Does Your Business Blog Offer Advice That Sticks?

 

blog advice that sticks

“Helping people do sensible things with their money is just as hard as getting people to do the right things for their health,” Moira Somers tells financial advisers in the Journal of Financial Planning. Financial planners’ advice, she believes, is too often unskillfully given. (As business blog content writers, I wondered, are we falling into that same trap?)

The field of adherence research, Somers points out, has led to a revamping of medical education. What would make it easier for patients to do the right thing? In financial planning, she adds, advisers “contribute mightily” to the problem of advice being ignored. Key advice-giving “sins” she names include:

  • using incomprehensible jargon
  • disregarding the emotional side of the client experience
  • acting as though the prospect lives in a social vacuum
  • failing to plan for “non-adherence”
  • dominating meetings by talking too much
  • take a judgment-laden stance towards clients

Valuable to-dos we promotional business writing professionals can glean from this article:

  1. Make all content as free of professional jargon and specialized lingo as possible.
  2. Aim for shorter “meetings” (break technical information into bite-sized pieces).
  3. Do not assume understanding of critical points. Offer anecdotes and focused testimonials to prospects can really “see” the advantages of what we offer.
  4. Make it clear that we have an understanding of our target readership’s needs.
  5. Project warmth, showing our “human side”.
  6. Use clear typeface, bullet points and bolding to draw attention to important points.
  7. Suggest questions readers can ask themselves while choosing among options.

    It matters where on the page we put our Calls to Action in each blog post. I often remind business bloggers to provide several options to readers, including “read more”, “take a survey”, “comment”, or “subscribe. On websites with no e-commerce options, of course, “Contact” is the ultimate reader “compliance” step

“Does your advice stick?“ Moira Somers asks financial planners. “Learn strategies for giving advice that clients will follow,” she concludes.

Does your business blog offer advice that sticks?

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Blogging to Help Make Them or Save Them Money

blogging to save them money

“Before we write a single post, we ask ourselves, ‘Does this help our readers make or save money?’” says Kathleen Garvin, editor and marketing strategist for finance blog The Penny Hoarder. “That’s key for us. We’re content creators, but we only want to publish a story if we think it’s truly helpful or interesting for our readers.”

“When developing content, keep in mind the three E’s of content: Educate, Entertain and Engage,” writes Dennis Wakeman of the Social Media Examiner.

Teaching is, in fact, a large part of what we blog content writers do. How does the product or the process work? How can the business owner or professional practitioner solve the problem?

In the broadest sense of the word, entertaining is part of the job for blog writers. No, you needn’t become a comedian, but unusual anecdotes, tips, trends, and tidbits help keep readers on site.

Getting people to actually connect with you and participate in the conversation is much harder than it looks, Wakeman admits. He suggests using polls and very specifically asking for comments. Whenever somebody actually clicks on a link, takes a poll, or posts a comment, he explains, that brings them closer to becoming a client or customer.

So what about helping readers make and save money? The personal finance blog Squawkfox.com was voted #1 blog in Canada, because it’s full of tips on de-cluttering, cutting spend, and staying within a budget. (In training career mentees, I would coach them, both on their resume and in the job interview, to tell their prospective employer how, in their summer jobs, they had saved their employer money, time, and hassle.) Similarly, at Say It For You, I teach writers to make the content about them, not about you and your business or practice!

So what about helping your own business or practice make money? Your call to action should point readers to the next point in the sales funnel, says ProBlogger. You might ask web visitors to subscribe to your newsletter or sign up for a free webinar so you can turn them into paying customers in the future

In blog content marketing, it’s all about helping readers make and save money!

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For Further Explanation, Bring in the Cockpit Crew

personal opinionShould fliers be forced to watch the safety video? Most definitely, writes George Hobica in USA Today. Whenever there’s been an emergency on a plane, we see videos of passengers doing the wrong things, such as escaping a crash landing carry luggage and not wearing shoes, or not knowing how to put on oxygen masks, he reminds us.

As a blog content writer and trainer occupied full time with getting people to read the content my team prepares for our clients, I was highly interested in Hobica’s take on the subject. His premise: If the videos explained the reasons behind the instructions they give, then people would listen more.

