Whether you sell a product or a service, you will put yourself miles ahead of your competition if you include an education element to your marketing process. This is why white papers, case studies, informative web content and ebooks are such popular and powerful marketing tools these days. It is also why many marketers find themselves in front of audiences giving speeches, seminars or workshops.

The fact is that companies or professionals who take the time to educate and share their knowledge can establish a much higher level of credibility in their customers’ eyes than those who simply go after the sale.

But what about educating customers and clients after the sale?

I found myself thinking about this after reading John Jantsch’s recent article Teach Your Way To Referrals in his blog on Duct Tape Marketing. (By the way, if you aren’t reading Duct Tape Marketing yet, you are missing out on a wealth of great ideas and information).

Jantsch makes the excellent point that after sale education efforts pay off big time in referrals, and I would also add repeat business.

This is simply not that hard to do. I am working with a client right now who has asked me to create an ebook and email marketing campaign for sales people who use his products. Without revealing confidential information, his products help a variety of sales people and small businesses generate leads.

The ebook he wants me to write is going to be a free, downloadable educational product that will give his prospects marketing tips and ideas. And once the ebook is downloaded, the prospect will receive regular emails that offer more tips and advice. (I'm sure you will recognize this as a classic "Permission Marketing" campaign).

Similarly, you can easily find a variety of ways to communicate your own knowledge and expertise to your target market and existing customers. It isn't a difficult process, just identify the problems customers want to solve or questions they ask (or better yet, look for the questions they should be asking but don't yet know enough to ask them). Create simple info products or presentations that address these hot buttons and you have an educational marketing campaign.

Jantsch puts it this way:

I know I love it when I get buy a product and the first thing I receive is a getting started guide, followed by a full tutorial, followed by daily “have you tried this” emails. Every business, product or service can do the same.

Check out his article at Teach Your Way To Referrals, and if you are not already reading his blog, start doing so now. You’ll thank me later.

And one more thing. If you would like to learn more about this educational approach to marketing, be sure to download a free copy of my own ebook, How To Increase Your Sales By Sending Out Emails. You will read about other businesses that have gotten excellent results by educating their customers and prospects.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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The most glaring problem I see on the business (or charitable) websites I visit is the lack of a form, clearly visible on the home page, to encourage visitors to opt in to an email list. The owners of these sites, frankly, are failing to take advantage of one of the best assets for putting up a website at all.

When I give talks to business people, one of the caveats I preach over and over again is that the most important reason to even have a website is to build an email list of qualified, interested prospects who willingly volunteer to receive information from you.

It is NOT enough to put a lame comment like “For more information call 1-800-XXX-XXXX.” Folks, it is not going to happen. They are not going to initiate contact, you have to do it. So give your visitors incentives. Bribe them! Give them self-serving, “what's in it for me” reasons to fill out a little form on your home page that asks for their names and email addresses.

So here are ten, plus one, reasons why your site should have a clearly visible place for your visitors to opt in to receive informative emails from you:

  1. An opt in form enables you to build a list of people who have an interest in what you offer. Direct marketers have long quoted the mantra, “the money is in the list” for good reason. A list of interested prospects or repeat customers is the most valuable asset any business can have.
  2. An opt in list allows you to target people who have given you permission to market to them. Read Seth Godin's modern classic, “Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers” which introduced the worlds to the concept of getting prospects to opt onto your list by providing free information that solves problems specific to your target market or helps them achieve certain goals that are, again, unique to your targeted prospects.
  3. The people on you opt in list have self-selected themselves as your target market. This means you will no longer have to use the shotgun approach of trying to advertise or send direct mail to huge numbers of people. Seth Godin calls this getting prospects to “raise their hands” and identify themselves as people have needs your product or service can address.
  4. The people on your opt in list WANT to receive your messages. As long as you don't bombard them with sales messages and provide them with a lot of useful, helpful information, they will continue to look forward to your emails.
  5. Since most autoresponders require the person to confirm their request before they receive your information, you avoid accusations of spamming them.
  6. Speaking of autoresponders, they are a software program available for minimal cost that sends out your emails automatically. The visitor fills out your opt in form, next receives an email that asks them to click a link in order to confirm that they wanted to receive the information, and then they are sent a second email with the requested info. Then they will receive your pre-written emails with additional information at regular intervals. This means your entire marketing program can be put on autopilot by using opt in forms and an autoresponder.
  7. Sending out emails to the people on your opt in list is free. In an age when advertising and other forms of marketing is simultaneously becoming more expensive and less productive, email marketing to people who have requested your information is a true bargain.
  8. An opt in form allows you to have repeated contacts with people who would otherwise be one time visitors to your website. Let's face it, a website is like a screen door on a submarine. Most visitors come to your site for about a minute and then leave. Very few people will buy on their first visit to your website. But if you get their attention and give them and incentive to opt in to your list by offering them some very useful information, you can nudge them again and again (again let me repeat that this works best if you continually give them useful information along with your sales and marketing messages), until they buy.
  9. Continuing this last thought, opt in marketing defeats the hazard of one-shot marketing. Most people will not decide to buy on their first exposure to an offer. They need repeated exposures to absorb all of the benefits you offer and to develop a belief that your claims are true.
  10. Opt in marketing can position you and your company as experts if done right. Offering free information puts you in a whole different category of people who want their business. Both the initial piece that entices them to opt in, and the ongoing emails that give you additional opportunities to communicate your message to them, show them that you are capable of solving their problems or helping them achieve their goals.

