Well, when it comes to best practices in business writing, the list is endless and possibilities, infinite. So I am forced to break up all I want to say into short modules. As Ranbir Kapoor keeps reminding me (quite irritatingly!) “Keep it simple, silly!”.
I think there are basically four phases to creating a piece – whether it is a 20-page whitepaper, or a one-page flyer – understanding the context, preparation, the actual writing and finally, the review phase.
Let’s delve into the first phase today: understanding the context. This involves, firstly, deciding what the objective of your marketing piece is going to be. And don’t say – “Duh, to market, obviously!” For, there are nuances within this – you can aim to persuade so someone buys your product or you can simply be looking to educate the market, for instance. See the difference? In a similar manner, decide on your targer audience, the manner in which the piece will be used, where it will be used, etc.
The next step involves focusing on your audience – only when you have a thorough understanding of your audience will you be able to write copy that appeals to their needs and desires. So you really need to learn to profile your audience. Now to understand what we mean by ‘profiling’ your audience, and what it involves, you need to attend our business writing workshop!
Once you have arrived at a complete understanding of the context that your piece will be set in, you are ready to move onto the next step – preparing to write – but that, of course, is the subject of my next blog!
Back after a hiatus – I was on a summer break – and thought that it was about time that I took up the reins of the business communication series that I was blogging about. We left off at ‘making content compelling’. Today, I would like to briefly touch upon the astounding variety there is when it comes to marketing communication tools – and I will be mentioning only the more common ones. The important thing to remember here, is that the online medium has opened up a plethora of options – allowing the introduction of a number of innoavtive tools and formats.
Today communication is as much about the format as what you want to say. And your audience and objective determine which tool you will use. Creating content is not just about making it compelling, but also about tailoring it to collateral type. Just run your eye over the variety possible:
- Offline: whitepaper, case study, article, newsletter, press release, brochure / flyer / product sheet, advertisement
- Online: website, enewsletter, blog, podcast, vlog, user community / forum / social network, wiki, microblog, online new release, online advertising (plus emerging formats like ebooks)
The collateral that you decide to use essentially depends on the audience that you are targeting, as well as their stage in the buying cycle. For instance, whitepapers are effective when talking about new trends and to showcase thought leadership, especially to B2B audiences; video blogs are a great way to show the faces behind your brand and to associate your brand with ideas, but are not really for product spiels or a camera-shy management, and brochures, testimonials and case studies work best when they hit a buyer who is evaluating multiple options.
Remember to also adapt your style of writing to suit the type of collateral that you use. For example, whitepapers are long and combine strong research and strong writing, are informative and demonstrate competency. They are objective and present a solution to a specific problem or showcase a trend / technology, etc. Brochures, on the other hand, are more ‘salesy’ with an objective to persuade and sell. They claim competency and are more persuasive in nature. Through a brochure, you tell the reader exactly what you want him to do and get him to do it now. In the same way, cae studies, success stories, ads, blogs, even FB status updates – each tool serves a different purpose and needs to be approached differently if it is to function effectively and fulfil its purpose.
So the next time you sit down to produce a piece of collateral, first appreciate that collateral for the power it possesses and the purpose it can serve, think through your objectives and your audience and whether the tool you are using is the appropriate one – and then put pen to paper.
Everyone is talking about it nowadays – ‘compelling’ content. With the emergence and rapid growth of online media, everyone wants to have ‘compelling’ content and many think they do. But readers are being bombarded with so much of information, that your content has to be truly eye-catching, truly unique – truly, yes, compelling – it it has to stand out and be read.
MarketingProfs conducted a survey of 5000+ companies and found that the top challenge of content marketing programs within these enterprises was producing engaging content. So we are all in the same boat here and could do with some help on how to produce content that will catch eyeballs.
I think the first thing we need to realise is that good content today is not just about the written word. The Web makes it easy for us to deliver what we have to say in a number of ways – through copy, images, audio and video. The best presentations of even the last decade were those which used AV aids, so imagine what you can do today with technology and social media at your command!
