Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How Fast is a Purchasing Decision Made?

In my quest to beef up my knowledge on white papers and their uses in marketing communications, I was reading the "5 Laws" page at Hoffman Marcomm (another excellent writing company I know and recommend): Hoffman Marcomm - The Five Laws.

While I read it, I noticed a quote in the left-hand margin. "A well-written white paper is more likely to be read and influence buying decisions."
What grabbed me was, "is more likely." Not easily defined. Could mean anything. But regardless of your definition, it's still completely true.
Let me illustrate what I mean by that.

Imagine there's an exec at a tech firm. Say, 250 employees. They need new servers. Budget's tight. She doesn't find a good buy that's reliable and comes with strong 24/7 support by next week, she could be out on the street. There are five vendor white papers in front of her. She's tired, she's frustrated, and she doesn't really want to stop and read anything.

Which company is she going to buy from?

Right then, quality's not important. A thousand different features are useless. Most of the papers will say the same things anyway.

The white paper that wins the bid will be the one she likes reading.

My money's on the company that sent a white paper which:
  • isn't going to waste her time

  • Shows her everything she wants to know, up-front

  • Engages her with lively words & brain-stimulating imagery.

How long will it take her to make that decision?

I'd say five to ten seconds. Long enough for her to skim the paper's front page, and see if those points are covered. If they are, she's satisfied. She'll then read the rest of the white paper for points to justify her decision with.

You know you've got a great product. You know it'll add tons of value. But unless you convey all that in a manner that engages the reader (and fast!), they won't listen. Flashy graphics will annoy her. Weird layout will confuse her. Clear copy that comes right to the point is what'll interest her.

Only a few seconds. That's how fast a purchasing decision is made. Are you making sure you're using those seconds wisely?


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Golden Advice From An 18-Year-Old's Mouth - THIS Is Why Markets Are Conversations

Last week I came across an article that pounded into my head like a mallet shooting out of the screen. It was a transcript of a conversation between John Seely Brown, former chief scientist of Xerox, and Shannon O'Brien, a senior at a California high school.

Here's the article: The Future's So Bright...

The now-consultant and the gymnastics instructor talked about innovations, communications mediums like the blogosphere, and the future. The exchange is really something to see - a staunch business veteran and a not-quite college student, going back and forth about universal issues and their own perspectives.

And staying on the same level.

Mr. Brown was detailed, and Ms. O'Brien was thoughtful. Had I not read the profiles at the top of the article, I could have easily assumed this to be a conversation between two experienced professionals.

And in a way, it was.

I'll quote from Shannon's last paragraph to lead into why I find this article so valuable to anyone - ANYONE - who wants to be successful in marketing.

"In addition, may I just add, I am young, agreed, but 'way too young to realize this'? Well, that's a bunch of B.S. I guess I'm allowed to 'legally' be an adult but still not be treated like one. While I am obviously not in tune and updated on all the mysteries of the world around me, I'm not naive or ignorant, and I definitely know what it is like to talk to someone who is only 'half there.'"

While you're reading that again (because I want you to), let me go into what I'm on about.

This is an 18-year-old girl. She and the rest of her generation, in barely a couple years, will be commanding one of the largest demographics in our society. They have buying power. They have choice.

Most importantly, they have their own opinions.

Shannon talked about being allowed to 'legally be an adult, but not still not be treated like one.' Why does she make this distinction? My guess is that someone, through some medium (the media, marketing pieces, websites), talked to her like she was still a kid. My guess is that she read some copy that didn't respect her as an adult, with her own perspective and her own opinions about the world. This could have been years ago, or it could have been two days before this exchange happened.

The point is, that copy made such an impression on her that she brought it up again in a different setting.

It's part of her prevailing attitude now. Whatever company, whatever INDUSTRY made this mistake, they offended a potential customer. Who's now reiterated her prevailing attitude on

Where there's smoke...

People like Shannon are by no means isolated, or few in number. There is a huge number of teens growing up, having been deluged by marketing and communications that treated them like children. Or worse - like a number. Attitudes are common, but people are individuals. It is entirely possible to speak to an audience as one, but make them each feel as though you understand and respect their perspective and opinions. How do you do that?

You make it clear that you understand and respect their opinions in the copy you write.

