Crates representing the concept of content.

A Plea Against Content

Please don’t call it content. It’s a story, a narrative, a digest of valuable information. Content just sounds like some stuff you shoved into a space without much consideration that the stuff should be interesting or helpful.

The word content did not spring from the mind of a writer. Similarly, the word blog is short for web log. A log is usually a register of data in chronological order, such as the captain’s log on a ship. Those logs do contain valuable information, and in some cases, compelling narratives.

A few years back, I was working as an editor (not a content reviewer, mind you) and a company that historically was in the publishing business. It evolved into an information provider. A colleague was walking guests across the floor (used to be called a newsroom) and swept his hand in our direction, pointing out we were the content creators. I cannot help but note that the website of this company still touts its news, data and analysis. See? News, data and analysis are specifics, while content is a bland blob of something.

What exactly is content?

A lot of people don’t know what content is. I once encountered a guy who asserted that social media and content marketing are different things. Note: he is in a different business. I’m still scratching my head if he thinks social media posts go out without any content in them. People are confused because the word content is unclear to them.

For content marketing, it is essentially marketing copy. You are telling your customers what you do, why you do it, why you do it better than the competition and how what you do is valuable. This can come in the form of a special offer, a personal story, an educational article about a product or current event or even beautiful images related to your product or service.

I agree wholeheartedly with the story told here by the Content Marketing Institute about content marketing failures. This entity even claims to be the first to call it “content marketing.” Because some people have heard of that, I will use the term myself, but I really don’t like it. For one client, I recommended we call the blog section of their website “Stories & Videos.” It is specific and it far more inviting for a click than “Pile of Content Here.”

Yes, I call my blog just that, but when you land on the page, I talk about tips and insights. I am sharing perspective, advice and experiences. Will I continue to use the word content? Sure, but begrudgingly so.

Words have jobs to do and they should serve very specific roles.  A word like content is just terribly vague. When I was a kid, my family hosted an exchange student from Spain. One day we walked into CVS and the store was having some kind of inventory blowout. There were stacks of products and big sale signs. My sister remarked, “wow, look at all this stuff.” Our guest was not fluent in English and asked for a definition of stuff. My sister was stumped. Stuff, you know, stuff. It’s stuff you have and put somewhere. It’s stuff. Sounds like content to me.

Telling Your Business Story, Conveying Value Propositions

Websites and other digital content venues are living documents in which we communicate where we are going… together with our customers. Has your business model changed but not your content? Do you have new products, services or hires that clients and prospects should hear about in newsletters, on your website, social media, etc.? Then you need some new content.

Let me tell you how I go about my work as a business communications consultant. When I get a grasp of what a business is and how it works, then I want to write about it. The type of work I typically handle are blogs, other website content, social media and presentations.

What I do is tell a business story. Sometimes that is selling someone on an experience. For instance, the About Us section of a website should give someone the sense they have visited with your company in person and more importantly, that they want to buy from you.

Business stories should build confidence in the customer. When I covered Wall Street as a financial writer, the expression my editor used was “numbers tell the story.” I find out what metrics and other key indicators mean the most to you and your customers and make sure we get those points across to drive home your business story.

Enhancing communications, elevating the brand

I’ve worked on website launches where the client has a web designer who is expert in web development and SEO, but not a business writer. This is where I come in and craft unique content for that business that ensures all the key points and key words are addressed. This is not just writing for search engines, but writing for people and speaking in a voice conversant in your business culture.

Strong business writing is a specialty unto itself. My background covering a variety of businesses as a news reporter gives me a huge scope of expertise in different sectors. I can speak your business language and your customers’ language.

I interview the business principals to get in depth about what differentiates them, what their reputation is, what they are going after.

In one such conversation, I realized something major was missing from the initial website content. Turns out, a company has a star player who attracts business and that person’s name wasn’t on its website. I crafted paragraphs on this person and their contribution to the clients, and got that over to the web developer. If you had Google searched for that person in that business sector, I don’t think you would have found them at their new company.

In other cases, a business may be running on autopilot and remaining profitable with its existing customer base. And, it wants to reach new pools of customers. It’s time to rev up some fresh content targeted to those audiences. You don’t need to change everything. You are expanding on your messaging. It’s not a costume change. Instead, we can reach more people with added vocabulary. The new content can keep you engaged and relevant.

Tips for Better, Clearer Writing

The first one sounds simple, but I know professional writers who skip this step:

Edit yourself. Let’s use email as an example. This is not a quick glance through what you just banged out. Read the content from the bottom up – sentence by sentence – that’s how you catch the big oops you would have glossed over when glancing down to the end.

When approaching writing, especially a presentation, blog or new marketing material, some people may feel like Charlie Brown with the football. Every time they intend to write something, it is as if the blank screen is Lucy taunting Charlie Brown with a football kickoff. They intend to do it, but don’t want to flop on their back.

Reimagine your audience as your friendly neighbor over the fence. You cannot see his facial expression, but you know who they are, a nice guy, a smart guy. Let’s say he doesn’t know anything about your business – how would you explain the situation to him? You’d simplify it. You wouldn’t dumb it down, but you’d frame your business scenario in a way that would be clear, sensible and persuasive. Now, write down what you just said in that imaginary conversation and work from there! Most of the time, good writing is matter of a reflection. Or, as a good editor will tell you, “Think before you write!”

For more tips on better business communications or to obtain customized consulting, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives

Find Your Voice in Business Communications

Often when meeting with entrepreneurs I ask them, “What do you want to say to your market?” I’m met with a thoughtful pause before words they had not yet spoken pour out toward me. Suddenly, the business owner is reengaged and charged by their articulation.

Often we are so busy with operations and business development that we don’t make time to reflect on what we want to say to the marketplace.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of brainstorming with a business owner on the verge of launching a new website. It’s not just a website, but a sales channel for multiple lines of products and services. We sat eyeball-to-eyeball – her preference for meetings – going through business objectives, belief systems and word associations.

She noted that many words in our world have lost their meanings and she wanted to choose her words carefully, to brand herself. This was a truly rewarding experience. I urged her to blog too because she has a unique ability to speak and write with equal clarity and authenticity.

Another client also ensures that her business communications, including a newsletter and social media posts, capture her own voice. When they are drafted or edited by others, the posts must channel that voice. This makes the experience recognizable to the customers as her brand, which is exciting, enthusiastic and encouraging.

Don’t be like everyone else. Use your own voice in your marketing. Your customers like what they hear and it is your brand.

For more advice on business communications writing and editing, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives

Make Your Website a Worthy Destination

It’s all about the content. Are you satisfied with the information on your website? When was the last time you updated, overhauled or spruced it up?

“Check out our website.” A former colleague of mine loathes when people respond that way when he poses a question about their business goals or value proposition. Yet, I have to wholeheartedly disagree with my buddy because I want to find the answers to my questions on a website. It saves time and informs better questions.

Why not provide substantive answers to the marketplace on your website? You could be efficiently providing prospects and customers or clients with information they can quickly cull rather than find yourself and employees verbally repeating the info.

There is another wonderful opportunity in going beyond basic website content: the opportunity to define and distinguish yourself in a crowded space.

Be Specific, Be Concrete

Let’s consider what works. List your attributes and assets. You don’t need to give away the farm, unveil trade secrets or breach security. A lot of the information that is publicly available can be compiled into easily accessible, digestible packages on your website with FAQs and landing pages.

What about information that has not been previously public? Present an overview with as much detail as possible while staying within your comfort zone.

What if you want your summary to be simple? Great, as long as it’s straightforward. What if you set forth something to this effect: we are the market leader in providing solutions for high-end customer service… Sound familiar? Sound vague? Perhaps you’ve seen platitudes like this while attempting to quickly scour a website for basic information, such as what does this company do and how big is it? In other words, don’t be so simplistic or grandiose that you end up being unclear.

Use numbers to illustrate 

When I was a financial news writer, an editor told me “numbers tell the story.” Ensure the numbers you publish online are up-to-date and consistent with information available about your business elsewhere, such as in regulatory filings or on trade association websites.

Place these numbers upfront on your home page, landing pages on specific areas and in FAQs or fact sheet PDF files. Considering menu scroll bars that bring viewers to lists of these types of documents and pages, e.g., locations, assets, investments, etc.

Ask the experts

Anyone authoring material for your website should be a subject-matter expert or someone who is adept at climbing learning curves. This ensures the content, or copy, is written accurately and with the proper parlance for your business sphere.

Consider a professional writer and the value that comes with his or her experience. When I first started as a business news reporter, people would ask me if I had a degree in business and were initially surprised when I said I studied history and journalism. History is about economic decisions and trade patterns, cultures and laws, and the dynamics of change. Journalism is simply the present tense of future history. After many years covering business news, the question of studies rarely arises as we are too busy discussing the business of the day and where trend lines are pointing.

If you want an expert writer with a background in energy, finance and general business to elevate and distinguish the content on your website, then go to http://www.katharine-fraser.com. For more information on enhancing your business communications, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives