Monday, July 31, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 7-31-06: The Difference Between B2C and B2B Writing

Warming up over on the East Coast, isn't it? Stay inside and stay cool, Ferrety readers.

It's also starting to warm up in the business world. Summer's winding down; soon we'll be back in get-busy season. With that in mind, today's tip covers a question often asked, rarely answered in terms of marketing.

What's the difference between writing copy for B2C, and for B2B?

(I'm talking about the main difference between the audiences. Not the little nuances that come from market segmentation.)

And the answer is...


There is no difference between writing for B2C and B2B. Why? Because in both cases, you're still speaking to a person.

Your target market can be one of a thousand audiences. But if you want to close a sale, ANY sale, you need to speak to the reader the same way each time. Answer his questions, solve his problems, and speak to his desires.

That doesn't change, regardless of him wearing a suit or a t-shirt.

Enjoy the coming week!


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

People Will Burn Out on Teleseminars - My Prediction

Odd how circumstances collide to tell you to pursue an idea sometimes, isn't it?

I was mulling through ideas to blog on today, and checked a mailing list for copywriters I belong to (Marketing Mastermind - Yahoo Groups if anyone's interested.) One of the members asked the group what they thought of the surge in teleseminars being offered by copywriters, marketing consultants, entrepreneurs, etc.

I've listened in on a few of thse myself. Downloaded several more (I think that's the best part - having an MP3 available of the whole thing for later). They've mostly been about one thing - one person's method/take on how to increase business, or how to improve your skills. In writing, naturally. I have no interest in learning how to be a better sewer inspector.

Before I talk about where I think this trend is going, I should differentiate something. When I say 'teleseminar,' I mean the phone calls you sign up online for, dial in to listen, and/or download the recorded call afterward.

I DON'T mean podcasts. Podcasts are simply recorded MP3s about whatever topic the recorder chooses. No calls. Oftentimes, no signups. I think podcasts are intended to be an open, portable platform for sharing ideas and opinions. Teleseminars are intended to be a closed, singular event that instructs/sells.

And there's the big problem. Teleseminars are intended to sell. Let's not fool ourselves here. There's absolutely nothing wrong with educating a potential customer (I'm all in favor of more education!). However, teleseminars have two factors in their makeup working against them because of this.

1. A teleseminar has information wrapped in product promotion. That's a time-honored formula that works - IF there's a ratio observed. Personally, I prefer a 75/25 ratio information/promotion. 60/40 if necessary. However, many teleseminars are reversing that ratio. People are so excited about the ease and convenience of this new medium that they're ignoring some basic psychology.

Which leads right into the second problem:

2. Everyone's rushing to do teleseminars. Much like the blogging craze, ease and low cost are flooding the use of a new marketing medium. Unfortunately, this is a medium that CAN be exhausted. You can read multiple blogs at a time if you want (though I don't recommend it). Nobody has the time to listen to six teleseminars in one day - let alone the fact that it's impossible to do more than one at once.

Teleseminars are starting to garner the perception of being audio sales letters you have to seek out. That's a little like paying the movie theater to see ads. (Does ANYone pay attention to that junk?)

So what am I getting at here? Well, I'm going to do something new today. I'm going to make some predictions. Keep in mind, I'm "only" a professional writer and Web marketing specialist. I lack inflated-value "official" credentials. Take my predictions with your own grain of salt.

Prediction 1 - People Will Burn Out
Critical mass will be reached sometime in the next year. Attendance for teleseminars will slide, then plunge. People will find better ways of getting education - books, blogs, forums, live seminars, etc. The options are in their favor.

Prediction 2 - Teleseminars Will Shrink In Popularity
As a result, professionals will reduce their focus on teleseminars. The information/promotion ratio will flip back to the successful level, making the teleseminars that remain helpful and popular. Their producers will gain followings, much like some blogs have today.

Prediction 3 - Webinars & Podcasts Will Pick Up the Slack
Recognizing that portability is best for some information (like self-improvement series) and interactivity is better for others (like new technology presentations), podcasts and webinars will see a rise. Though it doesn't help teleseminars, the explosion in online video benefits both these mediums.

There you have it. Let's wait and see if any of these prove prophetic. In the meantime, grab a podcast or two and enrich your mind:


Monday, July 24, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 7-24-06 - Flash Movie Player

With the rise of online video and open-source development, Flash is becoming the tool of choice for presentations and interactive Web applications.

You most often see Flash in the form of a movie - an SWF file played in your browser, thanks to Macromedia's most popular plugin. But viewing those SWF files outside of the browser is a lot harder - especially when you want to save some good jokes, or keep a copy of your last presentation handy.

Enter the app I almost learned programming in order to make: the Flash Movie Player. It plays Flash files without any other software (except the Macromedia Flash plugin, of course).

Personally, I love the convenience of having a separate SWF player. Stick this on your flash drive and you'll be able to check the company presentation, or the beta status of your company's new Web app.

