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
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

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
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

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
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

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
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

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
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

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
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Many non profits have learned that case studies and stories are great ways to promote their cause. Stories about impoverished children being fed and receiving medical care, or disaster victims getting new homes and a chance to start over, or orphaned and abandoned children being adopted into loving homes, all make compelling ways to present the non profit's mission.

But what about donors and volunteers?

Don't think for a moment that the people who write checks or those who hammer nails under a hot sun, don't receive great rewards for what they do.

These people have compelling stories too that can be used to raise more funds and enlist more volunteers.

Think for a moment what donors and volunteers "get out of" their experience with a worthy non profit cause. Here are two that come to mind right away:

  • The emotional benefits can be life changing. I read about Prince William of England and how he spent one summer several years ago cleaning toilets and serving impoverished communities in South America. In an interview, he literally gushed about how the experience had made him a new person.
  • The reputation building can be dramatic. Again, I have to think that the image of Prince Will cleaning toilets had to be the best "PR" the future monarch could ever have. I don't at all mean to be cynical here, but I cannot doubt that the British people have never looked at the young prince in the same way since. Imagine how beneficial such publicity might be for a person or company in need of great publicity. You literally cannot buy advertising that works as well.

Non profits have important stories to tell. Although many use the dry old "just the facts" way of telling about their mission, enlightened non profits are learning to tell it with stories and case studies.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Casey Hibbard just wrote an article on her blog called, Relieving reference customers - Give 'em a break!, that opened my eyes to a new reason companies need to be using case studies.

When we've done good work for a customer, all of us naturally want to use that business or individual as a reference. The customers, for their part, are still feeling a warm glow as a result of your product or service finally solving their problem. So they just as naturally agree to be your reference.

So far so good.

But what happens when that customer starts getting 10 to 50 calls a week? Not so good.

Naming a satisfied customer as a reference produces short term rewards because that customer will eventually weary of telling prospects how wonderful you are ... especially when the mere mention of your company is beginning to send them diving under their desks.

In the course of writing many a case study, Casey has discovered that many of these satisfied customers are GLAD to be the focus of a success story because it means these phone calls will finally come to an end.

Want to keep your best, most satisfied customers' stories fresh and compelling? Then turn their experience into a case study, and give them a break on all the reference telephone calls.

Check out Casey's article at: Relieving reference customers - Give 'em a break!

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Every week I look forward to getting my Wednesday email from Marcia Yudkin when she sends out her Marketing Minute.

I'm not sure if it is accurate to call Marketing Minute a newsletter since, as the name implies, it is a very short, one page marketing idea.

These pithy little ideas have really been helpful to me over time. Not everything applies to what I do, but they almost always stimulate my thoughts and send me off on some tangent of creativity. Many of my articles and blog posts grew out of ideas I have learned from Marcia.

So I really endorse and recommend that you subscribe to Marcia Yudkin's Marketing Minute and give yourself a reason to look forward to your Wednesday email.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

I just read a free ebook I want to recommend to you on how to use storytelling techniques in ads and other marketing copy.

The ebook, The Greatest Marketing Secrets of the Ages, is by the legendary online marketing guru Yanik Silver.

It is basically a history of direct marketing and advertising writing by some of the historic copywriters in the past. What really jumped out at me was how many of these classic ads were presented in the form of stories. And even those that didn't had a "backstory" that seemed to exist behind the actual copy.

For example, he talks about Max Sackheim, who wrote the classic ad "Do You Make These Mistakes In English?" This ad selling a mail order English grammer course, was so successful that it ran for 40 straight years.

It was basically a story about a man who was embarassed by his poor grammer and this course helped him comport himself with greater dignity and earned him a promotion.

The book also mentions two ads which sold mail order food that were supposedly written in the words of the fisherman and grapefruit grower whose meticulous standards provided their customers with outstanding product.

Then there is the story of Claude Hopkins who turned Van Camp's pork and beans into a money machine. At the time, only 6% of housewives cooked store-bought canned beans. The other 94% cooked their beans at home (it takes about 16 hours to prepare beans, and even then the result is usually crispy beans on top and mushy beans below).

What Hopkins did was to tell the story of the process Van Camp's used to select their beans, how they used soft water in the cooking process, how the skins were made less tough by using lime, and how the steam ovens they used were sealed to keep the flavor in.

This was a story, and it was hugely successful in getting housewives to buy Van Camp's pork and beans.

There are also examples of how storytelling has been used to sell Ethan Allen furniture, overcoats, magazine subscriptions and books.

I should point out that Yanik does use this free ebook as a platform to sell his own products, but that doesn't get in the way of conveying some very useful information.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

What is the difference between writing web content and web copywriting?

There are two very different styles of writing that you may find on a web site. "Web content" refers to the purely informative text that you may read.

