Content blog

  1. November 20, 2020. [Permalink]

    Marketers: is it time to value blogs more?

    As a B2B copywriter, I never stop telling my clients that copywriting is about “selling the benefits”. In other words, it’s vital to focus on how you help your clients – over and above listing the features of the services you provide.

    But not all copy, we know, is directly about making the sale.

    Case studies, for example, help to illustrate how benefits play out in practice – so require a little more in the way of storytelling skills.

    White papers, meanwhile, help to establish credibility on a topic area, paving the way for a potential sale in future. These require accuracy, structural editing skills, and the ability to wield a stat in anger.

    As a copywriter, I’ve often found that clients instinctively see the value in these kinds of non-sales content marketing – except, that is, when it comes to blogs.

    What is blogging for, anyway?

    We all think we know what blogs are, and what blogging is. You’re reading a blog now, after all. What are you reading it for? (Really. It would be good to know.)

    Here’s my take. Blogs are here to answer wider questions that readers have about your area of expertise – not just to attract organic traffic, but to add credibility, too.

    Imagine you’re a client who’s looking for accounting software which integrates with your bank to save you time on your business accounts – but you don’t know how, or if, it works with your existing bank.

    After a quick search, you find that one company has a simple blog post on what automated banking feeds are – with a link through to a knowledge base page on how to get started on setting up your own feed, depending on who you bank with.

    You might not read the whole post or even make a decision today – but when you see the post and click the link, you become more confident that if you deal with this company, the on-boarding process will be smooth.

    So you shortlist the company. Blogging 1, other forms of content 0.

    Blogs as tools of awareness

    A blog post like the one I just described is a fantastic awareness tool for your business. But here’s the catch: it’s next to impossible for a writer to dash one out in just a few hours.

    After all, the value of the post is not simply in its use of SEO-friendly search terms (e.g. “What is open banking?”). It’s much more in the fact that the marketer has identified a pressing client concern (fintech compatibility) and the writer has crafted a piece that makes it part of the user journey.

    All this means the copywriter needs to be an expert not in automated banking – but in you, and in your business.

    Trouble is, this approach isn’t something you’ll benefit from if you see blogs as a second-tier form of content.

    Treat blogging as a commodity that’s intrinsically less valuable than brochures, product sheets or case studies, and you’ll miss the chance to find copywriters willing to spend time getting to know your business. Do that, and your copy won’t be working as hard to attract the clients you want.

    So, how do I do blogs properly?

    The conclusion is clear: the way to do blogs properly is to give them as much attention as any other part of your content marketing.

    This means:

    1. Choose quality over quantity. If you’re commissioning an agency or writer to create blogs for you, the temptation is to ask for a high frequency of blogs – but try not to do this if it comes at the expense of quality.

    2. Treat keyword research as only the start. Sure, SEO is important, but SEO is about far more than plugging keywords into copy. Yes, you want to rank highly for the searches your target clients are making – but you also need to deliver on expectations when a potential client arrives at your blog. How does your writing do that?

    3. Think of each blog as a home page. If you’ve mapped customer journeys correctly, then a blog post (strictly speaking, its metadata) might be the first stage of the user’s experience with your brand. In that sense, every blog is a home page – so needs treating with the attention it deserves.

    4. Do the simple things right. Provide a brief for each blog. Make yourself (or an expert) available for the copywriter, so they can talk things through. This helps you treat the blog not as an exercise in SEO, but as an exercise in attracting a specific client with a specific need.

    All of which brings us back to where we started. Great copywriting is about focusing on how you help the client – and great blogging, done right, is part of that.

    Is your blog undervalued or full of uninspired, by-the-numbers copy?

    If so, get in touch to find out how we can work together to make it better.

  2. November 16, 2020. [Permalink]

    Think like a publisher: 6 ways to streamline your content processes

    Congratulations: you’re a marketer who understands the value of content. You know content can help drive sales, attract prospects, generate leads and build a brand. So you’ve taken steps to clarify messaging, engage clients and stand out from the crowd.

