How has Covid Changed Copywriting (and Entrepreneurship)? Five Tips from Copywriter & Coach, Steve Slaunwhite

Pandemic times are not “unprecedented,” if we know the history of the Spanish Flu, the Bubonic Plague and others. But Covid-19 has shown us up close that pandemics have an extraordinary effect on the world of communications and marketing.

For instance, Terry O’Reilly dedicated a wildly entertaining and informative episode of his CBC radio program to “Marketing in the Time of Covid” on “Under the Influence” (February 18, 2021).

My colleague (and former coach), Steve Slaunwhite, blogged recently on ways in which Covid has changed copywriting. He says that rules of the game “have been altered. Perhaps permanently.” His observation that Covid has caused copywriting to “become more relevant, authentic—even caring” resonates with me.

Yes, we continue to write copy that tries to persuade and ultimately close sales.  But now, more than ever, conversational copy, which I find draws on storytelling, matters. The conversation outperforms any effort to pitch.

In fact, heavy pitching in pandemic times will only sound tone-deaf to the buyer. So how can copywriters and entrepreneurs address these uncertain times in our writing? Steve gives five tips, which I develop further, below.

  1.  He recommends that we update our understanding of our target buyers, or “buyer personas”: Ask yourself who they are. “If they were created before March 2020, they’re way out of date.” 

Spend some time reading and asking your customers what they’re thinking about, what worries them, what their “hopes and desires” are. Steve says that their answers will be different now than they were, one year ago. Customers and prospects may even be buying differently.

I’ve heard from the CBC and from trends in my local community that some people, not only in northern and remote Canadian communities, but also here at home, deal with pandemic risk by buying many of the amenities of life through Amazon:  For some of these buyers,  not enough stable providers (and deliverers) of food and goods have persisted, through the past year.

Now Zoom has become a means of hiring service providers, whereas earlier more in-person methods (or a combination of virtual and actual) were used.

Steve asks: “Does your marketing copy reflect” these kinds of changes? It needs to.

2. Learn to write conversationally: This is not news and yet I regularly see copy online that does not flow well. It reads, as Steve says, “stiff and formal.” I rebranded my business, Storytelling Communications, in 2018,  focusing on the importance of communicating in ways that quickly resonate with human readers–both thematically and in tone.

Consider that copywriting and marketing greats like Steve, as well as Nick Usborne, Michael Katz and giant, Seth Godin (the latter partnered with Bernadette Jiwa), have all developed training materials that teach conversational copywriting through storytelling.

  1. Build facts and details into your writing: Why? Uncertain times make people crave for certainty. I’ve noticed recently that terms like “bedrock,” “foundational,” “flagship” and “landmark” have circulated more in online news than I can ever remember! We often feel better just for reading those words.

Steve recommends inserting facts, details, useful knowledge from highly credible, authoritative sources. Make sure your statistics are up to date. (We need to update website copy from content that’s four or five years old.) Also, cite “plenty of testimonials.”

  1. Be very realistic about the benefits we tout and any outcomes we quote. Experienced copywriters know that we can write persuasively but still must be honest about benefits and expected outcomes. Otherwise, we have no credibility. Steve writes: “What has changed is that buyers are being extra cautious and scrutinizing the claims made in marketing copy much more closely.”

So we must write convincingly, but not overlook that we are being realistic (honest) in how we describe benefits and promises.

This reminds me of the anger of an accountant I know, who voiced his frustration to a nearby assistant, that a salesperson of their recently purchased photocopier was “a bald-faced liar” for promising a higher volume of copies than the machine produced. The salesperson’s credibility was shot—and won’t easily, if ever, be recovered.

  1. Reward your reader for reading your marketing copy: So we must not “pitch” or push in a hard-sell way. Steve knows that “pitch fatigue” can undermine the effectiveness of marcom copy.

He recommends an “alterative approach,” of including within a promotional email a few tips on how to make the most of the product or service: This “makes the email exciting and helpful to the buyer, whether they buy or not.”  Salespeople call this “adding value with every contact.”

Consider that companies as diverse as Vistaprint and FlexJobs (and many more) have sent me promotional emails in recent months that tell how to improve one’s resume, job interview strategies, etc.

But remember the evergreen power of storytelling (used by civilizations from cavemen to millennials), especially in pandemic times, to hook the reader.

To summarize, then: Covid times force us to be on top of our game as copywriters and entrepreneurs, more conscious and self-aware of our clients and prospects than ever before. We can avoid falling into a “tone-deaf” state if we update our understanding of our target buyer; learn to write conversationally; build facts and details into our copy; are realistic about benefits or outcomes; and add value to our audience, rewarding them for reading our writing.

Covid challenges us to be more nimble in our mindset, as promotional writers.

Copywriters and entrepreneurs who merely crank out copy or promotions in age-old ways will be left out in the cold.

And now it’s your turn. Do Steve’s five tips on how to update our approach to marketing in Covid days resonate with you?  Please share on my “contact” page. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

 

 

 

On SEO writing (a 2021 revisit to copywriter Henneke Duistermaat)

During a recent virtual networking conversation, a great marketing consultant mentioned that many Saskatchewan start-ups, across all fields, have naively paid (and then lost) thousands of their budgets to flashy, large marketing companies. These companies promise to get start-ups on “page one of Google” search results, without knowing the marketing that local clients genuinely need and that will work to secure real sales.

