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



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: Ask these 4 key questions to ID your best customer

Let’s face it. Not everyone in the whole world is in the market for your product or service. There’s a select group of people or companies who are actually looking for what you have to offer. To save wasted effort and advertising money trying to convert non-prospects, try to narrow down who you’re talking to as precisely as possible. To help identify your best, most likely customer, the one who’s going to be most receptive to your message, what are the most important questions to ask? Start with these.

Who? What? Why?

So many questions…

• Where’s the pain?
What’s the problem you can solve? And who needs your solution? If you’re a home remodeler, can you take the guesswork and angst out of choosing design options by showing the customer before and after pictures? If you’re a specialty grocery store, do you stock items some people really need but have a hard time finding, like gluten-free foods? If you’re a fashion boutique, do you carry cool styles trendy young single women simply can’t find in department stores?
• Who are my ideal customers?
Who, what, where, why?

Who, what, why?

How old are they? What’s their income range? What are their interests and hobbies? Do they have kids? How far do they live from your location? What are their favorite websites? Advertising agencies work with lifestyle profiles of distinct sociographic groups, which include mindsets, goals, and economic and emotional indicators. Each sociographic group has distinct wants and needs. Creating profiles of your ideal customers can help you hone your message to speak to those wants and needs.
• Who’s buying from me already?
Take a look at your customer base and see who likes your product or service now. Create a lifestyle profile of those customers to get a good idea of who you need to target with your messages.
• Who are my competitors targeting?
Maybe your competitors know some good ways to appeal to your potential customers. Study their advertising or marketing messages. It’s okay to steal a marketing strategy from someone who’s using it successfully. Just don’t borrow their language or specific appeal. Let’s say your competitors are touting their commitment to superior customer service. Well, that’s hardly new. But is there a specific strong, unique service-related feature you can advertise? One-hour turnaround? Frequent buyer discounts? A personal consultant? Longer business hours? Any unique, substantial benefit can help pull them over to your business.
• And more…
There’s more to targeting your best customers than answering these few questions. But doing it will get you started. The fact is, you can maximize your advertising and marketing budget by minimizing unanswered questions about your customers. And there’s no question, that’s very smart.

Freelance Writer Files: Does Color Matter?

When you’re designing an ad, brochure or collateral, color matters. A lot.

What’s the most eye-catching, exciting color? The same one you see in bullfight scenes: RED! Red is hot, like blood, and it gets your blood racing (at least a little) when you see it in a printed piece or on a billboard or TV screen.



Other colors are nice, but you’re not after NICE, you’re after getting attention. Remember AIDA? Attention, desire, interest, action? If you don’t get that first “A,” you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started.

As a general rule, don’t use any colors you’re likely to find in a typical bathroom: muted pastels or beige. Unless it’s as a background color for your exciting headline.

So yes, color matters. So you use red for your headline. Is it large enough to be read easily? And most important of all, is it a “grabber?” Floating around in an ocean of other headlines, does it stand out to a member of your target audience? Does it present a clear benefit proposition? Or at least, does it grab attention, so someone will read the benefit proposition in your exciting subhead?

That pops!

That pops!

Now, if you’re looking for the ultimate in readability, use the combo that Western Union discovered tops them all: black letters on a yellow background. It may not be the ultimate in sophisticated design, but depending on the product or service you’re hawking, it might be just right. Like on a billboard, where drivers have very little time to absorb your message.

Ever drive past a billboard with type so tiny that you nearly run off the road trying to read it? This is the result of the graphic designer looking at his or her design only on a computer monitor. Gee, it looks readable there. But what about 50 feet in the air, hundreds of yards from the road? Designers should try reducing the design to a size the driver might see it.

Ignoring any of the proven rules for effectiveness will cause you to throw money on advertising or promotional materials that simply don’t work.

If you don’t feel confident that you can do all the right things on your own, by all means, hire a communications professional, as well as a good graphic designer, to create your advertising and promotional materials. It will be money well spent.

Freelance Writer Files: 7 Quick Tips for Brochures that Work

Here are a few simple things you can do with your next brochure that will make it stand out and get results.

business woman_z1. The cover should feature a picture of a person.
People are attracted to pictures of faces. The person could be a company president, a customer, or an expert of some kind. Someone whose comments are featured inside the brochure.

2. Include “knock-outs” on the cover.
Those are one- or two-line highlights of the content inside. You know how those “People” magazine knock-outs grab you. Use them on business brochures. Make them interesting!

3. On the front inside cover, summarize the key points in the brochure. That way, it’s quick and easy for the reader to go directly to the specific content he or she is interested in.

4. Include a call to action on every page: Call this toll-free number, learn more at this Web address, whatever you need the reader to do.

5. Use a Q&A format to engage the reader. It breaks up the content into manageable chunks and makes it easy to read.

6. On the back cover, make sure to have a contact name and return address displayed prominently.

7. Keep in mind always that you need to make people stop, be drawn to your brochure (especially if you’re at a trade show), and be encouraged to read what’s inside. Study magazines at the grocery store and see what colors, designs, type fonts and other devices they use to stand out and draw you in. Some are kind of gaudy, but you can borrow a few of their tricks without looking unprofessional.

7.a. Okay, I said 7 points, but this one is important. Make sure every aspect of your brochure is relevant. Don’t stick in a picture of your plant as seen from a helicopter (a popular one, for some reason). It has nothing to do with the product that’s made in that plant. So you have a big building. What does that mean to ME, your potential customer? Likewise, unless your audience is made up of gearheads, don’t stick in photos of machines you use to make things. It’s the things you’re selling, not the machines.

Whew. Well, those are my 7 (+1) tips for making effective brochures. If you have others, please let me know.

Freelance Writer Files: What’s a USP? And do I need one?

Do you need a USP?

Do you need a USP?

If you’re selling a product or service, the answer is YES!

Below, link to a presentation I gave recently that walks you through developing your USP and getting it out there to the right people, in the right media, using the right voice.

What the heck is a USP? And do I need one?

The first step in the process is — what else? — First Questions. I have a sheet of questions I’ll be glad to send you. Just ask!

Freelance Writer Files: Do You Speak Animal?

You probably do speak “animal,” only you’re not aware of it. As a freelance copywriter, I’m always on the lookout for different ways to say things. The other day, I said someone was “happy as a clam.” That led me to wondering, “Are clams really happy?” Only a clam knows, and he’s not telling. But it spurred me to think of all the ways we incorporate animals into our language. How many of these animal-related expressions do you use? Can you think of other, newer ones?

• Sick as a dog
• Barking orders (as a Sergeant in the Army)
• Crowing (about accomplishments)
• Old bat
• Old goat
• Raven hair

Me? I didn't say a word!

Me? I didn’t say a word!

• Quiet as a mouse
• Mousy brown
• Chicken (scared)
• Flown the coop
• Bull****
• Strong as a bull
• Sly as a fox
• Foxy
• Hungry enough to eat a horse
• Gentle as a lamb
• Fat as a pig
• Proud as a peacock
• Hungry as a bear
• Catty (Meow!)
• Cowed
• Crooked as a dog’s hind leg (my grandfather’s expression)
• Low as a snake
• Parroting
I'm not gonna say THAT!

No comment.

• Dogging it
• Wolf (skirt-chaser)
• Wolf down
• Maverick
• Slug (couch potato)
• Slow as a snail/snail’s pace
• Tortoise and hare
• The ants and the grasshopper (familiar fable)
• Rat (one who betrays someone else)
• Ratty (messy)
• Cat’s paw (operative)
• Ass/jackass (fool)
• Stubborn as a mule
• Sing like a bird (either a good singer or a stool pigeon — hey, there’s another one!)
• Chirp (happy way to speak)
• Drink like a fish
• Something’s fishy
• Big as a whale
• Memory of an elephant
• Slippery as an eel
• Graceful as a gazelle
• Monkeyshines
• Monkeying around
• As much fun as a barrel full of monkeys (Not sure that would be fun)BarrelOfMonkeys
• Gorilla (Big, mean guy)
• Sting like a bee (Part of Ali’s chant)
• Busy as a bee
• Social butterfly

Got any more?

Freelance Writer Files: What is Beauty?

“There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
-Francis Bacon

That’s a tweet I posted this morning. It’s a strange one that I didn’t quite “grok” right away. But when I thought of a project that required screening beautiful women for work as a principal in a TV commercial, I got it.

Picasso woman

Picasso woman

Casting for a TV commercial usually begins with looking at lots and lots of photo “head shots” of models and actors. Out of those, you choose the ones you think have potential to fit your need, and if they’re local, you invite them in, so you can see them in person. Heck, they might be photoshopped to look beautiful. You’d want to know that before hiring them.

We selected three or four women to come in for personal interviews, all of whom were beautiful in their pictures. But in person, what a surprise! Were these the same women we’d selected?

One model’s face actually looked a bit misshapen. The two sides didn’t match. Another one’s nose seemed a size too large for her face. The third looked just plain homely.

These models didn’t come in without makeup, looking as if they had just fallen out of bed. They were made up to look as pretty as they could — in person. And they certainly didn’t look like candidates for Miss America. But soon, I was to learn something valuable.

The eye of the beholder...

The eye of the beholder…

When we did video auditions with our candidates, these women revealed their true beauty. In a magical way, it is true that the camera loves some faces. These rather ordinary-looking (or even peculiar-looking) women became lovely and engaging, even fascinating, in the eye of the camera.

So I understand what Bacon meant in that quote. Now I try to look at every person through the eye of a transforming camera. You’d be amazed how much more beautiful they all look!

Freelance Writer Files: Doing Direct Mail? Don’t Get Fancy, Get Relevant.

Direct mail is one of those things people either hate or simply dislike. Why is that? Because most people get tons of direct mail that doesn’t offer anything they want. It simply isn’t relevant to them. Or maybe it is, but it takes the recipient too long to find out how. Either way, it’s headed for the landfill.

People decide within two or three seconds whether a piece of mail goes on the “opening” or “trash” pile, and then move on with their lives.

As an ad agency copywriter, I did mostly advertising, meaning ads, brochures, radio and TV spots. Advertising is a different animal from direct mail, I’ve learned, as I’ve had more opportunities to write direct. In advertising, you’re usually doing (a) awareness advertising, (b) image advertising, or (c) offer advertising, sometimes including a coupon. Of the three, (c) is most similar to direct mail. The offer-coupon ad wants you to do something, and it gives you both an incentive to do it and a time limit (Coupon expiration date).

The reason it’s called “direct” mail is that it comes directly to a prospect’s mailbox. Anyone writing for direct mail should keep in mind another reason: it has to communicate in a direct way in order to avoid the trashcan. And there is an art and science to doing it well.

That’s why most direct mail includes a “teaser” on the envelope, which is meant to get you to open it. Here are three teasers from direct mail pieces I plucked out of my trash at random:

Your Input and Signature Needed

• Your 2012 XXXX Membership Card Is Enclosed
Urgent Response Requested


These are certainly urgent requests for action. But only the first one piques my interest, and only because it’s requesting my “input,” and I’m always happy to share my opinions. And gee whiz, it had a “Registered Document number” on it. Sure looks official and all. Sadly, it doesn’t offer me anything I really want, so into the trash it goes.

At the moment, I’m doing a direct mail campaign for a client. To maximize his budget, the mailings need to be relevant to his target audience. The letters will present them with an offer they can’t refuse—if they’re in the market for what he’s selling, and if the prospects’ dissatisfaction with other providers is as high as we think it is, they will be.

But I won’t simply say, “When you choose XYZ Company, you’ll get (unique benefit).” I will go beyond that and build my message around this idea:

“When you choose XYZ Company, you will get (something they really aren’t getting now and want badly: all the service they’re paying for). Our service tracking system calculates exactly how much service you are getting from our company every week. And if you don’t get every bit of service you are paying for, that week is FREE!”

There is an additional incentive to do it: When the prospect responds within a certain time limit, either by calling or by sending in an enclosed postage-paid card, and sets up an appointment, s/he will get a free demo of the service, and s/he will be able to see measurable results! I can’t reveal how (client confidentiality), but it is a doable offer.

There is no risk and no obligation involved. There is everything to gain. Why wouldn’t the prospect respond?

• First, we’re offering something the target audience is VERY interested in (getting the most for their budget, because most companies don’t give them all the service they pay for).
• Second, we’re doing something else no one else in the market is doing: backing it up with a measurable guarantee of performance.
• Third, we’re offering a FREE demo, which gives a representative a foot in the door.
• Fourth, we’re giving them a sense of urgency about responding, since the offer expires in a couple of weeks.

In addition, the letter and the postcard will have a code number that will let us track results. A 1% to 3% response rate is standard, but if the list is honed to include only the best prospects, it could be higher.

Finally, we won’t leave it there. We’ll send prospects two more direct mail letters, each one highlighting a real pain the prospect has that my client can relieve. After that, any prospects who haven’t responded yet will receive three brochures at staged intervals detailing the same three surefire (if we’ve found out they work in DM) pain-relief scenarios.

So the net of it is this: If you’re the creative putting together a direct mail campaign, don’t kill yourself trying to think up a fancy, possibly creative-award-winning headline and tricky copy for your direct mail letter. Keep it simple (not that it’s easy). Put your head together with your client’s and come up with a solid offer of something the prospect needs and wants, something relevant to his or her needs. Then state it simply and compellingly. And finally, plot out your campaign and keep with it. That’s all there is to it. Now, go and get relevant!

A day or two after the first mailing of 50 letters, my client received a call and made an appointment, the first of many, we hope. Second letter is going out early next week. Common wisdom says a 1% to 2% response rate is good for direct mail. In this case, just one new customer could easily pay for the marketing effort! Successful campaigns don’t cost, they pay.

Freelance Writer Files: Apparently, I have cancer.

Just on my nose, a little patch that some prescription cream is eating away.

For a year or two (three?), this little patch on the side of my nose had been flaking and peeling. When I went to a dermatologist for a mole check (required annually for people like me, with “that European skin”), I pointed it out, thinking she would give me some kind of cream to clear up what I thought probably was some kind of dermatitis. Nothing to fret about.

The magic cream

The dermatologist did give me a prescription for cream to put on it, but not to clear it up. This cream (Fluorouracil, in case you’re interested) has the ability to eat up cancer cells. I read the instructions and warnings, which is always frightening, and decided not to use it. I didn’t fully understand it. I thought it was supposed to identify cancer cells so you could have them surgically removed. And I really didn’t want to think about it. Besides, it was probably nothing, I thought. No need for such extreme measures. Then my other doctor explained it to me.

This cream is an *alternative* to surgery. It eats up the cells, and voila! no more cancer. He said it’s “pretty cool” that when it works, you can actually see the outline of the cancer under the skin. “Pretty cool?” Yech.

So anyway, I started putting a thin layer of it on the flaky patch twice a day, and before long, it turned an angry red. Then a thin scab appeared over it. I don’t know how long I’m supposed to keep applying the stuff. When I see the derm in a couple of weeks, I’ll find out.

Future skin cancer patient.The idea that I have skin cancer is unsettling, to say the least. Just the “C” word is troubling. Now that it’s become a reality with me, I remember a couple of bad burns when I was a child from spending too much time at the pool. That can up the odds you’ll have cancer at some point. But who ever heard of sunblock back then? Girls were lying by the pool for hours, applying baby oil and mercurochrome to get that fabulous-looking bronze. BTW, did you know mercurochrome is a poison? Yep. I recently read a book on poisons. OK, so my reading tastes are weird.

I have several kinds of sunblock, including in my facial moisturizer (though it’s only SP15, which is practically useless, they say). The overexposure I had long ago still will make itself known, it seems. But it’s good to use sunblock now, so exposure doesn’t cause any more troubling moles or flaky spots.

If you have “that European skin” (That is, if your forbears came from France, Germany and Czechoslovakia, as mine did), go for a mole check every year or two, whether you think you need it or not. And if you see a mole or a flaky place that looks funny, get to the derm sooner. It’s better to know, as difficult as it is.

God, the terrors of aging.