Last Build Date: Tue, 06 Oct 2015 23:03:10 +0000Copyright: Thomas R. Clifford 2006-2014
Mon, 03 Mar 2014 13:33:00 +0000Welcome to the last article in this series on creating a writing and interviewing system for capturing content from subject matter experts. For several years, studies have shown that lack of time is the biggest challenge B2B marketers face. If that's true for you, it makes sense to start putting time on your side, right? And that’s what'll happen when you have a dependable content writing/interviewing system at your fingertips. In Part 1 of this series, you learned the importance of having an interviewing/writing system in place to capture content. Part 2 taught you how to create a dependable interviewing/writing system. You learned in Part 3 the two important steps to take to prepare for the content interview (including two checklists you can customize). In this last article, you’ll learn a simple technique to direct the expert to answer your questions in a way that’s meaningful for your audience. A common trap A lot of interviewers fall into the trap of not asking follow-up questions. It’s totally understandable. The typical reason for not following up is that the interviewer doesn’t want to “bother” the guest with additional questions, thinking it’s best to keep things moving along. Another reason could be that the interviewer doesn’t want to appear less knowledgeable than their guest. So, instead of drilling down and asking a few more questions to clarify an answer, the interviewer moves on to the next question. I know it’s easier to keep moving along, but that’s not the best solution. There’s a better way to handle this situation (without feeling uncomfortable about it) and I’ll show you how. But first . . . Let’s see how NOT to follow up Here’s a made-up example of an interviewer NOT following up on an unusable answer from the interviewee. In this example, the interviewer doesn’t hear the opportunity to ask a follow-up question, but continued on to the next question on the list. Interviewer: “So, what’s the best feature about this new software update?” Guest: “Well, we updated our software to include seven more entry fields under the ‘Customer’ tab.” Interviewer: “That sounds interesting. So what inspired the company to create this update?” Uh-oh. Do you see the missed opportunity here? Seven new entry fields is a great feature—but what does it mean to the prospect or customer? Nothing. Here's how TO follow up Interviewer: “So, what’s the best feature about this new software update?” Guest: “Well, we updated our software to include seven more entry fields under the ‘Customer’ tab.” Interviewer: “Hmm, so how does that help the customer?” Guest: “Well, now they’ll be able to increase the amount of data in the customer knowledge base.” Interviewer: “OK, that sounds interesting. So what does that mean? Can you give me a specific example or two of how this benefits the customer?” Guest: “Sure. It definitely helps the customer, because sales teams will be able to sort and search customer feedback in a way they couldn’t before. So now they can respond to their customers 30 percent faster than they could with earlier versions of the software.” Interviewer: “Is there any other way this feature helps the customer?” Guest: “Sure. Once the sales team has made a presentation, they can update their experiences within the ‘Customer’ section. That means the team can refine the next step in the sales cycle and move the project forward with fewer delays.” Interviewer: “How about one more benefit?” Guest: “Sure. Third, . . .” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere We’re starting to capture benefit-driven, customer-focused answers. Nice, right? There are many interviewing tips and techniques to use but this is probably the most important one to keep in mind. Summary To get the best answers from your experts, it’s important to develop an interviewing and writing system. When you develop a writing/interviewing system, you have a proven recipe to create interesting and [...]