    And that’s all good news. But before you started on this road, did you ever realise that creating high-quality content would be so much, well … work?


    Sadly, many businesses underestimate what it takes to get content up and running behind the scenes. They assume that, just because they’ve hired a freelancer or an agency to create content for them, their work is done.

    Little do they realise just how much vital work is left to do – from planning and production to managing sign-off and content flow.

    But commissioning brilliant copywriters and designers is only half the battle. To be successful at content marketing, you need to think like a content publisher.

    What does that mean in practice? Read on to find out – and discover six things you can try to improve your approach.

    1. Ask yourself: who ‘owns’ content in your organisation?

    Imagine you work for a newspaper or a magazine. How many people do you think take responsibility for each piece of content that the company publishes?

    The answer is that it depends. On social media, it might be just the reporter. But when it comes to a 2,000-word feature for a glossy mag, that number is much higher. There’s the writer (maybe a freelance); the sub-editor or page editor; the chief sub-editor; the designer; the art editor; the picture editor; the photographer; the desk editor; and finally the editor, who oversees the whole shebang.

    That’s a lot of people, each of them invested in a successful outcome, and all pulling in the same direction, in an ideal world at least.

    Now: I get it. You’re a B2B business; your primary purpose is not creating content, so there’s no way you can match that level of editorial oversight. But there are still a lot of people who have a role in making sure your content is a success.

    There’s the marketing assistant. The marketing manager. The product manager. The technical expert. The senior exec. The head of comms. The CEO.

    Each of these people, and often many more, might be involved in a piece of content – so they need help to understand its value, so they can take responsibility for it. And, because this isn’t a media business, it’s up to you, the marketer, to help them develop the necessary skills.

    Improving content skills

    To improve the skills in your organisation, it might help to use a mixture of these strategies:

    * External training in content skills (because the better the skills you have in-house, the better for you)
    * Identifying internal ‘champions’, i.e. people with content or editorial skills (see also point 5, below)
    * Recruitment from content-focused fields like journalism and PR into ‘business’ roles such as product management.

    And if that all sounds tricky in the short term, then plan for the long term. And meanwhile, ask: who ‘owns’ the content right now? In an ideal world, who should own the content? And what small steps can you take to improve things, right now?

    2. Ask yourself: how does content flow?

    Do you ever wonder why it takes so long for a piece of content to get from idea to sign-off? Are your product managers or technologists always on your back, wondering why that case study hasn’t been approved yet? And do you ever think what you could do to make things faster?

    Serious media businesses don’t, typically, suffer from these issues. Sure, editors have to chase laggard writers all the time, but generally the time from conception to publication is known. That’s because they have content flow down to a fine art – and so they should do, because content is their primary product.

    But when you’re a B2B business, it’s harder.

    Speeding up content

    So how do you speed content approvals up? I suggest you start by gathering data. Look at one or two recent pieces of content that you created, and ask: how long did they take to do? Where were the hold-ups or bottlenecks? What took longer than we thought it would? And what can we do to make content flow around the organisation better than it does now?

    If that feels too much like playing the blame game, you could, instead, track a piece of content going forward – and compare your estimated timetable to reality. Think of it like one of these experiments where the scientist gets on a boat and puts a GPS tag on a seagull’s leg, only to discover that the seagull spends most of its life outside a chip shop in Newquay. You might learn something new. Or you might not. But you tried.

    And if you do learn something new, a few solutions should present themselves. For example, it might mean:

    * Adopting new tech, such as a better content production system (but tech is never the only answer)
    * Getting a clearer idea of who can sign off a piece of content, and who can’t
    * Nominating a deputy who can sign off content in an executive’s absence (after all, do magazines stop production when an editor is on hols?)
    * Recognising that a single exec’s negative comments do not necessarily mean the whole piece of content needs to be reconceived
    * Providing training in the art of content feedback for senior managers (feeding back on content is not an easy skill)

    These are all just some ideas of many potential ones – but first, start with gathering data, and you can soon start gathering answers that are suitable for you.

