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8 Elements that Make Your Next Piece of Content Even Better than Your Last

Moving on to your next piece of content — regardless of how your last one performed — is the mark…

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Thoughtful Elements of Distinguished Content Marketing

Content that drives real business results often looks effortless, but we all know how much creative and strategic planning it…

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4 Vital Elements of an Appealing Offer

If you’ve got something to sell, at some point you’re going to need to present an offer. In other words, you’ll need to tell your prospective customer: What you’ve got What it’s going to do for them What you’re looking for in return Sounds simple, and it is. There’s just one problem. Too often, we
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5 Elements that Build a Roster of Terrific Clients

"It isn't just ability that makes a writer successful — it's also wise positioning." – Sonia Simone

In the podcast episode I recorded recently with Seth Godin, we talked about storytelling — and he made a point I thought was fascinating.

Seth’s version of storytelling isn’t just crafting a plot in the traditional sense — the classic “The queen died, and then the king died of grief.”

He also looks at the implied stories in everything we do. We tell a business story with our tone of voice on a podcast, and the color choices on our website. Our pricing, our response time, our “Contact Me” form … they all come together to tell the story of your business.

Some businesses tell scary or ugly stories. A lot of businesses tell boring ones. Seth got me thinking about the elements that I believe tell a more inviting story for a writing business — the kind of story that attracts more clients and better revenue.

If you’re a professional writer, of course you need to write well. But it isn’t just ability that makes a writer successful — it’s also wise positioning. It’s the implied story that your business tells.

Here are my thoughts on five “story elements” that help writers attract the right clients, at the right pricing, in the right numbers.

Story element #1: your voice

For any business, but particularly for a writer, the voice of your marketing is one of the most important story elements you have.

What does that look like on your site today? Do you sound stiff and formal, or loose and conversational? Like tends to attract like, and the personality you put into your writing voice will tend to attract those qualities in your clients.

Do the choices you’re making invite the kinds of clients you want?

Ask yourself what qualities your writing voice is conveying:

  • Informally relaxed … or train wreck?
  • Reassuringly professional … or uptight?
  • Charmingly approachable … or sloppy?
  • Attentively detail-oriented … or nit-picky?
  • Creatively agile … or distracted?

These are always subjective. What might seem annoyingly uptight and controlling for me might feel appealingly detail-oriented to you.

Because you’re a pro, you have more control over your writing voice than regular people do. Use that skill to convey the kinds of qualities you want to see more of in your clients.

Story element #2: your site

Good copywriting clients today don’t just want wordsmiths — they also want content strategists. (Whether or not that’s the phrase they would use.) They want writers who understand how the web works today.

It’s hard to come across as informed and web-savvy when your site design looks 10 years out of date.

You don’t have to chase every design trend, but you do need your site to look current, uncluttered, and fresh.

As someone who would rather work with words than web design, my tool of choice for web design is a good-looking premium WordPress theme. And I’d make the same choice even if our company didn’t offer dozens of great ones.

They’re reliable, they’re easy to work with (particularly if you go with a solution like StudioPress Sites), and they offer a lot of professional design value for a modest investment.

Story element #3: your pricing

Price is one of the most powerful nonverbal elements of any business story.

  • American Express tells a different story from Visa
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape tells a different story from Two-Buck Chuck
  • Mercedes tells a different story from Kia

Now, Visa, Two-Buck Chuck, and Kia are all things that a lot of consumers choose and even like.

But trust me, you do not want to be the Two-Buck Chuck of copywriting.

When you sell services, you sell your time. Hours of your life — the one thing you can never get any more of. Selling those hours at a discount just doesn’t make sense.

Of course, if you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t expect to command the same rates as an experienced writer. That’s why your first priority is to work very hard to get very, very good, so you spend as little time in “Two-Buck Chuck” territory as possible.

Crummy clients want cheap writers to produce generic CRaP that, truthfully, no one particularly wants to read anyway.

Great clients want professional writers to produce wonderful words that delight and serve their customers.

Two very different stories. The second one is much more fun.

Story element #4: your specialization

This is where a lot of smart writers start when they’re thinking about their positioning — and it’s a great story element.

None of us is good at everything. What are you great at? What could you become great at?

When I was a freelancer, I specialized in email newsletters, autoresponders, and other content that nurtured relationships with prospects.

I’m really good at that kind of writing. I have a lot of experience with it, which allows me to work efficiently. I enjoy doing it. And clients wanted it. It was easy for clients to understand that I’d probably do a better job with relationship-building content than an unknown writer on Upwork would.

I found the intersection between what I liked to do, what clients wanted, and what I could produce efficiently and well.

Lots of wise freelancers focus on robust topical ecosystems, like healthcare or law or technology. They stay up to speed, so they can write with authority on those topics. And they command fees that are significantly higher than a “jack of all trades” writer can.

Story element #5: your professionalism

This one is really old school … and really important.

When clients leave a query on your “Contact Us” form … do you get back to them? How long does it take you? Do you have a solid process to handle those inquiries?

Are you hitting your deadlines? Every time? Putting in as much thought and care for a client’s 50th piece with you as you did when you started working together?

Anyone who works with a lot of freelancers will tell you: Reliability is an issue. When clients find a writer who does what she says she’s going to do, every time, it makes a major impact.

Respond to client inquiries quickly. (This alone will make a significant difference in your revenue over a year.) Follow up. Manage your deadlines.

No bandwidth for new clients right now? Set up a quick waiting list on your site. Add a simple autoresponder to let them know you’ll connect as soon as you have the time to give them your full professional attention.

When you want to attract and retain wonderful clients, you need to take care of them like the treasures they are. It will get noticed.

Your writing can be seen as a commodity or as a valued service. The cool thing is — because you’re a professional wordsmith and you’re smart about marketing — you get to choose.

Are you a writer who wants to become a Certified Content Marketer?