BONUS REASON: Perhaps the best reason of all for having an opt in form on your website is that your list building efforts allow you to build a relationship with your prospects. Over time, you become a known and trusted source and advisor. Because you take time to educate the people on your list, your credibility climbs through the roof. And nothing in business can beat a relationship built on trust and credibility.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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Mike Santoro over at Duct Tape Marketing, has a neat article about a good marketing idea gone bad.

Apparently Delta bought some Google ads for the keyword “cheap train tickets.” Obviously Delta flies airplanes and is not in the train business, but give them credit for understanding that their competition is not just American Airlines or British Airways. They are competing against every carrier that provides transportation to passengers.

But, as Mike points out, clicking the link leads only to Delta's main home page. The visitors, who thought they had clicked an ad for cheap train tickets, find themselves on an airline's site. Huh? I have no doubt that 100% of these visitors either felt they were deceived or clicked away in confusion.

Mike's article goes on to say that if Delta had simply sent them to a page that offered comparisons of their air fares to train fares on certain routes, they may have converted a good number of these visitors. As it was, they no doubt wasted every penny they spent on these ads.

The lesson is that your home page is not the place to send every visitor. If you go to the trouble of getting links for certain types of visitors, such as through PPC (Pay Per Click) ads, think through what these people want, what they are looking for, and what information they are seeking.

AND give them what they want.

This all goes back to the idea of “Buyer Personas” again. Don't treat all your visitors as if they were all stamped out of the same mold. Every website offers different things to different types of visitors. The better you are at distinguishing the different needs and wants that drive these visitors, the better you will do at turning them into buyers.

This is especially true if you use PPC ads such as Google Adwords. Delta's visitors clicked links about cheap train fares. When they arrived at Delta's site, they had questions about cheap train fares and expected answers, which Delta failed to deliver.

Check out Mike's article at Delta Screws Up Smart Google Ad Buy. I think you will find it helpful.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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Recently as I've consulted with a number of business owners about writing content for their websites, I've once again been struck once again how difficult it is for most of them to come up with a “Unique Selling Proposition,” or USP, for their business.

A USP is an essential focused statement that tells a prospective customer or client why they would benefit from doing business with you. It is the “REASON WHY” buying they should buy your product or engaging your service.

What normally happens is business owners tell the world about themselves or their companies or their products. What we normally see is a “tell, tell” approach.

Look at magazine ads or Yellow Page ads for examples of what NOT to do. Most of these ads will not show you a real USP. You will see a lot of bragging or unsupported claims like, “we deliver excellence.”

I had an English teacher that referred to this kind of writing as “Solemn Vapors” because they use a lot of high sounding wording. Think of essays turned in by freshman English students and you will know what I mean.

So how do you write a succinct USP? How do you communicate what you do in a way that will persuade a potential customer to do business with you? Here are some ideas to help you create a powerful USP.

  1. What CHANGES are your potential customers or clients seeking? How can help them bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to be? Most people buy to bring about some sort of change. This change can be to make their lives easier or more comfortable. To give them more status or pleasure, or it can be to make their work easier or faster.

    The point is that if you focus on changes, you get your eyes off yourself, your company and your product. You stop talking about things like how long you've been in business or how respected you are in the community.

  2. Make sure you discuss these changes with specifics. Don't use change substitute words like “Results” or “Difference.” Make a clear distinction between the “Before” situation your prospects live in now, and the “After” situation they want to be in.

