Competitor Research: Don’t Dismiss the Nobody

I got an interesting note from a client the other day:

I just got an email from Awesome Propsect that they went with another vendor. I’ve asked for feedback but suspect I won’t get much but if I do I’ll send to you.  I do know that the other two vendors I had never heard of before so it wasn’t a major competitor they went with.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind: Just because you’ve never heard of the person or company you’re losing business to doesn’t mean the person or company isn’t a major competitor. Heck, there was a time when most people had never heard of Google (yes, really). Anybody you lose business to is someone to watch, to consider, and to see what they’re doing right.

Don’t dismiss. Pay attention. That’s one of the most important things you can do when it comes to competitor research and buyer personas.

How to Use Customer Testimonials: 13 Ideas

Wondering how to use customer testimonials? Here are 13 ideas.

1. On your website. Here are some ideas:

  • Home page
  • As scrolling text (scrolling testimonials) on the header graphic of your website
  • On specific service or industry pages
  • In a “Testimonials” or “Happy Customers” section

2. On the back of your business card. Don’t waste this valuable space — use it!

3. On press/speaking materials.

4. On a “Testimonials” or “Review” section on Facebook.

5. As the inspiration for a blog post or newsletter topic. Pick an idea or theme from one of your testimonials and write a blog post around it. For example, in the testimonial Lise gave me above, she mentions my ability to turn “geek speak” into approachable copy. Well, “5 Tips for De-Geeking Copy” would make a fun blog post or newsletter article.

6. On email signatures. Call it “Happy Customer Quote” or “Fan Mail” and put it after your signature and use a new one every month. Opt for short, punchy, even funny ones, or testimonials that are super, super specific and talk about the type of business you want to get more of. Different people in your company can use different testimonials specific to their jobs and talents.

7. On LinkedIn. This involves an extra step of asking your client, provided you’re connected to him or her, to write the testimonial on LinkedIn. But most people are happy to do so.

8. On invoices.

9. In newsletters (electronic or print). They make great sidebar items.

10. In brochures.They work well as call-outs in the body copy, especially if they’re reinforcing a particular message.

11. On packaging.

12. On auto responder emails. For example, think of the welcome letter people receive when they subscribe to your newsletter through Constant Contact (or some other email vendor like Mail Chimp).

13. In advertising. Again, used as a call out, it can help reinforce the message.

What other ways do you use testimonials? I’d love to hear about them. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how to solicit customer testimonials, follow this strategy:

  • Ask (be clear how you’re going to use it and ask if you can use the person’s relevant info, like name and company).
  • Receive (always in writing — keep these permissions on file).
  • Show gratitude. A heartfelt thank you is always appreciated. And pay it forward by offering to write a testimonial for someone else who does a great job for you.

Business Anniversary Ideas: Mark Those Milestones

It always amazes me when companies overlook the simple things, like their own birthdays. Marking major milestones, like 10 years in business, is a great way to engage customers, reinforce credibility, and garner press. Here are five business anniversary ideas to weave into your marketing plan.

1. Note it on your website. I’m not talking words, but rather some sort of a visual that appears on every page. (Yes, you’ll want to note it in words as well.) Adding a banner graphic that notes the anniversary and having it link to a retrospective blog post is a good strategy. (Bonus: add the banner to social sites, like FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn.)

2. Create a promotion around the number. For example, if you’re celebrating 10 years in business and you’re an acupuncturist, have a contest where you’ll give one lucky winner 10 FREE treatments. You can get a lot of mileage out of a contest like this, since you can promote it through your website, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, email signatures, etc. To enter, people can fill out a form and write a brief statement (250 words or less) as to why they should be the winner and what they’d use the treatments for.

3. Expand your “About Us” section on your website. Add  “Through the Years” or a “Time Line” (or both) on your site where you visually walk people through some of your major milestones.