Our Certified Content Marketer training is a powerful tool to position your writing business for greater success. Add your email address to our waiting list below to be the first to hear about when we reopen the program to new students.

Find out when our Certified Content Marketer training program reopens:

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The Three Key Elements of Influential Digital Marketing

"True influence isn’t something you borrow. It’s what you embody." – Brian Clark

Ever see a numbered headline like the one above and try to guess what the three things are?

Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s not. In this case, you could be thinking I’m going to talk about content, copy, and email.

And while you’re right that those things are important, that’s not what this article is about.

Content and copy contain the messages you need to get across, and email delivers those messages within a conversion-rich context. But without understanding the fundamental elements of those messages, you won’t create the kind of influence with your target audience that leads to sales.

With companies of all sizes rushing to embrace “influencer marketing,” it seems that many have given up on the unique power the internet provides to form direct relationships with prospects.

Instead, they’re trying to avoid the work by reaching the audiences of people who have already put in the work.

Despite the disintermediated nature of the internet, brands are instead turning to a new form of intermediary, or influential middle man. Shortcut marketing rears its ugly head again.

Now, don’t get me wrong — having relevant influencers in your corner is desirable, and often game-changing. That said, your main goal is to first develop direct influence with your prospects, which ironically makes it easier to get outside influencers on your side.

This is the reality of modern marketing in any medium, and it’s especially viable online. And those three key elements that your digital marketing must embrace to develop true influence are aspiration, empowerment, and unity.

1. Aspiration

Effective marketing has always been about identifying and fulfilling aspirations. People strive to improve themselves and their station in life, especially in relation to others in the social strata.

Early mass marketing did a great job of channeling aspiration through envy. Messages encouraging consumers to “keep up with the Joneses” through the accumulation of material goods became the persuasion prompt for elevated social status.

Aspiration remains as powerful as ever, but it’s a different animal now. First of all, we no longer compare ourselves to our geographic neighbors. Instead, we now have worldwide Instagram-fueled expectations based on who we desire to be like based on interests, lifestyles, and various forms of success.

As master marketer Roy H. Williams presciently said:

“Show me what a person admires, and I’ll tell you everything about them that matters. And then you’ll know how to connect with them.”

Paired with that is a pronounced reduction in the desire to accumulate material things. According to a recent Trend Watch report on consumerism, status is shifting away from markers of material wealth — what they have — and moving more toward who they want to become.

This shift is amplified by celebrities and other influential people on social media. Their followers want to be healthier, smarter, creative, connected, and entrepreneurial. If you’re selling material goods, you need to understand how your widget fits into the broader aspirational lifestyle of your target audience.

This alone seems to justify the focus on outside influencer marketing, but it’s really just a way of abdicating your responsibility as the shepherd of your products and services. As Eugene Schwartz famously said decades ago:

“You do not create desire for your product. You take an existing demand in the market, and you channel it into your products.”

The desires and aspirations of your ideal customer are out there — in plain view — thanks to a social medium that publicly identifies who people admire and follow. It’s your job to discover the parameters of that aspiration, and channel it toward your product or service.

2. Empowerment

If you know what a prospect aspires to become, then your product or service and your marketing must empower that person to become a better version of themselves. If you fail across that spectrum, you’ll lose out to a competitor who delivers.

The 20th century was fueled by inadequacy marketing that encouraged material accumulation. Without access to alternative perspectives, people were targeted by marketers with messages that positioned the brand as the hero, promising to save the poor prospect from the anxiety manufactured by the message.

If your neighbor had a new Buick, you were now made to feel lesser in terms of social status. Why not upgrade to a Cadillac and take the lead?

Effective modern marketing flips that approach on its head. Rather than appealing to materialism or base self-interest, people are looking for positive inspiration and pragmatic guidance on how to become their best selves.

Pair that with the fact that the internet in general (and social media in particular) have helped erode trust in traditional institutions, while shifting power to engaging individuals. The appeal of attracting influencers with strong personal brands reflects this trend — people want to be empowered by other people, not faceless corporations.

Why not also put a human face on your own company? Again, what’s going to get an influencer excited about pimping your stuff, if your brand is uninspired to begin with?

This can be as easy as flipping your perceived role as a marketer. Whether you want to think of yourself as a guide, mentor, or coach, it’s your job to empower the buyer’s otherwise self-directed journey.

In an environment ripe with information and choices, the prospect is in charge. And while they may not look like a hero yet, they’re definitely the protagonist of their own story.

That means they’ll follow and choose to do business with the brand that empowers them to achieve their heroic aspirations. Outside influencers can help, but only as long as you’re also developing direct influence within your market in a meaningful way that establishes that you’re a player.

3. Unity

For decades, smart marketing and sales professionals have worked to incorporate the six fundamentals of influence established by social psychology studies — reciprocity, authority, social proof, liking, commitment and consistency, and scarcity — into their persuasion efforts.

So it was definitely news when Dr. Robert Cialdini, the original definer of those fundamentals, added a seventh — unity.

In reality, it actually wasn’t that much of a surprise. Books such as 2004’s The Culting of Brands by Douglas Atkin, and Seth Godin’s Tribes from 2008, provided earlier reflections on the power of unity influence. Meanwhile, companies such as Apple and Harley Davidson have used the power of belonging to build brands worth billions.

Smart digital marketers knew what was up, but we simply tried to shoehorn the concept into the existing influence principle of liking. That means people are more readily influenced by people they like and otherwise find attractive.

But unity goes way beyond simple liking. From the prospect’s perspective, it’s more about people like me or even of me.

According to the same Trend Watch report, people now trust people like themselves more than representatives of traditional power centers, and as much as academic or technical experts. To me, that makes unity perhaps the most powerful of the (now) seven fundamental principles of influence.

Take authority. It’s no longer enough to just demonstrate your expertise with content. You need to be the relatable authority that also shares the core values and worldviews of your prospects.

Or consider social proof, which means we look to others for indications of value and how to behave. A Breitbart article may get tens of thousands of social shares, and yet that social proof is meaningless — and actually a negative — to those who do not share the values and worldviews of that crowd.

There are a lot of tribal ways that we unify. Family, neighborhood, city, province, and nationality are obvious. But the more powerful forces of unification from a marketing standpoint are interest, aspiration, and empowerment. You need to lead people with similar aspirations in a way that brings them together even more.

Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier for anyone to locate like-minded people who share their interests and aspirations. And as Godin pointed out repeatedly in Tribes, they’re also looking for like-minded leaders to provide the empowerment.

Stand for something that matters

It’s impossible to practice empowerment marketing with wishy-washy content and copy. To the contrary, it’s bold positioning, motivating manifestos, and innovative mission statements that inspire people to confidently chase their aspirations. And it’s no coincidence that these are the same sort of messages that spread like wildfire through social media.

Empowering content that matches aspirations and validates worldviews is what those coveted influencers use to build audiences. You must do the same to remain in the game.

Traditional wisdom says to hide behind a carefully crafted brand, powered by safely sanitized messages, in the hope of appealing to everyone. But if a prospect can’t see themselves belonging with your brand, they’ll look — and find — someone who does make them feel like they belong by standing for something that matters to them.

True influence isn’t something you borrow. It’s what you embody.

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Two Vital Elements that Might Be Missing from Your Content (and Precisely Where to Add Them)

"We all dream of making such an impact on people that they share our ideas far and wide." – Kelly Exeter

It’s taken you more than 10 hours to write a blog post.

You’ve researched the topic to the nth degree. You’ve edited it to within an inch of its life.

Now it’s time to get it out into the world!

You excitedly press Publish, and … even days later … crickets.

Heartbreaking, right?

We all like to think that the amount of effort we invest in creating a piece of content directly correlates to how deeply it resonates with readers. But, experience has repeatedly shown this is not the case.

So, what’s the deciding factor if it’s not effort?

Luck? Timing? Skill?

Yes, the factors above do play a part. But, more often than not, it comes down to these two elements:

  1. If your content doesn’t hook readers in the first few sentences, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of it is, you’ve lost them.
  2. If you don’t clearly communicate your idea, readers may lose interest after your introduction because they don’t have an incentive to keep reading.

So, how do we write both a strong hook and a strong idea? That’s what I’m going to break down for you today.

What’s a hook?

A hook is a narrative technique that operates exactly as it sounds.

It’s information so interesting that it hooks the reader’s attention, and they feel compelled to see what comes next. So, they keep reading.

The hook works in tandem with the headline; the headline delivers the reader to the first lines of an article, and then the hook in those first few lines launches the reader deeper into the piece of content.

What’s the idea?

The dictionary definition of an “idea” is:

“A thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.”

That neatly sums up what we’re trying to do when we write anything. We want to share a thought, make a suggestion and/or inspire people to take a certain action.

Why is your content’s idea so crucial?

Because your idea drives the payoff the reader will get from continuing to read your article.

That payoff can be:

  • Laughing from your humor
  • Learning new information
  • Taking meaningful action that will help them reach their goals

The idea forms the backbone of your article that leads to a positive outcome for both you and your readers.

We all dream of making such an impact on people that they share our ideas far and wide.

If the people reading your words aren’t inspired to share them with their friends, there’s a ceiling on the number of people you can reach.

Where things can go wrong for your idea

It might be easy to think of an idea for a piece of content, but when we actually sit down to write:

  1. We discover we don’t have as much to say about the idea as we first thought.
  2. We start writing about one idea, but then introduce another halfway through.

In both of these situations, if we publish that content, the reader may be left feeling either bewildered or cheated at the end. Not ideal.

How do you get super clear on your idea?

My favorite technique is to initially write a very literal headline.

Why?

Because it forces you to identify the exact promise you’re making to the reader.

If you can’t identify your promise, then you’re not going to be able to deliver a payoff.

Once you’ve written your literal headline and confirmed you know the exact idea you want to communicate, you’ll use that to:

  • Determine whether you actually have enough material to deliver a payoff for the reader.
  • Edit tightly to ensure you do so.

Here are three examples of literal headlines that sum up the article’s payoff.

When you click through to each of the posts above, you’ll see the actual headline is different from the literal headline I’ve identified.

That’s because your headline needs to hook the reader’s interest without giving away the payoff. If you deliver the payoff in the headline, there’s generally no need for someone to read the whole article.

Struggling to write a literal headline? That means you don’t have a good handle on the idea you’re trying to communicate.

Here are three examples of categories that can help you craft a strong idea … and then we’ll get into writing your hook.

1. Counterintuitive

This is where you take conventional wisdom and turn it upside down.

We all know a balanced diet made up of a variety of foods is ideal, so when someone tells us they ate nothing but potatoes for a year and lost a large amount of weight along the way, that gets our attention.

2. Practical and actionable

Telling people “If you’re organized, your life will be so much easier” is yawn-worthy. Everyone knows that.

Showing them the way you organize your life so that they can learn your tips? That’s far more powerful.

3. Contrarian

When everyone’s telling us not to do a certain thing, having someone tell us we should is incredibly refreshing.

It’s also the kind of thing we tend to share because it’s “ammunition” that justifies our choice to take a path less travelled.

How to write a great hook

One of the most common things I do as an editor is delete the first two paragraphs of articles sent to me.

Introductions are difficult to write, but:

If you’ve written 400+ words of an introduction, there’s a solid chance there’s a decent hook sitting somewhere around the 200-word mark.

Remember, your hook doesn’t need to be the most interesting thing anyone’s ever read; it just needs to be interesting enough to keep the person reading.

Here are five of my favorite hook techniques, with examples:

Hook #1: Ask a question

Humans are drawn to questions for a few reasons. One reason is that we’re inherently competitive.

