The Big Green Content Marketing Machine

Content marketing has grown into the leading method for promoting brand identity and cultivating an audience. In fact, according to Technavio, the worldwide content marketing industry will expand to over $400 billion by 2021, more than double its 2016 valuation.

Why is content marketing dominating all other types of marketing today?

Content marketing, contrary to popular belief, is not a flash in the pan. In fact, like prospecting for gold, the blueprint for today’s practices harks back to the 19th century, where innovative companies like Sears, Roebuck and John Deere communicated directly with their customers using then-new media like magazines and catalogs. These organizations went beyond simply advertising products, to promoting a very specific lifestyle to their target audience.

In fact, John Deere’s The Furrow magazine, which launched in 1897 and is still published today, was a progenitor of modern B2B content marketing. Check out this short video clip produced by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) to learn about Deere’s groundbreaking and successful approach to brand development.

The key to The Furrow’s success was and still is its non-salesy, journalistic tone and style. Recognizing that its customers (hard-working farmers) didn’t have the time or inclination to sift through transparent sales pitches, Deere has always strived to present unbiased, relevant articles and information. As one loyal reader states in the video, “I think the articles in The Furrow are very neutral, to the point where I always wondered – ‘Is this a John Deere magazine, or not?’” (However, it’s worth noting he is proudly wearing a classic green John Deere cap!)

Whereas a century ago, print media like newspapers, posters, and catalogs ruled the roost, the advent of the Internet has provided marketers with a bounty of new channels for promoting their brands. In addition, new technology is allowing today’s marketers to slice and dice their audience into micro-segments based on demographics, psychographics, and location. In fact, using cognitive technologies like AI, machine learning, and robotics, organizations can customize their messages to an audience of one.

Despite these new methods of distribution, the core principles of content marketing remain the same. To be successful, today’s marketers must transcend product-focused “push” advertising, to “pull” in their audience by offering meaningful value in a compelling and useful way.

Since 1837, John Deere has been a leading manufacturer of agricultural machinery and equipment, including its instantly recognizable green tractor. The company operates its business based on four core values: integrity, quality, commitment, and innovation. For nearly 125 years, The Furrow has embodied those values and has introduced generations of farmers to this iconic American brand.

Is your marketing strategy delivering the same level of consistent, timeless success?

Content in Context

ID 665990 © Jorge M Vargas Jr | Dreamstime.com

Only in Vegas …

I recently spent a long weekend in Las Vegas with my wife and youngest son. Although this was my fourth visit to Sin City, this time seemed very different.

We were in town to cheer on my nine-year-old as he competed in the Kids Fitness category of the Natural Olympia bodybuilding event. This was his third competition since embarking on his bodybuilding journey about a year ago. By far the youngest competitor, my son posed like a pro and had a blast meeting his fellow athletes and sharing tips on nutrition and exercise. He even got to enjoy dinner with his West Coast grandparents – a rare treat. He was floating on air the entire weekend.

The event was held at the Rio Hotel and Conference Center, a well-appointed property off the Strip. It has some excellent restaurants, and our room was clean and comfortable. However, as we trekked from our room to the adjoining conference site each morning, we had no choice but to navigate the hotel’s crowded, noisy casino. My wife and I kept our son close as we hurried him past the habitual gamblers at the roulette tables and retirees pulling the one-armed bandits. A few seemed to have been there all night. My son held his nose, complaining the air reeked of smoke.

On our last day, we spent a few hours walking the Strip. We gazed up at the faux-Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. We marveled at the Bellagio’s synchronized fountain show. We stopped in the souvenir shops and ate massive pancakes (my boy’s post-competition “cheat meal”) at the Hash House a Go-Go. But the sidewalks were more crowded than I remembered, stifling and sweaty with the press of humanity. I gripped my son’s hand tightly as we traversed the filthy, trash-strewn staircases and walkways.

My prior visits to Vegas consisted of work conferences and getaways with college buddies. Under those circumstances, the city sparkled with the promise of excitement and adventure. I visited the clubs, ate at the steakhouses, played some golf, and yes, hit the blackjack tables (up to a predetermined, modest limit of cash on hand). This time, with my wife (a Vegas newbie) and son along for the ride, the City of Second Chances seemed decrepit, slightly menacing, and above all, depressing.

