3 better ways to wrap up your writing

This post has been updated and moved to http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2012/04/how-to-wrap-up-your-writing/

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Tortoises, transit hubs, tiny screens and other predictions

Yesterday I read 100 expert predictions for content marketing and social media at junta42. I cannot fit so many ideas into my crystal ball, let alone my brain, but here are the three that stand out for me: (1) holistic content marketing (2) that flows through social media and (3) works with mobile.

I hope these trends mean that we’ll simply get better at using all the new tools.

The tortoise will gain on the hare
Slow content marketing will continue to creep up on fast sales tactics because of the value of educating and endearing people to create loyal customers and fans.

Because content marketing involves a clear message delivered on multiple platforms, we’ll see businesses get more bang for their buck by recycling articles, stories and other content. For example, an article in your newsletter becomes a blog post (or vice versa), a chapter of a book, a tweet, part of a live presentation and more.

Social media becomes Grand Central Station
This content will increasingly flow through the transit hubs of Twitter, Facebook and other social media. This not only delivers the content to more destinations, but also increases search engine rankings, sort of like social media frequent flyer points.

Although many people stampeded into this area this year, the number of people hammering sales messages with little added-value content will dwindle.

Instead of automating more for easy one-size-fits-all delivery, the smart ones will become adept at tailoring links to the idiosyncrasies of different social media sites and the people who use them.

More reading on small screens
With the continued proliferation of mobile, email marketers will rely less on graphics, especially if they have image-unfriendly BlackBerry readers. Those text-only, left-leaning emails will become shorter and more to the point, as marketers wake up to the fact that most people are too busy to keep scrolling to the punch line.

With all media, we’ll see fewer, better images, that enhance the content, rather than simply pretty up a page.

And don’t bet on more tiny television viewing. Most people will save that for the big screen at home.

Please save me from bad video
Many of the Junta42 experts proclaimed 2010 the year of video. Despite the explosion of YouTube, I think the poor quality of too many videos means that growth will slow.

To the people with the video cams pointed at their face, I say: badly lit, static talking head clips may be fun to produce, but they’re boring to watch. Besides, unless you have content that demands action visuals and sound, I’d rather read because it’s faster. I expect to be busy in 2010.

Wild cards
I laughed when I read the Junta 42 prediction that electricity will be in short supply and we’ll have to cart around content in wheel barrels. When I checked back later, it was gone. Or maybe I was too tired to find it.

Aside from the laugh, this prediction reminded me of the need to reserve space for wild cards in my crystal ball. You can extrapolate future trends from what you see today, but you can’t predict a cataclysmic event that will topple the electrical grid or the bird that’s going to poop on your head.

Talk to your ideal reader

Pretend you’re talking to your ideal reader. That’s what I advise people who want to better connect with customers, colleagues or other people through emails, reports, tweets or other written communication.

Although we learned language by talking, many of us began separating the functions of talking and writing at school and then work. By reuniting them, you can put some bounce and intimacy back into your writing. Besides, it’s much easier and faster to write like you talk.

But how, my ideal reader would ask, do you do that when you’re writing for a group of people?

Like presenting to a group, you focus on a few friendly faces in the crowd, but give the impression you’re talking to everyone.

So if you know the group you’re writing for, pretend you’re talking to one person you’re comfortable with. If your group includes people of varying interests, pretend you’re conversing with a few differing types.

If you’re writing for a large group, potentially the world when you write for the web, pretend you’re chatting with the kind of people you expect would most enjoy or otherwise benefit from your writing. Visualize one, with good looks, deep pockets or whatever else motivates you.

Start with the ideal reader’s age, gender, income, education or other demographic information. But don’t stop there.

Go deep, imagining pains and problems, pass-times and passions. What keeps your ideal reader up at night? What makes your ideal reader jump for joy?

By writing for this ideal reader, you can establish a more intimate connection with other like-minded readers. You can choose your most appropriate structure, for example emotional stories or logical argument. What’s more, you can employ the terminology, examples, humor, questions and other elements that your ideal reader would relate to and enjoy.