When someone asks us a question, we’re compelled to first answer it and then find out if our answer is correct. If you don’t have an answer to a question, but someone suggests they do, that’s an even stronger hook.

Here’s an example of Sonia Simone leveraging this:

Headline: The #1 Conversion Killer in Your Copy (and How to Beat It)

Hook: What makes people almost buy? What makes them get most of the way there and then drop out of your shopping cart at the last second?

If you have a website with a shopping cart, I defy you to stop reading the article after those first two lines.

Hook #2: Focus on the reader

This is probably the easiest hook to create. By using the words “You,” “You’re” or “Your” in your introduction, you directly address the reader.

Take this example from Alexandra Franzen:

Headline: This one’s for you

Hook: Your inbox is full of ego-rattling rejection emails, but you’re emailing 10 more literary agents today. … Your podcast has exactly three fans (and two are your parents), but you’re posting a new episode every single week, nonetheless.

The reason this hook works so well is because the reader now feels they’re part of the article’s story. This creates a strong need to know how that story ends.

Hook #3: Add dialogue

Who likes listening in on other people’s conversations?

We all do. We can’t help it. When an article starts with dialogue, we’re quickly hooked because we’re getting all the pleasure of eavesdropping, without the guilt.

Here’s an example from Jerod Morris:

Headline: Why Your Greatest Asset May Be Slowly Eroding (and How You Can Rebuild It)

Hook: “Why are we sending this email to this list again?” Kim asked. I was incredulous. “Umm, because we never sent it a first time,” I thought to myself. Still, before responding, I decided to check. Glad I did.

This hook combines both spoken and inner dialogue. The latter of which is next-level intriguing because it gives the reader access to the writer’s inner thoughts.

Why was Jerod “glad he checked?” We have to know.

Hook #4: Make a big statement

This is where a writer makes a “big call” — usually in both their headline and their opening line. It’s effective because it makes people think, “Really? What have you got to back that up?”

It’s a favorite technique of Penelope Trunk:

Headline: Living up to your potential is BS

Hook: The idea that we somehow have a certain amount of potential that we must live up to is a complete crock.

The reason this hook is so effective is because it captures the attention of people from both sides of the argument.

People who agree with the sentiment want to find out why they’re “right” in thinking so. People who disagree? They read on because they want to rebut.

Big statements are not for the faint-hearted. If you don’t want to engage in robust conversation about the ideas you’ve expressed in a post, stay away from this one.

Hook #5: Tell a story

If you present information in a story format, people immediately pay attention. Using a story as a hook, however, is a pro skill.

You can’t kick off with just any story; it has to be relevant. For an ongoing master class in this technique, simply follow Bernadette Jiwa.

Here’s a recent example from her blog:

Headline: The Unchanging Nature Of Business

Hook: It’s a cool November day in 2014, and a young couple pause on a suburban street to snap a selfie with an iPhone 5C.

Why does the above statement hook you? Because you want to discover the link between the headline and a young couple taking a selfie.

Let’s recap

I’ve covered a bit of ground, so let’s touch on the key points again.

  1. If you don’t hook readers at the beginning of your article, they’re more likely to move on to a different piece of content.
  2. If you can’t summarize the idea of your article in a “literal” headline, then you don’t have a firm grasp of what you’re trying to communicate — and you’ll fail to deliver a payoff for the reader.

Where to go from here?

A simple exercise I urge you to do regularly is: pay attention to the articles that you read all the way to the end and share.

Study them by identifying:

  • The hooks the author used to get you reading.
  • The hooks the author used to keep you reading. (For example, subheadings also function as hooks.)
  • The underlying ideas. (Write literal headlines once you’ve identified those ideas.)
  • What moved you to share those articles?

When you understand the writing techniques that work well on you, you can use them in your own writing to ensure that if you put a lot of time and energy into creating a piece of content, then it will get the attention it deserves.

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5 Elements of a Successful Email Based Lead Nurturing Program

email lead nurturing

Today more than ever, sales needs marketing’s help. Busy customers are making traditional sales methods less and less effective. Sales metrics that once had sales teams fist pumping around the office in success, are making for discouraged sales teams.

In fact, B2B sales prospects often go through 57% of the sales process before even talking to a sales team. The modern buyer educates themselves by reading blogs, downloading white papers and signing up to receive more information.

That means that the chances of catching them on the phone is highly unlikely. According to a past study from MarketingSherpa, 79% of marketing leads never convert into sales. Lack of lead nurturing is the common cause of this poor performance.

When exploring new options for converting sales leads into customers, consider using an email based lead nurturing program to help move prospects through the sales funnel. The 5 elements below can help guide you along your journey.

#1 – Segment Your Email List

Of course this is easier said than done, especially if you’ve been building your lead list for many years. It may take some work, but it’s not impossible. Below are two helpful tips to get you started:

Step 1: Begin incorporating and requiring segmentation information in lead capture forms. Depending on your prospect base and how the information will be used you can include simple qualifiers such as:

  • Company Name
  • Title
  • Area of Interest

This ensures that new audience members are categorized appropriately from the beginning.

Step 2: Encourage contacts to self-identify. You can use an email blast such as a newsletter to encourage action by your readers. This could include having them complete a short survey or quiz about their needs, or simply asking what sort of information they would like to receive.

#2 – Develop a Lead Nurturing Strategy

Once you have a handle on the current state of your email list, it may be worth taking the time to develop a few user personas based on the data that you have. Proper persona development can help guide your strategy for different communication streams.

Each target should receive a different series of touch points based on need. Keep in mind that a good email nurturing campaign will include other forms of supporting content as well. This can be in the form of blog posts, or other content marketing assets.

#3 – Set Lead Nurturing Goals

Understanding what exactly you want to accomplish can help drive your lead nurturing strategy and execution.

