What is your customer script?

Oh, wait, you didn’t know they needed one?

If brand is all about reputation, than nothing beats it when that reputation spreads organically through word of mouth. You can’t be all places at once, so it pays to turn your customers into your own private evangelist army.

Many power brands revel in the fact that customers love them so much, those fans will generate content on their own accord – without pay – that promotes the company. Virgin America enjoys You Tube videos created by their happy passengers. Local businesses love seeing hundreds of stellar Yelp reviews from fans.

But you also want those messages highlighting the things you want your brand to represent. Meaning, you have to find some way to give your customers a script – or the main talking points – so that the message they are spreading is aligned with the one you want out in the world.  Do you want people to talk about your low prices or your artisan craftsmanship? Do you want the first thing they talk about to be your generous return policy or your quirky and fun email newsletter and brand voice?

What do you want to be known for? What is most important? One way to ensure customers know the script is to ensure that YOU do. I work with clients to build messaging platforms. Messaging platforms are internal tools designed to keep all your marketing on script for the three main messages you want to communicate about your brand. It then digs into each benefit and provides proof points that can be cited to explain why you can make that benefit claim.

Think about a conversation between a customer and a friend. What do you want them to say about you? What do you want the headline to be? Craft your messaging platform to ensure three clear benefits are conveyed in everything that you do, such as your website, your marketing, your ads. This way, you are arming your customers with the right script to share with others.

In order to control the external message as much as you can, you need to clarify the message internally first. Don’t just hope your customers will say the right things. Craft your messaging platform based on your brand and your authentic strengths and then bang the drum around those three main messages over and over again. Pretty soon, your customers will learn the script, too.

What is your customer script? What are the three main benefits you provide or things you want people talking about? Please share in the Comments!

Finding your brand voice

Norma Maxwell, the creative sprite behind Connect Interactive, LLC asked me this great question recently:

How do I determine my brand “voice?”

Voice is so key to your brand communications. Remember the three-legged stool of brand: Visual, verbal and experiential? The “verbal” component – what you write and how you talk is a key component of a strong brand. Is it cheeky or irreverent? Is it formal or conservative?

Here are three guidelines for landing on the right brand voice for your business:

Know your strengths: What do you bring to the market? You may want to sound like Apple, but if you don’t deliver what they do and you’re not hip, innovative and well-designed, it’s fake. Don’t copy someone else – what does your business bring to the table? Play off of that.

Know your customers: Who is your ideal customer? Flesh out that customer profile and understand what makes them tick. What is their sense of humor, what do they need to hear, what will attract them? What cultural references will they understand? Map this to your strengths and give them what they want to hear.

Know yourself: Especially for solopreneurs, write like you talk. I know I do. Bring your authentic personality to the party.

The point at which all three of these things intersect is where you can find your brand voice. Think of it like a Venn Diagram – where do all three meet? Therein lies the magic.

How do you know if you’ve landed on something good? If it’s fairly easy to write your copy and the words just flow – and folks are responding to your voice through comments, tweets or sales, then you know you’re on the right track.

Words that work: How to sell without sounding like a sleaze

Too often, business owners believe that just because they know how to write, that their words will persuade people to pay attention, buy their products or provide word of mouth. But effective copywriting to compel an action or convey a brand takes a special skill. Today, Jared Matthew Kessler, Chief Copy Officer (CCO) at The Kick Ass Copywriter will share some insight as to how to sell by solving problems, not just tooting your horn. He’ll also dish on his process for crafting irresistible website copy, how to pitch without sounding schlocky and the biggest mistakes business owners can avoid if they want a compelling message.

Jared’s mission is to transform key ideas into words that sell and help companies stand out from the noise (not just add to it).

RS: Welcome Jared! How do you balance effective selling “techniques” for your clients without sounding overly cheesy?

JK: You know, we’re all a lot smarter these days. We know when we’re being sold and when we’re being helped. However, there’s this fine line between offering a product or service that you know will help people and slapping someone over the head with it.

When I take on a project, I ask numerous questions up front. In fact I gather as many marketing materials as I can and, if I need to, I send them a 7-page questionnaire that really helps me understand their brand – and whether or not there’s what I call a “B.S. factor.” So when I come up with a few concepts and start writing and developing them, I come from a conversational standpoint. Meaning, I literally have a conversation in my head between the prospect and the company owner. At any point, if I feel the “B.S. factor” is coming on too strong, I try and verbally pace the situation. Meaning, if it’s too good to be true you can say, “Listen… I know that sounds too good to be true. And honestly a lot of times it is. But…”

In addition to that, once I sense they are “pitching” someone, I just remove what was written and start again.

