Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blue Ferret CommChannels, Issue 1: What Readers Get Out of It

I know some of my readers have NOT subscribed to my newsletter (shame-shame). As of this morning, the first issue went out. 30% open rate in 6 hours. I'll consider that a pretty good return.

CommChannels 1 talks about what the reader will get from the coming issues. So no one will miss this very important issue, I'm reposting it on my blog.

Subscription Link:
A Slimmer, Simpler Newsletter: What to Expect in CommChannels

To illustrate why I started CommChannels, and how its content benefits you, let me take you through its tagline. Like it says, it'll only take 3 minutes. In fact, let's start there.

1. The 3 Minutes Part
Marketing pieces have to punch their message through skepticism in a very short number of words, every time. This is especially true of Web marketing. The average person reads 200 words a minute off a computer screen, but can lose interest in a matter ofseconds.

Useless factoid, you say? How about when I tell you none of my main articles will exceed 600 words? I'll even include the word count each time.

That means they'll only take 3 minutes to read. 3 minutes is nothing when you're making yourself a stronger writer and a better marketer, is it? Plus, I'll be demonstrating how strong a marketing message needs to be to keep customers' attention. Educational AND fun!

2. Clearer Writing
Most of my topics will be about writing. I'm a firm believer in the educating your customers philosophy, both for my marketing and in my clients' projects. Besides, the more educated writers we have (let's face it, we all have to write sometime), the clearer the business world and the Web will be.

3. Stronger Marketing
Marketing projects should benefit the company, not drain its resources. I'm structuring my newsletter so reading it gives you valuable, relevant information. No time wasted here. Think of it this way: You don't look very busy, Reynolds.
I'm reading a newsletter that'll help our marketing, boss.
Oh. Hey, could you forward that to me?

Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

4. Graphics-FreeAnother thing like many of you, I don't like getting newsletters that throw huge graphics at you. Or that look like an Escher sketch if you turn the formatting off. So, every Blue Ferret CommChannels newsletter will be in basic HTML only. No graphics, no special formatting. Straight text, like all good copy should be.

I want CommChannels to become one of the newsletters people anticipate. A resource they can rely on for improving themselves. And since the list makes the newsletter, I'm always interested in what you want to read about. Here's my business email: If you have suggestions or a topic request, email me. We'll build CommChannels together.

There's a joke in there somewhere, but I'm going to let it go.

Next month: the Four Main Objections all marketing must overcome!

Word Count: 424 (See? Told you.)

In the future, my newsletter and my blog will work together as a complete Blue Ferret marketing platform. My intent is to fully display the value of clear, informative copy to my clients and colleagues. Join know you want to...

Here's that subscription link again:


Monday, November 27, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 11-27-06 - How to Land on a Specific Title

It's been said many times. But it doesn't get any less powerful each time.

I was lying in bed Saturday night, and my mind drifted toward business. (I wasn't trying to, honest.) Since it's a common problem, my thoughts landed on what titles by which I address myself. Anyone who's been to a mixer knows the frustration that comes from this.

I say I'm a copywriter and their eyes cross.
I say I'm in communications and they start talking about cellphone headsets.
I say I'm a marketing consultant and they lambast "evil moneysucking ad agencies."

I've been trying to put together a title I know is accurate, focused, closed enough to get a concept across, and open enough to invite discussion.

Lying in bed on a Saturday night, work the farthest thing away, a title spontaneously assembled itself. It fits me to a tea.

"Web communications specialist."

So there we are. I'm a Web communications specialist. One whole concept, yet unusual enough to elicit a, "Oh! What's that mean?"

Today's BlogTip? Creating an ultra-specific title will benefit you, not limit you.

Use the criteria I listed above on your favorite niche. Accurate, focused, closed enough to get a single concept across and open enough to generate discussion. Your title will come to you. You'll be able to say, "I'm a (X)!" with confidence.

P.S. - The first Blue Ferret "CommChannels" newsletter heads out Wednesday. Jump over to and sign up. 3 minutes a month to clearer writing and stronger marketing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Should You Write a "Failure" Success Story?

They're called case studies. Short, real-life accounts of instances where your product/services succeeded in solving a customer's problem. They're supposed to be about glowing examples of your professionalism, timeliness, service quality, expert followup...