It is widely agreed that certain attributes together contribute to compelling content:
- Your content should appeal to the audience on both logical and emotional levels – for instance, if you are selling a holiday package, you need to logically show why the buyer should come to you for the holiday package, how reliable you are, what facilities you offer, credibility, etc. But the best content will also appeal to his ‘softer’ needs – perhaps a need to be appreciated by his family for taking the time out to go with them on a wonderful holiday.
- Secondly, your content should be original and offer some value – some information, unique analysis that you can offer as a subject matter expert, etc. If you are only going to repeat what many others have said before you, don’t do it. Better to remain mum! For instance, if reading a whitepaper on cloud computing, the reader would rather see what your angle on a particular aspect is, what you have to say that is new about the topic – not a compilation of data from Google!
- Thirdly, your content should encourage viral sharing. It can be funny, irreverent or even outrageous – if it gets people to hit that ‘forward’ button, you’ve got compelling content on your hands! But rememeber that what you communicate needs to tie into your brand or service somehow. Simply cracking chauvinistic jokes will not serve the purpose, besides creating negative publicity. A good example of relevant content that is highly shareable is the series of videos created by BlendTec. Will it Blend Videos – check this out for sheer laughs, good sense and relevance to the product.
- Content should be goal-oriented. After all the best language, great quips, insightful information and deep analysis, if there is no call for action, you simply leave your audience hanging and not knowing what to do next. You have hooked them, yes – but failed to reel them in.
- Finally, good content is timeless, is updated regularly and keeps your audience coming back for more.
These are just a few ways in which you can take your content from good to great. Do write in with your views and let me know what has worked for you.
Recently, we conducted a Business Writing workshop for the Indian divison of a large MNC which provides consulting and outsourcing solutions. This was a first for me. Having attended some workshops before and having made fun of the presenter’s accent and speaking skills (secretly of course), I never imagined that I would one day be at the receiving end. I am sure that a number of the participants, in the more tedious moments (perhaps post-lunch), dissected my clothes, face and manner of speaking. But I am blissfully unaware of it, so I can thankfully focus on what I learnt.
My learning process began right from when we started putting togther material for the workshop. I had fancied myself something of an expert in business writing – all my beliefs dived right through the window when I started reading up on common errors and universal best practices. I suffer from most of the former and follow virtually none of the latter. But since advice from a hypocrite is nevertheless still advice, I proceeded to write my learnings down and consolidate them into four extensive modules.
Now, a few years ago, when I was applying for my first job, I had learnt to use Power Point over a weekend and managed to put together a fancy presentation that was quite good. So all these years I thought that I knew all about Powerpoint gimmicks. Till a couple of young girls took my presentations, broke them up and reassembled them in a completely different and fresh manner, which, I have to admit, was infinitely more attractive and eye-catching than my slides using different kinds of transitions. When it comes to technology, 30 is the new 60 and my skills and knowledge are getting redundant by the day.
The actual presentation of the workshop was relatively stress-free except for the post-lunch period, where we had to cope with a few glazed eyes and stifled yawns. But I would like to believe that people were smiling and nodding because they were enjoying what we were saying and not because of lettuce stuck in my teeth.
What I enjoyed most about the workshop was an exercise that we set the participants (about 15 in number). Over the course of two weeks, each participant worked on writing copy for six different kinds of pieces (ranging from a blog to a press release to website copy) and I worked with him or her to review, correct and suggest improvements. All participants later claimed that they learnt a lot from this hands-on experience since it allowed them to practise what we had theorised about. It also gave them an insight into writing styles, common error patterns and how the same content can be ‘repurposed’ to suit a variety of articles and communciation vehicles. At the same time, it allowed me to step away from the pieces and critically examine what was working, what was not and why – thus allowing me to understand for myself the real import of the material that we had presented! Plus, it’s always fun to pick faults in other peoples’ work and point out how you could have done it better.
Generally speaking, my learnings from this experience had more to do with workshop presentations, rather than business writing.
