Category : Copywriting

content marketing conference

Why the CMA Content Marketing Conference in Edinburgh Rocked

What was so awesome about #CMALive17?

The minute I spotted the jar of sweets on the table, I knew this was my kind of conference…

Working as a solo entrepreneur undoubtedly has its advantages – such as no office politics, no psycho boss (whom you will never please however hard you try), no fights over who gets to use the microwave first during lunchbreak, and no embarrassing photos popping up on Facebook in the aftermath of the infamous office Christmas party…

However, there are also a few disadvantages of working on your own, and perhaps the most significant of these (apart from sitting alone at your laptop on Christmas Eve, munching a solitary mince pie…) is the lack of opportunity to ‘hang out’ with like-minded professionals.

That’s where events such as last week’s Content Marketing Academy conference, held at The Hub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, come into their own for the freelancer or sole trader.

The stunning interior of the Edinburgh Festival Hub provided a suitably creative setting

Of course, conferences can be dull, and it was with a sense of blind optimism that one whole year ago, in June 2016, I dispatched a payment to the CMA via the virtual ether, in the fond hope that I’d be able to justify the experience in my mind as a form of ‘personal development’ – a factor that can be woefully neglected when you’re working for yourself.

June 2017 eventually came round and my hopes, as it transpired, had not been misplaced. Indeed, it rapidly became apparent during the first presentation of the conference – and the equally enlightening ones that followed it – that this event was going to be anything but dull (and I don’t just mean the ‘choice’ language being bandied about in a couple of the presentations!).

The use of expletives in modern content marketing was covered by several speakers

Advice and anecdotes concerning the latest technology and techniques used in content marketing flew thick and fast from the stage, fired by keynote speakers and lightning speakers alike. My long-neglected interpreting shorthand symbols, acquired during a four-year interpreting degree back in the 1980s, proved very useful for noting down as many of the myriad pearls of wisdom as possible.

Now back in the tranquil environment of my home office in the Kinross-shire countryside, I’ve tried to work out why the CMA conference – organised by the inimitable Chris Marr and his team – had such an impact on me and on many of the other delegates whom I had the pleasure of meeting there. How did it engage the 170 (or so) audience members so completely from 9am till 5pm each day?

Chris Marr, organiser of the CMA Content Marketing Conference, addresses the audience

On reflection, I believe the conference ‘worked’ so well because there was a tangible meeting of minds in the room – and this despite the facts that the attendees came from a wide range of business environments and that many had never met previously.

When I say ‘wide range’, that’s precisely what I mean. Naturally, there were the obvious candidates whom you’d expect to find at a conference which focuses on content marketing – copywriting/editing professionals, IT gurus, photographers and website designers.

However, there were also attendees representing many other businesses – including recruitment companies, hairdressers, manufacturers and financial advisors. And we all had one thing in common: we wanted to know how to make our content ‘sing’ from the screen to potential customers, encouraging them to engage with our businesses and (eventually) buy our product or service.

I use the word ‘eventually’ intentionally here, because one of the key messages that emerged across the two days was that you can’t simply flog products and services to potential/existing customers in the way that used to be done in the good old pre-internet days.

Today’s customers are more capricious; they have to be ‘courted’ and ‘flirted with a little’, so they begin to like (better still, love) what you do. And that process inevitably takes time.

As speaker Mark Schaefer emphasised in his presentation, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul and “adopt a 30-month mindset”, as two and a half years is the average period likely to elapse before you can expect to reap the fruits of your content marketing labours.

You may even fail first-time round if your product or your marketing messaging isn’t quite right, and that might mean starting all over again. However, one thing is certain: if you don’t ever start that all-important conversation with your potential customers, your chances of success are virtually zero.

The conversation can take place at many levels and – in this 21st-century digital age – on many platforms. However, it’s wise not to dive headlong on to too many platforms, as a scattergun approach can dilute the strength and effectiveness of your brand.

There was much to ponder by the end of the conference. Each delegate no doubt took home something different, as certain presentations were naturally more relevant to our own specific business situations than others. For anyone who’s interested, I’ve compiled a selection of the points which seemed most relevant to my own two small businesses.

