Marketing a Professional Practice Through Business Blogs

practitioner blogging

“Services – unlike products – cannot be seen, touched, held, etc. Buyers only know the true value of your service after they receive it (often with full effects taking place weeks or months later,” Oren Smith of Precision Marketing Group explains.

Since, at Say It For You, our content writers serve the needs of both product vending businesses and of professional practitioners, I was very interested in Smith’s breakdown of the challenges he believes are distinct in professional services marketing:

1. Intangibility: When people purchase a service, they are essentially buying into trust and ideas, “requiring professional services firms to market not only the service itself, but the people, knowledge, and skills behind it.” Use blog content to answer the “why”, the “what’s-your-purpose” question.  What drives the passion? Give your online visitors the chance to get caught up in your passion. I once wrote a reminder to eager-beaver business blogger newbies: In the dictionary, the word “belief” comes before “blog”!

2. A longer buying cycle: A professional practitioner’s sales cycle is longer and more complicated than a product-based sale, “as the perceived buying risk is typically much higher.” For practitioner blogs to be effective, I teach, they must serve as positioning statements. The visit has to conclude with readers understanding not only what your value proposition is, but exactly why that should make any difference to them. What’s the benefit in this for ME? How will MY interests be protected and served if I choose to become your client or patient? What will you do to keep ME “safe” from risk?

3. Relationships vs. transactions: Buyers often determine which provider is going to be the best fit for their business based on a serious of personalized interactions. As business blog content writers, we can work to inspire three types of trust in the business providers and professional practitioners who hire us to convey their message: Prospects must trust in the practitioner’s know-how, ethical conduct, and empathy.

4. An ongoing process: As sellers of professional services, “every touch point you have with a prospect or current customer throughout an engagement matters. and supports the value you bring.” The blog sets the stage for readers to make a judgment about their own expectations: potential clients are asking the question: “How will I know I’ve been helped by using your services?”

5. Education: “Understanding your customers’ pain points and what makes their businesses tick is a key preliminary step to selling your services.” Even though you’re offering a professional service, you’ll find that customers tend to respond better if you show them how the process works, even how to “do it themselves”. Readers often realize that they’re not an expert or don’t have the time, so they call you to come do it for them.
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“Fully understand the benefits you bring to the table, why only you can do it, and why the client isn’t able to do it as effective on its own,” are Smith’s final words to marketers.

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Add a Little “Why” to Your Business Blog Content

When speaker Todd Hunt saw a sign in his health club reading:

“Please Do Not Pour Water on the Sauna Rocks”

Hunt’s first thought, he relates, was “I’ll pour water on the rocks if I want to.  Nobody tells me what to do!” But after spotting the second line of copy on the sign, Hunt changed his tune:

“Our system is not built for water.”

“Oh, now I understand,” he thought.  Hunt reminds his audiences to always add “why” statements to make statements more customer-friendly.

The same concept of “explaining why” is used in training parents, teachers, and caregivers of children with behavior challenges to used “scripted stories”. Here’s an example:

:.
I like to run. It is fun to go fast.
It’s okay to run when I am playing outside.
I can run when I am on the playground.
Sometimes I feel like running, but it is dangerous to run when I am inside.
Running inside could hurt me or other people.
When people are inside, they walk.
Walking inside is safe.

In the case of the sauna and the behaviorally challenged children, the purpose was to prevent action (pouring water or running).  But in marketing, calls to action (CTAs) often use imperative verbs designed to provoke immediate positive action: find out more, call now, provide contact information, etc. The concept, Horner explains in “Writing a Better Call to Action”, is to show consumers how to take the next step and to create a sense of urgency around the offer.

Just as Todd Hunt intuited about the power of explaining why in sign copy, searchers who’ve found themselves at your blog want to know why they ought to keep reading/follow your advice/buy your products and services. Answering the “why’s” before they’re asked overcomes buyers’ natural skepticism.

Prospects actually need answers to five “why’s”:

1. Why me?  Why did you target this particular market (the one represented by this potential buyer)?
2. Why you (the author)? What is our expertise and experience?  Why do we care?
3. Why this (the offer) What are the specific solutions you provide?
4. Why now (the urgency)
5. Why this price (the value)

Adding “why” makes blog content statements more customer-friendly!

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Citations – Good News in Blogging, Confusing in Spelling, Bad News in Driving

citations

“The triple whammy of homophones ‘cite’, ‘site’, and ‘sight’ has the potential to create a great deal of confusion,” the editors of The Book of Random Oddities explain. To cite, they go on to explain, means to “quote someone, or someone’s work, as a authoritative source to support an argument.” The word “cite”, the book’s authors add, is a verb derived from the Latin “citare”, which means to summon or to put into motion. (In contrast, a building sits on a site, and our vision is our sight.). Of course, the verb “cite” can also refer to issuing a court summons or parking ticket.

My college students are taught to use citations and reference pages to show where they got their information.  That way, the students avoid plagiarism by properly attributing statements to the original authors of that material. .  In your blogs, you use citation as well, giving credit to the sources of your information.  Even if you’re putting your own unique twist on the topic, link to websites from which you got some of your original information or news.

Since, as a business blog content writer, my ”arena” is the World Wide Web, I can’t help but be awed by the fact that the internet has become the largest repository of information in human history.  Trillions of words are added to it daily, and literally anyone with access to a computer or cell phone can add content to the mix at any time.

But the fact is, people read blogs to get information and we, as content providers need to provide that information with honesty and respect towards readers – and towards the original creators of any materials we use to support the points we want to make. 

Looking at citation from a whole other vantage point, author Neil Patel advises citing your own older blog posts (as I’ve done in the paragraph above). “Millions of posts are written, then seen by a few people and then essentially discarded into the blog post graveyard,” Patel laments. In fact, Patel considers old blog posts more valuable than new ones, with the majority of his traffic each month going to old posts.

Citations may be confusing, given the homonym “site” and traffic ticket terminology, but in blogging – citations represent good practice and good news!

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What Blog Title Phrasing Doubles Your Click-through Rates?

 

 

Researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, Norway were out to determine what factors make certain headlines drive more click-throughs than others. They performed two experiments, one using Twitter, the other using popular Norwegian auction and shopping website FINN.

  • Putting aside possible cultural differences among readers in different countries, the major takeaways from the study were these:
  • Question headlines are more effective than statement (declarative) headlines.
    Question headlines that reference the reader (you, your, etc.) are most effective.

Kevan Lee agrees about the importance of “you” words. In “How to Write the Perfect Headline: The Top Words Used in Viral Headlines”, he discusses headline analysis based on twenty-four different websites. Question headlines referencing the reader were the most effective, with “you” and “your” both making the top-20 word list. Question words “what”, “which”, and “when” all important, while “why” appealed to the ‘curiosity gap”.

Superlatives in headlines “sell”. “The most successful people”, “The happiest people”, “The most interesting people” – these are people we want to know more about. ”Readers enjoy discovering, learning, and challenging the details behind blanket assertions like this,” Lee explains. There’s also a certain level of authority when you say “the most”.  At the same time, that phrase taps into readers’ argumentative side – does the superlative really ring true? “How to” posts promise a certain level of education, Lee continues, and valuable subject matter will generate clicks.

Whether in magazines or blogs, there are two types of titles, I’ve noticed. The “Huh?” titles need subtitles to make clear what the article is about, and the “Oh!” titles are self explanatory. The“Huh?s” startle and arouse curiosity; The “Oh!” subtitle then clarifies what the focus of the piece will be.

As a business blog content writer, I love the tongue-in-cheek remark by  Thomas Umstattd in “Top 5 Blog Title Mistakes Authors Make”.  In school, he says, your teacher probably taught you that the purpose of a title was to describe your writing.  That’s wrong, he says.  The purpose of a title is to tell readers why they should bother to read your writing!

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Business Blogging With Round-Up Posts – Part 2 of 2

 

 

Round-up posts are blog posts consisting of lists of best sources of information. Those might be lists of best websites, best You Tube clips, or best of any kind of web content that relates to your topic. As a business blogging trainer, I loved many of Authorunlimited editor Cathy Presland’s ideas for round-up posts and am formatting  both of this week’s Say It For You posts as “round-ups” of noteworthy pieces of advice and observations about business blogging…..

“If you hang around the barber shop long enough, you’re going to get your hair cut. The more pages (blog articles) your website has, the more time consumers will spend on your site.”

– Marcus Sheridan in “50 Blogging Benefits that Will Change Your Business Forever
 

“ Your company blog is all about your buyer persona, not you.”
– Ramona Sukhraj in “Blogging for Business? Here’s Everything You Need To Know”

“The best business blogs answer common questions their leads and customers have. If you’re consistently creating content that’s helpful for your target customer, it’ll help establish you as an authority in their eyes.”
– Corey Wainwright in “The Benefits of Business Blogs for Marketing”

““The blogscape is not for the faint-hearted….There’s a shocking disconnect between one fact — you sitting at your computer — and the next — what you just wrote being instantly visible to the entire world.”- Brian Appleyard of the London Times, quoted by Jeff Bullas

“Blogging is one of the fastest and easiest ways to promote your business and increase traffic to your website.”
– ThriveHive

But is sharing others’ content really a smart strategy for business owners and practitioners?  After all, blog writing for business, as I’ve often pointed out in this Say It For You blog, will succeed only if two things are apparent to readers:  a) You (the business owner or professional practitioner) understand online searchers’ concerns and needs and b) you and your staff have the experience, the information, the products, and the services to solve exactly those problems and meet precisely those needs.

The answer is yes, as Presland explains: “Round-up posts are fantastic as an education source for your audience: they can see where your inspiration comes from, and widen the scope of their knowledge at the same time.”

 

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Blogging to Inspire

“Unless your blog only serves as a personal diary, you should aim to inspire others with your writings,” hongkiat.com advises. All you need to be concerned about is how much value you can provide to readers.  How do you go about providing value? Honkiat’s answers:

  1. Write what others didn’t think of.
  2. Write what is noteworthy, be it a solution or an opinion-based entry.
  3. Be specialized.
  4. Be persuasive.
  5. Be relatable
  6. Demonstrate expertise.

All well and good, but for blog content writers whose aim is the marketing of specific products or services, how does inspiration figure into it?  The answer, I concluded, might come from a YouTube video a friend had turned me onto, listing the ten most common regrets people have later in life.

On the one hand, I reminded myself, in a business blog, the last thing one would want to do is sound “preachy”. After all, readers arrive at a particular website seeking information about a product or service, or to learn more about what that company or individual knows or knows how to do. Still, wouldn’t that information be even more compelling when combined with an inspirational element?

For example, the first most common regret people have is not having travelled more. What if, in a blog post, you described ways to learn about and experience other cultures, even if you had neither the funds nor the time to actually go abroad?  A furniture company describes “12 Spaces Inspired by India.” From catering to fashion, there are endless opportunities to market  products and services  using the appeal of international culture.

Not spending enough time with one’s parents is another common regret. Rather than reinforcing guilt feelings, blog marketers can introduce unique gift ideas, conversation starters (“Tell me a story of a special holiday we shared when I was little)”. Of course, the topic of connecting with parents is ideal for eldercare facilities, elder lawyers, photographers, and therapists, but even shoe companies, food delivery companies, and cell phone companies can offer ideas to help adult children do “a little bit more” to connect with and help their parents.

One of the biggest regrets people mentioned was caring too much about what other people think. This one has endless applications to inspire readers by offering advice, products, and services that help boost self-esteem. As wealthygorilla.com says, “You cannot let the opinions of others dictate how you are going to live your life.”

The typical website, I believe, is more like the catalogs of an earlier era, explaining what products and services the company offers, who the “players” are and in what geographical area they operate. Of course, the better websites give at least a taste of the corporate culture and some of the owners’ core beliefs. The blog’s purpose is to address unspoken questions such as “So, is that different?”, “So, is that good for me?” More than that, however, the blog is there to inspire, helping people address those common regrets.

 

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Where Are You Going and Why Are You There?

In the e-letters my friend Jane Thompson, the trade show marketing consultant, sends me, I invariably find valuable pieces of advice that relate to blog marketing. While trade shows can be a tremendous source of leads, industry information, and networking, Jane explains, she sees many companies wasting time and money because they don’t have an over-arcing strategy.

Truth is, I see companies wasting time and money on blogging for the same basic reason.  Yes, as Christine Whittemore writes in simplemarketingnow.com, “A blog is the centerpiece or hub for your content strategy as well as any marketing you do using social media…It’s via a blog that you are able to develop thoughts and create meaning for readers.”.

But what business owners and professional practitioners need to realize that a blog isn’t –and cannot be – an all-purpose, Swiss-army-knife solution for all their marketing needs. In fact, blogging is just one piece of the general strategy you work on with your team (which might well include a blog copy writer, but which also might include the web designer, the business manager, the employees, loyal fans, even sometimes a franchisor).

Jane Thompson talks about the importance of choosing the right shows and setting goals. In relation to your blog content creation, questions to consider include:

  • Are you selecting the right keywords and phrases?
  • Is there a clear navigation path from the blog to landing pages?
  • Is your content varied enough?
  • Is it usable?
  • Does it include evergreen and currently trending content?
  • Is it revealing of your values?

All the pieces used to promote your business or practice must mesh – social media, traditional advertising, event planning, word of mouth marketing, community involvement.

Ask yourself, Jane Thompson reminds her trade show marketing clients: Where are you going and why are you there?

 

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Intro Blog Posts

I picked up Pulp Media’s 501 Things You Should Have Learned About Math from the bargain rack outside my favorite bookstore, and spent the next hour happily browsing through it.  As the printed introduction promises, “Several facts in this book are bizarre, mind-boggling, fun and interesting, but not one will make you want to put it down.”

But even better than that intro actually printed in the book itself, I found, was the intro offered by Amazon:

“This eminently browsable book presents history’s greatest mathematicians and mathematical discoveries in fascinating, easy-to-understand chunks.”

Every business blog, I believe, could use an introductory post telling readers exactly what to expect in posts to come.

“You’ll learn about Archimedes, Pythagoras, Isaac Newton and how their experiments and breakthroughs have changed the world. You’ll learn how “zero” came to life, how geometry was discovered and how mathematicians throughout history have cracked the world’s most challenging conundrums.”

An introductory post needs to entice readers, arousing their curiosity.  (And, did you notice the intro writer’s skillful use of alliteration such as in “challenging conundrums”))

“So if you don’t know your Fibonacci from your tagliatelle what are you waiting for?”

Nothing like offering a challenge to readers, giving them a reason to slimb aboard. (I knew who Fibonacci was, but needed to look up tagliatelle!)

Just as instructors make clear to students what the syllabus is for the semester and what tasks they are expected to complete before the next session, it’s crucial for us blog content writers to tell the readers what to expect of our blog, making it clear why we decided (or why our client decided) to offer a blog in the first place!

 

 

 

 

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Even More About Words to Use in Blogging for Business

 

Word Of Mouth Represents Social Media Marketing And Connect
“Having something to contribute to a conversation makes us feel good,” schoolwebmasters.com points out, advising schools on communication strategy. “Everyone likes to feel knowledgeable, included, and validated. It’s even typical in group conversations for someone to be thinking more of what they can add to the conversation than actively listening to what other people are saying”.

Rule #4 schoolwebmasters offers school personnel is this: “Keep your mission and message short and memorable.  Think about what you want people to way when they start talking, and work that message into your communication strategy.” As blog content writers, we can truly appreciate this next piece of advice: “A long, complicated message isn’t going to be repeated in word-of-mouth instances….Keep things positive and simple.”

Since the words we use in business blog content are our most important power tools, how can we use words to enhance word of mouth marketing results for our business owner and professional practitioner clients?

Marketers used to focus on the 4 Ps, Kimberly Whitler writes in Forbes. Now, Whitler claims, we need to focus on the three Es: Engage, Equip, Empower. In blog marketing, I teach, one of the goals is to “put words into readers’ mouths”, equipping them to make meaningful contributions to conversations – about you and about your products and services.

Often what really makes up a consumer’s mind is a word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source.  “As consumers overwhelmed by product choices tune out the ever-growing barrage of traditional marketing, word of mouth cuts through the noise quickly and effectively,“ observes the McKinsey Quarterly.

In blogging for business, we need to “put words into consumers’ mouths”!

 

 

 

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Why and Why-Not Blogging for Business

book Aliens

 

Aliens would probably come to Earth in peace, quantum physicist Jim Al-Khalili assures readers in his book Aliens, proceeding to bust no fewer than five commonly held myths-from-the-movies about encounters with visitors from other planets.

The author uses scientific knowledge to debunk each myth:

Aliens will eat us. No, because, in order for them to process our molecules of amino acids and sugars, they’d need to have a biochemistry similar to ours, “a long shot for a species that hails from a different world”.

Aliens will breed with us.  No, we can’t even reproduce with our nearest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee.

Aliens will look like us.  No, because their evolution would not have been parallel to human evolution and it’s “near impossible that they would have human-like features.”

Aliens will be living creatures. No, should aliens contact us, “we will hear not from fellow organic creatures, but from the robots they produced.”

Aliens will come to steal our water and metal.  No, most of our metal is in the Earth’s core, not its crust; asteroids would be better for mining, and icy moons would be easier places to stock up on water.

The Time article about Aliens is a good example of mythbusting, which is used in many fields to counteract counterproductive thinking. For that very reason, I’m a firm believer that myth debunking is a great use for corporate blogs.

In the normal course of doing business or operating a professional practice, misunderstandings about your product or surface are bound to surface.  (It’s even worse when those myths and misunderstandings don’t surface, but still have the power to interrupt the selling process!)

That’s why the de-bunking function of business blog writing is so important. It’s our way of taking up arms against a sea of customers’ unfounded fears and biases.  Blog content writing can “clear the air”, replacing factoids with facts, so that buyers can see their way to making decisions. The technique is not without risk, because customers don’t like to be proven wrong or feel stupid.  The trick is to engage interest, but not in “Gotcha!” fashion.

In other words, business owners and professional practitioners can use their blogs to showcase their own expertise without “showing up” their readers’ lack of it, assuring prospects and clients that they, like movie aliens, are coming in peace!.

 

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