Simple, perhaps. But so powerful it rides right over most everyone. Here, I'll give you an example as a conclusion. I wrote this whole post as if I was talking on behalf of Shannon, to a friend of mine. This friend is a marvelous salesman (far better than me, in fact). But he sometimes forgets that the people he's selling to...are people. I'm telling him how easy it is to boost his sales, if he remembers that marketing is really about respecting the people you're talking with.

They want to be respected. They want to be heard. Shannon wanted to be heard, and she was. Imagine how powerful an impact that was for her. Now imagine that powerful impact occurring in each and every one of your prospects. Because you took the time and made the effort to communicate with them as individuals.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

10 Ways To Make Sure People Understand You Over IM - A Blue Ferret Web-Com Tipsheet

I know it's frustrating.

You can't understand your co-workers when they do that. Typing out messages to you on IM like, "i m not goign 2 B in teh office 2day." You IM the guy in Accounting to ask him a question about your project, and get hasty, unrelated answers because he's not paying attention.

But how do you tell them, "Hey! I can't understand this stupid IM you sent me! Why don't you write in plain English?" without sounding like a jerk?

Answer: send them this tipsheet!

10 Ways To Make Sure People Understand You Over IM

It's a handy (yet subtle) way to help your company message better. From clearer writing to a better focus on what's important in a conversation.

Why am I offering this tipsheet, free to you? Well, I'm frustrated with unintelligible IM conversations too. But that's only half of it. Keep on reading; what I'm going into affects all Web writing everywhere.

I'm also writing this to help introduce my concept of "Web-Com" - Web communications. It's half-technology, half-writing principles.

The Web is used primarily to communicate with data. But we as people use it every day to communicate with other people, through email, instant messaging, webpages, blogs, RSS, etc. Simple, right?

So why do so many companies scare off and/or frustrate their customers on the Web? Why do so many Web companies never get off the ground, struggling to even stay afloat?

The problem lies in the fact that we tend to think one thing and say another - close to what we thought, but not quite. Why? Because we aren't always considering how the other person will interpret what we've said. Communication is always two-way, even if we forget to consider that. Even right now, the thoughts and motivations behind what I'm typing aren't fully carrying to you. And you're adding in your own thoughts and motivations subconsciously.

A few companies out there understand this. They don't use the stiff, formal language and marketing strategies that were developed years ago. They consider how their audience thinks, feels, reacts. They use technology that makes it easy for their customers to talk WITH them, and language that treats them with respect.

Sadly, most companies don't do this. And their profit scores reflect it.

So, over the course of the next few months, I'll be introducing a series of information products and articles to outline my impression of Web-Com, how companies can use this approach to attract more clients, and how they can build relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. The Web is an environment to communicate WITH people, not AT them. These markets are two-way. Let's start talking.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Communication Manipulations That Make Me Laugh

First off is Bullfighter. No, it's better than a guy in yellow chiffon. It's a "corporate bulls**t" detector. It sifts through your Word document (not sure how well it'd work on OpenOffice though) and shows you examples of corporate bull, along with recommendations for cleaning it up.

The cattle puns are just too easy, sorry.

I'm proud to say that I used Bullfighter on a newsletter project earlier today, and only had one hit! Now, time to go through my other projects.

I agree with Matt at Lifehacker - this could really help clean up corporate communications! Even by its presence alone; if you know you've got a bull detector on your machine, you're less likely to use bull. At least, that's my opinion. It's going in my permanent-recommendations file.

The other laugh-inducing communication came from a Monster job ad sent to me from one of their alerts. I read the post's first sentence, and busted up. I'm not going to link to the ad, because that'd be rude. But I will paste the sentence in question:

"Does your promotional copy make people want to take drugs?"

I'll give you a second to process that one.

If you haven't gotten the double entendre by now, I'll send you to the copy corner. But I can honestly say that over the years, I HAVE read copy that honestly made me want to find and take some drug that would make the memory go away.

Haven't you?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blue Ferret Software Review - Web-Based Chat

This will be a twist: a review on a software type, not a specific program. On top of that, a type I haven't specifically used. However, I have enough geek-cred to understand the basis of it. My conclusions shall be on target! (ominous thunderclap)

I'm talking about Web-based chat services. Real-time communication, totally online. This is a step past IM, even though it's along the same lines.

