The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place – George Bernard Shaw
What kind of notebook do you use?
If you are at all interested in stationery that question could start a conversation that lasts several hours. Or you could spend several hours reading what people have written about it on the Internet. I confess, I have.
We’re still in the early days of understanding how to use content for good. Or for selling. Most of us, I suspect, find it harder work than we’d like.
Part of the blame for this, perhaps, lies with technology. Once upon a time, if you wanted to write, you picked up a pen and some paper and had a go.
Cutting and pasting was something you literally did with scissors and paste. Darwin and the Bronte sisters probably wrote that way.
In business we now create huge quantities of material. Most of this is in software like Microsoft Word, locked into place – not technically – just with the tedium and hassle of learning how to do things differently. We write stuff in word, pdf it and then send it out into the world.
That’s just normal, really.
But is it efficient? And is the Internet changing things?
I suspect not, because the level of technical literacy is probably not changing fundamentally beyond the what you see is what you get (WYSISYG) method in Word. If you have a blog, you probably use WordPress. That has a built in editor where you can compose and add material and publish.
It’s the same on LinkedIn or Medium or all the other places you put content. As workflows go, it’s not too different from doing things in Word. And those platforms have an interest in getting you using their platform – the easier they make it the more likely you’ll stay. The more you have on there, the more likely it is that you’ll stay.
So what, you might think, what’s the point you’re making here?
The point is that there is more and more content coming online all the time. Forget the ridiculous amounts of multimedia – just focus on old fashioned written content, the kind that you need to get leads and make sales. You know there’s more of it around. So how do you stand out?
Make it personal
The easiest way is to make it personal. The more specific your content, the more likely it will help you make a sale.
Designing your content for personalisation means thinking about how you can merge standard content and specific content from the start.
For example, let’s say you’re sending out an email message – it would make sense to include a line that talks about what you’re doing in the city your recipient lives in. If they’re in London, they probably don’t care what happens in Aberdeen. If you’re in Aberdeen, however, what’s happening near you will probably get your interest far more quickly than any London issue.
One way some people achieve personalisation is by simply sprinkling the name of the prospect company all the way through the copy. I’m not sure that’s a great idea – you increase your chances of leaving in a stray name the next time you reuse the content and it’s not really personalisation. Personalisation is when you can show that you’ve taken the trouble to understand the business of the person reading it.
Make it readable
This should be obvious, but it’s often not. How many times have you worked on a document without knowing who it was for and what they were expecting?
How many documents have you read that are so abstruse and unreadable that you just don’t get what their point is?
Take the recent IPCC report on climate change. The news reports said that the report was a stark warning that we weren’t going to keep global temperatures in check. We’re going to destroy the planet. That was hard to get out of the report itself – the language was technical and hard to understand – and this is an important issue after all.
Many business leaders get this – that’s why you get a one page executive summary – mostly with bullets. You’ve got to make your stuff readable. And that’s harder than it looks.
As the saying goes – easy writing, hard reading. Hard writing, easy reading.
Make it findable
This really has to do with the ability of search engines to find your stuff. Big ones – on the internet, or small ones, inside your company. Or even the human search engines that are your colleagues that have to hunt through folders for what you’ve written.
I don’t really know how hard it is to do SEO. At one point perhaps you could fool the tech into giving you a higher ranking. It’s cleverer now. Perhaps the best strategy there is first – put it out there so it can be found – and second – write good stuff.
Make it work on different channels
The problem with locking something into a pdf is that it can only be viewed with a pdf viewer. If it’s formatted in A4 it’s harder to read on a phone. And so on.
It’s worth thinking about a workflow that takes the elements of your content – headlines, subheads, copy, images, captions, references – and converts them to a whole bunch of formats – html for the web, pdfs for printing and so on.
The easier it is to put your content places, the more likely it is that people will engage with it.
With sales, you’re going to spend time creating material in the format asked for by the prospect anyway. But you can see that as just one channel for the content. The same stuff should be capable of going through any channel that could turn out to be profitable for you.
Make it reusable
Creating content takes time. It costs you – and should be treated as an asset. As an asset, you want to get the most out of it, and that means using it wherever you can – sweating it.
If you’re working in a business, you’re going to spend a huge amount of time creating stuff. Very few places, however, have any real controls over how things are created, modified, updated and maintained. It’s something quite common in the software world – the idea of version control and releases – but content management in general could do with that kind of disciplined approach.
The good news is that there is still time. Most businesses still live in a world of brochures and presentations and salespeople.
If you start to think a little more like a software developer or publisher and try to create personal, reusable content that can be found in different places you’ll start to stand out from everyone else – as long as what you create is readable.