I write for humans, not primarily for bots. Having my copy appear on page one of Google’s search results, whether for myself, or my clients, would not secure sales. And yet the intrusive noise over high SEO rankings persists, even in 2021. On the issue of SEO, I sometimes worry about creative integrity and always refer my clients to the UK-based copywriter, Henneke Duistermaat.

In a recent blog posting on SEO (https://www.enchantingmarketing.com/seo-writing/), Henneke reminds us that the history of SEO writing began when writing for Google was supposed to be a copywriter’s strict aim. Online writing in those days (90’s, early 2000’s) was stuffed with keywords that made copy “almost unfit for human consumption.” In the 2010s, since Google “becomes smarter every year,” overlap developed between pleasing readers and meeting Google’s demands—but the overlap was still limited.

Nowadays, Henneke asserts, pleasing our readers “makes Google (mostly) happy, too.” Google “doesn’t want [copywriters] to try to beat its algorithm. It wants you to share your expertise, to create trustworthy, authoritative, helpful content—content that delivers what visitors are looking for.” She cites marketer Andy Crestodina who says, “To write for SEO, write the best page on the internet on your topic. If you make the best page on the web for your topic, there are 2000 math PhDs at Google trying to help you rank and get more traffic. If you don’t do that but try to take shortcuts, there are 2000 math PhDs at Google trying to stop you.”

Nowadays, then, Henneke says, if your “blog strategy is clear and reader-focused, you’ll fulfill the basic requirements for SEO, too.”

She shares five steps to write for SEO in 2021:

(1) Have a clear blog purpose, aiming for a topic that “fires you up,” so that you’ll “share your expertise with more enthusiasm.” Here your creativity can shine through.

(2) Use your audience as primary keyword research tool, writing about topics that matter to your readers (their aims, questions, problems, assets they seek), not to bots or to beat algorithms.

(3) Focus on tiny topics, instead of big questions, because the latter tend to be “vague and superficial or unwieldly and boring.” Narrower topics also provide more helpful content to readers. For a blog to be “valuable,” it should mix “a couple of articles about big topics and a lot of articles about tiny topics.”

(4) Write about each topic just once, since more than one post on the same topic compete and Google can’t tell which one to send traffic to.

(5) Write to help your readers “achieve a tiny aim, solve a tiny problem, answer a tiny question, or . . . present an inspirational collection of [resources]” and “optimize (a little) for Google” (www.moz.com/explorer is a free and useful tool to search keywords). Once you’ve identified a good keyphrase, include it in your headline, opening paragraph, in the main body of the post and in its conclusion.  Also, try to add some images in which, as in your URL, you can again insert the keyphrase.

Henneke writes: “the better Google becomes, the more important it becomes to focus on your readers and to deliver what they’re looking for. So use keyword research as a complement to, not a replacement of, understanding your audience and knowing how you want to help them.”

If you fear that SEO threatens to dominate your blogging, follow your curiosity and that of your readers to address their pain points or struggles, “so you know how you can help them.” By doing so, you’ll create valuable, interesting content that “Google’s house of math PhDs” will happily rank well.

Writing here, in Saskatchewan, means your blog posting should not aim to appear on Google’s first page, but instead to be noticed by your readers. Your posting will compel them to read your content closely and to identify you as a resource they urgently need.

And that’s an engaged client (and a likely sale) for you.

And now it’s your turn: Have you lost too much money and time chasing the elusive first page of Google’s search rankings? How might a revised method of SEO, based on original, focused copywriting, work to secure clients for you and your biz?

Pivoting for Christmas sales in a Covid-19 year: Revisiting a Praxis staySMART group’s discussion

For the past three weeks, I have participated in a remarkable weekly Zoom meeting with fellow entrepreneurs of the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship’s staySMART (alumni) program. Last week, the group discussed digital strategies for entrepreneurship in Covid times. North American statistics show us that almost one-third of business clients are online for two-thirds of every day. More business people use mobile than laptop and desktop technology. Yet, as group facilitator Deanna Litz observed, “digital” is not the goal, but rather a means to reach our goals.

However technology may advance, we continue to need relationship marketing and building. Using a next level of technology is another means to serve the clients we care about.

The weekly group discussed ways to build the digital experience (DX) of our customers or clients. Facilitator and coach Deanna Litz commented that it’s tough work to design a Digital Experience, including with our clients—rather “like trying to ace a test without being given the questions.”

Tailoring one’s digital experience can help with sales, but we need to keep it simple for clients who may not care about the process.

One question we raised was “can we create a digital experience to allow for word-of-mouth” referrals and not just “Googling,” so we needn’t play the same game as Google? As Monica Kreuger commented, we can be a “mind” search (“top of mind”), not a “Google search.”  (This needs to work in the opposite direction of “Upwork” content mills infiltrating our province, such as “Workhoppers,” which recently advertised from Regina.)

How can we become top-of-mind by consistently showing what we have to offer, daily? We don’t need huge volume of Google customers, but can personalize in ways Google/Best Buy/Amazon/Michael’s, etc. cannot. We can try to compete with specialized services to specialized clients.

As group contributor Monica Kreuger summarized, “We need a ‘Made in Saskatchewan’ version of Amazon.”

We also should strive to know what aspect of our brand that our clients want.

My colleague and friend Christina Cherneskey mentioned that blogging regularly to demonstrate what your brand is about (as I do, in this article) can connect clients with entrepreneurs. Evidence that blogging still works underpins the seminars I facilitate on the topic for Praxis’ startSMART training program.

Group discussion led us to see that digitalization is about more than just marketing—we can become more efficient in our operations, we can collaborate with other service providers, we can find local sources for things we do—these are all parts of digitalization.

One of my colleagues, a spiritual healer, suggested that entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to share our “secret sauce” (fearing that would give our businesses away), because there will always be more top resources to unfold and we will always perform with them differently beyond what a newbie would.

Monica Kreuger observed that there is a major opportunity in how businesses can pivot to relieve customers’ overwhelm in these Covid months, to make them feel comforted, safe, joyful and part of a supportive community. In doing that kind of work, we would totally outdo the Big Box Amazon/Michael’s/ Holy Clothes retailers.

In a recent Facebook meme, the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce reminded business owners to patronize groups like SYPE Saskatoon (Sype.ca—SK young professionals and entrepreneurs) who can collaborate and experiment to make their businesses become known by “word-of-mouth.” The Chamber also cites the Riversdale District, Broadway District, 33rd St. BID and DTNYXE as avenues to “Support Local” this Christmas.

Do-able even this week would be to gather a group of local companies who offer gifts for staff using local companies and organizations. Why not send a gift certificate, accompanied by a personally created card, from a local provider? (This could be done on “Local Love Holiday Gift Guide,” itself a local, Saskatoon-based group on Facebook.) Our local Chamber could have a contact list of providers and what they sell to give to the owner/organization who needs “staff gifts,” and which could allow the recipient to choose a gift from a given store.

Monica Kreuger observed that it would take only 10 minutes to put a small paper package together for pick-up. As she said, last week, entrepreneurs could do this now and get the message out, even in time for Christmas 2020.

Such pivoting would make optimal use of the inconveniences and hardships of Covid-19 for local businesses.

And now it’s your turn. How are you pivoting as a business owner or entrepreneur, to succeed in this Covid-19, holiday time?

Want to read about Saskatoon’s best podologist? (And what is that?) Meet Cheri McPhillamey of Soul to Sole Consulting!

Today’s posting is the final one in a series of articles (extended blog postings) that I authored during the first wave of the Covid Pandemic. As I earlier mentioned in this very blog, during the past year I have participated in a team of creative entrepreneurs to commemorate something good about 2020! In particular, we’ve been observing the 30th anniversary of the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship’s startSMART program.

As an alumna of the program from 2018-19 and occasional facilitator of its  business communication modules, I know how powerful startSMART is, in teaching entrepreneurs the skills we need to succeed.

So I’m delighted to post the link to the fourth of my interviews, featuring the wonderful podologist (foot specialist) Cheri McPhillamey. Cheri has trained internationally and specialized in caring for the feet of a wide variety of clients, ranging from Hollywood A-listers, to, now, seniors in Saskatoon and area.  Read about her fascinating entrepreneurial journey, in this week’s blog posting.

Enjoy!

Praxis Alum and Podologist Chéri McPhillamey

Buying local still wins out. . . . with Debra Marshall Photography

Lately, I have especially appreciated the work of small, local business owners, who persevere amid the worries of Covid-19. . . . Before returning to my Praxis 30th anniversary, entrepreneurial portraits, in this week’s blog posting, I will profile another outstanding, local small biz, that you may not know exists!

Long before it became a “thing,” I remember wanting to support local businesses. In Mr. Jacoby’s English class at Aden Bowman Collegiate in the late 80s, we listened to fellow alumna, superstar Joni Mitchell; and we read about the origins of medicare in Saskatchewan. Part of being of fierce Prairie stock was knowing and supporting our neighbours.

Three decades later, “Buy Local” is emblazoned on Tshirts, bumper stickers and ball caps . . . . It’s become virtually a cliché. . . . And yet some local businesses offer such quality services, in a quiet and reliable way, that they cry out for some hard-earned praise. . . . And one such case is Debra Marshall Photography.

Have you had a recent family portrait, business headshot or promotional picture taken? In the “dog days of summer” in August, the planets (mid-Covid) aligned long enough for me to replace the “dated selfie” on my website with a professional headshot.

Enter Debra Marshall, one of the province’s finest portrait photographers (https://debramarshall.ca/). Five minutes into a photo shoot, I found that a process that I half-dreaded had turned out to be a fun and career-centred conversation. Debra described herself as “an introverted photographer”; I knew instantly why we (pardon the pun) just “clicked.” Continue reading “Buying local still wins out. . . . with Debra Marshall Photography”