First, a little background (and qualifier). I've been an avid IRCer (that stands for "Internet Relay Chat," just in case) since I first discovered the Web back in '96. So text-based group chat has, to me, always been a fundamental part of my understanding of "the Web." I was even a little resistant to IM at first. It seemed too limited, too closed off. And the clients' bells & whistles were annoying.

I've thought for quite a while that a medium like IRC would be perfect for business collaboration. We all use words to communicate. Email is everywhere. Chat is a logical extension. But, IRC has a learning curve. That kills a lot of interest right there. Busy professionals don't have time to learn yet another interface. Wouldn't it be better to have a form of chat that's flexible enough to do one-on-one AND group meetings, but simple enough that it can be done through a website?

Those services are here now. Here are two prime examples of Web Chat that I've come across:

Meebo is IM on steroids. Legal steroids, of course. (No one named Barry works there; I checked.) It's a website where you can sign in to and use multiple IM connections at the same time. Think Trillian or Miranda, all contained in one webpage. AJAX can certainly produce some winning sites.

I like Meebo because it centralizes IM onto the Web. The interface is clean and quick. Absolutely no software to install. And because you're using a web browser for chatting instead of an IM client, you have the same level of security as the rest of your browsing.

Meebo is one of a few sites that provides multi-IM connections, but it's in my opinion the cleverest. The simplicity is alluring, the blog is wacky, and the forum is full of good content. Can't beat the price tag, either.

If you're in the market for an IM solution for your small business, want to keep it simple, and would prefer not installing a bunch of software, go for Meebo.

Now, if you're looking for totally universal chat...

Campfire - Group Business Chat.
A service that hosts group chat on the Web. 128-bit security. Common-platform, real-time communication anywhere. No client to install. Permanent logs available 24/7.

Amazing, isn't it?

With Campfire, all chat goes into one URL-accessible record. Now nobody can say they're "not on the same page" anymore. With a service like Campfire, everyone has to be on the same page - because there's only one page! Centralizing the chat means everyone contributes their information, and everyone gets all the contributions at once.

Here's what I mean. Say Bill needs some numbers crunched for next month's purchase order. So he logs onto his company's Campfire chat and asks Nick in Accounting. Nick posts them on the chat, because he finished them five minutes ago and doesn't want people to start bugging him for those numbers.

But wait, Emma needs those numbers too, for market research. She was going to call Nick, even though she knows he hates getting calls at number-crunching time. So she logs onto the company chat and finds that he posted the numbers a few minutes ago. She grabs them off the log and gets back to her research. Everyone's happy, minimal interaction necessary, and no one was bugged.

In my profile, it says that I blog about technology, writing, and the communication strategies that occur between them. Web-Based Chat is definitely one of the shining examples of how technology and writing work together to produce reliable business Web communication. Web-Com. Check it out!


P.S. - What's Web-Com, you ask? You'll have to check back and see. I will be saying a lot more about Web-Com very soon.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Announcing: The Blue Ferret Communications RSS Feed!

One of those things you keep forgetting to do, right? Well, I finally remembered.

Blue Ferret Communications adds an RSS Feed!

It's an ATOM feed, not RSS 2.0 like I wanted. But it's already integrated into Blogger, and it's readable by virtually all major RSS aggregators. So it'll work for now.

I've added the feed's link to the Links section on the sidebar, under "Blue Ferret Feed." Subscribe to my ferrety writing wisdom!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Out of the Blue - A Prospect's Long-Absent Reappearance

I received a call today from a credit union manager, in an area where I used to live. She was interested in me doing a quarterly newsletter for the credit union. I will be calling her back tomorrow morning to give a quote.

Sounds typical, right? It's not. Here's why.

I marketed in that area, and sent her a postcard listing my services...early last year.

Seemingly out of the blue, my postcard marketing turns up a prospect! And it made me think of something I read, lo those many years ago...

In late 2001, when I first began contemplating copywriting as a career, I was reading Peter Bowerman's The Well-Fed Writer. Anyone who knows this book (and its author) knows it to be an extremely well-written tome, chock-full of invaluable advice about starting and running a copywriting business.