4. Throw a party. Seems obvious, right? Company anniversary celebration activities are a great way to let your business be REAL. Throwing a party mid-year (late June is a good time) is always a great way to thank people for their involvement in your success. I’m talking employees, customers, and vendors alike. Here in Massachusetts, a cool, fun place to hold a corporate event in Kimball Farm (great ice cream!) in Westford, Mass. Michael Katz of Blue Penguin has been holding anniversary events there for many years.

5. Give gifts. Identify your top tier clients and send them a gift that signifies your business milestone. For example, if you’re celebrating 20 years in business, consider sending an arrangement of day lilies to your top clients with a heartfelt thank you note (the day lily is the flower associated with 20th anniversaries).

Have some other ideas? I’d love to hear them. Leave ’em in the comments.

Does Direct Mail Still Work? (Short Answer: Yes)

Dear Copy Bitch: We’re an HVAC company, and we keep encountering marketing consultants who say we should abandon direct mail marketing altogether. But here’s the thing: our direct mail pieces convert. The ROI is great. Still, I wonder if this is just an anomaly, and if I should get out while I can and redistribute my marketing dollars elsewhere. We have an optimized website, we add engaging content regularly, and we’re delving into social media. Should we put all our focus in those things, or is it okay to still have some of our marketing dollars going towards direct mail? What say you, oh wondrous Copy Bitch? And if you do think there’s still a place for direct mail, can you give some examples of effective direct mail pieces? Thanks for the great blog!

–M.H., Atlanta, GA

ANSWER: The death of direct mail has been greatly exaggerated, methinks. A good direct mail piece can still work — and might even have a greater chance of working today, thanks to the fact so many people are abandoning this marketing method (i.e. if done right, your piece has a great chance of standing out since there are fewer pieces of junk mail, at least in my mailbox).

Now as my regular readers know, I drink at the Altar of HubSpot, and I worship Saint Godin. HubSpot is all about inbound marketing, but it recognizes that outbound marketing tactics — like direct mail — still have a place in a company’s marketing plan. Saint Godin is all about what works and what makes sense for your business and, most importantly, your customers.

So, in essence, you’ve answered your own question: your direct mail is working, people are responding to it, you’re seeing conversions, and you’re experiencing great ROI. You have marketing dollars invested in inbound marketing efforts as well. Sounds like you have the right mix right now. The key is monitoring and measuring results. What works today might not work two years from now. But it sounds like you’re well aware of that.

So what does work? Here are three direct mail pieces that were delivered to my mailbox that caught my attention (for the right reasons):

  1. A free DVD of the Oscar award-winning movie Smile Pinki from Smile Train, a charitable organization that I support. Who wouldn’t love to get a free movie in the mail? And this movie has a great way of reaching other potential donors, since I’m bound to share it (and talk about it, like I’m doing here) with others.
  2. Coupon booklets – I always thumb through the coupon booklets I get and often use the restaurant coupons.
  3. The book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. He didn’t send me his latest book because I ordered it. He sent it to me because I’d bought books from him in the past and he thought I’d enjoy it. Of course, I’d planned on buying the book on my own. I hadn’t placed my order yet, but in the letter that accompanied the book, Saint Godin said that if I already had Linchpin, then I should pass on this extra copy to someone else who could benefit. (Is the guy brilliant or what?)

Here’s a piece of snail mail that caught my attention for the WRONG reasons:

TruGreen and Lowe’s sent me an over-sized postcard with a coupon for $29.95 off my first custom lawn treatment. Problem is, I’m in an apartment building. All of us in the building got this postcard. Someone wasted marketing dollars on a mailing list that included apartment numbers, a field that could have been easily filtered out, had someone been paying attention to the details.

Customer Retention Strategies: Make it Easy to Cancel Memberships

So here’s the story. There will be a quiz at the end.

