Content Marketing Files: What Cartman Gets Wrong About Authority

“You will respect my authority!” yells Eric Cartman in “South Park.”

Does it work? Not so much.

You can't demand authority. You must earn it.

You can’t demand authority. You must earn it.

What Cartman doesn’t get is that authority is earned, not demanded.

So how could Cartman do a better job of earning it? By considering these few points.

• Saying you’re an authority doesn’t make it so.
Cartman’s demand for authority? Pathetic. He has no evidence to back up his claim of being authoritative. In content writing, you have to demonstrate what you know. So if you’re knowlegeable about how to write blogs, you start writing blogs about how to write blogs. Copyblogger’s Brian Clark and Sonia Simone became authoritative through writing and sharing what they knew.

• You have to know what you’re talking about. At least a little.
Cartman is, to put it politely, full of it. So be sure if you want to write about something you know a little about, learn more about it. The Web is bursting with fascinating information. So use it.

It's not all about me.

It’s all about me.

• Don’t make it all about you.
Cartman is all about his own needs. Effective content marketing isn’t about what you need or propping up your own ego. But in content marketing, to coin a phrase, there is no “U.” It’s all about “them,” your audience, and their needs.

• Be helpful.
Can you remember Cartman ever helping out Kyle or Kenny, his South Park friends? Maybe, but only to con them into helping him. Give without expecting to receive. Do you know how to boost shoe sales? The best times to get discounts on European travel? How to cook the perfect omelet? If you know anything that could help other people learn something or do something better, write about that.

Share and share alike.

Share and share alike.

• Share generously.
One major reason Cartman would be an abysmal content marketer is that he doesn’t share. But as a content writer, you know that new information or a unique take on an old idea have no value to the world just sitting inside your own head. So share what you know or have learned, so others can benefit.

• Accept what others share, too.
Cartman has half of this right. He’s willing to take, only he doesn’t give back. “Share and share alike” is the way to build relationships and networks of people who know about lots of things. Tap into their knowledge, learn, and grow.

Honesty counts. A lot.

Honesty means never having to say, “Oops, I lied.”

• Be honest.
Cartman schemes and lies to get what he wants. There’s a script that says the South Park kids have to hang out with him. But in the real world, if you abuse people’s trust, they’ll run from you, never to return. Worse still, they’ll tell all their friends about your misdeeds, and all of them will run from you, too. So treasure people’s trust and hold it sacred.

• Be respectful.
Cartman, respectful? Nope. If you want to earn authority, treat others as you would want them to treat you. With respect, kindness, good vibes, and support. Respect their intelligence and humanity, and they’ll respect yours.

So in summary, it’s clear that Cartman is a total loss as a content marketer, and that his authority is worth exactly zilch. But yours will be priceless if you think of everything Cartman does—and do the exact opposite.

And one final point, perhaps the one point that floats above all of the others:

Be yourself.

Rock on!


Value who you are. And be your authentic self. Your best self. That’s the surest way to begin to earn authority. And if you’re not really sure who your self is, start writing. Sooner or later, your authentic voice will emerge. And you’ll be stronger for it.

What Can a Dog & a Cat Tell You About Content Marketing?

Alfie

Alfie

Think about your dog, Alfie. He’s all about pleasing you. You say, “Fetch,” and he jumps to it. Say “Sit” or “Stay,” and he obeys. When you want to play, wave a squeaky toy at him, and he’s all over it. And above all, Alfie is loyal to you. Even if you forget to feed him one morning, he’ll forgive you and love you. See, Alfie is other-directed, and you are the other.

Your content marketing target audience

Your content marketing target audience

Now think about your cat, Mittens. She’s all about pleasing herself. Oh, sure, she’ll rub up against you, but only to get you to pet her. Tell Mittens to “fetch,” and she’ll stare at you coolly and stalk away. And don’t even think about telling Mittens to sit or stay. She only does what she wants to, because she’s completely self-directed.

So your dog, Alfie, is the old model of the customer in traditional advertising. Tell him all the features and benefits of your product, tell him to buy it, and he’ll obey. That doesn’t work today as well as it did decades ago, when there were fewer products and brands to choose from.

Consumers face a dizzying array of brands & products.

Consumers face a dizzying array of brands & products.

