Guidelines for writing great articles

Part of my efforts with the Mississippi Magic Magazine involve setting up guidelines for writing great articles.  If you are wondering why a technologies consultant is posting guidelines on writing great articles then let me explain.  We are in the business of creating success in our constituents that we partner with through consulting and development.  That being said… Mississippi Magic Magazine provides an outlet of expression for people and businesses in Mississippi but it does not employ writers to produce magazine content.  Therefore, all the writing done on the Mississippi Magic Magazine is done by volunteer writers that have a vested interest in the community.  From business owners to pastors of churches, people active in leadership in the community provide all of the content found in magazine.  To make this a profitable venture for each of them, we’ve found it necessary to publish a guidelines for writing great articles.

Benefits:

  • People like to do business with those they are familiar with.   Through connecting with our community through your articles, you’ll lower the barriers that people have to traditional broadcast style advertising communications.  .
  • Articles will be broadcasted to the RSS subscription readership.
  • Articles will be indexed by search engines so that anyone looking the information you provided will find it and you on the internet.
  • Articles will spread in a viral method through through social media sites such as twitter, facebook, and linked in.
  • Unlike traditional media, articles written will be available online well into the indefinite future.
  • Articles will link your thoughts, expertise, and methods to your perceived value as a solutions provider and allow people to reach you.
  • Articles always make the front page when they are published.
Good practices:
  • Offering needed information to make an informed decisions.
  • Offering solutions by showing how to solve a problem.
  • Providing lists of methods or resources.
  • Expounding upon a subject.
  • Offering information about events by featuring information, pictures, and video covering people in the community.
  • Praising and pointing out the good about others.
  • Simplifying complex information, instructions, or events.
Avoid:
  • Slandering others.
  • Defaming others.
  • Advertising your products or services.
  • Soliciting business.
Using these methods, community leaders can provide invaluable content that leads people in the community to them as a provider of services and goods.  Through the relationship formed between the reader and author in the magazine articles these leaders have an inroad to the reader when the reader seeks to find a provider for a need or want that the author can fulfill.
This style of marketing defined in these guidelines for writing great articles are known today as inbound marketing.  By using them you’ll get found on the internet and connect with your customer.
– Joel

Your business’s great story

The importance of your business’s great story:

Your story is what you do or what your business does.  Through each and every activity that you or your employee’s interact with the members of the communities you do business with you are telling people a story about yourself.  Most of the time our activities reinforce a view that our audience has already predetermined about us.  This can be good or bad depending on the views of the person we are dealing with.  The story we tell with our business is too important to leave to chance.  As mentioned Business Leader as Storyteller I’ve listened to Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars twice in an attempt to determine the best attributes of a good business story and I’m happy to be able to list them here.  Please bear in mind that the attributes listed here are my interpretation of what Seth has to say and are not taken verbatim.

Attributes of a great story.

  • Understanding the world view of your target audience: Before you even begin your story you must first determine who your audience will be.  One method of doing this could be determining your ideal customer is.  To craft a great story that will truly be effective you’ve got to know what predispositions your audience has so you can help them reinforce those thoughts by adopting your story as their own.  By using this approach you are narrowing your focus to a smaller target group, but the idea here is to find people that will want to hear your story and repeat it as their own.  These are the people who will take notice of what you are saying and buy into it to an extent that they interrupt everyone they know to tell them about it.  It’s important to get this part right because if you interrupt everyone with your story you will just come off as annoying and irrelevant.
  • Tell a coherent story that is consistent when told through various channels. When telling the story of “how we do it here” to your target group it is vital that your facts are consistently supportive of the message you are trying to convey.  Disjointed facts and points that seem contradictory will only confuse your audience and cause you to lose their attention.  Delivery of the story must be clear and facts must be presented in a way that reinforces the underlying message you are trying to convey.  The best method to accomplish this is to determine the process flow of every point of communication with your audience and define the type of communication that takes place there.  Points of communication can include customer invoices,  the conversation your associates have with customers when answering the telephone, email, tweets, or blog comments, or the conversation a cashier has with the customer when processing their order.  All these points must be defined and the associates trained on what message is to be conveyed.
  • Giving just enough details. Give the target audience just enough information to engage their imagination.  The art of suggestion works like a connect the dots puzzle.  If you’ve ever looked at a Thomas Kinkade painting then you’ve viewed the type of impressionistic work that we are trying to create.   Mr Kinkade uses shadow and light to create impressions which the viewer turns into a scene.  If we slow down and look at his paintings intently then we understand that we were viewing an impressionistic pattern.  If we are telling our story to the right audience then they will fill in the gaps to complete the picture of their world view.  This is important because of the limited attention span of the average prospect in a media saturated culture and the fact that once the user completes the impressionistic story in their mind it becomes their own story.
  • Don’t harm the target listener: I really wish that I didn’t have to put this in here, but considering the low trust environment here in the United States I felt I had to.  Don’t tell stories that will harm your audience if they choose to believe them.  If you do you will lose in the long term.   Choose a long term strategy that will benefit your target audience and your business will grow virally as the story takes hold and is spread.  The key to a great story is building trust and if you are found to be harming people eventually you will become the next WorldCom or Enron.
  • Be authentic – be real: The best stories are true.  Stories that are not true will make the target audience feel stupid for believing them once the truth comes out.  If you make someone feel dumb they will not support you and once they find out they have been duped they will never repeat your story again.  Stay away from false stories and lies.  Let your competitors be the ones that over promise and under deliver.  Succeed by under promising and over delivering.  Being authentic and real is the only real way to succeed in a low trust environment.
  • Differentiated from competing stories. It is hard to shout above the crowd and in today’s media saturated culture it is foolish to compete with a successful and well established story.  If your competitor is selling on price and doing it well then you would do well to sell on service.  Value is perception and customers buy because of perceived value so the trick is to tell a story of how you are different then the rest and how your difference is valuable.  The “how we do it here” story should be customized to your target groups world view and be so different from the other stories out there that comparison is not possible.  This is how you avoid the devastating effects of price competition and if you do this well your customers will probably enjoy paying a higher price.

Your business’s story becomes a great story when it becomes the audiences story.

Further reading: The importance of telling the right story the right way.

Your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Joel Caton

 

The importance of telling the right story the right way.

The story of an organization.

Stories weave together fact and emotion into a tapestry of human experience that can be consumed vicariously. Stories can be used to explain complex environments and place complex information in a context that makes it easy to understand. An organization’s story is it’s identity. It is told and retold by those whom have experienced it and have heard it. In the case of an organization the story usually starts with an idea, vision, or dream of an individual or small group.  Other people become involved in the story thorough various roles such as customers, employees, vendors, and suppliers and each one of them play a part in fulfilling the vision and making the idea complete. Success or failure is determined for each role by the message or story the leadership of that organization gives as feedback for the activities performed. Role-players interpret the value of the organization and it’s story as it pertains to them and retell the story to those to whom they can reach.

How the story is told:

  • The leadership of the organization tells its story to an audience of role players: customers, vendors, suppliers, and employees.
  • The role-players interpret the story based on their experiences with the organization and its leadership. The messages the role-player receives at the point of interaction from the organization and its leadership affect the interpretation of the story.
  • Role-players retell their story of the organization.

The story’s message:

Organizations seeking to move prospects through the know, like, trust, try, buy stages must continually keep a message of identity, value proposition, and integrity continually flowing to the various role-players in an organization.  By continually sending the same message through different channels and in different contexts, prospects can explore the organization and begin a relationship built on knowledge and trust.

Protection from misinterpretation:

It is important to manage the feedback given to the role-players as they will retell their story about the organization to various prospects affecting the its future viability and growth. Methods must be established for handling the communication aspect of each relationship in which the leadership directly communicates with a given role as well as processes for handling communication where the organizations role-players directly handle the customer. The methods and processes will help insure that each communication is consistent with the leaderships story and protect it from misinterpretation.

In Conclusion:

So what’s your story? How are you getting the word out? Are others saying the same things about your organization that you say about yourself? Are you consistent? I hope you’ve found some food for thought here.

We will discuss more on this topic in a later post.

– Joel

 

Remarkable Content: Educating your prospects, leads, and customers.

The Sales / Lead Nurturing Process Funnel

On an earlier post we talked about the sales process funnel and for our purposes we’ve redefined it here.

A introduction to the funnel. Market issues today and how to capture the consumers attention.

Today’s marketing environment: What makes businesses appealing to customers in today’s media saturated markets? The old ways of blasting a message out to the general public using the “shotgun approach” just doesn’t work with today’s consumer. People have gotten good at tuning out unwanted messages. The human brain peruses information on a subconscious level at a rate of speed that is up to 800 times faster than the concious minds ability to think and serves up to the conscious mind only what is relevant to a person is doing or their set of beliefs. Odds are if the customer isn’t looking for something even though your finely crafted message is hitting them several times a day it’s possible that they may not be aware of it. Customers have gotten good at ignoring and tuning irrelevant messages out.

New Methods of Reach: So how do we reach an audience that is tuned out? The answer to that question is simple. We provide answers when they are tuned in. While consumers have gotten good at tuning messages out, they have also gotten good at searching for information through the internet and they still rely on the old stalwart word of mouth recommendation that has been around since the dawn of civilization. Business’s that wish to reach their audience today must not only have a finely crafted message, but have the channel to provide that message at precisely the time the customer is looking for it. Thankfully this has become much easier with social networking sites and search engines as customers are using them to actively search for things that they want.

The Trust Element: It’s not just enough to purchase ads on the new mediums of communication. In an environment where all types of claims and promises are being broadcast, consumers have become cynical of the true intent of businesses and are not as quick to trust an unknown entity with their time energy and money. Even though a message can be delivered to a customer that is actively searching for an answer, consumer cynicism still acts as a barrier to entry in the market. To overcome this healthy cynicism we must change roles from scrutinized marketer to that of a helpful educator. In today’s information rich and highly connected market consumers have grown accustom to searching for information on almost every commodity before making a purchasing decision. Providing a channel of helpful information that facilitates social networking and encourages interaction and input has become the means by which today’s savy marketers draw consumers into a trust building relationship. By changing the tone and timbre of the communication from high pressure sales pitch to concerned educator prospective customers are able to enter into a dialogue of communication without fear of being sold a useless bill of goods.

Creating educational content: Content for the purposes of educating a market and providing information with which a consumer base can use to make informed decisions must be unique, remarkable, and relevant to your business and the consumers needs. To properly satisfy those requirements, it is important that content meet the following criteria:

  • Content length: short enough to be quickly perused while still providing valuable information.
  • Fresh and up to date
  • Not an imitation of other sites (don’t publish me too work).
  • Searchable, Indexable
  • Provides interaction and a channel for user contribution.
  • Easily shared

A guide to publishing this type of work can be found here.

In Conclusion: Blogs seem to fit this criteria very well as do on-line videos, pod-casts, and downloadable white papers.  What other methods of distribution do you know of and what could extend this model? We’re defining this as the lip of the sales process funnel. The drawing point by which prospects, looking for an answer, are gradually introduced to a business’s product offerings as solutions and trust is built.

Your thoughts?

– Joel

Introduction of Sales Process Funnel Chart

The Sales Process Funnel
Sales Process Funnel

Here’s the first revision of the sales process funnel chart.  I’ll be publishing a series on each stage and element of the process going forward.

Any thoughts?

– Joel