It should be about stepping inside the mind of your prospect, and getting people excited, without giving something away. So the product or service would be set up as the solution to your prospect’s problem (if that makes sense). That’s where you have to understand every single aspect of your audience before writing any copy.

I often say, “If you talk to everyone, you’re talking to no one.” It’s a conversation. Not a
sales pitch.

RS: So true. It’s about them, not about you! What big mistakes do you see when business owners write their own marketing or sales copy?

JK: There are four mistakes I see over and over:

1. Telling everyone about how great you are. How qualified you are to help someone. And how “life changing” your product or service is, giving everyone the overblown sales pitch of how much you can help someone. You can’t sell anything without rapport. Without trust. So make it about your prospect first. Then you, last.

2. Underestimating the power of your words. I mean this is similar to #1 in that a lot of people misunderstand what “copywriting” means. They think it’s all about making something sound good. And I think, huh? There’s so much work that goes into not just what I do, but what any true Copywriter does. And the reason I say, “true” is that I’ve seen a lot of “writers” tout themselves as Copywriters because of how much money they can make. And that makes me sad.

The main difference is that when you write copy you don’t just make something sound good. It has to be relevant to your audience. Sell a product or service without the greasy sales pitch. Increase your sales. Build your brand. And work.

I think too many people fall in love with an idea, instead of falling in love with a result. Recently, I had a client’s web site I rewrote the copy for and within hours she had people wanting to work with her. I love that! However, there was a TON of work and research behind that. I sent out surveys to send to her clients that really love her. I’ve written pages and pages of copy for each individual web page. Wrote a new tag line that served her brand much better than her web designer tried to pull off. Developed multiple concepts and… more importantly she didn’t change any of my work – which is the main reason I love her so much. 🙂

3. Building a website instead of a brand. I love a great ad campaign! One that’s smart. Effective. And solves their prospects problem in as a few words as possible (that’s 100% original). The best ones are when all the ads align with each other. For instance, take that David Beckham Superbowl ad (I’m sure you remember it ladies). Now it’s nothing to write home about in terms of incredibly original. But my point is, if you looked at the colors in the commercial. The style. The simplicity. It’s exactly the same look and feel as if you went into the store.

What I see of a lot of smaller businesses is that they just have a certain look and feel to their website. A certain look and feel to their business card. A certain look and feel to their actual business. And their brand is just inconsistent across all platforms. From their marketing collateral to their website, it really needs to be cohesive. It has to all click – not just one piece of it.

4. Have you or your web designer write the “copy” yourself, just to try and save a few bucks. What’s unfortunate is that people mistake a great looking website for an effective one. And that’s really two different things. It’s like me saying, “Well I can design your website for you.” I mean, I’ve never done that, nor would I ever! In fact I’m the first one to recommend a professional web designer to someone, because the design should support the copy (or vice versa).

In addition to that, I unfortunately tend to see certain business owners lose more money in lost sales, than trying to hire someone like me to begin with. What’s worse, is that if you’re a new brand, you have to build trust in the beginning. So if you’re looking to hire a Copywriter to “save the day” for your failing business months/years later, it’s unfortunately not going to do much good unless you rebrand yourself. Because once you lose someone’s trust, it’s really, really hard to earn that back. Even then so, it’ll take a lot more time and more money, than hiring a professional Copywriter from the start.

I mean, look at the rebrand JC Penney’s is going through. And how many millions of dollars in advertising are they spending to get you to revisit them after you already experienced them years ago?

It’s the same thing with trying to save any flailing business. Do it right from the beginning, or even if you’re doing it right, keep it consistent and hire a professional. In the short term, it might be more money than you thought. But in the long run, at least you’ll stay in business.

RS: Awesome points. You’ll end us spending more money (and losting more sales) if you don’t get it it right from the start. And it’s an investment in your business, not something you should skimp on.  One reason people cite is that “Another writer won’t sound like me if they write my copy.” How do you approach writing projects when you have your own writing style but need to reflect a client’s brand or voice?

JK: This is a great question! People get caught up in this a lot. They think that since you haven’t written copy for cell phone companies, or for medical sales or _______ that
you’re somehow unqualified – or the owner can do a better job than a professional Copywriter.

For me specifically, it’s similar to how actors research a role. I recently saw an interview with Brad Pitt on taking the role he did for Moneyball. In the interview, he mentioned how few people research roles nowadays. He mentioned how he could pick up certain character traits from spending months with the actual character he portrays. And how important the research process is for any project he takes on.

I mean, when you spend that much time researching your client, reading their marketing materials, talking with them over the phone, reviewing their answers to your questions… it’s only natural to pick up someone else’s style. Not only that, a lot of times you even help them discover their own voice, their own brand they didn’t even think they had. What’s more exciting than that?!

 What copywriting or messaging techniques have you found worked (or didn’t work) in your business? Please share your story in the Comments.

Tell me why I should care

Dell recently announced they are “taking a cue from the Apple playbook” and launching a new branding campaign that does not talk about technology. From the NASDAQ article:

The campaign, dubbed "More You," is aimed at personalizing technology and marks a break in tradition for a company that got its start by commoditizing computers. Rather than focus on the specifications of products, Dell is hoping the campaign will encourage consumers to think about features and how they can be used.

So many of us who have been in tech marketing have been beating this drum for years. Yes, when you talk to the IT guys, they care about widgets, features, scalability, disaster recovery, processing speed and the like. But when you start talking to line of business executive (or in this case, end consumers), they don’t care about the whiz-bang technology jargon. They want to know how it makes their lives better.

The best analogy I ever heard about this was from a highly-skilled technical analyst who said, “When I get in the shower in the morning, I don’t care about what the pipes are made of, how they move behind the walls, where the valves are in the house, the speed of water flow by the second….I care that when I turn the knob, water comes out and I get clean.”

Love it.

Too often we get enamored with our own story and communicating every single solitary bit of it in the hopes that SOMETHING will stick.  But what sticks the most for people is not the technical info – you will investigate that as you get closer to making your decision or when you are comparing apples and apples – but the vision of what the product or service will do for them.  Once they are hooked, you can dazzle them with your gigabytes per second and whatnot.

Brand at Work: MOO

I love brands that use every customer touchpoint to delight their buyers. Most recently, I got the chance to fall in love with MOO. A UK-based firm with a U.S. office in Rhode Island, MOO prints mini and full size business cards, postcards, greeting cards and more. You can print different images on each card, and they also use recycled and sustainable products. MOO cares about beautiful design and quality products at a decent price. They inject their fun, friendly and bubbly brand into thousands of little things and really understand the concept of “enveloping” their customers in a brand experience that gets people talking.

I recently ordered some minicards from them to promote my book, Branding Basics for Small Business. I wanted to leave people with a reminder about the book, rather than having them scramble for a piece of paper and a pen.

First off, the automated email message about my order: Full of personality. It starts with, “It’s Little MOO again. I thought you’d like to know, the following items from your order are now in the mail:” and ends with:

 Remember, I’m just a bit of software, so if you have any questions regarding your order, the best place to start is with our Frequently Asked Questions. We keep the answers here: http://www.moo.com/help/faq/. If you’re still not sure, contact customer services, (who are real people) at: http://www.moo.com/help/contact-us.html

Thanks for ordering with MOO – we hope you love your order,


Little MOO, Print Robot

They took a boring, bland auto-email and turned it into a reinforcement of my decision to buy from them. Easy. Simple. No extra cost to do this.

Secondly, packaging: Your package arrives  in an appealing array.  They use package messaging to further reinforce their quirky friendly brand, with little sayings like, “Yay! You’re Our New Best Friend” in the holding case I bought, and a wrapper on the box that said,

“Your MOO minicards are inside*

*Open them quick!”

Everything about them is small, compact and sustainable. They actually design their packaging to be reused. Here is what they say about this on their website:

We think receiving products from MOO should be something special. After all, it’s your artwork, your photography, your event or your business you’re promoting. Something to be proud of and something to be shared. So we custom design our packaging for re-use, resale and recycling. If it’s worth packing, it’s worth packing well.

Third, website copy: Just look at the clever and witty way their website copy is worded and you instantly understand their brand and what they are about. The brand promise carries through in tone and word choice. Friendly. Bubbly. Customer-service focused. Check out this page for just a taste. This is actually a website you want to read and enjoy.

It is very clear throughout all of their messaging that they stand for fun, quality and environmental sustainability.

What does your business stand for? It is clear across everything that you do that this is the promise you deliver? Why not take a look at some of the simple, inexpensive things that you do and see how you can inject your brand voice into them to delight your customers?

How to write an email that gets ripped open like a 5 year-old’s birthday present

Do you get frustrated sending emails to potential clients or partners that never get opened or fall into the ether? I sure do…

We’ve all been there: we spend hours poring over every word and line of a carefully crafted email only to click Send and wait like a lovelorn teenager by the phone. Cue crickets chirping.

Wouldn’t it be great if your emails were received like candy on Halloween, and recipients couldn’t wait to get their greedy little hands on the content? Hells yeah.

Well, Mike at Toilet Paper Entrepreneur just shared how to make it happen.

I’m loving this amazingly generous video gift he recently shared about how to use behavioral influence techniques in your email writing. The video walks you through an actual email he created for a  client. I learned so much from the video about little tips and tricks to engage readers, cut through the clutter and genuinely build rapport. If any of you are doing emails for business development, partnerships – or even for your loyal community – this is really Must See TV.

Some tips he shares (there are many more):

  • starting your email subject line with a lower case letter increases opens and builds familiarity
  • The technique is based on how we want to be communicated to as humans. You want to Identify, Involve and Include.
  • The sole purpose of the subject line is to arouse curiosity so they open the email
  • In the first paragraph, position the problem you want to solve. In the 2nd, build a relatable story. In the 3rd, tie into the emotion. In the 4th, evoke a positive response by offering a “pain escape”.” And then lay out the solutions you offer.
  • Repeat a key phrase throughout to make it stick and drive home a benefit

Enjoy and please share.

View your brand from the outside in

How does this DaVinci quote relate to your brand?

“Every now and then go away and have a little relaxation. To remain constantly at work will diminish your judgment.Go some distance away because work will be in perspective and a lack of harmony is more readily seen.” (Leonardo DaVinci)

While I love this quote for its important lesson about balancing work and play (yes, talking to you, Mr. “Look how dedicated and important I am that I have not taken a vacation in 6 years” guy, which also translates to “I’m going to have a heart attack before I’m 50”), it’s directly related to your business and brand as well.

We are all so into our businesses. We know every little nook and cranny inside and out, and more importantly know our own intent and motivation within our own heads.  We often forget that customers or prospects interacting with us for the first time (or 2nd or 3rd…) don’t have all that “background reference.” We confuse them with meaningless acronyms and jargon that only we understand because we see it every day. We think we are explaining things well because WE know what we mean, but we’re not. Or we forget to communicate the basics because we take for granted that, “Everyone knows that.” Um, no, they don’t.

The Heath brothers, who wrote one of my fave books, Made to Stick, call this the “Curse of Knowledge.” This applies to brand because we forget to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and view ourselves from the outside in. We have too much info about our own brand and business and it blinds us. Do my visual elements – logo, color, website design – communicate what I really want to be saying, or have we fiddled with it so much over the years that it is now meaningless and generic?  Does my description of what I do make sense to someone who has no inkling about this industry?

Sometimes, the best gift I can give clients is one of objectivity. The less I know about them when we work together initially, the better. Within those first few days, I can give an honest assessment of what it’s like to read their messaging and see their brand with fresh eyes. And I can point out what their brand is actually communicating, despite their best intentions.

I urge you to find objective eyes to audit your brand and messaging every once in awhile and make sure you are on track.  Only when you have some time away from something or distance from the source can you see the forest for the trees and find the holes in the story.

Is your message clear and consistent?

That depends: Do you know the difference between messaging and copy? Messaging and copy are two different things and knowing how and why can make your brand a hit or a flop.

So many entrepreneurs confuse “copy” with “messaging.” You need messaging, and a firm messaging platform to base all of your “copy” on: website copy, brochures, ads, sales presentations, etc. But some people try to start with the copy first and don’t base it on anything, meaning all the different communication vehicles will be scattered and inconsistent. And that is not good for developing a strong brand. Clarity attracts and consistency makes things stick.

How do you ensure you have strong messaging for your business? You need to start by talking about benefits, not features as so many entrepreneurs and small businesses do. Tell me why your product or service makes my life better, solves a problem, fulfills a need. That is the key to creating a sticky brand and attracting rabid fans. it’s also the way to differentiate yourself in today’s crowded market.