"Web copywriting," on the other hand, refers to the purely persuasive writing that is designed to get a reader to take action (usually to buy something, but sometimes to opt onto a list or subscribe to a newsletter, join a membership or schedule an appointment).

And as with just about everything else in life, there are gray areas between the two. Sometimes they will overlap and often you will see elements of both styles on a single web site.

Let's start by imagining why someone has come to your web site.

Chances are they did not come to be sold something. Except for entertainment and adult sites, most visitors go online to find out information (and since I don't deal with those two exceptions, I'll just talk about the information seekers here).

So we can safely assume that this person who is visiting your site has come to get answers to questions and/or solutions to problems. All of this means that you are a provider of information.

If you provide good information (ie content) to this visitor, you may later have the opportunity to persuade him or her to buy from you (via persuasive copywriting).

The reason for this is that providing good information is persuasive all by itself. Whey you answer questions and educate your visitor, that person will perceive you as an expert and a knowledgeable source. You also build up credibility and trust, which removes many of the objections and doubts a potential buyer might have about you.

On the other hand, some sites do very well with pure copywriting. For examples of this, visit Clickbank is a directory of digital products that refers you to one-page web sites that look and feel just like direct mail pieces.

Some of these pages are very well-written examples of pure web copywriting. They promote a single product and give you every reason in the world to buy it. These sites are not about providing information (although they often give you just enough information to arouse your curiosity), they are about selling a product.

And I would argue that there is nothing wrong with this. Many bigger companies that offer a variety of products or services might do well to have such sales pages (that look and feel a little like direct mail pieces) within their sites. After the site has provided lots of content and information, additional links can send visitors to a variety of sales pages to get visitors to take action.

A key to writing for a web site is to mix these two styles together. As you provide informative content, don't make it difficult for the person who suddenly decides to buy. Make sure your "Buy Now" links are clearly visible and have tabs that can lead them to other parts of your site without going back to the home page.

Within a single article you can write informative content and also give your visitors REASONS to take action or buy. You can paint pictures of a better tomorrow if they use your product, you can proactively answer objections and you can begin building agreement that certain solutions are the answers to their problems.

Writing web content and web copywriting are both arts and sciences. But they both begin with understanding who your visitors are and what they want.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Just today I wrote an email to a potential client who wants to improve her organization's web site. I wrote her that some of the best "patterns" for great home pages are the covers of popular magazines. (Actually web site owners would do well to pattern their entire sites after really popular magazines, but I am only talking about the home page here).

You may laugh, but pick up a copy of Cosmo the next time you are going through your grocery store checkout line. The teaser headlines for the articles inside do two things:

  1. They arouse intense curiosity, and
  2. The curiosity the headlines arouse hits readers' "What's-In-It-For-Me" buttons.

Most web sites have a variety of different types of visitors with different needs, questions and wants. Your home page, therefore, should provide links that appeal to each of these needs, questions and wants that lead visitors down pathways which ultimately lead them to take action.

The actions are up to you. They can be to subscribe to a newsletter, opt in to an autoresponder list, request free information, contact your company, or buy right now.

Between the home page link and the desired action is a pathway that I refer to as a "trail of breadcrumbs." Each crumb is a reward to the visitor for staying with you this far. Generally these rewards are problem-solving information, case studies or other interesting and informative content.

Pull out all the stops when developing content for your visitors. David Meerman Scott refers to this as "thinking like a publisher." To go back to the magazine article analogy, if you really know who your visitors are, and what their needs, questions and wants are, you can then produce all kinds of content that appeals to these people.

One of the biggest mistakes though is to limit your content to only things related to what you sell.

Begin at the other end of the transaction. Begin with the people who come to your site, instead of what you want to sell to them.

A great example of this is a public speaker named J.P. Maroney, who was interviewed by Ben Settle at How To Super-Charge Your Marketing With Public Speaking.

When Maroney first started public speaking, he owned a publication that targeted retirees. How he went about selling advertising for this publication is very instructive for any of us developing good web content.

He went to local organizations speaking on the topic of doing business with the senior market. He did not talk about advertising to seniors, but gave business people insights and information about seniors and how to sell to them. What their needs were, how they made their buying decisions, how to build up trust, etc.

At the end of almost every presentation, he had people come up to him to advertise in his publication.

This is the kind of content marketers need to produce more of. We've all seen articles by insurance salespeople about how to select the right car insurance. Such content comes off as self-serving and really only appeals to the person who is actively looking to buy car insurance right now.

But what if the same agent wrote about:
  • auto safety,
  • how to select car seats for small children,
  • safety tips for driving in bad weather,
  • what to put into an auto emergency kit,
  • how women can protect themselves from predators if their car breaks down at night,
  • how to check tires for dangerous wear,
  • how to safely change a tire,
  • a comparison of the best auto clubs,
  • frequently asked questions about auto insurance,
  • how to make sure your teenage driver is safe,
  • AND how to select the right auto insurance

This agent has written about concerns that affect her potential customers, not just thinly disguised sales information.