For instance, Hobica suggests, the exhortation to “place the mask over your mouth and nose” could be changed to “Place the mask over both your nose and mouth because otherwise you won’t get enough oxygen and you’ll pass out.” In other words, he’s saying, tell why your audience should follow your advice.

Acknowledging that “the longer the video lasts, the more passengers will tune out,” Hobica suggests that just one fine point be explained in person by one of the cockpit crew just before takeoff:

“Folks, this is your first officer.  Before takeoff, I’d like to remind you that in the
event of an emergency evacuation, it’s imperative that you leave all belongs in
the overhead bin or under the seat.  Do not bring them with you.  Doing so could
cause death or injury to other passengers.”

From a business blog content writing standpoint, there’s more than one lesson to be gained from Hobica’s observations:

  • The interview format can be very useful in creating blog posts that are more compelling in many cases than the typical narrative text. The blog writer serves as “reporter”, eliciting direct remarks from the business owner, key employer, or practitioner.
  • Attempting to cover too much ground in a single blog post, we lose focus and strain readers’ attention span. Other things to cover? Save those for later posts.

The takeaways for blog content writers? Explain your reasons for your recommendation or advice.  Then, for further explanation, bring in the cockpit crew!

 

 

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In Blogging and in the Air, a Bit of Explanation Goes a Long Way

explanations in blogging“Although many frequent fliers think they know what to do in an emergency, in fact most probably haven’t listened to the safety videos in years and if you quizzed them about the content, they’d flunk,” writes George Hobica in USA Today.

The basic content of safety videos, Hobica explains, is established by the International Civil Aviation Organization, with room for additional advice at each airline’s discretion. It’s all super-important content, he says, because whenever there’s been an emergency on a plane, we see footage of passengers doing the wrong things – escaping a crash landing carrying luggage and not wearing shoes, or not knowing how to put on an oxygen masks, for example.

So what can be done to get passengers to watch the videos? (As a blog content writer and trainer who’s occupied with getting people to read the content we prepare, I was really interested in what Hobica would have to say on the subject.)

“I truly believe that if the videos explained the reasons behind the instructions they give, then people would listen more,” he says. “For instance, the exhortation to ‘place the mask over your mouth and nose’ could be changed to ‘place the mask over both your nose and mouth, because otherwise you won’t get enough oxygen and you’ll pass out'”.

Blogger Michel Fortin says he’s a big fan of reasons-why advertising. “Good, successful copy,” Fortin adds, “tells the reader why right up front.” (If you don’t, he warns, they’re left wondering why you left that information out.) Why are you highlighting a certain topic now? Why is the solution you’re proposing particularly relevant for this reader?

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In Blog Marketing, Look for a Plot

plot in blogging

 

“Don’t look for a plot here. This is a polemic,” are the words a reviewer in the Mensa Bulletin uses to describe J.K Hillstrom’s book, A Humanitarian’s Fantasy. The book is a more like a series of lectures, the reviewer complains, rather than a coherent, sequential piece of prose.

Individual business blog posts may appear to be non-sequential, separate pieces of writing rather than parts of a coherent whole. Yet a small business owner’s or professional practitioner’s blogging efforts can have an effect on marketing results that is disproportionately larger than might seem possible from mere short, informal selections. The power comes from the “plot”.  

Whenever I’m sitting down with new Say It For You business owner clients as they’re preparing to launch a blog for their company or practice, I find that one important step is to select one to five recurring – and related – themes that will appear and reappear over time in their blog posts. The themes may be reflected in the keyword phrases they are going to use to help drive search, but themes are broader in scope than just key words.

The variety in their blog is going to come from the details we will be filling in around those central themes, different ways the company’s products can be helpful, different valuable tidbits of information or how-to tips, plus specific examples of how the company helped solve various problems.

The unifying themes in a business blog are the beliefs of, and the unique “slant” of, the business owner or professional practitioner. Those “leitmotifs”  help the separate blog posts fit together into an ongoing business blog marketing strategy.

In blog marketing, look for the plot!

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Worm Your Way Into Readers’ Hearts with Business Blogs

 

The Tatoeba Project, which helps foreign students by translating from a foreign language into their own native language, has a lot to say about worms. Examples provided include sentences such as:

  • Tom put a worm on the hook.
  • Worms are sometimes beneficial to soil.

Even more interesting are these sentences:

  • Tom opened a can of worms.
  • The early bird gets the worm.
  • Tom seldom reads an editorial and is not a bookworm.