  • Once upon a time, I subscribed to an eCard company that I’m going to call Colorful Peaks. (I’m sure the smartypants out there will be able to figure it out.)
  • I subscribed to Colorful Peaks over ten years ago. I know this because when I recently went to put in my old standby password to login, it didn’t work, nor did any combination of password I’ve been using for the last ten years.
  • I can’t remember the last time I sent an eCard through Colorful Peaks.
  • This past Saturday, at 6:30 a.m., I received an email from Colorful Peaks reminding me that it was renewal time and that my credit card was going to be charged $15.99. The email also said this: If you prefer to discontinue your membership, you can find easy instructions on our Help pages. Go to <redacted link>, sign in, and click on ‘All About my Paid Membership’.
  • I immediately clicked on the link, thinking I’d cancel my membership right then and there.
  • I did not read the above “rules” carefully, and only clicked on the link and did not sign in. I was on a main Help Center page. I’m a savvy user, however, so I clicked on the section that said, “How do I…” This brought me to a page that listed a bunch of FAQ links, including “How do I cancel my subscription?
  • I clicked on the link, and was told I needed to login if I wanted to read the answer.
  • GRRRR.
  • So I entered my email address, which was the user name, and tried every combination of password I’ve been using for the last ten years. Nada. So I went through the “Forget password? Click here” rigmarole, and waited for the password to be emailed to me.
  • I got the password, actually said out loud to no one “Wow!,” reflected for several minutes on how much my life has changed since using such a password, got depressed, thought about putting tequila in my coffee, pouted because I had to be somewhere at 8 a.m. and didn’t want to go because I would rather wallow in my depression (I’m a sadist that way), and then rallied because I needed to cancel the damn account, shower, eat, feed the cat, go through my obsessive compulsive routine of shutting off the stove and checking the lights three times, and get out of the house.
  • So I quickly logged in, poised for an easy cancellation process, ONLY TO BE TOLD THIS: To request a cancellation of a subscription, please contact our membership support center by calling 1-888-254-1450, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. EST.
  • DOUBLE GRRR.
  • Let’s recap here: they send me the reminder at 6:30 am on a Saturday, try to confuse and depress me with the process of trying to figure out how to cancel my account, and leave me hanging for 48 hours before I can possibly attempt to cancel said account since they sent me the reminder on the weekend, and, no doubt, were hoping I’d have forgotten about it by Monday (they hadn’t counted on the fact I’m an angry blogger with no life).

Here’s the quiz: Couldn’t the folks at Colorful Peaks have put the cancellation information in the email to begin with? Yes or no?

Answer: Yes. Yes they could have. They chose not to.

I don’t understand why companies don’t let customers cancel online. Okay, I do understand why, and so does Saint Godin who talks about the reason in his recent post about stamps.com, but that doesn’t make it any better.

However, I could have forgiven Colorful Peaks for this requirement if the folks running the show had inserted the cancellation instructions in the body of the reminder email, which, by the way, had a subject line of “Important news about your Colorful Peaks Membership.”

Here’s your homework, business owners: when it comes to customer retention strategies, don’t follow this example. If you’re already doing something like this, go fix it. Now.

UPDATE: I drafted this post yesterday, but I just called to cancel my account. I started out with an auto attendant who decided my request was too complicated and handed me to a live person. This person was nice enough and efficient and of course wanted to know why I was canceling. I decided to see how she would respond to “I just can’t afford it.” She said they could lower the price to $11.99. I said no thanks.

In Social Media, Do One Thing Well

When it comes to social media, the biggest mistake I see business owners make is starting a Twitter account, a Facebook account, launching LinkedIn, and a blog. What’s wrong with all that? It’s simply too much at once.

I’m a big advocate of the “do one thing well first” philosophy. Choose the social medium that makes the most sense for your business and dedicate yourself to it for, say, 3-6 months. Ignore the people who tell you that in addition to that medium, you can easily spend an extra 10 minutes a day on this medium or that medium and increase your reach. It’s a great idea in theory, and some people might actually succeed, but the majority of us mortals will eventually slack off. Slacking off begets more slacking off, because once you get behind it seems impossible to catch up.

I know this sounds familiar to many of you.

So buck the emerging trend that you must be doing all these social media thingies at once. You don’t. Choose one. Do it well. Once it becomes second nature, add in another medium (if it makes sense to do so) and start the process all over.

