Author Archives: Dawn

About Dawn

Dawn is the senior editor at The Simons Group. As a grammar queen, she'd rather lose her wallet than misplace an apostrophe. Fellow copy ninjas unite -- you have an ally.

B2B marketing trends to watch in 2014

IncreaseAs you wind down on last-minute holiday decorating, shopping and cooking, it’s a good time to think about 2014 and strategize ways to promote your business. Knowing key B2B trends will help you prepare for a successful year. Among the trends to watch:

  1. Companies will spend more on content marketing. Fifty-eight percent of B2B marketers plan to increase their marketing budgets in 2014, according to a survey from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. Most of the companies that plan to boost their efforts are small firms with 10 to 99 employees, according to the survey. Top B2B marketing tactics include social media, website articles, e-newsletters and blogs.
  2. Original and engaging content will remain king. Keyword-driven SEO shops are reinventing themselves as content marketers for a reason. Google continues to update its search algorithms, placing more emphasis on well-written, relevant copy, and thwarting keyword stuffing. This practice involves the overuse of a word or related words and phrases on a single page to improve search engine rankings. Having useful content signals that you’re a subject-matter expert and boosts search engine rankings. Find out why SEO isn’t a magic pill.
  3. Visual content will surge in popularity. Smart content marketers will offer compelling videos and infograhics to stand out. The study from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs shows that 73 percent of B2B marketers are using video now, while 51 percent are using infographics. While there’s still a market for six-page white papers, audiences increasingly want multimedia and visual storytelling. Here’s an example of the magic that happens when you marry creativity and visuals.
  4. Mobile-responsive design will no longer be an option. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that more people will access your site and learn about your company from mobile devices. A study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that nearly two-thirds of mobile users in the United States use their phones to access the Internet and check email – a number that has doubled since 2009. Learn more about mobile-responsive design.
  5. Social media monitoring and measurement will become more sophisticated. If you don’t have an enterprise social media analytics tool, it’s a challenge to determine what’s working and what’s not. Enhanced technology will make it easier to track engagement and interactions that contribute to lead conversions and sales. Learn more about some of the tools that will help B2B marketers.

What content marketing trends do you foresee in 2014? How will they influence your B2B marketing plans? Let us know in the comments below.

Get rid of fear once and for all

toe in waterI don’t know if it’s karma or a coincidence, but it seems like my Facebook feed is trying to tell me something. The message: Step outside your comfort zone – it’s where the magic happens.

Not that I believe in this stuff. It’s about as reliable as the advice I got from my Magic 8-Ball as a kid. Pure bunk, right? Superficially, yes. Dig a little deeper, though, and it turns out there’s more truth here than most of us would like to admit.

The roadblock is fear. It’s fear of failure that keeps us from moving forward toward the fulfillment of dreams and goals, from running a marathon to branching out into a new product line with your company. It’s that voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not thin enough, and on and on. It’s worse than the bully who teased you mercilessly at recess, because you can’t get away from it. At least the bully grew up and is now in a prison cell in Leavenworth.

If it’s impossible to shut the voice off, try ignoring it for a while. Put it in a suitcase and send it to the seventh circle of hell, where it belongs. Maybe even buy it a first-class, one-way ticket. Taking aim at a crippling fear is easier said than done, but doing nothing is worse. Inertia takes hold and we end up stagnating.

While I’m passionate about singing, for example, I feel most comfortable doing it surrounded by other (better) singers. But a mentor has been encouraging me to put myself out there and sing – solo. S-C-A-R-Y.  She’s been working on me for the last two or three months. I’d been rehearsing a song with her and she told me it was really good. I didn’t believe her. That mean voice told me she was just being kind, and I rejected her suggestion.

And then I started getting a flood of Facebook posts about change, courage and fears. Some of them were inspiring, while others made me want to shout at the writers, “It’s not that easy!” Still, I’m beginning to warm up to the idea of singing that song. Let’s say the jury’s still out. I could stay in my comfort zone, or I could take a risk and see what doors it opens. If it works out, it could be the impetus for tackling some other fears.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I could trip on stage and face plant, or I could lose my voice, or I could forget the lyrics. … Or I could stop the fear of failure rising within me and make the magic happen. Being open to opportunities and accepting what the universe provides is a worthy goal.

If you don’t have fears, you’re not human. What you do with them is the difference.

What have you done to overcome your fears? Was the experience a positive one? Let us know in the comments below.

Let it bleed: A newspaper obituary

The Chicago Tribune and other major daily newspapers are mere shadows of their former selves. And it’s about to get worse. Tribune Co. newspapers are reportedly preparing to slash $100 million from Who Knows Where.

Newspaper

The newsroom budget is sure to be on the chopping block. Consumers are already getting ripped off with higher prices, a shrinking news hole, smaller pages and anemic coverage. A year or two ago, the Tribune made the mistake of cleaning house at its suburban zoned editions and outsourced the reporting to content producer Journatic. The newspaper later conceded it made a mistake after allegations of fake bylines and plagiarized content surfaced.

Shortly after that, the Chicago Sun-Times fired all 28 members of its photography staff, saying reporters would not only have to write the news but also supply images. I’m surprised they didn’t task them with selling advertising, manning the presses and delivering the newspaper as well. Better yet, let’s hire robots. They work for cheap, right?

At a time when publishers should be investing in quality reporting and brainstorming creative ways to compete with digital media, they’re being shortsighted and writing their own obits for the sake of the almighty dollar. You can produce a Yugo with crank windows and parts that fall off at random or a high-end Lexus that lasts for years and puts every other car to shame. Which would you choose?

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you cut corners and neglect a business, it’s going to fail. The journalist in me would like to pull her head under the covers and pretend the industry where I cut my writing teeth and gained valuable life experience isn’t in a death spiral. I wish I could save it.

Do you expect to get all your news for free? Would you think about it differently if you knew the writing was outsourced to Thailand or funded by Monsanto? These and similar scenarios might not be that far off. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How to be smart in a world of dumb punctuation!!

red penBeing an editor comes with occupational hazards. Knowing that Sept. 24 is National Punctuation Day is one of them. It also means I have the overwhelming urge to correct errors in every sign, menu, invitation, postcard and email I receive.

Does Punctuation Rock Your World? If it doesn’t, it should. Here’s why: Punctuation creates order from chaos and makes sentences clear and easy to understand. In honor of National Punctuation Day, let’s look at some commonly abused punctuation:

The apostrophe

While I can dispel the rumor that a puppy dies with every misplaced apostrophe, the end of days gets closer when you don’t grasp the difference between “its” and “it’s.” “It’s” is short for “it is” or “it has,” so you need the apostrophe. If you mean something else, skip the apostrophe.

The comma

True or false: You know, really, that you need a lot of, well, you know, commas to make your, you know, point, right? False. Don’t use commas to set off essential words and phrases from the rest of a sentence. Essential words and phrases are important to the meaning of a sentence.

The exclamation point

Use it sparingly to express strong emotion or surprise. For example, you wouldn’t write, “Wow, the Earth just rotated on its axis!” It states the obvious. On the other hand, you would write, “A werewolf just stole my car!”

Check out more tips about punctuation here. You can also learn about dashes here and parentheses here.

What are your punctuation pet peeves? Let us know in the comments below.

Master the power of persuasion for marketing success

Elixir-wielding salesmen who hawked magical cures from traveling wagons knew a thing or two about the powers of persuasion. Combining entertaining shows with savvy sales pitches convinced people they could cure every malady.

buy_sellTheir pitches may have been outright tomfoolery, but they were effective. Here’s why: These guys knew how to hook an audience by selling solutions to problems people didn’t even know they had. Suddenly, the pioneer woman who had baby-smooth skin thought she had wrinkles and the sheriff believed he could take three bullets and live to tell about it.

You don’t have to be naive or time-travel to be swayed by a good sales pitch. I got sucked into this vortex recently during a routine errand at my local big-box store. I heard an announcement on the public address system that shoppers could get a free “gift” if they made it to the back of the store in two minutes.

I resisted the temptation, but something compelled me to turn around and head that way. A woman dressed in a chef’s outfit held up this little orange plastic doohickey. It confirmed I’d been had. As I started to walk away, I heard her say, “It doesn’t look like much, does it? You’ll be amazed at what it can do!”

That’s when I caved. I had to see what this useless piece of crap was all about. I thought I’d hang around long enough to get the drift, grab my free gift and leave. I ended up staying for 35 minutes I didn’t have. Turns out that cheap plastic thingy is a very useful tool for coring apples, tomatoes, lemons and oranges – but wait, there’s more –and juicing them! It’s like the Sham-Wow! for produce.

I can’t remember the last time I needed to core and juice, but it sounded like the best idea ever, thanks to her skillful pitch. She hooked me again before I could make tracks for the exit.

“Just wait until you see THIS wonderful kitchen helper,” she said while grabbing a food-processor-looking gadget with a crank handle. “You can chop vegetables in seconds, and whip up salsa and coleslaw for your family super fast!”

I thought about all the money I’d save from not buying prepared salsa and coleslaw – not to mention lowering my electric bill. Say bye-bye blender. I started salivating thinking about how good it sounded. I nearly ran to the counter to pick one up for the low, low price of $39.99. Plus, she promised to throw in a free pair of kitchen scissors!

Forget the fact that I don’t like coleslaw and I haven’t eaten salsa since 1994 when I broke out in hives. The chef – I mean saleswoman – was a master at persuasion. So what can you learn from my experience? Here are three instant lessons you can apply today:

  1. Identify your customers’ pain points. What challenges do your customers face and what are their customers’ roadblocks? If you don’t know, check out social media sites to find out what they’re talking about or survey them using a free service such as SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo.
  2. Heal their pain. Show customers how your products and services solve those challenges. If you’re not solving them already, develop new tools that do. Match up every pain point with a solution and market the heck out of it.
  3. Understand and address your customers’ future challenges. Entrepreneurs think about this stuff all the time. The late Steve Jobs was among the best. He created products that we now think of as must-haves, but at the time, we didn’t know we needed them.

No matter your strategy, remember that you always want to pitch benefits. If you’re searching for your own orange doohickey, you want it to save you time and money. Your customers do, too!

What sales pitches persuade you? Which ones aren’t convincing and why? How could they be better? Let us know in the comments below.

Take a tour of our new website

screenshotWe all know how tempting it is to set aside our own business needs in favor of helping clients. Clients always come first. Over the last few months, while we were creating beautiful work for our clients, we were able to find little pieces of time to do it for ourselves.

We redesigned our website so that it’s easier than ever to learn, share and connect with us. Here’s how:

  1. It’s light, clean and well-organized so you’ll find what you’re looking for instantly.
  2. The expanded Portfolio gives you a close look at our latest work across a wide range of marketing capabilities and industries. From videos and e-blasts to websites and newsletters, you’ll see exactly what we do and how we do it.
  3. Find out what makes each of us tick on the new About Us page. You’ll also learn our favorite treat.
  4. We work with organizations large and small across all industries. Read some of their stories in our Case Studies to learn how you too can benefit from our expertise.
  5. It’s easier than ever to find marketing insights and ideas on our new Blog. Enhancements include featured posts and short introductions about each topic so that you can get top tips at your convenience.

Check out our new site now and come back often! What do you like about it? What, if anything, would you change? We want to hear from you, so let us know what you think.

 

Hold the fluff – ‘Just tell me what you do’

FluffIs your marketing converting into leads and sales? If not, crummy copywriting may be to blame. As a frustrated friend recently noted about her organization’s product literature, “I don’t want to read a bunch of gobbledygook. Just tell me what you do.”

So how do you deliver the goods? I’m going to give you a few simple solutions you can use starting right now:

  1. Laser focus on your prospects and customers. Make the copy about them – not you. At the end of the day, they don’t care that your employees have 150 years of combined experience and that your plant is centrally located. They want to know what you’re going to do for them.
  2. Solve problems – even the ones they don’t know about (yet). The most successful companies anticipate the challenges that keep prospects and customers up at night and then share concrete, actionable solutions. If you don’t know their pain points, you need to do some serious intel.
  3. Show (don’t tell). Provide specific examples of what you’ve achieved for customers and the results. Don’t just say you deliver on time, on target and under budget. Explain who, what, why, when, where and how. The more details you can provide, the more business you’ll reel in.
  4. Share product benefits – not features. Benefits reveal what we all want to know: What’s in it for me if I use your products and services? Benefits are the secret sauce for persuasive copy. Features distinguish your products and services from those of your competitors. For example, let’s say your company makes corrugated boxes. Features could include that they come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors and are crush-proof. Meanwhile, the benefits are that customers will be able to order boxes that fit their unique specifications and that they’ll save money because their products will arrive intact.
  5. Show some personality. Make your copy sound like you rather than a robot. Most prospects and customers appreciate seeing the human side of your business. You don’t need to reveal your warts, but they’ll engage with you if let your guard down a bit.
  6. Dump drivel. Omit clichés, jargon and hackneyed adjectives such as “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “advanced,” “best of breed” and “world class.” They’re meaningless and cause readers’ eyes to glaze over. Be clear and concise and sell solutions and benefits – not fluff.
  7. Facilitate skim reading. Intriguing headlines, subheads and short, action-oriented bulleted points break up copy so it’s easier to read and helps lead readers to the end.
  8. Write a strong call to action. A call to action is a simple and compelling offer that persuades readers to take the action you want. You worked so hard to write excellent copy; don’t forget to ask for the sale.

What are some of the obstacles to writing benefits-oriented copy? Have you overcome them? Share your experience in the comments below.

The mistake that can ruin your company’s reputation

PinocchioWhen people visit your company’s website, they take it for granted that the content is authentic. If you say that you fill orders in 24 hours, readers believe it. Some embellishment is a given when promoting your business, but don’t take liberty with the facts.

Credibility is crucial to your company’s success. Prospects and clients need to know that your business is legitimate and that you’ll do what you say you’ll do. Similarly, if your site contains glowing customer testimonials, they’d better be real quotes from current or past clients. Assume that prospects will contact every individual for more information.

Read more…

8 simple ways to beat writer’s block

It happens to the best of us. Whether you’re working on a presentation, a blog post or a newsletter, it can sneak up on you at any time.

Say hello to writer’s block.

Even professional writers experience moments when the words won’t come. Staring at a blank screen can be frustrating, especially when you’re on deadline. Whether you’ve got days or only a few hours to complete your project, try one or more of these winning strategies to smash through creative obstacles:

Read more…

R U tired of bad grammer? Me 2

My library’s recent book fair was the hottest ticket in town. Book nerds within a 25-mile radius lined up outside before the doors opened to get first crack at the thousands of used paperbacks and hardbacks inside.

Schlepping wagons, suitcases and cardboard boxes, they ran – not walked – hoping for hidden treasures at cheap prices. Seeing the size of the literature section gave me hope for finding “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men,” but surprisingly, I came up empty.

Moving on to the “writing” pile, I dove in and waded through castoff dictionaries, outdated writing guides and faded copies of The Chicago Manual of Style. My only competition was a bearded, backpack-toting hipster who seemed to have little interest in anything published after 1980.

Buried at the bottom was “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynne Truss. I vaguely remember reading this when it was published in 2003. At $2, it seemed like a bargain, so I snatched it up. Truss, a former sports columnist for the London Times, bemoans the sorry state of punctuation. 

Read more…