Okay, I can't keep writing that stuff. Too candy-coated.

Let's face it - it's impossible to make every customer 100% happy 100% of the time. That's the whole reason these case studies - or "success stories" as many call them - exist. They highlight the times when you did a good job and your customer was happy.

Demonstrating your prowess with success stories is a hugely powerful marketing tactic. Everyone likes to read stories. And it's easy for a businessperson to relate to the issues of other businesspeople. You solved Joe's problem this way; I'll bet you could solve my problem too.

I've written a few case studies in the past couple years. I get a kick out of doing them. But I had a colleague say something to me the other day that got me thinking about the flipside.

Do We Hold Off Success To Avoid Ego?
I'd asked her why she didn't have testimonials or success stories on her website (a popular web designer; many recommend her). She replied that she hadn't thought of it, and threw off a self-deprecating, "Besides, my work's not that great."

Hmmm. Having seen her work and met her customers, I know the opposite is very true. But this self-deprecating attitude is extremely common. I get it myself time and again. Even in the face of a glowing review, we're afraid to tell others about our success because we think it'll sound like loud horn-tooting.

So I thought about it. How could a service provider, like me and like my designer friend, offer case studies of well-handled projects without wanting to appear pompous in the very act of doing so?

And I thought - what about a situation where you weren't the one who solved the problem?

--Maybe you were a facilitator, who made the right connection at the right time.
--Were you only part of the team who provided the solution?
--Did things not go according to plan, forcing a last-minute scramble? (Be honest. We've all had those.)

All of these would make great success stories. Why? Because they're not about 100% success!

I'm Bored of the Same Old Successes
Let me explain what I mean. A typical case study/success story follows, at the deep deep base, a standard format -

1. Introduce client.
2. Introduce problem.
3. Introduce your product.
4. Show how product solved problem.

It happens faster for me, being a writer. But if you read the same thing over and over, what happens? Right, you get bored with it. Your eyes cross and your mind heads for Tahiti.

Why not spice up your success story? Inject a little "failure." Though It's not really failure, since the customer's problem was solved. And that is what we're all about in business, isn't it?

In fact, a "failure/success story" would show another aspect to your work. You're demonstrating that solving the customers' problems is more important than waving your own flag all the time. What's that expression - humility makes us human? Humans like doing business with other humans more than they do faceless corporate entities.

Roadmap to a Case Study From the Real World
Here's how I see service providers (and other business types) using a failure/success story:
  1. Introduce client.

  2. Introduce problem.

  3. Discuss analyzing problem with the client.

  4. List your proposed solution.

  5. Discuss how solution was implemented.

  6. List results of implementation.

  7. If a mistake or change of plans occurred, discuss. Mention client reaction.

  8. Finish with problem resolution.
A few more steps than our standard format. But look how much more flexibility lurks in there. There's room to mention unforeseen changes. Give credit to partners. Inject the human side.

All by opening the success story up to the possibility of failure.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 11-20-06 - Happy Thanksgiving (and check back here Tuesday!)

Today's BlogTip is a reminder in 2 parts.

The first is a reminder for you to check back here tomorrow. With holiday preparations bound to eat up (pardon the pun) much of this week, I'm posting my weekly blog article tomorrow instead of Wednesday. It's about an unusual use of case studies that just might produce a whole new twist on Web marketing.

The second reminder? Remember the origins of our upcoming holiday. For a while, two cultures shared time and food as one people. A little patience brought about a whole new tradition. Keeping that in mind might make dealing with relatives a little easier.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving Thursday.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Questions Every Piece of Writing Must Answer

I know this won't be a complete list.

There's no possible way it could be. But any such list has value. Especially to writers strapped for time and in a mental fog (face it, we all get them).

I'm talking about questions your finished copy must answer. Not what you had to answer before you started writing, but what answers the reader is looking for in the text. The other half to their own self-justifications.

Your market may think these questions. They may ask them aloud. They may not even be aware of what presumptions they're operating under. But they want their answers. Provide them in a manner beneficial to both you and the reader, and you win. Fail to provide answers, or give the reader self-aggrandizing text, and they'll answer "No."

(For brevity's sake, let's assume I'm talking about a service you're promoting.)

--Is this something I can use?
If they're reading, they have a need. The answer's yes, and all you have to explain is why. However, this question leads to a rarely-voiced sidekick: "What if they don't do such-and-such?" This is usually some quirk of their business operations. Typically commonplace, even though they think they're the only ones doing it. CCing a dummy email account for records purposes, for a mild example.

There's no way to cover all those in one piece of copy - but you can make an effort with multiple pieces. Use case studies. Let them read how you worked with other companies in their industry. Odds are they'll see their "quirk" and relax.

--Is this something I need now?
You should have already answered this before you contacted your prospect. You DID study your market to find the best time to approach, and conducted A/B testing, right?

--Uh huh, so what?
Can pop up anywhere. "So what"s come when you get away from your main message. Answer this by avoiding it. If your copy stalls at some point, go back to the beginning of the previous paragraph and rework it from there. (Only way I've found to maintain flow.)

--How do they compare to everyone else?
In this case, 'everyone else' is not usually a specific competitor. It's instead an opportunity for you to step clear out of the pack. They want to know why your company should be their #1. Shine your value in the reader's face (respectfully!) with something like, "Notepads Inc. has eight #1 rankings out of eight regional tech surveys."

--Would we pay too much/Are they going to overbill us/Do they pad reports?
This is the question you don't answer at all. Sadly, with so many businesses popping up, many industries are reduced to price-warring at the outset. Even copywriters do this (way too often). But if you even try to speak to price before service, you've lost. The answer's no.

Instead, do what Barry Morris, a well-spoken colleague of mine does - ignore price entirely and focus on the value you're giving to the customer. (Subscribe to his ezine; good stuff. Mine too, while you're at it.) End result. Time saved, solution implemented, happy employees, the frantic joy of additional business.

You can answer these questions directly, by putting their answers into the text. But the more effective strategy I've found is to embed the answers, so the reader thinks of them himself.

How will you do that? I'll leave that up to you. But you could start by thinking in terms of two puzzle pieces. Join them like this:
1. Write out what you want your customer to think at a certain spot. Be explicit. "This would get X in Accounting to stop complaining about equipment costs."
2. Write what you'd need to say to provoke this exact phrase. "Yes, costs are rising. Even enterprises feel the pinch. Our demand's gone through the roof because of it, but we're happy to meet our customers' supply needs."
3. Cross out the copy from Step 1.
4. Repeat as needed.

I'll probably think of more questions your copy must answer later. You're of course welcome to comment and add to the list.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 11-13-06 - 2 More Places For Doing Customer Research

A good marketer never has too many avenues for finding out things about his audience. Last week, I added two more to my repertoire. They both work for all audience types. Both come straight from the customers' mouths.

Er, keyboards.

1. Amazon Comments
Technically they're called "Customer Reviews," but you know what I mean. Input from a book's readers, right on its page. I've found opinions from well-informed to uninformed here. All show the impressions that book is getting.

How does this benefit marketers? If a book's in the news, or written on the subject you're addressing, you've got direct feedback on how your prospects may receive your products too.

To find out, search on Amazon like you would Google: throw a couple of relevant keywords at it. For instance, I wanted to see what customers in 2006 think about marketing trends. Here's what I searched with: "Marketing 2006". The first result has 13 reviews. 13 perspectives on marketing in 2006. Try it.

2. Omgili
Speaking of search, here's another search engine, recently appeared on the Webscape. Omgili:

What's Omgili's claim to fame? It searches forums.

Discussion boards, message boards, support boards - call them what you like. Forums are websites where people ask questions, post solutions to problems they've found, talk about products they've used or heard about...

The value in forums is staggering. I'm not the first writer to mention them as a research tool, if that's any indication. Literally up-to-the-minute customer perspective. And with Omgili, you save huge amounts of time in finding the audience opinions you want.

Omgili is still in beta, so expect a few bugs in your search results. My search on "IT Security," as you can see:
has Homeland Security at the top instead. But like Google in its early days (geez, that makes me feel old), Omgili will become more accurate over time.

I know several writers, entrepreneurs and marketing pros who don't take the time to research their audiences. The most common excuse? "Lack of time." Searching through Amazon's comments, and forums with Omgili, takes a few minutes. Everyone can spare that when it could mean the difference between rave reviews and a dismal ROI.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Writer Wading Through CMSes: Part 1 of "The Search for Content Management"

Time for another technology post!