Flash is a very versatile technology, with low hardware/software requirements. This player probably doubles its usability. Try it out.

Did I mention it's free, by the way?


Thursday, July 20, 2006

What's the Value of a Freelance Copywriter vs. a Staff Writer?

Lately I've noticed a big jump in job postings for staff writers. While I definitely like companies recognizing the value of copywriting, it does make me wonder - why so many staff positions? At most, a quarter of the job posts I see are for contracts.

Why aren't businesses paying more attention to freelance copywriters?

A simple explanation would be that they don't know about them, or don't realize their value. Given how many professionals I've educated on the subject, this seems the most likely.

I've been on the staff side and the freelancing side. So I do have some ground to stand on here when I say I think the freelancing side is the better option for almost all businesses marketing themselves.

A while back I wrote a Justification for Copywriting. Let me look at some of its principles from a comparison angle.

Advantages of Freelancers over Staff Writers
1. Cost-effective - Let's say your company needs 15 projects a year. 3 sales letters and 12 monthly newsletters, for instance. My own fees for such would range between $9,500-$14,000 for the newsletters, and $4,000-$7000 for the sales letters. So having a freelancer like myself handle these projects would cost a company about $13,500 to $21,000 a year.

A staff writer employed for a year, even at a low-end salary would cost $40,000 in salary alone.

2. Specialized Expertise - Every writer has a specialty. Most freelancers focus on one or two, so they'll enjoy their work more and get better at it. (Mine is, as I've said before, writing for the Web.) Companies can take advantage of specialization by hiring several writers, each for a specific project they'll be good at. Instead of having one staff writer scramble to learn about each new specialty area.

The best part is, companies can be as specific as they want. Need a writer for six executive bios? There are freelancers that do those. I even know a(n independent) photographer who specializes in underwater photographs!

3. Fresh Perspective - I think this is probably the most valuable advantage a freelancer has over a staff writer. Staffers face the same curse as all other employees - getting too close, too familiar with their products/services. That can wear on you over time, dulling your prose into endless rehashing that doesn't convince anyone.

A freelancer is close enough to see how to work a message, yet far enough away that they can pick out new ways of highlighting product values. That's their whole job.

4. No Hiring/Firing Costs - It costs what, a year's salary to find and train new employees? Freelancers come and go for fractions of the overall costs. And their ROI is much higher. Use this one for those companies who have their bottom on marquee across their eyeballs.

5. Higher Profits - Because there's a lower expense in hiring a freelancer, you'll automatically have higher profit margins. But that's not the only profit source.

The temptation for a staff writer is to copy old company documents, or pilfer competitors' words when no one's looking. Ask yourself - which would you buy from, the company that's using the exact same message as its competitors? Or the company that speaks in open language, proves its claims, and communicates its message in a way that really sticks in your head?

That's how a freelancer brings about higher profits.

Advantages of Staff Writers
I'm not trying to disparage staff writers here. There ARE situations when a staff writer makes more sense. One that comes right to mind is when a mid-sized company has a tremendous need for writing. As in, projects turned out daily. In this case, it's best to have a staff writer, and freelancers on call/retainer for the overflow. Or for certain specialties your staff writer's not as experienced in (I have very little expertise in or desire for print ads, for example).

How Freelance Copywriters Can Shine Value
I have a theory about why some companies believe staff writers are better - and how freelancers can disprove that notion. (Hey, I had to stick a practical portion in here somewhere.) They believe that hiring a staff writer will "guarantee" experience/skill at communicating their company's value. The only thing they're guaranteeing, however, is familiarity. That doesn't always equate to saleability.

Freelancers can overcome this perception by that old never-overestimated stalwart - a solid portfolio, focused on relevant specialties. Here's what I do. I have all my samples tucked into plastic binder sheets. My portfolio is a nice 3-ring binder. When I meet with a prospect, I pull out the samples that aren't relevant and insert ones that are. Click-click. Instant specialized objection-nullifier.

So there you have it. A slew of persuasion tactics and sales points on freelance copywriter value. Staff writers have their place in the communications world, and I'm glad for that. But sometimes, a freelancer's who you need right away.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to start emailing this post URL to some companies advertising for staff writers.

(Note: This post will be enhanced and made into a white paper in the next week or two. Check back for the PDF that'll give every writer the edge against value objections!)


P.S.: If someone has stats on freelancer ROI, I'd appreciate a comment or email. They're hard to find!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sorry my Ferrety readers, no BlogTip today.

I'm not feeling well, and the heat's not helping. I should mention that I've been working on a longer and more detailed piece for this week, though. So be sure to check back later!

Stay cool.

--Chris, The Blue Ferret

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Is Your Website Chasing Away Customers? or, How I Wrestled a Site Form

A couple days ago, I went to some printers' websites to see about getting quotes. (It's time for a DM self-promo campaign, yay!) As we all know, there are a couple of ways to get quotes. Most of us simply pick up the phone, even though many printers now use their websites to take orders, offer quotes, track shipping, etc. I thought I'd try using the online Quote Request forms.

Four aspirins later...

We've all used website forms. You enter some data in the fields, click Submit, and the site takes the action you want (special page access, service signups, member registrations, etc.)

I think both of the printers I visited used the same form script. It did not do that.

Both, upon clicking Submit, yanked my email client into operation and threw a New Message window at me. One filled with gobbledygook - the data I'd entered buried among various characters and HTML symbols.

It looked something like this: "Data&*element$%unreadable%%junk#(allwrapped@!up0in$&nonsense)@"

My eyes hurt just looking at that.

I'm sure some of you have seen this before. I have too, but this week's little episode made me think about the ramifications of something like this. What kind of message are you communicating, when your website's technology throws illegible surprises at its visitors?

You're communicating that you're not interested in making things easy for your customer. It's less work for you to make them take extra steps. Thing is, what will most people do when an email pops up in their face, no warning, no understanding?

Quickly close it I'd bet, thinking it's a virus or spam. Then you lost a potential sale. And you're the one who caused it.

Forms are not that hard to engineer. They should be a seamless part of your communication strategy - collect data automatically, so you can focus on the relationship with your potential customer. Unfortunately, writing can't help a bad form. But technology can.

In case you're thinking of building forms into your site (or you might happen to use a script like I've described), you can find everything you need at either of these websites:
Form Assembly - Create and Process State-of-the-Art Web Forms
Wufoo - Making forms easy + fast + fun

Also, if you're using a form to collect addresses for a newsletter, Constant Contact has a signup box script available for all its customers: Constant
(Pretty good email marketing solution too.)

Besides the confusion and subtle message I mentioned earlier, this kind of technology roadblock does a few other things to business communication:

Negative impression. I was a bit irritated at the messages popping up. To me, it conveyed a lack of professionalism. Not much respect for someone only asking questions. Now these printers could be models of professionalism in their person-to-person customer service. But thanks to an extra-step, no-warning email requirement, my impression is not glowing. Want to bet I'm not the only one?

No two-way channel. If you send an email, you expect an email back. If you submit a form, you expect a response page to be loaded. But with a bungle like this, there's a little twinge in the back of your mind. Questions that should be answered already from the website's automatic response mechanism now float to the surface. "Did they get it? Will they respond? What happened? Should I try to ask them? Would they get THAT?"

Lack of response. I sent those emails anyway. That was Monday. Not a peep on Wednesday afternoon. Frankly, if I don't hear back from any vendor I've emailed within 48 hours, they're not getting my business. (Good thing I don't know anyone from those companies.) My first guess as to why would be, "I doubt anyone there wants to deal with emails containing nothing but garbage."

It's little things like a badly-used site form that can severely hurt your business. Communication is a process - your message and your writing are a big part, but they're not the only part. Pay attention to your technology too.

Now I'm going to pick up the phone and get a couple more quotes. Hopefully an email won't jump out of the receiver.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 7-10-06 - 2 Dangerous Assumptions To Avoid When Emailing

We're back! Hope everyone had fun last week.

Today's BlogTip is about emails. Yes, the snippets of conversation and "I need this ASAP" we fire off without so much as an extra glance. Often, we make several assumptions specific to the topic - but a coffee meeting I had with a local photographer (*cough*Stephanie Gordon*cough*) highlighted two common and very dangerous assumptions people make.

These assumptions will almost always cause confusion in your reader(s), and quite possibly misinterpretation. Stephanie even reported an incident where one such email, sent to her, seemed so assumptive that the message looked offensive.

The Dangerous Assumptions to Avoid are:
1. Assume the message needs no context.
2. Assume the reader will understand what you mean.

Like any form of communication, emails need context. If that's not already present in the relationship between you and the reader, put it into the email. (Adding one sentence explaining your reasoning will do it.)

And never, EVER assume the reader understands you. You're not your reader. This goes back to Audience Mischaracterization and Leaps in Logic I discussed in, "Are You Sending Out Communications With Holes In Them?" Read that again, and you'll understand why I list the email assumption as dangerous.

That's all for today! See everyone Wednesday.

(Oh, and P.S. - if you signed up for my Zookoda email broadcasts, they seem to be broken right now. I'm stuck on email hold with Zookoda waiting for a reason why. I'll update when I hear back.)


Monday, July 03, 2006

A 4th of July Thought Request, From the Blue Ferret

Blue Ferret Communications honors the men who risked everything to forge a new ideal, and the men & women who have since stood in defense of it.

I am taking the week off, so I can relax and work on a new book. But instead of mindlessly wishing everyone a happy 4th of July, I'd like to ask you to do something.

Stop and look around. Remember what we as a nation accomplished, when great men got up from their chairs and decided enough was enough. Time and again, America used that same model the Founding Fathers laid down to break oppression, right wrongs, aid the fallen. We've done it before, and we will do it again.

This 4th of July, this Independence Day, ask yourself. What do you feel is wrong with our nation today? What will YOU do when enough is enough?