    3. Use deadlines – and make them sacrosanct

    Can you imagine a newspaper business working without deadlines? Successful media firms publish hundreds, sometimes thousands, of articles per day. Do you think these firms could survive if they let article approvals happen only “when the CEO had time to look at them”?

    Of course not – because if there’s one thing media businesses are famous for, it’s respect for deadlines.

    Deadlines, of course, have their origins in print lead times. Once upon a time, if you didn’t get your page to the printer by a certain time, your paper would not be on the newsstands in time for the commuters next morning, and your sales would suffer as a result. Little wonder that deadlines became a commercial imperative.

    Of course, technology changed. But just because you can hit “Publish” and launch a blog post in the blink of an eye, that doesn’t mean deadlines no longer matter. On the contrary: if you operate without content deadlines, chances are that sales will still suffer, but in a more insidious way, as your content withers on the vine.

    ‘Agility’ means respect for deadlines, too

    If that isn’t enough to convince you, consider this: the software world has been making a great play in recent years about the value of “agility” – and it’s been a roaring success.

    If you work in tech, you know what agility is. For everyone else: agility was conceived to solve a recurrent problem in software projects – that teams would spend months or years working on misconceived tech that failed to meet clients’ needs.

    So, instead of trying to make the tech perfect, developers realised that they are better off making products which were imperfect but viable and testable, within limited timeframes. To do this, they started working on short-term “sprints” to staged deadlines. And by and large, clients loved it.

    For decades, newspapers and magazines have essentially worked in the same way. In the media world, it’s common practice to publish content that’s imperfect and on time, rather than waiting to publish content that’s perfect – and perfectly late. (Of course, perfect and on time is better, but not always practical.)

    So if you’re a content marketing team, try this plan out for size. With the consent of your teams, look to put in place deadlines for every stage in a content process – including sign-off and legal approval – and make sure these deadlines are reasonable, mutually acceptable, and sacrosanct.

    If nothing else, you might get the projects finished faster than you did before.

    4. If things get bogged down, consider a style guide

    Here’s another possible way to speed up content processes. It’s also a tactic that marks you out as an organisation that’s really getting to grips with content.

    Do you waste time arguing about the usage of words? Are there common terms in your organisation that you use again and again – without agreement on how to capitalise them or even how to spell them? And do some people insist on putting job titles in upper case, while others use lower?

    If so, it’s time to refer to the experts – and get yourself a style guide.

    An editorial style guide is a guide to how to write in your organisation – whether you’re a staffer, a freelancer, or the CEO. To see how a style guide can change the way you come across to your readers, take a look at the different style guides of the Guardian and the Economist. Each has a different readership, so the way they write – including spellings, hyphenations, bullets, abbreviations, and so on – changes accordingly.

    Do you want a style that’s like the Guardian, or like the Economist? Or does your organisation deserve a style of its own? If you want your content to be taken seriously, creating one can be a major step forward.

    5. Consider hiring a content expert with clout

    It’s a sad truth that at many content marketing teams, the person with the most edtorial experience is the person at the end of the chain: the freelance copywriter, who is external to the organisation anyway. And that’s fine, up to a point, because at least they are working hands-on with your copy from scratch.

    But ultimately, it’s a good idea to have someone within your organisation who has long experience in content – and who therefore has the clout to sign off content marketing and get it over the line. You might call this person your head of content.

    Your head of content doesn’t need to be a talented writer (though it helps). But they do need to be a talented editor who can keep the content show on the road – someone who executives know will be on their backs when a content deadline is looming; who has the confidence to make tough content calls; and perhaps even the authority (to be used judiciously) to sign off content in lieu of others.

    By hiring an in-house head of content, you can perhaps engender more respect for deadlines, reduce the steps needed to get content signed off, and act with more confidence because you know there’s an in-house champion to make big content decisions. It could be a recruitment you need to get content up and running within your organisation.

    6. Finally: it’s OK if progress is slow

    I want to sign off this longish piece by saying: it’s OK. I understand that in a traditional B2B business, it can be tough to get senior execs to value content, to respect marketing deadlines, and to champion best practice in what must seem to some like a brave new world. That’s to be expected in a rapidly changing industry.

    But – and here is the big but – a funny thing might start to happen when you start simply involving people in content decisions.

    For example, you might ask someone senior to put their name to a blog post, or you might decide to get a thought leadership article signed off by a higher-up. Sure, you might get pushback – or silence, which is worse. But on the other hand, people may open up – and start to engage with the issues in response to the questions you pose.

    The very act of asking an executive to chip in on a blog post on an issue of importance to a user – as part of SEO copywriting, for example – might in fact help that executive conceptualise that user issue and become better at putting themselves in a user’s shoes. And even if that executive’s response is slow, and sign-off seemingly interminably delayed, it might still mean that good things are happening. You’re starting to reflect on the user experience – and that’s what creating content is ultimately about.

    So, good luck creating content in your organisation: and if you’re a B2B business creating quantities of high-quality content on a fraction of a media business’s editorial budget, you have my every respect. Keep up the good work.

  3. April 19, 2016. [Permalink]

    Story: the best content strategy tool you’re not using

    So: you’ve decided to get to grips with your organisation’s content strategy. You’ve read Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s excellent book, Content Strategy for the Web, and you’ve concluded that of course (slap forehead): it’s a fool’s errand to keep creating vast amounts of content without working out such things as:

    why you’re creating content
    how you’re going to structure and promote it
    where it’s going to go
    when you’ll publish it
    who it’s for, and
    what in the world it should look and sound like anyway

    … which is jolly good news. And if that all sounds like common sense to you, remember that Halvorson herself once tweeted:

    In other words, to know that a course of action is sensible isn’t the same as to act on it – and it takes passionate advocates like Rach and Halvorson to get everyone behind a movement as sensible as content strategy.

    So let’s all get moving.

    Content strategy tools

    Of course, asking the right questions about content is one thing; figuring out answers is another. That’s why Margot Bloomstein’s Content Strategy at Work is such a useful book. In it, she suggests you create a message architecture – that is, a “hierarchy of communication goals” – to help you make decisions about future content.

    Define what good content should look like, in other words, and you can start to build it. It’s a good idea and a practical one for marketers.

    In the book, Bloomstein suggests some ways of creating this message architecture. First, she says, try an adjective-sorting exercise: brand managers are given a stack of cards with an adjective on each, and are asked, via various interventions, to prioritise them. Alternatively, create a two-circle Venn diagram: one circle is marked “brand values”, the other marked “audience needs”; your job is to find brand “attributes” that fit into the intersection of each. Either way, having defined your adjectives or attributes, you can prioritise them and create content to match.

    As a brand manager, marketer or content strategist, you’ll find either exercise helpful. Adjective-selection exercises are a popular way to define brand tone, and can help you answer content questions that can cascade through future decision-making.

    A common criticism of these exercises, though, is that it can be difficult to select adjectives that set you apart from competitors. Many B2B brands, for example, want to be “friendly”, “confident” or “professional”; these are qualities that are easier to describe than to convey. And there are only so many suitable adjectives around: with a limited verbal palette to choose from, finding a set that defines your individual tone can be harder than it looks.

    Moreover, as a copywriter who often refers to brand guidance, I often find myself wanting a bit more information about a company’s relationships with its customers – that is, the real-world interactions that underlie the rules on design and tone. What does the organisation exist to do, and how does content reflect that?

    It’s challenges like these that might lead you to seek a wider “architecture” for your content and messaging.

    Towards a content strategy based on story

    It’s at this point that I think that the parallel discipline of brand storytelling can be helpful.

    Good brands deploy narrative techniques all the time. In marketing, as in story, we often try to “show, not tell” – to demonstrate an idea through a case study or an anecdote, rather than simply tell people how world-leading or innovative we are. A sales team, too, will vary the pace of a sale depending on the product or the prospect – just as in a story, an author will manage the pace of a plot depending on who the reader is. A CEO, meanwhile, will tell a story in order to relax a business audience, and you can be sure that that story will have a moral that’s pertinent to the business point she’s trying to make.