Business Goals

Your business objectives should focus on the percentage of business revenue that you expect to come from your lead nurturing program as well as some sort of lead quality scoring to determine worth of leads.

Marketing Goals

Ultimately, marketing goals should lend themselves to the overarching business goals. Typically the exact marketing goals will vary from campaign to campaign. Form conversions, opens and click through rates should all be marketing goals that you are tracking.

#4 – Sales Leads & Subscribers Are Not the Same Thing

People that sign up to receive your monthly newsletter should not automatically be incorporated into a lead nurturing program. Your time is better spent focusing on leads that come in through specific campaigns and lead capture forms.

Create landing pages for content assets and lead nurturing that are easy to understand and encourage conversions.

#5 – Consider Marketing Automation

Marketing automation can simplify the lead nurturing process. However, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Marketing automation can be a large investment and requires the appropriate resources to execute effectively.

Start by following the steps above and when you reach a point where your lead nurturing is not effective or begins to scale, begin hunting for a marketing automation solution that can assist in your lead nurturing process.

How Much is it Costing You to Ignore Lead Nurturing?

The intent of any digital program should be to inform prospects, build trust and authority and help your company be the best answer for their need at just the right time. Deploying a full fledged lead nurturing program may seem impossible.  If budget or resources are a hurdle, start small and begin adding as you build momentum.

What have you found to be your biggest challenges in using digital marketing initiatives to help drive inquiries and leads?

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Three Basic Elements of Content that Spreads

Image of Vintage World Map

Have you ever asked yourself why a specific blog post stopped you dead in your tracks?

Did you truly feel the author’s pain?

Maybe the post was so captivating that you shed a tear, finished the entire piece, and left a comment thanking the blogger for sharing his story and changing your perception.

There are patterns at play here. Patterns that I ignored for too long.

You might be ignoring these elements — and one in particular — and your content marketing may be suffering for it.

I’ve made it a bit of a mission to study these patterns, and I’ve found at least three specific elements that can help you write remarkable content that readers love and share …

1. Vulnerability

Brené Brown — author of The Gifts of Imperfections and famous for her insightful TEDxTalks — is known for her discoveries about the powers of vulnerability.

Vulnerability in writing is a willingness of the author to be transparent.

When you’re vulnerable, you can tell your story wholeheartedly and honestly. Dr. Brown explains that vulnerability allows us to develop authentic connections with one another; and connection is what humans are all about — it’s the reason why we’re here in the first place.

Examples?

You may be familiar with Jon Morrow’s post, On Dying, Mothers, and Fighting For Your Ideas, or Brian Clark’s The Snowboard, the Subdural Hematoma, and the Secret of Life.

Take a good look at why these posts are so captivating.

Why is it that almost every comment starts with the words, “Wow?” It’s because they tell their story without holding anything back. They are vulnerable to their audience, provide value, and tell a truly compelling tale.

2. Storytelling

Stories enchant your readers.

Storytelling (along with a solid headline and an engaging first sentence) sets a rhythm in motion to allow your readers finish what they had started.

Take a look at Dr.Brown’s TEDTalk, or read one of those two posts linked above. They follow two of the elements we’re discussing: vulnerability and storytelling.

From my perspective — after reading those posts multiple times and watching that video an innumerable amount of times — what it feels like is an honest, heart-to-heart conversation. I can’t help but lean in and pay attention.

One of my best and most-shared blog posts was about the nine unforgettable lessons I learned attending Seth Godin’s 3-day intensive seminar in July 2012.

Arriving home, I knew I had to write about it, but I was also scared. How could I encapsulate my experience in one post? And how could I write a concise post that didn’t undervalue my experience?

Naturally, after having realized these patterns of vulnerability and storytelling, I embraced it — regardless of how frightening it may have been to start out of nowhere.

I imagined the reader sitting directly across from me, and told him the story in simple, direct, compelling language. I just talked to my reader like I would speak to one of my best friends.

The results? Seth linked to my post, it was shared by thousands of people, and the emails came flooding in thanking me for sharing my experience so honestly — I was even asked to speak at the National Center for Student Leadership in 2013 (which, of course, I accepted.)

The concoction of vulnerability and storytelling is a force to be reckoned with.

Ignore these two elements at your own peril.

3. Why?

People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.

~ Simon Sinek

Why is Copyblogger your home base for online content marketing insight, rather than one of the thousands of other blogs on the Web?

In his now famous TEDTalk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek explains the golden circle.

In the middle (the smallest part) is the “Why.” Why do you do it?

The second, the “How.” How do you do it?

And the largest, most easiest part to identify is the “What.” What do you do?

His talk explains that in order to get others to take action — vote for you, buy your product, spread your message — you must clearly communicate “Why you do what you do.”

The reason why many are so entranced by Apple is because their “Why” is the desire to challenge the status quo.

How? By designing and creating sleek, gorgeous, user-friendly devices accessible by everyone.

And the “What they do” is create computers (large and small), and software, which of course, is the easiest to identify.

So what is it? Why do you do what you do? Why should we believe in your message? How do I not only feel a part of your journey, but also accept it as my own?

The moment you can clearly communicate your “Why,” your vulnerability and storytelling will fortify your platform, ideas, and the spreading of your message.

Practice the skill and turn it into a habit

Storytelling and vulnerability won’t always come easily.

Clearly identifying the “Why” factor will take time to develop and communicate — it may even change from time to time.

But if you don’t start now, then when?

Embracing and executing these elements will be daunting because we live in a world where vulnerability is rare. Good storytelling is a skill that’s only mastered by doing it relentlessly. Once you realize the immense benefits of practicing these three elements, only then will you start to see a shift in your business, content and the attentiveness of your audience (as well as your life!)

Look around you. Which blog posts captivate you? Why do you subscribe to certain blogs in the first place? Can you spot these elements in the author’s writing and delivery?

By practicing vulnerability, storytelling, and clearly communicating the “Why” factor, it can transform into a habit. A habit that will yield love and appreciation from your tribe, stories of your idea or product being put into practice, and a strong foundation that will reinforce your business and life.

Tomorrow, when you sit down to write, have these three keywords in front of you …

Vulnerability.

Storytelling.

Why.

Remind yourself of two things: You can either write content that is dry, safe, and has no personality, or you can write something daring and transparent — something that will shake the floor beneath your reader’s feet.

You have this power within you. All you need to do is use it.

About the Author: Paul Jun is a writer who focuses on abandoning self-defeat and living up to true potential. You can find more of his work on his blog, Motivated Mastery. He just released his second eBook, Reignite, which you can download at no charge.

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11 Essential Elements of a Well-Designed Marketing Ebook

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How many ebooks does your marketing team have in its content arsenal? With the rise of tablet and e-reader popularity, ebooks are only growing in popularity. According to a newly released report by Pew Internet, in mid-December 2011, 17% of American adults had reported they read an ebook in the previous year; by February, 2012, the share increased to 21%. While we’ve always considered ebooks to be one of the best lead-gen content assets at a marketer’s disposal, the fact that on-the-go content is only carving out more of a place in today’s increasingly mobile world makes them an even smarter choice as a marketing offer.

As a piece of long-form content, a lot of work must go into the creation of a well-crafted ebook. So today, let’s focus on design. How do you design an ebook that is reader-friendly, engaging, and at the same time supports your marketing goals? Let’s discuss the 11 essential elements that make up an effective marketing ebook design. 

Importance of a Brand Style Guide

hubspot ebooksFirst, a note about the role design should play in your content strategy. If ebook creation is (or you plan it to be) a big part of your content strategy, it’s wise to first spend some time establishing a consistent brand style guide to which all your marketing content — not just your ebooks, but also your presentations and other marketing collateral — adheres. This will give your publications a more professional, branded look which translates to a sense of credibility. Of course, the content itself is a huge contributing factor to the credibility and value of a publication, but even if you have quality content down pat, that doesn’t mean people still won’t judge an ebook by its cover ;)

If you take a look at the ebooks HubSpot has launched in the past 6 months, for example, you’ll notice that they all have very consistent branding and design elements throughout. When you sit down with your marketing team and designer to decide on your brand style guide, establish rules for such design elements as fonts/sizes, color schemes, charts/graphs, borders for screenshots and images, headers, etc. Creating easy-to-follow guides and templates for your various marketing assets like ebooks, presentations, etc. will make it easy for you and your team to implement a consistent branding style throughout your marketing collateral. HubSpot, for example, has an ebook template created in InDesign to ensure our ebooks have a consistent look no matter who created them.

Now let’s dive into the 11 essential design elements you should consider in your next ebook design.

11 Essential Elements of Effective Ebook Design

1) An Interesting, Descriptive Title

Okay, so your title choice may not exactly be a design element, but choosing a title for any piece of content is definitely an art, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. The title is often the first thing someone judges before deciding whether to click on or read your ebook, especially when the content gets shared in social media. Choose a title that is both interesting and descriptive — that is, it should be indicative of what the reader will learn from reading the ebook.

Unlike blog posts, ebooks are high-commitment pieces of content because of their length, so you need to make sure you’re demonstrating the value up front in a compelling way. For instance, one HubSpot ebook is titled 15 Business Blogging Mistakes & Easy Fixes with the subtitle, “How to Fix the Most Common Blogging Bloopers.” The main title is both descriptive and demonstrates value in itself, but the subtitle also makes it sound like an even more interesting read.

2) A Visual Cover

biz blogging mistakes ebookSo if we know that people will most definitely be judging your ebooks by their cover, you’ll want to make sure you create ones that are both visually appealing and coincide with your brand style guide. Consider how the visual revolution is playing out with sites like Pinterest cropping up and other social networks like Facebook and Google+ putting more of an emphasis on visual content, and the importance of enticing covers becomes even more evident. Make the title easy to read, include branding elements you decided on in your brand style guide, and feature an image. You’ll notice that HubSpot’s ebook covers, for example, follow the same layout and structure while each featuring a different relevant an interesting image.

3) Skill/Topic/Persona Tags

skill levelsDepending on your business and industry, you likely have a different buyer personas, whether you segment your target audience by demographics, skill level, topic interest, or something else. So if part of your strategy is to create content that is personalized for or targeted to these different audience segments, one helpful way to organize and differentiate between your content assets is through a tagging system. Incorporate your schema in your ebook design so your readers know which particular ebooks will be of interest to them, and which ebooks won’t. You can do this in a number of ways — through iconography, color schemes, or tags.

HubSpot’s ebooks, for instance, are categorized by skill level — introductory, intermediate, or advanced — depending on the skill level of our readers. To identify which is which, we use a combination of color scheme and a category key to denote which ebooks are targeted for which skill level. If an ebook is intermediate level like our example here, the cover and color scheme throughout the book uses blue as the dominant color, and a page in the beginning of the book explains which type of audience would benefit from each skill level. Introductory content uses a charcoal color scheme, and advanced content uses an orange color scheme. We’ve also extended this tagging system to our blog. You’ll notice this particular blog post, for example, has also been tagged as ‘intermediate.’

4) An Author Page

author pageAnother design element you might want to include in your ebooks is an author page, particularly if you have multiple members of your team creating ebooks. For example, if the author of the ebook is an expert on that topic, an author page that highlights the author’s bio and relevancy to the topic is a great way to add credibility to the content. On your author page, include a brief bio of the author, a headshot, and if you choose to, a way for readers to get in touch with the author if they have questions, such as an email address, Twitter username, or phone number.

As an added internal benefit, you might find that members of your team are more willing to spend time creating ebook content if they know their efforts will be recognized publicly through an author page.