  3. Focus on problems. Most really good USPs are about solving, avoiding or escaping a problem situation. Even the classic M & M candy commercial talked about candy that melted in your mouth not in your hands. That slogan was a great USP that dealt with a problem every parent has encountered, chocolate covered hands on a little toddler.

    If you can solve a business problem, help someone get out of debt, make more money, help a teenager get rid of acne, save a marriage, or solve any other kind of problem, you can turn this problem – solution scenario into a great USP.

  4. Brag about quality. Ok this is the really dangerous one. Most claims of quality are empty and vague. But if you can do more than make a generalized claim of excellence and give specifics about how you achieve this quality, you can use quality as your USP. For example, if you use only the very best materials to make your products, or you have instituted a quality control process that is unique in your industry, these might be worth bragging about. If you put your service people through twice as much training as your competitors, or if you are the owner of an auto repair shop who actually telephones each and every customer after a visit to make sure they were satisfied with the service they received, you can brag about these things as well.

    Make sure any claim to quality can be backed up with specifics.

A good USP will stand out in the market place and will give your customers a reason to seek you out and buy from you.COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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I just read a really interesting article by Robert Stover on his blog, Breakthrough Copywriting Ideas, called “The Antidote to 'Howler Monkey' Copy – The Ethos Effect.

“Howler Monkey” means copy that shouts or is full of hype. It sounds phoney or contrived. And it puts a reader's guard up because it lacks believability .. and yet you can't help but trip over examples of over-hyped websites and sales material all over the web.

But the question for most of us who make our livings marketing on the web is how to be persuasive without resorting to extravagant claims.

To answer this, Stover refers us to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who wrote about persuasion in his work “Rhetoric.” Aristotle said there are three tools used by great persuaders.

The first is “Pathos” from which we get our word, “passion.” Pathos refers to emotion. It excites either the fear of pain or loss, or it promises pleasure or gain. Pathos is key to any persuasive copy and is always the core of any sales material worth its salt.

But the danger with Pathos is it can be overdone, resulting in hype. Once that line is crossed, your credibility is gone and cannot be regained.

The second tool is “Logos” from which we get our word, “Logic.”

Logic is never as persuasive as emotion, but in most cases it must be included in good copy. It seldom persuades, but it is always conspicuous if it is absent.

Finally, Aristotle gives us the tool of “Ethos.”

Ethos is character and credibility. Stover points out that your family doctor usually has high ethos, whereas a used car salesman stereotypically has very low ethos. Unfortunately, ethos is often left out of online copy and websites suffer when this important element is missing.

Stover describes two keys to ethos: The first key is when the seller has expertise. The second is when you perceive that the seller has your best interest at heart.

To illustrate these two keys, he gives two examples of financial counselors. One is your brother who has just started a job as a financial advisor. You would probably trust your brother to have your best interests at heart, but you might not consider him to have much in the way of credibility.

On the other hand, you might know of a millionaire stock broker who obviously knows investments and is an expert in his field, but you may not trust him to put your interests above his own.

I don't want to give away everything in Robert Stover's article, so I encourage you to check out “The Antidote to 'Howler Monkey' Copy – The Ethos Effect to read more about the power of Ethos and how to establish it on your own website or marketing materials.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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I suspect Joe Wurzelbacher was ready to fall out of his chair Wednesday night when John McCain used him as an example of why he disagreed with Sen. Barack Obama's tax plan.

Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber," has become an instant celebrity after he asked Obama a question about how the candidate's tax plan would effect him.

But my point here is not to discuss politics, but how putting a face to your ideas and issues can propel them far beyond mere facts or figures can. What McCain did was nothing more complicated than to tell the Ohio plumber's story as a way of getting his political message across.

All of us have messages we want to convey. In business, one of the most compelling stories any company can tell is about quality.

  • Why do your building materials save energy costs?
  • Why do your burgers taste so great?
  • Why do your clients gain so much more than your competitors' clients?

Another persuasive story form is the success story.

Success stories are small vignettes about real people your products or services have helped. They focus on how these people were able to solve their problems because of a business relationship with your company.

Success stories are extremely powerful for the same reason Joe the Plumber's story is a better way to illustrate tax plans. Few of us understand the inner workings of economic policy (although lately it could be argued that we are all becoming experts), but we do understand about people.

When I read about a client who overcame a serious legal problem because of the hard work of his lawyer, I understand (and more importantly, I believe). When I read about a good marriage counselor that was able to help a couple work through their problems and save their marriage, I cheer them on and I form a bond with the people this story was about.