As blog content writers in Indiana, the basic tool we use to bring our business owner clients’ message to their prospects and customers is – language. True, the majority of our targeted readers might be U.S. born and bred, but some of the “lingo” we sling about so casually – in our effort to write “engaging” copy – well, it might need explaining.

English idioms, the FluentU blog explains, are groups of words which have a meaning which isn’t obvious from looking at the individual words.  “They’re used so often in everyday English,” the authors explain, “that if you don’t know them, it’s almost impossible to understand the context.”  FluentU offers a number of examples:

  • to hit the books
  • to hit the sack
  • to twist someone’s arm
  • to be up in the air
  • to stab someone in the back
  • to lose your touch
  • to sit tight
  • to pitch in
  • to face the music
  • to be on the ball
  • to be under the weather
  • to blow off steam
  • to cut to the chase

In blog marketing, the right words can make a big, big difference in what we like to call “the sales cycle” (itself an idiom!).  When it comes to lingo and industry jargon, we can literally “arm” readers by sharing – and explaining – the buzzwords.  That feeling of knowing the “inside scoop” allows prospects to feel in control and in a better position to make buying decisions with confidence.

Worm your way into blog readers’ hearts!

 

20 Essential English Idioms for Sounding Like a Native

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Business Blog Readers’ Fourth Drive

blog reader curiosity

 

One of the many things we don’t understand is this: What is interestingness? observe John Lloyd and John Mitchinson in the Book of General Ignorance. What we do know, the authors tell us, is that, while we humans have the same three primal drives as animals (food, sex, and shelter), it’s the fourth drive which makes us uniquely human – curiosity.

Appealing to blog readers’ fourth drive is certainly one secret to success in content writing.  Arousing curiosity through blog titles and through the opening lines of blog posts has proven to be a winning tactic. Why is that? For one thing, we like completion and balance.  Put a question out there and we a driven to find the answer, Lloyd and Mitchinson explain.  “What’s the name of the tallest mountain in the world?”  Most of us are quick to answer: Mt. Everest. But no, measured from the seabed, it’s Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii. Everest is the highest, but not the tallest.

Curiosity explains why readers enjoy juicy gossip tidbits about sports and movie stars, even personal details about the lives of famous people from the past.  Curiosity explains the interest readers have in how stuff works in the world and how things came to be. And, yes, (as I always stress in corporate blogging training sessions), by definition of their having found your blog, readers have curiosity about some aspect of your profession or business. What my own experience has taught me is that readers are most curious about themselves, how they “work” and the limits of their own knowledge and their own physical capabilities. I believe that’s why magazine “quizzes” are so hard to resist.

Unlike novelists or even reporters, we blog content writers can’t afford to be enigmatic in the name of arousing curiosity, since it’s essential for us to assure readers that they’ve come to the right place to find the information that brought them online to find answers. Five times as many people read headlines as read the body copy, “Father of Advertising” David Ogilby taught. If the headline doesn’t do the trick, even if we appeal to searchers’ general curiosity, the danger is they’ll bounce away from our site before we get to share our thoughts!

In the preface to their book, Lloyd and Mitchinson may have unwittingly hit upon the business blog writers’ solution.  “The human brain is the most complex single object in the cosmos….what are we supposed to do with all that astonishing computing power? We think we know the answer – ask more questions.”

Appealing to blog readers’ fourth drive may be one secret to success in content marketing!

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Two Important Blogging Beginnings – Anecdotes and Questions

introductions in blogging

“The opening paragraph, or introduction, of your essay is key,” the Research & Education Association’s QuickAccess laminated writing guide advises. The guide suggests two “methods you can use to hook the reader”:

  1. Anecdote – a story that illustrates your point
  2. Question – establish a reason to keep reading (to find the answer)

“The introduction should include both your thesis statement and some background information about your topic,” QuickAccess continues.

In business blog content writing, anecdotes serve to keep the material fresh. While the message may be one that you’ve delivered in your blog many times before, adding a new story to illustrate the point makes the material seem brand new. Emotional appeal is what makes readers take action, and anecdotes give “heart” to the information. You may be selling a product or a service, but what you’re really selling is a solution to a problem readers are facing. The story makes that solution come alive.