CMALive17: My Points to Ponder

CHRIS DUCKER

“By 2020, 90% of all online content will be video, and a good chunk of that will be live video.”

“You need to become someone’s favourite.”

“Create content that solves problems, e.g. ‘How to…’ guides.”

“Consistently provide value.”

“Only include one call-to-action per video.”

“Schedule every minute of the day.”

ROGER EDWARDS

“Keep your marketing strategy simple: set your goal; define your offer; plan content marketing activity to support your strategy.”

“Talk your customers’ lingo; don’t use jargon or mumbo-jumbo management speak; avoid the curse of knowledge.”

“It’s important to find a simple one-liner that sums up your business, e.g. ‘Your cat sits on our mat’ for a cat mat manufacturer.”

“Avoid the passive voice.” (In other words, don’t say ‘The passive voice should be avoided’!)

“Think big. Act small. Act humble.”

The slide above shows what can happen to a simple strapline as a company grows…

STEFAN THOMAS

“When networking, follow up with emails and do not sell hard.”

“Just keep in touch with prospective customers – no pressure.”

“You will win more friends in a two-month period being ‘interested in’ your customers than in two years of trying to ‘sell to’ them.”

DOUG KESSLER

“Swearing makes up 3.4% of normal everyday speech.”

“First person plural pronouns (such as we/our/us) only make up 1% of everyday language.”

“English speakers in the States use 80 to 90 swear words per day on average.”

“The use of expletives in marketing can do all the following: surprise; indicate confidence; resonate with like-minded customers; make you sound authentic; make what you’re saying humorous; add mojo to your voice.”

ERIKA NAPOLETANO

“Stop hunting elephants.” (In other words, stop going after big ‘trophies’ instead of focusing on what you actually do well.)

“Be vulnerable, and that means not always being right. Be compassionate and be human.”

“Reframe what you think about fear and how you use it.”

“When you meet someone new, don’t just ask the usual ‘So what do you do?’”

“Ask prospective customers a ‘big universal question’ to open up the conversation, e.g. ‘Have you ever been stuck?’ or (if your service happens to be making videos) ‘Have you ever wished that all the time, energy and money invested in your video content could make you look like the rock star you are?’ This will then allow you to outline how your product or service can solve your potential customer’s problem.”

Mark Schaefer spoke about the difference between being ‘famous’ and being ‘known’

MARK SCHAEFER

“Technology is changing consumer behaviour – it’s no longer enough to develop customer loyalty.”

“The ‘ping, ping, ping’ approach (i.e. drip-feeding info) no longer works. Nowadays you need to be ‘known’.”

“Being ‘known’ is not the same as being ‘famous’. It means being recognised by your (existing and potential) customers for what you do – or your company does – well. No one is born ‘known’ – this status has to be earned over time through developing your authority, presence and reputation.”

“You need your customer to feel ‘hugged’ by your brand. You need to be somebody’s favourite and fight every day to stay that way.”

“There is no shortcut. You must put in the work and create good content.”

“If you follow a dream without a plan, you have a hobby and not a business.”

“Pick one thing and master it. Don’t be a magpie and get distracted. Remember there is a human cost to everything you do, so be selective with your content marketing.”

“If you’re blogging, make sure you have a unique angle (e.g. there are numerous food bloggers, but one has differentiated herself by featuring famous recipes from TV or films).”

“The internet is just beginning. There’s been no better time in history to start than right now!”

ANDREW AND PETE

“Avoid the content crickets” (i.e. don’t just keep firing content out that is not relevant to people or all you’ll hear in response is the chirping of crickets and no human engagement).

“Define in three words or phrases the brand values that make you unique. And don’t use words such as ‘friendly and professional’, as these are baseline values for every company.”

“Create a ‘content stamp’ – your unique mark that makes you stand out from your competitors.”

“When writing a mission statement for your company, use the following format: ‘I’m going to ________________ for ________________ so they can ______________________, because ________________.”

“Develop an avatar for your audience, and not just their demographic but also the problems they encounter.”

“Identify your arch enemy then be different.”

“Develop your readily identifiable ‘lingo’, e.g. have a few catchphrases such as blogger Joe Wicks’s “lean in 15” or “prep like a boss.”

“Don’t choose to deliver content to your customer using the way you want – deliver it in the way your customers want.”

“Make your content shareable for one of these five reasons: brand advocacy; emotions (content that makes the reader feel smart, scared, amused or inspired); appearance (how will sharing it make them look); causes and beliefs (your customers’ causes and beliefs, that is); high value.”

JANET MURRAY

“When attempting to get PR for your small business, start with ‘low-hanging fruit’, e.g. a press release about a new product or service.”

“Another way of attracting media attention is to tweet using the hashtag #journorequest – this allows people with stories to connect with journalists who are interested in covering similar stories.”

“’Newsjack’ a story that is in the press. For example, if Jeremy Vine is featuring an item on a scenario that is familiar to you, call the BBC to alert them to your expertise in or personal experience of this matter. It might lead to your story gaining welcome PR for your brand.”

“Teach your reader something (e.g. write a ‘How to…’ article).”

“Develop your own stories to pitch to the media about a variety of areas (relationships/family/money/work/life and death/hobbies and interests), but always relate the story back to your business.”

“Tell stories that people want to hear and not the stories you want to tell.”

“When pitching to journalists, use a powerful but succinct 10-word (max.) top line to hook the editor’s interest, e.g. ‘I photographed every doorway I slept in’ or ‘I sacked my dad.’”

GEORGE B. THOMAS

“My maths teacher told me I’d never amount to anything and six months later I dropped out of school. Now I work with Marcus Sheridan.” (Ed: For anyone not at CMALive17, Marcus was one of the keynote speakers at the conference and is very highly regarded in the field of content marketing.)

“You don’t need to be a nerd or a brainiac – you do need to focus on growth mindset and not be afraid to use the tools.”

“There are numerous technical tools and software products out there, some of which are free. Examples worth exploring include Slimstats, Monster Insights, YoastSEO, Mautic and Social Warfare.”

“Make your ‘complex’ as simple as possible.”

Marcus Sheridan talked about the importance of playing to your strengths

MARCUS SHERIDAN

“Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.”

“Beware of becoming a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’.”

“If necessary, let go of some of your goals. Don’t marry your goals: marry progress. Goals are a compass, but be ready to pivot.”

“Define your KPIs (be that the number of enquiries, number of conversions, gross revenue, margin…) carefully. Stick to the metrics that matter in your business.”

“Don’t assume that engagement means business. You could have 10,574 comments on a post but get no conversions from that post.”

“When blogging, be sure to include images, not make it too long and structure the text in an attractive, easy-to-read way. Remember to include a call to action at the end!”

“Let go of any negative feedback (10%) and focus on the positive feedback (90%). Ignore the doubters and the haters.”

“One of the greatest tools in the world is asking the right questions at the right time.”

“Do what your competitors don’t do. If your clients ask … answer their questions. This includes talking about the negatives of your own products or services, and being prepared to talk about your competitors.”

“Own your story – it’s what has made you!”

That’s a lot of content marketing wisdom to absorb

As you can see from the above lengthy list of helpful tips, there was a lot of content marketing knowhow to take on board – and I would stress that these snippets only scratch the surface of everything that was mentioned over the two days. I’ve not even touched on the fantastic lightning presentations by Col Gray and Ross Coverdale, Yva Yorston, Sharon Menzies, Cara Mackay, Pamela Laird, Karen Reyburn and Danielle Sheridan, all of which were as inspiring as they were insightful.

On Friday night, after a quick detour via Murrayfield to watch Robbie Williams in concert, I returned to my rural ivory tower, resolved to implement at least some of the new knowledge gleaned at #CMALive17 in my own two small businesses. Fortunately, I’ve never had any remote desire to be famous. However, I do want to succeed in business, so I will undoubtedly draw on what I learned at the conference when planning future content marketing activities for Euroword and The Learning Cauldron, and perhaps one day (at least 30 months from now!) I might even become ‘known’…

Never managed to get to speak to these guys at the conference – perhaps next year…

photo of two editing books

Two tips to make your proofreading more effective

Recently, while attending a business breakfast organised by Fife Women in Business, I shared with fellow breakfasters a couple of tips for proofreading short documents more efficiently.

Afterwards, several people mentioned to me how useful they had found these tips, so I thought it would make sense to share them here on the blog in case others also find them helpful.

Read the text out loud

“I’ve already proofread this document five times. What difference could reading it out loud possibly make?” you may wonder. Prepare to be surprised. As powerful and clever as it is, our brain is not averse to playing the odd trick on us. Or rather our grey cells sometimes do their job too well and while we are reading, they automatically fill in any missing word they know should be there – even if we never actually wrote that word…

Quite apart from helping identify missing words, reading out loud gives us an opportunity to gauge the flow and – possibly even more importantly – the impact of our words. A turn of phrase that appears perfectly civil when one’s eye skims over it can come across quite differently when you actually ‘hear’. For example, it might sound more aggressive than you originally intended.

Begin at the end of the document and work backwards sentence by sentence

By reading the last sentence, then the penultimate sentence and so forth all the way back to the start of the document, you will stop your brain from going into automaton mode. This can happen all too easily, simply because it has already become familiar with reading the sentences in the correct order.

By disrupting the sentence order, you will make your brain work harder and focus better, so it’s less likely to skip over any typos, duplicated words or grammar gaffes. As a bonus, you’re also more likely to spot any missing full stops.

This advice is most applicable to short documents (up to, say, a couple of pages long). However, for practical reasons, it may not always be possible to read even a short document out loud. On such occasions, another skill is required: reading out loud “inside your head”.

This may sound a difficult skill to master, but you’d be amazed how easy it is and how effective it can be. Instead of just allowing your eyes to skim over the text as you normally would when reading silently, make yourself linger just a little longer on each word – pointing your finger at each word individually as you read it can make this easier – while in your head “hearing” that word read out loud.

Try these two techniques next time you’re proofreading an important email or letter and see if you spot anything you hadn’t noticed the first five times you read it!

 

hedgehog curled up into a ball

Do you curl up and ignore your copy deadline or get writing?

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

A friend once compared the process of creating fresh copy to that of giving birth… but without the pain relief. Any of us who have sat staring at a blank piece of paper (or blank screen), bereft of words or ideas and downright daunted by the prospect of starting a report, presentation or web copy, will no doubt identify with that analogy.

So how to break the deadlock? Here are three tips to help you get started

1.       Throw your perfectionism out the window and just write. Even if you know in your heart of hearts that what you’re writing is nowhere near the succinct, well-crafted document that will eventually become your final version, the very act of making a start can help unlock your mind and allow more coherent ideas to emerge through your reluctant writerly haze. Write down anything about the topic that comes into your mind, confident in the knowledge that you can edit it to your heart’s content later.

2.       Take a thought shower. I began by writing “brainstorm” here then remembered that this term – popularised by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination – is now deemed offensive. So I promptly changed it to the (albeit not quite as succinct or evocative, but more politically correct) 21st century alternative. Whatever you may wish to call this process of exchanging ideas with others, the basic precept is the same: two (or more) heads are better than one. Even a brief discussion with colleagues at the water dispenser might provide the inspiration you need to get you started.

3.       Read. As any writing coach will tell you, one way to become a good writer is to read, read and read some more. And although we all know to avoid plagiarism like the… er… plague and we aspire to write unique copy at all times, the process of immersing ourselves, even briefly, in what others have previously written on similar subjects may well sow the seed of an original idea – even if only because we vehemently disagree with the other writer’s opinion!

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Worn, shabby shoes

Blogging – and why this writer should practise what she preaches!

As a child, I remember hearing people say that “The cobbler’s bairns are aye the worst shod” – only in those days, I did not fully appreciate what this meant. I hadn’t heard the expression for some time, but it came back to haunt me the other day when I was earnestly explaining to one of my clients the importance of posting regularly on one’s company blog.

“Having a blog on your website is an ideal way of providing useful information for your customers and showing them how your product or service can help them,” I heard myself say enthusiastically.

As soon as these worldly words of wisdom were out of my mouth, a horrible nagging doubt arose in my mind as to how long ago it might be since I had last blogged on my company website. And I suspected (rightly, as it transpired…) that the answer wasn’t one I wanted to hear.

A quick check revealed that I’ve been so busy these past few months writing copy to populate other people’s websites and blogs that I’ve been neglecting my own. That’s what brought to mind the poor shoemaker’s offspring, whose shoes never received any attention because their industrious dad spent all his time repairing his customers’ footwear.

My sudden realisation galvanised me into immediate action and it wasn’t difficult to find inspiration for a relevant post, having only this week come across another host of examples of why it’s dangerous to rely on the Spellchecker function when you’re writing a document in Word.

Some philosopher (possibly the same one who coined the cobbler analogy) once suggested that a picture is worth a thousand words, so to prove my point I’m sharing several photos of real-life examples that highlight words to watch out for when you’re typing your next report or sales pitch.

As you’ll see, just one missing or incorrectly positioned letter can change what you’re saying entirely, and because the words in question here are still recognised dictionary words, such errors have to be spotted by the human rather than the automaton eye – particularly if you’re reading an article that you’ve been slaving over for hours and can hardly focus on any more.

If you come across any other examples of similar words in cunning disguises, feel free to share them on our Euroword Facebook Page. After all, forewarned is forearmed!

euroword-2015-aug-words-trails

euroword-2015-aug-word-whole

EUROWORD-2015-aug-Word-whilst

Euroword-2015-aug-word-silver

EUROWORD-2015-aug-word-possess

EUROWORD-2015-aug-word-from

 

You can tell an editor is ill when she mixes up her words…

getting your words right

During a recent consultation with our local GP, I accidentally mixed up the words “panacea” and “placebo” – which confirmed, in a way that nothing else could have, that I was not a well woman!

Joking apart though, it did give me the idea for a blog post that looked at a few oft-confused words, and my resolve was strengthened this evening when I saw the word “reign” instead of “rein” in an online article published by leading marketing journal The Drum.

Let’s look at “panacea” first – a Latin word, which was derived from Ancient Greek. Its original meaning was a remedy (in those days probably plant-based) which was able to cure all types of diseases, and even to prolong life.

Over time, the word also came to be used in a more general way to describe a solution or plan that would solve all problems, e.g. “The UN’s proposed scheme offered no panacea for the deep-rooted problems of poverty in the region, merely providing a basis for future discussions.”

Placebo is also a Latin word – a verb whose literal English translation is “I shall please”.  In medical terms, a placebo is a medicine or procedure with no therapeutic effect, which is prescribed purely for the psychological benefit of the patient rather than for any physiological effects. Often placebos are used as a control when testing new drugs, to ascertain whether the drug being tested has genuine therapeutic properties.

Two other words – homophones in this instance – which often cause a mix-up are “reign” and “rein”.  Now, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve spotted the phrase “to give free reign to…” in the UK press, you wouldn’t be reading this post. Why? Because I’d have already made my fortune and retired to the French Riviera, where I’d be happily sipping fresh orange juice and grenadine by the sea.

Perhaps my equestrian teenage years give me a certain advantage here, but the correct phrase is actually “to give free rein” to (no “g”, just a gee-gee!) and it means to loosen the reins, thereby allowing the horse to move as fast as it wishes.

Similarly, I often see the phrase “to reign in” written in articles (such as the one from The Drum, which I mentioned earlier). Here again, we’re dealing with an equestrian term – this time “rein in” (again without a “g”), which means to pull on the reins and cause the horse to slow down.

In other words, the only time you should use “reign” with a “g” is when you’re talking about the period of office of a monarch or other authority (“reign” – noun) or the act of being a monarch or in another position of authority (“to reign” – verb).

If you come across other examples of word confusion (perhaps with amusing consequences!), do post your suggestions on our Facebook page. We look forward to reading them soon! Meanwhile, try this very simple quiz featuring commonly confused words. Good luck…