Stories sell because they communicate on a gut level. They let us experience the emotional joy of witnessing a problem being solved and a stressful situation overcome.

So the lesson here is to go out and find your own "Joe the Plumber" story that you can use to help communicate your message. Illustrate your facts and figures with real life examples using real people. Put faces to your communications and they will resonate.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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Let's talk about Sarah Palin and smart marketing.

I think the GOP campaign has committed a major blunder in the way it has gone about "packaging" Gov. Palin. This blunder was very evident in her interviews with Katy Couric and in her debate with Joe Biden.

It has to do with her lack of top level skills in foreign policy. She is obviously a quick study who has done massive amounts of homework on the subject in the few short weeks she has been on the campaign trail. But whether you like her or not, the fact remains that foreign policy is not her strong point.

In the last three decades, there have been four presidents who were governors before they ran for president. By the very nature of the job, a governor does not have a lot of foreign policy experience. It just isn't part of the job they do.

So what these four men have done when they were elected president, was to assemble teams of foreign polciy gurus on their staffs (no I will not get into a discussion about how good these teams were or what decisions they adviced their presidents to make).

No president comes into office with extensive skills in every area of the job. They have to rely on their staffs to help them and advise them.

But what Palin has done has been to make claims that because Alaska is very close to Russia, she has foreign policy experience. No wonder Tina Fey, David Letterman and Jay Leno have had so much fun at her expence.

What if, instead, she had just admitted that governors come along with other skills. What if she had cited Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush to point out that governors have experience as chief executives but not as foreign policy wonks?

By admitting her lack of foreign policy experience, she could have shifted much of the spotlight to her extensive energy experience and to the fact that she is the only person among these four candidates who has ever been a chief executive.

Dan Kennedy, one of the greatest copywriters alive today, even goes so far as to look for flaws, faults and limitations in the products he sells. When he finds them, he highlights them, shouts about them from the roof tops and makes sure his readers know he is not claiming that his product will be all things to all people.

And in so doing, he positions the product so he can talk about its strengths. When a marketer freely admits that her product has a flaw, don't we then "listen up" to find out what the good points about it are?

No one will ever believe a marketer who claims his or her product does everything better than any other product anyway. But a curious thing happens when we admit a flaw. Buyers start paying close attention to the message to find out what the good things are.

Admitting limitations puts more of a focus on the benefits you do claim. And doing this gives you much more credibility in the process.

If you refuse to do this, you may - just may - find yourself being paradied on Saturday Night Live.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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It is no secret that one of the most effective ways to optimize a website is to include your targeted keyword in your site's domain name. For example, if one of your business' targeted keywords is "accounting software," you may want to have www.accountingsoftwaresolutions.com as your domain (by the way, I just checked and this URL has expired so you could grab it now if you are quick enough).

Unfortunately, most of us do not have the luxury of re-naming our websites just to target one keyword, no matter how valuable that specific keyword may be. Most businesses either already have a website or they must target other keywords.

But if I were in the accounting software business, I would still be very interested in grabbing such a domain name because there has to be a lot of people who log into Google and type in "accounting software" as their query.

The solution, is to set up mini-sites, or as a recent article on Dosh Dosh calls them, "Mini-Funnel" Websites. These Mini Funnel sites are actually "slave sites" that exist to answer a single, specific question and feed search engine traffic to a master site.

They get searchers because these mini sites are set up to grab one keyword and then re-direct these visitors to another site that may target many other –related- keywords.

Maki (the author of the Dosh Dosh article) uses an interesting example a site called, Is Barack Obama a Muslim. This site is a one-page site that has the word "NO" printed in big black letters against a stark white background. Visitors who click the word "NO" are directed to an article on www.barackobama.com that addresses smear email campaigns.

The article, How ‘Mini-Funnel’ Websites Can Help You Increase Traffic, Generate Leads and Build Exposure, also points out an interesting twist. The Obama team has also set up companion mini-funnel sites that offer different phrases and even allow for misspellings by searchers.

For example, the site Is Barack Obama Muslim, which leaves out the word "a," has produced even better results than the previous example:

"This particular one ranks the highest on both Yahoo and Google for the ‘is barack obama muslim‘ phrase, taking the no. 1 spot and even outranking Obama’s own official website. This appears to be the most established version of the three; Yahoo site explorer shows that it has 10,762 incoming links."

There is even a version of the site that uses the word "muslin" instead of "Muslim," to accommodate people who may misspell the word when they type in their search engine query.

