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Turn your unglamorous info into a marketing tool

2011 February 21
by Helen Keevy

Customer confusion

Ever been unable to find the most basic specifications for a product you’ve wanted to buy online? Or couldn’t find the contact info you needed for a specific department? Or the direct debit form they kept referring to but wasn’t attached to the ?!@&$%!! renewal form?

How did it make you feel about the business or organisation involved?

I’m no mind reader, but I’d bet a lot of money on it that ‘warm and fuzzy’ is not the phrase you’re thinking of right now. Probably something more along the lines of ‘incompetent’ or ‘unprofessional’?

So you already appreciate why well-written, user-friendly and useful information is an asset for your business.  I’m not talking about your advertisements or your glossy brochure, or the company blog you use to promote yourself online. I’m talking about the rest of the information that your customers or clients receive or use  - all the ‘admin info’. Things like your membership forms, your product details or technical specs, your support documents, your service information, FAQs, price lists or your booking confirmation emails.

All that ‘unglamorous’ information without which sales and marketing copy is largely a waste of time.

Good information as a marketing tool

Good written information is itself a marketing tool. It’s a foundation for good customer service, it builds customer loyalty and increases conversion.

Why? Because good information does not irritate people, inconvenience them or make them go somewhere else to find an answer.

Good information shows your customers that you’re making an effort to save and respect them by valuing their time and making the info they need concise and easy to use.  It also adds to your credibility, and it reduces the number of customer queries you’ll need to deal with.

So, before you throw huge amounts of money at expensive marketing plans and strategies, assess the information that you make available to your customers. Is it good enough to convert and keep the customers that are alerted to your business because of advertising or social media campaigns?

Or would some of your marketing budget be better spent reassessing and polishing your essential written information?

What is good information?

Good written information:

  • Answers questions
  • Is concise, clear, accurate, and easy to understand
  • Is easy to find, easy to use, and easy to act on

The great thing is, you probably already have all the information your customers or client need. All you need to do is structure it, edit it and fine-tune it to make it into a marketing asset.

Where do you start to make your written information better?

The best place to start is by trying to see your information from your customer’s perspective.  Write down what a customer or client needs to do, or what you would like them to do, with each piece of written information you provide. Write it out step-by-step.

For example, for a membership renewal letter, the customer will need to:

  1. decide if they want to renew
  2. know how much membership will cost
  3. check the date they need to renew by
  4. speak to someone if they have an individual query about their membership renewal
  5. complete the renewal form
  6. choose their payment option
  7. make the payment (online, by cheque or direct debit)
  8. post the renewal form and payment slip or cheque

Now give them the info they’ll need to complete each step. It sounds simple, and it is. But it’s surprising how easy it is to leave out key pieces of information if you just start writing without a checklist of what you need to include. It can leave basic questions unanswered and frustrating holes in your info.

Having a checklist that corresponds to how the reader will use the information will help you structure it clearly and keep to the point.

The same step-by-step checklist approach can be applied to anything, from web content to services information. Once you’ve written your information you can edit it and polish it in the knowledge that at the very least you’re giving your customers time-saving, useful information and answered any important questions they might have.

Elements that make well-written information better

Good information is well written and concise. But to make it valuable and a marketing asset it also needs to be well structured and well laid out. It is the simple things that make the difference between well-written information that might never be read, and well-written, easy-to-use, easy-to-find information that’s an asset to your business.

Informative headings and sub-headings. Quirky might amuse you, but it probably won’t amuse a customer or client whose time is being wasted trying to find the right piece of info. Headings and sub-headings are sign-posts to the right info.

Numbering. On large documents with a lot of cross-referencing, using a numbered system of headings and sub-headings can be very helpful to the reader.

Page numbers on written documents. The ‘x of y’ pages format is exceptionally useful on documents that are likely to be printed out – even if they’re only two pages long.

Bookmarking pdfs. This helps people find what they’re looking for fast, as well as get a quick overview of what information is in the document.

An index and/or table of contents. Just because you whiz around your digital documents using the search function, don’t think everyone does. An index can save your reader a huge amount of time for any printed document, and a table of contents lets them scan and assess the whole document as well as navigate through it.

A summary or précis. Summaries save people time, and they let you give a distilled version of your information. Use them.

White space. As important online as off, having the correct amount of ‘breathing space’ around different text elements can be the deciding factor between a useful and a useless document, irrespective of how well it is written.

Legibility. It’s all useless information if you can’t read it. There are many elements that make text more or less legible, including font, text size and line spacing. Make sure you consider them, or that your web or graphic designer understands these important issues.

Visual information. Some information is easier to understand as a chart, illustration or diagram. Could you condense a page of info into a simple diagram, or a complicated step-by-step process into an illustrated user-friendly flow chart? How much easier would it make things for your client?

Good written business information doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to be concise and use common sense. Editing and proofreading always help, but it’s the little bit of forethought that makes your written information into an asset and an invaluable marketing tool.

What crucial business information do you notice is often missing or buried ?

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The missing hyphen, the bad break and the stubborn text

2011 January 18
by Helen Keevy

The value of punctuation and proofreading

Blacker, more smear resistant text

Printer cartridge label

Even leading brands get it wrong. Sometimes a missing hyphen can be amusing or go unnoticed, but a missing hyphen combined with bad design can result in your message saying exactly the opposite of what you want it to.

When I picked up the printer cartridge with the pictured label – “Blacker, more smear resistant text” – I reread the packaging three times. I was intrigued by why a printer company thought more stubborn text that smears more easily should appeal to me. And the degree of the text’s stubbornness apparently also came with a footnote – that’s how resistant it was (or wasn’t).

No matter how big, or small your business, even a simple five-word message can cause you problems. But it’s simple to avoid a similar situation in your own marketing and I’m sure that HP could’ve too.

  • Get your designer and copywriter to co-operate. A green block on a black background tells me nothing about the product. The words are key – they need to be given the space to say what they need to, and if the space is not available then the words need to be rewritten so that they can say what they need to in the space available.
  • Get someone to read your designed material for sense. Not yourself, the designer, the copywriter or your marketing manager. You all know what the message is meant to say. A potential customer makes an excellent proofreader for sense.
  • Pay attention to punctuation. Those little dots and stripes really can make or break a message. This message might not have been totally saved, but it could’ve been thrown a lifebuoy in the form of a hyphen. A hyphen would’ve indicated that smear and resistant were a single concept. It would have shown the reader that smear was linked to the next word on the next line.  If you’re going to use compound adjectives, use hyphens in them to make meaning clearer and avoid a similar problem. (Compound adjectives are two or more words that you use in combination to describe something. You know it’s a compound adjective if, when you take away one of the words, the meaning changes i.e. resistant text or smear text is totally different to smear-resistant text.)

Never underestimate the saving power of punctuation and a good proofreader.

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