Matt Brennan is a Chicago-area marketing writer and the author of Write Right – Sell Now: How to Create Content That Will Grow Your Business. We had the opportunity to sit down with Matt to hear his thoughts about the state of content marketing, the importance of storytelling, and the advantages of various types of web content.
Tell us a bit about your background. How difficult was it to make the transition from journalist to marketing writer?
I wouldn’t say the process was difficult, but it is ongoing as the trends continue to change.
I worked in newspapers for several years before transitioning into a freelance career as a marketing copywriter. In my time as a journalist, I was lucky enough to be published in places like Boys’ Life, the Chicago Sun-Times, and several local newspapers and magazines.
But as you’re probably aware, there’s a sharp decline in newspaper journalism, and the traditional institutions just aren’t what they used to be. As that struggle unfolded, there were fewer reporters covering the news, and businesses and organizations began to take more control of their message. The same storytelling skills used in journalism are a critical part of blogging and online marketing. It seemed like a pretty natural transition for someone with my skill set.
I’ve read a lot of great books, articles, and blogs to educate myself on the marketing aspects of what I do. I’ve read some of the classics like David Ogilvy, and some of the modern voices like Jon Morrow, Brian Clark, and Chris Brogan. This helped immensely in filling in some of the blanks. I also picked up a web design certificate from a local community college that gave me a better full understanding of the online marketing process.
Since you focus heavily on storytelling in your marketing writing, could you tell us how you go about finding the “story” in what may appear to be a dull topic?
A lot of times, businesses don’t fully appreciate the knowledge that comes with their skill set. They view industry information as “common knowledge” and think that other people must know it, too. In other words, they may assume (often incorrectly) that what they know will be boring to the reader. Finding the “story” or an interesting angle involves being able to see things as your customer sees them. It takes being in touch with your audience.
There are a few different ways to accomplish this. You can ask your customers directly what kind of information they are looking for, either through a survey or in person. You can do keyword research to find the words and phrases that are receiving a lot of search volume. That usually indicates a demand. You can use your blog to answer the most frequently asked customer questions. All of these approaches will help ensure a built-in audience for your content. This is always a good place to start.
Sometimes, it might take tweaking the angle of your story or writing a more enticing headline to appeal to your readers. Take a look at your content that has done well, and try to duplicate those techniques.
What types of marketing writing “stories” tend to be well-received by readers of a blog, newsletter, or press release?
There are any number of directions you can go on all these mediums, and a lot is going to depend on the type of business you run and your audience. All that being said, here are a few observations:
The right story might go over well in all of those places. For example, if you have an employee celebrating their 50-year anniversary, this could be a human interest piece that would go over well in all three of those formats.
Customer success stories can also go over well in blogs or newsletters. How-tos are a great blog category, because you’re putting valuable information out there and helping your business in the search engines at the same time. The key thing is to keep experimenting and find the types of posts that will resonate with your audience.
Are press releases effective and appropriate for a company even if there is no “big company” news to report?
The answer to this question can vary from industry to industry and by your intended use for the press release. If you are in a business-to-customer industry, such as physical fitness where people are soaking up the latest trends, more press releases could be helpful.
For instance, it may help to be putting out releases with your local papers about ways to take off the weight in the new year, or ways to stick to your workout routine as you travel. There’s no real news there, but there would be a high level of interest. Maybe your release plants the seed for a feature story, and they use you as the source. I’ve seen businesses with a newsroom section on their site, and these kinds of helpful, valuable stories can definitely play a part.
If someone were to say to you, “I don’t see a value in producing a newsletter – it’s just already-written blog content pasted together and reformatted,” how might you respond?
A newsletter is a good way to reach your audience right in their inbox, which is hugely valuable. You also get the opportunity to grow your email list, which is important. It gives your audience a chance to see helpful content they may have missed.
Email marketing (which a newsletter is a big part of), has the highest level of customer acquisition and retention rates in marketing, according to emarketer.com. This is a great way to grow your audience and provide value while increasing your business’s sales.
Given the importance of copy editing, could you provide us with one copy editing “trick” that can help spot errors or make a piece of copy read better?
The best trick I’ve found is to read your work out loud. It’s a great way to focus on the rhythm of a piece and find errors that you may otherwise miss.
As you edit your work, think of yourself as a detective. Go through and fix anything you may find wrong with the piece, and see what you can do to tighten a sentence or make it better. That’s usually a good way to find a deeper level of concentration sentence by sentence. It’s also good to keep your full focus in what you’re doing for as long as you can. If you’re distracted every 30 seconds by Facebook or email, it’s harder to get any writing or editing done.
Don’t be afraid to look something up that looks suspicious. An AP Stylebook or even Google can help.
When you create marketing content for social media, how does it differ from the blog content you might produce for the same company?
Generally speaking, the blog post would be longer and more in depth. But both places would carry the same tone and voice of the company. Social might be a fun place to share pictures or quick updates. A blog is good for a more in-depth look or a topic with more mileage.
In the future, what types of marketing writing will be more in demand?
As far as written content, I see blogging and email marketing remaining significantly important. Blogs will remain significant because the website will continue to be the hub for the company’s marketing efforts. Blogs offer so many search engine benefits and also create an all-inclusive tool to assist potential customers with learning about your business and your industry. Finally, emails will remain important because it’s a good way to reach your audience in a personalized manner. People also tend to buy more from email.
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