Doing One Thing Well – A Real-Life Story

I recommend this to all my clients, and occasionally one will actually listen to me. One of my clients is an online retailer who owns two brands, a western wear shop and a casual leisure shirt shop. When we first started working together she wanted to blog and do Facebook and do Twitter. I shared my “do one well first” philosophy, and she listened.

We started with Facebook. Anyone who’s created a company page knows how frustrating the platform can be (which is when I remind myself that it’s free, and I have no right to complain). My client and I read e-books and articles on creating engaging company pages. We experimented with ads. We worked hard to build a fan base. One of the brands did better than the other, at first, and the fan base shot up. We then brought on another person to help engage the struggling page, and watched as its base finally started to inch up. We worked and experimented and failed and won and tried again. We’re now humming, and both fan bases are over 1700 people each, which isn’t bad for a small business that’s had a presence on Facebook since late last fall.

My client didn’t bring up Twitter at all during this time, but we recently talked about whether we’re ready to add it in. And that’s when I heard my words coming back at me. My client said, “I listened to you about doing one thing well, and you were right.”

Warmed the cockles of this copy bitch’s heart, let me tell you.

So follow my advice: when it comes to social media, focus on one thing first. Do it well. Get really good at it. Then consider your next step.

Need guidance? I can help! Learn more about my content strategy services.

Do You Want Great Copy or Perfect Copy?

Do you want great copy or perfect copy?

You’ll be surprised by my answer. Maybe.

Listen, sometimes you just have to hit “publish.”

I’m not advocating publishing crappy copy. But here’s the thing: you won’t know if the copy is going to work (convert) until you put it out there and let it do its thang.

Sadly, I’ve worked with too many clients over the years who’ve fallen victim to the Perfection Notion. They want to work on the copy until it’s perfect, PERFECT, do you hear?

Guess what? Impossible.

Perfection is a worthwhile pursuit as long as you understand that while you may at times come close, you’ll never fully get there. The sooner you accept this, the easier it will be to let go of your little copy darlings and send them forth into the world. Some of your little copy darlings will fail, even miserably. And other little copy darlings will achieve things even you didn’t think possible. But you won’t know until you let your copy go.

At some point (how about today?), hold your breath, close your eyes, and hit publish on a little copy darling you’ve been holding in captivity whilst waiting for perfection. This applies to blog posts, web pages, email newsletters, marketing plans, videos, e-books, and, well, just about everything in written form. Yes, including your Great American Novel. At some point, after you’ve labored and sweated and cried and shared with others and have listened to feedback and have revised some more, you need to hit “send” and see what happens.

This piece of advice applies to many areas of life, actually. Don’t let yourself become paralyzed by the silly idea that you can create something perfect. You can’t. Neither can I. And that’s okay.

Interested in great copy? I can help with that. Let’s chat about my copywriting services.

Conversational Copywriting: Don’t underestimate “chatty” writing

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m banging my head over here because, once again, I’ve encountered a client who thinks writing web copy and feature articles in third person is “right” and that “conversational” is unprofessional. I know you advocate conversational copy, so how do you handle this with clients?

—Frustrated Copywriter in Boston

Answer: I feel your pain, Boston Copywriter. This writer does not believe that one should write in third person because the tone one creates is stuffy and aloof. (See?)

And I’d give my favorite George Clooney poster in exchange for the name of the first person who perpetuated the myth that conversational and professional are mutually exclusive terms.

You can be serious, professional, and conversational (next time you get “junk mail” for a charity, read it and consider the tone); fun, professional, and conversational (ditto for junk mail trying to sell you a new cell phone service or credit card); and annoying, unprofessional, and conversational (my neighbor, when he’s trying to sell God-knows-what from his balcony at 2am).

I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave over clients and it would remove any memory of the damage done by well-meaning high school teachers. “Formal writing” is fine for legal briefs and dissertations (I use the word “fine” loosely, because I think both of these items would be easier to read if written in a conversational tone). How many people go, “I’m in the mood for a good dissertation to bring with me to the beach?” No one that I can think of.

I’m also willing to say this: conversational copy is more important now than ever before, thanks to social media. You can’t have effective social media without having conversations, and you can’t have effective conversations if you’re not, well, conversational. As far as I’m concerned, this goes for ALL industries, even those notoriously “formal” ones.

So what can you say to your client? How can you prove your theory that conversational is more effective?  The best way is by conducting a split test, also known as A/B testing, because the proof will be in the conversions.

For web pages, this works really well, and it’s cost effective. Set up two landing pages for a particular campaign and have one page be in “client speak” (let the client write it–just edit it for typos) and the other be in your winning “conversational tone.” See which one converts better.

One thing you should keep in mind is this: it’s hard for some people to let go of rules that they’ve been holding onto since the sixth grade. Either accept this and applaud their baby steps or start working with those folks who recognize the beauty and effectiveness in a well-placed “bullshit.” (Guess which direction I’m taking my business in?)

Learn more about my no-BS approach to marketing writing here.

Unsolicited Sales Calls Suck (So Don’t Make ‘Em)

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m having an argument with the sales folks in my office (I’m in marketing). I’ve created a form for a white paper download on our website. The form asks people if they’d be interested in a sales call to talk about our services, and it provides a yes or no option. The sales folks are furious and say that if someone fills out a form, the person has surrendered their information and it’s open season. In other words, the person will get a call whether he or she wants it or not. I disagree. What do you think?

—Morgan S., L.A.

Answer: I worship at the altar of Seth Godin and firmly believe in asking permission every step of the way. If you offer free content on your website, and I have to fill out a form to get it, I do NOT think you should “assume the close” and follow up with a sales call. Nor should you add me to your email newsletter list unless I ask to be added (any disclaimer saying that you are adding me since I filled out the form does NOT make me feel better, even if it covers your ass legally).

Like you, I get a lot of pushback from clients because they think more is better, when often times, it’s just more. If 50 forms come in, but only 12 have specifically requested that you contact them for follow up, the sales folks often can’t focus on the 12. Instead, they become fixated on the other 38 (methinks Freud would have something to say about this obsession).

“But we need to follow up with those people,” the sales folks whine. Um, no you don’t. Focus on the 12 who want you to call. Focus on crafting messages and providing follow-up materials that will continue to lead the people through the sales process. Why waste your time on calling all 50 and getting frustrated by hang ups and voice mails and, as a result, not spending as much time on the 12 who do want to hear from you?

My information is sacred. At least, I think it is. So shouldn’t the person who’s trying to win my business treat it like it is, too?

Yes. However, the sad truth is that so few do.

As Seth Godin would say, “sounds like an opportunity to me.”

By the way, for those who would argue that no one will offer up their information if they’re not forced to, I have a handful of client websites that proves that theory false. (I wish I had more than a handful, but most of the others aren’t brave enough to allow their prospects a choice.)

The Value of Good Copywriting

I received this email a couple of weeks ago (I’m not editing it):

Hi,

I am looking for someone to write web content for some of my clients and I would like to know what do you charge to write a 300-400 page. I have ongoing projects so this will be a long term project.

Thanks

– Don

What’s the problem with this request? The problem is that the prospect is thinking in rates rather than the value of good copywriting.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand money talks and people need to be mindful of budgets and bottom lines (hell, I’m a small business owner, too). And I understand we’re in a tough economy. But when a web or marketing guy says to me, “How much do you charge to write 300 words of website copy,” he’s doing a major disservice to his client because he’s devalued what content can do: content can convert people into leads/sales or it can cause people to click away. This guy’s query smacks of “This is short copy, so it shouldn’t cost a lot.”

I was much more forgiving of this five years ago (even two years ago). But not today, at least not from a web/marketing guy who should have some understanding (if he’s serious about what he does) of the direct link between kick-ass content and conversions. This guy is stuck in ’90s Rateville instead of today’s Value City, at least according to this email.