Mon, 24 Feb 2014 14:33:00 +0000In Part 1 of this series, we covered the importance of having an interviewing/writing system in place to capture your content. Part 2 covered how to create a dependable interviewing/writing system. In Part 3, we’ll cover two important steps to take when preparing for the interview, including two checklists you can easily customize for your interviews. Before we begin, let me ask you a simple question. Do you know why most content interviews fail? Most content interviews fail because of poor preparation. Here is what usually happens. The interviewer tells the guest an interview is needed to gather some material for a project. A date and time is set. Everything is looking good. Until things spin out of control during the interview. The key to a successful interview begins with preparation. You can better control the interview by: 1. Setting the context 2. Explaining the interview process 1. Setting the context The first step covers the basic areas: Project Audience (prospects, current customers, employees, etc.) Content platform (blog posts, podcasts, promotional e-books, etc.) Distribution (whether the audience has to sign up, call someone, etc.) Add more areas as needed. 2. Explaining the interview process People you interview may not have given an interview before. Or maybe they’ve given dozens of interviews. Either way, interviewees will have a series of questions like: How much do I have to say? What happens if I mess up? Will I be edited? Will I get the questions ahead of time? To make your guest (and yourself) feel more comfortable during the interview, take 10 minutes before the interview to go over a few key ideas. Here’s what I like to say to when prepping a guest: 1. “In general, the more you speak, the more material I have to work with. That means I can pick the best answers and highlight your expertise in the most meaningful way. If, on the other hand, you answer a question in just a sentence, the lack of material will make it hard for me to tell the story." 2. I’ll then be more specific and tell them how much to say. For example, if there are eight questions to ask for a blog post, a 10-minute response for one question would result in an overwhelming amount of content to sort through later. A one-minute response would provide about the right amount of material. 3. Lastly, I’ll say: “If I ask you the same question twice, it doesn’t mean you messed up. It means I’m looking for further clarification on what you said, or I’m looking for you to say it in another way. This will provide me more editing options when writing the piece.” Use the checklists below to help you and the interviewee stay on track. Customize both checklists to fit your project needs. Interviewee checklist • Keep the context and our audience in mind. • Write one sentence (or a short phrase) for each question in the outline I provided you. The goal is to have the sentence/phrase remind you what to say during our conversation—not to write everything down so you read it back verbatim. • We’ll have a free-flowing conversation stressing one point per question. • The interview should take about ------- minutes. • Each question should take about ------- minutes to answer. • I’ll make an audio recording of our interview so I have accurate notes to write from. • Additional comments can always be added after the interview, eliminating the need to be “perfect” during the conversation. • For telephone interviews, landlines are preferable to cell phones—the audio quality for recording is better. • Feel free to call or email me (name) at (contact information) if you have questions. Interviewer checklist • Email your interviewee the list of questions. • Thank the interviewee for volunteering their time to speak with you. • Remind your guest to talk more rather than less. Having more information will make it easier to tell a story. • Remember the audience, the context, and the goal. • Have an outline and questions ready. • Prepare for[...]
Mon, 17 Feb 2014 14:30:00 +0000In Part 1 of this series, we covered the importance of developing an interviewing/writing system to capture your marketing copy from content experts. In Part 2, you’ll learn how to create a dependable, repeatable interviewing/writing system. What do I mean by a “dependable system”? By system, I mean having a step-by-step structure or method to accurately and consistently capture the content you need from content experts. Let’s get started. Step 1: Write an outline The first step in creating your system is to write an outline (or summary) of your finished piece of content. Start by asking a few “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how” questions. Here’s an outlining tip Pretend you’re a reporter and you’ve been assigned to interview an expert in a particular subject. Think of the questions you would ask that expert. What does the audience want to know? What objections or problems would the audience have after hearing some ideas from the expert? What’s the next step the audience should take? For instance: What is . . . ? Why does . . . matter? Who can benefit from . . . the most? What makes . . . so unique? Where can we learn more? You get the idea. The goal is to create a list of questions that reflect the structure of your finished piece. Writing a blog post? You need about eight questions. An e-book? You’ll need several more questions. Remember to include a few persuasive copywriting ingredients many B2B marketers overlook. Step 2: Make an audio recording of the interview Recording your interview is important, because it will create an accurate record of the conversation. Recording the conversation also captures the emotions often missing in business writing. A side benefit of recording the content interview is that it eliminates having to write notes while listening, allowing you to carefully listen to your guest. Step 3: Transcribe the interview Once the recording is finished, it’s time to transcribe the audio into text. You can transcribe the interview yourself, or you can outsource it to a transcription service. Either way, you want a transcript to work with; it will save you tons of writing time later on. Step 4: Write/edit Once your interview is transcribed, it’s time to write your blog post. Use the transcription as a rough draft to polish into final copy. Some of the responses can be left intact; others will need editing. Move the copy around until it flows smoothly from beginning to end. Since the transcript reflects the order of the content to be written, it’s just a matter of polishing up the copy so it shines. Step 5: Proofread The final step is to have someone (besides yourself) proofread your copy. Many professional proofreading services offer more than just correcting typos and grammar mistakes so be sure to find one that meets your needs. But what if you’re not interviewing anyone? What if you’re writing the copy yourself? Can this process still work? Yes, it can. Write the outline and speak the answers into an audio recorder. Or simply write the answers (that’s what I do). Either way, make sure to always use an outline. Summary Having a simple, reliable system will not only speed up your content creation but it will also create interesting, relevant advice your audience will love. Now that a system is in place, it’s time to plan the interview with your content expert. We’ll see how that’s done in Part 3. In Part 4, we’ll cover how to fix a common mistake interviewers make when directing the interview, so stay tuned. Do you know someone who would like this article? If so, feel free to share it with them. P.S. I'd love to hear from you on this content writing system idea. Drop a note in the comments and let me know what you think. What did I miss? What questions do you have? What do you want to know more about? What feedback do you have to make this idea better or more useful? __________________________________________________[...]
Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:05:00 +0000Your next project is “in the can.” You’re confident it hits the target. You’ve shared it with colleagues and they love it. However, did writing it feel like it took forever? If so, you’re definitely not alone. A 2014 Content Marketing Institute survey of trends and benchmarks in North America revealed the top challenge for B2B marketers: Sixty-nine percent cite lack of time as their biggest challenge. Since lack of time is the biggest challenge B2B marketers face, I thought I’d show you a simple solution to speed up the content writing process—interviewing content experts. Interviews: The heart of the system The heart of the system uses interviews with subject matter experts so the content “writes itself.” This system is based on my own copywriting process. Using a system like this not only saves time, it’s a great way to create fresh, relevant and interesting material for your audience—without the jargon. Interviewing content experts isn’t hard, but it does require three steps: 1. Planning and developing an interviewing/writing system to capture the right content for the final product2. Preparing yourself and your guest for the interview3. Directing the interview to create customer-friendly answers It’ll take a little time to get your system finely tuned, but once you have it in place, you’ll have it forever. “Listening” copy, not writing copy Legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz emphasized that writing copy is a matter of “listening” it—not “writing” it. Fascinating, isn’t it? Part of Eugene’s writing process included interviewing content experts (or customers) and recording the conversation so the final copy would reflect the language and emotion the interviewee used. Writing relevant copy means becoming a successful listener And becoming a successful listener requires developing a dependable interviewing/writing system so you can focus on what’s being said and not worry about how to cobble all the pieces together later on. So that’s where we’ll start in Part 2: How to create a dependable, repeatable interviewing/writing system. In Part 3, we’ll cover two important steps to prepare the interview, including two checklists you can easily customize. Part 4 covers a simple, powerful strategy to direct the interview in a way that captures ideas that will be relevant to the audience. I developed this system from interviewing more than 1,500 content experts during a 25-year period The ideas covered in the series reflect a scaled-down version of the system I currently use. Feel free to adapt the ideas to suit your own needs. Stay tuned for Part 2, because you’ll learn how to create a dependable, repeatable interviewing/writing system. Don't forget to share this post with someone who could benefit it from it. See you soon. :) P.S. I'd love to hear from you on this content writing system idea. Drop a note in the comments and let me know what you think. What did I miss? What questions do you have? What do you want to know more about? What feedback do you have to make this idea better or more useful? ThomasCliffordB2BCopywriter Google+ profile [...]
Fri, 31 Jan 2014 13:42:00 +0000Over the years, two pillars have served marketing writers well: features and benefits. They have become the building blocks for B2B, and deservedly so—they do a lot of heavy lifting for marketers. But features and benefits are just two out of more than a dozen copywriting ingredients available for marketers and writers to choose from. Why not tap into the other copywriting ingredients and put them to use? By using a few (often missing) persuasive ingredients in B2B marketing copy, you can increase engagement levels with your audience. Mix and match different techniques to see what works best for you. Tip #1: Write benefit-driven headlines When writing headlines, focus on the benefits an audience receives from your ideas. “How to Speed Up Your Blog Post Writing (by 60 Percent)” tells the audience exactly how they will benefit from your idea. “Time to Get Moving” doesn’t tell your audience a thing; it leaves them guessing what you’re going to say. B2B folks are too busy to decipher whether or not a message is relevant to them. Tip #2: Demonstrate empathy Instead of introducing your solution right away, consider starting the copy with the problem your audience is facing. Create empathy by demonstrating that you understand the particular problem. Talk about the consequences of the problem and how it affects them. Create context and empathy first—before rolling out your specific solution. Tip #3: Spotlight your testimonials Are you using testimonials in your copy? Consider adding a mini-headline above the testimonial. Use a different color and a different font from what’s used in the main copy. Bold the headline too. These three small changes will help give your testimonials the attention they deserve. Tip #4: Raise and overturn objections Most prospects and customers have objections when buying something or receiving free content. Instead of ignoring these objections, use them to your advantage. Include an objection or two in your copy and then overturn each one by using testimonials, endorsements, awards, statistics, etc. You’ll be a step closer to moving the prospect along in your sales cycle. Tip #5: Write persuasive calls to action Many calls to action provide a phone number or email address and nothing more. Take your call to action a step further. Tell your audience why your offer is valuable. Then walk them through the call to action by describing the offer, listing the benefits, and outlining what the prospect has to do to receive the offer. Adding a persuasive call to action on each page is another simple (and easy) way to boost engagement with prospects and customers. Did you find these tips helpful? Stay up to date on the latest writing and business communications tips by receiving free blog updates (and other special announcements) from me. If you haven't done so already, just enter your email address in the top-right corner of this page. You’ll receive an email to activate and confirm your blog subscription. When you subscribe for future blog updates, you’ll receive a professionally produced and designed e-book that will help you write faster, better and easier. The strategies in the e-book will help you overcome five common writing challenges: Staying organized Generating ideas Writing quickly Using time efficiently Eliminating distractions SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I just finished writing a three four-part blog series on how to plan, prepare and direct content expert interviews. It's a simplified version of my current copywriting system based on 1,500 content expert interviews. Stay tuned. Here's what you'll learn in the series: Part 1:How to capture content you need from a subject matter expert by planning and developing a system. Part 2: The two important steps to take when preparing the interview (with two interview checklists included). Part 3: A simple (but powerful) strategy to direct the interviewee to give customer-focused answers. Written by[...]
Tue, 02 Apr 2013 13:00:00 +0000Producing enough content (especially blog posts) for prospects and customers is one of the greatest marketing challenges facing organizations today. After all, who has the time and expertise to consistently publish relevant and interesting content—quickly and effectively? To help solve that challenge, I developed a six-step process that's highly effective, easy to use and makes writing blog posts a snap. The six steps: 1. Create an outline 2. Audio record an expert interview 3. Transcribe the interview 4. Write and edit the blog post 5. Format the post for easy skimming 6. Proofread your blog post Let’s look at each step more closely. Step 1: Create an outline Instead of writing an outline with statements or bullet points, outline your blog post by asking four or five questions. Ask “who, what, where, when, why and how” questions. After those questions, raise an objection or a problem and then resolve it. For example, an outline on a B2B copywriting post might look like this: • What is business-to-business (B2B) copywriting? • How is B2B copywriting different from business-to-consumer (B2C) copywriting? • What elements of B2C copywriting can be used in B2B copywriting? • Where can you learn more about B2B copywriting? • Problem/objection/mistakes: What are three common B2B copywriting mistakes? • Solution: Give an example or brief success story • Summary • Call-to-action Step 2: Audio record an expert interview Recording your interview is important because it will create an accurate record of the conversation. It captures not only the right content for your blog post but also the emotional words (often missing in business writing). A side benefit of recording the interview is that you won’t be hassled with jotting down notes while you are listening. Step 3: Transcribe the interview Once the recording is finished, it’s time to transcribe the audio into text. You can transcribe the interview yourself or you can outsource this job to a transcriptionist. Either way, having a transcript to work from will save you lots of writing time (and time from staring at a blank screen). Did you know there are three hidden benefits of transcripts? Step 4: Write/edit the blog post Once your interview is transcribed, it’s time to write your blog post. You can use some of the responses intact, or you may need to edit them. Feel free to move the content around and edit it until the copy flows smoothly from beginning to end. Step 5: Format your blog post for easy skimming When formatting your content for the web, remember to break your information into short, concise paragraphs like this one. This creates extra white space and makes it easy for readers to skim and become more easily engaged with your copy. To draw attention to your most useful points, you can also use: 1. Bold text 2. Bullet points 3. Numbered lists 4. Visual aids Step 6: Proofread your blog post The final, and often overlooked, step is to have someone besides you proofread your content. Proofreading goes beyond correcting typos and grammar mistakes; it helps to ensure that your structure, tone and voice are on track. If you don’t know someone who can proofread your work, there are professional proofreading services that you can find by searching the term “professional proofreading services.” Find out more about the five benefits of having your work professionally proofread. But what if you're not interviewing anyone? Can this process still work? Yes it can. Write the outline and record yourself giving the answers. Or you can answer the questions simply by writing the answers. This is what I do. By the way, you’ll never have writer’s block using this method! Summary Creating consistent blog posts (and other marketing content) doesn’t have to be difficult. Stick with this six-step process, or customize it to make it work for you. Either way, having a simple [...]
Wed, 10 Aug 2011 21:39:00 +0000It’s great having a few tricks up your sleeve to boost your writing speed. (Especially tricks that can “flip your switch” when writing from scratch.) Can music “flip your switch”? Music is one of those things we don’t pay much attention to—unless we have to. That is, we don’t pay much attention until we want to hear a specific piece; then it becomes important to us. I recently wondered if music could improve one's writing. So I tried an experiment. Try this fun experiment If you haven’t tried using music to inspire your writing efforts, this could be a fun little experiment to try over the next few weeks (or days). If you have a CD collection, choose about seven discs. Pick a variety of musical genres, genres that create different feelings or moods when you hear them. Each time you sit down to write, play a disc. Observe how you feel when writing. Most likely, you’ll experience one of two things: 1. Momentum 2. Distraction 1) Momentum Momentum feels like a train leaving the station. The words are flowing, you have a general sense of direction and you feel clear in how you express yourself. It’s easy to write. You’re not fighting with ideas. 2) Distraction Feeling distracted is easy to spot—you’re stuck. Creating a few sentences feels like it takes forever. For me, distraction means my attention turns outward—daydreaming without continuing to move forward. When you catch yourself thinking of other tasks you want to do, that’s another sign of being distracted. Try changing the music. Go back to writing. Observe what happens after five or ten minutes. Are you still distracted? Or are the words flowing more easily? In about a week, you’ll see patterns Maybe music with vocals is too distracting. But classical guitar feels perfect. Maybe jazz is a bit too much. But ambient is just the right groove. For example, I enjoy writing to ambient music Right now, I’m listening to the Ambient Space Music station. The music is at a very low volume and the station is playing music continuously. For some reason, the steady stream of music keeps the words flowing. You’ll be able to tell which type of music works best for you after experimenting. Or maybe you discover that music doesn’t help you. Hey, at least you’ll know! Try Internet radio stations iTunes Radio (or something similar) has a huge selection of radio stations. Each station specializes in a musical genre: ambient, alternative rock, blues, country, jazz, hard rock, etc. Internet radio stations are free, and many are commercial-free. Search around to see if there's a station or two you like. Try “flipping the switch” The next time you’re struggling to write: • Fire up iTunes. • Or throw on a CD. • Or spin one of those scratchy things they call “records.” And start writing. You might surprise yourself. Google+ Written by ThomasCliffordB2BCopywriter [...]
Mon, 18 Jul 2011 20:16:00 +0000
If you've never worked with a graphic designer before (and you have questions on how to proceed with one), there's good news.
My latest article for Content Marketing Institute, The ABCs of Working with a Graphic Designer (for the First Time), deals with some common questions many people have when working with a designer for the first time.
Judging by the number of interesting comments the article drummed up, it looks like I hit a nerve.
Be sure to check out the article and bookmark it for future reference.
And if you're so inclined, feel free to jump in and add your comments or questions.
Mon, 11 Jul 2011 20:27:00 +0000
It’s going to happen.
You get an idea while driving, walking or shopping.
You fire up the computer.
Then—you can’t write.
So how can you ramp up your ability to write quickly, without a lot of hoopla?