Another way to state the importance of harnessing the power of storytelling in business blogs is this:  Use more examples; make fewer claims; “showing, not crowing”, will get you a lot farther in blog content writing.

I tell new Indianapolis blog content writers that, in creating content for marketing blogs, we need to keep in mind that people are online searching for answers to questions they have and solutions for dilemmas they’re facing. But even if those searchers haven’t specifically formulated their question, I suggest we can do that for them by presenting a question in the blog post itself!

You can use a customer question as a headline, then use the post to answer that question. Specifically, the question in the title or in the opening line “grabs” readers, demonstrating what they can expect to find in the blog post, and showing that you understand the dilemmas they’re facing and how to solve those!

Ask a question you know will catch their eye.  You can even add in a layer a curiosity, copywriter Amy Harrison suggests, by following your question with “The answer might just surprise you….”.

Anecdotes and questions – two important “Ones” in the one-two punch of blog content writer.  The “two”? All the valuable and interesting answers those readers were hoping to find.

 

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Build the Thesis Ahead of the Blog

thesis building in blogs

“Before you begin writing an essay or writing a research paper,” the Research & Education Association’s QuickAccess laminated writing guide advises, “draft a working thesis statement.”

That’s great advice for student, even better advice for business blog content writers, I believe.  It’s advice too often neglected, I find, with the operative work being “before”.

The thesis statement should contain two parts, REA explains:

  1. the subject of the essay
  2. your opinion on the subject

As an example of a weak thesis, REA offers this: “High school dropout rates are increasing.”

What’s wrong with it?  Lacks an opinion and is too general.  A stronger version, the guide suggests, would read:  “Because higher education is needed more than ever before in order for members of today’s workforce to be successful, the rising high school dropout rate is harmful to society.”

For business blog writing, though, that second version is far from ideal – too wordy, for one, and lacks “pow”. Two shorter, related sentences might create more impact: Here’s my version:

“Our kids are dropping out of high school; to staff our workplaces, we need to give our education system two major tweaks.”

Writing with impact, as REA is correctly telling students, requires thinking. And not just any thinking – it takes pre-thinking and planning. Composing an effective college essay is serious business; composing an effective marketing blog post IS business. Sure, our blogs may state a business owner’s or practitioner’s case in less formal, more conversational style than essays, but preparing a working thesis statement forces writers to focus, which translates into impact.

Just as REA teaches, the thesis statement should contain two parts:

  1. the subject (ONE main idea, ONE aspect of the business or practice)
  2. the opinion (a slant or unique value proposition, the answer to the online searcher’s questions – Why should I do this now? Why should I choose you?)

Build the thesis ahead of the blog!

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Bloggers – Avoid the 5 Big Mistakes Advisors Make

marketing blogs like newspaper interviews

“When dealing with the media, there are five common mistakes that financial advisors tend to make, “ writes Sally Cates in Financial Planning Magazine. “I should know,” Cates remarks (for 25 years, she’s been helping advisors have discussions with reporters).

I should know, too. As a now-retired financial planning practitioner who trains blog content writers, the mistakes Cates mentions are the same ones I often notice in business blogs.  Although reporters are not our business owner or practitioner clients’ target readers, we writers need to avoid committing the same “doozies” Cates lists:

Too general a message
“Reporters like examples, case studies, interesting details, and fascinating client situations,” Cates coaches advisers.  (Blog readers find those details and case studies engaging.)

TMI (too much information)
Don’t provide too much technical detail, Cates tells the advisors.  “Your article shouldn’t require a law degree to decipher.” Use true stories to highlight the mechanics.

Over-sharing
Don’t vent about prior firms or share resentments about co-workers or job conditions, Cates cautions. In similar vein, I caution blog content writers to avoid bashing competitors, focusing on their own strengths.

Delayed response
Reporters work on tight deadlines, so call them back promptly, Cates tells advisors.  The equivalent in the blogosphere is allowing too much time to elapse between posting.  Frequency and regularity earn “Brownie points” from both readers and search engines.

Being disorganized
Prepare talking points for each interview, Cates says, including data to support the points you want to make. Business bloggers need to curate – and property attribute – materials from different sources to support the points and add value for readers.

We should all know these things, of course, but Sally Cates’ piece is a good reminder to avoid those 5 big interview/marketing mistakes!

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