In this book there was a brief story about how the author received business from a phone contact he'd made two years before. From a phone call, made and forgotten, Mr. Bowerman gained a client after an impossibly long time (for business, anyway).

Needless to say, I felt about as exhilirated as Mr. Bowerman must have at receiving my call earlier today. So much so, I put aside the blog post I was working on today to write about this. Later in the week I'll talk about The MySpace Generation.

Maybe this post's a thank-you to the big world out there, for a project popping up unbidden. Maybe it's simply an observation about how quirky the business sphere really is in our lives. In either case, I hope you enjoyed the story. Maybe you've had a client approach you in a similar manner? Tell us about it!


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Time-Sensitive or Top-Ranking SEO - Which Should You Focus On?

We all know about SEO, right? The somewhat-mysterious technique of formatting your web coding and inserting elements so The House of Google and the Temples of Yahoo will find your site and place you in their listings. Preferably in the single-digit range. But how does SEO work? How do I implement it on my site? Is it worth looking into in the first place?

I don't think I could answer all of those adequately, simply because of the volumes of conflicting information out there. However, in my study of this still-mostly-undefined Web phenomenon, I've determined that there are two basic types of SEO out there: Time-Sensitive SEO, and Top-Ranking SEO. Let me clarify what I mean here.

Time-Sensitive SEO
I was alerted to the power of time-sensitive SEO by the eminent Joe Vitale's first post to his blog. His extremely clever method of getting attention made me aware of how easy it is to capture and benefit from real-time search data now. And that's what Time-Sensitive SEO is: a direct, immediate benefit of search data.

Time-Sensitive SEO is a sudden spike in the Internet EEG. It's content that suddenly goes live on the Web, is suddenly indexed, suddenly jumps to the top of its keyword searches, and suddenly vanishes back down the list. Think in terms of a "breaking news story" online.

A Time-Sensitive URL can spend anywhere from 24-48 hours at the top of Google's Page 1, less than 24 hours after it's indexed. Astonishingly fast climbing, huh? But, alas, then the URL usually sinks back into a more average listing location. So, if this positioning is easy but fleeting, why use Time-Sensitive SEO? The three reasons are, in fact, evident in my description.

Time-Sensitive SEO is useful for building awareness of a new product or service. Companies can use it for limited-time promotions. It can even be used to attract media attention. Since most Time-Sensitive SEO involves blogging, tagged content like Technorati, and sponsored listings like Google AdWords, the medium lends itself well to speedy posting and speedy home (computer) delivery.

Top-Ranking SEO
Top-Ranking URLs, on the other hand, are waging guerrilla war. They fight tooth and nail for Page 1. The difference from Time-Sensitive SEO is that their intent is to be entrenched at Number 1. Time is not as important as position. A Top-Ranking SEO site will wait it out, marching inexorably toward Number 1.

Top-Ranking SEO is much harder to win out on; after all, there's only one, er, Number 1. But it's longer-lasting, and has better ripple effect online than Time-Sensitive. Think about it - if a new site popped up in a regular search of yours, with a bunch of new content and some bells & whistles, you might look. But would you buy a $200-dollar piece of electronics from them, one minute after being introduced to them?

That's the real value in Top-Ranking SEO - brand loyalty. Your company may have to wait longer to reach your customers on a personal level, but once you do, you're a shoe-in. Your organic SEO keywords, update schedule, constantly-checked site analyses and just plain patience will pay off in the spades of getting an expert reputation and a loyal, steadfast customer base.

So what would be the best answer to the topic question? Which SEO type should your company focus on?

I may be predictable in doing so, but I'm going to say both. Each type has a benefit that should be applied to your business when that benefit is needed.

Time-Sensitive SEO makes sense for introducing new products/services. Think about it when you have frequent updates and new keywords.

Top-Ranking SEO is best for long-term branding and industry status. Nobody gets a (deserved) good reputation overnight; you shouldn't expect to on the Web. A little patience will go a long way (around the world, in this case).

Let's see what kinds of results I can get out of this post. I put organic keywords, Top-Ranking SEO, in its content. Time-Sensitive Technorati tags are below. Which will prove the better lure? Only Google Analytics knows for sure!

Technorati Tags: