Archive for December, 2011

Brand Security

 

Our flagship client McAfee invited us earlier this month to participate in an exclusive writing workshop designed to better communicate the company’s brand promise. The practical tips and guidelines imparted during this session inform good writing for any technology brand.

When it comes to effective brand communication, McAfee gets it.  And it’s gratifying  to learn that we, as a writing service, share the same philosophy when it comes to creating content that engages readers and gets them to take action.

It begins with the “brand”, which means that it all starts with an understanding that your first responsibility as a content-generator is fidelity to the brand you’re writing about. To stay true to whatever it is that your client’s brand is promising to its buyers is your first obligation. To bend the rules is to break that faith. To over-promise and under-deliver is poison to any brand, all the more if you compete in a technology category where your product’s performance is central to your customer’s business operations.  As the chief steward or keeper of the brand promise, the writer has nothing less than a fiduciary responsibility to keep asking the right questions designed to keep the content honest – and by extension, trustworthy.  This may not always make you a favorite in product-management quarters, but anything less does a disservice to the brand over the long haul.

As it often turns out, it’s the folks inside the company who inadvertently put the bending pressure on the content they’re trying to create for this or that project. They want to stretch the truth. They want to make bolder claims. They want to disparage the competition.  They want to do those things that put the brand promise at risk. Quality control in these instances has multiple meanings and it’s the writers who must wear the QC mantle. It’s not about just ensuring readability and correct grammar, but strict fidelity to the voice of the brand.  At Write Angle, we “QC” the content by commencing every project with a set of questions that begin by simply asking for the project’s primary purpose and conclude with a request for the three, key takeaways the project team wants to imprint on their reader.  For what it’s worth, it’s all pretty consistent with the McAfee approach.  How does your process compare?

  • What’s the thesis of the document being considered and why should the reader care? State why this is topical at the moment and give an example.
  • Describe the competitive environment.  Specify the trends influencing buyers. Describe a few user problems (the more compelling the better) that set the stage for our offering(s).
  • What core positioning statement do we want woven throughout the copy and how can we make it as relevant as possible to the reader?
  • What do we need to say about our technology to clearly mark competitive advantage and its place at the cutting edge of the category?
  • How can we substantiate our claims, e.g., where’s the beef of verifiable metrics?
  • What other prestige brands are involved with us as allies and partners?
  • What are the three absolute, gotta-have impressions we want to leave on the reader?

So what you doing to protect your own brand?  How are you ensuring that your marketing efforts stay true to what you product promises?

(This post originally appeared in The Write Stuff, the blog of content development service Write Angle Inc.

Man Asleep On Desk

No matter how well crafted your white paper, case study, or product brief may be, an uninspired headline will doom it to obscurity.  Not to mention squandering your time and money as a publisher.  Readers won’t waste their time on content that doesn’t compel them.  This means an inspiring, irresistible headline is Job One.

Good headlines do more than grab attention

Thinking like a headline writer at the outset is key to whether or not your content is ever read.  It’s essential to strike an emotional appeal tailored to your readers’ personal interests — theirs, not yours.  Great headlines get audiences to click through.  You’ve got one shot at stopping a reader in their tracks.  So make the most of your opportunity.

Subheads and graphics pull the reader through

Engaging your readers at each level of the story with crisp subheads is valuable for two reasons.  First, it helps you organize your material into easily digestible chunks.  Second, it enables the reader to better retain your message.
Clear, lively infographics highlight and underscore complex data for better reader comprehension. And they attract “skimmers” who need visual prompts before scrutinizing material.

Then tell them what you told them

Like a dominant chord in a blues song, readers want resolution.  So give it to them with a crisp summary statement that reiterates your earlier refrain.  After all, if you’ve gotten them this far they’re likely to investigate further.

How do you know the right readers are paying attention to your content?  If you’re in doubt, what are you doing about it? How do you define the difference between content that is adequate and stuff that’s a must-read? How are you ensuring that you publish more of the latter?

 

This post appeared today on The Write Stuff, a blog published by content developer Write Angle Inc.

Products And Customers

It’s a given that domain expertise is required to create content that’s technically accurate. What makes the content compelling and gets readers to click-through, call, request a demo or take the next steps toward a purchase or trial is the ability to tell a great story. And a key component of any white paper, solution brief, application note or case study calls for representative, real-world examples that get the reader to think, “Hey, that’s me.”

Today’s information-overloaded customers are as short on time as they are on attention.

In a matter of seconds you must convey that your product or service is tailor made to solve immediately recognizable problems.

This means spotlighting real-world examples just as prominently as the features and corresponding benefits of your product. Technical “tutorials” mean little to a customer/reader without a clear, concise description of the real-world benefits your technology delivers.

Consider a security company whose technology detects anomalous conditions from log files.  Readers need context to better understand what this means.  By adding key examples of anomalous conditions, such as “knowing what systems were accessed by an unauthorized user, what data they touched and where they sent it”, provides readers with an immediately identifiable problem they are on the hook to address.  By putting your domain expertise in context, you stand a much better chance of resonating with your readers.

In the case of the security company cited above, use cases can take on immediacy and drama when compelling examples are woven into the narrative.  Take technologies designed for intrusion detection and Advanced Persistent Threats.  Plugging in a real world example to orient readers to a specific problem is a magnet for further investigation:  “Being alerted to a user who typically logs into one or two corporate systems between the hours of 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday through Friday and suddenly attempts to log into multiple systems at odd hours of the day, including weekends, is a strong indication of a potentially hacked or compromised account.” Suddenly, your benefit — the critical role your product played in determining the violation and making the process so much simpler and faster for security teams – now takes on a new, compelling dimension.

Always be articulating or alluding to the tangible benefit of your offering with examples that speak directly to your buyer. Your domain expertise is essential.  You can make it pay off even more by showing your equally expert appreciation of the practical problem your customer is trying to solve.

What’s your view of domain-expertise as criteria for content creators? How do you do “reality-checks” on your content?  How do you select writers? On a 10-point scale, how do your rate your content for customer-relevance?

This post by Stan DeVaughn appeared last month in The Write Stuff, the blog published by content-development service Write Angle Inc.