Yesterday I spent part of the day working with content management systems (CMSes). I'm redoing my website for modern organization, easier uploads and article marketing. A CMS is virtually required now for regular content updates, but I've struggled along without one until now. Mostly because it's a fairly high learning curve, and I lack time.

Time to bite the bullet, though. I can't launch a newsletter (*hint*hint* ) without my website ready to post archive issues.

I recently grabbed a refurbished Thinkpad T30 laptop off eBay ($400, heck of a bargain). I intended it as both my mobile workstation and a software testbed.

First thing to test? A few CMSes.

Now, a CMS is intended for use on a Web server. So in order to test one out, I need a Web server. Easiest way to do that without fouling up my existing site? Host a Web server locally.

I'd worked on a local webhost before, when I was testing wiki software. So I already knew about The Uniform Server, an all-in-one server package. A couple clicks and I'm ready to test "http://localhost" with a few open source CMSes.

I picked three content management systems to start out - TextPattern, Nucleus CMS and CMS Made Simple. There are a slew of CMSes available (have a look at the CMS Matrix - it's only a partial list!). But I'm interested in those that emphasize simple publishing & ease of administration.

All three run on the same hosting setup (exactly like the one Uniform Server provides). In theory, all I'd need to do is copy each into the appropriate folder, run a basic setup, and have a working CMS.

However, Murphy reared his ugly head once more.

TextPattern Didn't Like Me
I started first with TextPattern. A fellow copywriter recommended it (thanks Bob!). Reading through its feature list and install guide - by far the most extensive of these three - I felt reasonably comfortable installing it.

I should note that my expertise in PHP and MySQL is nil, though.

And that's where I got my error. TextPattern threw up a bunch of damaged PHP. Clearly, I was missing something. I checked instructions again, and found I hadn't created the right database. Easy to fix; MySQL's database wizards to the rescue.

No more PHP code. No, now there's a Forbidden error. I didn't have the right permissions. I checked. There weren't any higher permissions I could find. I tried fiddling with the server for half an hour. But in the end, I had to give up on TextPattern for now.

Nucleus CMS Got Bored
Next, Nucleus CMS. This one surprised me by automatically finding the database I'd created for TextPattern. The setup went smoothly - no PHP code, no broken permissions. I entered the same information TextPattern asked me for (database name, user login, password, etc.).

But (you knew it was coming) I had a problem at the last Setup page. Nucleus was ready to implement all my information, set up its connections, and boot the new CMS. It stated that the process could take a while. Then it cautioned me to click the "Install Now" button only once.

I clicked once. And waited.

While I waited, I wondered what constituted "a while" for Nucleus developers. After 20 minutes, I concluded they didn't mean that long and restarted the server. I tried the installation again. Froze at the same point.

I suspect there's a tiny problem somewhere in the interaction with MySQL. After making a note to search later, I closed Nucleus CMS and thanked it for a valiant attempt.

CMS Made Simple Ran Ahead
After those two disappointing turnouts, I half-heartedly unzipped CMS Made Simple. I would have been grateful just to get it running. Imagine my surprise when it practically yanked me forward through its install routine. I had to make a new database and use an administrator login, but the whole process took less than 3 minutes.

And after those 3 minutes? A fully-loaded, fully-functional CMS sat waiting in my browser. I was happy as a ferret with a giant gemstone. I spent the next 20 minutes messing with its navigation. Created a couple pages, changed the post order, and read some of the (included) documentation.

My verdict? If I didn't have more CMSes that I wanted to test, I might have stopped right there and chosen CMS Made Simple.

That's not to say I give bad marks to TextPattern and Nucleus. They came highly recommended. I'm fairly sure their problems are situated in my own ignorance. I might try them again, after I've learned a little more about how to setup content management systems.

I blogged about this today because I thought my story could help other writers or self-employed professionals. I'm sure I'm not the only one interested in an easy-to-manage website. Content management systems save a lot of time once you've learned their little nuances. But we're all so busy, doing research on new systems is hard enough. Let alone trying them out. Consider this a vicarious practice run.

In Part 2 of "The Search for Content Management," I'll review my experiences with Mambo, XOOPS and ZervCMS.

When I get to them.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 11-6-06 - Step Away from the Keyboard

Managing In A Technology-Driven World - WebProNews

This article makes two good points. One, really successful companies spend time with their customers, learning everything they can. Two, technology should be used to make our lives easier, not overcomplicated.

I'm making a response to the second point today's BlogTip. It's repeated all over the place, and for a good reason: it needs to be said all over the place.

Take time every day to step away from the keyboard.

Most office-related jobs now require computers. But over the course of the day, problems appear. Cramped fingers. Blurred vision. "Fuzzy head" (you know what I mean). Backache. Trains of thought slipping off the track.

One thing causes this - too much time staring at a screen. And one thing fixes it - getting up and going somewhere else.

I doubt any employer will begrudge you a 5- or 10-minute "eye/brain rest" break. (And if they do, why are you working for them?) Take a walk and have a cool drink. Or close your eyes, lean back and let all the muscles in your face relax. Think about something that relaxes you. A soothing bath, a light jog, gardening, good food, whatever.

This semi-hokey, somewhat-silly-but-valuable tip brought to you by Blue Ferret Communications.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

8 Things to Remember While Writing

Once in a while, when I get really into writing on a project, I "zone in" a little too far. I forget certain things - who I'm writing to, what I want the piece to do, etc.

It's easy to tell when I do that. I go to edit later and think, "AGH! What possessed me to write THIS? It's way off-base! Garbage! Wasted time! #$(*&@%&^#$!"

One of the oft-forgotten items is the reader. It's easy to blur a target market's needs in your head. Many copywriters speak of this concern. Brian Clark and Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, for two.

But I find that's not the only thing I need to remember. In fact, I've come across no less than 8 things I need to keep in mind when I write.

No, I don't actually keep them in mind. After I do my research and before I start writing, I write down the answers to all 8 on a piece of paper and lay them next to my keyboard. Easy reference.

Try it yourselves. Here's the 8, and a brief explanation of their value:

8 Things to Remember While Writing
1. Purpose - Is this piece intended to sell, to educate, to raise awareness, to follow up, or to get a certain non-sales action? More than one (hint: bad idea)? Be specific. "Piece intended to persuade reader to call Sales and book a consultation."

2. Reader - I go by Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero's advice here. I write out a "tarket" person - one representative of my target audience, in detail. The person I'm talking to. "Carl: 35. VP of technology at DDT Corp. Divorced, no kids. Likes old cars and sailing. Wants to get things done at the office fast so he can hit the waves."

3. Action - What will you want the reader to do at the end? It's important to plan this out before you write a word. Do that and you'll be writing toward a specific end. Don't and you'll wander around the request for action.

4. Voice - Choose which voice you'll use and stick to it. Pick your poison: Professional, Casual, Funny, Serious, Technical, Urgent. On occasion you can mix these, but I don't recommend it. Casual's my favorite.

5. Do It Anyway - This is more for me. I don't want the compulsion to stop and edit get in my way. We can go back later for that. It's easy to remind yourself. Just write out, "Do it anyway! Keep going!"

6. Confusion - Everyone wants their writing to flow. But I find keeping confusion in mind wards off the likelihood of flow tripping up. Write down, "Could the reader stop right where you are and lose track?" If the answer's yes - or you're not sure when you check - make a note to revise before continuing. I use this: ((revise))

7. Simplicity - Don't put in "Utilize" when "Use" works fine. The temptation to balloon your copy up with flowery language (especially in technical marketing) is always there. Don't succumb. Simple language sells. Write down something like Peter Bowerman's famous, "Write like you talk." Or the ever-handy "K.I.S.S."

8. Bravery - Another one for me. (Hey, everybody has moments of weakness.) Feeling timid while you write produces writing that reads timidly. I know everyone reading can think of something they've read recently that looked...limp. Sign of a timid writer. This is what I write down to shake the fear: "You're getting paid for this. It's helping you get better each time. Go for it!" Cliche, but it works.

Reminder lists like this one tell me I'm on-target and that I've got everything I need to write. Big confidence boost right there. And like Chris Rock said, "Confidence always wins."

Got something you keep as a priority while writing? Post it in the comments, or send me an email.