These days, the Alfies of the world are few, and the variety of products and brands is overwhelming. The old advertising “tell it and sell it” model doesn’t work anymore, because consumers tune out when so many brands are talking at them.

Mittens the cat is a better model for today’s target audiences. She’s all about self-interest, so how do you get her to do anything? By letting her do what she naturally wants to do. In a nutshell, that’s what content marketing is all about.

So the question is, “How can I make hanging out with me attractive to Mittens, so out of her self-interest, she’ll not only stay around but also decide to share my brand with her cat friends?”

By giving Mittens lots of petting and regular portions of the particular food she and her network of cat friends like. Translated to people, this means giving your audience a consistent stream of fascinating, useful information they will opt in and say they want from you.

For Alfie, traditional advertising still may work. But to keep Mittens by your side, you’ll need to earn her loyalty by giving her a steady stream of fresh content that she wants and chooses to share with her network of friends. That’s the way to keep your brand’s consumer relationships purring along.

Why should I buy from you if I don’t know who you are?

The traffic arteries of the Internet get more clogged every day. How many new websites do you think debut every day? Ten thousand, maybe? And all are clamoring for attention for their brands. For every new brand, there are thousands more companies hawking the same wares. So how does any one of them get heard above the clamor?

Getting heard is important. But communicating a great brand personality that engages your target audience is vital.

Getting heard is important. But communicating a great brand personality that engages your target audience is vital.

Probably not by repeatedly touting their products or showing pictures of them (or their building or plant) on social media. Everyone makes products. Many the same as other companies.

So the question remains: How does your business get noticed in a good way, and cultivate customers that are actually going to buy?

What's your brand personality?

Do I know you?

By letting the world know who you are. Not what you do, but the ethics, values, philosophy and personality of your brand. As Simon Sinek, creator of “Start With the Why” (see him on YouTube), explains, Apple could be seen as just another technology company, but Apple/Mac users are ferociously loyal to the brand. How come?

Not because of what they make, entirely. Because of the “why” of their brand. The Apple brand image is unique. Sleek. Well-designed. Geared to help you do what you want and need to do effortlessly, with style. And even with fun. That’s why so many Apple users would never think of buying a device from any other company. Apple cultivates brand loyalty through the way they communicate and through the careful, exquisitely simple design of their products. They enhance your life as they help you get things done.

i-love-appleWhat other technology company can claim the absolute love and devotion of Apple fans? None. And that’s by design. In more than one way. No other company can claim the territory in the public’s mind and heart that Apple owns. Wouldn’t you love to be able to say that about your brand and your products?

If you’re not able to interact with prospects personally, you must bring them into your fold through advertising and marketing, probably through social media. You won’t do it only by promoting your products. Let them know, like Apple did, that you not only understand their challenges but can help meet them in a smooth, easy way. And also that you are trustworthy and reliable. Testimonials can help there.

If your brand doesn’t have an intriguing, appealing brand personality and brand promise, what makes a prospect choose you over many other similar companies?

Your brand personality is complex.

Your brand personality encompasses emotional, ethical, philosophical aspects of your company. The “you” prospects get to know.

Discovering and communicating your brand personality and promise takes some research and some soul-searching. Few business owners have the objectivity to do it on their own. Successful ones know when to call in experienced professionals to help them carve out a distinctive niche for their brand in cyberspace, and how to develop a social media program that works to build business.

Know what you do well, and when to call in a specialist to help you with your brand personality and promise. What you pay that specialist will repay you multiple times. You’ll be noticed in a good way by your strategically chosen target audience—people who want to buy from a company just like you. You’ll benefit from increased awareness and better sales. And isn’t selling what you’re in business to do?

Freelance Writer Files: Can a Cheap Website be Worse than None?

Here’s the short answer: Yes, it can. How come?

Check this scenario: You’re a small business looking to attract more business. Your product or service is not unique, and your competitors have been around for awhile and built a customer base. So you need to take business away from the existing companies. You’re brand-new, breaking into what is already a mature market. Your competitors look big and professional on the Web. How do you compete with them, when people have never met you or heard of you? These days, largely through your website. If it looks cheap and shabby online, you do your business more damage than good. Especially if your competitors have very attractive, effective websites.

Your website is not the place to pinch pennies. A poor website could drive prospective customers into the arms of your competitors. You will need a well-designed, professional-looking website, and the investment you make in creating it will pay off handsomely over time.

The first question is, how are you going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace?
And the answer is, by creating a strong, competitive presence online. When people visit your website, they’ll form an impression of your business, for good or ill, based largely on these few factors:

• Look
Graphic design plays a huge part in making your business look successful and professional. Dynamic use of colors, high-quality photos, and a well-designed overall appearance all go toward creating your image, just as your personal appearance does when you visit prospective customers. You wouldn’t visit a prospect wearing shabby clothes or a thrown-together outfit, so you shouldn’t show prospects a poorly designed website if you want to earn their business.

• Feel
This is a kind of mystical concept to more meat-and-potatoes people, but it’s very real. Does this website make me feel that I could trust the company with my business? Or does it feel like a fly-by-night affair? The content has to be solid, to informative and to the point. The navigation has to be reliable, intuitive and quick. And most of all, the site has to feel professional.

• Functionality
An effective website should offer intuitive navigation that gets them where they need to go quickly. Graphics that don’t get in the way of straight communication. Content that informs briefly and effectively, with links further into the site for extra explanation, if necessary, not crowding the home page or primary pages.

• News value
Keywords and tags used to be important to search rankings. No more. These days, a relevant, well-written, frequently changing blog that provides valuable information is the best way to earn a high ranking. But before you sit down to write blog posts, realize that it takes time, which as a small business owner you probably don’t have. You probably will have to pay someone to write your blog posts a couple of times a week. I know you want to save money on this, since it’s an ongoing cost, but be careful.

Overseas companies, for instance, may seem like a good deal because they offer hundreds of blog posts at astoundingly low prices. A client of mine tried one, and what he got back was word salad, not usable content. So hire a decent writer with a solid grasp of English and your business to write your blog posts. It will pay off in a a good search ranking and repeat visits to your website, which translates to more business.

• Sales capability
If you intend to sell online, you’ll need to make your Web ordering mechanism pretty slick. Otherwise, potential customers will get frustrated and go to your competitor’s site with their orders. Hire a Web person who knows how to make these things work without a hitch.

This is just a bare overview of things to consider when building your website. Experienced professionals will charge you more initially, but you’ll more than recoup your cost in a smoother development process, fewer glitches, and better efficiency and effectiveness. And, what’s most important, you’ll draw more business by showing a professional online face to your prospects.

Finally, here’s an article from a Law Review website that you might enjoy reading, about how a cheap website could actually cost you business.

Freelance Writer Files: #WhyIHateYourWebsite

You’re killing me here. When I visited your site today, it was more painful than when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. At least the oral surgeon gave me IV Valium. Listen, no offense, but here are a few reasons why I hate your website:

• You really used white text on a black background?
Ow, my eyes! Do you realize it’s 30% harder to read text on the Web than it is in print? Especially reversed-out type.

• And you made the text 8-pt. type?

8-pt. type?

8-pt. type?


On some planet, everybody has magnifying vision. But not on this one.

• Are you thinking you can write?
Your text is so ungrammatical and poorly spelled and punctuated … wait, are you from a foreign country?

• Are the colors meant to “sizzle?”
In your graphics, the old blue and red side-by-side thing creates movement, but not in a good way.

• And those Flash graphics. Cool, but what do they MEAN?
Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

• Why can’t I change the size of the page?
Maybe because you didn’t think it was worth paying to have someone make it customizable to the user’s screen size? Trust me, it is.

• And how about those dead links?
Not that I was dying to see your mission statement, but it would have been nice if I could. Dead links give the impression you’re either out of business or inattentive to detail, neither of which speaks well of your business.

Fortunately, the above infractions are all easy to fix, if you work with a good Web writer and a website designer. I have cool graphic designer friends, and I can help you with the writing. We won’t charge you any arms or legs, either.

Your site is like your public face, so you’d better make it clean and easy to read and use. If it’s not, you may be torturing users who might otherwise be customers. Having a good-looking website that communicates that your business is up-to-date, accessible and easy to work with is not a luxury. Competition being what it is these days, it’s a downright necessity.

So call me. No charge for a chat.

Freelance Writer Files: 8 Website Boo-Boos To Avoid

Now that practically anyone can build a website, Website Boo-Boos are popping up all over cyberspace. They frustrate users and decrease the effectiveness of the site. Here are a few common ones to avoid:

Oops-544x410Boo-Boo #1
White type on a black or very dark background.
It’s 30% harder to read text on a computer screen than it is to read text in print. Why would you make it even harder with harsh contrast? Italics are bad, too. (Mea culpa: You’ll note my header is black with gray type, and some of the text is tiny. However, look at my pages, and the important info is in black on a white background.)

Boo-Boo #2
Mouse type.
If your user has to blow up the screen to 200% to read your text, need I mention it’s too danged small? Don’t expect users go to extra trouble to read your text. They won’t.

Boo-Boo #3
Huge graphics and tiny type.
Ahem, unless you’re an artist, your user probably isn’t visiting your site to admire your graphics. They’re looking for information. So feature the essential info upfront. Supplement it with reasonably demure graphics.

Boo-Boo #4
Flash graphics.
That’s so 2000s. I suppose you know by now that search engines can’t “see” flash graphics. That’s one count against them. Another one is that if you’re like me, you find ever-changing images at the top of the page distracting while you’re trying to read the text below. There’s no need for flash graphics today. There’s a Java app that makes moving graphics, if you really think you need them, and apparently, they’re visible to search engines (Check me on this, though).

Boo-Boo #5
Too much text.
Before we got so smart about Web usability, companies used to reproduce their long brochure copy on their websites and call it good. These days, we know that websites are a whole different animal from printed documents. And we have such short attention spans, if we see a lot of text on the screen (or in print, for that matter), we stop reading.

Boo-Boo #6
Text with no headlines or subheads.
Make sure your story can be told effectively by just the headlines and subheads. That may be all the user looks at. And use bullet points instead of long lines of text.

Boo-Boo #7
Here’s a Peek-A-Boo-Boo: Hiding contact information.
Some Web designers like to be cutesy and hide vital information behind quirky cickable icons or funny words. Don’t do it. It will drive users away. Make sure every page of your site features your company name, location (if that’s important), phone number and email address. Don’t count on people clicking the “Contact Us” link to figure it out.

Boo-Boo #8
Contact email forms.
If I do click “Contact Us,” I expect to see a phone number and/or an email address, so I can initiate the contact right then, when I’m feeling the need. If all you have is a form users have to fill out, and a message that “We’ll get back to you within 48 hours,” your drop-off rate will occur at two points: (1) When users balk at filling out your form; and (2) If they fill it out, and you contact them 48 hours later, when they’ve lost the desire to talk to you, maybe even forgotten what they wanted to talk to you about.

Boo-Boo-proof your website.

Ask if the laziest person in the world will take one look at your Web page and vamoose. Okay, maybe the world’s laziest person is not your prospect. But remember that most of us are the next-laziest person in the world when we’re cruising websites.

• Are you creating a smooth, easy road to your door, or are you making the road bumpy and hard, with unreadable, bloated text, graphic misdirection, or things that take too long to figure out?

• Do you have contact info on every page, so prospects can call or email you and get a response immediately? They don’t want to talk to you in two days, they want to do it NOW!

• Do you have a live human (not a recording) available by phone or email to help them right away?

Ask yourself these questions, and if you still have any of these 8 Boo-Boos on your site, fix them. Clear the path to your door. That’s a great way to get prospects to go where you want them to go and thereby boost your site’s effectiveness.

Freelance Writer Files: Use These Words Correctly and Look Good

Yeah, you're looking good.

Yeah, you’re looking good.

There are 30 good examples, so take a look.

Better still, if you’re not sure how to convey your advertising or marketing message properly, call on a professional writer to help you out. :-)

Freelance Writer Files: Do You Know the Three Essential Ingredients?

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner trying to squeeze the best return out of a small marketing and advertising budget. You need to know how to communicate with your target audience efficiently and efffectively. And if you know the Three Essential Ingredients of a successful marketing campaign, you can do it. Here they are:

Essential Ingredient 1: Excitement
Don’t be a me-too advertiser/marketer. Find a way to get your target audience members to notice your campaign and climb aboard. Your marketing/advertising must cause them to RESPOND by buying, calling, signing up, or whatever it is you need them to do. And that requires an offer of value to your target audience, not just a piece where you “we” on them (e.g., we have 12,000 sq. ft. of storage space, we have 76 trucks covering 24 states, etc. What about the people you’re talking to? What do THEY NEED that you can provide?).

Essential Ingredient 2: News
Ask yourself whether your ad/marketing campaign creates news. Does it get talked about on social media? Does it make the TV news? Not all campaigns will. Let’s face it. There are a lot of parity products and services out there. But if there is some way you can present your product or service in a quirky, newsworthy way (for instance, having your company president move his desk to a billboard beside a well-traveled urban highway), then do it. That’s assuming you have the budget and the confidence of your CFO (you) to do such a thing. But in any case, you can at least spring for good-looking, attention-getting direct mail pieces, brochures, collateral pieces and Web pages focused on the “news” that you provide exactly what the recipients are looking for.

If you can promote via social media, stick to the newsworthy aspects of your offering and devote time and effort to keeping up your efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and other Web platforms.

Essential Ingredient 3: Call to action
A piece I wrote recently for a building maintenance company focused on building managers’ shrinking cleaning budgets, and how my client could get them more cleaning for less. The client has a unique estimating device that can do as many “what if” scenarios as a building manager needs to explore, and fit the cleaning plan to a set budget. So the call to action is “Call XYZ Company now. We’re the only one with an electronic estimating system to help you get the most cleaning for your budget. And you’ll get our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. That means you must be satisfied with the job we do, or you don’t pay.” And that’s good news!

Do you think there are more essential ingredients to a successful ad/marketing campaign? Add a comment.

Freelance Writer Files: There’s no OFF! for verbal tics.

But boy, sometimes I wish there were! OFF! can

Have you noticed that these days, everyone from “Fresh Air” host Teri Gross to the third-grader next door is starting sentences with “So…?”

Several years ago, when I first heard a biology grad student do it, I thought it was cute and kind of funny. I mean, it sounded as if she were continuing a conversation, rather than answering a question. The first few times you heard it, it jolted you awake. Wakefulness is always a desirable state to be in, unless you’re an insomniac. But then it became annoying. In my mind, “so” belongs in a sentence where it means one thing is a consequence of another. For instance, “His home blew away, SO he was homeless.”

But as the first word in a conversation? “So…” has gone viral, or become a meme, or *something*, and I tried to figure out why. Perhaps people don’t want to be interrupted or thought dumb, so instead of “Well” or “Uh,” they say, “So…” to alert you that they’re about to say something.

Also, how many times lately have you heard a politician or interviewee on TV or radio say, in non-answer to a question, “That’s a great question?” Every day people at City Council meetings are even using it. Good grief, if all the questions people asked before someone said that actually *were* great, fine. But the phrase, repeated several times during an interview or conversation, is not a reflection of the quality of the question. It’s just a speed bump, a breather, a two-second “think of plausible response” tic. “Let me think a second” would sound as if you didn’t know the answer. “Hmm” or the formerly popular “Y’know…” are out of fashion. It seems everyone’s doing the “great question” dodge these days.

As long as I’m griping about grammar here, the most recent thing that I dislike, even more than anchovies (ugh), is “change up” or “change out,” when “change” alone will do. A person says they’re going to “change up” their workout routine. Or they’re going to “change out” one light bulb for another. My solution: Out with the “out” and the “up.”

worn-out sneakers

“snuckered?”

Finally of course, there’s the ubiquitous “snuck” instead of the perfectly good “sneaked.” Recently I heard someone use “sneaked” as the past tense of “sneak,” and I wanted to hug that person. But the trend is toward “snuck.” Even the OED people have no problem with “snuck.” I question their standards. Question: If your sneakers are worn out, is it okay to say they are “snuckered?” Oh, well, maybe I’m stuck in the 19th century, but I cannot make myself say “snuck,” especially since it’s an ugly, blunt word. Yes, words do have shapes, and some sound lovelier than others.

What other words annoy me? Say, that’s a great question! So… What words or usages drive you up a wall? Let me know, so I can start using them on people who say “snuck!”