What factors account for this stark difference in perception? Context and point of view.

Vegas hadn’t changed. But my perspective clearly had. Seeing the city through the eyes of my companions, who had no interest in all the “mature” entertainment the city has on offer, I was able to see right through Vegas’ veneer of glitz to its decaying core.

Context is Everything

Context and point of view are crucial elements in content marketing. When you’re marketing to your prospects, you must grasp their mindset – at a specific moment in time. What stage of the buying cycle are they in? Are they early in the process, just beginning to analyze their needs? Are they considering expanding their product offerings? Deciding between offering a solution in-house or outsourcing to a third-party vendor?

Or is your prospect further down the sales funnel – fully sold on the need, and beginning to explore specific solutions? Have they narrowed their search down to a shortlist of providers, vetting references, and comparing features and pricing?

Just as critically, what is your prospect’s role in the buying process? Is she the decision-maker, or an information-gatherer?

What baggage does your prospect bring to the table? Have they already tried different approaches to solving this problem, with little success? Did they try a competitors’ solution, and been burned? Perhaps they used your solution in the past. How did that go?

Before you communicate with the buyer, you must understand where they are coming from. You need to consider their unique perspective, past experiences, and biases. You must understand their goals, pain points, and needs. Only then can you help guide them to the next stage, and ultimately toward a buying decision.

Without an understanding of context, it is nearly impossible to develop a compelling and impactful marketing message. Without considering where your prospects are today – at this moment— you’re simply blowing smoke in their faces.

Even in Vegas, that’s never acceptable.

The One Where He Talks About Style Guides


Spring is in the air. Time to clean out our closets, open the windows wide, sweep away the winter dust, and refresh our personal style.

Now, when it comes to personal style, mine admittedly leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, just the other evening my wife and I were binging on some old episodes of Friends. Yes, the classic 90s sitcom that basically held a mirror up to my life for the better part of that decade.

Anyway, we were watching one episode where Ross walked into Central Perk to meet up with the gang, and I remarked (aloud, I think)— “Hey, Ross is wearing my shirt!”

Not, “I used to have a shirt like that,” or “That looks like something I would have worn way back then.” No— “I have that same shirt NOW, that Ross was wearing THEN.”

As Chandler Bing might say, “Could I BE more out of fashion?”

Fortunately for a sad sartorial specimen like me, spring is also a great time to refresh your business’ style. By that, I’m referring to dusting off your organization’s communication strategy and taking a hard look at how you represent your brand to your audience.

Yes, friends – I’m talking about your marketing style guide.

OK, first things first. Perhaps you don’t have a style guide. That makes sense. Why do you even need one? Well, here’s why:

  1. Consistency – Your brand is your most valuable asset. To protect, preserve, and promote your brand, it’s essential to maintain consistency in messaging across all mediums and modes of communication.
  2. Clarity – A style guide helps clarify your brand message, and how that message is communicated. It helps reduce or eliminate any confusion among people in various roles across the enterprise and ensure that everyone always stays on message.
  3. Simplicity – Without a style guide, it’s all too easy for people to dilute the message. A style guide simplifies the process of writing any type of document and reduces the risk of confusion.
  4. Speed – With a well-conceived style guide, there is no doubt how to write a document. For your content creators, this speeds up the writing process, improves quality, and reduces the amount of editing and proofreading required.

Now that you understand why you need a style guide, let’s discuss how to develop one that’s effective and useful:

  1. Don’t recreate the wheel. To make your job easier, reference an industry standard like the Chicago Manual of Style or AP Stylebook as your default for grammar, punctuation, and word usage. These guides address common areas of contention like whether to use the Oxford comma, and how to write numerical and financial terms.
  2. Note unique differences. Make sure to specify any differences in writing style among documents you write for various purposes and audiences, such as internal communication, technical documentation, client reports, social media, and marketing materials.
  3. Watch your lingo. It’s a good idea to call out any specific jargon, industry terms, or acronyms you allow in your writing. In general, it is best to avoid jargon and technical terms whenever possible, but if there are unique terms that your clients and audience understand, identify those in the guide.
  4. Keep it short. A writing style guide should run only a couple of pages in length. Many organizations produce a comprehensive branding style guide that includes both written and visual guidelines, to ensure branding consistency across all media. If your style guide includes visual guidelines, its fine to stretch it out to four or five pages, including illustrations and examples.
  5. Address your brand voice. Is your organization’s preferred style conversational, or formal? Do you get technical, or go for a layman’s tone? Your style guide should spell out your company’s unique voice, level of formality, and word usage, and whether it differs among various types of content and media. For example, you may choose to allow an informal, conversational tone in blog posts and web content, but never in white papers, client reports, and email. Content Marketing Institute offers up some great examples of corporate style guides that effectively address voice here.
  6. Avoid international incidents. If your brand has a global footprint, customize the style guide to the unique cultural differences of the regions you serve. History is filled with examples of U.S. brand messaging getting lost in translation overseas. One notorious marketing snafu was the Chinese debut of Pepsi’s slogan, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life.” Unfortunately, someone translated this phrase as “Pepsi Brings You Back from the Grave.” Pepsi was D.O.A. in China, for a while. (For a fascinating look at Pepsi’s history, including its most notorious marketing fails, check out this video.)

Take advantage of this season of renewal to develop or refresh your marketing style guide. Once created, it’ll always be there for you.

Does Your Content Marketing Lack Focus? Talk to Your Customers!

The difference between a successful content marketing strategy, and one that is just… meh often comes down to how well you know your audience.

The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) is an invaluable resource for B2B marketers. The B2B Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report from CMI and MarketingProfs is chock full of great data (shout out to my talented colleague Carolyn Marsh—check out her latest blog post on this and other great resources for financial services content marketers). Several data points from this year’s survey present the importance of taking an audience-first approach in stark relief.

First the good news: according to the study, 90 percent of the most successful B2B content marketers focus on their target audience’s informational needs rather than pitching product.

Furthermore, the top three techniques these successful B2B content marketers use to research their audience’s needs include: sales team intelligence, website analytics, and keyword research. These are all proven, viable approaches, and it is particularly heartening to see that successful marketers value open communication with their sales colleagues.

Now for the not-so-good news: Fewer than half of the content marketers surveyed talk directly with their customers. In fact, just 42 percent say they engage their customers as part of their audience research.

That’s shocking! There is no better way to understand your audience and their informational needs than by talking to the people who already use your products. Your client base is a built-in focus group that should align closely with your target market. And since they already know you, they will generally be responsive and open to discussing their needs, wants, and pain points.

I suspect there are two primary reasons many content marketers are reluctant to approach their company’s customers for input: 1) they don’t want to jeopardize the client relationship, and 2) they don’t want to step on their sales team’s toes.

These are valid concerns. However, here are a few ways to navigate these potential minefields:

  1. Leverage your sales team: Since the vast majority of successful B2B marketers already rely on their sales reps for market intelligence, it is one small step to ask them to introduce you directly to your company’s clients. The key is to explain to your sales team how getting direct customer feedback will help the marketing team produce better, more focused content that will generate a higher volume of qualified sales leads. A win-win!
  2. Establish expectations early: It is tough to get busy clients to give freely of their time, especially after they’ve implemented your product. It is much easier to get their buy-in early in the relationship, preferably as contracts are being signed. At that point, you can request certain deliverables, like a certain number of client referral calls, case study interviews or videos, and “research” or “focus group” sessions, perhaps in exchange for a discounted rate or other benefits (such as free attendance at your next annual conference or educational webinar). Check out this post for more ideas for getting client buy-in.
  3. Bundle the ask with a case study project: Speaking of getting buy-in, the best time to pick your client’s brain is during the case study interview. If you have a customer success story or case study interview session already scheduled, sprinkle in a few questions about their vendor research process, what types of content they read, view, or download, and the industry topics that most interest them. This information will be very helpful in setting your content marketing strategy going forward.

Need help in identifying your target audience and choosing the right mix of content to reach them most effectively? Let’s talk! Contact me at ted at tedgoldwyn dot com or 914-715-2248.

Write well, and be well!

Thank you

I love this time of year. Oh, it is busy, sure. Especially in my home, where my wife, three kids and I celebrate eight days of Hanukkah,and then roll right into Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But it is so full of joy, laughter, warmth, and fun that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I write this on December 10th, our children have opened all their Hanukkah gifts, we have each selected this year’s charity of choice, the menorah candles have been lit for the last time, and I have fried up my final batch of latkes(traditional potato pancakes) for 2018. As I sit in my home office, wrapping up a few client projects while Alexa blares a mix of Christmas classics, I take some time to reflect on the successes and learnings since I launched Ted Goldwyn Writing in November 2014.

The successes have been many.

Looking back at four years in business, I am proud to have been involved in over 330 writing, editing, and marketing projects. This listincludes dozens of white papers and case studies, well over a hundred articlesand blog posts, and over a hundred editing and proofreading assignments.

I feel blessed to have maintained wonderful relationships with a core group of long-time clients who use my services, via retainer contracts, regular monthly assignments, or ongoing repeat business. I am also thankfulthis year for those past clients who contacted me with new projects. And I’mexcited to be kicking off some energizing projects with a select number ofbrand-new clients. 

As I enter my fifth year in business, I am enthusiastic about what 2019 will hold. The die has been set for record growth, and I look forward to expanding on the core services I offer to financial services marketers.

Based on client requests and in recognition of a definite need for basic business writing skills among professionals in a variety of industries, I began offering a BusinessWriting Basics remote training program in 2018. I present this program as alive or recorded webinar, customized to my clients’ specific needs. The training has been well-received, and I plan to roll this out more broadly in 2019. In addition, I am currently in talks with a local college to offer a full-day in-person course to area employers and the public.

I am also early in the planning stages of writing a new book to help marketers navigate the stormy seas of dynamic content marketing. Staytuned!

Of course, Ted Goldwyn Writing will continue to focus on content marketing, thought leadership, and editing for the financial services industry. If you are searching for an experienced financial services writer tosupport any of your 2019 content marketing objectives, let’s talk!

I want to take a moment to thank you, my loyal readers foryour support, business, thoughtful advice, and genuine kindness over this pastyear. I wish you and your families a joyful holiday season and a New Year filled with success and happiness.

Best wishes,

Ted

Appreciating Leftovers

My kids love Thanksgiving.

Not so much all the grocery shopping, and days of preparation, and the hours of watching the turkey slowly roast in the oven.

And certainly not the smothering hugs and lipstick-stained kisses from Aunt Martha as she makes her grand entrance into our previously-bucolic homestead.

(OK, who am kidding? With three school-aged kids and three dogs, our home is never peaceful.)

No, what my kids really look forward to are the leftovers. I have a mean turkey rice casserole recipe, and my kids beg me to cook it up every day for a week following Thanksgiving. I also make some great turkey croquettes. For some reason, my children seem to enjoy the leftovers much more than the original dishes. You know, the ones that my wife and I sweat over for days preparing.

The key is to change the recipes up a little bit. Use the turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes in new, creative ways. Add some fresh ingredients, like cream of mushroom soup, rice, or egg noodles. Sprinkle a little pizazz into the mix.

Come to think of it, the same approach works well in your content marketing strategy.

(You, Patient Reader, knew this was coming, didn’t you?)

Repurpose your content leftovers

One of the many benefits of developing a regular and consistent content marketing program over the course of months and years is that eventually, you have created a massive library of rich and flavorful articles, white papers, webinars, blog posts, and case studies to draw on.

Once you’ve developed that library of delectable content, it’s simply a matter of defrosting the leftovers, reformulating your recipes, and mixing up all your ingredients until you have something new and delicious.

In practice, this may mean taking the white paper you published last spring and recycling the observations into a webinar featuring a panel of internal and external subject matter experts, making sure to introduce fresh new insights into the mix.

Or it may mean reheating portions of the article you wrote for a leading industry publication into a set of short blog posts.

Another tasty approach to try is leveraging your recent case studies to create a series of short client testimonial posts on LinkedIn.

The possibilities are endless. As we near the end of the year, it’s a great time to revisit all the delicious content you cooked up over the past twelve months. You’ll be surprised how many savory morsels are buried deep in those pages of valuable assets. All they need is a little loving attention and effort to turn them into a cornucopia of mouthwatering delights.

Whatever else you do this holiday season, remember to save your leftovers.

Your kids will thank you.

 

 

Back from the Dead

‘Tis the season of vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, and zombies. This makes it a great time to discuss the reanimation of that old content marketing standby, the white paper.

Recently a client asked me, “Do white papers still have a place in my content marketing strategy?”