Please know that I’m incredibly diplomatic when it comes to responding to people like this. Heck, we all need to learn about the wonders of Value City at some point (I did), and I’m always happy to share my knowledge and experience with a fellow freelancer. Here’s my response.

Hi Don,

Thanks so much for your email and for your interest in my copywriting services. I quote per project since every project is a little different.

Here’s what my quotes cover:

  • Talking to the client to get to the heart of what the company does…and figuring out how to engage the company’s core customers and prospects.
  • Providing input on design and the site map
  • Reviewing competitors’ websites to see what they do well (and what they don’t do well)
  • Reviewing all collateral materials (including, ideally, any messaging research that’s been conducted by the marketing people)
  • Crafting engaging copy for each page and following SEO best practices. This includes writing compelling, keyword-rich headlines; writing persuasive meta descriptions; and writing compelling calls-to-action (in addition to weaving keywords into the copy).
  • Brainstorming ideas for compelling offers (e.g. white papers). I’d charge separately for any writing that’s involved with these offers (i.e. I’d charge a separate fee to write the white paper).
  • One round of revisions

Note: I don’t typically focus on word counts per page (my main goal is converting site visitors into customers…sometimes this requires more copy and sometimes it requires less).

To give you an idea of my project quotes, I’m working on a 20-page site right now and charging $price redacted. I require 1/3 of the project fee up front and the balance is due within 30 days of the client receiving the first draft.

I write b2b and b2c copy. My style is conversational (which I believe is effective, regardless of the industry). However, some industries are a bit more “corporate” and prefer a more formal tone (think financial, insurance, etc). I refer these projects to colleagues who specialize in these areas (their rates are comparable with mine). I’d be happy to share their info.

Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to learn more about your business as well: are you a web developer, marketer, or…? Feel free to send me a link to your website or to send me portfolio samples. Also, how did you hear about me? If you’d prefer chatting on the phone, I’d welcome it. (I’m around during the holidays.)

Thanks again for your interest. Oh, one more thing: I’m booking into February at this point.

Best,
Robyn

Note: I used the word “rates” in my response to him. Why? Because this guy is my audience, and I need to talk in his language. I’m not going to convince him to go from caring about rates to value overnight, but it’s my hope that my email planted the seed.

I never heard back from the guy (even after sending a polite follow up that said “Just wanted to make sure you got my email to see if you have any questions), and I’m sure there’s more than one reader out there going, “Well, duh. You’re kind of blunt. And the guy was only talking about 300 words, and you overwhelmed him by talking about full-blown sites. This is overkill. And your price was probably sticker shock. Not to mention your closing line ‘I’m booking into February.'”

It’s true. I am blunt. For a reason. The person who responds to this email saying, “Yeah, let’s talk some more,” is someone I’d probably want to work with because he’s showing me that he’s seen the lights of Value City and would like to get closer. (Or that his email didn’t tell me the whole story, like maybe he really is a resident of Value City, but that this fact just didn’t translate in his query.)

Is it overkill? I don’t think so. Even if I’m writing only one page of copy (and I can’t for the life of me remember when I’ve been hired to do just that), I want that copy to work (i.e. convert), and that involves much more than simply sitting at a keyboard and banging out 300-400 words (why 300-400? Search engines don’t require specific word counts anymore, if they ever did).

Sticker shock? I’d be willing to bet that’s what this guy experienced when he saw my quote on the 20-page site, but that’s because he’s not thinking value.

Was my last line a “show-off” line. Nope. I’m booking web projects a month out (at least the completion of said projects). If this guy was looking for a 48-hour turnaround, it would be a waste of time to continue talking, so I think it’s only fair to say what my booking schedule is like (And yes, dear readers, it’s true: saying I’m booking a month out DOES sound like I’m selling myself by showing I’m “in demand.” The Copy Bitch has to don her pretty little sales hat from time to time. She is a working girl, after all.)

By the way, value won’t ravage your bottom line. It will improve it. And value won’t hurt your budget, if you base your budget on value. But if your budget is based on cheap rates, well, remember what your mama used to tell you about getting what you paid for.