5) A Table of Contents

A staple for any book, both print or digital, be sure to include a table of contents in every ebook you publish. This not only gives readers a sense of how the ebook is organized, but it chapter pagealso makes it easy for them to reference individual chapters if they decide only certain ones are relevant to them or if they want to refer back to specific sections later. To make this even more user-friendly for your readers, some programs like InDesign make it possible for you to hyperlink chapters/sections, creating a sort of interactive table of contents and allowing readers to jump to a certain section of the ebook when they click on the corresponding link in the table of contents.

6) Chapter Title Pages

Clearly distinguish one chapter to the next with chapter title pages. This gives readers a clear indication of their progress through the book and helps set the stage for the section they are about to read. It can also serve as a landing page for that interactive table of contents you may have set up in number 5. In our business blogging mistakes ebooks example, for instance, we organized the chapters by the 15 mistakes we highlight, and our chapter pages highlight which mistake the reader is going to learn about next. 

7) Social Sharing Buttons

share this ebookWe’ve talked before about the importance of including social sharing buttons on your marketing content. Sure, the landing page behind which you gate your ebook is a great place for these buttons, but why not also stamp them onto the pages of your ebooks as well? It makes sense, right? A potential reader might not feel comfortable sharing your ebook before they’ve read it and know they like the content, but while they’re reading it? That’s a different story.

Add these buttons to each page of your ebook — either in the header or the footer — so readers can easily share the book with their social networks no matter how far through it they’ve read. Just be sure you’re sharing links to the ebook’s landing page — not thank-you page — if it’s gated content. HubSpot’s ebooks, for example, include social sharing buttons for LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter on each page. For help in creating these social media buttons for your ebooks, check out this handy guide.

8) Visual Elements

visual ebook pageThere’s nothing more overwhelming to a reader than big chunks of copy followed by large blocks of text. Whoa there — character overload! Going overboard with text density in an ebook can be a very big deterrent to a reader, especially when they’re reading on a screen.

Break up your “big chunks of copy” and “large blocks of text” with visual elements to emphasize or explain certain points more visually. We’re talking anything from headers, bolded text, and bullet points to screenshots, images, charts, and graphs. Furthermore, leverage content visualizations when appropriate to help you explain concepts that are difficult to explain through text and lend themselves to more visual explanations, as we did in this blog post, which is actually an ebook excerpt! Just be sure to keep your visuals in line with your brand style guide, translating images, graphs, and charts to conform to your guidelines in terms of style and color scheme.

9) Product/Service Call-Outs

product call outWhile ebooks can be catered to achieve certain goals, the way most marketers use ebooks is to generate new leads at the top of the funnel. To achieve this goal, your ebook content should be majorly educational — not product focused — in nature. But does that mean you can’t or shouldn’t sneak in a few mentions of your product or service into them when appropriate? Absolutely not! In fact, when people are just starting to learn about your business in the awareness stage of the sales cycle, they probably know very little about the products and services you offer.

Use educational ebooks as an opportunity to connect your thought leadership with product awareness. One way to do this in your ebook content is with subtle product mentions and call-outs when you mention a problem or need in your ebook that your products or services address. How much of these should you include? The key here is balance. Make sure the educational value of the ebook makes up for your product awareness plugs. For example, in HubSpot’s educational ebook How to Attract Customers With Twitter, we add to the section of the ebook that discusses scheduling tweets and monitoring responses by calling to attention to the social media publishing tool available in HubSpot’s software, our paid offering. This lets readers with little or no knowledge of HubSpot’s software connect HubSpot’s thought leadership and expertise with its paid software.

10) Printer/Mobile-Friendliness

While your ebook is a digital publication, you’ll likely be offering it as a downloadable file such as a PDF, and despite what you might think, many of the people who download will actually prefer to print it out and read it on paper rather than on a screen. For this reason, it’s important to make sure your ebooks are printer-friendly. For example, avoid designs that leverage double-page, horizontal layouts that don’t translate well to print. The best way to know if your design is printer-friendly? Print it yourself!

Furthermore, you’ll also want to make sure your ebook file is mobile-friendly. Does your ebook PDF view well on a smartphone and various e-readers/tablets? Test it out!

If you’re considering making your ebook available for sale through ebook marketplaces like the Kindle Store, things get a little bit more complicated. You’ll need to conform to the specific ebook format of that particular store, and you’ll likely need to make chanfinal ctages to the style, design, and file of your ebook. In general, you’ll need to modify your ebook to embody a very simple design with few visuals and limited formatting. Publishing services like Lulu.com can make this process more easily manageable.

11) A Final Call-to-Action

The last critical element that should be a part of your ebook design is — you guessed it — a final call-to-action! After a reader has completed the ebook, what action do you want them to take next? Tell them!

Perhaps you’d like to encourage them to move from the awareness stage of the sales cycle onto the evaluation stage of the sales cycle. In this case, feature a call-to-action for a middle-of-the-funnel stage offer on the last page of your ebook, introducing it to the reader in a way that is relevant and logical. In our 15 Business Blogging Mistakes ebook, for instance, we encourage readers to start a free 30-day trial of HubSpot’s software, relating it to the content of the ebook by emphasizing that readers will be able to try out HubSpot’s business blogging tools to help them fix the blogging mistakes they learned they are guilty of making.

Do your ebooks have a consistent design that reflects your business’ branding? What other design elements would you add?

Image Credit: Jonah Larsson

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Connect with HubSpot:

HubSpot on Twitter HubSpot on Facebook HubSpot on LinkedIn HubSpot on Google Buzz 

 


HubSpot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog

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The 7 Essential Elements of Effective Social Media Marketing

image of social media icons on a smart phone

So in the past few weeks, we’ve told you it’s a bad idea to be a digital sharecropper, building your business entirely on someone else’s land (like Facebook, Tumblr, or any other third party you don’t control).

We also poked a pin in the sacred cow of social media authenticity, telling you that your audience and customers don’t want an unedited version of the “real” you.