The lesson here is that mini sites, which target single keywords, can drive massive traffic to your main website. Look for search terms related to your business and set up one-page sites that answer the visitor's question and then provide a link for more information to your main site.

This will allow you to benefit from traffic coming in from many, many different search terms.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Margolis, Director of Marketing, and Yoshi Watanabe, Principle Software Engineer, of Kadient, Inc. Kadient has already been the topic of two previous blog posts I've written, but I was so impressed by how they go about doing business that I asked if I could interview them by telephone.

Kadient makes sales coaching and enablement software that makes the lives of salespeople easier by giving them the content they need, when they need it, depending upon the situation they are in.

One of the constant problems sales executives experience is that their sales people often don't actually use sales support software provided by their companies. If they perceive that the program is too awkward, too hard to learn or gets in the way of actually making sales, most employees will stop using software and go back to doing things the old way.

Mr. Watanabe spoke about how the company in general, and the development teams in particular, underwent a paradigm shift that is unique among technical companies. Traditionally the emphasis is on product excellence. The thinking is that if a company makes the very best, most technically advanced product, the market will come to them.

He said, "It is not uncommon for developers to create products with no idea of how it is used and who is using it and what problems they are having."

This, of course, made me think of the old expression, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." Perhaps this is a great idea in principle, but it ignores the reality of marketing and the necessity to open up two-way communications with customers. It also begs the question of whether the mousetrap is better in just its creators' eyes or in the eyes of those people who are intended to use it.

Mr. Watanabe describes how Kadient's paradigm shift began. "We asked ourselves: Ok we've built our software (the first version). Does it really help the users solve their problems? And after getting feedback from users, we had to admit that the answer was no. It was confusing and cumbersome to the users and didn’t solve some of their major painpoints."

The system, they realized, was the center of their focus – not the end users' needs.

So Kadient shifted their thinking from just product development to "User Stories." They brought together people who had daily contact with actual customers and users, product managers, developers and the marketing team for a two and a half day session.

Everyone who represented users and had contact with them were given index cards to describe what users wanted, not just when it came to the product, but also in day to day life. For instance, a sales rep is working with 20 prospects at a time and may not remember every status. They may also be a young professional always on the go and needs things to be quick and easy.. At the end of the session they had produced 100s of index cards with statements about what their users wanted.

These wants, of course, were then shown to actual customers, users and buyers within the companies they serviced for further refinement.

This led to an understanding that some users wanted some things while other users wanted different things. With this understanding, Kadient created several different "buyer personas" to help them make each of these buyer needs more personal.

For example, one of their buyer personas is a sales rep named "Anya." Anya is a successful sales person for a financial services company who has been in the top 10% for the last five quarters. Her goal is to do less of her own administrative tasks and free herself to spend more face time with actual customers.

"Luke" on the other hand is a 25 year old with sales talent but is not achieving the company's expectations for him. He needs a system that will help him build a better pipeline of prospects and needs help understanding these prospects' needs.

Obviously, Kadient has many other buyer personas, but Anya and Luke illustrate how they have put effort into personalizing the needs and goals of two types of end users. But it is what Kadient does next that really seems to set them apart.

Ms. Margolis said, "We segment a market, but then we go a step further above and beyond."

In company meetings it is not uncommon to hear conversations that begin with, "What would Anya do?" or "What would Luke do?"

In other words, they don't think of their buyer personas as mere segments of their marketplace, they think of them as actual people. Composites of many similar users, but people nevertheless.

They have created life-sized cardboard cutouts of Anya and Luke that get moved around within Kadient's building. One day they can be in a conference room, another day in the lunch room, and another in someone's cubicle. The idea is to get to "know" Anya and Luke as if they were real people.

And it is not just the marketing people who are tuned in with these personas. "The thing that I am the most impressed with is how the engineering and product development people have embraced the concept of buyer personas and user personas. It makes our sales, marketing and development teams much more in-tuned with each other," said Ms. Margolis.

So what kinds of results have these ideas delivered? The day before our conversation, Ms. Margolis was interviewing a buyer with one of their customer companies. This customer will save $500,000 that couldn't have been realized if the product wasn't actually being used.

The feedback she gave Ms. Margolis was that, "They employees keep talking about how easy Kadient's software is to use."

Perhaps that is the greatest testament Kadient could have had.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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I just posted a new ebook I've been working on for small business owners and professionals who need to increase sales or attract new clients.

This new ebook is free and can be downloaded at How To Increase Your Sales With Non-Spam Email Marketing.

I've done a lot of work with lawyers and law firms, as well as "brick and mortor" small business owners, and have seen them spending an inordinate amount of money on useless advertising that produces disappointing results. In response, How To Increase Your Sales With Non-Spam Email Marketing was written to give them the tools of Permission Marketing, email marketing, information products, direct response advertising and direct response web sites.

I absolutely believe that almost all businesses can double their sales using these marketing tools.

So if you are a small business owner or professional who wants to attract more business, be sure to download your free copy. Using these methods, you really can double your sales - and I can prove it.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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As I listened to Hillary Clinton's speech last week in the Democratic Convention (I know, I have been drawing a lot of marketing lessons from the presidential race, but I promise not to turn this into a political blog), I was struck by how often she weaved "case studies" into her speech.

She talked about a single mom who had adopted two children with disabilities and then lost her job. She also talked about a young marine who was worried about his buddies who were still over in Iraq. And she talked about people who were worried about getting needed healthcare for their families.

I've noticed that Mrs. Clinton has done this often over the course of this campaign. The people she talks about are real people she has met along the campaign trail.

Ronald Reagan did this too. Many of his speeches were laced with stories about actual people who were facing incredible challenges.

And you have to admit that regardless of your political persuasions, the use of these "case studies" makes for effective communications.

Now let me tell you the wrong way to do this. There is a personal injury lawyer who advertises extensively here in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. Imagine the most annoying, most grating lawyer ads you've ever heard. Well this guy is worse.

He calls himself "The Texas Hammer" and he promises to "fight for you to get you the money you need." (Sigh).

Anyway, he also lists some of the recent cases he has one. Well actually he lists the dollar amounts of the awards he has won. He tells very little about the clients themselves as human beings. He might say they injured their leg or wrist or whatever, but no information about them as people that would make us sympathize with them or relate to them.

In other words, they are presented as dollar figures, not as people who were helped out of a difficult problem.

Don't make this mistake.

I've seen a lot of case studies that do the same thing. The subjects are presented as cardboard, lifeless characters who are little more than extras in their own movie.

But readers want to connect with the people they are reading about. Allow readers to experience the emotions and problems of your case studies subjects. Delve into their fears, the raw emotional nerves of their troubles. THEN when you show how they escaped from these problems, the reader will cheer for their happy ending as they would for a dramatic movie.

Hillary won 18 million votes, and I have to wonder if a lot of them were a result of her ability to tell compelling stories about our fellow citizens. And if it works in politics, it will also work in business.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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Several years ago, I lived in Atlanta during the last big economic downturn (the dot com bust may ring a bell).

I decided to use my marketing skills for a local job networking group and I volunteered to teach a job search class for a group of managers and professionals who were out of work and very, very scared.

Many of these people had lost six-figure jobs and had mortgage payments to match their previous incomes. Did I mention that they were scared?

The one lesson I taught them was that they were all solutions to some problem.

Employers do not hire in order to give someone a job. They hire people in order to solve problems. So what someone in search of a job must do is understand and articulate what problems they were very good at solving.

That became our class mantra: "What problem(s) are you VERY good at solving?"

It took a while for most of these folks to break free of their corporate jargon or to articulate this beyond their previous company or industry cultures. What I urged them to do was to see themselves not as job applicants but as walking, talking, breathing solutions.

These solution statements had to be slightly generic enough to be transferrable across industries, but specific enough to position the person as unique and valuable.
Only when they made this mental shift could they convince employers that they could solve certain problems if this individual was hired.

Think about your product or service. What problem is your company very good at solving? Don't make this bland and generic (Case in point: is a Dallas law firm that claims they are the firm to hire "when the results really matter." Who hires a law firm when the results don't matter?).

Right now, two political candidates are running for President and they are both busy articulating how they are both solutions to problems. In a very real sense, they are running for the office of "Solution in Chief."

Can you afford to do any less?

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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I just read an article by Erica Stritch in Rain Today that 69% of buyers who are considering hiring a professional services firm will visit a company's web site before making a decision to do business.

This statistic just adds one more compelling reason to make sure your web site delivers the kind of content that will engage and persuade your visitors.

The days of just slapping up a brochure on the web or filling your site with empty "mission statement" language are over (if they ever exited). Whether you are a professional services firm or not, the point is that you cannot afford to make your web site an afterthought.