In addition, this agent's web site will be a RESOURCE that her target audience will come back to because she produced content that was (cliché alert) outside the box.

So go back to your home page and look at it as the beginning of a trail of breadcrumbs. Lead your visitors down these pathways toward actions by providing them with content that appeals to their needs, questions and wants.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Jill Knorath writes an consistently excellent blog called Selling to Big Companies that is a constant source of great information about, well, selling to big companies.

There is an entirely different dynamic when your customers are large organizations with various levels of decision makers (usually that means levels of people who can say "no" but very few who can say "yes").

One of Jill's current projects is called "Sales SheBang 2008," which she will be hosting in Minneapolis September 23-24. She has assembled a very high quality group of speakers for this event that would be very hard to match in any other setting.

If you are a woman in sales, or know a woman in sales, check out Jill's blog and the link to the Sales SheBang.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

For anyone looking for a wealth of information on social media and marketing online, Chris Brogan has compiled a list of 20 Free ebooks About Social Media (I'm thrilled to see my own ebook, The Plot Thickens: Why Case Studies Create New Customers, is listed among such great company).

As one person commented on his blog, "This is a treasure chest." Many of these ebooks are just outstanding and really give some rock solid information.

Check them out.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Larry Bodine, who writes the Law Marketing Blog wrote an interesting piece this week called, Evidence That Yellow Pages Are Trash.

As you probably know, lawyers and law firms are among the most prolific Yellow Page advertisers. Larry mentions that in his local pages, lawyer ads run from page 497 to 538, with little to distinguish themselves other than pictures of gavels and scales of justice.

Sigh. This means I am going to have to get on my lawyer-marketing soapbox again.

As many of you know, I used to be a lawyer and one of my peeves is how poorly lawyers and other professionals market their services.

Frankly I believe this is one of the reasons practicing law is such a high-pressure profession. Poor marketing leads to taking on bad clients with bad cases who leave swaths of stress and frustration in their wake. Many of the cases and clients in a lot of lawyers' files are there simply because they couldn't afford to be selective.

Good marketing enables all professionals to be selective and lets them work with the people they really want to work with.

Back to Larry's article. Larry looked out his window one morning and saw what appeared to be a bag of trash laying in his front yard. When he went out to throw it away, he found it was the local Yellow Pages. His point is that the lawyers who bought expensive ads probably would not have preferred to have it presented as trash in someone's front yard.

I will grant Larry's point that Yellow Pages could be presented much better, but my mind took what he said and went off on its own direction. I believe Yellow Page advertising could be productive for professionals if they were handled better.

Instead of cookie-cutter ads with gavels, scales of justice or pictures of stern looking lawyers, why not use these ads to offer free information kits on different areas of the law?

For example, if I were looking for a lawyer to handle my medical malpractice case, do you think I would be attracted to an ad that listed medical malpractice within a laundry list of other specialties? Or do you think I would gravitate to an ad that offered a free booklet or case study on medical malpractice?

This is the difference between one-step vs. two-step advertising strategies.

Decades of direct response advertising and generations of copywriters have proven that two-step advertising, in which a person merely has to request free information, almost always gets a higher response.

Alternatively, a one-step ad which requires that the person must call a phone number to schedule an appointment, requires much more of a commitment on the person's part, and therefore gets a much lower response.

Two-step advertising requires less of an initial commitment on the part of the potential client, but gives the firm the opportunity to build a list of prospective clients and follow up with these people with subsequent mailings or emails.

These days, the term, Permission Marketing is used interchangeably with "two-step advertising." The ad's sole purpose under this strategy is to gather a list of prospects and follow up with them by offering valuable, free information. Repeated contact with potential clients who have opted onto a list invariably converts more of them into actual clients.

What kind of information can be offered both as the initial inducement to opt in or as follow up material? Problem-solving information pieces like white papers, list articles, FAQs, or case studies all make excellent free info products.

The added benefit with these materials is that they all position the lawyer or other professional as an expert in that area of their practice. They go from someone who just mentioned "medical malpractice" as one of several areas within a laundry list, to someone who is knowledgeable enough to have written material about it.

So, Larry Bodine's point is very well taken that Yellow Page ads may lack a lot in their presentation, but I would urge professionals who do Yellow Page advertising to simply write ads that are intended to build lists of prospective clients.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Casey Hibbard about her experience and views on writing b2b case studies. Casey has written over 450 "customer success stories," as case studies are sometimes called, and also writes about how to use case studies as b2b marketing tools on her blog, Casey Hibbard's Stories That Sell.

Q: What kinds of companies have you written case studies for?

