About whoscontent

Kris Martin is the principal consultant, writer and editor for Who's Your Audience.

In Business, One Size Does Not Fit All

Get to know your patrons to build trust

I tried a different nail salon recently – and loved it. Housed in a historic downtown building, this small, boutique nail salon is owned and operated by a driven business woman who is also a mom with two kids. Her staff consists of a small but trusted close-knit team of locals who seem to have quite a bit of chemistry. Right from the beginning, I knew this experience would be different.

The Brand’s Online to In-Person Experience

Before I went in, I visited the website to see what kind of services the boutique offered, and to view some of the staff. Bingo. I easily booked my appointment online and in true omni-channel form, was welcomed with an offer of tea or water as soon as I walked in the door. The brand promise on the website matched what I experienced at the shop.

The owner did my nails, because the salon was just busy enough that all technicians were with clientele – sans the host, who walked around to every station talking to the customers and making sure the technicians had everything they needed. (I love that model.)

Because I’m also a business owner, I took the opportunity to talk to the owner about her business. Her goal? To create a customized relaxing experience for every patron that walks through the door. We discussed the building’s character, the code restrictions, how she chooses to represent her brand and where she wants to be in 2 to 5 years.

Requirements Building

During our conversation, the owner also asked me questions – mostly about my business – but some just about my preferences. She complimented my toenails (I don’t think anyone has ever complimented my toenails.) and asked my how often I get my nails done. When I answered truthfully that I only indulge on special occasions or when I need a quick “me moment,” she recommended gels.

The experience for me suddenly came to a halt. I felt I’d been lured in with the promise of something new or different, only to find that the owner was trying to up-sell me on something I had no desire to purchase. I was here to relax, after all, not be pulled into some every two-week nail scam.

I laughed nervously, replying, “I’ve tried gels. I am too low maintenance for that.”

To which she said, “They last longer than a regular mani-pedi, and look amazing. You just have to come in every couple of weeks and get them soaked off.”

Like I have time for that.

But surprisingly – and to my delight – she picked up on my queues and recovered. “Gels aren’t for everyone,” she said, “especially if you don’t have time.” She promptly changed the subject.

Trust Building

To build a successful business, sustain the salon long-term and scale according to the owner’s goals, the salon needs dependable repeat business. Gels are one way to get repeat business because they require quite a bit of maintenance. Some folks are into that. They choose to spend their exposable income on these small indulgences, they have the time to invest every couple of weeks, and during their regular visits, they may also take advantage of the spa services that are offered.

Me? I’m not one of those people. I let my nails go until they are breaking and tearing – and sometimes even beyond that. When I do go, it’s because I have an upcoming event, someone bought me a gift certificate, or I have a few extra hours on my hands. I am not my own priority.

And the owner recognized that. Because she took the time to get to know me, and picked up on my emotional signals, she gained my trust. It’s likely that I’ll return. While I may only get my nails done four times a year, I will pass referrals on to other friends who will actually purchase the gels. Through one little experience, the business owner gains many clients. Because she recognizes that one size does not fit all.

Questions to Ask Your Website Users

Questions to Ask Your Web UsersWhen we talk about “users” of a website, we’re often talking about our target audiences. But users of our website also include members of leadership, the web team and the subject matter experts who contribute to the content. Of course, the list goes on. So there exist many groups who would like to get something out of the website to make it successful.

As a content developer, your goal is to hit all the right notes, especially during a redesign. On launch, when the campaigns are flying and social is buzzing, you want all of the website users to find something valuable. Chances are, you’ll succeed in some cases. In others, you’ll have to remain agile and iterate. The key is asking the right questions of all users – then LISTENING. (Don’t forget to take copious notes.)

Let’s take a hospital website, for example. You’ve established a set of personas based on your market segments. You’re personalizing experiences based on those personas. So what do you ask these user groups? In the case of a health seeker (or maybe worried well), you want to focus on behaviors. Get to know your user group. How do they see themselves as healthy individuals? What types of activities do they engage in? When it comes to healthcare, how do they view their hospital? – As a partner in health or as a place where you go when you’re sick? What are they searching for on their mobile phone at 8pm? How comfortable are they with technology? Do they use Amazon? AirBNB? Or do they still pay their bills through snail mail? The stories they tell you and the information you gather will inform your content development choices. Get in there early, when the designers are asking questions.

Now let’s take your subject matter experts. Following the same hospital thread, your SMEs might be clinicians. In addition to the facts (because you always want your content to be accurate), ask these guys why they got into the business in the first place. Start with who they are and what motivates them, as their answers will inform the rest of your conversation. Approaching your discussion this way will also put you on a level playing field. Doctors like data, and in some cases (like provider profiles), you may have the opportunity to showcase their data. But they also know their patients. They sit in a small room with them every day in some of the most intimate moments. Ask things like, what’s the toughest case you’ve ever had? Tell me about a great moment you had with a patient. You can also cover the state-of-the-art technology for the sexy factor, but capturing the heart of the actual “users” of your website will help you connect with them through content. And believe me, if clinicians don’t like what’s published on the website, the entire organization will hear about it.

Finally, we get to the users of your website – your web team. Now this is important, because the web team is part of the web governance board. It’s also made up of the guys in the trenches, so if the content system that is too difficult to use, they won’t get what they need out of it. Remember the word intuitive – Facebook understands that and so does Apple. Oftentimes web teams are asked technical questions like, what do you want users to do transactionally on your site? But that’s putting the cart before the horse. Start by sharing the results of your conversations with your user groups and your SMEs. Doing so will help guide your opening question: What stories would you like to tell on the website? You can work backwards from there. If one of your user groups wants more information on a series of “Food as Medicine” seminars, for example, the web team may answer that they can support that request through calls to action, credibility information on the clinicians or nutritionists who are presenting the seminars, informative follow-up content disseminated through newsletters, and more. This information will tell you if the web team has the integrated web technology to serve the need. It also helps you explore their knowledge level and help them problem solve.

When it comes down to it, the relationship is in the conversations. Getting to know all of the website users will help you create the best experience for them. Again, iterate, because you’re not going to nail it for everyone, every time. Building a content development roadmap is another subject for another day, but get your calendar out and start planning one group at a time.

A Co-Writing Case Study

The Challenge

Recently, a client from the government sector came to me with a content problem. He had produced content for a specific target audience that was received with significant criticism. The message itself, while strong, was bogged down in poor content design.

While a long-standing government career had made him a subject matter expert, he had taken the tabula rasa approach to writing – start with a blank page and just let it flow. Time was definitely the constraint in this case, but the long-term effects of quickly written content could have been damaging to his brand credibility.

Our Co-Writing Approach

What I lacked in the subject matter, I made up for in content experience. This was to our benefit, as what we had together was the perfect co-writing package:

  • An underlying theme, and overall purpose and a clearly defined target audience.
  • Raw content in the form of a first draft that the client had compiled.
  • Brand and editorial style guidelines, including tone of voice.
  • An abbreviated production time.

The process itself was fairly quick. We each had our focus. I conducted a thorough analysis, then tossed the piece back to my client for another round. He, in turn, made sure my recommendations aligned with the subject matter and filled in the blanks as needed. We looked at all the basic elements of good writing.

Comprehension

I read through the raw content from a layperson perspective and highlighted areas that needed more context for comprehension. In other words, from a reader’s perspective, am I understanding what it is you’re trying to say?  In some cases, I did the research myself and built out the content. In other cases, I asked leading questions so my client could quickly provide more information during his writing round. He, in turn, provided the needed context.

Transaction

I evaluated for transactional value. I asked myself, “Am I taking the action you want me to take as a result of engaging with this content?” In this case, the content contained all conversion elements, but needed better construction overall.

Organizational Structure

Organized and logical thinking is a reflection of quality and credibility. Shifting the framework of the piece around to accommodate logical thinking allowed for seamless flow of information based on the way people think. I made sweeping changes, deletions and re-organized in the Word editing tool. He accepted my edits then validated them to be sure important elements weren’t stripped during the overhaul.

Sentence Construction and Grammar

Even the best writers worry about grammar last. A sentence can be written in many different ways – and we tried them all. Variation in the structure of sentences within the same paragraph is important as well, as writing is like poetry – there must be a rhythm to it in order to keep the reader engaged.

Copyediting and Proofreading

Last – but certainly not least – was the polish. We both conducted a number of read-throughs to be sure the writing was tight, there were no typos (even Word’s Spelling and Grammar tool doesn’t catch everything), and title case, em-dashes and proper nouns capitalization applied.

The Result

Together, it took us less than 24 hours to reproduce the piece. And it was well-received. In fact, it was so well received that we’ve decided to take a co-writing approach for all related content in the series.

While co-writing may not be possible in every case, a solid editorial review of all content produced is a must – even if you review the content yourself. It’s just good writing practice. And a little extra upfront work is a small investment for the long-term return you’ll receive.

Written by Kris Martin

 

 

Content Strategy: How Form Follows Function

Form follows function, even in content.Oftentimes, clients come to us asking us to write website content, or even a series of campaign landing pages. From a tactical perspective, we might be providing support as part of a larger team, where the project strategy has already been carefully mapped out. There are those times, however, when “can you write some website content for us” means, we’re throwing a bunch of mud at the wall to see what sticks.

Generally, when we start a relationship with a new client, we like to talk about context first. Of course, we can simply interview a subject matter expert, then write a section of web content – but if we’re not measuring that effort against your business goals, then we’re just in it for the money.

Before you embark on a content project with us, we’ll likely ask you:

  • What business goals does this content support?
  • Who are we trying to target with this content?
  • What do you want your target audience(s) to do as a result of engaging with this content?
  • How does this particular audience consume content? And when?
  • What are our success measures for the content?

It might be that a section of web content won’t even reach the audience you’re trying to connect with. Then what?

Form follows function. It’s an age-old saying. But it’s true, even with content. First decide why you’re writing the content in the first place, then decide what form it should take. A section of web content? A comprehensive campaign series, complete with omni-channel engagement? Or something more.

Effective Content Editing – What You Need to Know

A strong editor is more than just a grammarian or proofreader. In fact, writing actually happens during the editorial process. Editing is a collaborative effort, and oftentimes requires more than one pass, by many different contributors. Depending on the type of editing you need, your editor may need insight into your:

Goals and objectives
Design and content requirements
Legal considerations
Brand and editorial style guidelines
Source materials for comparison

As editors, we consider it our responsibility to:

Safeguard the integrity of your brand
Brand trust is developed through consistency. Your customers know who you are, what you represent, and come to depend on you to deliver consistently every time, whether it’s a product or service, or it’s your brand presence in the market. Every single touch point should be instantly recognizable and affiliated with you.

Align all communications with your stated goals
Every communication you develop ties back to your business goals. And every piece is designed for connection – whether it’s an informational blog article, a targeted email campaign or a yearly report to stakeholders. Is the piece helping you accomplish those goals? If not, what’s missing?

Ensure legal considerations are followed to a tee
Legal requirements are in place to protect you from liability. During legal review, every last component is weighed and considered. Editorial reviewers should understand legal requirements and make sure everything down to the fine print adheres.

Look for consistency across all related communications
More often than not, we’re asked to edit a single piece that is part of a larger campaign. If the campaign or engagement strategy and accompanying communications are available for reference, we’d like to see them. Receiving an email, then a phone call with a script that have an inconsistent tone of voice is confusing for customers. Again, consistency is key.

Follow editorial style guidelines
You’d be surprised at how many organizations don’t have editorial guidelines. If you don’t have brand guidelines and editorial style guidelines, consider developing them. Associated Press Stylebook is a great place to start for editorial. You can use AP as your baseline, then build in exceptions. (Common for healthcare organizations: health care vs. healthcare.) As for MailChimp voice and tone guidelines, MailChimp developed a considerable content guide that you might use as a reference.

Copyedit and proofread
Of course grammar, context, sentence construction are important! Well-written content is the cornerstone of communication. Say what you will about Strunk & White, The Elements of Style is still the editor’s bible. Our copies are dogeared and highlighted.

Spellcheck
Once you’re satisfied that all content meets your standards, read the copy backwards. When you’re skimming through copy, your brain generalizes, placing focus on higher level tasks, such as ensuring the content has meaning and is organized appropriately. Reading content backwards forces you to see each word exclusive of its context, allowing your brain to focus on the spelling itself.

It’s also good practice to self-edit, then share your content with someone who can read it through with fresh eyes. No matter how good a writer, everyone needs an editor. Just ask Isaac Asimov, who said of editor John W. Campbell:

“When I first met him I thought of him as ageless. He was a tall, large man with light hair, a beaky nose, a wide face with thin lips, and with a cigarette in a holder forever clamped between his teeth. He was talkative, opinionated, quicksilver-minded, overbearing. Talking to him meant listening to a monologue. Some writers could not endure it and avoided him, but he reminded me of my father, so I was perfectly willing to listen to him indefinitely.”
(First seen on The Writer’s Almanac, 2016.)

The Five Big Qs: Why You Need a Project Strategist on Your Content Project

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Content writers and editors are often brought onto projects to simply produce content. As writers, we are sometimes led to believe the project and content strategy have already been determined. Believe it or not, that’s not always the case. When we start digging into the project, our questions tend to surface process gaps that were not addressed early on. That’s when an experienced project strategist comes in handy. A project strategist should be at your side even before kick-off to ensure all bases are covered from a digital perspective – not just content.

The role of a project strategist is to focus on Five Big Qs:

  1. Does your project plan align with your business goals? Answering this requires an in-depth understanding of your business and the environment in which it operates. A project strategist will get to know the ins and outs of your business fairly quickly. The number one question a strategist will ask is, “why?”
  2. Do you have the right tools in place for efficiency and scale? Projects tends to take longer than planned. With the right tools, a smart project strategist will help you stay on track, on budget and within scope. And she will help you scale for the long term. Basic tools like content management software keep all communications and processes documented in one place.
  3. Have we missed any steps? As project strategists, we always take the time to map out every step, including roles and responsibilities on both team’s side, and on the client side. During project kick-off, we use this roadmap as our agenda to identify any steps we might be missing along the way. We also review the timeline to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  4. Do we have the best (and most efficient) team on the job? What goes on behind the scenes is just as important as what’s communicated to the client. Each and every team member plays a vital role to the success (or failure) of any project. An experienced project strategist will evaluate all team members to ensure the project is staffed appropriately. If risks arise, it’s the project strategist’s responsibility to shift gears quickly if needed.
  5. How often should we communicate? Weekly if a project is underway, even if it’s just a 15-minute touch base. Doing so keeps everyone accountable, including us.

As your primary point of contact, a project strategist will become one of your most valuable partners. We know our: clients, partners, tools, workflows, processes, capabilities. Make sure your project strategist has the right relationships and the ability to pull all of it together quickly and efficiently for you.