How can you make your site engaging and persuasive? Here are a few ideas"

  • Pay attention to the search terms people typed into a search engine that led visitors to your site. This is a great clue to tell you what people are looking for and what questions they want answered. Make sure your site delivers this information.
  • Build your site around what your visitors want to know, what problems they want to solve or what questions they want answered - rather than what you want to sell. Check out my article You're Really Just Selling Aspirin for more on how to do this.
  • Make sure the home page offers visitors clear choices to click based on those questions they want answered or problems they want to solve that I mentioned above. It is fine to have product or services choices for those who have already visited your site or who are ready to buy, but most people want information first.
  • Do I have to mention benefits? Of course I do because 90% of web sites I visit are written by people who wouldn't know a benefit if it bit them on the nose. If you have trouble distinguishing between features and benefits, substitute "solutions," "answers" or "changes" for the word "benefit."
  • Use your site as a lead generation machine. Give visitors a reason a REASON to give you their email address. Offer something valuable and free (usually some information product words best). Most people will not return to your site unless you contact them later with more of the information they sought in the first place.
  • What you say in your meta tags does matter. True it has little impact on getting search engine traffic, but it is also what people see when your site comes up in their search results. This will go a long way toward getting them to click onto your site. BUT it also tells them what to expect when they arrive, so don't le them down.
  • Include case studies. The actual success stories of your existing customers will not only give people confidence about doing business with you, it will help them understand what you do and what problems you can solve.

None of us can take for granted the importance of our web sites. When over two-thirds of our potential clients check us out online as part of their decision-making process, no business can afford to gamble with a bad impression.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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Will you permit me to stick my toe into the political waters for this post? I think there is a lesson to be learned from the Obama Marketing Machine that any business can apply (even if you are a die-hard John McCain supporter)....

And before I go any further, if you think I am going to tell you MY political leanings here, don't hold your breath. The world does not have enough ten-foot poles for me to get involved in THAT discussion.

...In the weeks running up to his announcement of his Vice Presidential choice (in case you've been living in a cave, he chose Joe Biden), the Obama team used the suspense to collect email and text addresses (ie telephone numbers). In actual fact, he merely added to an already very large list that has been gathered for many months during the primary season.

The promise was that if you opted in to his list, you would get a broadcast message as soon as he announced his running mate.

Now what do you suppose he can do with this reportedly huge (I mean HUGE) list? In the business world, we often hear that "the money is in the list."

It is no different in the political world either.

Obama's list is being used to raise funds and to get volunteers out to spread the word. As November draws near, the people on this list will also be contacted to get out to vote.

This is one reason why I think many of Obama's voters will come from a tech savvy crowd that may be missed by traditional polling. There are a lot of people, particularly in younger age groups, that do not own regular phones and only use their cell phones. But I digress.

The lesson for businesses is to gather those email addresses and phone numbers. There is power in a list of people who have volunteered to be receive your emails and calls. It's the old Permission Marketing thing again, but the ability to click a mouse and reach out to masses of people who wanted to be added to your list cannot be overstated.

Suppose your business is hitting a slump for some reason. Imagine just sending an email broadcast about a special buy-one-widget-get-the-second-widget-free offer. Such an email costs you nothing, but can delver huge results.

Or what if what you sell usually takes people a while to make up their minds? By sending weekly emails that describe a different benefit in each message, you add to your marketing power by constant reminders.

And what if you simply want to turn one time customers into repeat customers? It is so much easier and less expensive to market to people who have already done business with you once than to keep advertising to get new customers. Email marketing campaigns can get people to come back through your doors over and over again.

So make an all-out effort to gather email addresses from everyone who visits your web site, comes into your place of business or even calls you on the telephone. If even a small percentage opt into your list, you will soon find it is your most valuable asset.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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A few years ago, before I ever got into this marketing and copywriting business, a friend of mine mentioned a problem she was having. She owned a high-end beauty salon in an upscale area of Atlanta. Business was great except for two very slow times each year,

The first was right after Christmas. January and February were slow for her business every single year. Her customers who usually got their hair done every two or three weeks or so, now came in every three or four weeks. That may not sound like much, but when all her customers did this, it represented a huge decrease in her business.

The second slow period was the summer. Her customers tended to take long vacations and her business suffered accordingly.

I suggested that she set up an incentive program to capture email addresses from her customers. Offer to send them health and beauty tips as well as special promotions and discounts by email.

She did just that and had all the beauticians and nail technicians in her salon promote the email list. Every month she sent out advice on health and beauty to her customers and her emails were well received. She also scattered a few emails offering discounts and special promotions (one I think was a free pedicure when someone came in to do her hair).

Guess what? She wiped out those two slow periods in her business completely. She timed some really great offers for the early months of the year and during the summer and actually increased her business during those times.

Here's another example: An rock group in Austin, Texas has built an email list by offering five free mp3 downloads of some of their songs to people who attend their concerts.

Because they are in a downloadable format, this costs the group nothing but it is still a valuable incentive to get people to sign up.

The list gets a regular email letting fans know when and where the group will be playing and sometimes offers discounts to the people who are on the list. This helps the group get bigger venues because the promoters can see the group is bringing in its own audience.

And at each performance, the group signs up more fans to its email list.

The list is also how the group sells its CDs because they are still small enough that their music is not sold at major retailers.

Finally the emails send fans to the group's YouTube videos and to its Facebook and My Space sites.

Then there is a restaurant I heard about in Florida. 99% of its business comes from tourists so you might think there is no point in collecting email addresses from these people. Right? Well not so fast.

First, the restaurant gives a discount offer for opting into the email list, which often gets people to come back for a second meal before they leave.

Also, this restaurant is known for its bread. It is mouth watering, awesome bread that people cannot resist. So as a back-end business, the restaurant has set up a mail order service to send this bread by FedEx to their customers once they get back home.

This in turn builds word of mouth. "When you go down to Miami (actually I'm not sure where in Florida this place is), be sure to go to ____, they have bread that is to die for."

Additionally, what if the restaurant signed up as an affiliate for some of the online travel sites like Expedia and Priceline? Their customers are travelers who are very likely to travel again. They could earn affiliate commissions by sending special promotions to this list.

As we in the online marketing community know, "the money is in the list." But the same potential is there for offline, brick and mortar companies as well. It just takes a little imagination to get the ball rolling.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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If white papers and case studies were siblings, the white paper would be the older, serious-minded member of the family, while the case study would be the younger, creative one who tends to color outside of the lines.

And yet, I would argue they are both members of the same family and are essential tools in making a complex sale.

Imagine you are an executive with a company that needs to buy a software program to solve certain problems. Your job depends on your due diligence and your attention to detail. When you make your presentation to the board, you had better have all your facts together with every possible "i" dotted and "t" crossed.

But that said, buying decisions, even at that level, are based on emotions.

This is why companies that only produce white papers, or companies that produce dry "business school style" case studies are missing the point. Even high-level board members are people too with all the emotions of an individual consumer.

I am constantly urging my clients to include fiction-writing techniques like suspense, characters and plots into their case studies. The more your case study looks (and more importantly feels) like a feature article the better.

In fact if you want an example of what a really effective case study should look like, read the Wall Street Journal's middle column on its front page for a week. All of these middle column articles are features and many of them are case studies about companies that overcame - or are presently struggling with - serious challenges.

And they almost always include characters, suspense and plots.

Stories sell. But dry, emotionless case studies of the type many marketers learned in business school, are a kiss of death. The writers of such case studies might as well have just written another white paper. But then, the white paper format does a far better job of presenting purely factual information.

If you only want to appeal to the buyer's logical side, you are better off sticking with white papers.

So use the combined power of both "siblings" in your marketing. Let your white papers distill raw information, present the hard facts and persuade by logic and reasoning.

And let your wilder, creative case studies color outside the lines a little bit.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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I just read a really great article by John Jantsch in his "Duct Tape Marketing" blog that shows how storytelling can be used to promote even the most unlikely of products.

The article, which is called Blogging Customer Stories, is about a New Hampshire Sign Making company named Lincoln Sign Company.

What Lincoln Signs does that is unique is they blog about the process of creating custom signs for their customers. As they put it, "we are using our blog to sell the EXPERIENCE of getting a sign.” As they blog about a customer's sign, they are, of course, giving the customer additional exposure, but they are also creating a case study about the sign and the details of making it.

For Lincoln Sign Company, they benefit because they create web content, get traffic from search engines, and enhance to value of their signs. Here are some more quotes from Lincoln Sign Company's blog:

"It has been said that the best marketing one can have is for a customer to want to tell your story to someone else. We want to provide a tool to help people tell a story about your business."

“At the end , you get more than a sign, you get a sign, AND the story of how that sign was made.”

"Telling the story of these signs being made educates a potential customer about the process and care that is taken in presenting their "brand" to the world. There are days we wish we could give anyone thinking about purchasing a sign a tour of our shop, and this weblog is our opportunity to do just that."

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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