For instance, I started writing this post with this tip first. Then I wrote about the third tip, then the second tip. I then worked my way to the summary and, finally, I wrote the introduction.
Action item: There’s no writing rule that says you have to start at the beginning. Start where you feel most inspired.
Mark Levy is an expert in the area of freewriting. You can read my interview with Mark on how to solve problems through freewriting.
Mark has written a book exclusively about freewriting: “Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight and Content.”
Action item: Write for 10 minutes straight—as fast as you can—without stopping. See if this reveals new ideas that may be hiding under the cobwebs.
When I first used a timer, the ticking noise drove me nuts. But after a few more attempts, the clicking sound now subconsciously drives me to write. In fact, it’s hard not to write with the timer ticking away!
If you want to learn more about using short sprinting cycles to increase your productivity, read the two articles I’ve written about the Pomodoro Technique.
You can even download a timer for your toolbar. It’s $4.99 and fully customizable. (You can also search for free timers.)
Action item: Get a timer and explore using it both with and without sound. Find out what works for you. Adjust the length of your sessions accordingly.
There you go—three simple techniques to boost your writing output.
• What about you?
• Do you use similar techniques to write quickly?
• Did I miss a technique?
• Any questions on these three methods?
• What (often ignored) writing tricks do you use to keep your writing flowing?
P.S. Receive my free e-book, 5 (Ridiculously Simple) Ways to Write Faster, Better, Easier when you subscribe to this blog’s updates. It’s over 20 pages and packed with simple writing techniques to help you boost your writing power.
Wed, 06 Jul 2011 14:16:00 +0000I’m forever on the lookout for interesting business communication books. If you’re looking for some interesting reading, here’s what I’m reading now (or have read recently). Four of the books are free e-books and definitely worth checking out. These books have inspired me and I’m hoping they’ll inspire you too. 1) 13 Business Blogging Mistakes & Their Easy Fixes (free e-book) This e-book is from HubSpot and is packed with often-overlooked blogging tips. I love Chapter 8, “Ignoring Low-Hanging Fruit.” This chapter features 10 simple fixes you may not be using on your blog. There’s also a neat chapter on the importance of the call-to-action. 2) The B2B Marketing Handbook (free e-book) This 90-page e-book, written by copywriting guru Bob Bly, has 19 chapters and covers a variety of topics, including: 10 Tips for Increasing Landing Page Optimization Should B2B Copywriters Avoid Jargon? 7 Rules for Content Marketers Are White Papers Dead? Business-to-Business Headline Writing Clinic I printed this out and am keeping it within arm’s reach for future reference. (Go to the bottom of Bly's homepage for the e-book.) 3) The Copywriting Sourcebook: How to Write Better Copy, Faster–For Everything from Ads to Websites I have all four books from copywriter Andy Maslen and each book rocks. This one covers 13 areas, from articles and e-mails to sales letters and headlines. You don’t have to read the book from the beginning; just open it up to the area you’re interested in. 4) Manage Your Writing 3.0 (free e-book) This free e-book is the basis for the expanded version, 36-Hour Course in Business Writing. If you’re looking for a way to manage your writing process, start with this e-book. If you like this e-book, I highly encourage you to check out Kenneth’s full book version, 36-Hour Course in Business Writing. Author Kenneth Davis emphasizes, “Managing writing is largely a matter of managing your time.” And speaking of managing time . . . 5) The Pomodoro Technique (free e-book) Technically, this isn’t a business communication book. But I have to slip it into this list because of its ability to increase your productivity. I use the Pomodoro Technique 90 percent of the time when writing. In a nutshell: 1. Break your project down into 25-minute chunks. 2. Take a five-minute break. 3. Resume your project. Just try it a few times and see what happens. The e-book is packed with extra ideas and tips to get the most out of the technique. I wrote two articles about the Pomodoro Technique and how it can help you conquer the world (25 minutes at a time). Side note: Chris Brogan has an interesting spin on this technique: The 20 Minute Plan. It’s worth checking out. P.S. You can receive my free e-book, 5 (Ridiculously Simple) Ways to Write Faster, Better, Easier when you subscribe to this blog’s updates. It’s over 20 pages packed with simple writing techniques to help you boost your writing power. [...]