actors words to project onto the video mesh and no heavy handed spelling out of the years at sea beyond the music and images. Each piece supported the others by being the best version of itself that it could be.

That’s how I’d like to see different communication or content pieces working. Each could stand alone but together they reflect different angles, expose different views and probably appeal to different audiences. The message remains the same but the expression of the message was varied and all the more interesting for that.  It’s probably a bit much to ask that white papers and case studies be as beautiful as Grieg’s music or the singing of the SF Symphony Chorus, but I’m definitely hooked on the idea of a whole that can be bigger than its parts.


Tailoring Content for Decision Makers

The Content Marketing Institute has just released its latest report B2B Content Marketing:2013 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America and it makes interesting reading.

The report outlines various stats including a projected increase in marketing budget spend on content marketing and the development of new channels including an appearance for gamification – the new kid on the block.

The part of the report that really interested me however, was the fact that 91% of the respondents said that they tailored their content in some way, with the overwhelming majority (71%) tailoring that content to the profile of the decision maker. First of all – what the heck are the other 9% doing? How is it even possible to write something without tailoring it to your audience, or the stage in the buying cycle or something, anything? What does that kind of content even look like?  But moving on, what does it mean to tailor to the profile of the decision maker?

In essence, what it means is understanding your audience and the purpose of your content. If you know who you’re writing to, and the action you want those people to take, then you’re half way there as a writer. By tailoring your content, you’re setting out to educate and persuade a particular audience and present yourself as a trustworthy educator and adviser to those people.

As a writer, my process would then look like this:

  • Who is making the decision?  – Have a discussion with the client about what customer profiles they have, what they hear from their customers, who they think really holds the power in the purchasing decision.
  • Research their issues – Ask the client for their perspective, check out online forums and groups on Linked In, Twitter, Facebook etc. to see what those people are talking about.
  • Answer their questions – How does the product solve the problems that the audience discusses, or what do we know that could help them with an issue (even if not directly related to a product – it goes to creating a context of problem solving.)
  • Use their language – what jargon do they use, how do they abbreviate things, what are common metaphors or idioms in this community? Always bear in mind the excellent advice of brilliant copywriter, Eugene Schwartz : “One hour a day, read. Read everything in the world except your business. Read junk. Very much junk. Read so that anything that interests you will stick in your memory. Just read, just read, just read… There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.”

Really, content marketing is about educating so you have to think about what your audience wants to learn or might enjoy learning, or at the very least, needs to learn.  And then you have to give that to them, over and over, in an engaging, entertaining, relevant way.

Well, I never said being a writer was easy….

5 Ways to Say No ( to the wrong clients)

I had a fun time chatting with Ilise Benun who heads up Marketing Mentor and runs the Creative Freelancer Conference that I went to earlier this year.  We talked about how to say no to clients that don’t fit with your business and you can hear the podcast of our conversation here.

The interesting thing for me about learning to say no, and turning down work that doesn’t fit my business model is that it seems to be setting up a virtuous circle. It’s really helped me to focus on what I do want, rather than taking jobs because I’m scared of what might happen otherwise.  I feel that I’m defining my positioning better and making conscious steps towards the business I want rather than drifting, which in turn makes me sound more confident when I’m talking to my right people.

It also means that I’m really focusing my work and building greater expertise in articles, case studies and white papers for technology companies. That doesn’t mean that it’s all I do – but it’s an easy way to explain to people what I can do for them.

All from one little word…


The Running Brief – Lessons I am Learning…

I have a client at the moment who is bursting with big ideas and full of enthusiasm. How wonderful, you think, just the kind of client we love. Well yes…and no.

The problem is that my client can’t make up her mind what she really wants. We’ve gone through numerous iterations of the content and each time it sparks a fresh new idea . Now we’re at risk of the content being stretched so far out of shape that it doesn’t do anything very well. It’s being asked to wear too many hats and carry too much weight. I know that, as the writer, it’s my responsibility to rein this in and let the poor content breathe and get to doing its job. However, I can’t quite convince the client of that …yet.

It takes me back to some tips I learned at the Creative Freelancer’s Conference in June about questions to ask in the first conversation with prospective clients. The questions are simple but the impact is profound:

  • Source – how did they learn about me
  • Need – what are you looking to accomplish? How are you addressing this now?
  • Timing – when’s your go-live date?
  • Decision process – are you deciding on price? Are you also talking to other writers?
  • Budget –
    • What budget do you have to work with?
    • Have funds been allocated?
    • Offer a ball park estimate ( and then shut up) : That sounds like it would be about $X

If I had asked these questions up front with this client ( alas, agreed to this before I went to the conference), I’d have understood that while the client was definitely excited to get started, there really wasn’t a concrete need or a go-live date to work to, and that I was stepping into something potentially troublesome and open-ended. So that would have been a red flag and I might have side-stepped my current dilemma!

Since I started using the questions on a more regular basis , I find that I’m much better able to sort out the serious clients from the excited-but-not-quite-ready-yet clients. Independent business is a long series of learning new things!

What do Corporate Writing Clients Really Want? Hint – It’s Not About the Writing.

I see a lot of advice out there about landing big corporate clients but I haven’t seen any that talks about what happens after.  There’s a lot about finding those clients but not much about what they really need when you get right down to it.

The biggest thing to know is that you’re not working with a big corporate entity – you’re working with a person.

Yes, that person may have a huge budget and a high profile company on her mind but what I have found again and again is that customer service is what turns those companies into repeat customers.

Internal communications managers are busy. They’re trying to juggle a million projects, advising leadership on how to communicate effectively with employees, finding ways to encourage employees to provide input, planning events and meetings, providing strategic advice and tactful feedback, all against a backdrop of corporate change, politics and budget cuts.

What they need is someone who can help them out by confidently and competently taking something off the to do list. What that really means is that it doesn’t begin and end with the writing.

When you write something for a client in a large corporate, you need to be able to synthesize a ton of other material and ensure your piece fits into the overall landscape. You have to be able to offer constructive suggestions about how to tie things together more closely.  You also need to be aware that corporate work often involves a number of  approvals and being willing to follow up with different people and coordinating their suggestions can be a great help to a client.

On top of that, you  serve in the role of “outsider”  so often you’re in a perfect position to be able to (gently) point out where employees might feel they’re getting contradictory or partial messages and prod work towards better effectiveness.

So you provide real service not by being the most amazing writer in the world  but by listening, supporting and taking the initiative to move their projects forward in a constructive way.

And that’s the real secret.