A: 90% of my customers are high tech companies,mostly software companies. I have also
written and managed case studies for non-tech companies like consultants, non-profits, insurance and employee benefit companies. I also have a client that is a
tree care company.

Q: A tree care company?

A: Yes, they were originally the customer and subject of another company's case study and liked the idea. They now use case studies to show how they handle tree care for large companies.

Q: What advice can you give a company that has never used case studies but wants to promote itself?

A: There are dozens of ways to use case studies. One company I know uses very short customer success stories that fit on post cards they send out. The Make-A-Wish Foundation plays recordings for callers that are on hold of children telling about their wishes being granted.

Of course, case studies also make good web content, and handouts for trade shows. They make excellent PR materials, but for some reason they really are
underused as PR pieces. Also, I know a graphic design company that no longer uses a brochure and instead shows customers a printed booklet full of customer success

Q: Why do you think case studies are so persuasive when other marketing tools like advertising and direct mail have difficulty producing results?

A: I wrote an article on my blog recently about what kinds of communications people trust. First were the recommendations of friends and family. But the second most trusted form of business communication was "strangers with experience." Case
studies fill a niche that nothing else can fill (credibility, education and validation). Many other forms of business communication have one or two of
these elements but not all three.

Also we all love to read about people. Stories also bring abstract concepts like technology to life. A reader can see a solution in action when they read a story.
Contrast this with a brochure, where readers may have difficulty picturing how it might help their situation.

Q: There are two schools of thought when it comes to writing case studies. One uses the traditional business school format of challenge, solution and results. The other recommends writing case studies that resemble magazine or newspaper feature rticles.
Which do you believe is most effective?

A: Definitely the feature article format. I try to move clients away from using the traditional format and toward something that more resembles a story. An added advantage to the feature story is that it makes the case study a better PR tool. Media outlets are more likely to pick them up if they are in a form that is more interesting to their readers.

Q: I understand you have a book that will be out soon, can you tell us about it?

A: It is called, "Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset," and it will be coming out this fall. I try to cover the complete process of writing customer success stories, from identifying the best customers to write about, how to approach these customers, interviewing, managing the approval process, using the stories. I spent a year interviewing companies about their best practices and have included about 20 stories of companies that have been successful using case studies. It comes out this fall.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Visit most web sites and you get a product or service pushed down your throat right from the beginning. These companies think that if they tell you what products they sell or what services they offer, you will pick one and everyone will live happily ever after.

I disagree.

I have been writing a bit lately about David Meerman Scott's idea of creating (or discovering might be a better word to use here) the "buyer personas" of people who might potentially use your product or service. I believe the best web sites begin with the visitor's problem or want and leads them to the product or service that solves that problem or want.

A web site should be like a doctor's appointment. The doctor asks questions, listens to your complaint, runs a few tests, makes a diagnosis and them prescribes a pill.

Now I don't know about you, but if I came into a doctor's office and I was handed a prescription before the doctor ran those tests and asked those questions, I would turn around and leave. Wouldn't you?

But that is exactly what most (dare I say 99.99999% or them?) web sites do. One-size-fits-all solutions are handed out or the visitor is expected to diagnose herself immediately upon landing on the home page.

Here's a better way:

  1. The visitor does a search on Google, Yahoo or some other search engine.

  2. Based upon whatever search term this person typed into the search engine, he or she is given several choices, one of which (your site) seems to fit what this person is looking for and this site gets clicked.

  3. Upon arriving, the visitor is not confronted with a lot of product or service information (although tabs are displayed for those who already know what they want or who have visited this site before). Nor is this person faced with a lot of self-serving puffery about the company. Instead, a diagnostic menu is prominently displayed to help the visitor self-select him or herself as one of your company's buyer personas. (For an example, see, which displays a menu under the heading "What Are Your Objectives?).

  4. Once this visitor makes this initial choice, they are led down a pathway that provides lots of problem-solving information designed for this particular buyer persona.

  5. The visitor continues down this pathway, gathering information, reading case studies and persuasive content that leads to the sale of the appropriate product or service.

Consider how different this is from most sites you visit.

Think about this, when that doctor hands you a prescription after asking all kinds of diagnostic question and running a number of tests on you, does she have to "sell" you on that medicine? Does your doctor have to persuade you in any way to follow her advice after she has spent a lot of effort analyzing your illness?

Of course not. When a credible diagnostic process precedes a product or service recommendation, there is much less resistance to the solution that is offered in the end.

Do you know of any sites that follow this diagnostic-first approach? I am writing a new book on writing better web content and I am looking for good examples of sites that begin with a buyer personal menu.

Please let me know of any suggestions you may have.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
Add to Onlywire
Add to Technorati Favorites

Newer Posts Older Posts Home

Blogger Template by Blogcrowds