- Workshops have to be interactive and encourage audience participation. The only way to keep your listeners engaged is to ask questions, encourage debate. They are then forced to listen since they don’t want to be caught napping. Plus, the more your audience talks, the less you have to!
- Slides have to be eye-catching – if you can get the point across through images all the better. Basically have less content and more images, slogans, visuals and definitely add plenty of videos. Get other experts to make your point for you, and with YouTube there is no dearth of experts in any case.
- Break up your workshop into small modules with plenty of exercises thrown in to keep the audience alert and interested.
- If you have a lengthy point to make, make a handout that can be read later at leisure.
- If your workshop is spread out over multiple sessions, take audience feedback from the first session and build it into the subsequent ones.
- Finally, you can make your material as attractive as you want, but design is no substitute for good content.
And that is what good business writing is also about.
I will follow up this blog with a series of blogs presenting some nuggets of wisdom, some information gleaned and some lessons learnt through the entire process of putting together and presenting a business writing workshop. That should make for some interesting conversations.
On an aside, am I the only Indian blogging about a non-World Cup related topic today? Probably!
As a species, humans have always been concerned about recogniton and approval – for work done, for achievements, and even for just who they are. Little wonder then that this need for status should continue in the virtual world as well. Whether it is someone boasting that he has 1477 Facebook friends (it is besides the fact that he has not met most of them – ever) or that she has n number of Twitter followers, we tend to seek validation of the fact that we are popular, liked and ‘followed’, that our blogs are creative, that we have the most interesting status updates, etc.
And there are companies smart enough to cash in on this. Twournal is a website that allows you to compile all your tweets into a book or journal which you can then sell: http://twournal.com/
Another company allows you to order a mug or keychain that has photos of all your Facebook friends: http://www.crowdedink.com/
And I am sure that such products that showcase one’s online persona will only increase in the near future.
With a blurring of lines between your real and virtual identity, don’t be surprised if you have more online friends – people you have never met but regularly talk to – than ‘physical’ friends you meet for a coffee! In such a situation, can concerns about your online social status be far behind?
We may even soon have a Bollywood movie, in which the father forbids his daughter to marry a young man, saying “Uski aukat kya hai – Facebook pe mere 755 dost hai, or woh- FB pe hai hi nahi! “
A recent argument that I had with a friend made me think a little. For sometime now I have been going around extolling the virtues of using Facebook and Twitter as as effective marketing tools. But when you get up from the chair in front of your lap top and then move away from the walls of your office, you realise that social media still has a long way to go, in India at least.
All examples of SMM success stories, all stats on popularity of Facebook, etc are still linked to ‘Western’ countries. Search for these in Google (as I did) and rarely will you see a result thrown up that features an Indian company that did wonders with social media.
I wonder why this is. Are we lacking in marketing maturity? Or perhaps social media marketing has limited application in the Indian market where most of the population is still illiterate, let alone not having access to an Internet connection! (On the other hand, everyone I know and their grandmother is today on Facebook!) Or perhaps Indian orgnanisations still have more trust in traditional marketing methods. Or is the problem a combination all these factors and then some more?
Would appreciate different viewpoints on this.
The recent bomb blast at Pune has garnered a lot of media attention – well it should. What is ironic is that there are so many such incidents that take place on a daily basis in our country and none of them gets noticed unless it happens to involve a high profile place or person. For instance, in the case of German Bakery, it is a well-known iconic place in an upscale location that is frequented by foreigners – so people are going to write about it and we are going to hear stories of the victims time and again. Actually looking at the scale of the incident, it was a relatively minor one since not many lives were lost. I am not trying to downplay the gravity of the situation, but merely to point out that the media conveniently glosses over equally grave incidents that do not have ‘drama’ value.
How many people know that 21 jawans were gunned down yesterday in Bengal by armed Maosists? These jawans were preparing their dinner, engaged in daily routine, when they were ambushed, surrounded and mowed down – they were unable to escape from within the confines of their camp. The injured have been taken hostage. This is a horrifying incident but not many people will hear about it because it does not feature the rich, any celebrity or any high-profile people or places. After all, it is just another 20 nameless jawans in the long list of many who die.
In today’s environment, the media has a larger role to play than mere reporter of events – after all they make or break stories. Let’s be clear – there is no such thing as objectivism anymore. We can live with that as long as the media shows some responsibility in reporting. Tabloid journalism seems to be order of the day with the latest break-ups in Bollywood getting more attention than brave soldiers who lose their lives in vain!
Hyderabad-based company Notion Ink is making waves with the Adam tablet. Competing with iPad and the soon to be launched HP slate and Lenovo UI Hybrid, Adam promises some exciting new functionality. It can function in two modes: black and white where it consumes very low power and works much like Kindle (e-reader) as well as full colour mode where it can be used to play 3D games and watch hi definition movies. It is Wi-fi enabled as well. It runs on Google’s Android OS, but the interface has been completely redesigned in collaboration with NID. Notion Ink plans to launch Adam in India before the end of the year.
It is really heartening to see Indian companies entering the consumer electronics space and take on giants like Apple on their own turf. It shows that India has come a long way from being a shop for warm bodies and is now emerging as an innovative, creative and high-tech player.
Seldom has a recent news article surprised and baffled me to the extent that a write up in the Times of India did today. The article referred to Climate Change, which is the buzz word every where now. Back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came up with the starling prediction that most of the Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035. One would assume that considerable research went in before the panel made such starling revelations. As it turns out, the prediction was based on a news story in the New Scientist, published eight years before the IPCC’s 2007 groundbreaking report. This in turn was based based on an interview given by an obscure Indian scientist, who has since revealed that his claim was mere “speculation”.
The irony here is that the IPCC was set up to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change. Incidentally, the same year the panel shared the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore. Fact remains that the IPCC has done a lot of commendable work to deserve such an honor. At the same time, basing reports on such unsubstantiated “facts” will show it in a very bad light.
We at Prayag are constantly engaged in doing research work for various clients, stretching across companies in the IT,ITES, Manufacturing, and other such varied verticals. There are a few golden rules that we strictly adhere to. If we have taken the data from any research report, the source is always mentioned clearly. Whenever the authenticity of the source is questionable, then that data is not used as part of the report. Also, any assumptions that are made are clearly mentioned in the report. And if the correct information has not been obtained for some reason, its best to inform the client, than include ” facts” which would prove to be embarrassing at a later date. The information that is gathered is also verified through multiple channels.
One would image that an organization like the IPCC would take care of such basic requirements. As they say, The Devil Is In The Details. You can ignore it only at your peril.
Before moving to Mumbai, I had often heard about its famous ‘commercialism’ – how if there is a need perceived here – for anything – the gap will be immediately addressed. When I started living here, I realised how true this was, from the vegetable seller and tender coconut water seller who delivers to your doorstep to the bigger businesses who have tapped into into the mindset of the consumer to perfection.
Given that time is at a premium for most people, and given that driving in Mumbai is difficult and time-consuming, a number of businesses have figured out how to make it convenient for consumers to use their service. There are some examples that are now widespread in other cities across the country as well – Crossword’s Dial-a-book that delivers books to you, Shemaroo’s delivery and pick-up of books and videos, tailors who come home to measure you and then deliver the completed clothes. Add to all this a new service (a few months old actually) – literally “dial-a-bag”. This is targetted at the upper middle class who aspire to luxuries but cannot afford them.
Now, you can actually browse a website and reserve a handbag for a day / night / week, etc. And these are handbags that come with a brand attached – Louis Vuitton, Chanel, even a Birkin. Apparently already popular abroad, this concept is now gaining ground amongst the Page-3 crowd in Mumbai.
Given that an average Birkin costs more than a lakh, this is an attractive proposition for someone who wants to be seen with trendy accessories but cannot afford to buy them. These can now be rented at a fraction of the cost. Rumour has it that a lot of A-list celebrities are also a part of this exclusive club that circulates handbags and allows you to own them for a short period of time – much like books or DVDs. One wonders – what next? Maybe haute couture gowns or sarees by Tarun Tahiliani