So you may be asking yourself — OK, what should I be doing with social media marketing?

How are savvy businesses using social media effectively to find more customers, boost their reputations, and make more sales?

Here are the seven essentials that will turn your social media marketing from an annoying time-waster to an effective bottom-line booster.

1. Get your home base together

Your home base is your blog or web site. It’s on a domain you own. You control the user experience — from the content to the site design to the user interface.

This is where you show that you know your stuff. That means building a nice cornerstone of high quality content that demonstrates your expertise in a likable, accessible way.

First impressions matter, so make sure the design is clean, professional, and smart. It can still be stylish or funky, if that’s your thing, but it shouldn’t look amateurish or confusing.

Your home base is where you post content to answer your readers’ questions, give them interesting tips, and help solve their annoying problems. When someone wants to know more about you, this is where you send them.

Your home base is a marketing tool, which means you need to be communicating primarily with customers, not with other experts in your topic. Don’t just pontificate to show what you know — tie your news and opinions back to how those things affect your customers.

2. Who’s the face of your business?

If you want to use social networking platforms like Twitter, Google+, or Facebook, you need a human face to make your social media marketing work.

So does that mean potential customers want to know about your personal struggles finding high-quality organic dog food? No. (Unless your company sells organic dog food, that is.)

Just like people have always done in public settings (work, church, volunteer activities), you’re going to adopt a persona — a selected range of your thoughts, emotions, and observations.

You’re going to be social and informal, but in a way that’s relevant, appropriate, and interesting to who you’re talking with.

Just like you don’t (I hope) wear your “I spent the night in Paris, Hilton” t-shirt to your grandma’s house, you’re also not going to share absolutely everything about the “real” you with your social media connections.

That doesn’t mean I want you to be a fraud. I want you to be friendly and genuine. Sound like a human being, not a corporate robot. And you certainly don’t have to stick to business all the time. It’s fine and good to show that you have a life. It’s not so good to show the world you’re careless, rude, or boring.

The truth is, the definition of “appropriate” depends on your audience. Lisa Barone has a very different persona from Ann Handley’s. If it works for your customers, it’s appropriate.

Authenticity for a business doesn’t come from oversharing or boring your audience to death — it lies in doing what you say you’ll do.

3. Who else has your customers?

Social networking platforms were designed to make it easy and fun for people to hang out together. That means you’re going to use them to build relationships that will help your business.

Look for people who have healthy-sized audiences who are a good fit for your product or service. They may be bloggers, they may be authors, they may have a popular podcast or column in mainstream media. They may simply be social media mavens who have lots of friends and like to share good stuff.

These are the people you want to share and promote your excellent content.

Cultivating professional relationships isn’t rocket science. Stick to the basics — link to them from your content, comment intelligently on their blogs and on social platforms, and be a nice person.

Don’t think that picking fights or manufacturing controversy makes you stand out. It doesn’t, it just makes you look like a troll. If you’re going to take a controversial position, make sure it’s one that really matters, and express it with respect.

4. Pick a primary platform

Again, think about where your customers are.

If you love Twitter but your customers spend hours every day on Facebook, you need to recognize that Facebook is probably a better venue for your business. It may not be as fun for you — but that’s why they call it work.

Only move beyond your primary platform when you’re sure you’re handling it well. A lot depends on the industry you’re in. If you’re a copywriter, social media consultant, or online marketer, your customers spend a lot of time in these venues, which means you probably will, too.

5. Manage your time

If you don’t decide how much time and focus you’ll put into social media, the default will be “all of it.”

Sites like Twitter and Facebook are seductive places to drop in and just check what’s new. When your five-minute check turns into 25 minutes, and you’re doing that 4 or 5 times a day per site, you’re going to find your productivity taking a dive.

Remember your home base. That (and actually delivering whatever it is you do) are where the bulk of your time and energy need to go.

The best tool I’ve found for managing social media time is a $ 3 kitchen timer. Decide in advance how much time you’ll spend checking in and being social, and stick to that.

6. Content first, conversation second

You’ve been told again and again by social media “experts” that your entire business should revolve around something called “The Conversation.”

Too often, this form of Conversation leads to business owners spending hours every day chattering with potential customers and hoping someone will buy something. (Or, more often, chattering with peers and friends and hoping this counts as work.)

Yes, be personable. Yes, keep an ear out for customer complaints so you can respond appropriately. And yes, network with peers in your industry to keep your links healthy.

But if it feels like goofing around all day instead of working, it probably is.

Instead, spend the bulk of your time on content, whether it’s on your own base or used as a guest post to find a wider audience. Use content to educate your customers about what they need to know to make an intelligent purchase. Focus on customer objections, questions, and problems.

When you find someone else’s content that your customers will find valuable, share that too — and add a few insights of your own, if you like.

Even a 100-character tweet can have content value. Think about what you can say that makes readers’ lives better, rather than just filling up time before you run to Starbuck’s. Make sure your reader has a good experience every time she hears from you. Keep it both useful and entertaining.

Social media conversation is a seasoning that makes your content more appetizing. It’s not the main dish.

7. Don’t forget SEO

Too many people think that social media sharing means they don’t need SEO any more. The fact is, social media marketing is a superb complement to SEO.

Play the long game. The same elements that make social media work (content that’s both useful and user-friendly, doing what you say you’ll do, healthy relationships with others in your industry) are the elements search engines would prefer to serve up. Search engines want to find the content that’s a widely-valued resource, and one of the signals they use for that is social media sharing.

Twitter and Facebook are already search engine signals, and there’s no doubt that Google+ is, too.

For too many businesses, social media is a time-wasting ego game. But use the tools strategically, with a focus on content and on getting a useful message in front of a wider audience, and it can be brilliantly effective.

How about you? What do you consider the most essential element of social media marketing?

Tell us about it in the comments.

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