    If you’re attracted to the idea of deploying narrative technique in your organisation, an understanding of story structure can help get your creative sparks flying. There are many ways of defining a narrative structure, but most include elements such as these:

    PROTAGONIST The hero of your story. There may be more than one hero.
    STORY WORLD The world the hero inhabits. The “rules” of the story world usually stay consistent through the whole story (but see the rocket scene in The Life of Brian for a counter-example of this).
    OBJECT OF DESIRE The hero’s most fundamental need; this drives the story on. There may be a difference between what a hero thinks they want and what they actually need – and a well told story will reveal this tension.
    ANTAGONIST Opponent of the hero – there to thwart them from achieving the object of desire. May be a person; an object; or an internal character trait.
    INCITING INCIDENT Event that upsets the hero’s stability and sets them moving toward the object of desire.
    CRISIS/CLIMAX Event that acts as point of conflict between hero and antagonist; and keeps the story moving forward through time. The final crisis is the CLIMAX, and it brings back stability to the hero’s world, in the form of a RESOLUTION.

    That’s the gist of it, anyway. If you’re interested in storytelling, read Bob McKee’s Story, Stephen King’s On Writing and perhaps also Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. You’ll find a lot there that’s analogous to marketing and interesting in its own right.

    For marketers, it can be useful and enjoyable to analyse ads, websites and PR campaigns to see how successfully (or otherwise) elements of story structure can be deployed. I’ll be discussing some examples in the course I’m running this June on Storytelling in Marketing – but you might like to think about (for example) the New Coke fiasco; the rise, fall and rise of Stella Artois; and the viral Squatty Potty ad for starters.

    Analysing story structure can also lead to jumping-off points for tactics in your own marketing. For example, you could make a list of the different “heroes” you might use for different brand stories. One story might be a marketing message about how well a product performs (eg a Dettol ad in which the product is a “vanquishing hero”); another might be a blog post about the great work of one of your employees; a third might be a “foundation story” from your CEO about how she set up the company against all odds. All these heroes’ stories might point to a moral that captures the essence of your brand.

    But wait a minute. Since the explosion of social media, the way that brands communicate with customers has changed. If you interpret marketing as less of a “broadcast” effort and more of a “conversation” between brand and a customer – as social media experts always advise you to do – should you still be seeing your own brand or product as the hero of your story? Should you not also be thinking of the customer as a potential story hero – given, after all, that you’re already creating the “customer persona” and planning the “customer journey”? And when you do, how can this help meet your content strategy goals?

    The role of “story architecture”

    Remember those goals? We wanted to document a content strategy that answered the “who, what, where, why and when” of content – and, to help us make future content decisions, we wanted to develop a “message architecture” (to use Bloomstein’s term) that acts as a blueprint for what content we create next.

    A “story architecture” (to coin a new term) might help you achieve this. You could ask yourself questions such as the following:

    Who are our customers? (PROTAGONISTS)
    What do they want? (OBJECT OF DESIRE)
    What obstacles do they face? (ANTAGONISTS)
    How do we help overcome these obstacles? (CRISIS POINTS)
    What ideal world would our customers like to inhabit? (STORY WORLD)

    Defining the “ideal world” or “story world” is the really interesting bit, because this is where we start to think about the underlying characteristics of our content.

    Here’s how a story architecture might look for one example brand:


    Our customer is …
    … a creative, independent-minded individual who sees possibilities in the future.

    He/she wants …
    … to fulfil a creative vision, build an independent lifestyle, take risks and try out new things.

    The main obstacles he/she faces are …
    … the difficulty of focusing on the essential things in life, because of everyday technological inefficiencies. Clutter, poor design and bureaucratic thinking frustrate his/her dreams.

    We help overcome these by …
    … designing technology that sets our customer free – to think differently, and to focus on individual aspirations and dreams, away from a traditional office environment.

    The ideal world my customer would like to inhabit is …
    … a clutter-free, paper-free space, allowing room for focused creativity.

    So we create content that is…
    … focused and clutter-free. We keep communication simple, reflecting our products’ innovative and minimal design. We eliminate unnecessary words in our language. We focus content only on channels that reflect our brand.

    Do the example answers I’ve given look familiar? That’s because they’re my attempt to reverse-engineer a “story architecture” for a company like Apple.

    Try completing a similar “story architecture” for your organisation, and see where it takes you. (If your audience isn’t a “customer” but a stakeholder or an employee, make them the hero of your story as appropriate.)

    One advantage of this approach is that it helps validate the work you’re already doing. To answer the question “Who is your customer?”, for example, you could refer to work you may already have done on customer personas. Or if you’ve done adjective-selection exercises, put them in the “ideal world” section and see how they fit. You might want to tweak them into a sentence that expresses the space you imagine your customer inhabiting.

    As you continue to create your story architecture, try to make it hang together as a coherent whole. For example, the “ideal world” your customer would like to inhabit is closely related to your decisions about your customers’ persona and needs – and all, in turn, inform decisions about your future content.

    And if you’re comfortable with where you are so far, you might even push the story analogy further – helping you dig deeper into your marketing platform:

    When does the customer know they have a problem that needs solving? (INCITING INCIDENT)
    What does the customer know already when we approach them? (BACKSTORY)
    What does the customer put at risk when buying from us? (CRISIS/CLIMAX)
    How do we allay these fears/mitigate these risks? (SOLUTION/RESOLUTION)
    How quickly do we approach the customer? (PACE)
    How do we present our relationship with the customer? Are we a partner, an assistant, or a guide? (CHARACTERISATION)

    Some of these questions may be more appropriate for individual marketing campaigns than for an underlying story architecture, but the principle is the same: use your customer’s own story to help plan content.

    Discover more

    I’d like to do more to help organisations use story to inform their content strategy. I think it’s a great tool that can support ideation and content planning efforts.

    That’s why I’m hosting a small-group course on Storytelling for Marketers, this June 14.

    I’ll be working on how marketers can find their “inner storyteller”, in order to achieve two things:
    • start developing a documented content strategy
    • tell better stories across an organisation.

    If you’re interested in finding more about storytelling in business and marketing, please come to the event.

    There’s a £25 discount off advertised prices for readers who’ve read this far. Just use the discount code EBCD25.

    Hope to see you there.

  4. October 7, 2015. [Permalink]

    Design teams: why use a content strategist?

    If you’re a design-led team working for largeish clients, it’s natural enough to see “content” as something that happens separately from your strategic, design thinking.

    Whether you’re busy interpreting a client’s thoughts about a logo, creating a brand book, or working on a wireframe for a client project, it’s easy to think of written content as a parallel world: the world of content writers, who might not get involved with a brand or content campaign until the design concept is done and dusted.

    But, as many different types of agency increasingly realise, considering content too late can hamper design projects.

    Creating a brand book without considering content, for example, means that elements such as colour, shape and form are all defined; but critical, related factors – such as tone of voice, message, style and content structure – are left to chance.

    And just as content decisions restrain digital design choices, so digital design decisions limit what you do with content.

    So next time you start work on a client project, it can pay to bring a content strategist in at an early stage. This helps you in the following ways:

    1. You can own the whole branding process.

    Tone of voice and a defined stylebook are vital branding elements, but some large clients – who might otherwise be strict about the visual use of their brand – can be relatively laissez-faire about language, leading to problems further down the line.

    As a design agency, you can take responsibility for the whole branding process by bringing in a language expert from the start.

    2. You can head off digital problems at the pass.

    With the rise of content marketing, marketers increasingly want engaging, semi-journalistic web pages, often a thousand or more words long.

    Content strategists can help digital designers tailor these pages to clients’ content needs, through the precise arrangement of page furniture such as headings, subheads, excerpts and sells.

    Design with lorem ipsum alone, on the other hand, and you create problems for your client to fix later – or stressful extra hours for your agency when your project deadline is near.

    3. You help your client map the customer journey.

    Designers are often tasked with mapping a “customer journey” for digital users. But who better to help map that journey than an expert storyteller?

    A content strategist can advise on common questions such as what type of content to place on each web page, depending on the stage of the marketing funnel a piece of content is at; where to place an all-important call to action (and why); and exactly how much or how little copy is needed to engage the reader in a concise, elegant way.

    All these factors will have knock-on effects for your sitemap or project management, so they need to be considered early on in the design process (and often tweaked as you go along).

    4. You can optimise for mobile devices.

    When space is limited, it’s harder to write copy that engages your client’s customer. This is especially true of content for mobile devices, and of copy for content elements such as calls to action, menus, breadcrumbs, and so on.

    An effective content strategist can advise on just how little copy you can squeeze in where.

    5. You can produce better content audits.

    If you’re a digital-focused agency and you’re making deep dives into a client’s content – in the form of a content audit – then a content strategist can give you the qualitative insights that help set your analysis apart from the rest. This adds value for your client.

    Having a content strategist on board can also help stop your content audits running over budget, because the strategist can help the client work out what good-quality content should look like. The answers, of course, will be different for every client.

    And there’s a bonus. Because a content strategist usually comes from a copywriting background, they’ll also be able to write the qualitative parts of your content audit in client-friendly language, too.

    6. Focus on what you’re best at.

    I’ve rarely met a content expert who admitted to tinkering much with design (beyond tweaking the odd bit of CSS), but I do know designers who’ve ended up writing content for websites, often at a client’s behest.

    Leaving aside the wisdom of that, the reason it happens is often the absence of content strategy at the start.

    But of course, it’s one thing to recognise that you need a content strategist; another to get your client to realise it, too.

    Sometimes it might be useful to introduce a content expert to the client as a “strategic copywriter”; this demonstrates to the client that they’re getting someone with a strong writing background but who can help them with content strategy too.

    Either way, next time you find yourself on a call with a client wondering what content goes where, mapping a client’s customer journey to a series of web pages, or making decisions about the suitability of a word, it’s probably fair to say that you’re operating in the space where content and design interact – and perhaps that’s the time to start discussing whether, in future, you need a content expert to help, too.

    • To discuss a pitch or a brief, please call 01273 906 222 or email

  5. May 20, 2015. [Permalink]

    Why copy-editing counts

    Does copy-editing matter in the age of Twitter and Pinterest? Some say not. But if you’re in the business of selling something – whether it’s a product or a service, a manifesto or an idea – and you think you can get away without a copy-editor, think again.

    Here are seven reasons why.

    1. Editing helps engagement.

    Engagement, emotional connection, call it what you will: if you want people to be interested in what you have to say, it’s important to talk to them as if both they and you are humans.

    Long, jargonistic subclauses packed with abstract nouns don’t get your point across to readers. Simple sentences with active verbs do.

    Copy-editors turn one into the other.

    2. Mistakes cost money; copy-editors catch them.

    Proofreading errors cost organisations money. Earlier this year, for example, the UK government had to pay out £9m after a single-letter mistake caused a business to collapse. And that’s quite apart from the damage to your brand that lesser mistakes can cause.

    How do you reduce the risk from errors? Simple: have someone look at your copy after you’ve written it. If that person is a copy-editor, versed in the art of spotting mistakes, you’re on solid ground.

    3. Good editors are number-crunchers, too.

    Think copy-editors only spot verbal errors? Think again. Who else but a copy-editor will notice that the data you cite in your text doesn’t match up with the bar chart in Figure 6.2? Or that the figures in the percentage column don’t add up to 100? Or that the stat you quote in Chapter 7 confuses percentages with percentage points? (Your picky financial client, that’s who.)

    4. Copy-editors are guardians of tone.

    “Brand language” is a trendy thing in marketing circles. But you don’t need to be a tone-of-voice guru to know that when copy is full of technical jargon, customers are likely to be put off.

    If your copy isn’t speaking your client’s language, a good copy-editor will help set it back on track.

    5. Grammar debates waste time.

    “Judgement” or “judgment”? Oxford comma or no Oxford comma? Full points after abbreviations or not? Your style guide should have the answers – but if it doesn’t, a good copy-editor will help you form a sensible view on these linguistic dilemmas with a minimum of fuss. No more time wasted debating the finer points of English style.

    6. Copy-editors can help global teams.

    If you run a global team, your overseas colleagues will probably have excellent spoken English, but their written skills may not always reach the same high standard. This is understandable, but it means client-facing written reports will often need to be edited into shape. Enter the copy-editor, who will be able to turn overseas writers’ work into impeccable international English – in UK or US style, as you prefer.

    7. A good editor reveals the holes in your thinking.

    This is one of the most important benefits that copy-editors provide, but can sometimes be the most challenging, which is why I’ve mentioned it last. A common reason for poor writing is, simply, fuzzy thinking. That’s not, in most cases, a criticism of your ability: it’s just something that everybody is guilty of from time to time. But it’s also why one of the most important questions you’ll hear from a freelance copy-editor is: “What exactly are you trying to say here?”

    When you hear these words, take it as a positive sign. Freelance copy-editors are in the privileged position of being able to help join the dots in your thinking without undermining your authority – helping you to even greater insights into your market or business.

    For that, we’re cheap. Use us wisely.

  6. August 7, 2014. [Permalink]

    The most underused tactics in content marketing?

    When you’re considering which content marketing tactics to use, benchmarking tools such as Content Marketing in the UK 2014, from the Content Marketing Institute, are always handy.

    This annual study tells you, among other things, which content marketing tactics are most used in the UK and which tactics marketers say are most effective. But the strange thing is the difference between the two lists.

    The top five tactics used by marketers, as outlined on slide nine of the research, won’t surprise anybody. Social media (87%) takes top spot, followed by blogs (86%), articles on your own site (85%), enewsletters (82%) and case studies (77%).

    But when, in the next slide, marketers consider which tactics they find effective, the table looks different. Case studies (70%) are now up to second in the list. Blogs (63%) are way down in 10th.

    If we plot the difference between the two ratings, by subtracting the “effectiveness” score from the “usage” score, it’s possible to create a crude league table of the tactics in content marketing that are the most effective and least used: or in other words, the most underused.

    Crunch the numbers on the back of your nearest envelope (statisticians, look away now) and you get this:

    Tactic Usage Effectiveness Score
    Webinars 45% 65% +20
    Mobile content 48% 64% +16
    White papers 55% 65% +10
    In-person events 69% 74% +5
    Case studies 77% 70% -7
    Videos 76% 66% -10
    Articles on website 85% 68% -13
    eNewsletters 82% 66% -16
    Social media 87% 67% -20
    Blogs 86% 63% -23

    Now obviously this is a pretty rough and ready table. There are only 10 entries in the original effectiveness table, so we’re limited to 10 tactics to compare; and tactics that are harder to execute or less universally appropriate will, of course, drift to the top of the list.

    But these provisos aside, there are some striking lessons here for content marketers:

    1. Whisper it in some circles, but social media, and even blogs, aren’t working for everyone. Many customers, and particularly business customers, want more in-depth, organised content than you can achieve in 140 characters or less.

    Of course, it’s actually more in-depth content that customers often go to Twitter to find. White papers and infographics, of course, are great examples of in-depth content that’s eminently shareable via social media or a blog.

    2. Of all the types of written content you create for your website, the humble case study is the most effective and (‘mobile content’ aside) the most underused. This makes sense: case studies are your chance to show customers how you’ve followed through on the promises you make, but it can be tricky to persuade existing clients to get involved.

    3. It’s important to optimise your content for mobile if you haven’t already, which at a basic level means getting a responsive design – so it can be viewed equally well on all devices – and taking the opportunity to refresh your content while you’re at it.

    4. People will always prefer face-to-face contact, but the currency and immediacy of a live webinar is the next best thing.

    That’s my tuppen’orth anyway. I look forward to the next edition of the data.