I get it. In today’s information-packed, immediate-gratification world, the traditional white paper can seem windy, dry, and even a bit boring. Aren’t bright shiny objects like short blog posts, infographics, and 90-second video clips more effective at engaging your audience?

To some extent, yes. Shorter-form, visually-immersive content is growing in popularity, particularly as part of a well-coordinated social media strategy. Yet in the high-end B2B market, the staid, long-form white paper still plays an important role. Consider these stats:

White papers remain the most effective way to attract and engage buyers of high-value, complex products and services. These decision-makers spend hours researching the best solution to their unique business challenge. A properly-executed series of white papers creates a foundation of expertise upon which your firm can build credibility within your target market. Over time, this foundation will harden and begin generating a steady stream of qualified leads and eventually, sales.

That said, white papers are evolving. Here are a few trends I’m keeping my eye on:

  1. Short is sweet: Although I still write a lot of traditional, long-form white papers of 4,000 to 6,000 words (up to 15-20 pages, with graphics), recently I’ve worked with several clients to produce shorter papers of 1,500 to 3,000 words. This format is perfectly designed for today’s busy, harried executive who doesn’t have the time to read a full-fledged white paper. The key is to still provide a meaty exploration of a core business challenge or industry trend.
  2. Seeing is believing: When white papers first became popular in business in the early 1990s, they consisted primarily of plain text set against a white background, with few if any graphical elements, charts, or illustrations. This approach has changed dramatically in recent years. Today, white papers include photos, company logos, call-out quotes, charts, graphs, illustrations, and infographics. Some even include video clips in interactive, electronic formats. It is a welcome change. Today’s “white” papers are much more engaging and easier to digest than those of the past.
  3. Promote, promote, promote! You may have just written the most thought-provoking, scintillating piece of content in the history of white papers. Unfortunately, if you simply slap it up on your website, no one will find it. This is where social media posts, media alerts, press releases, emails to your current clients, prospects, and influencer lists, and sharing on popular white paper sites like White Paper Library and TechRepublic can help get the word out and extend the life and usefulness of your publication.
  4. Reuse … recycle … repurpose: A white paper is the centerpiece of a comprehensive content marketing strategy. If you take an evergreen approach, focusing more on tried-and-true insights and advice rather than chasing the trend of the moment, a single white paper can continue paying dividends for years. The content can be sliced into a series of shorter articles, each focusing on one key topic from the paper, and repurposed endlessly via social media posts, blog posts, live webinars, podcasts, and recorded videos.
  5. Avoid the overt sales pitch: OK, this one is nothing new, but it remains a best practice. White papers are meant to provide a thorough analysis of a specific business problem or market trend and offer a well-considered solution. Buyers do not expect a hard-sell. Leave that job to your product brochures, sell sheets and case studies. It’s acceptable to include a “learn more” call to action toward the end of a white paper, but that’s about it. The white paper is strictly a top-of-the-sales-funnel asset targeted to buyers beginning their research. Once you establish credibility as a thought leader, the buyer will return to investigate your offerings.

The white paper is not dead! It remains an important element of a well-balanced content marketing strategy, particularly for firms offering high-value, high-cost products and services. Is it time to make it part of yours?

To Japan With Love

Yuka just boarded her flight back home.

My family was selected as one of three host families for a Rotary youth exchange student from Japan. Yuka spent this past year immersing herself in American culture, language, and education, and she had the experience of a lifetime.

For my family, the experience was every bit as rewarding. Through Yuka, a joyful, kind, and enthusiastic ambassador for her home country, we caught a glimpse through the peephole into the fascinating world of Japan. For her part, Yuka confronted several challenges along the way, especially early on as she struggled to become fluent in English and understand the nuances of our relaxed communication style.

Now that the tears have dried, I’ve had a few days to reflect on the experience. Several lessons are applicable to marketing communications:

  1. Communicate simply and clearly: Simplicity is always a worthwhile goal in communications, but when dealing with a non-native English speaker, it is particularly important to break your writing down to the core message. What is your goal? Are your sentences and paragraphs overstuffed with purple prose? If you slash all non-essential words and phrases, is anything lost?
  2. If at first, you don’t connect, restate your message: Sometimes I would ask Yuka a question, and be rewarded with a blank stare. This was a sure sign I needed to rephrase the question in a different way, using simpler, more common verbiage. Occasionally it meant I needed to provide additional background information or context. These interactions reminded me there is usually more than one way to communicate with your audience.
  3. Know your audience: In Japanese, there are four distinct ways of addressing people: kun, chan, san, and sama. These various styles range from informal, to condescending, to deferential. Japanese custom requires speakers to address people differently depending on their relative ages and organizational rank. Although the U.S. is a much less formal and hierarchical society, it is still critical to understand your audience and cater your messaging style accordingly. Ignoring your audience’s perspective means at best, encouraging misunderstanding and at worst, offending the reader.
  4. Listen before speaking: Yuka taught me to listen more closely and to have patience. As a non-native English speaker, she would sometimes struggle to find the right word. After much trial and error, rather than quickly jumping in with what I thought was the phrase she was looking for, I learned to let her sort through her mental catalog to find the words that fit her thoughts. I often found she was trying to say something different from what I assumed. This lesson is already helping me in my writing and interactions with collaborators and clients. Even as native speakers, few of us can always, perfectly articulate our thoughts, goals, and messages. It pays to listen, ask follow-up questions, and engage in interactive dialogue before drawing conclusions.
  5. Thank your lucky stars: Those of us living in the English-speaking world have it easy. Not only does a majority of the (business) world speak English, other languages, particularly those native to Asia, are much harder to learn. Consider that Japanese has four separate systems of written language: kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romanj. Kanji, which was imported from China two millennia ago, consists of 2,000 symbols in common use, each representing a different word. Japanese children must memorize over 1,000 kanji by the time they finish elementary school.

My family and I are grateful to Yuka for sharing her wonderful and unique perspective and personality with us for a few months. We miss our host daughter/sister already and look forward to seeing her again, perhaps next time in Japan.

Yoku kaite, umaku iku.
Write Well, and Be Well!

 

Mapping the Creative Mind

This month, I’m going to share one of my favorite tactics for writing effective content: mind mapping. Now, this is a bit wonky and “inside baseball,” but when I began using the technique in my content writing practice a few years ago, I saw major improvements in my productivity and efficiency, as well as the structure and organization of my articles, white papers, and blogs.

Before discovering the mind-mapping technique, I used a traditional outline in the planning stage of my projects. You know, the one you learned in fifth-grade creative writing that looks like this:

 

  1. Introduction
  2. Idea 1
    1. Supporting data
    2. Supporting data
  3. Idea 2
    1. Supporting data
    2. Supporting data
  4. Idea 3
    1. Supporting data
    2. Supporting data
  5. Conclusion

 

Riveting, isn’t it? But this standard outline approach has been around for hundreds of years, dating back at least to Ramon Llull (1232-1316), who some claim invented the outlining method we use today.

The problem with using a traditional outline in the creative phase of writing is that it doesn’t accurately reflect the way our minds think. In fact, it forces you to organize disparate ideas within a very tight construct, limiting your ability to think “outside the outline.”

In the earliest stages of a big writing project, I find mind-mapping is much more effective for stimulating the free flow of ideas.

In fact, studies have shown that mind mapping improves memory by 10 percent, and children that use mind mapping recall words 32 percent more effectively. Mind mapping has also been shown to improve organizational and writing skills.

What is Mind-mapping?

Like outlining, the general concept of mind-mapping has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In fact, there is some evidence that Llull used this technique as well as more hierarchical outlining methods. Luminaries including Leonardo DaVinci and Sir Isaac Newton also toyed with concept maps and similar radial-style organizational techniques. More recently, Tony Buzan coined the term “mind map,” and is generally considered the “father of mind-mapping.”

A mind map begins with a central idea, visually represented by a circle at the center of the page. From this central idea or picture, various branches and nodes radiate outward. Each node can have sub-branches and sub-notes radiating out from it, and so on.

People use mind maps in several ways: for taking notes, for public speaking (think Prezi), for brainstorming and ideation, and for planning and organizing thoughts.

Today, there are many software programs to help with mind-mapping, including touch-enabled tablet solutions, but I prefer to use paper and pencil. As an example of my chicken-scratch approach, here is the mind map I used to plan this article:

My process is very simple, but many writers and researchers use a more elaborate, visual approach. Buzan recommends the following five steps:

  1. Establish the central idea
  2. Add branches
  3. Add keywords to each branch
  4. Color code
  5. Use images to illustrate your ideas

I find that mind mapping is most effective during the brainstorming or ideation phase of a project. For shorter pieces like this article, I’ll create a quick mind map, then begin writing the initial draft. For longer-form, more complex writing projects like white papers and research reports, I will often take the extra step of creating a traditional outline from the mind map. I find this helps me to organize my thoughts in a more linear fashion and makes the actual crafting of the first draft a much easier exercise.

Check out imindmap.com to learn more about Buzan’s Mind Mapping Method and specialized software developed to assist with mind mapping. The Asian Efficiency site is also a great resource to learn about mind mapping, outlining, and other note-taking and productivity tips.

Have you tried mind-mapping? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Just email me at ted@tedgoldwyn.com.

Write well, and be well!

 

 

 

Marketing Advice from a Parental Train Wreck

My youngest son is seven years old. Sometimes, he takes what I say a bit too literally.

“Hey Dad!” he exclaims in between bites of Cheerios, “Can we play baseball today?”

“Sure,” I mumble distractedly while scanning my Facebook account. “After school.”

As he steps off the bus that afternoon, what’s the first sentence out of my son’s mouth?

“Ready to play baseball, Dad?”

What my all-too-brief early-morning response neglected to fully explain was that at 3:00 PM, I would still be chin-deep in my workday, a crushing project deadline looming, and I wouldn’t be available to play until 5:30 PM. Instead, he heard that I promised to play ball with him right after school.

The kid did not let up until I donned bat and glove and met him in the backyard.

At the other end of the scale, my oldest son is 15. Sometimes I fail to shift gears after chatting with my youngest. Let’s just say those conversations with my surly teen tend to be less-than-productive.

“Bud,” I say, poking my head into the den of teenage squalor. “Make sure to turn the lights out by 9:30 and get some sleep tonight. It’s getting late, and you’ve got a busy day at school tomorrow.”

“Dad, seriously?” he says, voice dripping with snark. “I’m not in second grade!”

Now, my wife is a teacher, so she is MUCH BETTER at communicating with our children. But even I, Clueless Dad, have the potential for marginal improvement. Better yet, some of the lessons I’ve learned in talking with my kids are highly transferable to the world of marketing.

So here are my five rules for effective marketing (and parental) communication:

Rule #1: Know your audience. Clearly, I have room for improvement here. With my seven-year-old in the example above, I generalized where I should have been very precise and time-specific. You must cater your message to the knowledge base, emotional readiness, and needs of your specific audience.

Rule #2: Never talk down to your clients. How many times have you watched a TV commercial and thought, “that was really moronic?” Most likely, the ad agency aimed at the lowest common denominator among its target audience. The problem is, by taking such a broad, dumbed-down approach you end up alienating and irritating a major slice of your prospect base. Just like I do with my teenager. Every time.

Rule #3: Provide the exact right amount of information. It’s very easy to give your prospect too much, or too little information. Too much, they will get bored and tune out. Too little and they won’t understand what it is you are offering. With my seven-year-old, if I simply provided the extra critical detail that we would play baseball right before dinner-time, all would have been well. In the case of my 15-year-old, I could have just poked my head into his room, said good night, and my message would have been effectively (but more subtly) delivered.

Rule #4: Communicate clearly. Nothing is more important than clearly stating your message. Again, in the example of my seven-year-old, I could have averted an unnecessary crisis if I had simply stated exactly when I would be available to play baseball.

Rule #5: Communicate often. My 15-year-old strenuously objects to this rule. But even with a snarling, anti-social teenager, it’s important to maintain regular contact and to nurture a long-term relationship. He may think he doesn’t need me right now, but the time will come when he has a rough day at school, or gets in a fight with his girlfriend, or washes his red socks with his whites. He will need me then, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. The same rule applies to your prospects. They may not need your services today, but will they remember you six months from now, when an urgent need arises? Stay in touch, and they will.

 

Bonus rule: You can’t force funny. My other child is a middle-schooler. My mission in life is to get her to laugh at my “jokes.” Or if not to laugh, at least crack a smile. I am tracking every eye-roll I get as a minor win in my journey toward parental redemption.