Draw a picture or grab a photo and tape it to your monitor. Give your ideal reader a name. Draft a Facebook-like profile. Whatever works for you.

Who is my ideal reader? For this blog, my ideal reader wants to learn how to communicate more easily and effectively through the written word, without having to relearn all those boring rules from school.

My ideal reader is well-educated, probably not in the arts, with a white collar job. He wants to move up. My ideal reader is frustrated with all the emails, reports and other written work he is expected to do and the fact that his colleagues and clients don’t give him the attention and respect he feels he deserves.

For this post, my ideal reader becomes more specific. In addition to overcoming these frustrations, she wants to build a relationship with her readers, to encourage them to pay attention, remember and maybe even respond a specific way.

Am I on target? Does my ideal reader sound like you?

Six tips for writing warm holiday messages

‘Tis the season for writing Christmas, or should I say holiday, messages. This year the economy is making this annual rite especially challenging.

Today I’m helping a radio ad sales person compose an email holiday message to retailers who are having a rough year. Worse still, they’re in ski country, with no snow.

So how can she use an email card to spread some Christmas cheer?

Here are my six tips: empathize, don’t sell, distract from the negative, thank, personalize and offer hope.

Empathize. Tell me them you feel their pain, which is certainly true with her low sales commissions.

Distract. Remind people of those less fortunate, by offering a link to donate to the local food bank or other charity that’s important to you.

Don’t sell. Your Christmas message is about warming up relationships, not greasing the sales gears. If you have to include a sales message, keep it very subtle.

Thank. She expressed gratitude to the many customers who had sponsored her on a 200-kilometre bike ride to raise funds for cancer research. Some of these customers had spent so little on radio advertising that she would have sounded insincere if she’d thanked them all. Her bigger customers will be thanked personally.

Personalize. She told them her mother was much better after her bout with cancer and that she was praying for the many customers who had talked to her about similar strains with their loved ones.

Offer hope. She touched on business picking up with last-minute shoppers and encouragement from Canadian economists. She even saw a snow flake out her window as she concluded.

I hope I helped the sales rep warm up her many contacts. Let me know if I can help you. Drop me a line at barb@stickycommunication.ca

Now on to my holiday message from a CEO to the employees who have had pay cuts and see the vultures circling overhead. Any tips for me?

Serenity now! And what I learned about customer service from my computer guy, plumber and hairdresser

This was supposed to be a post about how serene I am after a weekend retreat at a Jesuit monastery. Instead, it’s about how I arrived home to a malware attack, evidence of a clandestine teen party, the hot water tap on our only bath/shower dying, my daughter losing her wallet on the bus… You get the picture.

Had I not spent a weekend in pastoral tranquility my reaction would have been much worse. The rationale part of my brain could have shut down, my eye lids could have twitched wildly and I could have resorted to emptying the cookie jar into my stomach while yelling at my kids.

Instead I stood up to the evil claims of Alpha Antivirus, which insisted my computer was under a trojan assault that could be defeated only by purchasing this misnamed software.

I ran trusty old Norton through my computer, thinking it would identify and fix the problem. Not at all. At least my suspicions about the malware were confirmed. Sadly, my computer continued to cry out in pain, with frequent crashes, surprise setting changes and more.

Unfortunately, my computer guy Antonio does not work Mondays so I decided to tackle the problem myself. I did not consider going elsewhere because good computer guys, like hairdressers and plumbers, deserve absolute loyalty.

I tried two programs, that helped but didn’t solve the problem. So I’ve switched computers and plan to take the sick one to Antonio later.

I know I’m in good hands. In addition to fixing the problem, he will give me some free advice on preventing a recurrence and chat about his mother in Peru.

I had called my plumber, but he wasn’t available till next week. I have been very loyal ever since he replaced my leaking toilet tank with a gently used one (aqua, not easy to find) after I had burst into tears when I was going through a painful divorce made worse by vulture lawyers draining my finances.

Fortunately, the kind plumber recommended another plumber, so I didn’t feel I was cheating.

My horoscope had told me I was in for major expenses today, so I was braced for the worst, the need to lavishly renovate both bathrooms and not bathe until sometime in 2010. What a relief.

The repair was quick and reasonable and the sweat from yesterday’s workout has finally been scraped off.

The tides had started to turn earlier, with my daughter no longer in tears about the lost wallet when she got up this morning. After belting out I Will Survive, she had segued into some cheery popular tunes. I should explain that she’s at a performing arts school so our home often looks like the stage of a broadway musical.

I expect her wallet will turn up at the transit lost and found, probably with no money but with her transit pass and health insurance card. When she gets home with the news, we will burst into a nicely harmonized duet.

Or maybe not. I still have to figure out how to prevent unsupervised parties and too-frequent losses of valuables.

Thanks to reality, I’m not in a serene state of mind. I feel like George’s father on Seinfeld, yelling “Serenity now,” as if stress can be commanded to leave any more than a quick free download is going to fix my computer or the bandaid solution a contractor had made to my tap during one of my endless renovations would keep it functioning forever.

With my hair now air drying after that luxurious shower, I’m remembering that I’m due for a cut and highlights. Hope my stylist isn’t booked up. I really can’t go anywhere else, without feeling guilty about the times he’s squeezed me in or made me feel good when I think I look old and fluffy, as I like to call it.

Which brings me to today’s lesson. Like my computer guy, plumber and hairdresser, I need to do great work for my clients. But, I also need to throw in a few favors, ask about each their families and make them feel good about themselves.

Follow their examples and your customers will not stray. They’ll know they can count on you, even when they are pulling out their hair screaming “Serenity now!”

Only two months today until Christmas

Time to plan holiday email greetings for clients, colleagues and prospects.

If you’re too busy for card signing and stuffing but want to be more personal and professional than those holiday e-cards with the animated snow, check out our easy solution. We’ll help you pen a warm holiday message, embody the spirit of giving through a link to your favorite charity and place your copy, images and list in your customized template. Check it out.

Holiday cards are a great way to stay in touch with clients, colleagues and the people you’ve met over the past year. Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-year opportunity to build relationships and foster good will.

Persuade the brain too

Although most advice on writing to persuade focuses on emotion, including my previous post, would-be persuaders also need to know how to wield logic. Especially if they need to overcome skepticism, as in homeopathic cures, or build trust, as in investment advisers.

So while the heart may be a key sticking point when it comes to persuasion, don’t forget to talk to the brain too. You can make your case in two ways:
1. cite specific cases that lead your reader to a general conclusion, e.g. 90 per cent of the 1,000 people who consumed less than 1,000 calories a day for a week lost more than five pounds
2. argue from a generally accepted statement to a specific conclusion. e.g. calorie restriction leads to weight loss, so I should eat less

The specific-to-general approach works only if skeptics can’t take serious issue with your conclusion. For example, if the dieters also worked out for an hour each day, you could not insist that the weight loss was caused mainly by the calorie limits.

So be careful that your evidence and conclusion can bear the weight of close scrutiny.

Even if your case is strong, you may be wise to also explain why. For example, with the weight loss argument you could simply explain how burning off more calories than you consume produces weight loss.

Here, you have to make sure your explanation is clear and accurate. A teeth whitening ad that’s been popping up all over my internet lately pretends to provide a scientific explanation, but the over-blown wording quickly told me it was bull. It talked about “powerful oxidizing solutions” that “penetrate the porosities in the rod-like crystal structure of enamel and oxidize interprismatic stain deposits.” Dentists, correct me if I’m wrong.

One of the reasons content marketing is overtaking the hard-sell tactics of the teeth-whitening ad and its ilk is the growing sophistication of consumers. We want not only examples of how your product, service or expertise has helped others, but we also want to understand why.

Products like the teeth whiteners, from an alleged mommy blogger, may sell well at first because ad saturation lets them find enough stupid or desperate people. But they don’t have the strong legs of products and services with claims can be backed and explained.

There may have been a fool born every minute in P.T. Barnum’s time. But with today’s sophisticated consumers and the ease of googling suspect claims and critical product blogs, people who are in business for the long run are best to assume that their readers are smart and skeptical.